Sunday, November 29, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2003 edition

Compared with the year that preceded it (and please feel free to look back at the first three installments of this series), 2003 was indeed a down year for movies, but that certainly didn't mean it still didn't have some real winners.

It was, in fact, a particularly strong year for documentaries. Two made the final cut you'll find below, and two just missed out: Jeffrey Blitz's "Spellbound" and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha." Blitz, who also made one of my favorite movies of 2007 with the autobiographical and thoroughly charming "Rocket Science," is getting back in the documentary game next year with a movie about the lottery business, so keep your eyes out for it.

And, before we get to the main course, the other honorable mention movies for 2003 are: "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Chicago," "Swimming Pool," "Lost in Translation," "Pieces of April" and "The Station Agent."

OK, here goes, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I might have wrongfully overlooked.

"Man on the Train"
I'll never understand why the French actor/singer Johnny Hallyday never became a big international star, because he's certainly got the charisma for it (although I suppose he's probably a bit too old now.) The best movie I've seen him in was this Patrice Leconte gem in which he plays a gangster who crosses paths with a retired school teacher played by the great Jean Rochefort, and then their lives start to merge. See it if you never have, and I guarantee you'll like it.

"Capturing the Friedmans"
A truly disturbing documentary, but filmmaker Andrew Jarecki was as fair as he could possibly be (many would say too fair) with the titular father and then son, who are accused and then convicted of truly heinous sexual acts involving children. As Jarecki delves into the case, interviewing the accusers as well as the family members themselves at length, the one fact that becomes clear is that "facts" and "truth" can indeed be elusive things.

"Dirty Pretty Things"
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou make an extremely unlikely but engaging pairing in this taut thriller from director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Steven Knight. It deals deftly with the complexities of immigration as it paints a perfectly seedy portrait of London's underbelly, and it and the comedy "The Snapper" (which certainly would have made this list somewhere if it hadn't come out way back in 1993) are my favorite Frears flicks.

"Bend It Like Beckham"
I suppose this is the "yes, really" entry on this list, but there really wasn't a more infectiously fun movie in 2003 than this one from director Gurinder Chadha. Besides, I just like movies about soccer ("The Damned United" will almost certainly make this year's list), and when you throw in a still fairly well-fed Keira Knightley and the real star, Parminder Nagra (who went on to have long run on "ER"), this makes for one I go back to once a year or so and still really enjoy.

"American Splendor"
By a fairly wide margin, this is my favorite movie of 2003, and still the only movie I've seen from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (I really can't see myself watching "The Nanny Diaries" any time soon.) Harvey Pekar is probably the most unlikely pop culture figure ever, and Paul Giamatti just captures all his quirks perfectly. Fiction and reality blend seamlessly as we find out how Harvey's life as a VA file clerk was transformed by a meeting with R. Crumb that led him to create the titular cult comic book series and then by his endearing relationship with a Delaware comic book store owner, played by Hope Davis. And Judah Friedlander is just a hoot as his oddball buddy Toby.

"Fog of War"
In its own way, this Errol Morris documentary was even more creepy than "Capturing the Friedmans," mostly due to the candidness and stunning lack of remorse of its subject, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. A similar approach was taken with one of my favorite films of this year, James Toback's "Tyson" (which is out on DVD now.) You'll feel extremely frustrated as you see McNamara's evident genius laid out but then see how it still left him with either a blindness or simply a lack of conscience as to what was really going on in Vietnam.

"School of Rock"
Another "yes, really" entry I suppose, but this flick from Richard Linklater and screenwriter (and very unlikely reality TV star) Mike White was the funniest movie of 2003 in my book, and really, what more can you ask for? Jack Black was far from the grating presence he often is now, and is instead just impish enough as the teacher who teaches his young band of followers to rock out. Just a great "comfort" movie.

"Shattered Glass"
It's really a shame that Billy Ray doesn't direct movies more often, because though he's certainly better known as a screenwriter, the two flicks he's helmed - this one and "Breach" - are real winners. What they share is a claustrophobic feel that perfectly fits this story about disgraced "New Republic" "journalist" Stephen Glass. And though it's a thoroughly depressing case for anyone in my profession, Peter Sarsgaard is particularly good as "New Republic" editor Charles Lane, as is Hayden Christensen (again, yes, really) as the titular shyster.

"The Triplets of Belleville"
Can an animated movie with no discernible dialogue (and not named "Wall-E") really be considered one of the best movies of the last 10 years? I'd certainly say yes in this case, because writer/director Sylvain Chomet's story about a Tour de France champion (named, of course, Champion) who is kidnapped by the French mafia and the grandmother who comes to his rescue is as equally abstract as the animation itself, which renders its characters as oddly shaped and sometimes indeed grotesque. It's a whole lot more charming than I'm making it sound here, believe me.

"Big Fish"
Though he's made some other great ones - and some real duds too - this has stood up through the years as my favorite Tim Burton movie. It's based on the equally good novel by Daniel Wallace, a Southerner with a genuine gift for storytelling, and it's mostly about exactly that - a son who has to sort through the various stories (and perhaps lies) his dying father has told throughout his life. In Burton's hands, and with a dynamite cast that included Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Albert Finney, Jessice Lange, Helena Bonham Carter (of course) and even a young Marion Cotillard, this is a fantastic tribute to the power of the imagination.

And there you have it. Please feel free to add any you may wish to, and to check back Tuesday for a look at 2004. Peace out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2002 edition

With many movie years, you have to choose between quantity and quality, but that was certainly not the case in 2002.

There were so many good movies that year that it really is a shame to cut it down to just 10, but those were the rules I established. However, in a nod to just how many worthy selections there were, here's the honorable mention first:

Peter Greengrass' "Bloody Sunday," Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia," "Mostly Martha," Nicole Holofcener's "Lovely and Amazing," Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," "Jack-Ass: The Movie," Curtis Hansen's "8 Mile," Phillip Noyce's "Rabbit Proof Fence," Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" and Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

And when it comes to "Jack-Ass," yes, really, because that movie just makes me laugh from start to finish, and you really can't ask for more than that sometimes. And it really was a banner year for Noyce, who will make another appearance below. Here goes:

"Gosford Park"
Being Robert Altman's last movie should probably be enough by itself to earn a spot on this list, but "Gosford Park" has a whole lot more going for it than that. Proving he could take his talent for weaving together many storylines to just about anywhere, Altman and screenwriters Bob Balaban and Julian Fellowes turned this into not only a solid mystery but also captured the mannered intricacies of the upstairs/downstairs culture.

