Monday, February 28, 2011

The (Misguided) Choice(s) Of A New (Fat) Generation

You're sitting at lunch.
You order a Coke.
You get a look of judgement from the people you're with... who, while clicking their tongues, order Diet Cokes.

A fair judgement? With all the reports that have been made public over the years of the health issues associated with non-diet carbonated beverages, maybe it is.

But amuse me for a moment, observe further into your lunching experience. Count the number of Diet Cokes your colleagues/friends/family members order the next time you take your weekly trip to the Olive Garden or Crustacean or wherever the hell you go with whomever the hell you choose to dine. Just watch. It has been my experience that these self-deputized bastions of Moral Beverage Order drinking their "healthier" Diet Cokes order an exponentially greater number of refills than do the people drinking the regular version.

On average, I will order 1 refill. Maybe 2. While dining recently, I noticed 3 Diet Coke drinkers at my table who all ordered 3 REFILLS A PIECE! I'm serious. And it wasn't just this group of people, either. I've noticed this trend in A LOT of Diet Coke-imbibing friends of mine. They scarf them down like a fat chick with a bucket of tater tots.

Now, perhaps these consumers are just not privy to the recent news that Diet Coke is just as bad for you, if not MORE SO, in different ways. Regular Coke could lead to bad teeth, obesity and if consumed at a steady enough pace along with a perfect storm of poor diet+rare exercise+genetic pre-disposition, diabetes. Diet Coke, however, contains an artifical sweetener called Aspartame...which has been known to cause CANCER in lab rats. Additionally, my cousin- who used to down 6-8 Diet Sprites a day- began having seizures. His doctor told him throughout the course of a treatment to which he was not responding to stop drinking the Diet Sprites. Once he did, the seizures stopped. Now, there is of course the possibility that this is a medical coincidence. But, it does give one pause, no?

Oh, and by the way, if I'm drinking 2 Cokes and you're drinking 4 Diet're not really any different than me, are you? You're sort of canceling out the whole "Diet" notion.

It's that whole Placebo idea. Yeah, you know...the one that posits: "If it says Diet on the front it must have zero calories, no sugar and no carbs" and it sort of liberates the consumer to drink as much as he/she/it wants. I mean, that IS the logic, right?

Well, I'm sorry to wake you from your judgmental, naive slumber- but if you're drinking 4 glasses of anything that has a brown ain't on a diet, sweetheart.

So, go ahead...judge me if you want. But I jog 4 to 5 times a week, regularly compete in tennis and dodgeball and I hike. So, my 5-6 Cokes a week is NOTHING compared to your 3-4 Diet Cokes a day.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Cold Weather"...a movie review

Cold Weather
Written/Directed by Aaron Katz.

It's funny... bigger really does not always mean better.

In this era of "packaged" movies, of studio executives' widely-held belief that movies are successful when they adhere to a formula (Star+Explosions+Sex, or Tween Star+Dumbed-Down-Family-Friendly-Plot, or Star+Star+Star+Funny Supporting Star), movies seem to be less and less satisfying. As an avid movie lover who is also pretty easy to please, I have noticed a widening differential in my love-it/hate-it ratio when I leave theaters. More and more often, movies that, on paper, should NOT fail (a la Tim Burton directing Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter in "Alice In Wonderland") somehow have been failing more and more often. And even if your staunch Hollywood insider would vow that this and other movies are not economic failures, I counter by saying that the amount of money these stories COULD have made if they had not been f'ed up by today's sad studio standards would have been exponentially better.

Where does one turn in these times? Well, why not the films that are not obligated to follow such ridiculous formulas? Why not turn to movies that are made because people have stories to tell and love what they do? Among others that have previously been mentioned on Nate's Verbal Hootenanny, I enjoy the movies released at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. They specialize in bringing independent and foreign films to Los Angeles, as well as hosting special events and film festivals.

This week's diamond-in-the-rough was Cold Weather. Written and directed by Aaron Katz, CW is a quirky story about a chronic underachiever, Doug, who happens to have only one mostly unfulfilled talent: detective work. This movie is a slow burn- perhaps the first 25% is exposition and character introduction at a snail's pace. For most, this would be torture- BUT, Katz keeps this initial quarter of the movie interesting, lighthearted and surprisingly fun if not also charmingly odd.

