Merry Christmas

Pretty stoked about this.


I saw an extraordinary film last night. David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a great achievement - a haunting, emotional odyssey that is both somber and inspiring. It's a great example of Roger Ebert's maxim, "It's not what a movie's about, but how it's about it". The film, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, could easily have become another run-of-the-mill tearjerker, and yet it wisely avoids the predictable twists and turns and emerges as something totally unique - a visually stimulating, emotionally resonant experience, of which every frame conveys a genuine love and dedication on Fincher's part. This is his best film, and evidence that he is one of the best directors working today.

I just watched Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" for the first time and my mind is still reeling. This is one of the most unique and engaging films I've ever seen - a darkly comedic film noir fantasy with haunting visuals and an unforgettable performance by Robert Mitchum. I'm anxious to watch again. Consider these images:

Hunter 1.pct Hunter 2.pct Hunter 3.pct Hunter 4.pct Hunter 5.pctHunter 6.pct Hunter 7.pctHunter 8.pctHunter 9.pct Hunter 10.pct Hunter 11.pct Hunter 12.pctHunter 13.pct







This article appears in the new issue of Southern Exposure Magazine.

It’s almost a misnomer to label “It’s a Wonderful Life” a Christmas movie. Yes, the story begins and ends with the Christmas season, but like “White Christmas”, most of the narrative is dedicated to other things, in this case an extended flashback chronicling the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a man who, despite having a loving family and a decent job, is down on his luck. He’s a good man, but his dream of leaving his small town of Bedford Falls to explore the world has never materialized. What George can’t see is just how lucky a guy he is.

I’m sure you know the story. When George decides to take his own life, he is saved by his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers), who proceeds to show him what life would be like if George had never been born. The final act of the film contains some of the most moving moments I’ve ever seen on celluloid. Sixty-two years later it still resonates.

When first released, the film was considered a critical and commercial flop. It was only later, when the film’s copyright expired in the early 1970s and it began to screen on television during the holidays that it became ingrained in the collective subconscious. The film is now considered a classic, with the American Film Institute listing it as #11 of all time.

And for good reason. Honestly, I can’t think of any other film with as many memorable scenes. Consider the dance in the high school gymnasium, when the floor opens up and everyone falls into the pool. Or the scene in which George walks Mary (Donna Reed) home and she loses her bathrobe in the bushes. Or the sequence in which George comes over to Mary’s house and they end up on the same telephone, and eventually in each other’s arms (one of my favorite scenes of all time). Or the scene when they have to give up their honeymoon cash to keep their customers at the Building and Loan. Or the scene where Bert and Ernie, the two cops, convert Mary’s favorite abandoned house into a honeymoon suite for the newlyweds. On and on and on.

What’s so impressive to me is how director Frank Capra doesn’t waste any space. Every scene pushes the story forward. Every line of dialogue is important. And rather than skimping on the supporting characters, he chooses to make them colorful and endearing. Every person on screen, regardless of their role, has value in Capra’s eyes. Perhaps that’s the message he’s trying to get across.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is what I like to call a miracle movie. It all works, and there’s nothing missing. Roger Ebert describes a great movie as one you can’t the bear the thought of never seeing again. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of those films for me.






Lost Down Under

You can also find this review on the Reviews page.

"Australia", the third film by Aussie auteur Baz Luhrman, is a big, bold, occasionally riveting...failure. It's an experiment in epic drama, with an A-list cast, a massive budget, and a pull-on-the-heartstrings storyline that is comfortable and predictable. I'm not exactly sure what Luhrman was trying to accomplish here. There are wonderful moments, but they don't add up to much. Leaving the theater, I felt that the film was forgettable. Some hours later, I realized that my intuition was right. There are good things about "Australia", specifically newcomer Brandon Walters, who plays an Aboriginal boy, but the parts don't add up to the riveting epic it was intended to be.

The excessive use of green screen is another complaint. For a story that is so much about location, they sure shot a lot on stage, and it shows. There's not one composite shot in the film that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. I have a feeling that one particular sequence, a suspenseful cattle herding near the edge of a cliff, was created entirely through green screen and CGI. That's not such a good thing when you're trying to evoke the great epics from yesteryear.

Despite its faults, "Australia" has its entertaining moments, but its two hour forty-nine minute running time is a bit overindulgent. Perhaps there's a good film in there somewhere, but Luhrman couldn't bring himself to cut it down to the length it needed to be. Unfortunately, we will never know. That film is lost...somewhere down under.


RIP, Daisies

ABC has announced that "Pushing Daisies" has been canceled. According to the show's creator, Brian Fuller, the show will most likely end after episode 13, which is a cliffhanger. Fantastic. I'm down to two shows that I watch these days, and they are "Lost" and "Daisies". I guess now I'm down to one. It seems that unless your show is predictable, cliché, or just downright bad, it can't make it on TV anymore.

