LeonTh3Dukes Best in Film of 2011

So it is the last day of 2011, for some it might even already by 2012 (and by the time most read this it will be) and I decided to compile my lists of favorite films, performances, directors, etc. of the year. Please feel free to comment, good or bad, on any or all my picks but just remember they are MY picks.


Worst Films:

1) “Hall Pass” (dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly)

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2) “Super” (dir. James Gunn)

3) “The Change Up” (dir. David Dobkin)

4) “Battle: Los Angeles” (dir. Jonathan Liebesman)

5) “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa)


Best Score or Song:

1) “Theme Suite” by Roger Neill, Dave Palmer, Brian Reitzell (“Beginners”)

2) “Brandon” by Harry Escott (“Shame”)

3) Rivers by Alexandre Desplat (“The Tree of Life”)

4) Nightcall by Kavinsky (“Drive”)

5) “It’s a Process” by Mychael Danna (“Moneyball”)


Best Screenplay:

1) “Midnight in Paris” (Woody Allen)

2) “The Tree of Life” (Terrence Malick)

3) “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius)

4) “A Separation” (Asghar Farhadi)

5) “Moneyball” (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin)

6) “Beginners” (Mike Mills)


Best Cinematography:

1) “The Tree of Life” (Emmanuel Lubezki)

2) “Meek’s Cutoff” (Chris Blauvelt)

3) “Melancholia” (Manuel Alberto Claro)

4) “Hugo” (Bob Richardson)

5) “The Artist” (Guillaume Schiffman)


Best Directors:

1) Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)

2) Martin Scorsese (Hugo)

3) Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

4) Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)

5) Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy)

6) Steve McQueen (Shame)


Best Supporting Actress:

1) Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)

2) Sareh Bayat (A Separation)

3) Carey Mulligan (Shame)

4) Melanie Laurent (Beginners)

5) Berenice Bejo (The Artist)

6) Leila Hatami (A Separation)


Best Supporting Actor:

1) Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

2) Albert Brooks (Drive)

3) Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)

4) Shahab Hosseini (A Separation)

5) Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)

6) Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)


Best Actress:

1) Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)

2) Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)

3) Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

4) Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)

5) Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)

6) Jeong-hie Yun (Poetry)


Best Actor:

1) Michael Fassbender (Shame)

2) Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur)

3) Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

4) Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

5) Ryan Gosling (Drive)

6) Peyman Maadi (A Separation)


Best Films 25-11:

25) “The Trip” (dir. Michael Winterbottom)

24) “Submarine” (dir. Richard Ayoade)

23) “Like Crazy” (dir. Drake Doremus)

22) “Jane Eyre” (dir. Cary Fukunaga)

21) “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (dir. David Fincher)

20) “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (dir. Rupert Wyatt)

19) “Melancholia” (dir. Lars von Trier)

18) “Hanna” (dir. Joe Wright)

17) “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (dir. Tomas Alfredson)

16) “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (dir. Sean Durkin)

15) “Meek’s Cutoff” (dir. Kelly Reichardt)

14) “13 Assassins” (dir. Takashi Miike)

13) “Moneyball” (dir. Bennett Miller)

12) “Poetry” (dir. Chang-dong Lee)

11) “Le Quattro Volte” (dir. Michaelangelo Frammartino)


Best Films 10-1:

10) “Tyrannosaur” (dir. Paddy Considine)

9) “Midnight in Paris” (dir. Woody Allen)

8) “The Artist” (dir. Michel Hazanavicius)

7) “Certified Copy” (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)

6) “Hugo” (dir. Martin Scorsese)

5) “A Separation” (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

4) “Shame” (dir. Steve McQueen)

3) “Drive” (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

2) “Beginners” (dir. Mike Mills)

1) “The Tree of Life” (dir. Terrence Malick)

Song of the Day: Tom Waits – New Year’s Eve

I never did get around to writing a review of Bad As Me. It’s a shame, because it’s pretty damn good. The old man’s always been in a league of his own, and Tom’s seventeenth studio album feels no less legitimate than anything else he’s created. If anything it’s above average in his discography quality-wise, and that says a lot for someone who released his first album nearly 40 years ago. An entirely accurate representation of his style, here’s 13 anthems to homeless bums, trailer trash, vagabonds, and the starry-eyed refugees of an unforgiving society. I’ve been listening to the closing track, New Year’s Eve, on repeat ever since my deluxe edition pre-order showed up in the mail, and now’s a good day to pass it along.

