Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who is Don Draper?




All of Mad Men has, in some way, revolved around the personal history of Don Draper. Here is a man that nobody seems able to figure out. He's stubborn about telling people who he is and when he refuses to answer a couple of questions from a journalist, in the beginning of the season four premiere, the journalist subsequently describes Draper as a man of mystery in his article. Don Draper, a mysterious man, this idea is no good for a company that's still trying to get its foot on the ground. But, Don can't help but act this way, the man has a lot on his mind.

He's still trying to handle the newly single life. Although, he only appears to be concerned about his wife leaving the house he's trying to sell as well as being able to see the kids. Draper is alone, but hasn't he always been alone? Nobody can infiltrate Don Draper and that is both the man's strength and his flaw. What made him into such a successful ad man could actually wind up being his undoing. Throughout the episode, he snaps at Peggy, at Betty, at a family company trying to sell two piece bathing suits. Don Draper isn't messing around, but is he still in control or is he on the brink of losing everything? For the first three seasons, Don Draper was always a man in control no matter how complicated his life may seem. Now we begin to wonder if he's starting to lose that control.

In the meantime, the other main story that was explored in this episode is Betty Francis (former Betty Draper). Here is a woman who might have already lost control. Sure she's found a new man, but her new man is already starting to question his decisions. She's a terrible mother, her new mother-in-law disapproves of her, and she won't move out of Don's house. What has her new husband gotten into? The way that Betty treats Sally is starting to get attention from her new family. How long will they be able to tolerate her?

The season four premiere of Mad Men was a spectacular start to what could be a great season. It's great to see Joan back in full force and it appears that Pete Campbell is in good graces with Don Draper, generally speaking. It's also good to see Sterling's relationship with Don Draper has improved, that was starting to get ugly. But will we see Ken Cosgrove again? Or Paul Kinsey? Or, sadly, Salvatore from the art department? With the latter, I've heard he isn't. That is a shame because Salvatore was probably one of the most interesting supporting characters on the show. His story wasn't that developed, but damn was it fascinating. Here is a man who struggles with his own identity, much like Don Draper. It's a real shame not to see his story continued in any way.

But all-in-all, whereas the season three premiere kind of started slowly, season four starts and ends with a bang. What does it all mean though? Where is Don Draper going with all this? I guess we're going to have to wait a week to find out.

(picture stolen from the New York Times)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thoughts on film criticism

Recently, Armond White was on slashfilm's podcast where he declared that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism... that he ruined it for good. He said a lot of other things too, for instance, that the internet is also destroying film criticism. He said that no one under the age of 30 should be allowed to review movies and no one under the age of 40 should be allowed to MAKE movies. By the end of the podcast, when he was asked to name some of his favorite film critics, he had no answer. He simply thinks that he's the only one with the right answers and everyone else is wrong. If you read up on Armond White, you would find that he's pretty much a contrarian. A contrarian who is a skillful writer, in some ways, but oftentimes, his "skillful writing" doesn't add up to much. His positive reviews mostly consist of bashing movies that he felt were not as good as the movie he's reviewed and his negative reviews consist of bashing anybody who thinks that the movie he's reviewing is good.

So it'd be safe to say that Mr. White is a troll, but that's not what I want to talk about here. What I'm more interested in is the fact that Armond White brought up an interesting point about film criticism today. How people are generally too soft on their critiques and someone like Roger Ebert simply gives too many positive reviews.

I thought about that and then I thought about what I do here. How my blog is just one of the many other movie blogs on the net that's filled with amateur movie reviews and news. But let me make it clear, I'm fully aware of my biases. I think it's dishonest to claim you're not biased when obviously there are gonna be some filmmakers that you prefer to others. That being said, I still think I come across as fair and as non-biased as I possibly can, but I can't help myself from liking what I like. I'm not even trying to be non-biased here, but I am trying to give an accurate repesentation on my views on the movies that I see. I try the best I can to break them down, tell you what I liked or tell you what I didn't like. I'm not telling you that my opinion is correct. And I admit that I may use the word "masterpiece" in my top 100 lists a lot but those lists exist solely so I can praise movies. I enjoy looking back at the movies I love and telling you why I like them, that's why I make those lists. At the same time, I like simply breaking down a movie and discussing the bad and good parts.

So no, I'm not a professional reviewer, I'm not a professional writer. I'm not trying to be anything I'm not here. I have no interest in becoming a professional film critic. I just like thinking critically and analyzing film. I also am an aspiring filmmaker. So I'm more interested in making films than writing about them, but I still really like writing about them. That's why I do what I do here.

Basically, all I'm trying to see is that I know how amateur this blog may be, but I find nothing wrong with keeping up with today's movie news and continuing to hone my craft while I review movies. My ratings system isn't 100% and sometimes I feel like they're arbitrary. I gave Inception a 9.75 out of 10, but now I wonder if it's too high.

I can review and analyze movies but I haven't quite perfected the art of giving them a number rating. The best thing I can do is rank them compared to other movies of its genre, a director's filmography, or a given year. So really, it's all about how I feel about the movies at the end of the year, but it's still important for me to write about them so I can see what I liked or didn't like about the movie.

Anyway, I guess I may come across as defensive here, but I think it's important for you all to get a better understanding where I'm coming from. I probably will tend to write more good reviews than bad because I am only interested in seeing the movies that I think I'll like. But I still am as honest as I can possibly can when I review them, whether or not I might change the ratings of the movies a little bit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Greenberg review (DVD)

Cast: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig
Dir: Noah Baumbach
Running time: 109 minutes

Seeing as how I live in State College, PA, it shouldn't be surprising that I wasn't able to see this movie until just recently. Nonetheless, since Greenberg is a 2010 movie and only actually came out four months ago, I still feel a review is in order. Especially since I was talking about it quite a bit back in February and March.