Which brings to me an idea I have for a new reality show called "Last Ho Standing". You take twenty overweight prostitutes and stick them on a desert island, where they are forced to survive on a steady diet of plantains and coconut juice, while competing for weekly liposuction and botox contests and fending off the natives, who are dishing out free crack. Whoever wins gets a million dollars and a new, state-of-the-art brothel designed to their specifications by Ty Pennington and unveiled in a live televised ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Elliot Spitzer. God bless America. This show's gonna be huge.

But in all seriousness...a moment of silence for "Pushing Daisies".


This was a creative, inspired, funny, and heartwarming show that I will miss very much. RIP.


I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed with "Quantum of Solace". It looks wonderful, the story (while a little confusing) is involving, Daniel Craig is great, and it has almost everything you'd expect from a James Bond movie. Except James Bond.

I embraced the idea of a more realistic Bond, as seen in "Casino Royale". It was a fresh start for the franchise, and Craig was just the guy to pull it off. But Bond seems so pissed off now that you can't imagine him having any fun. Where's the suave, wisecracking Bond that we love?

Despite the fact that James is such a surly curmudgeon throughout "Quantum", my biggest problem with the film is the action sequences. It's not that they're poorly choreographed. Or that the locations aren't stunning. It's that you can't tell what the hell is going on at any given moment. Obviously taking a cue from the Bourne movies, director Marc Forster has chosen to cover the action sequences in shaky camera moves and then edit it at the pace of about one shot per second. What results is severe disorientation, to the point where you aren't sure who's who, and that's not a good thing when you're supposed to be rooting for one of them.

I also think the villain is dull this time around, but quibbles aside, I did enjoy a lot of the film. It's never boring, the performances are good, and the scene at the outdoor opera hall is wonderful. I just hope Bond's finally gotten over losing his girlfriend so we can all have some fun next time (and hopefully understand what's going on).


She's a Pixar Kid


Jamba Juice


There's much I haven't seen, much I haven't heard, but these are the very best of what I watched and listened to in 2008.


An overlooked gem with a classic sensibility. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Another overlooked film. It doesn't break any new ground, but it's involving and effective.

Jon Favreau hit a home run. It all works.

A near-masterpiece from visionary director Tarsem ("The Cell"). Pure imagination.

Beautiful, funny, visionary. Maybe my favorite Pixar effort so far.

This is now the comic book movie to beat. Go here to read my full review.


One of the best seasons yet. This show keeps getting better and better. And for those of you who bailed, enjoy your CSI. Go here to watch episodes.

My favorite new show on television. And I'm ignoring those rumors of cancellation. Go here to watch episodes.

I'm not a fan of the iTunes pick and choose approach to music. I think an album should be heard (and bought) as a whole, but I will recommend some key tracks from each of these albums.

Gemma Hayes' best record yet. Not a wasted track here. MUST HEAR: "Home", "At Constant Speed"

More great music from Peter Bradley Adams, formerly of Eastmountainsouth. MUST HEAR: "Los Angeles", "Under My Skin"

Intoxicating. Try to turn it off. MUST HEAR: "Creature Fear", "re:stacks"

It lived up to the hype. MUST HEAR: "Viva la Vida", "42"

The 12 song album is good, but I strongly recommend listening to the EPs as a whole. It's a 24 song odyssey of sin and redemption. MUST HEAR: "Southbound Train", "Your Love is Strong"

In case you can't read the text, this is Robby Hecht's "Late Last Night". Harkens back to the time when it was all about the songs. Download the record for free here. MUST HEAR: "Freight Train Lady", "My Love Was Gold"

Speaking of great songs, this is one of the best singer-songwriter records I've ever heard. Great, great songs. MUST HEAR: "How Precious Life Is", "Desperate Man", "That Guy", "Holy Ground"

Folky alternative bliss. MUST HEAR: "Doubtful", "Grey Weather"

No, not just because they're family. These guys are bringing integrity back to the Christian music industry. MUST HEAR: "Opposite Way", "Thief in the Night"

The experience of growing up in the 80s in audible form. There are better albums from 2008, but this one may be the most fun. MUST HEAR: "Kim and Jessie", "Graveyard Girl"

This is a great pop record. Slick production, catchy tunes. MUST HEAR: "Talk You Down", "Fall For Anything"

This stripped-down offering from Sigur Ros is their best effort yet. A soundtrack for cross-country travel. MUST HEAR: "Godan daginn", Ara Batur"

More great music from Sun Kil Moon (aka Mark Kozelek). See this post to hear a track. MUST HEAR: "Lost Verses", "Moorestown"

A melodic, atmospheric journey from the Swedish singer-songwriter. MUST HEAR: "Girl Laying Down", "To Be Gone"

Fantastic debut from the Nashville native. A great listen all the way through. MUST HEAR: "Beaut", "Live for the Sounds", "Colorbloods"