It’s typical Tom fassion to make the joyous out of the bleak and vice versa. New Year’s Eve might not be as gut-wrenching as Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, but it carries on his tradition of looking at the holidays from the perspective of those who’ve got little left in life to celebrate.

The door was open; I was seething
Your mother burst in; it was freezing
She said it looks like it’s trying to rain
I was lost; I felt sea sick
You convinced me that he’d left
You said keep talking, but don’t use any names
I scolded your driver and your brother
We are old enough to know how long you’ve been hooked
And we’ve all been through the war
and each time you score
someone gets hauled and handcuffed and booked

It felt like four in the morning
What sounded like fire works
Turned out to be just what it was
The stars looked like diamonds
Then came the sirens
And everyone started to cuss

All the noise was disturbing
And I couldn’t find Irving
It was like two stations on at the same time
And then I hid your car keys
And I made black coffee
And I dumped out the rest of the rum

Nick and Socorro broke up
And Candice wouldn’t shut up
Fin, he recorded the whole thing
Ray, he said damn you
And someone broke my camera
And it was New Years
And we all started to sing

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot for the sake of auld lang syne

I was leaving in the morning with Charles for Las Vegas
And I didn’t plan to come back
I had only a few things
Two hundred dollars
And my records in a brown paper sack

I ran out on Sheila
Everything’s in storage
Calvin’s right, I should go back to driving trucks

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot for the sake of auld lang syne

Review: 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi)

“…being a samurai is a burden.” – Shimada Shinzaemon

Miike Takashi (Takashi Miike to those in the West) has always been one of my favorite filmmakers and I consider him one of the most unique directors working. To say that he has an extensive body of work would be an understatement. This is a man who is quite at home at releasing 2-3 films a year. He has dabbled in all sorts of genres from drama, thrillers, horror, scifi, musicals and even children’s stories. Those who discovered him in the West mostly remember him for his more extreme films such as Audition, Ichi the Killer and his Dead or Alive epic. He’s taken extreme film-making to some unpredictable plac. While some of his films never work one could never say that they were ever boring or uninteresting.

In 2010, Miike released what I can only say is one of his best films to date with his remake of Tengan Daisuke’s 1963 film of the same name. 13 Assassins is Miike’s take on the classic jidaigeki (Japanese Edo period pieces…think of it as similar in idea to Merchant-Ivory period pieces) which incudes such great films as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Yojimbo to name a few. This film also shares some similarities to the “men on a mission” war films which were quite popular during the early 60’s which included one of my other top action films in The Dirty Dozen.

The film is loosely based on some historical characters from the Tokugawa Shogunate era mainly that of Lord Naritsugu of the Akashi clan. In this film he’s portrayed as a sadistic young noble whose familial ties to the ruling Shogun allows him to kill and rape both commoners and nobles alike with impunity. When a high government official fears for the government and the country should Naritsugo ever ascends to a higher position in the Shogunate he takes it upon himself to hire a trusted friend and veteran samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho), to plan and pull off the assassination of Lord Naritsugo.

From this moment on the film takes it’s time in introducing the men who would form the film’s title. It doesn’t linger or take too long with each man, but we learn enough of these 13 assassins to form some sort of attachment to each and everyone that the loss of each man, once the battle begins between Shinzaemon’s assassins and Naritsugu’s 200 bodyguards, has emotional impact and meaning. Even knowing that this mission ultimately becomes a suicide task still doesn’t stop the surprise when one of these men falls to the blades of their enemies.