Greenberg is a very good film, an interesting character study on a 40-something man named Roger Greenberg who had just gotten out of a hospital in NYC due to having a nervous breakdown. Now, he's in LA, sent to take care of his brother's house while his brother's family goes out on vacation in Vietnam. The movie is really all about Greenberg, his relationship with his old friends,and his new relationship with a young woman who normally takes care of the dog (among other things) at the house.

Roger Greenberg is basically a misanthrope. He's not a very nice person and there aren't very many people who like him. But, in a way, you kinda feel bad for the guy as he seems so wrapped up in his own self-loathing that he can't help but take it out on other people. When you see him with his old friends, you can tell that there's a lot of resentment. They meet with him, hang out with him... almost out of pity or out of habit. But, except for his former best friend Ivan, the rest of them simply can't stand him for too long. He's still holding on to what went on between them back in their 20s and yet they've moved on and had lives and children.

"Greenberg" is about what happens when you don't follow the normal path of adulthood. What happens when you don't fall in love, get married, have a regular job, and have kids? It's as if Greenberg never changed throughout his late 20s and 30s so now he's 41 and he basically has the same mentality that he had when he was 25. The only difference is that now he's just more disgruntled and mad at the world. It's sad and yet it's all so portrayed realistically thanks to Noah Baumbach's writing (and his partner Jennifer Jason Leigh).

The relationship between Greenberg and Florence (Gerwig) is also portrayed quite wonderfully even though Greenberg does everything he can to prevent anything real or serious happening between them. Greta Gerwig does a great job with portraying Florence and even though you may wonder what she's doing getting involved with a guy like Greenberg, you can kinda see the similarities between the two of them. They both sort of don't know what they want out of life and are just kind of stuck in some sort of limbo. Perhaps Florence reminds Greenberg of being in his mid-20s again, but either way, a bond just kind of forms right away between the two but it's a bond that neither of them can really strengthen.

Baumbach, of recent years, has often been criticized for writing characters that are basically unlikable and hard to relate to, and while Greenberg is indeed quite unlikable, I do think you can relate to a guy like him. You might not like who he is or you may not have much in common with him. But you can see how he turned out the way he did. The end of the film suggests that maybe he has found something in his life that will change him for the better, but you can't really know that for sure. Can he finally grow up, have a real relationship, and accept the natural progression of life? Or will he have another nervous breakdown? Either way, Noah Baumbach has constructed a wonderfully-made movie. It also has a lot of little funny parts that really made me laugh and I basically think of the movie as... what if one of the characters from "Kicking and Screaming" never grew up and wound up hating life? Well, he probably would wind up like Roger Greenberg.

Let me warn you though, some of you may not like Greenberg as much as I did. In fact, some of you might not like it at all. Noah Baumbach's films do not appeal to everyone. Some people really like them, some people hate them. I happen to fall into the former category. So, if you don't like it, don't worry about it. Noah Baumbach creates honest, heartfelt films with characters that you may not like very much. I still like his films and this approach is very interesting to me, but it doesn't have to be for you I suppose.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, July 18, 2010

notes to self

July
tomorrow: Greenberg DVD review
sometime this week: Please Give review
next Monday/Tuesday: analysis/review of Mad Men season four premiere
late Predators review at some point, dunno when

August
The Other Guys review
Edgar Wright, a director profile
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World review

(hopefully) Toronto Film Festival preview at some point in August or early September

plus, whatever interesting news or movie trailers that tickle my fancy. I can't promise that this blog will continue to active on a daily basis, but I'll try to get a decent amount per week. I post when I have interesting things to post. Sounds fair, right?

Top 10 Summer Blockbusters in the last 20 years

In honor of Inception (which won't be included in this list), I've decided to look back and see what were some of my favorite summer blockbusters in my own lifetime. I was born in 1987 so I don't know what it was like when Jaws, Stars, any of the Indiana Jones movies or Back to the Future movies came out. But my memory is fairly solid since about 1991 or so at least when it comes to this. I can remember what it was like when some of these movies came out so that's why I want to just make it span the last 20 years.

This list is about a couple of things: How much hype was there for the movie beforehand and did it live up to it? Also, bonus points for originality and groundbreaking technology. Movies that haven't lost their luster even in recent years. That's what this list is about. As you probably would guess, it's all about the months between May and August, no exceptions. Also, live action only.

So, let's do this.

10. Independence Day, July 2nd 1996
Starring: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum
Gross earnings: $306,169,268 (domestic), $817,400,891 (worldwide)
Budget: $75 million

Looking back now, Independence Day was, in many ways, a very campy movie. It's one of those movies now where you sit and watch it with family and laugh at some of the cheesy lines, ridiculous plot, and lack of movie logic. But, I remember when this movie came out and it blew everyone away. It made a ridiculous amount of money and officially made Will Smith a star in Hollywood. Everybody was wowed by the visual effects, the stakes of the action, and the fact that we won! We beat those damn aliens! And Bill Pullman's speech at the end makes us all wish we can vote him for President, you know, just in case we're in the midst of an alien invasion. Would Barack Obama suit up and attempt to fight those aliens? Hell no. Bill Pullman would though!

9. Pirates of the Caribbean, July 9th 2003
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom
Gross earnings: $305,413,918 (domestic), $654,264,015 (worldwide)
Budget: $140 million

This hugely successful movie spawned two even more successful sequels and with this movie, Johnny Depp proved that he can carry a blockbuster movie by himself. Of course there are strong supporting roles in the movie, but it's Depp's film through and through. Before then though, he was known for his eccentric roles and frequent Tim Burton pairings, but this film made him an action star. Also, this movie made pirates popular once again. For a long time, pirates weren't really portrayed in film and when they were, they were often to lackluster ticket sales. Steven Spielberg's Hook isn't very memorable and Cutthroat Island lost a ton of money. Who knew that it'd take a movie based on a ride at Disney World to make pirates popular again?

