Friday, December 30, 2011

My top 10 of 2011

1. The Tree of Life
2. The Skin I Live In
3. Drive
4. The Adventures of Tintin
5. Moneyball
6. Hugo
7. Shame
8. Bridesmaids
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
10. The Descendants

Honorable mentions: The Muppets, X-Men First Class, Contagion

I don't expect to see another 2011 movie this year so I feel it's appropriate to show you my top 10 of 2011 as it stands now. I still plan on watching quite a few more 2011 films in the next month and if there are any dramatic changes to my top 10, I will tell you about it.

I also plan on elaborating further on my top 10 in a few weeks. For now though, this is where I stand on the 2011 movies. Expect an actual explanation a little later.

Overall, 2011 was a pretty good year. There was no true masterpiece but there were a lot of close calls. A lot of directors really went for it all with their films and not all of it works. But when it does work, it just goes to show just how great these filmmakers can be. We've also had some cases of directors staying in their comfort zone and showing you why they're so good at what they do. When you see the kind of films that are coming out in 2012, though, 2011 feels like a lightweight year. Still, this was a much better year than it could've been. Even lesser films such as 50/50, Ides of March, and Super 8 had great moments.

You also can't forget Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris which wound up becoming his most successful film ever in the box office. I still thought the film didn't quite measure up to Woody's recent films Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point. But it is a very enjoyable comedy from the cinematic legend. Let's hope he can capitalize on his success in the next year.

Like I said though, there are quite a few films that I missed. The ones I missed though, I felt weren't going to influence my 2011 list much. There are still films like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Rampage that are actually being released in 2012 (even though they had short Oscar-qualifying runs in 2011) and they look really good. There are also studio films like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and We Bought a Zoo that I really don't care about seeing, but may wind up seeing regardless. Martha Mary May Marlene, Beginners, and a few other indies that I missed are also lingering out there somewhere. Then of course there's the Oscar baity films like The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs, and My Week with Marilyn that I really don't care about. Maybe if I was paid to watch those films, I'd evaluate them. Or if there was a free screening happening somewhere, but other than that... meh.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film I still really want to see but haven't had the chance to. I plan on seeing that fairly soon. I was really hoping it would get Gary Oldman some attention in the critics awards, but it's kinda had a quiet release.

That about wraps it up for 2011, though. I wasn't quite as busy as I was in 2010. I had a hiatus there in July and August. But I feel kind of reinvigorated. I really do enjoy reviewing films on this site whether or not people like reading it and I really hope to blog twice the amount of times in 2012. So stay tuned to Kenoncinema. I hope you enjoyed reading this little site as much as I did writing in it.

I reviewed 46 films that came out in 2011. That's almost 1 film per week. Not bad huh?

Two rather short reviews to end the year with (Sherlock Holmes, War Horse)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The strength of the Sherlock Holmes films so far has been the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. have great chemistry together and Downey is always a fun actor to watch on screen. I will watch any movie featuring him, I can't remember a bad performance from him in any movie. In bad movies, he steals the show. In great movies, he steals the show. Now that he's the A-list actor he's always deserved to be, it's his show.

And the Robert Downey Jr. Show: A Game of Shadows works when it's Downey doing his thing. He's such a vibrant actor on screen that nobody cares that he's an American playing a famous English detective. His English accent is good enough so it doesn't matter anyway. The actual story and premise in these Sherlock Holmes films don't really matter. The mystery Holmes and Watson are supposed to solve isn't that titillating. In fact, I would say the majority of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is pretty run-of-the-mill.

You add that with Guy Ritchie's modern filmmaking style and you have an odd blend of an old school detective story with a new school style. Sometimes it works, sometimes you just want the slow motion action scenes to STOP. I mean, how many slow motion action sequences can there be in a movie? A lot, apparently.

You add that with Jared Harris's shockingly bland villain character and you have a pretty hollow movie. When the movie's done, you're still entertained because of the two male leads. They are still able to make this movie fun. But for what actually happens in the movie? Completely forgettable. See the movie for Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Don't expect much out of the rest of the movie.

Rating: 6/10

War Horse


I really hate to be that guy, I really do. You know me by now. I'm a pretty positive guy. I'm not a cynical, snarky asshole. I'm not, I swear. But I really disliked War Horse. I truly did.

I know it's going to be nominated for a ton of Oscars, it may win a few. But I call bullshit on this entire movie. It's all sentimentality and no heart. The movie tells you where the sentimental parts are, but it doesn't show you without the accompanying music. There are some really beautiful scenes in this film and yet they feel completely calculated and forced. Part of this problem is the suffocating score by John Williams. From the beginning, the music makes everything feel so precious that you worry you might break the movie if you tried to touch it.

