Friday, December 31, 2010

True Grit review

With True Grit, it's business as usual for the Coen Brothers. What does that mean? Simply that it's another well-made, well-acted film that delivers the goods. The Coen Brothers are probably the most consistent directors of their time. In the '80s and '90s, every film they made (except Hudsucker Proxy) was either a classic or was nearly a classic. While in the 2000s, they've made a handful of really good-great films, one instant classic, but a couple of misfires along the way.

The misfires, however, seem to be a thing of the past (Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers are the films I'm talking about there). Since those two films, the Coens have made four films in four years and those four films would be the envy of any filmmaker working in the business today. No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, and True Grit. Four films that couldn't be any more different from each other and yet have that familiar Coen Brothers stamp. That being said, not all four films are equally great, at least not to me. No Country For Old Men is a classic, a near-masterpiece. But Burn After Reading and A Serious Man are really good, but I wouldn't put them near the top of my fave Coen Bros movies. Considering these are the guys who've made Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski... let's just say they've developed quite a reputation for themselves. In other words, if the last four films they made were made by a young, up-and-comer then I'd probably be a giant fan of this guy and would be hailing him as one of the great original filmmakers of our time. But since this is the Coens we're talking about, they (that is, Burn After Reading and A Serious Man) don't quite live up to their '80s and '90s films. It's kind of unfair but that's the way it goes.

So where does True Grit measure up to their other films? Let me start by saying that this is, by all means, an excellent film. Hailee Steinfeld (who plays Mattie Ross) is simply perfect as the stubborn, tough 14 year old girl who will stop at nothing to avenge her father's death. Jeff Bridges probably gives one of his greatest ever performances as the deputy Rooster Cogburn. Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, while their parts are comparatively small are very effective as the dirty, scummy bad guys. And while Matt Damon comes off as the weaker link of all these actors (perhaps because he doesn't get the best lines), he's still pretty solid.

The story is engrossing and well-written and it's funny throughout. The Coens do a great job of not allowing the Mattie Ross character to take away from the rough nature of the rest of the characters. I was surprised that this film got away with PG-13 because there are some pretty graphically violent scenes in this film. The cinematography and the score of the film fit perfectly and it's one of the best looking Westerns that I've seen in recent memory (although, it doesn't hold a candle to The Assassination of Jesse James, then again that was perhaps one of the best looking films of the 2000s).

So if True Grit is all these things, why is it that I can't embrace the film fully? First of all, the ending of the film kinda felt like an afterthought. While the first 4/5s of the film was highly entertaining, it just kinda crapped out after that with a little epilogue. And after seeing Black Swan, which saved its greatest tricks for the end, True Grit seemed to have ran out of tricks by the end. Also, while this can be justified by the fact that it's told primarily through the eyes of the 14 year old girl, in a way, that could have also been a shortcoming. There was never really anything threatening about the bad guys (including the man who killed her father). You believed that the man was scum, but it's an example of how showing is a lot more effective than seeing. We only believe Josh Brolin's character is bad because of what LaBouef and Mattie Ross tell us, but because we don't see just how bad he is, when you finally are introduced to him, you don't really get much out of it. Plus, the confrontation between Tom Chaney's (Brolin) men and Cogburn/LaBeouf feels too rushed. What should've been the centerpiece of the film is over before you know it and that was disappointing.

Those things can be easily forgiven because there are so many aspects of this film that are strong. But that's the case with a lot of Coen Brothers films lately. In the '80s and '90s, majority of the time, they were so tight and compact and well-constructed that none of these sorta issues came up. And even with a film like Barton Fink, which does drag at times, saves itself by having such an effective 2nd half.

So, overall, what this means is that we're left with another strong, well-made, excellent film from the Coens that just misses true greatness.

rating: 8/10

Monday, December 27, 2010

Black Swan review

In Black Swan, the difficulties that Nina faces to embody the black swan proves to be a very emotionally challenging experience. Living in the world of ballet, her whole life revolves around becoming the swan queen and with a very tough, demanding ballet teacher watching her every step of the way, the transformation process turns into both a physical and psychological process.

All of these things is perfectly captured in a performance that will, without a doubt, garner Natalie Portman a ton of awards, including the Oscar for best actress. It's funny, I was reading some dumb article in the National Enquirer the other day about how Natalie Portman was "jealous" of Mila Kunis because Mila was getting more attention for her performance than Natalie was. Well, allow me to be the first to call "bullshit" on that. While Mila Kunis's performance is pretty good, how can you deny the brilliance that is Natalie Portman's performance in this film. She goes above and beyond anything else she's done before and proves that she's one of the best actresses working in (and outside) of Hollywood today.

Of course, I remember having an awfully similar attitude towards Mickey Rourke's performance in "The Wrestler" which was directed by Darren Aronofsky as well. Before "The Wrestler," Aronofsky proved that he was a master behind the camera and aside from a great performance by Ellen Burstyn in "Requiem for a Dream," the performances in his films were not the first thing I thought about after I watched one of his films. "The Wrestler" showed, however, that not only does he have the talent behind the camera, he's probably the best director working today in terms of getting great performances from his actors. "Black Swan" was perfectly cast all around with Barbara Hershey playing Nina's mother, and Vincent Cassel playing the dancing instructor. There's also a very memorable performance from Winona Ryder as the former great ballet dancer who has been forced to retire. But Natalie Portman is the centerpiece of it all and the combination of her performance and the claustrophobic environment that Aronofsky puts her in makes for one of the most intense cinema experiences of the year. While he carefully constructs this film and leaves his biggest surprises for the end, the whole film is very intense to watch and seeing some of the sexual scenes on display in a big theater may be a bit awkward to watch.

That's the magic and brilliance of "Black Swan" though. The film thrusts you into the psychologically demanding world of ballet and doesn't let up for two hours. Clint Mansell's score is also perfect. It wonderfully punctuates every scene and doubles the intensity of this film. The fact that his score has been disqualified from the Academy Awards is a disgrace and they should be ashamed of themselves and realize that their rules are stupid and oftentimes the best score of the year does not win because of their rules.

Black Swan is a completely unpredictable cinema experience. You don't want to know what happens next, but you have to watch because you're so riveted. Aronofsky is at the top of his game. His talents have been fully realized in this film. Everything that's great about him as a filmmaker is on full display in Black Swan. Black Swan is the best film of the year.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'70s, then '80s update

This project, my top 100 movies of both the 70s and 80s is gonna take a little longer than I originally planned. I'm the type who can watch 10 movies in 10 days then I don't feel like watching anything for weeks. I don't want it to feel like a chore. But, whenever I'm ready, you'll be the first to know.

Hope you've been having a good Holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Fighter review

Say what you will about Mark Wahlberg, but the determination he displayed with getting The Fighter made was very impressive. Wahlberg's been wanting to do the story about Micky Ward for years and, you know, even though Mark Wahlberg's performance isn't particularly impressive or original, you get the feeling that he was born to play a boxer in a movie. Something about him in a boxing movie just seems like a perfect match. Wahlberg also had the foresight to realize that he wouldn't be able to pull off as solid of a performance without the help of helmer David O. Russell.

Now if you'll remember, I had listed David O. Russell as one of my top directors to watch in the 2010s and this film proves why. The way he took this project, based on someone else's material, and made it his own is truly something to watch. It's different than anything he's done in the past and yet you can see that it's definitely a David O. Russell film. The family dynamics, the often humorous tone, and the fact that Mark Wahlberg gives one of his most solid performances. Watch Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees along with this film. Russell knows how to channel Mark Wahlberg's strengths. He makes Micky Ward's rise to victory more fun to watch because he's a great craftsman. As David Fincher has proven in the past 15 years, David O. Russell shows how well he craft someone else's material and put his own stamp on it.

But to be honest, beyond the well-crafted film and the solid Wahlberg performance, this film would be nothing more than just a typical rise to fame boxing story if not for the powerhouse performance by Christian Bale. Melissa Leo gives a great performance as Micky Ward's domineering mother and Amy Adams successfully plays against type as Micky Ward's bitchy girlfriend. But Christian Bale is what makes this a film to watch. Christian Bale proves once again, just in case you forgot, that he's a fine actor. If he doesn't win the Oscar for his role in this film, someone in the Academy deserves to be knocked out. Not only does he lose a staggering amount of weight for this film, but he completely sells his character Dicky Ecklund. Dicky is the fun, energetic guy with natural boxing talent that unfortunately didn't have the heart to become one of the best. Unfortunately, that caused him to turn to crack/cocaine which made him become a junkie.

