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“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.”
— Jim Henson

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Watchmen

Watchmen

In recent memory, I cannot recall having a more complicated reaction to a movie than I did with Watchmen, the new blockbuster superhero extravaganza from director Zack Snyder. On the one hand, I thought it was pretty great to the last drop. On the other, it left me wondering why it wasn’t better. I guess that’s a logical reaction, because I felt the same way when I read the famed “graphic novel” (I hate that term) by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons last year.

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The Third Policeman

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
(As seen in Episode 301: Man of Science, Man of Faith)

I'm going to try and read most of the books on Lostpedia's literary works list. I've already read a few, including Bad Twin, but this is the first formal exercise in my own little Lost Book Club. SPOILER ALERT: If you want to not be lazy and actually read the book, stop now.

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Cloverfield

Though he neither wrote nor directed it, producer J.J. Abrams’s stamp is all over Cloverfield, the newest entry in the monster movie annals. From the brilliant trailer and advertising campaign that began, simply, with 1-18-08, Abrams has fashioned Cloverfield as a near-perfect example of what he calls “The Mystery Box.”

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No Country for Old Men

Wendell bites back a smile. Sheriff Bell gazes at him over his glasses for a long beat, deadpan. “...That’s all right. I laugh myself sometimes.” He goes back to the paper. “...There ain’t a whole lot else you can do.”

This scene, from No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ best film since Fargo, struck me as the perfect description for this brilliant, bleak, violent, challenging movie based on the book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. In its own little way, this scene, and that line by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is the best metaphor for a story of inexplicable and endless violence. How are we supposed to cope? Sometimes, as I often hear myself saying, in the face of such inhumanity, laughter is your only defense.

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Juno

I feel like you don’t have to love a movie to deem it great, but when you do, it becomes that much more impactive. Last week I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an remarkable, dark family drama that in the end leaves you cold. There’s a distance between you and the characters, both for your own sanity, and because the story never really lets you know these people.

Tonight though, tonight I saw a movie I loved. I loved it before I saw it, based only on the snippets of story I had seen and read about, and especially because of the people involved. By the time the brilliant title sequence began, with its elegantly unassuming animation by Shadowplay Studio and perfect soundtrack, these names which I came to see popping up here and there on screen, it confirmed my hopes. In that moment, I knew when it was all over I would be happy. It is a testament, then, to Juno, that it was even better than I thought it would be.

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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

“You’ve got half an hour to get to heaven, before the devil knows you’re dead.” So begins the perfectly titled new film by legendary director Sidney Lumet. Told in fractured time, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a story of two monumentally broken brothers and a simple robbery gone very, very bad. Lumet fans—and Coen fans, for that matter—may find this initial setup a tad too familiar, but I assure you, this is nothing like Dog Day Afternoon or Fargo, though it certainly reaches the lofty heights of those crime classics.

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Gomez / Ben Kweller

Where: The Showbox, Seattle, WA
When: February 15, 2007
Who: Gomez and Ben Kweller

Two of my favorite artists in recent years, Gomez and Ben Kweller played the Showbox Thursday night, and I was there.

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This Film Is Not Yet Rated

How do you make a movie about censorship in the movie industry? Very carefully. Director Kirby Dick brilliantly exposes the hypocrisy behind Jack Valenti’s film ratings board in this thought provoking documentary.

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Murderball

To call this an inspirational story would be an injustice of sorts to the people/athletes featured in the movie. Murderball, as Team USA spokesman Mark Zupan might tell you, is not a mushy feel good story about handicapped people finding success. It is a portrait of unique personalities and stories that make up the world of quad rugby, a sport that just so happens to be played in wheel chairs.

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King Kong

By now everyone knows the story: Peter Jackson, as a young New Zealand boy, sees 1933’s King Kong on television, and from that moment is driven to become a filmmaker. I myself have never seen the entirety of the original Kong (though it’s high on my Netflix queue at the moment), so I was going into the theater with the same fresh eyes Peter Jackson had all those years ago. The fact that I didn’t come out quite as inspired as Jackson cannot dampen my sincere enjoyment of this amazing spectacle of moviemaking.

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The Island

The first movie directed by Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys) I ever saw willingly, The Island drew me in on the merits of its two stars, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. As it turns out, I should’ve stuck to my instincts—and Bay should be shipped off to the “Island” for this waste of star power, millions of dollars, and theater space.

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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

I watched this the other night, just a couple of weeks after I saw (and panned) the gaudy remake with Johnny Depp. Strangely, the original, while warmer and filled with less artifice, made me appreciate the new one more than I had upon first viewing. Wonka loses points for deviating often from the original story, but gains a lot from the performances of the two young girls, Denise Nickerson (Violet) and Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca), and Gene Wilder as the titular candy icon.