The lead actor, Jeremy Irvine, plays Albert who is the most naive and innocent person on the planet. He instantly falls in love with a horse who he'll name Joey. His father coincidentally buys the horse at an auction for too much money. How will he be able to afford the rent? This horse is too wild to be of any use to this family! What was he thinking? Well he's a drunkard, for one, that's part of the problem. His son, who loves this horse more than anything in the world, promises to train and take care of this horse. You watch him struggle as he teaches this horse to plow and it's really good stuff. But why is there a crowd to watch them plow this horse? I'm pretty sure it's for the sole purpose of embarrassing the poor kid. What assholes. Or, maybe it's to make the success of teaching the horse to plow to be even MORE successful. It's all just kind of ridiculous.

Eventually they have to sell the horse out to the English army for WWI. Capt. Nicholls promises to take care of this horse and Albert ties his father's military flag onto the horse. The military flag unsurprisingly becomes a very important motif in the film. Even when the horse becomes a part of the German military and a young German soldier and his brother come across the horse, the older brother winds up tying the ENGLISH military flag onto his younger brother who is a GERMAN SOLDIER... before the younger brother marches out with the rest of the Germany army. Apparently nobody in the German army that's marching with him recognize the flag. But that was a head-scratcher to me. What a forced motif.

What eventually becomes a very interesting formula: the horse weaving in and out of the lives of a number of difference characters in the film never really feels solidified as you never really get to know any of these characters, except for maybe the little French girl who winds up having the horse in her possession before the German army steals it back.

All of this is treated so preciously though, so remarkably precious that you can never really feel anything real and legitimate in the movie. You feel what the music tells you to feel. Or how Spielberg decides to light a certain scene. It's not like "Drive," where the movie is really only about the style and not the story. But "Drive" is in a genre that allows it to be that stylistically excessive. This is a period WWI movie and there's an actual story in this movie, but it's taken over by the style. This movie is an example where style gets in the way of the story. It feels like an intrusion. The war scenes are excellently filmed, but they should be, it's Spielberg. Still, they are the highlight of this movie. I must admit when you eventually find Albert thrust into the war, the movie finally becomes something. Albert is scared shitless, as he should be of course, but his innocent intensity actually works for the war scenes.

I'm not even gonna spoil the third act for you, but I really want to. The movie gets really ridiculous and incredibly maudlin in the end. You know, though, it really wouldn't have been so bad if the rest of the film wasn't so maudlin as well. It's sentimentality overload. The film almost feels like a parody of other Spielberg films.

The cinematography is gorgeous and there are a lot of gorgeously filmed scenes. Stylistically, the film is a great homage to John Ford and his films, but the film ultimately feels like a poor imitation. And for a Spielberg film to feel like a poor imitation... that's an incredible disappointment.

I recognize I might be of the minority in my evaluation of this film, if you really want to see this movie, don't let me stop you. There are some touching moments in the movie and some beautiful moments. The final scene is as gorgeous as any scene you'll ever see. I don't consider myself a cynic. I like a lot of Spielberg films. War Horse, though, is Spielberg at his most suffocating, thematically and stylistically.

Rating: 3/10

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review

David Fincher is probably the most talented studio filmmaker there is, at this moment. He has been for the past few years and it's gotten to the point where you take a movie like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" which is a franchise in the making, a 158-minute movie, and yet it feels so smooth and effortless. The main plot, the genre, are things that Fincher has done before, but what struck me is just how easy he makes it all look even though it has been said that each scene Fincher shoots takes about 30-40 takes until he moves onto the next scene. Fincher seems to have his style down to a science and, these days, he is able to completely transform his style into whatever script lands on his lap. This is why I call him the most talented studio filmmaker. The way he is able to take these studio films and make it a David Fincher film. As brash as he may be, as much as he doesn't care about the attention he gets, Hollywood needs him. Scratch that, the movie world needs him. Few people have mastered the thriller genre quite like him.

Part of the reason for that is because of how he is able to handle the material. Fincher knows that a good thriller plays out deliberately and painstakingly. Every detail must be fine-tuned, everything about what we're discovering must be laid out clearly (or as clear as the material allows it to be). "Tattoo" is a film that takes it time to sink in, allowing the audience to become immersed in this universe and most specifically, to become fully acquainted with Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth, portrayed brilliantly by Rooney Mara, has had a "rough life" as one character puts it. She is a researcher for Milton Security. In the beginning, she's given the task of doing a detailed investigation of Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a disgraced journalist for Millenium magazine. Blomkvist has ruined his reputation by as he recently lost a libel case against a crooked businessman. Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, hires him to do some research on an old murder mystery involving his niece. This is a chance to take a vacation from Millenium magazine. Eventually, due to the difficulty of this case, Blomkvist decides to hire Lisbeth. She's convinced to do the case after Blomkvist asks her to help him catch a killer of women.