What makes it all special is how Micky Ward tries to balance out his personal life with his professional life. When both of them appear to be falling apart, he manages to pull through and win everyone's heart. Even if, those conflicts between his family and his girlfriend still remain. There's something about Bale's performance that feels real to me. Bale plays on all the little different character traits and his character is one of the best written characters in recent film history. You laugh with him, you cry with him, you cheer, you cringe. Dicky Ecklund is what drives this film. David O. Russell, himself, said that there would be no movie if not for Dicky.

All of this amounts to The Fighter being one of the better films of the year. Not quite an instant classic, but not too far off either. The Fighter is a great film and it's something I can recommend to just about anyone, whether or not you're a boxing fan or just a fan of great performances. There's something in here for everyone.

Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shameless plug

I wondered if I could get away with doing this, but then I realized "wait, it's my own blog, I can do or say whatever I want."

So, yes, that poster up there is an early poster for a film that I'm writing and directing as well as co-producing with two other fine gentlemen, Chris Hollen and Dave Wigfield. We're all first-timers going at this thing, we're currently on our hiatus between filming. It's funny though because it really should add up to just about 15-17 days, but it feels like an eternity. When I started writing the script for this, I already had these plans laid out for it and, surprisingly, everything has gone as planned. Everything. This has been the most perfect marriage of collaboration and I can't believe it's come together so well.

That being said, boy, a lot of work has to be done. All that I can really show you right now is that poster up top that I put together along with some help from a friend. I don't know how you feel about the poster, but everytime I look at it, it reminds me that what I'm making actually exists. It's incredible. It really makes me want to knock this out of the park. I wanna get back in there and make the best film possible.

It's funny though because I recently watched a directors roundtable that thehollywoodreporter did (link below) and Darren Aronofsky was talking about how when he looks back at his first film, Pi, he kinda feels embarrassed by it. And you know, I get the feeling I'll feel the same way. But nevertheless, it's an incredible learning experience and if it turns out to be pretty good, then I'll be floored. Especially when you consider how small our budget is.

So, if my readers don't mind, I will periodically update you when there are big updates to make for this film and I will continue to review films, make Oscar predictions, top 10/100 lists, and whatever else it is that I do here. I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, but I'm actually not done here. I have a review for "The Fighter" to write before I officially sign off for the Holidays and when I come back, I hope to have reviews for Black Swan and True Grit. Kenoncinema will live on!... until I have absolutely zero time for it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tree of Life trailer

Yes please.

Tree of Life will be released on May 27, 2011

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Haven't seen a movie since Unstoppable. I haven't reviewed Unstoppable because there's really not much to say about it. It was ok. I'd give it a 7 out of 10.

I'm still waiting to see the movies that I actually want to see. By now, you know what those are. I think "The Fighter" is coming out everywhere this Friday so expect a review of that movie whenever I can make it possible

The Golden Globe nominations came out:


Nicole Kidman, RABBIT HOLE
Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE
Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN
Michelle Williams, BLUE VALENTINE

James Franco, 127 HOURS
Mark Wahlberg, THE FIGHTER


Angelina Jolie, THE TOURIST
Emma Stone, EASY A

Johnny Depp, THE TOURIST
Kevin Spacey, CASINO JACK

Darren Aronofsky, BLACK SWAN
Christopher Nolan, INCEPTION
David O. Russell, THE FIGHTER

Danny Boyle, 127 HOURS
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Hart, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Christopher Nolan, INCEPTION
David Seidler, THE KING’S SPEECH

Alexander Desplat, THE KING’S SPEECH
A.R. Rahman, 127 HOURS
Hans Zimmer, INCEPTION


Helena Bonham Carter, THE KING’S SPEECH
Mila Kunis, BLACK SWAN
Melissa Leo, THE FIGHTER

Christian Bale, THE FIGHTER
Jeremy Renner, THE TOWN
Geoffrey Rush, THE KING’S SPEECH


“Bound to You” – BURLESQUE
“Coming Home” – COUNTRY STRONG
“I See the Light” – TANGLED
“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” – BURLESQUE

Yeah... every year, the Globes become less relevant to the awards scene so there's really not much to make of all that.

In other news, The Social Network is basically winning every major Critics award out there. Does this mean TSN is gonna sweep the awards? It's too early to say but around this time, Slumdog Millionaire and Hurt Locker were doing the same thing in their years so... it might be inevitable. Personally, considering this was a Fincher/Sorkin film, I'm all for it. I love those guys and if you read my review, you'd know I loved the movie. I don't know if it's the best film of the year. Overall, I think Inception and Toy Story 3 are better films, but The Social Network is so impeccably written and directed that it'll be really hard to beat. I haven't seen many of the other movies that will most likely be nominated. Once I do, you know I'll be giving my two cents on all of them.

I'm also really starting to look forward to 2011. The summer films list shaping up really well and there's a couple of potentially great comedies coming out next year. Plus, new films by Spielberg, Soderbergh, Fincher, Cameron Crowe, Scorsese... and those are just what we know for sure right now. I also know that Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson are developing new films. Paul Thomas Anderson is looking to work on a new film based on a Thomas Pynchon novel. And Jason Reitman is currently filming a new film written by Diablo Cody.

Oh yeah, and there's also The Tree of Life that's coming out next May. You know I will be pimping that film out to no end. This is why I love having this blog even if hardly anyone reads it.

I'm also coming out with my first film possibly to be released next year but that's neither here nor there. I'm not the news, I'm the news reporter! Actually I'm not really a reporter either... I'm just a sorry ass blogger.

And I'll end this post on that note.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leslie Nielsen: 1926-2010

I wasn't born when "Airplane!" came out, but I wish I was. I wish I was old enough back then to see the film, knowing who Leslie Nielsen was at the time. Watching the film, then suddenly seeing Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack popping up and subsequently stealing the film with his pitch perfect comic delivery. Before that film, Leslie Nielsen was known as a dramatic actor. Before Airplane, he was probably most known for starring in the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet" as well as other serious dramatic films in the 1950s. To see him play Dr. Rumack in the delightfully goofy "Airplane!," I'm sure knowing who he was at the time would've added even more to my laughter.

As it stands, I see Leslie Nielsen the way most of America sees him: one of the funniest, silliest, greatest slapstick comedians during the '80s and '90s. The one who seemed like he would forever remain the hapless, incompetent old man that we all found ourselves watching. Watch The Naked Gun movies again. The man was 64 years old when the first Naked Gun film came out and he was almost 70 when the last one came out. Sure, he most certainly had the help of white-wigged stunt doubles, but he still made all of his pitfalls look completely believable. Think about what a rarity it was for someone like him to exist in the movie business. Has there ever really been anyone like him in movie history? A young dramatic actor turning into an old buffoon? Could you imagine that being Christian Bale or Leonardo Dicaprio 30 years from now? I don't think so. In the '80s and '90s, if you wanted to laugh, you could always count on Leslie Nielsen.

The Zucker brothers should've felt completely indebted to him. As skilled as they were, it takes an actor of high caliber to remain the star of a film that contains so many different sight gags. Think of all the jokes the Zucker brothers fit into their Airplane and Naked Gun films, Leslie Nielsen towered above them all. He was also the main reason why those spoof movies were so funny. Nowadays, all spoof movies suck and they suck horribly. Leslie Nielsen was the sole saving grace of the last few Scary Movies. Those guys behind Epic Movie and Disaster Movie have since killed what used to be such a great genre with Leslie Nielsen being the face of them all. Sure, Charlie Sheen proved to be a worthy challenger in the Hot Shots films (which I feel are both underrated, but not as funny as the first two Naked Gun films), but Leslie Nielsen had an air of believability in him that other actors could never imitate. You believed he could be a doctor, or a detective, or even the President. No matter how many times he proved to be incompetent and perhaps even unintelligent, you always believed he belonged in the police force. He wasn't just some actor trying to imitate a doctor or a policeman. He WAS Frank Drebin and Dr. Rumack.

While we all more-or-less expected that Leslie Nielsen's time was running out in this world, I don't think any of us really thought it would happen. My generation grew up with him being old. He was always old to me, but his films and his performances always felt fresh to me. Sometimes I thought he may be a 30 year old inside a 70 year old's body, there's no way that guy could be someone's grandad! So obviously Leslie Nielsen's death isn't a shocker, but it most definitely hits home for me. I grew up watching him, I'm sure most of you reading this also grew up watching him. He was part of the foundation for my sense of humor. The film world would not have been the same without him.