The assassins themselves were quite a diverse group of characters that could’ve been lifted off your typical “men on a mission” film. We have the goofballs with the talent for explosives, younger samurai eager to prove themselves in battle and to their masters, veteran samurai looking to do one more last job before they retire from the life right up to the last-minute addition of a fool whose unique skill sets becomes integral to the missions success.

13 Assassins begins the final 45 minutes of its running time with a non-stop battle which rivals anything we’ve seen put out by Hollywood in the past ten years. Unlike the sturm und drang actionfests from Michael Bay and those who seem to emulate his style of action film-making, Miike takes a much more restrained approach to the proceedings. This is not to say that the action in this film was boring. He allows the audience to know exactly what’s going on with long takes and minimal amount of edits. I don’t think he ever used too many quick cuts to help simulate chaos during the fight. Instead he lets the practical stunt choreography and the inventive set design of the village turned killing field to dictate the flow of the action. It’s quite interesting to note how a filmmaker such as Miike whose reputation in the West has been built on his style of extreme visuals and imagery on film would be quite adept at such a thing as traditional filmmaking that eschews heavy-usage of CGI, quick-cut editing and unnecessary montages to help propel not just the action but the film’s narrative.

Again, unlike the Bay-fest the West has been flooded with the last decade or so this film also has as one of it’s strength’s the story all the action revolves around. The story itself is quite simple when one really boils it down to it’s most basic premise. Evil lord sows chaos around the countryside and a group of honor-bound fighting men band together for one reason or another to stop this evil. It’s a story as old as Beowulf and as recent as 2010’s trio of such films with The Losers, The A-Team and the Expendables. What this film does with it’s characters which helps it stand out from that trio is how well Miike was able to balance not just the action with the story but how to make each character in the film seem unique despite being so stereotypical of such films at first glance.

The acting by the ensemble cast (a who’s-who of performers in Japanese, but mostly unknown to Western audiences) adds just the right mix of melancholy and dark humor not to mention some rock star-like work from it’s lead antagonist. Gorô Inagaki (himself not just a talented actor but one of Japan’s more popular pop star singers) as Lord Naritsugu brings energy as the evil lord to every scene he’s in not because of being so over-the-top but the opposite. He plays this villain as a noble bored with the peaceful days enjoyed by everyone and could only enjoy what life has to offer when he brings chaos to the proceedings. The fact that this involves him raping the women of a fellow noble and cutting off the limbs of a nameless young girl just shows how much out of touch he is with reality and at the same time romanticizes the age of war hundreds of years in the past. The rest of the cast does an admirable job in their own roles. To say that it was difficult to see one of them die on-screen would be an understatement.

13 Assassins was released in 2010, but really got it’s major showing in the United States in early 2011. Despite all of that and with the eclectic group of films I was fortunate enough to have seen in 2011 that made my “best of” list it would be this film that ranks as one of the best of 2011 and also one of my favorite films of recent times. Miike Takashi has shown himself to be now just a filmmaker provocateur whose reputation for shocking audiences have bee well-earned, but also cemented the true fact that he is a filmmaker (both in and out of Hollywood) who has the skills and know-how to escape being labeled as only a filmmaker of a particular genre. His restraint and decision to remake a classic film in the jidaigeki genre shows that while he hasn’t lost his panache for extreme brutality (and this film has them to satiate action and gore fans everywhere) he can also create a film using the subtle brushstrokes of traditional, old-school filmmaking. With this film he has made one of finest and cements his place in the roll call of best filmmakers of the last quarter-century.

My Favorite Film of 2011: Bill Cunningham New York (dir. by Richard Press)

 A few days ago, Lisa asked me what my favorite film of 2011 was.  I thought about it for a few minutes and then I said, “Bill Cunningham New York.”