"Monsoon Wedding"
Does Mira Nair keep having to make movies about Indian subjects for them to be great? Not necessarily, but it certainly seems to help. Two other of her flicks that almost perfectly capture that state of being both Indian and a citizen of the world are "The Namesake" and "Mississippi Masala," but the titular wedding here, which draws guests and chaos from around the world, is her best work.

"Y Tu Mama Tambien"
The runner-up for best movie of 2002 in my book, and only because this year also contains what is my best movie of the decade (you'll have to keep reading to find out what it is, but a few may know already.) The first Alfonso Cuaron flick I managed to see ("Little Princess" is great too, but I didn't see that until it hit video) is a great Mexican road movie, a charmingly twisted coming-of-age tale and - in its own way - a statement on the corrupt nature of Mexican politics. And, for the ladies, of course, it introduced the world to Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. A sheer delight.

"Nine Queens"
I believe this great Fabian Bielinsky heist movie was actually first released in 2000, but it didn't make it to the US of A until 2002, so here it is. Bielinsky, by the way, is a first-rate director, but sadly died at only age 47 and after only helming two movies, this one and "El Aura," a nifty twist on the traditional film noir. Both are well worth an immediate rental.

"Sunshine State"
This was the last time I really thought John Sayles used his storytelling talent to its full strength, and coincidentally enough, it comes 10 years after what for me is still his best flick, "Passion Fish." It probably helps that I had visited my brother in South Florida and got a feel for the murky world Sayles delves into here, but he really got to the crooked heart of it nearly perfectly. (His last movie, by the way, "Honeydripper," was just a real flaming turd in my book, so here's hoping Mr. Sayles makes a return to top form soon.)

"24-Hour Party People"
Michael Winterbottom makes far too many movies for them all to be great - or even good - but not coincidentally the best two put Steve Coogan front and center, this and "A Cock and Bull Story" (which may very well make an appearance on the 2005 list.) Coogan's flair for blustering ego combined with the improbably true story of the rise and fall of Manchester's Factory Records told with a winking wit make this a real gem.

"Super Troopers"
Is, on any possible scale, Broken Lizard's "Super Troopers" better than the 10 or so movies that only made this year's honorable mention? Probably only mine, but the guys made just about the ultimate "comfort" movie with this just wacky enough look at what really happens in the lives of highway patrolmen. Though "Beerfest" was fairly funny, I don't think they'll ever be as good as they were with this one, but here's hoping "Slammin' Salmon" both gets a wide enough distribution that I get to see it and doesn't disappoint. (Amazingly, it looks like there may well be a "Super Troopers 2" in 2011 .. bring it on!)

"City of God"
OK, I probably shouldn't reveal this only three years into the decade, but this Fernando Meirelles flick is, for me, the best movie of the last 10 years. None better combines simply dynamic storytelling in the saga of two boys growing up in the violent slums of Rio de Janeiro with stunning visuals that will stay burned on your brain, especially in a street party scene that's as electric as it is harrowing. This movie spawned both a Brazilian TV series and a sequel of sorts, both titled "City of Men," which are both worth watching but don't quite capture the unique magic of Meirelles' masterpiece.

"The Quiet American"
Occasionally, remakes can work just right, as is the case with Phillip Noyce's update on the Graham Greene novel about Vietnam. Well, update isn't really the right word, because Noyce keeps it right in the same time and place and brings along Brendan Fraser as the titular yank and Michael Caine as a wizened British journalist to tell the tale of how love, politics and intrigue all collide with more style and certainly more steam than the 1958 original. And Mr. Noyce, a definite favorite around here, may very well make another appearance on the 2006 list for "Catch a Fire."

"Talk to Her"
Even when he goes completely over the top, I almost always find something redeeming in Pedro Almodovar's works, but he's at his best as with "Talk to Her" when he takes things a little more seriously without losing any of his unique view of the world. I suggested this one as a Macon Film Guild selection (though I'm sure they had it on their list already), and was pleasantly surprised to find out no one complained, even when one of the two men at the core of this story finds himself shrinking and exploring his comatose lover's body until, inevitably I suppose, he ends up inside her vagina. Almodovar just has a knack for writing great roles for women, as he appears to have done again this year for Penelope Cruz, so I'll leave you today with what I think is the latest trailer for his "Broken Embraces," which is slowly building buzz and should be a strong awards season dark horse. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy turkey day from me ... and the Muppets!

In honor of America's most gluttonous holiday, I'm taking a break from the best of the decade project - today would have been 2002, so tomorrow will. I can tell you that there were 16 finalists, and only 10 make the final cut, so it was a real competition (although the original "Jack-Ass" movie, as much as I love it, was easily the first finalist to go.)

Instead today, it's all about the Muppets, and really, shouldn't every holiday be? I loved the Muppets more than just about any other pop culture creation when I was a kid, and still do, so it was a real joy to find out that through the power of HD technology and with the help of some enterprising folks, the Muppets now have their own YouTube channel, and this blissfully fun video of them performing "Bohemian Rhapsody" is easily the craziest and best thing on it.

Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller are supposedly still working on a new Muppet movie, though the details on its status are only in the pay section at the IMDB, so I guess it's not too far along. In the meantime, enjoy this clip. There's a lot to take in, but I especially loved Animal and how they avoided using the word "Beelzebub." Enjoy, and have a great turkey day. Peace out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2001 edition

I should probably just drop the years from this thing altogether, because today's list will actually contain not one, as I had hoped, but two movies that actually came out in late 2000.

My only two excuses are that I write this very early in the morning, and well, I sometimes confuse when a movie came out with when I actually got to see it. And, to paraphrase the great Lewis Grizzard when people complained about errors in the Atlanta Constitution, "hey, it don't cost but ... well, nothing."

Anyways, here are the nine movies that made today's list, and though that's only seven actually from 2001, I really love all of these, so enjoy, and please feel free to add any you think I may have overlooked.

"O Brother Where Art Thou"
I fluctuate from week to week as to whether this or "The Big Lebowski" are my favorite Coen brothers flick, but for now let's just put them both on top as co-conspirators. Thanks to Bob for politely pointing out this should have been on my 2000 list, because no other Coen brothers flick better combines their talent for establishing a strong sense of place with simply wicked (and in this case delightfully silly) humor. It's a major strength of this flick that, although it clearly pokes fun at Southerners, I have yet to meet one who doesn't look back on it with love.