So, Lt. Drebin, I salute you. May you rest in peace. At least the roads will be safer without you.

Potentially awesome movies that's gonna take me (and you) forever to see

As the year comes to a close and critics come out with their "best of the year" list when it comes to movies, you'll probably notice a few films on their list that you don't recognize or that you haven't seen. That's because those critics got special advanced screenings and we are left out into the cold. I hate having to wait more than a month to see a film that's apparently been out in a limited release.

127 Hours was "released" on November 5th yet it's out in like 100 theaters right now. Why? The director's last film won best picture! It grossed over $100 million! 127 Hours is getting rave reviews, are you telling me there isn't a mainstream audience for this film? Almost everyone I know, who has seen the trailer, is interested in this movie.

And you know "Black Swan" is going to be treated the same way. Black Swan has had an endless amount of buzz since it premiered in the fall festivals and it comes out in a limited release this weekend so that probably means we won't see til Christmas, or worse, January. What kinda shit is that? That's why I'm not releasing a final "top 10 of 2010" list until March or something. How can I say what my top 10 is when I haven't seen two of my most anticipated movies?

Here are some other films to look out for over the next month or so, if you think this Holiday season is devoid of good movies, that's not the case. Their frickin studios simply won't or can't afford to release them nationally right away.

Black Swan
127 Hours
Rabbit Hole
The King's Speech
Blue Valentine
Another Year

If you haven't heard of those films yet, google them. I guarantee you my "best of 2010" list is going to have at least two or three of those films on it. Yet, I'll have to wait 'til after mid-January to know that for sure. I almost guarantee I won't be able to see Rabbit Hole or Another Year in the theaters.

Oh, to live in NYC or LA...

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Acting Auteur

I remember Quentin Tarantino once talking about this in an interview with Charlie Rose (I think); the idea that there are some actors that can change the nature of a film simply because of who they are. That doesn't mean that the casting of an actor could change the ending of a film (although that has happened numerous times), but moreso that once an actor of a certain caliber is casted in a film, the film could be re-written in order to more properly fit that actor's talents.

In my eye, there are four basic kinds of actors:

the method actor - this could either be a really talented, famous actor or relatively notable actor who can succeed in being sucked into a role or completely transform himself in a role. Depending on how good the actor is, his transformation should make it so that when you watch him on screen, you identify him as the character in the movie rather than the actor playing the character. Notable recent actors of this ilk are Daniel Day-Lewis, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (formerly a character actor which I'll get to later), and Benicio del Toro. These actors more-or-less go all out every time they make a film and it should be no surprise that they have each one at least one Oscar. Some more classic examples are Marlon Brando, Robert Deniro (until the last decade), and Dustin Hoffman.

the character actor - a character actor tends be someone you've seen in lots of films but you don't recognize his name. he (or she) tends to be barely noticeable. they tend to take supporting roles in films although some have starred in films (Steve Buscemi and Gary Oldman, for example). Basically, a character actor is someone who is believable in every single role he's in. This actor is basically ubiquitous and very versatile. A character actor can more or less do anything you tell him to do and he can do it quite well. Some character actors specialize in a certain type of role (whether it's playing a cop or a criminal) or are typcasted in such a role (like Mark Strong, lately), but there is no denying the fact that a great character actor is a great person to have in your cast. Some examples are, as I've mentioned Steve Buscemi and Gary Oldman. Oldman can also qualify as a method actor, but aside from movie buffs, he's not really well known. He hasn't even been nominated for an Academy Award, which is absurd. But he is barely noticeable in most of the roles that he chooses, in a good way. I guess a classic example of the character actor would be like Peter Lorre from the '30s-'50s.

the classic actor - the "classic" actor is generally someone who is highly skilled in the theatrical arts, but his skills translates quite differently in film. I don't mean that in a bad way, of course, I simply mean that classic actors tend to be more verbose and expressive whereas method actors are more deliberate and... methodical. Obviously, classic actors were way more prevalent in the classic Hollywood era, people like Laurence Olivier. But there are still actors of that kind who exist today, I would consider most British actors to be classically trained actors. Even an American like Kevin Spacey who has done tons of theater work. Kevin Spacey, to me, is one of the few actors who can go from small and practical to big and boisterous. Another great example would be Nathan Lane or Bette Midler (I know I've not given any female examples up to this point, you'll have to forgive me). It's also important to note that method actors can be loud and abrasive too just in a more deliberate way.

last but not least, the celebrity actor...

The reason why I started this blog post was so I can talk about this fourth kind of actor. Now the celebrity actor or "the acting auteur" is a specific class of actor who may have come from any of the three classes of acting that I made up above. But this actor, at a certain point, has transcended all typical forms of classification. He is someone whose personality is so grand that often times, writers will write a film having those actors already in mind. It's hard to write a good film for a celebrity actors because you want to use the best of their talents and you don't want to misuse them. The one small flaw I found in The Thin Red Line is that George Clooney doesn't appear until the last half hour or so of the film. George Clooney, even in 1998, is so clearly a celebrity actor that him appearing in a small role like that just doesn't work so well. It's so clearly George Clooney no matter what role he's playing. Just like Jack Nicholson is obviously Jack Nicholson and Cary Grant was obviously Cary Grant. You write these movies with those actors in mind and you play to their strengths. The reason why I call them auteurs is because they have such a demanding presence both on set and in the film that everything is practically catered to them. They either have more control or an equal amount of control as the director on the set. The best directors know how to keep this kind of actor in line (like Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or Alexander Payne with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt). There are bad directors though who can't handle actors of this magnitude (like with McG and Christian Bale... Bale is normally considered a method actor, but he could also be considered a celebrity actor especially considering how much Terminator Salvation felt like a star vehicle for him).

This is why you'll often see a actor of this nature work with the same director over and over again. Whether it's George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh, Leonardo Dicaprio and Scorsese, or Jack Nicholson with James L. Brooks. Celebrity actors like working with filmmakers that they're comfortable with. The more comfortable they are, the better they are at being themselves, or a version of themselves. What sometimes results is a film that's basically a showcase for that actor and may even depict a certain part of that actor's life (Warren Beatty in Shampoo, George Clooney in Up in the Air). The best types of films are ones that aren't hindered by the celebrity actor or is tailor made for a celebrity actor, but moreso it's a great film on its own that perfectly utilizes that actor's talents. It's a director who knows how to get the best out of that actor. Or maybe the actor is so enamored with the material that you get the best out of him. Either way, a celebrity actor at his best is usually a front runner for awards of all kind.

So, yes, Jack Nicholson may play a version of himself in every movie he's in and George Clooney may always be George Clooney... that's who they are, you can't change that. That doesn't mean they're incapable of starring in good movies or that they can't be believable with the characters they play. Great movies with celebrity actors are ones where the character and the actor are practically inseparable.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 1 review

The key to a "part 1" movie to work is the ability for it to stand on its own and to be a worthy film regardless of whether or not there is a part 2. That's the difference between a film and a mini-series. One film, no matter if it's a part of a series of films... or not, must be able to work on its own. The quality of the film is severely hampered when that's not the case.

"Deathly Hollows Part 1" is an interesting situation because it's a very entertaining film on a superficial level despite those who claim it's "boring" (there's like an action queue every 5-10 minutes, how is that boring? [i use the term "action queue" loosely since that really just means something wizard-like is about to happen]). It's true, it is a fairly entertaining film. Actually, Deathly Hollows part 1 had all the right tools to be a great film on its own, but unfortunately, it ended in a rather subdued fashion. It was a clear indicator that you must watch part 2 in order to "complete the journey." The ending definitely feels like a middle rather than an actual ending and that's the problem with the film. It's sort of the way Kill Bill vol. 1 ended but at least that film was very lean and strong on action. Deathly Hollows part 1 has a deliberate pace and it's carefully constructed. The emotion is definitely strong and all the actors have really grown into their roles nicely, but you can't possibly fully judge this film on its own merits because it's the first half of a full film. So, we all watched half of a film. And what good is half of a film?

If you don't know what's happening in Harry Potter land at this point, then that's ok. All you really need to know is... Dumbledore is dead, Voldemort wants to kill Harry Potter, and in order for Harry to kill Voldemort is to find more of his horcruxes and destroy them. That's really the jist of the whole story. That's basically where we're at and Deathly Hollows part 1 doesn't really change that. Some things happen, but nothing big. But we're pretty much guaranteed a very climactic, and hopefully satisfying, ending.