Then, BAM, before you know it, Katz whirls you into a small scale Sherlock Holmes-esque thriller(ish). The work of lead actors Cris Lankenau (Doug) and Triest Kelly Dunn (his sister Gina), as well as Katz, stands out. You've seen it before- brother and sister get into trouble and try to save the day. Because Katz invested us so much in the innocence of these characters at the beginning, the tension mounts as Doug and Gina become increasingly entangled in the search for Rachel, Doug's missing ex-girlfriend. Indeed, as the search becomes more and more dangerous, one gets the dreaded impression that these kids are way in over their head. One can almost see the proverbial shit fly towards the fan. Aided by a simple score, this movie picks up steam and becomes quite the effective thriller while still maintaining its quirky humor. Reminiscent of Fargo in some respects, many of the best films of any genre (be they thrillers, horror, or sci-fi flicks) are the stories that are more about people than just the plot.

If I had one criticism, it would be that I am not very happy with the abrupt ending. Too many movies seem to be employing this tactic lately, and I believe the only way to make an abrupt ending work is when The All-Important Viewer absolutely needs it to stop just so he/she can breathe. In CW, I got the impression that Katz felt he had accomplished his mission and simply called it a day, when in fact I would have liked to see just about 3-5 minutes more of resolution for those left standing at this film's conclusion.

All in all, Cold Weather manages to be an amusing and welcome break from the same ol' crap that we are being spoon fed these days (oh, I'm sorry, you LIKED No Strings Attached?). If you're in the mood for an offbeat, quirky, character-driven mystery, Cold Weather should make you happy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The First Annual Hootenanny Awards, Part Trois

Greetings Cine-philes!

Why must I divide movie awards into 3 sections, you may ask? Well, to be quite frank...I don't think the current system of awarding movies is sufficient. There HAVE to be 10 Best Picture Nominees now, despite the fact that last year, for example, I couldn't name you 5 I thought to be worthy.

Star Trek? Come on now...

So, I break this down in the ways I see fit. As you may have seen, I like to discuss movies that most likely will not be discussed in any awards- and I like to give my opinions on movies that are being discussed and are, sometimes, overrated.


The Stinkies

The Did. Not. Bother. Awards-quite simply, these are movies that I did not even bother with.

1) ALICE IN WONDERLAND: This is a movie I really wanted to see. Depp as The Mad Hatter?! Yes please. But, I began hearing what I'd feared from the trailers confirmed by friends: Tim Burton has somewhat lost his ability to deliver anything but amusing visuals. I hope he finds his way back.

2) REPO MEN: Maybe this doesn't deserve a DNB Award...I actually didn't know it had been release. What happened to you, Jude Law?


4) THE LOSERS: I would have traded seeing Jonah Hex to see this, but it wouldn't really have made a difference. My life would have been equally wasted.

5) IRON MAN 2: Not many people can make lightning strike twice. And, hey, I was right in my suspicions about Transformers 2, so why bother with this...?

6) MACGRUBER: Really wanted to see. Was sorry to hear there were a total of 3 noncommital laughs to be had in this flick.

7) SHREK 4EVER AFTER: Never really got into the Shrek craze. And, from what I hear, neither did anyone else this time around.

8) SEX AND THE CITY 2: Never really got into the SATC craze. And from what I hear, there were a lot of disappointed women and gays this time around.

9) PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME: Sexy people and action are not enough to make a good movie. I'm sorry, Hollywood, you still have to make it a movie worth seeing.

10) A-TEAM: Meh.

11) KNIGHT AND DAY: I mean, what more can I say? I just didn't care about this movie.

12) TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE: Have not ever, will not ever.

13) WALL ST 2...: It's sad that even Oliver Stone is fucking movies up these days.

14) THE TOURIST: If Angelina does not stop making that ridiculous sultry face, I'm going to vomit all over her foreign children.

15) LITTLE FOCKERS: Oh great! Ben Stiller AND children in a movie...what more could I possibly ask for?!?!

16) LIFE AS WE KNOW IT: Josh Duhamel, check. Katherine Heigl, check. Lack of any sort of care/concern/excitement to pay money to see them do anything on screen, check.

17) THE KARATE KID: quite possibly the most offensive re-make to surface in a loooooong time. All the studio had to do was NOT fuck up and this movie would have gone through the roof. Guess that's too much to ask...

The Final Categories

I present to you the most prestigious (or most embarassing) of the Hootenanny Awards- the Best/Worst of 2010!

The Gimme A Break Awards, presented to the Worst movies of 2010.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: Should have, would have, could have... But a puzzingly unfunny movie for the most part.

GROWN UPS: Occasionally funny, but only because I was stuck on an airplane.

THE WOLF MAN: Enough said.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: As if the first one wasn't a terrible enough film with that incredibly bad awful ending, this one managed to stretch out the terrible-ness out for an entire 2 hours! Thanks a lot guys!