Nothing like getting your errors out of the way right up front, so here's another one that was apparently released in late 2000 but was misplaced by me (though, in my defense, it didn't get its U.S. debut until the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.) You can trace all the themes from Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" to this mindbender starring Guy Pearce. I love a movie that I have to watch more than once just to make sure it all adds up (and there's another one coming later on this list), especially when it's good enough - like this gem - to make you want to invest the trouble of watching it again.

"Spy Kids"
Yes, really. Though the franchise got worse and worse with the subsequent movies in this series, the original from Robert Rodriguez was just great escapist fare for kids and adults - like me - who like to act like them fairly often. I haven't seen "Shorts" yet, but I will on video, because I just appreciate that Rodriguez - when he's not grindhousing out gloriously gross fare like "Planet Terror" - makes movies he thinks his own kids will enjoy.

You can count Jean Pierre Jeunet as one of my very favorite directors in the world, and I was just a sucker for this lighter than air romance starring a simply adorable Audrey Tautou. I'm really hoping Jeunet's "Micmacs à tire-larigot," as best as I can tell a goofy tale about a group of misfits who band together to take on a weapons manufacturer, is somehow playing at the end of the year when I make it to New York City, because when he's on top of his game - as with "Amelie" - Jeunet just makes movies that look like nothing else you can find in theaters, and you really can't say that about very many directors.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
I love movies in which the music is at least as good as the movie itself, which is clearly the case with this flick that John Cameron Mitchell wrote, directed and starred in - as the truly unforgettable creation Hedwig. Yes, if there's a scale of somewhat gay to extremely gay, this flick clearly belongs on the latter end, but it's also just a giddy punk-rock romp and tons of fun.

"Ghost World"
This has developed - along with "Office Space" and "Super Troopers" - into one of those movies I can pop into the DVD player after a nightmarish day at work to make it all float away. What in the world ever happened to Thora Birch, who as Enid just made the perfect (anti-?) heroine? I love that, to this day, if I find the right person to talk to, we can still debate just what happened to her at the end - AND IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FLICK BASED ON THE GRAPHIC NOVEL BY DANIEL CLOWES, PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH SO I WON'T SPOIL IT FOR YOU - in which I've always thought Enid commits suicide. No matter how you read it, this is just a bittersweetly askew view of the world, and easily one of my favorite flicks.

"Devil's Backbone"
I watched this Guillermo del Toro movie again this year for Halloween when I was petsitting for a friend of mine (yes, I have a rather boring life sometimes), and though it takes its time telling the tale, it's just a wickedly entertaining ghost story. On a side note, if you want to see a more recent horror flick endorsed by del Toro, please see Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage" ("La Orfanato") on DVD before it gets the inevitable English-language remake next year.

"Donnie Darko"
Will Richard Kelly ever make a great movie again? I sat through all of "Southland Tales" and this year's "The Box" simply out of love for this flick, but they were both just serious duds. "Donnie Darko," however, took me multiple viewings to truly appreciate, but as twisted tales go, this one about Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his giant furry friend Frank is as good and ultimately absorbing as the best work of David Lynch.

"The Royal Tenenbaums"
Nothing like saving the best for last. Though all these flicks are winners for me, the best movie of 2001 was also Wes Anderson's best (though by just a nose over his first two, "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket.") No other of his movies better combines his artist's eye for detail with a great knack for storytelling, here about the Tenenbaums, a family of doomed geniuses who live in some kind of alternate vision of New York City. From all I've heard, he and co-writer Noah Baumbach have recaptured this magic with "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which I can't wait to see this weekend. In the meantime I'll leave you today with one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a movie, Royal Tenenbaum's epitaph.

"Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship."

So there you have it. As I said, please feel free to add any movies you think I may have snubbed, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. As a bonus, here's the second trailer for "Youth in Revolt," which - despite the ridiculous voiceover pitching it as a routine teen comedy - I'm hoping will be one of my 2010 favorites, because the book by C.D. Payne is just a fantastic farce. Peace out.

Youth in Revolt Trailer #2

Trailer Park | MySpace Video

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2000 edition

Though I will confess I swiped the idea of picking the best movies of the last decade from somewhere in my morning Web reading, I promise you these choices are all my own (and since, I believe, only one of them from the first year received a Best Picture nomination, they're clearly not anything approaching consensus picks.)

The rules? Well, there aren't many. Simply that I limited it to 10 for each post (though that's a maximum, not a minimum), mostly because of the time it takes to do this. And beyond that, I only ask that if you want to ridicule my picks, please allow for the factors of time and space since they came out, and that these are indeed only MY favorites (and please, feel free to add your own.)

And, also please feel free to check back tomorrow for the 2001 list, and, interrupted only possibly by reviews of "Ninja Assassin" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," then the best of every year through 2009 (so far, of course.)

OK, here goes: My best movies of 2000, in no particular order (though I will tell you the best in my book.)

"The Hurricane"
You know, I really dislike "Training Day," not only because I just find it to be one of the most overrated movies ever (yes, some hyperbole to start), but also because the Oscar it netted for Denzel Washington was clearly just awarded to make up for him being so egregiously snubbed in this and Spike Lee's "Malcolm X." Though a pretty straightforward biopic, Norman Jewison's movie about Ruben "Hurricane" Carter is anchored by a great, nuanced performance from Mr. Washington and just tells a tragic American story very well.

"Wonder Boys"
This is one that had to grow on me on DVD, but it pretty well captures the spirit of Michael Chabon's book, and besides, Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes (yes, Katie Holmes), Robert Downey Jr. and even Rip Torn clearly just had as much fun making this Curtis Hanson flick as I did watching it.

"High Fidelity"
When I heard they felt the need to transport Nick Hornby's novel across the pond to make it into a movie, especially since it was being helmed by British director Stephen Frears (one of my favorites), I was certainly skeptical. It works, however, because of John Cusack and because Frears captured the obsessive rhythm of Hornby's work, and it's just one of my favorite romantic comedies.

"Chicken Run"
Though hardly anyone noticed, there was a Wallace and Gromit movie released on DVD this year ("Wallace & Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death"), and it's really good. And since children's movies actually aimed at adults are certainly in vogue now, why not go back and check out this masterwork from Aardman animation maestros Peter Lord and Nick Park?