So, while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1 does leave us much hope for the 2nd Part, on its own, it really only adds up to half of a film. There's enough good in Part 1 that it deserves to be watched, but really, I wish I could just watch Part 2 immediately after. As it stands, Part 1 barely delivers.

Rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, November 11, 2010

three movies, three short reviews

Been awhile, I know. Stop crying. Let's just do this.

Due Date - I'm a fan of Robert Downey Jr., I'm a fan of Zach Galifianakis, therefore, I enjoyed this film. Having said that, I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. Todd Phillips, coming off his career high with "The Hangover" has made a fairly enjoyable, decent road trip comedy that harkens back to similar comedies such as "Plains, Trains, and Automobiles." PTA is a classic John Hughes film with the very funny Steve Martin and John Candy. Like PTA, "Due Date" features two characters that are constantly at odds with each other. Ethan Tremblay, played by Galifianakis, is an aspiring actor and a complete buffoon. Peter Highman (Downey) is an architect who is trying to return home to Los Angeles where his wife is about to have a baby. Both Peter and Ethan have their character flaws, but unlike PTA, Ethan's character flaws aren't quite as tolerable as John Candy's. Whereas John Candy's character has a naive-like innocence to him that could be annoying to someone like Steve Martin, Ethan Tremblay could be annoying to just about anybody. Luckily, Zach Galifianakis is a funny enough actor where he can make this odd, quirky character work even if he's ungodly annoying. Galfianakis's character here is pretty similar to the one he played in "The Hangover," in fact, they're almost identical. I don't know whether to fault the actor or the director for that. Sure, Zach is funny and he has shown some surprising range as an actor lately, but Phillips is starting to turn him into a one-note character. That note? Say something really strange and awkward for laughs.

It worked well with "The Hangover," it mostly works here, but I don't know how many people would be able take much more of that. Overall, Downey and Galfianakis have an odd chemistry together that makes this film really fun to watch. However, the movie falters when it tries to add some sincerity to it which, unfortunately, tends to ring hollow. Also, the supporting actors (Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride) don't quite satisfy or get to do much. If you're looking for a pretty good time, you'll find it with this movie. Just don't expect to pee your pants from laughter.

Rating: 7/10

Despicable Me - I managed to catch Despicable Me a few weeks ago, and here's my late review on the film.

Despicable Me is a charming little movie featuring a great voice acting performance by Steve Carrell. The jokes, obviously aimed squarely at kids, don't really resonate well with the older audience. It's a pretty fun movie with a good amount of heart. If you have to take your kids to see this movie (or, at this point, rent it) they should have a good time, and you won't be wasting too much of your time. However, on its own, Despicable Me doesn't quite hold up. Recommended for kids, but not necessarily for grown ups.

Rating: 6/10

Never Let Me Go - Never Let Me Go is an interesting enough film directed by Mark Romanek. This is only Romanek's third film and I've only seen his previous effort "One Hour Photo" before this. The verdict for this film is pretty similar to how I feel about "One Hour Photo." This is a movie filled with a lot of promise with some really good performances, but unfortunately, it doesn't go beyond "promising." This is a really soft, tender, sad movie that never rises to a climax or a focal point. In fact, overall, the film is fairly anti-climactic. It reminded me, in a way, of "Curious Case of Benjamin Button" where the premise is set up in such a way where you know what's going to happen, and the movie doesn't really go beyond that. But whereas Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells a pretty interesting story and David Fincher is a master craftsman who does nothing but elevate the material he works with, Mark Romanek is a notch below that. He's a wonderfully visual director, like Michel Gondry (although not as inventive), but he doesn't quite elevate the material that he's working with (whereas Gondry can elevate other people's material, just not his own).

Never Let Me Go tells a story, in an alternate universe, of three kids who grow up in a boarding school who have trouble adapting to the outside world. Ultimately, you find out why they can't really connect to the outside world, and what follows is a fairly heartbreaking, sad story. Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, and Carey Mulligan all do a wonderful job with their characters, but unfortunately, the emotional atmosphere never really rises or amounts to much. So what you have is some beautiful images, some solid low-key performances (aside from some short bursts of anger from Andrew Garfield), and a very sad, glum story. I wanted very much to like this film and recommend it to you all here, and you may very well want to ignore my advice and see this film anyway. But, personally, the film just doesn't really add up to much for me and, because of that, it just wasn't as strong or as powerful as it could have been.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, October 31, 2010

'70s, then '80s

Beginning in December, I'm gonna start compiling my top 100 films of both the '70s and the '80s. I'm going to release the '70s list first because it's my favorite decade for film and therefore, it'll be an easier list for me to gather and write about. I will release the '70s list (the same way I've released the '00s and the '90s) in the beginning of January. Then the '80s list will follow at some point between February and April. While I compile those lists, I'll still try to cover new films the best that I can, but once I start the list, I tend to get distracted by it.

In the near future, I'm going to write short reviews for "Never Let Me Go" and "Despicable Me" and later in the week, I will write longer reviews for "Due Date" and "127 Hours." That's assuming that 127 Hours will get a wide release next weekend, it might not.

Other than that, because I'm currently in the middle of making a film of my own, updates will happen quite irregularly in the month of November. If I'm not shooting the film, I'm editing it, or I'm taking a break from it. So, it's hard to find time to update this blog regularly. However, I will try my best.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Devil's Advocate: The King's Speech & The Oscars

I suppose calling myself a "devil's advocate" when discussing The King's Speech's Oscar chances can sound a little dicey at best. After all, the movie isn't even out yet and who am I to judge? I know I have neglected covering this upcoming film that stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, but only due to it not really being on my radar in these past months. That's not to say I'm uninterested in this film because I've read all the positive reports on the film and think it could possibly be very good.

My problem with "The King's Speech" is that I feel that the main reason why it's getting the type of Oscar Buzz that it's getting is because it seems like the typical Oscar-friendly film. You have the Oscar-friendly cast starring Colin Firth who is clearly long overdue for the Best Actor Oscar. Barring any upsets, I do believe he's the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar. But, to automatically start giving The King's Speech the trophy is just as dumb as giving the trophy to The Social Network or Inception.

We already know why TSN and Inception could have a tough time winning the Oscar. The Social Network is a very well-written, impeccably-crafted film but it has a young cast and its subject matter may go right over the heads of the Academy voters.

Inception is a hugely ambitious, very original action epic that pretty much took ownership of the entire summer blockbuster season. But the Academy don't usually go for Sci-Fi/Action type films and people have complained about its coldness and complex, frustrating ending. Also, the last time the Academy awarded a blockbuster film was 2003's Lord of the Rings Return of the King and that film had the benefit of the previous films in the trilogy being nominated for best picture as well. LOTR sweeping the 2003 Oscars appeared to be the Academy's way of making up for virtually ignoring the other two films. They had to award the third one, but they don't have to award Inception with anything.

So, by the book, looking at The King's Speech which is a historical drama with great performances from a wonderful cast... the fact that it's getting rave reviews could very well mean that it's a lock for a Best Picture win. But, when you think about it, the Oscars lately have been anything but by the book. They have passed over Oscar-friendly films in the recent past and have awarded some of the world's most visionary directors (along with their films): Eastwood, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Danny Boyle, and Kathryn Bigelow. Tom Hooper, the director of King's Speech is a virtual unknown who could be going up against filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, The Coen Brothers, and maybe even Darren Aronofsky. The last time we've had a split for best picture and best director was in 2006 when Crash won Best Picture but Ang Lee won best director for Brokeback Mountain. Has the Academy's tastes changed or has there simply not been a Oscar-friendly enough film that they can all get behind?

Well, you can argue the latter. Avatar had the monster box office success and simple love story that the Academy could get behind but ultimately I feel that the Academy didn't go for it because Avatar's story is ultimately one that's been done many times before. You also had Up in the Air and Precious... but none of those movies are historical epics. Inglourious Basterds was really the only "historical epic" but it was also one that was largely the product of Quentin Tarantino's vision and definitely wasn't by the book or historically accurate (nor was it trying to be).

Films in the past that seem to be more in line with The King's Speech are ones such as Atonement, Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich, The Queen... but really, none of those films had strong buzz going into the Oscar season. In fact, Frost/Nixon, Atonement, and Munich were seen as afterthoughts by the time the Oscars came around.

This is why I bring all this up. Films such as Inception, The Social Network, 127 Hours, and True Grit seem more in line with the Academy's taste in recent years. I repeat, in recent years. They are films that are getting strong buzz and you can bet that at least two of them will remain strong enough to still be considered when the Oscars are given out. But the King's Speech is old school Oscar-friendly type stuff and, by all accounts, it appears that it's a wonderful, crowd-pleasing movie. But will the Oscars be into that? Do they want to go back to that but haven't had the chance? Or has their tastes officially evolved?