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about Bill Cunningham, an 80 year-old fashion photographer who has been the fashion photographer for The New York Times since 1978.  The film follows Bill as he takes pictures of both celebrities and ordinary people in the streets and shows how, through his photography, the unassuming and humble Bill Cunningham has preserved a visual history of how New York City has changed through the years.  In interviews, Bill talks about everything from his sexuality to his feelings on religion but what mostly comes through is his love for taking pictures.  Whenever I need cheering up or I’m frustrated with my own attempts to take that perfect picture, this is the film I watch and it never fails to cheer me up and it just makes me want to grab my camera and go take a hundred pictures.

That’s why Bill Cunningham New York is not only my favorite movie of 2011 but one of my favorite movies of all time. 


My Top 15 Metal Albums of 2011

The years I most actively indulge my musical interests are the ones I find most difficult to wrap up in any sort of nice cohesive summary. December always begins with a feeling that I’ve really built up a solid basis on which to rate the best albums of the year, and it tends to end with the realization that I’ve really only heard a minute fraction of what’s out there. I’m going to limit this to my top 15. Anything beyond that is just too arbitrary–the long list of new albums I’ve still yet to hear will ultimately reconfigure it beyond recognition.

15. Thantifaxath – Thantifaxath EP
Thantifaxath’s debut EP might only be 15 minutes long, but that was more than enough to place it high on my charts. The whole emerging post/prog-bm sound has been largely a product of bands with the resources to refine it, and it’s quite refreshing to hear sounds reminiscent of recent Enslaved without any of the studio gloss. That, and I get a sort of B-side outer space horror vibe from it that’s not so easy to come by. (Recommended track: Violently Expanding Nothing)

14. Craft – Void
This is the straight-up, no bullshit black metal album of the year. It doesn’t try anything fancy or original. It’s just good solid mid-tempo bm–brutal, evil, conjuring, and unforgiving. Hail Satan etc. (Recommended track: any of them)

13. Turisas – Stand Up and Fight
Stand Up and Fight doesn’t hold a candle to The Varangian Way, but I never really expected it to. As a follow-up to one of my all-time favorite albums, it does a solid job of maintaining that immensely epic, triumphal sound they landed on in 2007. It lacks their previous work’s continuity, both in quality and in theme, but it’s still packed with astoundingly vivid imagery and exciting theatrics that render it almost more of a movie than an album. (Recommended tracks: Venetoi! Prasinoi!, Hunting Pirates)

12. Endstille – Infektion 1813
Swedish-style black metal seldom does much for me, and it’s hard to describe just what appeals to me so much about Germany’s Endstille. But just as Verführer caught me by pleasant surprise two years ago, Infektion 1813 managed to captivate me in spite of all expectations to the contrary. Like Marduk (the only other band of the sort that occasionally impresses me), they stick to themes of modern warfare, but Endstille’s musical artillery bombardments carry a sense of something sinister that Marduk lacks. The dark side of human nature Endstille explores isn’t shrouded in enticing mystery–it’s something so thoroughly historically validated that we’d rather just pretend it doesn’t exist at all. The final track, Völkerschlächter, is one of the best songs of the year. Stylistically subdued, it pummels the listener instead with a long list of political and military leaders responsible for mass murder, named in a thick German accent over a seven second riff that’s repeated for 11 minutes. It’s a brutal realization that the sensations black metal tends to arouse are quite real and quite deplorable, and it will leave you feeling a little sick inside.

11. Nekrogoblikon – Stench
Nekrogoblikon released a folk metal parody album in 2006 that was good for laughs and really nothing else. The music was pretty awful, but that was intentional. It was a joke, with no presumption to be any good as anything but a joke. They’re the last band on earth I ever expected, a full six years after the fact, to pop back up with a really fucking solid sound. But Stench is good. I mean, Stench is really good. It’s still comical in theme, but the music has been refined beyond measure. Quirky, cheesy guitar and keyboard doodles have become vivid images of little flesh-eating gremlins dancing around your feet, whiny mock-vocals have taken the shape of pretty solid Elvenking-esque power metal, pretty much everything about them has grown into a legitimate melo-death and power infused folk metal sound. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not meant to be taken seriously, but they’re now of Finntroll caliber. (Recommended tracks: Goblin Box, Gallows & Graves, A Feast)