This interests Lisbeth, of course, due to her rough background. She has a very striking, unwelcoming appearance and in the film is forced to do sexual favors in order to get access to her money. She eventually gets her revenge, but obviously the nature of this case and the warmth of Mikael's character seems to attract Lisbeth to the case. What follows is a very odd, very interesting friendship. In a movie where men aren't portrayed particularly well, Mikael represents the good that they are capable of. Lisbeth represents the power that women are capable of having. Through Blomkvist, Lisbeth starts to become more human, more relatable. This is what really gives the character a necessary third dimension and makes her one of the most memorable characters in film this year.

The film goes by smoothly thanks to the masterful direction and editing by Fincher and his production team. Steve Zaillian also does a great job of adapting the material by having all the bare essentials and refraining from turning this film into a typical Hollywood thriller. Of course, with Fincher, that wouldn't have happened anyway.

In many ways, this is a superb thriller and Fincher is really on a roll right now. Rooney Mara is an obvious choice for a best actress Oscar nomination as well. Will the Academy go for her? Or is she too dark and too off-putting? Rooney really goes all-in with this role though and I think she has succeeded in cementing herself as one of the most desirable Hollywood actresses working right now. Despite all those things, however, I can't help but feel that the source material are all pretty much things Fincher has done before, except for the Blomkvist/Salander relationship. The actual mystery itself, despite the menacing, disturbing performance by Stellan Skarsgard, it's all kind of by-the-numbers. This film really would've been a home run if the mystery itself was as dumbfounding and brilliant as the characters and their relationships.

Very well-rounded characters, an interesting friendship, masterful direction, but if I were to watch Dragon Tattoo again, it wouldn't be for the mystery and that takes up a great portion of this film. I haven't read the book or seen the Swedish film, but it seems they've all done the book justice. So you can't really fault the filmmakers or actors for anything here. What we have instead is a really well-made film from pretty average source material.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin review

Spielberg has two films coming out this month and the first one is The Adventures of Tintin. To think, before the month started, all of my interests were mainly on his live-action WWI film War Horse. After seeing The Adventures of Tintin, though, I'm starting to think that this is actually the Spielberg film to see this month. The verdict's still out on War Horse.

The Adventures of Tintin is about as perfect as an animated film can get and it's Steven Spielberg's most entertaining film in over a decade. The beauty of this movie is how easily and seamlessly Spielberg is able to translate his cinematic sensibilities into this motion capture technology. What we get out of The Adventures of Tintin, which I didn't really expect, is a wide array of very interesting characters including a reporter whose likeness feels so real that it's easy to get swept up in the mystery that is the secret of the unicorn. I'm sure a lot of the credit for that has to go to the author of the series.

Trying to wrap your head around the plot of this film can give you a headache, but like any good mystery, there's this continuous web of revelations and discoveries and the mystery is never really over. What I enjoyed most about The Adventures of Tintin is that none of it felt routine and Tintin's genuine interest in solving this mystery involving model ships, scrolls, and hidden treasure made it all the more intriguing to watch. All these things in itself aren't exactly fascinating, but Tintin, as a character, was really easy to buy and get into. He should be as this is his adventure. Still, I was taken aback by just how lifelike he seemed to me. That's why this movie was really easy to get into.

I'm not sure whether it was the technology of the animation or the way the characters are written, and I've read some criticisms of the animation for this film, but I thought they pulled everything off fairly well. Furthermore, Tintin features some of the best action scenes I've ever seen in an animated film including a chase scene involving Tintin, his dog, an eagle, Captain Haddock, and the main villain of the film, Sakharine. What we get from this scene is a dizzying spectacle with characters weaving in and out of scenes and a succession of seemingly random yet carefully thought out events that, at a certain point, seems like it's never going to end. I didn't want it to end, I was enthralled. The fact that it was completely unbelievable actually elevated it for me because it was all so meticulous and captured precisely that following the action really became something to watch.

That's just one of numerous great action scenes in this film that are impressive to watch in an animated film like this and it all felt like Spielberg back to his old self again. Elements of the film really feels like an animated Indiana Jones movie; it certainly is as fun.

The film moves at a very fast pace and at times it's hard to keep up but that's sort of what makes it so fun. It's definitely a must-see for kids everywhere. Now I'm not too incredibly familiar with the Tintin books themselves so I don't know just how closely they stuck to the source material or just how true the characters are as they are portrayed. What I do know is what I saw and I think, judging the film based purely on its own merits, that this is pretty much as good as it gets. To me, it succeeds in everything it tries to succeed at, I got pretty much all I could ask for out of a film like this. Honestly, it's nitpicky to try to find things I didn't like about this film, this is a near-perfect piece of entertainment and may go down as one my favorite films of the year.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Golden Globes nominations

The Artist has the most nominations with 6, The Descendants has 5. I'll go into the nominations a little more later.

