Imagine that several centuries ago, a member of a country's royal family, known across the land, dies. Without the internet, television, telephones, or public transportation, how, and how soon, would the world proceed to mourn? Today, in a world where information travels in seconds, and when celebrities are modern-age mythological gods, is it possible for the people of the world to know one of these public figures better than their own family members know them? These questions are raised by THE QUEEN, featuring Helen Mirren in an Oscar-worthy performance as Elizabeth II, mother-in-law to Princess Diana. The princess' 1997 death brought an entire country to tears (my highschool self was all but obvlious to its impact) and came at a turning point in British government. The new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) wants to modernize a government under the royal traditions still in place and protected closely by Elizabeth.

In great movie conflicts, both opposing forces are both right and wrong. Here, as Blair and Elizabeth are forced into hasty negotiations in response to Diana's death, they might as well be talking through a tin cans and string stretched between centuries. Thousands of hopeless citizens pile flowers at Buckingham Palace, demanding that the royal family acknowledge Diana, yet Elizabeth remains resolved to keep Diana's funeral a private, family affair. In one scene, Mirren's Queen waits in a creek between two nearby estates, her car stuck in the water. She is alone in nature, with an almost childlike unawareness of the modern world rushing by elsewhere. In her only visible moment of dispair, she spots a roaming stag whose hunter can be heard nearby. Kindly shooing him away, she is more in touch with this ignorant creature's mortality than she ever was to Diana.

THE QUEEN needs a more overt, slam-dunk ending; Elizabeth's realizations are ambiguous at best. But all the while my mind was flooded with insight and fascination for this crux in time-- a creek-- where turn-of-the-millenia progress clashed and compromised with tradition. Neither Blair, nor Elizabeth, nor the princess's people, were in the right or in the wrong, and time, by nature, didn't really allow them to figure it out. A-


I always thought that I'd live to see the day when fireballs became a reality, but I never guessed that someone would one day figure out how to grow a 1UP Mushroom. Think Geek is selling the kit for only 8.99, which includes a green pipe planter, spores, and a solution that transforms the seedlings, in a dark room for a couple of weeks, into what you see above. I have little doubt in my mind that eating one of these could quite possibly grant me another 80-something years of life. Now will someone please invent an invincibility star?



Sorry there haven't been any updates over the Thanksgiving holiday, which I spent in Ohio with Mallory's family. I didn't catch any new releases (I secretly wanted to see HAPPY FEET), but I did convince Mallory to watch M*A*S*H with me in honor of Altman's passing. It's one of his most well-known films and I had never seen it. Like most of his films, it was underwhelming at first, but it only took an hour or two of reflection to start to get it. A darkly comedic and subtle film about how we behave in war, with great performances by Altman's regular Elliot Gould and then-newcomer Donald Sutherland. I'm looking forward to settling in with the rest of Altman's work once the new year is underway. For anyone else looking to try Altman, his 2001 "comeback" GOSFORD PARK is actually a great starting point.

My good friend Dan Tyler has posted a flash cartoon for his song "Happy Christmas," a delightful holiday waltz truly destined to be a classic, and featuring always-wonderful production by Joe Pisapia. Check out the video and be prepared to hum through the holidays.

It's crunch time for end-of-the-year movies, and on top of all the movies still to come out before January 1st, I figure there's no better time to cram in even more from the video store that I missed for one reason or another. At the top of the list is the rest of THE UP SERIES. This documentary series began in the 50's interviewing a range of British children about various aspects of their lives. Every seven years, the filmmakers caught up with these individuals to see how their lives, beliefs, and outlooks had changed. In the newest film released this year, 49 UP, those children are now 49 years old. Watching these films, which Roger Ebert lists as one of the greatest film projects of all time, is an experience unlike anything else I've encountered watching movies. They are addictive, inspiring, and profoundly moving. When 49 UP comes out I will undoubtedly demand that you see it, but knowing the entire story seems increasingly crucial. A bit of a commitment, but put aside your TV-on-DVD for a week and you'll be so greatly rewarded.

Keep it here this week for new reviews of THE QUEEN, BOBBY, CASINO ROYALE, and the first in my Top Fives series.