Those are questions we all must ask ourselves as we get closer to Oscar season. Why is The King's Speech the Oscar frontrunner? Is that due to how the Academy used to vote or how the Academy votes now? If The King's Speech winds up being as good as it promises to be and it's getting strong heat from 127 Hours, The Social Network, and Inception... how the Academy votes can be huge. Back in 2007, it was unheard of to think a film like No Country for Old Men could possibly win Best Picture. Two years later, a small film like The Hurt Locker beat out the juggernaut that was Avatar. Lately, the Academy has voted against the grain more often than not. Is this going to be an ongoing trend or will The King's Speech bring the Academy back to its roots?

Monday, October 4, 2010

So let's talk Oscar....

"No, let's not..."

I fall for the trap every year and this year is no different. It's not that I particularly enjoy the Oscar ceremony itself. I hate the glitz and the glammer, the self-aggrandizing aspect, the "let's hug ourselves because we're rich and 'important'" type feeling. I could do without the red carpet bullshit and Joan Rivers and... all of that.

There are some things that I do enjoy about the Oscars and now it seems they're taking one of them away. First of all, I think it's a joke that they stopped airing the Honorary Oscar. I always felt that was the second most important Oscar of the night. When the Academy honors someone legendary that hadn't gotten the respect they received during their amazing career. People like Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini... true legends of cinema being honored at the Oscars... that's great tv. But they took that away now! This year they are apparently giving the honorary oscar to French auteur Jean-Luc Godard... but in a ceremony that's being held in November. What an insult. Jean-Luc Godard has done more for cinema in the last 50 years then most other filmmakers and to not give him a proper honor is insulting. Of course, he's never the type of person who was about awards, especially the Academy Awards. But, the first films that Godard made, in a way, were homages to the classic-era of Hollywood just done in his own way. So it's a shame that he won't get the proper recognition that he deserves even if someone else would be accepting the award for him.

Most of my friends couldn't care less about the Oscars and I don't blame them. And the thing is, I don't really care about the Oscars themselves either. But, in a weird way, I love the politics of it. I love predicting the Oscars. You see, the Academy has their own way of doing things. They don't listen to us. They don't care what our favorite film of the year is. So, as an Oscar predictor, you have to detach yourself and try to get into the mind of the Academy. It used to be the Academy would fall for "Oscar" movies. Films that played directly toward their sensibilities. There's at least one of those films nominated every year, but the strange thing is that lately the Academy hasn't been going for those types of films, not anymore. The Academy has chosen darker, smaller, more indie films over the recent years. The funny thing is that people still disagree with their choices.

But you know, you guys gotta lighten up. Instead of getting behind one film, you have to get behind 3 or 4. Of course, that is if 3 or 4 of those films actually wind up being nominated for best picture. In a field of ten best picture nominees, though, anything can happen. At first I wasn't too warm to the idea of ten BP nominees, but now I think it makes Oscar season a lot more interesting. More movies have a chance to get nominated and things are different now. Last year, it wound up that there were really only five movies that mattered from the ten nominees: Avatar, Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds. Those were the films that were getting the most attention and the most nominations overall. So you knew that it'd be one of those films that'd wind up winning.

One thing to note about the propsect of a Best Picture winning film is where the film would get nominated elsewhere. Is it an acting/writing heavy pic? A movie more focused on the technical aspects (directing, cinematography, editing)? Or does it have a bit of everything? The last question is where you usually have your winner. Let me show you...

The Hurt Locker wound up winning for best director, best original screenplay, best sound editing/mixing, and best editing... those are all pretty solid categories. Then you factor in that it was nominated for best cinematography and best actor and it's hard to deny a film like that.

Avatar had all the technical categories, but it lacked in the acting and writing categories. Inglourious Basterds had the technical and writing categories, but only had one nomination for acting and it was in the supporting category.

The reason why Precious was such a threat was because while it was weak on some of the tech categories, it was strong on the writing and acting categories. The acting branch is the largest branch in the academy so if you have a film filled with amazing performances and at least two acting nominees, then you have a pretty high chance. Although, Up in the Air had three actors nominated and it won diddly squat. Overall, it's all a matter of what film does the Academy like the most? Inglourious Basterds, unfortunately, wound up playing second and third fiddle in most of the categories even though Tarantino probably deserved best original screenplay. If the Academy loves the film enough, it will win.

One thing to consider though is that it doesn't really matter who wins best picture. Even if your favorite film won, you have to remember the upcoming backlash that will occur no matter what the film is. It's rare for a film to win without any controversy. Schindler's List was one of the few films where you had to go "ok, i'm just gonna keep my mouth shut." Every other film that wins, wins controversially unless it's hugely important and too large to ignore.

People need to stop hating the films that win best picture though, especially the ones that have won in the last few years. The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, and the Departed are all great films. They made my list of top 100 films of the 2000s. Compare that to Crash, Million Dollar Baby, LOTR:ROTK, Chicago, A Beautiful Mind, and Gladiator. I think only one of those films made my list. Now, that's just my own personal taste, but you know, the films that won in the last few years weren't my favorite of the year. 2009 - my favorite was Basterds, 2008 - my favorite was the Wrestler, 2007 - There Will Be Blood, and 2006 - Children of Men.

Two of those four films weren't even nominated for best picture. With TWBB, I rightly figured that it would be too dark for the Academy to pick so I tried to keep my heart out of the race. With Basterds, I knew that the film would be too niche-y for the Academy so I pulled my support out of Basterds and put it towards The Hurt Locker. I loved the Hurt Locker, I still think it's a fantastic film. And you know what? None of the last four BP winners are typical Oscar fare. Sure, you can argue for Slumdog Millionaire but, really, a kid from Mumbai, India goes on a gameshow to win the heart of a girl that's been forced into sex slavery... yeah, that's typical Oscar stuff there. Get your head out of your ass. It does have a happy, cheesy ending, but the first half of the film is fantastic and overall it's a great film. Not my favorite film of the year, it barely makes my top 5, but I had no problems with it winning.

And that's the attitude you have to take if you're following the Oscars. It's easy to just throw your hands up and say "fuck it" after your favorite film loses the race. But come on, the Oscar race is so fun to watch unfold...

first you have Sundance and SXSW festivals where all the smaller, "little engine that could" type films are released. Depending on how well-received they are, they get picked up, enter a few more festivals, get limited releases and then slowly ride the wave to critical acclaim for the rest of the year. The film that's done that so far this year is The Kids Are All Right. Last year, it was Precious. Few years ago, it was Little Miss Sunshine. It remains to be seen if The Kids Are All Right will hang onto its critical acclaim. You also have to watch out for Winter's Bone which won the jury prize at Sundance and is a much more serious film. But both movies have their legit reasons for staying in the Oscar race.

Then you have Cannes... Cannes is like the mother of all film festivals. All the best filmmakers go there and show their films. Some screen them in competition, some don't. Usually, a film that wins the highest prize at Cannes doesn't win the BP Oscar. But, lots of films have managed to get huge buzz from Cannes such as No Country For Old Men in 2007. This year, Mike Leigh's Another Year and Alejandro Innaritu's Biutiful are the films to look out for come Oscar time. Another Year is packed with great performances and the Academy has nominated some of Leigh's films before. Secrets & Lies was nominated for Best Picture in 1996. Innaritu has also had a film nominated for best picture, Babel, back in 2006. Although the buzz about Biutiful is largely directed at Javier Bardem's performance.

Then, of course, it's the summer movie season that lasts from May to August. You usually have your summer tentpoles that are just made to gross $300 million and make the studios money. But lately, there's been some films that have managed to get a large amount of critical acclaim... such as, The Dark Knight, Star Trek, District 9 (had a lower budget than most summer films, but still), and pretty much every Pixar film. This year, it's all about Inception. Inception should have no problems getting a best picture nominee this upcoming Oscar season. It has that rare mix of critical acclaim, high box office numbers, and favorable audience reaction. Whether or not it will be loved by the Academy... that remains to be seen. The Academy has awarded blockbuster-type films before. Gladiator back in 2000 came out that previous summer and Lord of the Rings... while not a summer blockbuster... was definitely a blockbuster and the third film of that trilogy basically swept the Academy. Also, there's Titanic. In order for a blockbuster to win best picture, it has to resonate with the Academy in ways other blockbuster films don't. Whether it's a film with groundbreaking special effects and high critical acclaim or it's a film with a highly ambitious screenplay packed with tons of great performances.