Also, I got a review for The Adventures of Tintin coming up this weekend.

Best Picture
The Descendants
The Help
The Ides
War Horse

Best Picture Comedy or Musical
The Artist
My Week with Marilyn

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actress, Drama
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Actor, Drama
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Actress Comedy or Musical
Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Best Actor Comedy or Musical
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Best Actor Supporting
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Actress Supporting
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain , The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Best Actress Comedy or Musical

Best Foreign Language Film
A Separation (Iran)
The Flowers Of War (China)
The Kid With The Bike (Belgium)
In The Land Of Blood and Honey (USA)
The Skin I Live In (Spain)

Best Animated Feature
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
Puss in Boots

Best Screenplay
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
The Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Moneyball, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

Best Score
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
W.E., Abel Korzeniowski
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Hugo, Howard Shore
War Horse, John Williams

Best Original Song
“Hello Hello” – “Gnomeo & Juliet – Elton John
“Lay Your Head Down” – “Albert Nobbs” – Sinead O’Connor
“The Living Proof” – “The Help” – Mary J. Blige
“The Keeper” – “Machine Gun Preacher” – Gerard Butler
“Masterpiece” – “W.E.” – Madonna

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Oh yeah"

One of the things Young Adult does get perfectly right is the inclusion of this awesome song from Teenage Fanclub. Teenage Fanclub were an extremely underrated alt-rock band who have this very authentic '90s sound to them. "The Concept" is such a good song, I kinda forgot about this band as well. Kind of ashamed of that.

Young Adult review

The marketing for Young Adult has been really curious to me. Everything about the trailers, tv spots, and even the poster just seems off. It's as if Paramount does not know how to advertise this film and, with all due respect, that poster looks like a terrible photoshop job. It doesn't even look like a real poster for a movie. When you compare that poster to Reitman's last film Up in the Air, it doesn't even compare, in terms of quality

Perhaps the reason why the marketing for the film is a bit off is because Young Adult, as a movie, is a bit off. Offbeat, off-putting, off the beaten path... not in a bad way, that's just how the movie comes across. This coming from a director, Jason Reitman, whose films Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air give off a ton of energy featuring a likable, charismatic character who dominates his way through the film. Even Juno, the previous Diablo Cody/Reitman collaboration, had a lovable lead character and an overall (albeit, rather conventional) heart-warming story.

Young Adult is anything but heartwarming. Young Adult's lead character Mavis Gary, played masterfully by Charlize Theron (she owns this role, in my opinion), is Queen Bitch. A 37-year old writer of a young adult series who decides to travel from Minneapolis to Mercury, Minnesota in order to steal away a married man that she used to date back in high school. She will try to pull out all the stops the only way she knows how: by looking incredibly, drop dead gorgeous. What she doesn't anticipate, however, is that her former flame Buddy (played by Patrick Wilson) is actually very happy in his married life. He just became a father and has seemingly long-forgotten about Mavis Gary. Of course, delusional Mavis Gary seems to think that Buddy is trapped and needs to be saved from his dull home life. What she doesn't seem to realize is that even though Mercury is pretty much the same old town it used to be, everyone in it has moved on and started families while she's been stuck in the same adolescent mindset out in the big city of Minneapolis.

There's a lot about Young Adult that is very interesting and I must say it drops quite the bombshell in the third act of the movie that almost justifies all of Mavis's actions. So much so, in my opinion, that I kind of wish the first two acts didn't feel so flat and lacking of energy. Mavis Gary is a character with tremendous comic potential. We see some of that come through, but I think more could've been done early on to really establish Mavis as a character. We get the jist of it: how she lazes around in bed, watches reality tv, drinks diet coke out of the bottle, feeds her dog, attempts to write her book... I just feel like there may have been some missed opportunities within there and the movie ultimately feels too orchestrated and by-the-numbers. It's quite early on in the film when Mavis decides to drive to Mercury and there just seems to be too clear of a story arc when there didn't really have to be. I feel that the movie stuck too closely to this plot of her trying to steal Buddy Slade when Mavis Gary is such a good character to explore.

Another interesting character is introduced partway through the film and that's Matt Freehauf (played by Patton Oswalt). Matt is a fat, crippled nerd who makes beer at his home where he lives with his sister. Although Matt was the nerd that Mavis more-or-less ignored in high school, they proceed to bond over the course of the movie and Matt appears to be the only one who can see right through Mavis. This makes for quite an interesting friendship and their scenes together are among the highlights of the film (except maybe one scene towards the end). Patton Oswalt does a great job as Matt Freehauf and once again shows surprising dramatic range, as he previously did in the little-seen 2009 movie, Big Fan.

