Friday, December 31, 2010
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.
Monday, December 27, 2010
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.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Hope you've been having a good Holiday.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
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.
Monday, December 20, 2010
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
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
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:
BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
THE KING’S SPEECH
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
Halle Berry, FRANKIE AND ALICE
Nicole Kidman, RABBIT HOLE
Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE
Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN
Michelle Williams, BLUE VALENTINE
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
Jesse Eisenberg, THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Colin Firth, THE KING’S SPEECH
James Franco, 127 HOURS
Ryan Gosling, BLUE VALENTINE
Mark Wahlberg, THE FIGHTER
BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Annette Bening, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Anne Hathaway, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS
Angelina Jolie, THE TOURIST
Julianne Moore, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Emma Stone, EASY A
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE -MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Johnny Depp, ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Johnny Depp, THE TOURIST
Paul Giamatti, BARNEY’S VERSION
Jake Gyllenhaal, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS
Kevin Spacey, CASINO JACK
Darren Aronofsky, BLACK SWAN
David Fincher, THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Tom Hooper, THE KING’S SPEECH
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
Aaron Sorkin, THE SOCIAL NETWORK
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexander Desplat, THE KING’S SPEECH
Danny Elfman, ALICE IN WONDERLAND
A.R. Rahman, 127 HOURS
Trent Reznor, THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Hans Zimmer, INCEPTION
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I AM LOVE
IN A BETTER WORLD
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
Amy Adams, THE FIGHTER
Helena Bonham Carter, THE KING’S SPEECH
Mila Kunis, BLACK SWAN
Melissa Leo, THE FIGHTER
Jacki Weaver, ANIMAL KINGDOM
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
Christian Bale, THE FIGHTER
Michael Douglas, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
Andrew Garfield, THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Jeremy Renner, THE TOWN
Geoffrey Rush, THE KING’S SPEECH
BEST ANIMATED FILM
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
“Bound to You” – BURLESQUE
“Coming Home” – COUNTRY STRONG
“I See the Light” – TANGLED
“There’s a Place for Us” – THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE DAWN TREADER
“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.