"The Virgin Suicides"
I'm really looking forward to Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," scheduled to drop sometime next year, because in my book she really needs a winner after the disaster that was "Marie Antoinette." However, three out of four ain't bad, and even better than her "Lost in Translation" was this debut flick starring Kirsten Dunst, which was just a perfect hazy dream to watch unfold. (And yes, in case anyone is wondering and bothers to pay this much attention, this movie is listed as being from 1999 at the Internet Movie Database, but I'm going with Movieweb for this list.)

"Almost Famous"
Man, what in the world ever happened to Cameron Crowe? I just hated "Elizabethtown" with a passion, but for proof that he was once a great writer and director, look no further than this autobiographical tale at least loosely based on his life as a scribe for the Rolling Stone. If the best test of a movie's merits is how often you go back to it, this is my pick for the best movie of 2000 (and by any standard, it is.) And in case you were wondering, all Crowe is down for now at the IMDB is a Pearl Jam documentary, which just makes me say meh.)

I had to go back and look at his filmography to make sure, but this was indeed the last Spike Lee movie I saw in a theater that just blew me away ("When the Levees Broke," a real stunner, doesn't count, since I only saw it on TV.) Though it falls apart rather disastrously at the finish, Lee's "Bamboozled" still works very well as a scathing satire about race and entertainment, and Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson are just great in it. And if you want proof that Spike Lee can still make good movies, his take on the Broadway hit "Passing Strange," which you can watch On Demand (or whatever your cable services calls it), is exceptional.

Yes, really. The last M. Night Shyamalan worth a spit in my book is, I think, actually better than "The Sixth Sense." I just wish M. Night had concentrated long enough to deliver a sequel based on Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price character rather than making two of the worst movies of the last decade (probably a much funner list, and one I may tackle later) with "The Village" and "Lady in the Water."

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Yes, this is the only movie on this list that made the Best Picture slate, and it was well-deserved. I can still remember watching this movie in a New York City theater and then seeing it being played again later that same day on TV at Grand Szechuan. A rather amazing lesson in the power of piracy and also a great kung-fu epic from Ang Lee.

"Bring It On"
I should probably put some kind of asterisk by this one to denote it as a guilty pleasure, but I really don't feel remotely guilty about loving this extremely silly cheerleader flick that has spawned what seems like a zillion direct-to-video sequels. And yes, Kirsten Dunst really did make this list twice, which probably robs it of all credibility, but movies just don't get much more fun than "Bring It On," and I often don't ask for much more than that.

And there you have it. As I said, this is a ten-day project, though not necessarily on 10 straight days, so please feel free to check back for the next nine years, and of course, also please feel free to rain mockery down on my picks or offer your own.

And anyone who bothered to stick around that long today certainly deserves a reward, so here's what has to be the craziest short film I've ever seen about baseball but just a great little discovery, James Blagden's animated tale about Dock Ellis' no-hitter pitched under the influence of some rather seriously heavy drugs. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out

Saturday, November 21, 2009

And it glitters! The answer to one key question about vampire romance

It's pretty rare that something can be funny enough to make me do an actual spit take, but this clip starring Brandon Routh and Martha MacIsaac of "Superbad" in a spoof of "Twilight" was enough to do it with my Saturday morning coffee. Be warned: It answers that key question, "What will happen with my vampire boyfriend when I get my period?", so you know it's going to be delightfully crude. Enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yes, "Chuck" will be back, this time for real

Actually, the only other news I could find out there that's, well, not better, but at least insane, is that the "Jackass" crew may be back again in 2010 ... and this time in 3-D.

So far, Henry Selick's "Coraline" is the only flick that I thought really took true advantage of the 3-D technology as more than a gimmick to retain movie viewers, which it almost always is to me. Despite how much it annoys me by muddying all the colors of what should be very vibrant animated movies ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," by the way, looks fantastic in glorious 2-D), I can guarantee I'll at least pop down the scratch for a matinee to watch Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville come flying at me in excruciating pain, which is indeed listed on Paramount's 2010 slate, though so far with no release date.

Beyond that here today, it's all about "Chuck," about which there's some actual good news this morning rather than the rumors that have been slowly floating out to tantalize fans like me.

After teasing us with word of a possible return by Halloween (which was, obviously, just a dastardly lie), the official word now is that the bumbling spy-in-the-making and his new Intersect 2.0 skills will return with a two-hour premiere from 9-11 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10, and then a third episode at its regular time slot at 8 p.m. the next night. Three hours of "Chuck" in two days? Bring it on!

The only thing that could possibly worry me about all this is that the third season is already swollen with guest stars (Angie Harmon, Brandon Routh, Robert Patrick Armand Assante and even Vinnie Jones have already been announced) that may just distract from the overall fun. With NBC having already upped the season 3 order from 13 episodes to 19, however, I'd say it's all good.

As you can see from the preview below - which includes a scene from the new season - the Buy More will make a return, as well as at least Jeffster and Morgan. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Say "Yoo-Hoo" to Mrs. Goldberg with Aviva Kempner

The Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival just wrapped up last Sunday, and while I can't say they screened two of my favorite films of the year as they did last year with "Tell No One" and "Let the Right One In," it was still a great weekend jam-packed with good movies (11 in four days for me, a bit much, but that's how I like it.)

Though it somehow didn't finish in the top three for the audience award for best documentary (despite selling out at least one showing and being packed with clearly appreciative filmgoers at the one I squeezed in to), Aviva Kempner's "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" is a real winner. (It also somehow didn't make the cut of 15 for the Oscars ... what a load of rubbish!)

Documentaries can serve many purposes, and I like them in many forms. So far this year I've seen three great ones, "Every Little Step," "Tyson" and now Kempner's latest. You may remember her from "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," which, if you have any love at all for baseball you should see right away. "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" follows a similar formula in shining the spotlight on Jewish figures who haven't received the respect they clearly deserve.

In this case, the subject is Gertrude Berg, born Tilly Edelstein before she entered show business. I have to confess that going in I had no idea who she was, but that's certainly not a handicap, because Kempner's movie works as either an introduction or a trip down memory lane.