Robert Altman, 1925-2006

Yesterday one of the great masters of cinema passed away at 81: Robert Altman, a filmmaker who throughout his career distinguished himself as an independent. Altman's films are trademarked by the scope of the ensemble cast; not since RULES OF THE GAME has the ensemble been so richly explored and thoroughly interconnected. It makes sense then that to my knowledge there is no other director who has a more loving reputation with his actors. About his Academy Award nominated "comeback" GOSFORD PARK, Altman joked that he was on set merely to turn the lights on and off for his actors.

I'll never forget rediscovering NASHVILLE at film school, with its unforgettable scene "I'm Easy," sung to Lily Tomlin by its songwriter Keith Carradine. I immediately went home to learn it on guitar. 2001's GOSFORD PARK was a wake up call, asking me why I hadn't yet gone back to experience M*A*S*H, THE PLAYER, or SHORT CUTS (cited by many as Paul Thomas Anderson's model for MAGNOLIA. This year, Altman's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION simply takes on an entirely new life after Altman's passing; an artistic troupe's final send off, led my a master of ceremonies, with the angel of death patiently looming backstage. It would be silly for me to take more time reflecting on Altman's career; I've now hardly made it through a third of his broad catalog. Instead, I'll direct you to GreenCine's long list of Altman tributes, and below, Altman's timely acceptance of the Academy's honorary Oscar this past February.



Welcome, readers old and new. I've finally entered the Sphere as it were (though I still don't really like the word "blog"), to build a permanent home for my movie reviews which you may or may not have read (and may or may not trust, but here we are). Two years ago I graduated from NYU with a Cinema Studies degree, and I just missed writing papers so much that I thought I should start writing at least a few sentences in response to each new movie I watch. The ebb and flow comes and goes, as any creative type well knows, but at least I know I'm getting my practice. I was asked to contribute a few things to the Nashville Scene for the Nashvlle Film Festival, and I smuggled my way onto the press list by writing for my friend Todd's site, Nashville Independent. I discovered GreenCine, some of my contemporaries started blogs, and I realized that it'd be nice to have somewhere else to direct people other than my Myspace blog. That brings us to now.

I've had various sites in the past, updating people on what I think they should read, hear, and see, being still attached to my middle school reputation of having the most cassingles and putting aside my homework once a week, on Tuesday nights with my mom, to see a new movie. In high school my mix tapes were up there, but in the age of pods and playlists, pop culture moves faster than it ever did back then. This is my contining effort to stay caught up, so that the threshold of becoming a grownup-- stuck to the music and movies of your youth-- can be pushed further and further in front of me. So that's where I'm at.

A few notes, administrative memos, items of housekeeping:

- I started this blog as a more appropriate, semi-professional home for my reviews of new movies. But if and when I'm inspired to post about other stuff, I will. I'm convinced that any one person can only thoroughly follow two out of these three enterprises: Music, Movies, and Sports. This theory works with just about everyone I know. So while there's a good chance that you'll hear about music I'm liking, it's quite unlikely that this blog will help you with your fantasy football or college basketball predix.

- I am, as they say, a "comment whore." And aren't we all? So when you read something I've posted, click that link and hit me with something in return. I would love for this site to harvest a small community of dialogues and conversations, so reply with your thoughts on whatever's being addressed, or launch off onto something else. Not just for me, but for everyone else reading. Let's talk.

- If you're reading this you might be a good friend of mine, or you may have never met me. So to give you some context, I'll periodically clue you in on my favorite movies of all time. Maybe I will occasionally post a paragraph about one of these classics, perhaps I'll just give you my list off the bat. But I'll most definitely post topical Top Fives every now and then. Let me know what Top Five you'd like me write about.

- For your boredom, I've compiled some exits to the right-- other sites I read, a bunch of great undiscovered bands, and so forth. You'll also find my famous rolling Top Ten movie list, which will be updated in real-time throughout the year (it's on moratorium from November to January, so you can lose sleep in your suspense for my annual list).

- Bookmark me and tell one person you know about me too. It means a lot that so many of you are checking in to see what I'm thinking, even after I recommended to you LAST DAYS, GERRY, and a bunch of other really long, really slow movies, and tried to convince you that John Mayer is a genius.

Off we go, starting with my Holiday Movie Preview below. Thanks for reading.


This weekend you'll be busy picking out which dark room will play host to your tryptophan coma: The ensemble-led BOBBY, or maybe a second helping of BORAT. If you're feeling more perky, perhaps Daniel Craig's new James Bond in CASINO ROYALE, or Denzel's DEJA VU. Or if you're feeling particularly brave, then maybe the first movie on my list. Whatever you do, just keep in mind that there's plenty more to come between now and the New Year. Here are ten more movies I'm excited about... and ten more (why have just one top ten when you can have two?)