SHUTTER ISLAND: I know, I know, I KNOW...a lot of you suckers fell for this movie. Do yourselves a favor, read the book. See what the movie SHOULD have been.

THE WINNER: JONAH HEX--- as I mentioned before, ranks in the top 5 of worst movies I have ever seen. And I am including those awful movies they should to show on USA network's "USA Up All Night, hosted by Gilbert Godfried/Rhonda Sheer". It makes one wonder how a movie in that kind of shape can be allowed to see the light of day...

The Goodies

The Not American But Who Cares It's A Damn Fine Movie Award- also known in some circles as the Best Foreign Language Film.

EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS (THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES)- ok, ok,'s technically a movie from 2009, but I saw this in 2010. And, it may be redundant to name the winner of the Foreign Language Oscar as earner of the Hootenanny. If you see this movie, you will completely understand why I would do so. This is a fine example of a film that pulls off, quite perfectly, 3 different genres at once: drama, romance, mystery. A feat that is often rarely executed well, this movie A retired detective searching for a purpose begins to write a novel about the one case that has haunted him and his colleagues for years. That is the simple summary. Ultimately, this story is about's about trying to correct the mistakes or missed opportunities of the past and moving on. The acting is wonderful, the pacing is wonderful and the cinematography is gorgeous. Pay attention, need to make more movies like this.

The Thank God For This Movie Award- this Hootenanny is gleefully presented to the movies that helped make 2010 a year not completely lost on cinema. I did not get to see every good movie, I admit. Consequently, some movies that were great this past year will not make the list. I apologize for that. But hopefully you will find some solace in agreeing with me on most, if not all, of the following.


it's nice to be surprised here and there. Even if only by a small thriller.

intentionally, refreshingly and unapologetically BAD. :-)

Everything kids movies ought to be...and yet still able to fulfill the adults who watch it (and make them cry).

stupid, ridiculous, childish, immature, pathetic, socially worthless...maybe. Funny as hell? Absolutely.

Ben Affleck managed to be really good in front of the camera...and yet, he proves again that his greatest talent lies behind it. Renner's great, but Affleck's direction is the standout of this "Heat"-esque heist film.

hyped for a reason. Give yourself the opportunity to see it.

When I heard they were making a movie about Facebook- even though it was Sorkin and Fincher- I had no idea how that could work. Well, bravo...they did it.

in the tradition of Rocky, this movie had a lot of heart. Didn't expect too much from this movie, but was given a lot in return.

Aronofsky is a genius. Such a creepy, moody, theatrical and yet sad story...but told so well it didn't hurt to watch as much as Requiem For A Dream.

Re-making this John Wayne classic seemed sacrilegious at first. Then, I found out it was starring Jeff Bridges. And Matt Damon. And was written and directed by The Coen Brothers. And then I relaxed. And all was right with the world...especially Bridges' performance.

Families have problems. We've all heard the story before. So it's always nice when a movie or a book or what have you manages to give us a fresh look at the troubled-family idea. Benning, Moore, Ruffalo...all really strong performances too.

solid acting and cut-to-the-chase storyline and directing make this one of the most honest and simplest stories of the year. Also, the world that was created/portrayed was one of the finest of the year. Take note, Tim Burton- story does not have to be sacrificed for atmosphere.

They just don't seem to make 'em like this anymore. 2 great actors playing extremely well off each other...and not a single explosion, or tit, or TMZ-favorite to be found anywhere near this production. Further proof that good movies should be made more often.

ok, ok...bear with me. The best movie of 2010??? Well, yes...being a truly unique story goes a long way these days. This movie may not be the wisest movie we've ever seen, and it may not have been the most well-acted of the year...BUT it certainly was a thought-provoking, head-spinning, well-done tale by all involved. It's been a really long time since I've walked out of the movie theater feeling drunk, but Inception gave me a whole hell of a lot to think about. Not to mention, it also provided a lot to appreciate. As my good friend Will pointed out today, Inception was one of the few truly original, unadapted scripts that was produced last year. Again, I say...if you just give people a little more credit, you can have a HIT that also happens to be a truly good movie.