When I first heard the claim that Berg "invented the sitcom," I was certainly skeptical, but it is indeed pretty darn close to the truth. She created a radio show, "The Rise of the Goldbergs" and later "The Goldbergs," that was a hit during the Great Depression, and when TV was finally invented, she practically had to beg CBS TV to let her bring the show to that new format, but it would go on to be a big hit and garner Berg the first Emmy award for Best Actress.

But what about Kempner's documentary? Well, it treats its subject with reverence that occasionally does verge on fawning, but doesn't gloss over the rough patches the show hit in its many forms. Particularly touching and troubling is the story of Philip Loeb, who played Berg's TV husband before being blacklisted. If you don't know the thoroughly depressing story of Mr. Loeb, who eventually committed suicide, watch Martin Ritt's 1976 film "The Front," in which Zero Mostel played a character based on him. In Berg's case, she pulled her show off the air for a year and a half after Loeb was forced to resign, though I understand she continued to secretly pay him a salary on the side (that wasn't addressed in the movie, just something I've read.)

But that's only one small aspect of Kempner's documentary, which mostly just makes Gertrude Berg the star she once was and deserves to be remembered as. I'm not sure there's any place on TV today for a show that was so proudly ethnic, and that's a real shame, because even if watching her in action will occasionally make you wince, it will mostly make you smile, especially in her opening pitch for Sanka.

It's exactly this pride in heritage that makes Kempner one of my favorite filmmakers. A quick bit of research (well, as much as you can call it that at this early hour of the morning) shows she's now at work co-writing and producing a documentary about Native American activist Larry Casuse, another figure of which I most confess I am woefully ignorant.

As for "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," you can "save" it now on Netflix. I'm not sure when it will actually be available on DVD, but it's well worth catching as soon as you can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

With "Precious," believe all the hype

I suppose if I wanted a few people to actually read this I'd have something to say about "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," but beyond my thoroughly inappropriate crush on Anna Kendrick I really don't, so let's just move on.

Instead, I do have a few words to say about a truly great - though by no means perfect - movie that's opening in Macon this weekend, "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire," which shall from here on out be referred to only by the much less unwieldy name "Precious." (Oddly enough, both of these flicks are somehow getting midnight screenings very early here Friday morning, though I really can't see many from the Tyler Perry/Oprah set turning out at that hour - but even so, it should make for a fun mix.)

And be warned going into "Precious," which I certainly hope you will - it's every bit as bleak as you may have heard, but also every bit as entertaining. I've heard that director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher have toned things down more than a bit from the original novel, but watching this one you'll find that hard to believe.

As the movie opens we meet our titular heroine, played with quiet dignity but also indignation by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, in just about the worst circumstances imaginable. Fifteen and pregnant for the second time by her own father (yes, really), she now lives with her monster of a mother, played by Mo'Nique, who heaps so much abuse on poor Precious that it often becomes almost unbearable to watch.

So, what in any of that would make this entertaining? Well, Daniels does two things very well, both of which will draw inevitable comparisons to Perry (who along with Oprah is an executive producer of this flick.)

What they have in common (beyond skin color, which really has nothing to do with this at all) is that they just have a knack for - even in the most dire of circumstances - getting the most naturally compelling performances from their actresses. It all starts with Sidibe here, and watching how she is slowly drawn out of her shell in an "alternative school" that finally gets her to pay attention rather than just coast by is a true marvel to behold.

The best scenes in "Precious" take place in this classroom of sorts, where Paula Patton - surely modeled at least slightly on Sapphire, herself a teacher as well - leads a group of wounded but still brash young ladies. Their organic give and take is as good as anything in Laurent Cantet's "The Class" ("Entre Les Murs"), one of my favorite movies of 2008.

To be honest, though, as I was watching "Precious" unfold, I wasn't sure at first why Mo'Nique was getting so much Oscar buzz for her performance. Sure, she is truly demonic as Precious' mother, but the magic of what she accomplishes here hits you like a punch to the gut in a monologue at the end in which she attempts to explain herself to a social worker (Mariah Carey, believe it or not, and surprisingly good as well.) That she even comes close to invoking something approaching sympathy after all we've seen her do is nothing short of amazing, and it's what will surely earn her the supporting actress statue.

And it's this rather remarkable scene and one other that also made me think a lot of Tyler Perry, but this time of how different a work Daniels has created here, and in that way a much more powerful one. Though they each deal a lot with hope, Daniels' movie has as much to do with its limitations as its power to uplift, and for that reason will make you think a lot more than Perry's movies, as much as I usually love them, ever do.

The difference between them is captured in one perfect moment in which Precious looks into the windows of a church. I don't want to spoil it for you, but whereas in Perry's movies religion is almost always the (many would say way too easy) answer, it just drives Precious to one of the flights of fancy that leaven Daniels' movie even at its bleakest points. It's this combination of hope in just how much Precious has accomplished countered with little sentiment by just how much more is still stacked up against her that gives "Precious" its greatest strength, and makes it easily one of the best movies I've seen this year.

Which makes it a great pleasure to share that Daniels is in advanced talks to take on his next project, "Selma," which would of course be about that historic 1965 march and its effect on the sleepy Southern town it took place in and the rest of world. Here's hoping he signs on for that, because Mr. Daniels is definitely a talent to keep your eyes on. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the gym for a swim and a steam, just about the best possible way to start the day (after writing this, of course) in my book. Peace out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A slew of great clips, and then a break for me

After today, I'm shutting this site down for a week or so (though you're still welcome to stop by, of course) because I'm going to see my parents, hang out in fantastic Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (yes, Delaware), and see 10 or more movies in four days.

Yes, it's time once again for the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, easily my favorite time of the year. Highlights I'll hopefully get tickets for this year include Nina Paley's animated wonder "Sita Sings the Blues" and a trio of documentaries, Aviva Kempner's "Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg," Davis Guggenheim's "It Might Get Loud" and "Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love."

I can't wait to get there, but in the meantime, since there's no real news out there today, I'll leave with a series of clips because, since it's Wednesday, how better to waste time while you're at work today?

First up comes the first trailer I know of for "Kick-Ass," which, fortunately has no Nicolas Cage in it whatsoever. You do, however, get to see the kids - Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (yes, McLovin) - in costume, and even Michael Cera's BFF, Clark Duke. Here's hoping this Matthew Vaugnn flick is as nearly as funny as it should be when it finally drops in April.