8. Spider-Man 2, June 30th 2004
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst
Gross earnings: $373.5 million (domestic), $783,766,341 (worldwide)
Budget: $200 million

I remember everyone was shocked at how this movie basically broke all the box office records in its opening weekend. Of course, that's been broken multiple times since then so it's not really surprising to see it happen. Spider-Man 2 is sort of important in that it was the first big budget blockbuster film where the second film successfully managed to raise the stakes of the first film as well as remain just as successful financially. At the time, Spider-Man was the model superhero film franchise, boy how the mighty have fallen. Now it's being completely rebooted, but in 2004, Spider-Man was king.

7. Forrest Gump, July 6th 1994
Starring: Tom Hanks
Gross earnings: $329.7 millions (domestic), $677.3 million (worldwide)
Budget: $55 million

This might seem like an unusual choice since it doesn't really have the same elements that the other blockbuster films on this list have, but that's what makes it so unique. Forrest Gump was the runaway hit of the decade, really. Sure, big things were expected from this film in that they expected it to do well, but to gross over $300 million? Then win best picture of the year? Plus, there are plenty of things about Forrest Gump that fits with the other summer blockbusters. First of all, it's about an ordinary man who does or witnesses extraordinary things. You have the great visual effects including Forrest Gump being embedded into old presidential footage. This was the all-American movie. A movie that said a lot about our country from the '50s all the way to present day. Plus, everyone was talking about it, parodying it... they still parody it. "Life is like a box of chocolates..."

6. Speed, June 10th 1994
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock
Gross earnings: $121.3 million (domestic), $350.5 million (worldwide)
Budget: $28 million

Speaking of parodies, Speed has been the subject to numerous parodies and it made Keanu Reeves the Hollywood star everybody loves to make fun of for being stupid. I wonder how he feels about that. But, Keanu wasn't really that dumb in this film, he played his role as straight as he possibly could. This also turned Sandra Bullock into a big time star who subsequently starred in movies where the main attraction was her. I remember this film being a big deal at the time as well and it was certainly quite the spectacle. It was a very simple premise that everyone could follow and it lead to a pretty suspenseful, thrilling film. It didn't cost much to make and it didn't make that much money domestically, but it certainly was a great summer blockbuster film.

5. Men in Black, July 2nd 1997
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Gross earnings: $250.1 million (domestic), $589 million (worldwide)
Budget: $90 million

Men in Black is like the ideal summer blockbuster, in my opinion. First of all, it stars Will Smith, whose ego wasn't quite as large as it is now. Secondly, it's a really funny and endlessly entertaining movie that kids and adults can enjoy. It also features that unforgettable performance by Vincent D'Onfrio as the main "bug" or "alien." Tommy Lee Jones also has a great role here and he held his own pretty well against Will Smith. This film was certainly the talk of 1997 and it's one of the most entertaining blockbusters that you can watch over and over.

4. Iron Man, May 2nd 2008
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges
Gross earnings: $318.4 million (domestic), $585.1 million (worldwide)
Budget: $140 million

Iron Man kicked off the 2008 summer blockbuster film and it was a great success. I remember people weren't expecting it to do as well as it did. People questioned the idea of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man although those people probably felt pretty stupid when Downey absolutely nailed the part. Now, Robert Downey Jr. is a big action star, he finally got his career under control and appears as if it will stay that way for as long as he wants to. The movie raised expectations pretty high for the next Iron Man movie which it didn't quite live up to, but we'll always have the original to watch and enjoy for years to come.

3. Jurassic Park, June 11th 1993
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern
Gross earnings: $357 million (domestic), $914.7 million (worldwide)
Budget: $63 million

This one really shouldn't be a question with anyone. Anybody who remembers the summer of 1993 will remember that Jurassic Park was fucking HUGE. The tv spots aired all the time. It was a complete spectacle. The idea that these dinosaurs were going to come alive blew people away. It really did raise the stakes for blockbuster films to come. It was something everybody wanted to see... fucking dinosaurs eating and terrorizing people. How awesome is that? The movie isn't very strong on acting as the characters are less memorable than the dinosaurs, but the last half of the film is purely awesome. It nearly grossed $1 billion worldwide which was unheard of at the time.

2. The Dark Knight, July 16th 2008
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger
Gross earnings: $533 million (domestic), $1 billion (worldwide)
Budget: $185 million

The Dark Knight DID gross $1 billion worldwide and it was absolutely the hit of that summer. Christopher Nolan made Batman a respectable film franchise with Batman Begins but then blew everyone away with this film. Then the film went on to make the big bucks in the box office. Not only did the film break box office records in its opening weekend, but it's the highest grossing film domestically that's not been directed by James Cameron. I've said plenty about this film and Nolan in the last month so, let's just leave it at that.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, July 3rd 1991
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Gross earnings: $204.8 million (domestic), $519 million (worldwide)
Budget: $102 million

Terminator 2 was the first summer blockbuster film I remember seeing in theaters. Everybody saw this film back then. It was huge. It was awesome. It featured groundbreaking special and visual effects and it had Arnold Schwarzenegger in his most badass role yet. Of course, he played The Terminator before, but he's more fun in this movie, especially with the way he interacts with the kid. But the Terminator is the ultimate blockbuster film. It entertains you in so many different ways, it contains a great storyline, and it features great performances especially from Linda Hamilton. It also has the awesome, relentless villain named T-1000. Some of the action sequences in this film remain my favorite to this day and its pitch perfect second half is just top notch. You also can't help but shed a little tear when you watch Arnie hold his thumb up as he slowly submerges himself into molten steel. What a film.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best Director

The Oscars aren't until February, but it's never too early to start thinking about them, especially since this is a movie blog. My wonder is about the Best Director category this year. Maybe it's just me, but it seems as if this could be a rather weak year for the category. What do we have so far?

Martin Scorsese has been nominated for Best Director for every movie he's made since Gangs of New York. Could he be nominated again?

Christopher Nolan has never been nominated for Best Director but Inception is such a wholly original and captivating film, can he really be ignored for another year?

Those two seem like the only two likely nominees so far. What about the rest of the year?