But Young Adult lives and dies by the performance of Charlize Theron who really brings this Mavis character to life. This is a role of a lifetime for her and she completely nails it. You can see why Jason Reitman wanted her in the film so bad.

Speaking of Reitman, he does a great job of letting the story and the characters speak for themselves although it's kind of disappointing because he can really bring the directorial flare when he wants to. Watching Juno lately, I felt Jason Reitman's presence more on that film than I did in this film and ultimately, this feels like a minor effort coming from him. I don't particularly like saying that as I also think this is a great departure for him in both theme and tone. I just feel like the tone is almost too moody and dour even for a character like Mavis Gary. When it gets to the heart of the film, I just don't think it is quite as powerful as it could've been had the tone previously been a little bit lighter. I think a shift in tone would've really made the third act of the film stand out.

You can tell though that Reitman wanted to respect Diablo Cody's script and let it all speak for itself and he does a good job letting that happen. Overall, I just think the movie feels too slight and that plot is perhaps a bit too thin. A thin plot would've been fine if they did more with the main character, but we're just kinda stuck in a rather conventional script structure, something I had a problem with in Juno. Diablo Cody is growing as a writer and in many ways Young Adult is a step in the right director for her. She writes very interesting characters, I just wish she would do more interesting things with them.


Friday, December 9, 2011

On Steven Spielberg

"Serious" cinephiles aren't supposed to enjoy Spielberg films. His films are manipulative, simplistic, too populist, too gooey, too sentimental. There is quite a few people out there who have no respect for Steven Spielberg or his films. It's understandable, to a fault. Not everyone has to like Steven Spielberg. Do I think some Spielberg films can be on the manipulative side? A bit too sentimental and simplistic? Absolutely. I still think that there is a place for Steven Spielberg's films and that he deserves to be discussed as a serious filmmaker. Regardless of what you may think of him.

The Spielberg name is pretty much the only director's name out there who you can trust when it comes to mainstream blockbuster films. Aside from the last Indiana Jones movie, he has an amazing track record with the summer blockbuster. Going backwards: War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones trilogy, ET, and Jaws. You can't really ask for a better line up of entertaining films. I never really take them for more than what they are and there's nothing saying you have to respond to every film in the same way. Some films are serious, thoughtful films and some films are more simple, entertaining films. There's nothing wrong with both.

Besides, Spielberg has done both. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, AI, Munich, and the upcoming War Horse. Now both sides of Spielberg are similar thematically. They all pretty much have Hollywood-type endings and his more serious fare is where he gets the "manipulative" criticism. But if you know what kind of film you're getting from Spielberg, is that really much of a surprise? See, I know what I'm getting from Steven Spielberg at this point. I still think he can make pretty powerful films with striking images. And I applaud him for using his stature as an A-list Hollywood filmmaker for going after difficult subject matter. The stories may not be told in a difficult way, but they're still very effective and emotionally stirring. Spielberg is a director who isn't afraid to go the emotional route and I feel that if you realize that and know that about Spielberg, then you shouldn't be surprised at the results. His films can still mean something, they can still be great. Is he a lesser filmmaker because, overall, he tries to make his films for a mainstream audience? I don't think so.

The fact of the matter is there is no other mainstream filmmaker who can be as appealing as Steven Spielberg is. There is no other filmmaker who can consistently switch gears from the light summer fare and the serious dramatic fare and still get people's asses in the seats. Spielberg had it figured out from the beginning. You make the big budget blockbuster film and you get the freedom to make the serious film that gets you awards. Plus, it's not like Spielberg shies away from portraying the dark side of humanity: Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and even Munich have scenes that are as difficult to watch as any other film of its kind. It's no "Salo" obviously, not even close, but considering the type of audience these movies are for, they are still fine films and way better than what they could have been.

Consider James Cameron's last two films: they are overly simplistic love stories with huge budgets and they are the top two grossing films of all-time. What I like about Steven Spielberg's films is that they can be a bit simplistic, but I never feel as if my intelligence has been insulted. I still think he respects his audience and there's really not much more you can ask for than that. Plus, I admire him for the fact that he hasn't completely given up shooting on film. Unlike his contemporaries, George Lucas and James Cameron, he still sees the value of shooting on celluloid. The fact that he can't quite give up with shooting on film makes him endearing.

Spielberg respects film, he respects the craft of making movies. He may not always produce the greatest films (see Michael Bay and the Transformers trilogy), but when it's in his hands, he usually comes out with something thrilling or interesting to watch. Even a bloated blockbuster like The Lost World has some pretty great parts to it even though the movie falls apart when the dinosaur winds up in the city of San Diego. He's made a lot of fluff, but it's great fluff. And he will be greatly missed if he were no longer around. At least he still tries to make good serious films and good blockbuster films. It's clear that Hollywood has stopped trying altogether, they clearly do not care anymore. Spielberg does though and you can tell. Consider how much money he has made in Hollywood. There is absolutely no reason why he should keep making films from a financial perspective. He's also has the Oscars, he has the fame, he has a lot of respect. Yet, he still wants to make movies because he genuinely loves the craft and he loves to tell stories.