And finally...
I'd like to recognize 2 theaters in the Los Angeles area for special Hootenanny Awards. It seems over the last 15 years, the theater experience has grown larger and more complex with each new multiplex constructed. With that, however, so have the prices. And with the competition that the movie-go'ing experience now entails, a little of the magic of going to the movies has been lost. I'd like to tip my hat to the following:

The Saddest Theater Loss
This year, the Beverly Fairfax Theater was closed and will most likely never re-open. It has existed in Los Angeles since the 1920's and was, according to an article I read, one of the first theaters in Los Angeles wired for sound. Sure, it wasn't the most luxurious of theaters over the last couple of years...but the art-deco style of the theater was most more pleasant than the bland cookie-cutter designs and garish advertisements that overwhelm moviegoers in multiplexes these days. Additionally, the BFT showed Indie films and 2nd run showings at very cheap prices ($5) matinees and ($8 at night). Not to mention, the BFT produced a very popular and kitschy Midnight Friday Series...showing movies as fun and iconic as The Goonies and Labrynth to classics like Casablanca and Psycho- movies most of never had the chance or most likely will have the chance to see in theaters. The BFT, sadly, has become the latest victim to a lack of management creativity and the power of the pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

Best Theater in Los Angeles
While the Beverly Fairfax Theater has sadly gone away and smaller theaters in Westwood and other parts of the city await their inevitable fate of becoming fast food joints or doctor's offices, the New Beverly Cinema continues to defy all the rules of this fast-paced, consumer-driven city of LA. Bringing to the community classic, iconic movies or movies that have developed into cult classics or ones that are just plain fun, the "New Bev" runs on the love of cinema. Not to mention, the management of the New Bev also happens to be quite skilled at bringing in cast members, directors, editors and others associated with many of their films for Q&A's. And it is for these reasons, combined with their clever taste in movies, that they continue to be succesful. Drive by the New Bev on a Friday or Saturday night- or even sometimes during the week- you will see lines to get in on the good ol' plain fun that is happening inside. And, as fortune would have it, this theater's future was pulled from uncertainty by one of the greatest movie-lovers around, Quentin Tarantino. It really does warm my heart to hear that someone would put their money where their mouth is and help a business which exists only to entertain and provide enjoyment to the community. I wish the New Bev many more years of success!

Oh, and check 'em out at if you have a second. You'll probably see something you like playing soon... :-)

Well, kiddos...that's it.
I wish you all many hours of enjoyable movie watching in 2011.

See ya 'round the theater.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The First Annual Hootenanny Awards, Part Deux

Welcome back you lovely lovers of celluloid magic!

A few days ago, Nate's Verbal Hootenanny unveiled Part 1 of The First Annual Hootenanny Awards designed to honor the Best/Worst/Crappiest in Film. And I know you have all been waiting with baited breath to see PART DEUX...soooo here it is!

The Stinkies

The Most Disappointing Awards- these awards are presented to films that were extremely anticipated by me or enough people whose opinions I respect that I looked forward to them....and then turned out to be big steaming piles of horse excrement.

1) THE WOLF MAN: If you saw it, I feel for you. If you did't see it, don't. What an awful and lazy attempt at modernizing a classic horror movie. It's almost as if Universal didn't even respect their own movie enough to re-do it well... Oh, and don't're going to see this movie again on another Hootenanny Awards list that will be brought to you soon.

2) THE BOOK OF ELI: Yawn. That's all I can say. Yawn. Another prime example of Hollywood having a great premise based on very popular material and yet still managing to mess it up. It's a sad state of affairs, my friends.

3) JONAH HEX: Well, my friend Will doesn't work for DC Comics anymore so I can be completely honest when I say: Jonah Hex miiiiiiight be one of the worst things I have ever seen. I mean, I love movies and I love going to movies. Which means I've seen a lot of garbage in my life...but this ranks right up there at the top. I can't even recall the last time I've seen something that I couldn't pull one, single positive thing from. I wanted out of the theater and I want that 2 hours of my life back. Plus, swiftly kicking whoever was responsible for allowing that movie to go theaters in the condition it was in would be nice.

4) RED: In the 80s, this would have been pulled off well. Hell, even in the 90s this would have been pulled off well. But's as if someone handed the studios a gold nugget and instead of cashing it in and getting its full value, Hollywood decided to scratch its name into it and stomp on it and crush it until its potential was lost. Now, granted, this movie has its charms. Malkovich is brilliant. And Helen Mirren/Brian Cox are wonderful towards the end. But, this movie should have been SO much funnier. Just a disappointing result, that's all.

5) TRON:LEGACY: Admit it...the only good things about this movie were the score and the effects.

6) MACHETE: Great trailer in "Grindhouse", great director, great potential. Robert Rodriguez unfortunately seemed to get too excited about his "Fuck Arizona" campaign he ran with Danny Trejo as Machete and weighed his movie down with a message that, frankly, I'm sick of hearing about.