Well, you still have some major players this year: Clint Eastwood with Hereafter, David Fincher with The Social Network, Coen Brothers for True Grit, James L. Brooks for Everything You've Got

Then you have some wild card contenders: David O. Russell for The Fighter, Anton Corbijn for The American, Sofia Coppola for Somewhere

What about the films that don't have a solid release date, yet, for this year? Guys like Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, Terrence Malick for Tree of Life, Peter Weir for The Way Back, or even Alexander Payne for The Descendants (if Fox Searchlight's December 10th release date is true).

Other possibilites: Mike Leigh for Another Year, Alejandro Inarritu for Biutiful, Derek Cianfrance for Blue Valentine, Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are Alright

So when you break it down like that, there are actually some interesting possibilities. Now let's look at some stats.

Martin Scorsese - nominated six times, won once
Christopher Nolan - never nominated

Clint Eastwood - nominated four times, won twice
David Fincher - nominated once
Coen Brothers - nominated twice, won once
James L. Brooks - nominated once, won once

David O. Russell - never nominated
Anton Corbijn - never nominated
Sofia Coppola - nominated once

Darren Aronofsky - never nominated
Terrence Malick - nominated once
Peter Weir - nominated four times
Alexander Payne - nominated once

Mike Leigh - nominated twice
Alejandro Inarritu - nominated once
Derek Cianfrance - never nominated
Lisa Cholodenko - never nominated

So who's long overdue to win Best Director? Well, obviously, Terrence Malick. I'd think if The Tree of Life turns out as good as it promises, Malick should win it without question. Of course, you have to factor in his reclusive-ness. Someone else would be accepting the award for him as he hates appearing in public. Is his film so good that the Academy will ignore that?

Peter Weir and Mike Leigh are also overdue. Both have been nominated multiple times, both have established themselves as great filmmakers, but I think unless a Mike Leigh film looks like a bona fide Best Picture winner, then he has no chance. Peter Weir, on the other hand, has been more of a Hollywood team player over the years so if his film The Way Back turns out great, he could very well be on stage to accept that award.

It's about time for Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell, and Darren Aronofsky to finally be nominated for Best Director. They all have a long way to go in their directorial careers, but it's time for them to officially get recognition from the academy. I don't think any of the three will win, but Christopher Nolan probably has the best chance out of them. Overall, I don't see all three of them being nominated, but The Fighter looks to be a more Oscar friendly film than Black Swan so I wouldn't be surprised if Russell finally gets a nod this year along with Nolan.

Those who are kind of stuck in limbo are David Fincher, Alexander Payne, Sofia Coppola, and Inarritu. The four of them have gotten recognition before and unless one of their films are so far ahead of the rest of the competition, I don't think the Academy will feel the need to give any of them the Best Director Oscar. Especially since Coppola and Payne have won Oscars before in other categories.

So how about the rest? Well, I doubt Martin Scorsese will be able to win again and it's tough to say that his movie will still be in the running once December comes around. It'd be tough to deny Scorsese, but he's won it before and critics didn't go crazy over Shutter Island, who knows what the Academy thinks? Clint Eastwood's Hereafter looks like a much more interesting film than Invictus was so if that turns out to be a good film, then he'll easily get nominated... he just won't win again. Then you have James L. Brooks. I'm not even sure Everything You've Got will be anything more than an above average romantic comedy, but you can never count him out. Never. If the movie turns out to be great, then he'll easily get nominated too. The Coen Brothers could also very well be nominated, True Grit looks like it could be a great film and they got that prime December 25th release date. If it's good enough, they could be nominated easily.

As far as Corbijn, Cianfrance, and Cholodenko are concerned, Cianfrance's Blue Valentine comes out at the end of the year and it's gotten rave reviews coming out of Sundance and Cannes. The reviews have been so positive that it might not be too far fetched for him to wind up being nominated for Best Director. But then again, that one is a bit tougher to figure out because it doesn't come out for another five months and the film would have to be too big to ignore for Cianfrance to be nominated. Then again, Lee Daniels was nominated last year... Lisa Cholodenko also has a decent shot at a nomination as The Kids Are Alright has gotten rave reviews here. But it's July and unless the film winds up gaining more ground in the box office throughout the year, then she might get screwed over. I don't like Anton Cobijn's chances that much as he's a new director and his film comes out on September 1st. Then again, if the praise for the film is similar to Michael Clayton, then he might have a good chance. The Academy loves George Clooney so that helps him as well.

Overall, who do I think the five nominees will be? Two categories:

If The Tree of Life comes out then I think the nominees will be like this:

Clint Eastwood - Hereafter
Coen Brothers - True Grit
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Christopher Nolan - Inception
David O. Russell - The Fighter

If Tree of Life doesn't come out this year...

Clint Eastwood - Hereafter
Coen Brothers - True Grit
David Fincher - The Social Network
Christopher Nolan - Inception
David O. Russell - The Fighter

The directors waiting in the wings (in case one of those movies wind up not being good) would be Martin Scorsese, Mike Leigh, and Peter Weir.

With the rest, like I said, their films would have to be too big to ignore in order for them to get nominated. Exceptions are for Coppola and James L. Brooks... they could be nominated if their films wind up being really good, but I don't have much hope for their films. Somewhere looks too similar to Lost in Translation and Everything You've Got might wind up as tame and safe as Spanglish.

But, it's a wide open year with some old greats and some new blood being thrown into the mix. Because there aren't any surefire picks, it makes for a more interesting year Oscar-wise. Can't wait to see how it all unfolds.

Inception Review

Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Running time: 148 minutes

Warning: there may be some minor spoilers in this review, but I actually think I did a good job with avoiding any of the major spoilers.

What a fascinating, mind-bending, masterfully made movie this is. If Christopher Nolan doesn't outdo himself in quality, he certainly does outdo himself with the overall scope of the film. In Inception, the stakes are higher than they've ever been and it's done with very smooth, wonderful looking action sequences. But not only that, Inception has an emotional core that critics have wrongfully dismissed. You can argue about whether or not it's executed as well as it could have been, but it's definitely there.