The next few years should be interesting as he has both War Horse and Tintin this month, Lincoln next year, and Robopocalypse in 2013. There's gonna be plenty of Spielberg to go around in the next few years and no matter how good or bad the films wind up being, at least you can find comfort in the fact that he still cares and is committed to the craft of filmmaking. He's not just phoning it in for a paycheck (ok maybe he was with Indiana Jones 4).

It just irks me a little to see people go so far out of their way to speak ill of Spielberg. I'm not fond of all of his films, but I don't think he deserves nearly the amount of derision he gets from a lot of cinephiles out there in the world.

War Horse looks to be signature Spielberg. It might be sappy, it might be manipulative, it might be a bit simple. But that's Spielberg. He still knows how to tell a good story on screen and he still cares about telling a story on screen. It's not just about selling a new action figure for him. I guess you can say that I occasionally have a bit of a soft spot for the man. I grew up on his films and when I watch Jurassic Park or ET or Jaws, it brings out the kid in me again. I also wouldn't hesitate to show my future kids his films. It's better that then the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Honestly, today, when it comes to movies from Hollywood you have to pick your battles. To constantly pick on Spielberg just seems wrong to me. I value filmmakers such as Spielberg, or now Christopher Nolan. I feel like people pick on them simply because they make big budget films that gross a lot of money. Sure, they're not as intelligent or thought-provoking as some fans of their films say they are, but they're in a class of a very small amount of filmmakers who can make big budget films entertaining without making them stupid. Plus, nobody cares if you're too smart for Inception or too "real" for Saving Private Ryan. Enjoy the movies for what they are, enjoy the filmmakers for who they are. Trust me, the film universe would be way worse off if they weren't making movies. Way, way worse off. I shudder when I think about it, in fact.

Shame review

There are some scenes in Shame that are among the most powerful scenes in cinema this year and Steve McQueen is easily becoming one of the best up-and-coming filmmakers out there today. Shame is just his second film and yet he already exudes a style that is specific to him. Unfortunately, his style can be a bit on the self-indulgent side and I don't think it always helps serve the story. Still, given the subject matter, Shame is a very successful movie. It's a movie about sex addiction and it never shows any restraint in its depiction of sex, but it also never shows sex in a titillating, erotic manner. McQueen does a great of job of first showing Michael Fassbender's character Brandon express enjoyment and pleasure from having sex to later showing him feel pain, remorse, and the feeling that he's completely helpless in his addiction.

Brandon is a rich 30-something year old living in Manhattan who enjoys two things: pleasuring himself and having sex with other women. He does his best not to let it affect his work life where he's actually blossoming, but when his sister Sissy moves in, everything goes wrong for him. Brandon is the type who seemingly does not enjoy human contact if it's not on a sexual level. He reluctantly lets his sister stay at his apartment but is constantly annoyed by her presence, especially when she ends up sleeping with his boss. Suddenly, Brandon's personal space is limited to his bedroom and the bathroom and when that space is violated, it leaves him with even fewer options. And with that, Brandon becomes a man whose sexual urges start to spiral out of control. Even in his attempts to right himself and throw out all of his dirty magazines, Brandon's urges keep growing and becoming worse.

Yes, Shame is rated NC-17. There's a lot of sex scenes in the movie, Fassbender's penis is in quite a few scenes (but mostly in the beginning). It's raw and does not hold back from showing sex. For some, that might be and will be off-putting and if you can't handle that, you may not want to see this movie. Shame, though, is anything but pornographic. If anything, it's anti-pornographic. It succeeds in showing the dangers of sexual addiction and when Brandon's life goes out of control, it really goes out of control. Steve McQueen never attempts to tell you what it all means or whether or not Brandon will ever get better. I think it would be dishonest if everything wrapped up in a little neat package for Brandon. You can't just get rid of an addiction that serious unless you attempt to get some professional help.

Michael Fassbender is at his best in this film as is Carey Mulligan. But Fassbender really goes all out with almost no restraint. That is such a valuable trait to have in an actor and Steve McQueen must be thankful in having an actor so committed to the work, especially considering the subject matter. You never doubt Fassbender for a second and the academy would be unwise to ignore Fassbender in the best actor category.