10. Týr – The Lay of Thrym
I thought By the Light of the Northern Star was a fairly weak album, and because The Lay of Thrym maintains some of the stylistic changes they underwent then, a part of me keeps wanting to say it can’t be as good as say, Land or Eric the Red. But of all the albums I acquired in 2011, I’ve probably listened to this one the most. Týr have one of the most unique sounds on the market, and it’s thoroughly incapable of ever boring me or growing old. Heri Joensen’s consistently excellent vocal performance alone is enough to make them perpetual year-end contenders. (Recommended track: Hall of Freedom)

9. Waldgeflüster – Femundsmarka – Eine Reise in drei Kapiteln
This is some of the most endearing black metal I’ve heard in a while. Intended as a musical reminiscence of Winterherz’ journey through Femundsmarka National Park in Scandinavia, it’s a beautiful glorification of nature that takes some of the best accomplishments of Drudkh and Agalloch and adds to them a very uplifting vibe. Someone made an 8 minute compilation of the album on youtube which does a good job at previewing without revealing all of its finest moments. (Recommended track: Kapitel I: Seenland)

8. Ygg – Ygg
Ygg is an hour-long trance, evoking ancient gods in a way that only Slavic metal can. You could probably pick apart the music and discover plenty of flaws, but that would miss the point. I think that a lot of these Ukrainian and Russian bands are true believers, and that the purpose of music like this is more to create an experience in the listener than to be good for its own sake. This is a spiritual journey, and if it fails to move you as such it will probably come off as rather repetitive and generic, but I find it impressively effective. (Recommended track: Ygg)

7. Blut aus Nord – 777: Sect(s)
I don’t know where to put this really. I could just as easily have labeled it second best album of the year. Dropping it down to 7th might seem a little unjustified, but eh, this is a list of my top albums, not of the “best” albums of the year. There’s no denying Sect(s) credit as a brilliant masterpiece, but it’s an ode to madness. I mean, this music scares the shit out of me, and if that means it’s accomplished something no other album has, that also means I don’t particularly “enjoy” listening to it. (Recommended track: Epitome I)

6. Altar of Plagues – Mammal
I never did listen to Mammal as actively as I would have liked. I never sat down and gave it my undivided attention from start to finish. But it’s served as a background piece for many late nights at work. It zones me in–stimulates my senses without ever distracting them from the task at hand. I don’t feel like I can really say much about what makes it great, because that’s not the sort of thing I’ve considered while listening to it, but I absolutely love it. It’s a big improvement from White Tomb, which was itself an excellent album, and more so than most other releases of 2011 I will probably continue to listen to it frequently in years to come. (Recommended track: Neptune is Dead)

5. Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand (track: No Grave Deep Enough)
Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand is by no means perfect. It’s got a few sub-par tracks detracting from the full start to finish experience, but when it’s at its best all else can be easily forgiven. Call it folk metal or call it black metal, whichever you prefer, but first and foremost call it Irish, with every good thing that might entail. The vocals are outstanding, the music rocks out in folk fashion without ever relenting from its metal force, and while the lyrics don’t always make sense, they always hit like a fucking truck. Where they do all come together, delivered with Nemtheanga’s vast and desperate bellows, the result is overwhelming. O Death, where are your teeth that gnaw on the bones of fabled men? O Death, where are your claws that haul me from the grave? (Other recommended tracks: The Puritan’s Hand, Death of the Gods)