7) A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST: Ok, first have to understand you're dealing with a man for whom the Elm St series was a rite of passage in his family. My cousin used to torture me by making me watch all of these videos...until I man-ed up and began to love them myself. Now, they are much more nostalgic and kitschy than scary, but they are still good fun. I was VERY excited for this remake...and walked out of the theater wanting to find Wes Craven, shake him and scream: "HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?" Apologies to my friend Dave at New Line Cinema...I know you're good at what you do, buddy, but I just have to be honest when it comes to this movie.

The Goodies

1) THE CRAZIES: Already discussed in Part 1... This movie will never win any awards, but it was definetely a fun 2 hours in the theater.

2) PREDATORS: Seeing as how there hasn't been a good movie involving a Predator since the 80s, I didn't have much hope for this film. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the unique-ness of this film...from the first body falling out of the sky all the way through the ending. Not a bad bet if you're looking for a fun movie to rent (does anyone do anything but Netflix anymore?)

3) PIRANHA 3-D: SUCH a breath of fresh air... a movie that promises you shlock and gore and tits and ACTUALLY DELIVERS. I leaned over to my friend Ryan at the very start of one scene and said with giddy excitement "Oh my god...this is going to turn into a bloodbath!" And, boy howdy, was I right! Such a ridiculous movie in all the right ways!

Individual Categories
If I had my way, this is a glimpse of how the Oscars would go down.

Ok, so I know everyone is ga-ga over Christian Bale. And deservedly so. He was brilliant. But, the performance I could not get my mind off of after I saw it was Rush's performance in "The King's Speech." Rush was so subtle and charming- his was a role that almost felt like a throwback to the charm of actors like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. He was wonderful.

At once a hysterical charicature and deeply layered person, Leo's loud-mouthed mother in "The Fighter" walked a fine line between being despicable and extremely sympathetic. Kudos also go to actor Jack McGee as Wahlberg and Bale's father...for some reason, he has flown under the radar. His was also a big contributor to the heart of this film.

*Kudos also to Barbara Hershey in"Black Swan"'s nice to see someone do a really great job in a role that is easy to mess up after being away for long.*

BEST ACTOR: Colin Firth, with a big ol' respectful nod to Ryan Gosling
If you've seen "The King's Speech", you know why Firth is wholeheartedly deserving of this Hootenanny. A shy, somewhat embarassed but ultimately capable and worthy successor of the Throne, ya just can't help but be in love with this guy. Especially when he is so snobbily horrified by Rush's demand that he say the word "Fuck" as part of his speech therapy. Firth and Rush were certainly the best on-screen duo this year.

You know my thoughts on "Blue Valentine", but if you want to see a gifted actor doing real, raw, honest, committed work, watch Gosling in this movie. He creates a very specific character while being completely honest and drowning himself in the tragedy of this character. And as wonderful as Michelle Williams is, nominating her without him is like jelly without peanut butter. Epic Fail. Sorry, Eisenberg, you took a spot that doesn't belong to you.

BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence
This was an extremely competitive category for me. There were some amazing performance this year by female leads. I mean, Catherine Heigl in "Life As We Know It" COME ON!!! ;-)Ultimately, though, the Hootenanny Award must go to Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone". Lawrence, who can't be any older than 23, turns in such true and simple performance that you just cannot take your eyes off of her- not even for a moment. And, as the lead of the movie, THAT is doing your job.

BEST DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky.
The fact that that grumpy ol' Academy did not even nominate Christopher Nolan for the year's most unique, inventine film ("Inception") is beyond absurd. Not only should he be nominated, I feel he deserves at least a share of the win- seeing as how any movie that can be so different and so unique and still be SO entertaining and gripping from one end to the other falls into the category of "well-directed". Oh...and also, anyone who can keep Leo DiCaprio from doing his usual screaming and pouting routine in a movie has real talent.

Aronofsky, by the same token, somehow made a movie out of a ballet. In this day in age, who would have ever thought that was possible? A big, huge, theatrical, almost-operatic undertaking- "Black Swan" was, at its core, really just a big look at a woman with severe emotional problems. The tragedy of Portman's character was also the heart of the movie...she was sympathetic despite being bat-shit nuts. Any movie that can succesfully keep you in the dark as to what is happening without over-manipulating you is worth an applause to the writer and director. Hence Darren A, it is with great, giddy pride that I bestow upon you and Christopher Nolan a Hootenanny apiece for your great work this year.

There it is, kiddos...
Part Deux.

Coming Soon: The final, big categories in the First Hootenanny Awards include "Best of 2010", "Worst of 2010" and the exciting category of "Did. Not. Bother" which I rip on movies I haven't even seen!!! :-)

Stay tuned film fans!