Shame has some minor flaws to it though. The dialogue can feel a bit too stiff even though there are some strong moments like the confrontation between Brandon and Sissy towards the end. Like I mentioned earlier, there is also some tendency for McQueen to get a bit self-indulgent with his long shots. It worked in his brutal debut "Hunger" but not so much in "Shame." I do think Shame is a better film overall, but there are scenes like when Brandon is jogging and the camera stays in a one-shot watching him jog. It's nice to look at, but it's not exactly fascinating cinema. I applaud and admire Steve McQueen for sticking with his convictions and having a strong sense of style. But in a movie with such a powerful story as this, he doesn't need his artful long shots all the time.

Shame is still a great film and Steve McQueen is definitely a director on the rise. Michael Fassbender continues to be an acting powerhouse and should be a dream to work with for any director. If it weren't for some indulgences here and there, Shame would be my favorite film of the year. But I like the idea that McQueen is a great director, young in his career, that has room for improvement. As good as Shame is, he can do better, and I'm excited to see him continuing to get better.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A preview to my Shame review

I just saw Shame and... wow. I'm gonna need time to digest it. I'll put up a review this weekend.

I really wish I could update this blog more than I did this year, but I've actually written up more reviews this year than last year.

There's too much of a cluster of movies that I want to see this month that it's gonna be hard to get to them all. So I'm not posting a top 10 of 2011 anytime soon. Too much to digest, plus, you know where I stand more-or-less since I've posted top 10 lists a few times in the year. Now I'm gonna keep you in suspense and not post a list until like mid-January.

I don't get critics who are able to post a top 10 so soon. Too many movies to see and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hasn't been viewed by anyone yet (I don't think so, anyway). Plus, I don't think you could have enough time and perspective to judge a movie you had just seen to movies you saw a few months ago. So, I'm gonna give it some time.

Meanwhile, I started up an article about Steven Spielberg based on this long interview he did in Entertainment Weekly. I didn't like how it was turning out, but I'm gonna try have it written up in the next few days.

Overall, I think this has turned out to be a really good year for film. It kinda reminds me 2008, maybe even a little stronger. But 2008 had a lot of good-to-great films, but nothing perfect. 2011 appears to have more great films, but nothing that clearly stands out from the pack. We'll see if the remaining films of 2011 contain any standouts.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Twelve Movies to See in December

Well it's already December, but it's not too late to see what movies are coming out this month that are worth seeing. Let's check it out.

I linked the movie's website to the movie title. Some of the sites are pretty cool, especially the Dragon Tattoo one.


Opens December 16th

Anytime a new Roman Polanski film is coming out, I at least consider seeing the film. This appears to be a minor effort from the aging filmmaker but it's also a comedy starring Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, and John C. Reilly. That's a pretty interesting group of actors collaborating with each other.

We Bought a Zoo

Opens December 23rd

The first film by Cameron Crowe in over six years. You can't really say he's lost his touch because he's only made two films since "Almost Famous" which is arguably his best film. That said, the trailer makes the movie seem pretty corny. I probably would not even see this film if not for the fact that it's by Cameron Crowe. Plus there's been a fairly positive response regarding this film so far, nothing overwhelming but enough that it may be worth seeing.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Opens December 9th (I think...)

On the more artsy side of things, this is a dark drama by the underrated Lynne Ramsay starring Tilda Swinton who plays the mother of a son who goes on a high school killing spree. A few months ago, I watched Lynne Ramsay's first film "Ratcatcher" and was shook by it. "Ratcatcher" was a stark and unforgiving depiction of Scotland in the 1970s. "Kevin" looks to be a similar film, the type of film you won't be wanting to watch with a happy family, it's gonna depress you. And yet, you gotta have room in your movie-going pallet for difficult, but rewarding films such as these.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Opens December 25th

With this one I'm not really all that sold on it at this point as it looks to be Oscar bait in its purest and most manipulative form. Tom Hanks has really starred in some boring films lately. Plus, aside from the setting of the film (post 9/11 NYC), the plot sounds almost identical to the main plot line to "Hugo." Although I haven't read any publication that has made that connection. This could be a poignant drama for all we know, but given the director's reputation for Oscar baity films ("The Hours" is the only film of his that has really stuck with me), I'm not quite sold on this film at this point. However, I have been proven wrong before and it would be great if this was a good movie.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Opens December 16th

Just to get a few of the winter blockbusters out of the way... I wasn't even that particularly fond of the first Sherlock Holmes. I thought it was entertaining, but too much fluff. However, I don't really mind going back into the world of Sherlock Holmes again. Plus, I can never get tired of Robert Downey Jr. who is really the only reason why this film would interest me.

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Opens December 21st

Something about a fourth Mission Impossible movie just sounds right to me at this point. We could use a bit of Tom Cruise kicking some ass and doing cool stunts. I miss Tom Cruise, the big action/movie star. It's about time people stop forgetting that he's kind of a weirdo with the Scientology stuff and just enjoy him for what he is... a pretty damn entertaining actor.