Trailer Park | MySpace Video

Next up comes the trailer for a flick I can't say I'm all that excited about, though there's always the chance it could be a lot of fun in the vein of "300." Louis Leterrier is directing this more than a little unnecessary remake of "Clash of the Titans," starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes and set to come out March 26. Enjoy the trailer.

And now for something completely different. Though I would never - even on the rare weekday like today when I don't have to work - bother to tune into "General Hospital" or any other daytime soap, it's still probably a good thing that James Franco has lowered himself to star on that one for a little while. When I worked in the post office at the Catholic University of America (still one of my favorite jobs) we worked from like 6 a.m.-noon and then again from 3-5 p.m. Now, all the guys would go home for those three hours, but the gals would all huddle in the back room and watch three straight hours of their "stories." My point with that aside is that plenty of people still get pleasure from these shows, so if Franco can do anything to keep them alive, so be it. And besides, you can probably tell from the promo clip below that he seems to be having a lot of fun with this. Enjoy.

OK, back to the movies. It's been a long time since I've gotten to enjoy a silly and fun ninja flick, so I have to admit I'm really looking forward to spending a bit of my Thanksgiving weekend watching James McTeigue's "Ninja Assassin." My friend Sharon, who probably goes to two theater movies a year at most, has singled this one out as the single movie she wants to see for the rest of the year, and while that's more than a little odd, I've already promised I'll go see it with her. The main thing that crossed my mind as I watched these six "Ninja Assassin" clips courtesy of is that it sure would be nice to have my daily commute be interrupted by dueling ninjas. Enjoy.

And finally, though this has nothing at all to do with movies, this official video for Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" is a great valentine to New York City and just really fun to watch. I still wish they hadn't spoiled it a bit by performing this for the great Satan - aka the New York Yankees - but it's still just a really fun song and video (and congratulations, by the way, to Mr. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles on winning his first Gold Glove award this year.) Enjoy.

So, there you have it. Have a great week, and I'll see you back here next Tuesday or so. Peace out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Se7en" creators back together again, and lots of other good news

OK, there's a lot of news out there today about movie people I really like, so let's just get right into it. Well, actually, it starts with the director of one of my favorite documentaries jumping into something I'll never see, but it's all gravy after that, I promise.

If you haven't seen "Man on Wire," which I had the pleasure of seeing at the 2008 Rehoboth Independent Film Festival, you're really missing out on a magical documentary. Director James Marsh mixed live footage from tightrope artist Philippe Petit's several stunts with "Cops" style re-enactments that certainly would have been disastrous in lesser hands to make something truly magical. Rent it immediately if you haven't seen it.

Now, however, it seems that Marsh is jumping into fictional features with something I'll never see, both because I have little time for the "found footage" subgenre of horror flicks and also because just as a rule I never see movies that take the rather simple step of demonizing the Vatican. "The Vatican Tapes" will center on a series of events that unfold after a tape gets leaked from the Vatican that displays an exorcism that goes wrong.

Like I said, all that just makes me say a resounding meh, but I've been wrong at least once before, and probably already today.

OK, enough of that, now onto the good stuff ...

"Se7en" team to reunite

You know, when I first heard David Fincher was gonna take on something as crazy as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," I was sure he'd make it just delightfully twisted, but it was just so banal that it has to qualify as one of my biggest movie disappointments of the last five years or so.

And I should probably keep that in mind before I get too geeked up about this new news, but I just can't help it. It seems that Fincher and "Se7en" screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker are teaming up to take on the Max Ehrlich novel "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud," which is apparently about a college professor who begins having recurring dreams and nightmares and, realizing they are images of a past life, decides to search out the source of his visions.

Sounds just as intriguing as "Benjamin Button" did on paper, but I've decided to put most of the blame for that disaster on screenwriter Eric Roth for making it way too "Gump"-like, and keep the faith that Fincher and Walker can come up with something much better.

And Fincher is about to start shooting a movie based on the creation of "Facebook" (which I'm somehow on), "The Social Network," which was penned by Aaron Sorkin. Yeah, I'll watch that.

"Black Swan" assembling stellar cast

When I first heard that Darren Aronofsky's fifth feature film was going to be something called "Black Swan," a supernatural drama set in the competitive world of New York City ballet and starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, you could already count me as at least curious. And now the news about it just keeps getting better.

According to the always very reliable /film, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey have all now joined the cast. Ryder will play a rival ballerina who has been getting all the lead parts but is now nearing the end of her career. Cassell will play the director of the ballet school's new production, "Swan Lake," and Hershey will play Portman's character's mother. All sounds great to me, and this apparently is about to starting in NYC very soon (if not now.)

Duncan Jones picks his next project

Duncan Jones' "Moon," which I had the pleasure of seeing at this year's Atlanta Film Festival 365, is easily one of the best movies of 2009, featuring a remarkable performance from Sam Rockwell. If you haven't seen it, rent it as soon as it comes out Jan. 12 and I guarantee that if you like smart science fiction, you'll like this one.

And now it seems that Jones has picked his next project, something called "Source Code." All I really know about that is that it's apparently about "a soldier who wakes up in the body of a commuter who must solve the mystery of a train explosion," and Jake Gyllenhaal is set to play the soldier. Sounds more than a little meh to me, but with Mr. Jones in charge, I'm sure I'll come along for the ride. This is set to go into production early next year.

"Mad Men" creator Weiner hitting big screen

If you watch "Mad Men" (and if you don't, why the heck not?), then you know the season three finale was a real doozy, featuring the simultaneous demise of Don and Bertie's marriage and rise of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Price. I can't wait to see what will happen next summer, but now it seems that "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner has set up his first feature film from a script he wrote during his "Sopranos" days.

The romantic comedy "You Are Here" will apparently star Jennifer Aniston, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, and, because Mr. Weiner clearly has his priorities straight, won't start filming until after Weiner and co. shoot the fourth season of "Mad Men," which was predestined to run for five seasons.

OK, anyone who actually stuck around through all that today certainly deserves a reward, and here's the best I've got. Broken Lizard's "Super Troopers" remains one of my very favorite silly comedies, and one I like to watch once a month or so, but the guys really haven't come close to being even nearly that funny since. Here's hoping their new feature, "Slammin' Salmon," will be a return to form, but I can't say I have terribly high hopes. As you can see from the trailer below, it somehow stars both Michael Clarke Duncan and Cobie Smulders of "How I Met Your Mother." Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Anvil!" rocks much more than I could have imagined

You know, I actually saw two fairly exceptional movies yesterday, making it a truly banner day in my book, but I'm really not quite ready to say anything about "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" just yet, so instead I'll start with what for me was a truly pleasant surprise, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil."