(November 22 - Trailer)
Before a recent L.A. screening of THE FOUNTAIN, Darren Aronofsky's long-awaited and troubled follow-up to 2000's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the director made an announcement to the audience: Remember this moment, because you will never see a major movie studio release a movie like this ever again. Like Soderbergh's SOLARIS and Malick's THE NEW WORLD, THE FOUNTAIN is being paraded around by its studio as a normal genre movie (with Wolverine as its star, can you blame them?). Like every other studio film, it's purpose is to earn money at the box office; specifically to outdo other studio's movies at the box office, before it gets passed onto DVD to make room for the next big box office picture. But THE FOUNTAIN is pure cinema, pure art. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play a scientist and his dying wife in the present. In the past (or perhaps in her mind), he is a conquistador and she is the Queen of Spain. In the future (or perhaps in his mind), he is an intergalactic voyager, and she is... a tree. THE FOUNTAIN is an opera, scored beautifully by Clint Mansell, that organically converges these three metaphors of death and rebirth. It is moving, ambitious filmmaking that will anger most everyone in the audience. But I urge you to open your mind and just soak it in. Try it, and it will challenge your notions of what a movie is.

(December 15 - Trailer)
Renaissance man Steven Soderbergh goes to Post-WWII Berlin, bringing pal George Clooney along as an American war correspondent who uncovers a missing-persons plot involving his former flame (Cate Winslet) and possibly his driver, a mysterious American soldier (Toby Maguire). Everything-- the cinemography (black and white), the score (Thomas Newman. my favorite), the performances, and the great poster (brilliantly modeled after artwork from CASABLANCA)-- pays homage to the cinema of yesteryear; Soderbergh makes this one like they used to.

(January - Trailer)
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz have become, with VOLVER, one of the great director/actor pairs in the movies; This film is so full of love and adoration for its star, celebrating Le Cruz from her singing voice to her cleavage, and it offers the actress her best role yet as a young woman coping with the death of her mother and the upbringing of her teenager. Raimunda (Cruz) and her daughter don't know about her mother's ghost secretly hanging around to make amends, but her sister does (and even puts the spirit to work in her hair salon). It is a meeting of forgiveness waiting to take place, and Almodovar directs with such ease and such playfulness that this magical intersection feels perfectly real.

(December 8 - Trailer)
I know it's not "cool" for a guy like me to be hyping a chick flick like this, but you know what? Just like anyone else, all I really want for Christmas is a tear-jerking, holiday-themed, feel-good romantic comedy. From Nancy Meyers (SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE), THE HOLIDAY stars Cameron Diaz and Kate WInslet as two women, one in New York and one in London, who swap lives through an internet service. They're both sick of men, but when they reach their new destinations, they find new ones-- Jude Law and Jack Black-- free of charge and just on time.

Last week in L.A., David Lynch set up camp at an intersection with a live cow and a banner advertising his leading actress, BLUE VELVET's Laura Dern, "For Your Consideration." The movie, shot entirely on video, is three hours long and, according to my friend Jason Shawhan, reportedly more abstract and assaulting than the most headpinning moments of ERASERHEAD and MULHOLLAND DRIVE put together. Lynch is releasing the opus on his own, so we can only hope the Belcourt picks it up. Ever the studious Lynchian since hearing him speak on films and dreams at the 2002 New York Film Festival, I anxiously await the challenge of unraveling his latest puzzle; we'll see if Academy members are up for it as well.

(December 19th limited - Trailer)
Guillermo Del Toro, maker of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and HELLBOY, directs this grown-up fairy tale about Ofelia, a child living in rural Spain who creates and explores a dream world of her own while above ground her stepfather hunts down rebels in a fascist territory. Buzz is charting high for PAN, which should be a Best Foreign Film frontrunner at the Oscars. It opens at the Belcourt in Nashville in January, and I for one wish I didn't have to wait that long.