What you have to understand about Inception is that the movie isn't really about the plot. Cobb (Leo DiCaprio) and his elite team are to perform a job for Saito (Ken Wantanabe). What's the job? Inception. In the beginning of the film, Cobb and his team primarily work with going into people's minds and stealing ideas from them. But the job that Saito wants them to do is the opposite: to go into someone's mind and implant an idea. What follows is some complex discussions about how an idea is planted, but all you really have to know is that you have to go deep into a person's subconscious in order to plant an idea into their head. But the film is really more about Cobb's personal struggles than it is about what he and his team are actually doing and throughout the film, you find out just what is wrong with Cobb and why he is doing this job in the first place.

Basically the film is broken up into halves. Once Cobb agrees to work with Saito, the first half of the movie is basically about all the things that go on inside the person's mind. Christopher Nolan does a great job of breaking it all down and he uses Ellen Page's character, Ariande, to be the "newbie" that needs to have everything explained to us. For me, this was all ok because Nolan knows how to make exposition sound interesting. This was another complaint about the movie, but I was fascinated by all the things Cobb shows Ariande. And you know what? She eventually figures it out (and so should we) and is given the role of the Architect. The one that has to create these dream worlds.

But you know, and this is perhaps the film's only true flaw, even though these characters are given specific roles, the movie is really about Cobb and his own struggle. So we don't really get enough time to explore these characters beyond what their purpose is in the film. For me though, that type of complaint doesn't take me away from the film at all because what eventually follows, after we learn everything we need to know about dreaming and the subconscious, is some of the most breathtaking action sequences ever made. The last half of the film is basically all action, but the action has such specific purpose. Explosions don't just happen for no reason, they are done so that these characters can wake up from their previous dream world. Everything done has a purpose which is what makes these sequences so unique and compelling. Basically, what I'm saying, is that the last 45 minutes of the film is pure filmmaking bliss. I doubt we'll see anything like it for the rest of the year.

So does that mean Inception is, and will remain, the greatest film of the year? Is it a perfect 10 out of 10? Since so little is given about Inception before we actually see the movie, it's easy to get caught up in your own expectations of the film. You want to learn about all the characters, you want the movie to have a certain amount of emotion, you don't want so much exposition going on... but those types of criticisms are only made because they don't align with our expectations. That doesn't make the film itself bad, it just makes it unpredictable. Imagine an "action" movie where you truly do not know what's going to unfold, that's Inception. It's packed full of surprises and it does everything it was supposed to do in order for the moviegoer to be entertained. For that, Inception is a nearly perfect film, but it would be dishonest of me to give it a perfect score because I need to see it again. These types of films don't reveal all of itself to you in one viewing, it becomes richer with each subsequent viewing and becomes something bigger than you previously imagined.

But know this, as far as summer blockbusters go, there'll never be another movie like Inception. Nobody but Christopher Nolan has the ability to take such a massive budget, combined with a personal and unique vision, and make it so successful. That's what sets him apart from other filmmakers. This is one of the most original action movies to come out in a long time.

Rating: 9.5/10

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mad Men season 4 coming in just over a week.


Yes, I know I only talk about films here, but I am a huge Mad Men fan. Mad Men is one of my all-time favorite tv shows and every episode is worth analyzing and dissecting... which is what I'll be doing every Monday after each new episode this season. If there's one tv show for me to write about, it'd be Mad Men.

Mad Men features great performances across the board and in the later seasons, some minor characters have begun to become a lot more interesting and complex. But the true anchor of this cast is Jon Hamm's Don Draper.

What makes Don Draper such a compelling figure isn't just his womanizing, his secretive past, or his ingenuity in the advertising field. It's the potential he has. Here is a man who tries his best to be ordinary, but isn't ordinary at all. Don Draper appears to be so powerful and strong and always tries to get himself back up and appear tough in times of weakness. The genius of the Donald Draper is never what he does with his power, but what he can do. Draper always appears as if he could tear down just about anybody, but more often than not, he builds it up and holds in it until it finally bursts. Whether it's punching Jimmy Berret or letting loose on his wife when she threatens divorce, or when he humiliates Duck Phillips in front of Duck's own UK cronies... Don Draper never disappoints. But like I said, that's not what makes him such a compelling and powerful figure. It's about how he holds that power, how you never know what he's truly capable of. That kind of unpredictability simply does not exist with other TV characters. After awhile, you start to figure them out and can tell how they're going to react in certain situations. But never with Don Draper. We're entering season four, he's starting off completely new with his own ad agency and... we just don't know what to expect.

That's why Mad Men season four should be great. So tune into AMC on July 25th and watch the greatness of Mad Men continue.

(I'll be out of town during that weekend so I probably won't write about the season premiere until that following Tuesday.)

A director profile on Christopher Nolan




Not everyone loves Christopher Nolan movies, in fact, there's an audience out there who hates them. I don't really know why, but it's true. At the same time, there are those who really love his movies. There are extremes at both ends and they often collide with each other. The problem with that is people against Christopher Nolan then feel more inclined to knock him and his movies than ever before because of all the fanboys who adamantly defend him.

So then you have people automatically going on the defensive when they give Inception a negative review. Insisting on lambasting Nolan and ALL of his movies to let everyone know that they think he's a hack. One reviewer actually said that the dreams in Inception are as if they were directed by Michael Bay. Are there really people who put Christopher Nolan on that level? Is he really THAT bad to some people?

This brings up a point that I would like to make about a word that people overuse these days. Well, not just these days, but since the dawn of the internet. The word in question is "overrated." There are so many goddamn people out there who think everything is "overrated." It gets to a point where the word overrated is used so much that you wonder if the film in question is really that overrated anymore. If there are a lot people that think a movie is overrated... doesn't that balance out the people who think the movie is great?