Once we cool down from the summer, there's the Toronto International Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride, and the New York Film Festival. Generally, this is where you'll see some future best picture nominees and winners come from. Whether it's the Hurt Locker (which came out at TIFF in 2008), Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride), Up in the Air & Juno & Sideways (Toronto), or Lost in Translation (Telluride/Venice). Already, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Somewhere, Social Network, and the King's Speech have had their premieres at these festivals and they're all pretty much guaranteed to garner heat once the awards season picks up.

After those festivals is just the Fall/Winter season of the year. Generally, most of the non-family pictures that are released in November and December are films that are geared toward an Oscar campaign. This year, in December, you have films like The Fighter and True Grit that are guaranteed to get some Oscar heat before the year ends.

Once all of that's over, you have the critics' awards, the golden globes, the baftas, the guilds... and it all leads up to the Oscars. Once the critics start giving out their awards for best film of the year, that's when we know for sure which films are gonna get Oscar attention and which films won't. But there is a considerable divide between what the critics think and what the Academy thinks. So even if the New York critics are all in love with the Social Network and the Los Angeles critics are all about Black Swan or Inception, the Academy could be all about the King's Speech.

You just never know. You never know. But that's why it's fun to predict these things, or at least, to see how everything plays out. Obviously, I care more about the films themselves than the awards they get. Obviously, my opinion on these films are what matters to me. But it's cool to see how these films measure up to each other and how they are seen by critics and the Academy. It's also a difficult challenge to try to keep yourself from getting too attached to one film, but every year, it happens. Every year, there's that one film that got to you emotionally and you feel it deserves every award that it gets. And when it loses at the Oscars, you hate the Academy forever... until the next year.

It's really no different from following a sport. You just have to learn to separate the movies from the people voting for the movies. And hey, maybe one time, the Academy will actually get it right and award the right film the best picture Oscar.


True Grit full trailer

The Coens aren't messing around this year. Check out the full trailer of their upcoming Western "True Grit"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The directors and their projects

I've decided to officially keep tabs on some of my favorite directors or directors that are becoming my favorite. I will update this from time to time.

director - title - release date

Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master, 2011/2012?

Wes Anderson - Moonrise Kingdom, 2011/2012?

Sofia Coppola - Somewhere, December 2010

Robert Rodriguez - Machete (just released), next project: Spy Kids 4, 2011

Quentin Tarantino - unknown, ??

Jason Reitman - Young Adult, late 2011?

Alexander Payne - The Descendants, spring 2010?

Aronofsky - black swan, 12/2010

david o russell - fighter, 12/2010

david fincher - The Social Network (just released), next project: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 12/2011

clint eastwood - hereafter, 10/2010

todd phillips - due date, 11/2010

coen bros - true grit - 12/2010

alejandro inarritu - biutiful - 12/2010

steven soderbergh - haywire & contagion - 2011

steven spielberg - war horse - 2011

martin scorsese - hugo cabret - 12/2011

duplass bros - jeff who lives at home - 2011

kevin smith - red state - 2011

edgar wright - ant-man? - 2011

judd apatow - unknown

Woody Allen - you will meet a tall dark stranger (just released), Midnight in Paris, 2011

christopher nolan - batman 3 - 7/2012

Terrence Malick - tree of life - 2011

richard linklater - ???

Sarah Polley - take this waltz - 2011

Pedro Almodovar - la piel que habito - 2011

alfonso cuaron - gravity 2012

noah baumbach - ???

Friday, October 1, 2010

Top 10 films of the year so far

Now that The Social Network has been released and I've seen it, it's time for a brief re-evaluation of the year so far. There's a few films already released that I've yet to see (Never Let Me Go, The American), and November and December have a ton of films that could influence this top 10 list. But what do we have now?

1. Inception
2. Toy Story 3
3. The Social Network
4. Winter's Bone
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
6. Shutter Island
7. Greenberg
8. The Town
9. Cyrus
10. The Other Guys

Honorable mentions: The Kids Are All Right, Kick-Ass

I know people are high on The Kids Are All Right and I think it's a good movie, but in all honesty, there were enough things wrong with it that kept me from liking it as much I wanted to. The Other Guys and The Town are very solid genre films and obviously they'll be bumped off the list eventually... or I at least assume. Also, Cyrus and Greenberg are great, light comedy/character dramas that kind of round out my top 10.

Looking forward to these last three months in film.

The Social Network review

I feel like before I can even start talking about this film, I have to clear up some things that's been buzzed about the film both positively and negatively. It's simply time to set the record straight.

YES, the film is a dramatization. Clearly, that's what this has been all along. That's what Aaron Sorkin does best. He's a storyteller, he's not trying to tell the actual truth, he's just trying to tell his truth. It's a perspective of the film that rings true to him.

NO, the film doesn't treat facebook in a hasty way. God, what is HuffingtonPost's problem? First, people were criticizing the fact that this is a film about facebook. Now, people are criticizing it because it's not about facebook. So Sorkin and Fincher do not comment on what Facebook has become? Well what exactly has facebook become? I've had facebook for over five years. I've seen it in its early stages and I've seen what it is now. What facebook has become since those courtroom hearings is simply irrelevant. The Social Network is only really representing a couple of years of the story.

The film is allowed to treat Mark Zuckerberg however it wants to treat Mark Zuckerberg. People criticize the film for the fact that it portrays Mark as completely emotionless and is completely driven to make facebook but nobody knows why. But I think it's fairly obvious, in at least the film's version of Zuckerberg's story, that Mark Zuckerberg is driven to create facebook so he can win over the girl who broke his heart. Is it the right way to go about it? NO, of course not and it's probably not the real reason. But it doesn't matter. In Sorkin's world, it all makes perfect sense. With Sorkin's version of Mark Zuckerberg, he's trying to win back a girl in the only way he knows how: through an endless array of computer codes. And through all the lawsuits, the parties, the millions of people who sign up for facebook... he never really gets out of facebook what everyone else gets out of it. Mark Zuckerberg is left friendless despite all the millions of people who have made friends through facebook.

Now is the real Mark Zuckerberg at all like the character in the movie?----NO, NO, NO. Just shut up already. First of all, Mark Zuckerberg himself has described the movie as "fun" and realizes exactly what it is. Who cares what the real Mark Zuckerberg is? Aaron Sorkin didn't even want Mark Zuckerberg's input, he had a clear idea of who he thought Mark was and he stuck with it. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, Aaron Sorkin doesn't have the fondest feelings for the internet or social networking in general. But, The Social Network isn't an attack on facebook, it's simply about the formations and the deterioration of relationships---specifically, the ones Mark Zuckerberg has in his own life. It brilliantly portrays the irony of the mere existence of facebook: those who use it are "connecting with their friends," but who can honestly say that they're truly connected with every friend that they have on facebook. Ultimately, your friends are the ones you have in real life. No matter how many people you add on facebook, they're not really your friends. Aaron Sorkin understands this irony, especially within the character of Mark Zuckerberg, and he portrays it just right: as a tragedy.

And this is where some people are kind of missing the point with The Social Network. People can see Mark Zuckerberg in many different ways in the movie, but personally, I agree with Aaron Sorkin in that Mark Zuckerberg really isn't that awful of a person. He's not portrayed as a complete asshole or even much of an asshole at all. He's a bit of a jerk, that's true, but he's really just a guy who doesn't know much about forming and sustaining relationships that created something that's all about forming and sustaining relationships. What happened was that this creation became bigger than anything he could even imagine, bigger than his best friend could imagine, or the rowing twins. The one person who did realize how big it could become was Sean Parker and as soon as Sean Parker came into the picture, he more-or-less was the puppet master from then on. See, Aaron Sorkin really puts all the blame, albeit indirectly, on Sean Parker. See, Eduardo Saverin had it all right when he expressed his distrust with Sean Parker and Zuckerberg probably should've been more careful with Parker. But the startling reality is that Sean Parker is 100% correct on what facebook could become and, tragically, that was the only road facebook could go down in.