Actually, I will say this about "Precious": Don't ever doubt the power of Tyler Perry and Oprah. I drove to see this at the AMC Southlake 24 in Morrow, Ga., and for a 10:15 a.m. show there was an almost completely packed house (and quite a few kids who probably shouldn't have been there for such an intense movie, but that's an entirely different subject.) I was thrilled to see that it took in $585,000 at just 18 theaters on Friday alone to shatter all previous indie records. See it if you can.

Saturday night, however, it was all about Canadian rockers Anvil at my house, and I'm sure glad I finally invited them in. I had hesitated to see this simply because I - mistakenly - thought I was just too old for heavy metal. Well, I'm happy to say that as I write this and listen to Anvil's glorious album "This is Thirteen" and drink my coffee and Ovaltine, I don't think that's ever gonna be true.

And besides, you really don't have to have any love at all for heavy metal music to enjoy this movie, which is at least as much about friendship and the power of impossible dreams than it ever is about the music.

Comparisons to "This Is Spinal Tap" will be inevitable and are often apt, especially since Anvil's drummer is (yes, really) named Robb Reiner, but Sacha Gervasi's documentary has something going for it that the other Reiner clearly didn't (and really, with a fake band, couldn't) have, a genuine affection for his subject. And you'll certainly share that once you meet Anvil frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Reiner and see the bond they share as they pursue their dream of heavy metal stardom well past its expiration date.

When we first meet them, Lips is playing a guitar with a dildo (again, yes really) and the band is at the height of its stardom. After some talking heads telling us how great they were (and man, what the hell was that growth on Lemmy's cheek? gross), which gets old pretty fast, we fast-forward to present day, in which Lips is a driver for a catering company and clearly none too happy about it.

And Gervasi, a fan of the band himself, lets the attempted comeback that plays out next get pushed right to the brink of parody, but never treats his delusionally earnest subjects with anything approaching irony or sarcasm. And believe me, it certainly would have been easy to succumb to those as our heroes embark on a European tour after receiving an e-mail from a fan who in short order gets referred to as their "manager" (and later marries the band's guitarist.)

Oddly enough, things don't go anywhere near as well as they might have hoped, and there's plenty of funny to be had here, from Reiner's description of how one of their first songs, "Thumb Hang," was inspired by the Spanish Inquisition to the fact that his sister apparently really is named Droid.

But what comes through the strongest as they go on to somehow record a new album, "This is Thirteen," (which, yes, I did buy) is the friendship of these two impossible dreamers, and that's what makes it all the more satisfying once you see how modest that dream really is at the big finale (and, I don't want to spoil too much, but there are few things in the world funnier than seeing Japanese girls dressed up as French maids and chanting "Anvil!")

Ultimately, though this was loaned to me by fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters, I think I'll have to buy my own copy, because - like "Office Space" - it's just the perfect cure for any kind of dreary day. Rent it as soon as you can. Peace out.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What will Danny Boyle finally do to follow up "Slumdog Millionaire"?

You know, I should probably just stick around Macon this weekend, what with four movies opening here this weekend and even two ("The Men Who Stare at Goats" and Richard Kelly's "The Box") I actually want to see, but I still think I'm gonna make the hour or so trip up the road to see "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" on Saturday morning.

And not because, like Liz Lemon, I do anything Oprah tells me to, but a hearty endorsement from Tyler Perry does go quite a way in this corner. No, I was already intrigued, but I finally decided to bite when I saw this from a review on, not exactly known for its embrace of black cinema: "Precious" isn't a Hallmark movie. It's one of the best movies of the year.

But enough about that movie I haven't seen yet until perhaps Sunday, if it moves me enough to get up in the morning and write a review. For now, there's more than a few tidbits out there worth commenting on, especially what Danny Boyle's gonna finally do to follow up "Slumdog Millionaire," after being idle for quite a while now.

And it in fact sounds pretty fascinating. Boyle, who has already directed two of my favorite flicks with "Trainspotting" and "Shallow Grave" and one I truly detest in "Sunshine," will next turn his attention to "127 Hours," which tells the story of mountaineer Aron Ralston, who got pinned under a boulder for nearly five days while climbing in Utah. Since I assume the story will be well known before the movie comes out (if it isn't to you already), I'll tell you he ended up using a dull knife to amputate his arm and then hiked a 65-foot sheer wall before a family came to his aid.

That all sounds great, if more than a little harrowing, to me. No word on who would play Ralston (though Christian Bale popped immediately into my mind), but Boyle has already written a treatment, and "Slumdog" scribe Simon Beaufoy is in talks to write the script.

It will begin filming next year for a 2010 release, so definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Another Iraq war movie I'll see?

It really is hard to overstate exactly what Kathyrn Bigelow accomplished this year with "The Hurt Locker," and I'm sure she'll get some earned recognition now that we've just entered awards season (already? I'm afraid so.) Before her great movie starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, I had sworn off of Iraq war movies, but her approach of simply looking at war through the soldiers' eyes combined with her natural touch for pyrotechnics just made this one incredibly entertaining (I've seen it twice already, and just might again when it finally hits DVD, probably in January.)

And now, Ken Loach is taking on the subject, and given his rather extreme distaste for objectivity I'm sure he'll come up with a completely different animal, though another one I'll take a chance on when I can because I almost always dig his passion.

His flick, "Route Irish," will detail the story of two men who work as private security contractors in Iraq. When Frankie is killed on "Route Irish" - the road linking Baghdad airport with the Green Zone - Fergus, wracked with grief and guilt, rejects the official explanation and determines to investigate the truth of his friend's death.

Sounds awfully earnest to me, but like I said, I have a whole lot of time ("Riff Raff" is still one of my favorite romantic flicks) for Mr. Loach, so this is certainly one that intrigues me.

Is no TV cartoon character safe?

If I were to put together a comedic actors hall of fame, Anna Faris would certainly get a spot, at least in the up-and-comers wing, because she's just that funny in just about everything she does. And just this year, she certainly acquitted herself well as ambitious weather girl Sam Sparks in the goofy, fun animated flick "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

That, however, doesn't mean I'm going to follow her anywhere near a "live-action/CG hybrid" movie about Yogi Bear. And no, I'm not making that up.