No. Because when someone claims a movie is overrated, they aren't saying a movie is bad or good. So when someone says Inception is overrated, it doesn't mean anything and it doesn't reflect their opinion on the movie. Sure, The Dark Knight might be overrated, but is it a bad film? Can you honestly say that The Dark Knight is a bad film? I can't, but apparently other people can. But most people substitute "bad film" for "overrated" as if it's the same word and it's a complete cop out. Once someone gets offended, the person then backs down: "Well, I didn't say it was a BAD film, I just think it's overrated." Ok, fine, but what do you THINK about the fucking movie?

This definitely applies to the way people feel about Christopher Nolan. Honestly, it shouldn't surprise people that there's an audience who thinks so highly of the man. Here's a guy who garnered instant critical success with "Memento" and managed to successfully transition to big budget movies. He revived the Batman franchise and made it respectable again. He then upped the ante with The Dark Knight which was definitely a much more entertaining, complex film than Batman Begins. There was so much hype for The Dark Knight and yet, ultimately, people got what they paid for. Unfortunately, there was the detractors who didn't really see what was great about the Dark Knight and because there was such a strong positive reaction toward the movie, those detractors reacted the same way, but negatively.

So now we come to Inception, a big budget movie completely conceived by Christopher Nolan. There are those who consider it a remarkable achievement, the rare original summer blockbuster that really makes the audience think. Plenty of people love the film, around 85% according to rottentomatoes. But those who don't love it, hate it. And I just have to wonder why that is. I will continue to wonder why that is until I see the movie at 10pm tonight. I won't make any secret that I think I'll love the film, but there's an equal chance that I might not. I can tell you one thing though, I definitely won't HATE it. How can I hate an original work by someone who has such a great track record already? And those who think that Christopher Nolan hasn't made a SINGLE good movie can kiss my ass. You don't have to think the guy's a genius, but please take that stick out of your ass.

Nolan filmography, rated:

Following, 1998: An interesting, very low-budget, black and white, indie affair. If you've seen his other films, you'll know right away that this is a Christopher Nolan film. All the elements from his other movies are there, albeit in premature form. Rating: 7/10

Memento, 2000: I've already wrote about this movie before so I won't go into too much detail about it. For those who complain about Nolan films not having an emotional core, I honestly feel that they should go back to Memento. Memento also demonstrates Nolan's sense of humor. The use of a backwards structure to tell the story is original, but it also sets up some pretty funny situtations. One of the decade's best, for sure. Rating: 10/10

Insomnia, 2002: I did not have this film on my 2000s list because I actually feel that this is a weaker effort from Nolan. While I dug the performances by Robin Williams and Al Pacino, I just never thought of this film as anything more than an above-average thriller. Rating: 7/10

Batman Begins, 2005: The movie that brought Batman back to respectability. The best thing about Batman Begins is how patient it is. It really wants you to know and understand how Batman became to be. For me, the film is even better now after the Dark Knight came out. Rating: 8.75/10

The Prestige, 2006: There's a lot of people who didn't really like the way The Prestige ends, but I'm not one of them. You know this is a twist-laden movie so why can't you just sit back and allow the twists to happen? Aside from that, it's also a well-crafted film. Rating: 9/10

The Dark Knight, 2008: Enough has been said about this movie so I'll keep this brief. It's easily the greatest superhero film ever made, it contains the best superhero villain, and the way everything comes together in this film is, in my opinion, brilliant. Rating: 9.5/10

Call me a Nolan fanboy, if you will. You've seen my top 100 lists, you know what I like. I can respect those who dismiss some of Nolan's films... just not those who dismiss all of them.

What did I think of Inception? Find out tomorrow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Town trailer

trailer

I don't think I'm allowed to embed so just click the link and enjoy.

Directed by Ben Affleck. Affleck proved he had talent behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone and now this looks to be even better than that film. You have Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and Jeremy Renner as well as Affleck in this film, the movie was shot by Academy award winner Robert Elswit.

Comes out on September 17th.

The Social Network, new trailer



Wow, very impressive looking. First you hear about a facebook movie being made and you roll your eyes. Then you hear Aaron Sorkin is writing the script and you just ask yourself "uh why?"

Then you hear David Fincher, fresh from just making Zodiac (masterpiece) and Benjamin Button (flawed, but brilliant) is the director and suddenly a facebook movie doesn't seem so crazy.

And now we're at the trailer and it looks like this could actually be one of the best films of the year.

Amazing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Great films so far/Great films to come

Look, I don't live in a very big city so I don't get the chance to see every movie, let alone all the ones on limited release. What I CAN do, however, is tell you a few of my favorites so far (which isn't much, honestly), some movies already out that you probably have missed, and great movies that you should look out for the rest of this year. Some movies will overlap with my summer movies list, but hey, when the summer sucks this bad, it's nice to remind yourself what's still out there (as well as wanting to look ahead).

First, great movies I've seen...

Once again, this will be small and brief:
Toy Story 3 - 9.5/10
Shutter Island - 8.75/10
Hot Tub Time Machine - 8/10
Green Zone - 8/10

Get Him to the Greek got a 7 out of 10 from me too, but that's bit too low to call it great. I wouldn't normally put an 8/10 under "great"... but I couldn't just list two movies, that would be sad. Keep in mind, I've missed a lot of movies so far.

So what are they?

Movies I've missed
(with their rottentomatoes rating listed next to them, for more info, click on the movie)

wide releases
How to Train Your Dragon - 98%
note: I, unfortunately, have missed this one even though I clearly had many chances to see it
Kick-Ass - 76%
Iron Man 2 - 73%


limited
Winter's Bone - 92%
Fish Tank - 88%
Please Give - 85%
Ghost Writer - 84%
City Island - 82%
Cyrus - 79%
Micmacs - 75%
Greenberg - 73%
The Killer Inside Me - 54%

more notes:
So yeah, about two movies that were widely released that I HAVEN'T seen yet, that I expect to be good/great. I sort of missed the boat on Iron Man 2, but I'm hoping to see it once it's at the dollar theater.