Did Mark Zuckerberg steal the website from the Winklevoss twins? Did he sabotage his best friend? Did he ruin most of the relationships that he initially had? That's all up in the air, honestly. That's what the hearings were all about and everyone voiced their own opinion on it. Ultimately, however, no matter how many bad things Mark Zuckerberg may have done (or not do), he's not a bad guy. The film doesn't think so, Aaron Sorkin doesn't think so, and I don't think so. He's not perfect, nobody is. And you know, sure, the film doesn't go into all the positive things Mark Zuckerberg has done. People who dwell on that though don't realize that the film doesn't need to do that. Even through all the bad things Mark did, he's still not a bad guy. That's part of what makes The Social Network such a strong film. It's why critics universally praise it. Yes, it's a dramatization, yes it doesn't portray things completely accurately, but all-in-all, it's fair to everyone involved. It's telling a story, or at least a couple versions of a story. It's not a biopic of Mark Zuckerberg nor is it solely about the creation of facebook. The film accomplishes everything that it sets out to accomplish and that's all that's needed.

Even though The Social Network pretty much gets everything right and does everything it's supposed to do, that doesn't mean it's a perfect film or the best film of the year. It's a great film, one of the best films of the year, but overall, its scope is kind of small and as well as Aaron Sorkin attempted to dramatize things, it's not especially mind-blowing nor does it have a huge emotional punch or impact. Also, even though Jesse Eisenberg's performance is completely solid and it's probably his best acting work yet, there really isn't much to the emotional core of this character. Even though his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg feels right and he reads Aaron Sorkin's dialogue perfectly, in all honesty, there realy isn't that much to him.

Really, it's the characters of Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker that really stick with me after having seen the film. I know people may laugh at me when I say this but Justin Timberlake's performance is picture perfect. Andrew Garfield also proves that he's a great young talent. Solid performances overall, but those two actors really shone through. And I can't state enough just how effective and brilliantly-written Sean Parker is. There is something subtly and inherently unsettling about the character of Sean Parker and I really dug the portrayal of him. Timberlake does a spot-on job and Sorkin does a great job with writing that character.

David Fincher adds a great visual flare to this film, but this is really Aaron Sorkin's film through and through. Sorkin's writing is the true star of this film and he turned what could have been a rather boring film into something quite fascinating. Honestly, this film is just conversation after conversation but the way Sorkin writes his dialogue and the way Fincher captures the dialogue, is absolutely wonderful.

One other thing I have to say about this film is that I got a kick out of how Sean Parker was explaining to Mark about how putting ads on facebook would no longer make facebook cool. Mark agrees with him. They agree that they have to make facebook look cool. I found that amusing because that's kind of how I felt about facebook when I first got it. It felt exclusive. Only my college friends could have it and it was ours. Once high school students were allowed on and then everyone... it ruined the magic of facebook. Now facebook is as cool as the Disney channel. I guess that shows you that when you create something that makes you no money, you have to rationalize why you made it in the first place. The initial rationalization is that it is "cool." But now that it's made Mark Zuckerberg billions of dollars, it no longer matters that it's cool. Sure, let's let old people play farmville on it for 20 hours per day. Let's embarrass college kids by letting their parents have facebook. Shit, there's an entire website devoted to that embarrassment. But, you can't understate just how much facebook has revolutionized the way people use the internet. What Mark Zuckerberg created is brilliant, what it has become is not so brilliant... but hey, things can't stay cool forever.

The Social Network isn't a film that represents my generation. I don't think anybody can really define this generation. People say that they should've waited longer before they made this film, but I don't think so. I think now was the perfect time. The time when facebook is at its most popular and is used by nearly everybody. This isn't a film about our generation, it's not about the future, it's about right now. It's the movie of my generation, but it's definitely the first Hollywood film that has at least attempted to understand our generation. That's a start.

p.s., I loved Trent Reznor's music on this film

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Overall, People Have the Wrong Idea About Movies

I don't know when it began, perhaps it's always been this way since I've been conscious enough to acknowledge it, but somewhere along the way we have lost our imagination. Our collective society has become more and more a closed-off society, especially among people my age. We want instant gratification; everything should be within our grasp. I go inside a public bus and find almost 70% of the people inside to be wearing Ipod headphones. Good luck trying to have a conversation with someone downtown or on campus or on the streets... they're all busy on their cellphones, their mp3 players... something is inside their ears. People can't wait to get home to listen to music or talk to their friends or check facebook. Everything must be done now and as soon as possible.

When you get into that kind of mentality, it affects your mentality in other avenues. One such avenue is the movies. I get beside myself sometimes when people dismiss seeing a movie because the subject matter doesn't interest them. It doesn't matter who wrote it, who directed it, or who starred in it. Has it always been that way? Am I like that? Well, occasionally, I am.

But, the reason why I avoid seeing certain films is because I feel the plot is overly familiar, overdone, overused. Sadly, that's the case with the majority of Hollywood films. Other than that though, I'm open to seeing just about every other film, especially if it's been made by people that I like. Even if it's not made by people I like or care about, I will still see it if I hear good things about it. Honestly, what's so wrong about that? People worry about a movie wasting their time, but how often do we waste our time doing other kinds of mindless shit? At least when you see a movie, no matter how dumb it is, by simply processing and formulating an opinion on it, you'd have at least done something with yourself.

Obviously, if you're simply too busy to see a film then that's one thing, but if you have time to see a movie and you consistently choose only a certain type of movie then what are you really doing with your time? You shouldn't choose something just because it's safe and you know you'll like it. Oftentimes, the films in which you have absolutely zero expectations for are the films that affect you the most. When you go into a film knowing little about the subject matter, you're going to leave the film knowing a hell of a lot more than what you did two hours ago.

When I went into the film "JFK," I only knew the base facts about the JFK assassination. Three hours and twenty minutes later and I was completely entrenched within all these conflicting and contrasting details about the assassination. It fascinated and thrilled me and it was a movie about something I'd otherwise may not have much interest in.

So let's fast forward to the present day. "The Social Network" is coming out this Friday. It's written by Aaron Sorkin who is a very esteemed and gifted writer. He's responsible for shows such as The West Wing and Sports Night as well as films such as A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson's War. "The Social Network" is already being hailed as his greatest work yet which is saying a lot. The film is directed by David Fincher who is the master behind Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The film has 47 fresh reviews on rottentomatoes and zero rotten ones and it has a near perfect score on metacritic. What more could you possibly want from a movie?

So you don't want to see it because it's about the invention of facebook? Why is that such a horrible thing? If Aaron Sorkin is writing about the people who invented post-it notes, I'd see it all the same. But the story behind the creation of facebook and the subsequent lawsuits happen to be very, very fascinating stuff. The best thing about Aaron Sorkin is that he knows how to make people sound interesting. I never really appreciated The West Wing when it actually aired, but I used to catch reruns of it on the Bravo network in college and I loved it. Sorkin knows how to write fascinating, compelling characters and he knows how to make it relate to a bigger overall picture. By the looks of it, that is what he has done with this film, The Social Network.

It's not like Mark Zuckerberg (the inventor of facebook) has been behind the making of the film. In fact, he doesn't even want it to get made. Sure, some or most of the details in this film can be over-dramatizations or fabrications, but nearly all films about real-life subjects are over-dramatizations. When you have the best writer behind the subject, it doesn't matter how fabricated it is as long as the writer isn't just doing it for sensationalistic purposes. I mean, honestly, have you ever read Shakespeare's Julius Cesar?

When I look at movies, I move beyond its subject matter almost right away. I don't care that Darren Aronofsky is making a film about ballet, I care that it's Darren Aronofsky making the film. I don't care much about a man that's invested within the oil business, but I do when it's been written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Sometimes you have to trust the filmmakers regardless of what you think of the subject matter because, in film and in literature, it's never really about the plot. When you were forced to write papers on books in high school, how much time did you spend on plot? Nearly zero, right? Because you're not supposed to talk about the plot when you talk about a movie or a work of literature, it should encompass maybe a small paragraph in your paper. The rest of your paper should be about the characters, the themes, the motifs... those are the things that make art so interesting and insightful.

You don't want to see a movie because you don't like anybody that's behind the film? Fair enough. But don't avoid a movie just because it's about something you'd otherwise never be interested in. You never know if you're interested in something unless you... learn about it. Yes, that's right. Learning... remember what it was like to learn about things?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RIP Sally Menke

A very important and perhaps underappreciated part of Quentin Tarantino's filmmaking crew, Sally Menke, has passed away this morning.

Read more here.

The Town review (sorry, I'm late)

Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall
Dir: Ben Affleck
Running time: 123 minutes

Gone Baby Gone
showed the world that Ben Affleck had a cinematic voice, The Town is showing the world that his cinematic voice is here to stay. With The Town, it is clear now that Ben Affleck is one of the hottest up-and-coming directors out there today. An established actor with a rather spotty track record, so far Ben Affleck is two-for-two in his directorial career and The Town is even stronger than his first film.