4. Falconer – Armod (track: Griftefrid)
Prior to 2011 I’d largely written Falconer off as one of those power metal acts that were just a little too cheesy to ever excite me. Maybe it was bad timing. Maybe I just happened to hear them for the first time while Kristoffer Göbel was filling in on vocals. Or maybe Armod is just their magnum opus–a spark of genius they’ve never neared before. Flawless if we ignore the “bonus tracks”, Armod takes that early folk metal sound Vintersorg pioneered with Otyg, merges it perfectly with power metal, and offers up 11 of the most well-written and excellently produced songs of the year. Mathias Blad’s vocals are absolutely phenomenal. (Other recommended tracks: Herr Peder Och Hans Syster)

3. Falkenbach – Tiurida (track: Sunnavend)
A lot of people might voice the legitimate complaint that Tiurida, Vratyas Vakyas’s first studio album in six years, sounds absolutely indistinguishable from his prior four. For me, that’s exactly why it ranks so high. Vakyas landed on a completely unique, instantly recognizable sound which, alongside Bathory, defined viking metal as a genre, and he’s refused to change it one bit. I fell in love with this album ten years ago. (Other recommended tracks: Where His Ravens Fly…)

2. Liturgy – Aesthethica (track: Harmonia)
Yes, Liturgy. It’s immature, childish, and imperfect, but it’s uplifting in a completely new way. No matter how far Hunt-Hendrix might go to embarrass himself and his band mates, behind all of his pompous babble there just might be some truth to it. (Other recommended tracks: True Will)

1. Krallice – Diotima (track: Dust and Light)
More than the album of the year, Diotima is one of the greatest albums ever made. I can’t fathom the amount of skill it must take to perform with the speed and precision that these guys do, but if they battered down a physical barrier to metal in 2008, they finally grasped hold of what lies beyond it in 2011. They claim that the songs on their first three albums were all written at the same time by Mick Barr and Colin Marston, before their self-titled debut. If that’s the case, then it must be the experience of performing together and the creative contributions of Lev Weinstein and Nick McMaster that raised Diotima to a higher level. It’s not just that they’ve improved in every way imaginable; the songs themselves are overwhelming, breathtaking, and chaotic to a degree they’d never before accomplished. Krallice perform an unwieldy monster that took a few albums to thoroughly overcome. Now they’re in complete control, and their absolutely brilliant song-writing can shine through. With the exception of the dubious Litany of Regrets, this is possibly the greatest album I have ever heard. (Other recommended tracks: Inhume, Diotima, Telluric Rings)

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Young Adult (dir. by Jason Reitman)

David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t the only “feel bad movie of the holidays.”  There’s also Young Adult, a rather dark comedy that reunites the director and screenwriter behind Juno, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.

Young Adult is the story of Mavis (played winningly by Charlize Theron), a former high school mean girl who has grown up to be a lonely, alcoholic ghost writer of young adult literature.  Mavis is struggling to write her latest book when she gets an e-mail announcing that her former high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson, who defines dreamy) is not only married but his wife has just given birth to their first child.  Mavis does what we would all do if we found ourselves in similar circumstances: she promptly returns to her old hometown and plots to break up Buddy’s happy marriage*.  (Or as Mavis puts it: “We can beat this thing.”) 

Once she returns to her hometown, Mavis not only struggles to reconnect with Buddy but also runs into another former high school classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt, who deserves every sort of award nomination that there is for his performance here).  As opposed to Mavis, Matt was an outcast in high school who, during his senior year, was beaten and permanently crippled by a bunch of bullies who had decided that he was gay.  Much as Mavis has won fame as a writer, Matt has won his own sort of fame as “the hate crime guy.”  Despite themselves, Mavis and Matt start to bond over their own inability to move on with their lives past high school.

As you might guess from the plot synopsis above, Young Adult is a not a laugh-out-loud comedy.  Instead, it’s a comedy of awkward moments and “Oh no, she didn’t!” moments.  It’s not always an easy movie to recommend because Mavis is an apologetically unlikable character.  However, as the film goes on, you can’t help but respect the fearless way that the film tackles a character that doesn’t really offer up much chance for a crowd-pleasing redemption.  Obviously, for this to work, Charlize Theron has to give a brilliant performance in the lead role and she does.  However, the film truly belongs to Patton Oswalt, who plays his role with a perfect combination of anger, self-pity, and sarcasm.  He provides this film with its own fractured heart and we’re all better off for it.