It at least sounds kinda funny that Dan Aykroyd will voice Yogi and Justin Timberlake will voice Boo Boo, but this still would have to get reviews hailing it as the "Citizen Kane" of "live-action/CG hybrid movies about talking bears" before I'd give it a chance. Faris will apparently play some kind of nature documentarian.

Dr. Horrible going to comics

"Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," the Web creation of Joss Whedon starring Doogie Howser and Captain Mal Reynolds, was never quite as funny in my book as it was hyped up to be, but it was still a silly enough brand of fun to be enjoyed as a diversion. You can still watch the whole 45-minute-or-so thing at Hulu, and now it seems the character is getting new life thanks to Dark Horse comics.

In a one-shot comic, Zack Whedon, brother of the "Buffy" mastermind himself, and artist Joelle Jones tell the origin story of the wannabe evil genius. According to Dark Horse, they "establish how a young, impressionable, but brilliant Dr. Horrible was drawn into a world of crime. Readers are reacquainted with the charming, brawny, crime-fighting superhero extraordinaire Captain Hammer when Dr. Horrible crosses paths with his greatest enemy in an all-out showdown of immeasurable proportions.

Since it's only a one-shot, I can guarantee I'll spring the three bucks or so this should cost when it hits my local comic book store Nov. 18.

And, since along with "Precious" I'm sure to also go see "The Men Who Stare at Goats" on Sunday this weekend, I'll leave you with this clip of George Clooney explaining to Ewan McGregor what gets him in the spirit to exercise his psychic abilities. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What makes this growna** man cry?

Well, I didn't quite this morning when I read just what has happened to "Hustle & Flow" director Craig Brewer, but that's pretty thoroughly depressing too, so let's just start there.

It's really hard to exaggerate just how much I love "Hustle & Flow." It's just a very moving story incredibly well told, and it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2005 (coincidentally enough the year I started doing this.) I really had very little time for "Black Snake Moan" apart from seeing David Banner's debut movie role, but I'm still glad I saw it, because it's at least the most fascinating kind of mess.

Now, however, and believe me, I'm not making this up, Mr. Brewer is on a very short list of the directors being considered to step in and take over the remake of "Footloose" that would star Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford. Wow. Sounds like a nightmare to me, but when Kenny Ortega was removed from this, he said whichever studio is making this wanted something "edgier" than the straight-up feel-good musical he had in mind. Well, if that's what they really want, I suppose they'll get it with Brewer.

But enough of that. This was supposed to be about the ESPN movie "Without Bias," which just happens to be about easily my favorite athlete in any sport, any time, and of course just one of the saddest sports and life stories you'll ever hear.

I wasn't sure I could bring myself to watch it at first. As usual, because he's a much better writer than me, mi hermano puts it a whole lot better why Len Bias was so important to us kids growing up in Maryland in the '80s.

He was certainly much more than a basketball player for my beloved Maryland Terrapins, who, now that Comcast has relented and given us, I'll still watch in just about every single game they play (hey, since they finally managed to sign two kids who at least start to approach being able to play center and Greivis Vasquez is coming back, they're gonna be pretty great this year.)

But not ever as great as they were when they had Bias. If you somehow don't know the story, Len Bias, after making his college career a rather amazing highlight reel, signed with the Boston Celtics as the No. 2 player in the NBA draft (who in the world could have gone higher? Brad Daugherty, in case you're wondering.) He would, however, never get to play a game for the Celts, because as he was celebrating his good fortune with some teammates, Brian Tribble (more on him later) and a supply of fishscale cocaine, his heart would stop less than two days later. I can still remember just laying in bed and bawling about it, and just thinking about today makes me start to break down all over again.

So, it's certainly a compelling story, but how does director Kirk Fraser do with his hourlong ESPN feature? Well, from the perspective of someone who clearly cares about the subject, I'd say fairly well.

He very efficiently sets up just how great Lenny was with highlights of his college career, and just seeing him shoot that pure jump shot again was a thing of sheer beauty. This is supplemented with a lot of talking heads who provide varying degrees of insight into his life, but the best of it comes from Bias himself and his former Terrapin teammates, including Jeff Baxter, Derrick Lewis, David Gregg and, my sentimental favorite, Keith Gatlin (and no, not just because we share a first name. He solidified that title with one play, which if you stick with me to the end, you'll get to see.)

After the first commercial break, however, is when it gets into the still very chilling details of Bias' death, and that's when I had to stop the DVR'ed show several times because - although it's extremely well done - it was really just too much for me to take (and yes, as the title of this post makes clear, this grownass man did indeed cry again last night about Len Bias.) Fraser deals with the sad story very efficiently through the eyes of people who where there or very near by at the time, chiefly Baxter and Gregg. And we hear a whole lot from Brian Tribble, who was demonized at the time as the man who provided Lenny with the coke (personally, I could never really buy him as the enemy - they were clearly friends, and Bias was himself a grownass man who made a very big mistake of his own volition.)

The movie falls apart more than a bit at the end as it delves into several plotlines (did Bias' death spur mandatory minimums? what about the equally tragic death of brother Jay Bias?) that never get any resolution, but by that point Fraser had already slain me, so I was just too wrapped up in it to quibble.

Just how seriously do folks like me take the story of Len Bias? I'll leave you with this quote from basketball commentator Jay Bilas which, though it may indeed be extreme hyperbole, is still very much at least kinda true:

"For people of my parents' generation, they mark time by when President Kennedy was assassinated. For me, and I think for many people who are about this age, I mark time by the death of Len Bias. We knew exactly where we were when told he had died."

Now, don't get me wrong. I'd certainly never equate Bias with JFK, but on at least one level, Bilas is dead right: In the rather limited world of a 16-year-old when you first hear news like that, it is indeed something that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and why I can still remember it so vividly today.

As for Fraser's movie, you can watch it five more times on the ESPN networks. Here are the times:

Tonight, 10 pm ESPN 2
Thursday, 10 pm ESPN Classic
Thursday, 11:30pm ESPN 2
Sunday, 9 pm ESPN Classic
Monday, 7 pm ESPN 2

And, as promised, I'll leave with what is still my favorite Maryland Terrapins clip of all time. I won't spoil it for you completely, but let's just say it involves Keith Gatlin, Kenny Smith and the thorough shaming of Dean Smith's UNC Tar Heels. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.