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Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Every once in a while I like to see a completely forgettable “cute” movie. It’s like food: sure you could have prime rib all the time, but every once in a while it’s great to have some meatloaf. I chose this ground beef over so many other similar options for its young stars: America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves), Alexis Bleidel (Gilmore Girls) and Amber Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia). Besides, I heard it was actually pretty good, even if you weren’t a twelve-year-old girl. After watching the movie last week, I submit that it’s an enjoyable little movie for everyone, even adult males (and not just for the eye candy).

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March of the Penguins

I love penguins, always have. They’re fuzzy, regal, cute, cuddly, birdy and well-dressed. Being a penguiphile (made that word up just now), I’m obviously a bit late on the bandwagon for this movie, not only one of the surprise hits of the summer, but one of the biggest documentaries of all time. On the surface, this is nothing more than a feature-length National Geographic special, but unlike those distant, observatory “educational” docs, March of the Penguins rises to the level of great movie because of one thing: storytelling.

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Of Penguins and Men

In this accompanying documentary to the surprise megahit of 2005 March of the Penguins, we see the difficulty it took to make the marvelous feature-length doc through the eyes of cinematographer Jerome Maison. While not quite as affecting as March, Maison’s video journal of sorts gives a fascinating, often more personal look into the lives of the penguins and filmmakers during this long winter.

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Fantastic Four

For all the recent successes in comic book adaptation (Batman Begins, Sin City, and the Spider-Man & X-Men franchises), there have certainly been a few clunkers. What made these critical and commercial hits where others (Daredevil, The Hulk, Elektra) have failed? Besides the obvious elements of casting and effects, the true key to making a blockbuster comic-book movie is having a director who is A) highly skilled in his craft and B) uniquely suited to and driven by the source material. Hulk director Ang Lee fits into category A, but not B. Daredevil‘s Mark Steven Johnson is a B, but not an A. Unfortunately for fans of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, FF director Tim Story (Barbershop) is neither A nor B. Despite that failing, and despite a hokey and occasionally lazy screenplay, Fantastic Four is, as some would have you believe, certainly not the worst comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen.

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The Ice Harvest

I had some hopes (not high, but some) for this movie, considering the players: starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, directed by Harold Ramis. I knew going in that the reviews were generally favorable, and I was expecting a wild black comedy in the vein of Cusack’s Grosse Pointe Blank or even Billy Bob Thornton’s Bandits. The movie, stuck between farce and noir, was mildly amusing and slightly mysterious, but never enough of one or the other.

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Finding Neverland

I finally got around to seeing this movie on dvd, and while it doesn’t rank in my top 5 like it did at the Oscars last year, this is an affecting and occasionally inspiring movie about creativity, hope and vitality in the face of, well, life. The first (and still best) Johnny Depp/Freddie Highmore collaboration utilizes the standard Miramax biopic formula to tell the story of J.M. Barrie, but the actors and director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) keep it from succumbing to overt tear-jerker status.

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Based on the fourth book in the Harry Potter series, Goblet of Fire had a difficult task from the beginning. The book was huge—literally and figuratively. Goblet was, up to that point, by far the largest in terms of pages and scope. For the first time we are truly introduced to the larger wizarding world in which Harry lives, and the book juggles numerous plots: the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Hermione’s SPEW, boy/girl tangles, the increasing menace of the Malfoy family, the timidity of the Ministry of Magic, and most importantly, the impending return of He Who Must Not Be Named.

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War of the Worlds

The last time Spielberg did a blockbuster/serious double header was 1993, which brought us the incredibly entertaining Jurassic Park and the incredibly moving Schindler’s List This year’s double dip? War of the Worlds and the upcoming Munich. One can only hope that the second of these two will fulfill that legacy, because this one sure didn’t. It’s funny. I was really excited about seeing this movie in May/June. Then Tom Cruise went on Oprah, acted like a total loon, and I remembered why I can’t stand him. Which probably explains why I’m just seeing this movie now, on dvd, months later.

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Death Cab for Cutie

Where: The Paramount, Seattle, WA
When: November 19, 2005
Who: Death Cab for Cutie with Stars

Seth Cohen’s favorite band has finally made it. Even in its hometown, it took Death Cab four years to make the natural progression from small club (the Crocodile) to big theater (the Paramount). But with the groundbreaking Transatlanticism, and this year’s major-label debut, Plans, DCFC has gained star status, and deservedly so.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Let me start with a disclaimer: I have never seen more than 5 minutes of the Gene Wilder-starring Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I have never read any of Roald Dahl’s books about Charlie or Willy. I do love Dahl, however, and have read most of his other books, and seen most of the other movies based on his work. That being said, I absolutely was bored to death with Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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Ben Lee

Who: Ben Lee with New Buffalo
When: November 12, 2005
Where: Chop Suey, Seattle, WA

This was my third time seeing Ben Lee this year, and while it may not have been the best performance I’ve ever seen from Ben, it may have been the most memorable. Featuring two excellent covers, a bar-top acoustic encore performance of “Naked,” and a fan’s onstage proposal to his girlfriend, this was one show I won’t soon forget.