But the rest? All limited releases! All of those movies have gotten fairly strong reviews across the board. The Killer Inside Me has its detractors because of its controversial violent scenes, but from the reviews I've read, I still find it interesting enough to want to see.

Other than that, you have films from Noah Baumbach, the Duplass Brothers, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Roman Polanski. You have Fish Tank and Winter's Bone which were Sundance darlings. A good amount of these films will probably be out on DVD soon (save for Cyrus, that just came out) so it'd be nice to catch up with them then. So if you see any of these films around, you might want to check them out. Once I do, I'll tell you what I think.

Upcoming movies (month by month, limited/wide):

July
Despicable Me
Predators
The Kids Are Alright (limited)
Inception
Life During Wartime (limited)
Get Low (limited)

August
The Other Guys
Flipped (limited)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

September
The American
Machete
The Town
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
It's Kind of a Funny Story (limited)

October
The Social Network
Secretariat
Hereafter

November
Due Date
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1

December
The Fighter
Tron: Legacy
Everything You've Got
Somewhere
True Grit
Blue Valentine
The Descendants*

Release date uncertain
Black Swan
The Rum Diary
The Tree of Life
The Way Back
Another Year
Biutiful

This is as comprehensive as I can possibly get. That is pretty much every film that I'm interested in and that I think have a pretty decent chance of being good. Obviously some of those films may wind up having a limited release and we just don't know it yet. And when those films with uncertain release dates have release dates, I'll let you know.

I'll probably even do a Fall Movie Preview once my top 10-15 most anticipated movies all have trailers and what not. But until then, check out my lists, look these films out, and figure out what you are interested in. Films in the later months that I didn't mention? Simply not interested in them. If you are, then good for you. I've listed plenty as it is.

*People have been saying The Descendants will come out this December, others say in 2011... we'll find out about that one as we get closer to December.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A new blog post... in 3-D!

The biggest scam that Hollywood has ever pulled is "3-D." Avatar remains a brilliant piece of 3-D filmmaking, but now we have to suffer through all these terrible 3-D "conversions" and it's ruining cinema. There are a lot of places where watching the film in the 3-D is the ONLY option. So people are forced to pay extra for a film that doesn't need to be seen in 3-D! Why would you unnecessarily add 3-D onto a movie that doesn't need it? Wouldn't you want to save the technology for films that actually USE it? If anything, you're just ruining the films that will be made in 3-D in the upcoming years. Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and Alfonso Cuaron all have upcoming films that will be shot in 3-D. I would love to see what they do with the technology, but all of their films will be released in either 2011 or 2012. So we have to suffer through all these inferior 3-D products until then.

I used to say "don't see it in 3-D," but once I learned that some people honestly don't have a choice in the matter, that really saddened me. Thankfully, for the most part, 3-D has only been added onto films that I never wanted to see. Toy Story 3 remains the one exception and I saw it in 2-D. I know that I would be pissed, though, if I had no choice but to see it in 3-D. That worries me and I hope this trend doesn't continue. Hollywood has really fucked this one up, honestly. They are ruining 3-D technology and should really be saving it for films that are actually being shot in 3-D. Not all films need to be made in 3-D and the prices to see these 3-D films are simply ridiculous.

I know there are plenty of other people who are complaining about this subject, you can add me onto that list. This bullshit really needs to be stopped. The end.

(sort of) brief, late Karate Kid review

I'm gonna throw a short review on ya...

Karate Kid... what do you do when you watch a 140 minute and you know exactly where it's going, yet the movie still takes forever to get there? How do you root for a main character who is so annoying that you don't even care if he wins or loses in the final match? And who knew that Jackie Chan could really act? Yes, these were questions I was asking while watching this movie. And believe me, I'm a stickler for people who try too hard to dissect a film that doesn't need dissecting, at all. But this movie just had too many flaws, one right after the other. By the time the second half of the movie rolls along, finally, you're worn out by the slow-moving first half. I've got nothing against slow-moving films... unless I know exactly where the plot is going, then it becomes tedious and a real pain in the ass. What the hell? Cut at least 30 minutes of this film. We KNOW why Jackie Chan is in this movie, please don't take nearly an hour to reveal that he's the Kung Fu master.

Yes, Kung Fu master. What an egregious misnomer. The Karate Kid? I know what you're thinking, "Does it matter?" Well, yes, it does. The movie makes such important points about "the right way to approach Kung Fu" and yet the movie is called The Karate Kid? That just really stuck out to me, in a very bad way.

But Jackie Chan really was great and gave the film a necessary emotional depth. But Jaden Smith's character...not much is given for us to really care about him. It's revealed in the very first minutes of the movie that his father died but... is that all we get? Is there any emotional depth to this character at all or is he just a bitchy 12 year old? When he finally starts to come around in the 2nd half, it's almost too little too late.

Anyway, there are some respectable elements of the film, but not enough. The Kung Fu tournament was great, but it took too long to get there. They did a good job with the ending, but still, why do I really care about this kid? I don't. And because of that, the ending isn't as satisfying as it should've been.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, July 5, 2010

INCEPTION: Is it time to get excited?




According to AwardsDaily's Sasha Stone, it is. As well as from Empire, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, to CHUD, Aintitcool and Playboy... across the board raves. And those are just the early reviews. Who knows if all mainstream critics will be embracing it, but if the movie is anything like Sasha Stone describes it, then sign me up.

Damn, this is gonna be a good movie.

Here's the trailer for those who are living under a rock.




Top 100 films series will continue

By next January or February, I will be making a "Top 100 films of the 1980s." I don't know how many decades, in total, I will be covering with this series, but I'm definitely doing an '80s list. Even though it's quite a bit of work, I really enjoy looking back at all the films I enjoy and putting them into a specific perspective. Plus, it is way too difficult to say what my favorite films of all-time are... although if I did enough of these decade lists, you could probably figure that out yourself.