(December 25 - Trailer)
Remember back in 2002 when we all thought CHICAGO would usher a musical revival in Hollywood? After PHANTOM and RENT flopped, it's up to DREAMGIRLS to determine what happens next. All of the elements are in place: Stars Beyonce and Jamie Foxx, director Bill Condon (wrote CHICAGO and won an Oscar for directing GODS AND MONSTERS), an Eddie Murphy performance that's all the buzz, and a breakout performance by former American Idol Jennifer Hudson. The movie is hers, and a statue will likely be hers as well, thanks to the untoppable first-act closer, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving." But at the risk of offending Dreamgirls "fans," (and they're out there), the rest of the material just isn't memorable, and is executed with awkward cheesiness, the actors still struggling with that age-old challenge of Bursting Into Song. And the movie rushes so quickly through the decades, with songs that sound not like motown, but like the 80's showtunes that they are, that its characters and their relationships are never really developed. Apprently I'm in the minority; critics everywhere are eating this one up, and maybe you will too.

(December 8 - Trailer)
Mel Gibson's last PASSION project was one of the most controversail films of all time, yet after the dust cleared Mel came out quite the box office (and I think we can say artistic) victor. Well, a lot has changed for since then, and its anyone's guess as to how his current reputation will affect APOCALYPTO, an ancient Mayan epic about man on the run, sentenced to be sacrificed (it's also spoken in Mayan, with little dialogue at that). Controversy can only help a studio movie this experimental, yet so far there's surprisingly little talk about the film at all. I'm just here to remind everyone that the guy did make BRAVEHEART, and to reiterate how much I love films with hardly any dialogue, set in nature and/or ancient civilizations.

(December 22 limited - Trailer)
Zhang Yimou has jockeyed back and forth between small, intimate character pieces (TO LIVE, this year's underseen RIDING ALONE FOR A THOUSAND MILES) and the crowd-pleasing, DVD-ready martial arts epics (HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) that keep the big studios happy. The latest in the latter category is CURSE, set in the 10th century Tang Dynasty and involving the hidden conflicts and affairs of the Imperial Family. Starring Chow Yung Fat as the Emperor and Gong Li as his alienated emperess who's having an affair with a Crown Prince (who himself is secretly in love with the Imperial Doctor's daughter). Yimou knows, possibly better than any other director, that great action sequences should exist only as a projection of inner conflict, and he knows just as well how to make those conflicts look breathtakingly gorgeous.

(December 25 - Trailer)
Alfonso Cuaron (one of my favorite directors, from GREAT EXPECTATIONS to Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN to HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) travels to a future London, where we've mostly blown ourselves up, where non-British immigrants are caged and camped, and where women have, for 18 years, been infertile. Julian (Julianne Moore) captures her ex Theo (Clive Owen), who she needs to get access to the proper immigration papers that will get Kee, a young pregnant woman with a miracle child, to safety. Almost without context, we follow the refugees as they narrowly escape death again and again and again, including an explosive battleground where Cuaron and cinematographer Emannuel Lubezki follow Theo and Kee's path in one long take. It's not just the best scene of the year (in possibly the best movie of the year); it's the most impressive, realistic, and meticulously choreographed war sequence that I've ever seen. When the final title card suddenly and ambiguously drops, it hits you, the ride you've been on. This story, about a newborn babe whose delicate birth will restore hope to the world, arrives on Christmas Day.

PLUS... Tom Twyker follows HEAVEN, one of my favorite movies ever, with PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MUDERER... Leonardo Dicaprio's South African mercenary exposes the BLOOD DIAMOND crisis in Sierra Leone... In THE PAINTED VEIL, a doctor (Edward Norton) drags his unfaithful wife (Naomi Watts) to research an epidemic in rural China... The Tony-Award winning play THE HISTORY BOYS comes to the big screen... Forest Whitaker leads the Best Actor race as ..... in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND while Will Smith may show up in the same category for THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS... Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman in GOYA'S GHOSTS... Renee Zelwegger plays the famous author Beatrix in MISS POTTER... An aging professor (Judi Dench) has a grudge with a new one (Cate Blanchett) in NOTES ON A SCANDAL... Robert Deniro directs Matt Damon with Angelina Jolie in the CIA story THE GOOD SHEPHERD... ERAGON, the novel by youngster Christopher Paolini, hopes to ride the Tolkien wave... and Julia Roberts leads an all-star voice cast in the live-action CHARLOTTE'S WEB.

Fall Movie Preview Update: For my Nashville readers, where movies often trickle in later than we'd like them to: LITTLE CHILDREN is highly recommended, and will come through sometime before the end of the year. The critically loathed TIDELAND will hit town as part of the Belcourt's mini-Gilliamfest between Christmas and New Years.