What more can you expect from Ben Affleck other than another solidly made Boston crime/drama? The Town is more of an actors' showcase than anything else. Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively... many memorable performances throughout this film, but none more memorable than Jeremy Renner's. We'll get to that later...

The plot of The Town is pretty straight-forward. Ben Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a native of Charlestown in Boston. Charlestown is the bank robbery capital of the US and Doug plays a large role in that. He and his band of criminals come up with sound, elaborate schemes on how to rob banks all over the city. They are disciplined, dangerous, and one of them is apparently a really good driver. What follows is three brilliantly shot action sequences: the bank robbery, the car chase, Fenway Park heist and in between is the touching romance that develops between Doug and his former hostage victim, Claire (although she has no idea that he was on the one who held her hostage).

The romance between Claire and Doug is approached surprisingly well and it really gives the movie a lot of depth and heart, especially for a genre film such as this one. There have been a couple of lame films that attempt to approach this genre and are utter failures (Takers, anyone?) and that just goes to show just how far ahead Ben Affleck is compared to other filmmakers. That he has both the acting and directing chops to pull this film off is a testament to the kind of talent he has. The only thing you can ask is... who knew?

Yes, this is one of those types of films you can watch over and over again whether it'd be via rental or on tv. You have the strong performances, you have the great action sequences, and you have the touching romantic scenes. You even have the nearly scene-stealing performance of Blake Lively whose character's backstory is almost as interesting as the rest of the film. But the real shining light in this film is Jeremy Renner.

Jeremy Renner really isn't much. He's not this huge bulky guy, yet he's intimidating as hell. His character in this film is completely fearless and unpredictable that can snap at any minute. Jeremy Renner pulls this character off to perfection and it seems abundantly clear to me that Jeremy Renner is one of the best working actors today.

That being said, this film isn't without its problems. It's a solid genre film, it does everything that it's supposed to be, but it doesn't really go outside its little box. There isn't much to take away from this film which keeps it from being a truly involving film. Also, Jon Hamm's character is too much of a square. Instead of being the ultimate badass like he is in Mad Men, Jon Hamm in The Town is as cool as a high school principal. While he plays his part very well, there really isn't much to him and by the end, you kind of look at him in a negative light. But why? Why is Ben Affleck forcing us to see the cops in this way and yet he and his thugs are looked at in an almost idolized way. The great thing about how Scorsese makes his gangster films is that he never romanticizes his anti-heroes whereas Ben Affleck does. Doug MacRay is very charming and smooth and Claire can't help but be drawn to him in some way. But, ultimately, the man is a very dangerous and violent criminal and the way Affleck romanticizes this character is very head-scratching.

Of course, that doesn't make the film any less than what it is, it's just what keeps The Town from really being a very effective film. Overall though, it's a sound film, it's very well made film, and I definitely recommend it. But don't expect it to be anything more than what it appears to be.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, September 27, 2010

True Grit trailer

The Coens are back in business.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three films, three reviews (short, medium, long)

The Last Exorcism - A very promising but ultimately ineffective horror film that's centered around a specific subgenre that's kinda been done to death over the past few years. There are couple of things that work in this film, however. The mockumentary aspect of the film definitely keeps it from being too familiar and the lead character is very charismatic and likable so it makes it easier for you to follow him and what he does. The concept is also pretty unique and I like how they go about the story. Ashley Bell, who played Nell, was great as the girl who has the exorcism performed on her. There was something very creepy and unsettling about her even when she appeared perfectly normal. There are some pretty tense moments in the film and the plot unfolds in a pretty clever way. Ultimately, however, they aren't able to pull the whole thing off successfully and the ending kind of ruins the rest of the film. Overall, it doesn't all work, but it's definitely not a mediocre film. Rating: 6/10

Kick-Ass (DVD) - Kick-Ass is one hell of a fun film to watch as it wastes no time getting to what the film is about and the first-person narration makes it easy to get involved with the film. Dave, played by Aaron Johnson, is the definition of the average teenager (or at least that's what the movie is trying to sell you), but unlike other teenagers who aspire to be something extraordinary, Dave actually attempts to be extraordinary. He can't understand why there aren't people out there who try to be superheroes and he decides he has to become one himself. What he doesn't know is that there are people out there attempting to be superheroes and little does he know that he's starting to get in their way. This is when you are introduced to one of the biggest scene stealers in recent memory: Hit Girl, aka Mindy Macready (played by Chloe Moretz). She, along with her father (Nicolas Cage), have been attempting to take down the local crime organization that's been running the city for quite some time now. Of course her father, Damon, is the brains behind the operation, but Hit Girl is definitely the muscle.

There are some excellently filmed and very violent scenes involing Hit Girl that some people may not be to keen on. The idea of a 12-year old girl committing such violent acts towards others (albeit bad guys) can be unsettling to some. And yeah, the whole thing does kinda throw you in for a loop as you realize what it is you are watching. That is where Kick-Ass sort of goes wrong. On one hand, the action scenes involing Hit Girl are brilliant, funny, and fun to watch. On the other hand, it's gimmicky and slightly disturbing. You can go either way on it depending on how you feel about the situation, personally, I was a bit mixed.

However, that never ruins the film for me like it did for Roger Ebert. Although Christopher Mintz-Plasse almost ruins the film for me. He plays the geeky son of the crime boss and his whole character just didn't work for me. You never really understand what his motivations are for wanting to be Kick-Ass's (sort of) villain. Does he want his father's approval? Does he actually like Kick-Ass? Does he want to steal attention from Kick-Ass? And I'm sorry but Mintz-Plasse just doesn't do the character justice. People complain about Michael Cera playing the same character in all his films but Michael Cera manages to make most of those characters work in their own unique and entertaining way. Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character is either not written well enough or he just does a poor job with the character. I can't really tell. Either way, I just wasn't sold on him. Also, I really am getting tired of Mark Strong being the bad guy in almost every film. Mark Strong is also a very one-note actor and all his bad guy roles are the same. He's just no fun and he isn't much fun in this movie either.

Overall though, everyone else did a pretty great job, even Nicolas Cage. And despite all those little problems with the film, like I said, it's still a really fun movie to watch. The climactic action sequences are just so wonderfully inspired and well done that you can forgive the film for its mishaps. A fun movie, but not necessarily a great one. Rating: 7.5/10

Winter's Bone
- Here's a movie that makes absolutely no attempt to try to win you over. From the start, you are introduced to a very dark, cold, and not-so-distant world where people rely on criminal activity in order to get by. This is a very intense drama that doesn't let up, not even at the end. Jennifer Lawrence as Ree is one of the best performances of the year and the rest of the cast does a great job of keeping up with her.

In fact, the performances are so strong that it helps make the rest of the story utterly convincing. Since the movie is pretty thin on plot and the heroine's quest is pretty simple, it relies on its dark and tense mood to get its point across. With the actors' help, it's all pulled off quite amazingly. You really feel like you would find these types of characters in the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains. You would never want to hang out with any of these folks in real life.

Even the real small performances are great. The Army recruiter, Sheriff Baskin, little Arthur... everyone does a fantastic job here and their performances force you to get sucked into the story. By the end, during the film's most intense sequences, you can't help but feel for Ree as she attempts to find out the truth about her missing father.

The film is really just about Ree and her family. Her father is a meth dealer and has his share of run-ins with the law. He's been missing for many weeks now and the police are looking for him so he will show up for his next court date. If he doesn't show, Ree and her family lose the house. So Ree sets out to find her father and has to deal with a full array of terrifying and bleak characters. You're scared for her, you feel bad for her, but you're also in awe of how fearless she is.

Winter's Bone is a serious drama and that, at times, can be a problem. It's dead serious for the whole 100 minutes and everything is so bleak and dark that it can be a bit much at times. The film is powerful, but at times it's almost too dark for its own good. So while the movie does everything well, it tends to tread a very thin line. It gets a bit difficult to stay with the film when it looks and feels so unwelcoming.

The movie begins and ends with leaving you feel cold, but I feel like that's part of why it's so strong. It's a slice of life, a very bleak life. These characters will go on living the way they do and someone like Ree doesn't care if you think little of her and her situation. Winter's Bone shows that even those who live in world that seems so hopeless can be strong and do the right thing even if there's nobody else to guide them and tell them what's right and what's wrong. Ree is one of the most fascinating characters in one of the most fascinating films of the year. Rating: 9/10