* Okay, technically, maybe not everybody would do that.  But I would.

Poll: What Are You Looking Forward To In February?

So, at the end of each month, we ask you, our loyal readers, what movies are you looking forward to seeing in the future?  Last month at this time, we asked you what you were looking forward to seeing in January and the clear winner (with 42% of the vote) was the 3-D rerelease of Beauty and the Beast.

So, what about February?  Are you most excited about seeing the re-release of the Phantom Menace? And, if so, why?  I was only 13 when that movie first came out and even then, I thought it was the most boring thing I had ever seen.  Or perhaps your enthusiastic about a new film coming out?  And again, I have to ask why.  There usually aren’t that many good films released in January and February.

So, with all that in mind, what are you planning on seeing? 

As always, you can vote for up to four films and write-ins are accepted!  

Happy voting!

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: The Office Episode 0102 — Diversity Day

Last night, I watched a classic episode of the Office: Diversity Day!

Why Was I Watching It:

Down here in Dallas, they show reruns of The Office twice a day on Channel 27.  I can literally say that I’ve probably seen every episode about 20 times at this point and now, if I’m home at night with nothing to do, I’m more likely to see what’s on LMN.  However, Diversity Day remains like one of my favorite episodes of the Office ever so, when I saw it was going to be on, I had to watch it.

What Was It About:

As the show begins, we find ourselves in the familiar offices of Dunder Mifflin Scranton.  However, things are slightly different from the office we force ourselves to watch today.  Kelly Kapoor is dressed conservatively.  Michael Scott, with his thinning hair slicked back, is still in the manager’s office and, as opposed to being a somewhat docile idiot manchild, is just kind of a jerk.  Jim and Pam are still cute and flirty (and Pam is still dressing like someone who actually works in an office).  Robert California is nowhere to be seen and, for that matter, neither is Andy Bernard.  In fact, we manage to get through this entire episode without anyone breaking out into song.  Dwight’s pretty much the same, though.

Basically, Michael has offended just about everyone in the office by performing  the infamous “Chris Rock Routine.”  Corporate has responded by sending down Mr. Brown (a hilarious Larry Wilmore) from Diversity Today who leads the entire office through “sensitivity training.”  Naturally, Michael feels threatened by this and so he decides to form his own company (which he calls Diversity Tomorrow because “…(T)oday is almost over.”) and leads his own sensitivity training workshop.  This, of course, leads to Michael eventually getting slapped by Kelly when Michael asks her if she wants to step into his convenience shop and sample his “cookie cookie.”

What Worked?

Yes, Diversity Day is old school Office, back when the show was both incredibly funny and achingly sad too.  It was also the first episode to be broadcast after the pilot and it remains one of the best episode of the Office ever.  Whenever I catch these old episode of The Office in syndication, I’m always surprised to discover just how sweet and oddly poignant these shows were.  Michael is truly a bad boss, the characters are clearly coworkers as opposed to being friends, and there’s none of the silliness that has come to dominate the show after the third season.  One reason why the relationship between Jim and Pam was so special in those early episodes is because its made clear that both of them would spend their entire workday miserable if not for the time they spend talking to each other.

I think the main difference between these old episodes and the new episodes is that, if someone had suggested everyone who works at Office spend the weekend together at a Garden Party during the first three seasons, no one would have shown up.  That is perfectly epitomized in this episode as all the characters find themselves forced to interact in an awkward attempt to celebrate diversity and mutual respect.  The show works because Michael is so hilariously clueless to the fact that most of his employees would just rather work until five and then go home.

(If this episode was made today, Andy would end up pulling out his guitar and leading everyone in a sing along.)