So, I definitely want to cover the 1980s and 1970s. I did a '90s list this past January and, of course, the '00s list this past May-June. So I figure I'll make the '80s list next January and, perhaps, a '70s list next June... although maybe not as I might be very busy next summer. Either way, it should be fun to look at the older decades from a film perspective.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Odd

I find it odd and I hate the fact that, recently, since I have gotten engaged, movies that deal with infidelity affect me in a completely different way than as previous. Especially if it's a movie where the person committing the infidelity is a really likable person and the protagonist of the film. Obviously I can still enjoy the movie for what it is, but I don't like the way it makes me feel.

I bring this up because I recently watched Francois Truffaut's "Bed and Board" on instant netflix. I've been really getting into Truffaut's work over the past year or so and Bed and Board is the fourth Truffaut film I've seen so far. I really enjoyed it too. So far, I've loved 400 Blows and Jules and Jim, I've really enjoyed Bed and Board, and I thought Shoot the Piano Player was pretty good too. But I still got a long way to go. Anyway, with Bed and Board, we follow Antoine Doniel who is now a married man, but he eventually gets caught up in a relationship with a Japanese woman that he met at work. Instead of merely enjoying the film, I was like grinding my teeth wondering how this man could even think about being with this woman when his wife is simply gorgeous! Seriously Claude Jade is beautiful in that movie. In fact, part of what has drawn me to French New Wave is all the beautiful women that are cast in their movies (including, Anna Karina). Of course now, they're either dead or old-looking...

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Short Toy Story 3 review

Ok this is going to be brief since I'm way late to the punch here and if you haven't seen Toy Story 3 by now then... what have you been doing? Needless to say, Toy Story 3 is easily the best movie of the year so far. I actually think it was the funniest of all the Toy Story movies so far but it's also the most poignant and heartfelt. It's hard not to tear up at the end of the movie, especially for those who grew up watching the films. Was it a perfect movie? I can't exactly say, a statement like that would need a second viewing. But, as it is, the overall plot is a bit familiar with the other Toy Story movies, but overall, it's the story behind the plot that gives it all an emotional weight that previously wasn't in the Toy Story movies. So, yes, I'd say Toy Story 3 is a movie that gets nearly everything right and it's the (seemingly) final chapter to a trilogy that children and adults will cherish for a long, long time.

Rating: 9.5/10

Friday, July 2, 2010

notes

I will be posting a review of Toy Story 3 either later today or tomorrow. I know it's super late, I actually saw it the weekend it came out, but I was feeling under the weather at that time.

Also, because this summer, as expected, has been AWFUL as far as movies are concerned. I wanted to give another reminder of the "good" movies that are supposed to come out in July and August.

I also want to talk about smaller films that have garnered praise over the year already that you all should take notice of when they finally come out to a theater near you, or on DVD.

Finally, it's never too early to talk about films that are coming out in the months of September-December and I will be giving a very early preview of those movies at some point next week.

This blog post is more for my benefit than for yours, but nevertheless, that's what you should look forward to here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is it the end of the road for M. Night Shyamalan?




The answer to the subject title: maybe. Ok, probably. But, hey, at least his career didn't burn out as quickly as Michael Cimino's. I'm sure most cinephiles remember Michael Cimino but some casual film fans might not, but I'll get to that. First, let's discuss M. Night.

We all know the story by now. M. Night Shyamalan started out promising enough. He officially became a household name with The Sixth Sense, gained critical respect with the mature Unbreakable, then proved he wasn't a one hit wonder at the box office with Signs. But perhaps Signs should've been a warning to us as it was the first indication of M. Night's main weakness: including a twist no matter how crappy the twist is nor how much it ruins the rest of the movie. Not to mention, ruining it for other directors whose movie does contain a good twist.

But yeah, so the Village came out and while it still made a considerable amount of money in the box office, it was the beginning of the end for the man. He was given two more cracks at it: Lady in the Water and The Happening. With each movie, he received exponentially worse reviews than the last. But you know what? Though Lady in the Water was pretty much a box office disappointment, overall, he hasn't had yet a total and complete box office failure. The Happening still raked in some respectable dough on a considerably modest budget.

But still, the critical failures of three straight movies must have left Night reeling, so he tried to do what any director would do in his situation, go the mainstream Hollywood studio movie route. How could he go wrong by adapting the popular Nick show "Avatar: Last Airbender"? According to rottentomatoes, he can go way wrong. Not only is it getting his worst ever reviews, but everyone expects the movie to fail... and with a $150 mill budget, it very well may fail... badly.

So does that mean the end for M. Night Shyamalan? Maybe. But hey, he got way too many cracks at it. He was allowed to fail, basically, three times. And his last one might be his worst failure of all. So, to cheer Shyamalan up, I decided to bring up Michael Cimino.

As some may remember, Michael Cimino's career skyrocketed instantly with the release of the massively successful The Deer Hunter in 1978. The late '70s was essentially the height of directorial freedom in Hollywood and every director back then was having the ride of their lives, especially Cimino who was riding off such massive success from The Deer Hunter. After that success, United Artists basically gave him complete artistic freedom for his next film, Heaven's Gate. And what happened? The film went through numerous delays, ended up going way over budget, and it became a massive critical and commercial failure. It was so bad that it nearly bankrupt the studio.

But that wasn't the worst part. With the advent of Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman, Hollywood decided that they didn't need to give their directors creative freedom anymore as they can now rely on their tentpole releases for massive success instead. Michael Cimino's failure basically marked the end of the New Hollywood era and it all lead to where we're at today. Of course, the independent movement of the '90s certainly helped get smaller films off the ground, but essentially it takes a lot now for a director be able to get complete creative control on his films. Overall, they're all on short leashes with major studios.

This is why a lot is riding on Christopher Nolan's "Inception" to do well. "The Dark Knight" was huge, a $500 million grosser... something only James Cameron is seemingly capable of. But "Inception" is a completely original creation by Nolan... made for $200 million. And if a truly unique and interesting mind such as Nolan can have great success with "Inception" it could give hope to other young Hollywood auteurs. All of them, except M. Night Shyamalan. Sorry dude.