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Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The second feature-length movie from Nick Park’s Aardman studio, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a delightful bit of entertainment, even if it doesn’t live up to the promise of the original award-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts.

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Mike Doughty's Band

Who: Mike Doughty’s Band
When: October 3, 2005
Where: The Showbox, Seattle, WA

After seeing Mike & Handsome Dan perform May, followed by a short solo set by Mike at Bumbershoot, I had high hopes for a full-band show. With a diverse set that included covers, solo work and old Soul Coughing tunes, Doughty & the boys did not disappoint.

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The Arcade Fire

Who: The Arcade Fire with The Belle Orchestra
When: September 21, 2005
Where: The Paramount, Seattle, WA

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Sasquatch Festival

Who: The Pixies, Modest Mouse, Wilco, Kanye West, The Arcade Fire, Ray LaMontagne, Jem, Matisyahu, Smoosh, Bloc Party, U.S.E., Aqueduct, AC Newman & more
When: May 28, 2005
Where: The Gorge Ampitheatre, George, WA

I have been meaning to get to this mini-festival since its first year of existence, but never before could I scrounge enough motivation (or accompanying friends) to make it to the Gorge on Memorial Day weekend. Even the stellar lineups of past years weren’t enough to get me there. This year, however, I had no excuse. With a bill as strong (and as eclectic) as this was, I had to get to lovely George, Washington for what has quickly become a nice little younger brother to the bigger, better Northwest summer festival, Bumbershoot.

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Mike Doughty

Who: Mike Doughty with Kelly Buchanan
When: May 17, 2005
Where: Neumo’s, Seattle, WA

My friend insisted that we get there when the doors opened at 8. I was not very interested in doing so, but obliged all the same, expecting to sit in total boredom for 2+ hours until Doughty came onstage around 10:30. We actually go there before eight, which made me all the more frustrated. Then, while standing in line (waiting for the doors to open!!), there was a bit of commotion, and out walked the man himself, Mike Doughty, guitar in hand.

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Josh Rouse

Where: The Triple Door, Seattle, WA
When: April 18, 2005
Who: Josh Rouse with Tim Seely

Always one of my favorite artists, the pop-country Nebraskan Josh Rouse writes songs that are perfect for those lazy summer days where you can just enjoy the day slowly creeping into twilight. I finally saw him perform live tonight in support of his excellent new album, Nashville. He’s finishing up his tour right now, but lucky for us in Seattle and Portland, he came by himself. The crowd at the luxurious Triple Door, a sort of cabaret room that hearkens back to old-time dinner entertainment, was treated to a top-notch performance by one of today’s most underrated singer-songwriters.

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Ben Lee

Where: The Crocodile Cafe, Seattle, WA
When: March 30, 2005
Who: Ben Lee with Har Mar Superstar and Zykos

Wednesday night’s show at the Crocodile was a bit surreal for this lifelong Ben Lee fan. The last time I had seen Ben headline a show at the Croc he played to maybe 100 devotees, introducing a batch of new songs that would become his 5th album, Awake Is the New Sleep.

Sure, it was a tour between albums, but the crowd then was like most of the Ben Lee shows I have attended over the years: knowledgeable fans who knew Ben as something more than “Claire Danes’ rocker boyfriend.” That’s about all people seemed to know of Ben. He got little mainstream press or radio airplay, and his constantly evolving musical style (befitting an artist who recorded his first (solo) album at age 15.

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Before Sunrise/Before Sunset

The more I explore the work of writer/director Richard Linklater, the more I realize what a unique talent he is. A Texas slacker with a penchant for long tangential dialogue, he’s not afraid to let his characters and his words lead the action in his films. So after having seen and loved Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Slacker and School of Rock, I finally got around to seeing Before Sunrise recently. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to make it a double feature by viewing the sequel Before Sunset immediately afterward. I’ll admit right off it’s a bit odd watching these two films back-to-back. They were filmed nine years apart, and if I had seen the first all those years ago, I would have probably thought a sequel would be a bit of a cop out and cheapen the power of the original. But I would have been wrong.

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Frank Miller's Sin City

Adaptations are a funny thing. As I’m sure Charlie Kaufman would share if asked, they’re not easy. Stray too far from the source material and you risk alienating core fans while also losing what made the previous edition work so well. Slavish devotion to the original, on the otherhand, can lead to stiff storytelling and lack of visual identity. Sin City, adapted from the Dark Horse comic book–excuse me, graphic novel–series by Frank Miller and co-written and directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, flaunts all of these conventions. Rodriguez hooked Miller into the “unfilmable” adaptation by hyping his devout faithfulness to the work.

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Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine

Released: March 2005
Artist: Fiona Apple
Guests: Jon Brion

There’s something about March that makes it a good time for shelved albums to find their way to the public. Four years after Dave Matthews Band’s unreleased masterpiece The Lillywhite Sessions exploded onto the internet, Fiona Apple’s long awaited, much talked about follow-up to her 1999 sophomore album When the Pawn… has finally seen the light of day.

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