This episode is also full of wonderful little moments and an observant eye for the details that distinguish a good show from a great one.  Among my favorite moments: Dwight’s explanation of what a hero truly is (and Mr. Brown’s patient response of, “You’re thinking of a superhero.”), Michael’s cheaply done Diversity Tomorrow Video, and Pam finally falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder.

What Didn’t Work:

The episode itself was about as perfect as perfect can be but as I watched it, it was hard for me not to think about how different The Office is today as compared to what it once was.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments:

I’ve always enjoyed talking about diversity training because it gives me an excuse to mention that I’m an Italian-Spanish-German-Irish American.

Lessons Learned:

Reruns are always better.  Plus, if you are a racist, I will attack you with the north…

6 Trailers To End The Year With

Well, here we are at the end of 2011 and you know what that means.  It’s time for one last 2011 entry of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers!

1) New Year’s Evil (1981)

I’ve never seen this film but I’ve read about it and the plot actually sounds like it has potential: a killer is determined to kill a different person in each time zone across America over the course of one long, New Year’s Eve night.  I get the feeling the execution was probably lacking but seriously,  time zones are weird.

2) Student Bodies (1981)

This little satire of the slasher genre shows up on cable occasionally.  I’ve never managed to make it all the way through but I do appreciate the gag with the killer continually stepping on chewing gum.

3) Screwballs (1983)

With a name like Screwballs it has to be …. uhmm, good?

4) Spring Break (1983)

Obviously, there was a serious lack of attractive people in the 1980s.

5) Ski School (1991)

Oh wait.  The kinda attractive people were at the ski school.  Emphasis on kinda.

6) My Tutor (1982)

However, as always, the truly cool people, were learning how to speak French.

With love, Happy New Year!



A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Higher Ground (dir. by Vera Farmiga)

Last August, I saw a wonderful film called Higher Ground.  Despite the fact that it had gotten a rapturous review in our local news paper, I was one of the only people in the theater.  Higher Ground played for a week before leaving and it’s been rather ignored during Oscar season.  And that’s a shame because I think that Higher Ground is one of the best films of 2011.  It’s certainly one of my personal favorites.

Taking place over the course of several decade, Higher Ground follows Corinne (Vera Farmiga) as she goes from being married and pregnant at 18 to eventually following her husband into joining a commune of self-described “Jesus Freaks.”  The commune, while being undeniably well-meaning, is also male-dominated and follows an extremely fundamentalist interpretation of the bible.  The previously fiercely independent Corinne quickly settles in to being a compliant housewife with her social life being pretty much limited to hanging out with the other housewives in the commune.  As the years progress, Corinne struggles to balance her own independence with her own religious beliefs until finally, she starts to both question her faith and the life she’s lived for the past 20 years.

For the most part, American cinema doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to religious themes.  Regardless of whether a film is pro-religion or anti-religion, the final result often times seems to be heavy-handed, simple-minded, and finally rather condescending.  (I always roll my eyes whenever a white, Southern-accented preacher shows up in a movie because I know that he’s going to turn out to be a villain within the next 30 minutes).  It’s very rare to find a film that treats religion and the issues of faith (and the lack of it) with anything resembling intelligence.  Higher Ground is one of those rare films and, for the reason alone, it deserves to be seen.  A typical and lesser film would have taken sides and would have given us a bunch of easy judgments and hissable villains.  Higher Ground, however, is far too subtle and intelligent to give us any easy answers.  In the end, its portrait of religion and faith is intriguingly ambiguous and one that forces the viewer to reconsider their own feelings as well.

Ultimately, Higher Ground is triumph for Vera Farmiga, who both stars and makes her directorial debut with this film.  As both a director and a star, she contributes some very subtle work here and, as a result, the film almost takes you be surprise as you suddenly realize just how wrapped of you gotten in its story.  Farmiga’s direction is so assured that she even gets away with a few showy fantasy sequences where Corinne reveals what’s going on behind her devout facade.  It’s a triumphant directorial debut and I’m looking forward to seeing what Farmiga does in the future.