Young Adult

Opens December 9th

The fourth Jason Reitman film. I've been following Jason Reitman's directorial career since it started, I always found him to be an interesting director who keeps growing as a filmmaker. His last collaboration with Diablo Cody was good ("Juno"), although it was my least favorite of his films. But from what I'm hearing, this is a much more mature outing for Diablo Cody, also there's something about Charlize Theron playing a hot bitch that is appealing to me.

The Adventures of Tintin

Comes out December 21st

The first of two Steven Spielberg movies to come out in December. I wasn't excited about this until I saw the trailer and I was pretty impressed. It'll be interesting to see an animated film directed by Spielberg. Some have called this an animated Indiana Jones movie, I like the sound of that.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Opens December 9th

Something about all these veteran British actors getting together for a period spy thriller set during the Cold War directed by the guy who made Let the Right One in... just sounds so appealing to me. It's also great to see Gary Oldman get a leading role for once.

War Horse

Comes out December 25th

So when you're done seeing The Adventures of Tin Tin you can take a day or two to digest your popcorn and go right back to the theater and see his World War I epic, War Horse. Spielberg, WWI, Horse... whether it's really good or it's just manipulate tripe... it's gonna be a must-watch.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Comes out December 21st

Speaking of a must-watch, only David Fincher can make an American adaptation of a Swedish novel (that has already been made into a movie in its homeland) look exciting. So far, the marketing department hasn't made a wrong step. This looks really damn good.

Comes out December 2nd

This is my most anticipated because Hunger, Steve McQueen's first film, was so powerful. He brings Michael Fassbender back for a second collaboration and it's a brutally honest depiction of sex addiction. I'm seeing the shit out of this movie, I don't care how often we see Michael Fassbender's dong... that sounds wrong. Very wrong.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hugo review

I'm sure everyone who is a fan of Martin Scorsese, or at least, was aware of his work thought him making a children's movie was quite peculiar. But once you actually go to see Martin Scorsese's latest film "Hugo," you soon begin to realize that this film is probably the most emotional and personal film he has made in his career. Mean Streets may have been a more realistic personal film, and Hugo doesn't take out any literal pages from his life. But all the basic stuff is there: the child who loves movies, the joy of making films, the desire to preserve old films. Basically, by watching this film, you get a much deeper understanding of what filmmaking means to Martin Scorsese. No, it's not strictly a children's film. It's a film that children can see, but it's for everyone. Like The Muppets, I could not be more thrilled to see movies targeted at kids and adults that doesn't treat its moviegoers like they're idiots. "Hugo" is imaginative, fantastical, and makes great use of 3-D technology. While that is all great in itself, it's the unexpected emotional depth of the film that makes it so great.

Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives in a train station and helps fix all the clocks inside. After his father died, he was taken in by his drunken Uncle who taught Hugo how to fix clocks. Soon it was just Hugo all by himself, taking care of the clocks in the train station. Everyone else at the train station, however, are either oblivious to Hugo or just think he's a thief. One of these people includes Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) who at one point threatens to call the security guard (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) if Hugo keeps stealing from his toy store. This relationship between Hugo and Papa Georges is what is explored throughout the film. You find out about Hugo's backstory and Papa George's backstory and the way they connect with each other. As we discover, Papa Georges happens to be Georges Melies one of cinema's first visionaries.

It's that discovery, that backstory, where we really get to the heart of what the film is all about. What's so great about "Hugo" is how it sneaks in a brief education about Georges Melies and the whole era of early silent filmmaking. The way it shows us his life work, the overall celebration of his films, really took the film to a whole different level. It's no longer just an escapist family film. This is a poignant film about a man who thought his whole life work, his whole purpose in life, was completely lost but with the help of this young boy, he is able to re-discover who he is.

I'd like to think Martin Scorsese sees something in both Hugo and in Georges Melies. In Hugo, he sees the little boy that he once was. The little boy that was overly enthusiastic about film, who felt a need to fix things, and ultimately wanted to help keep Georges Melies work alive. But then there's also George Melies. The old filmmaker who feels rejuvenated by Hugo. While Scorsese always makes his films with a great amount of energy, this film has freed up to allow him to explore something he has never really gotten into before: childhood.

If there was anything about the movie that I wasn't too taken with, it may have been the child actors. It's not that they were bad, and Chloe Moretz has proven she's a talented young actress. But Asa Butterfield had a tough task with his role as Hugo and I wasn't always completely convinced with him. Plus, even though the second half of this film is extraordinary and practically perfect, I felt the first half moved a little too slowly. It took a little while for the movie to get going, but once it did get going, it was quite the adventure. In fact, I left a lot of other key elements and plot details out of this review because there's no need to spell it all out for you...

Overall though, "Hugo" is a visionary delight. Martin Scorsese's work with 3-D looks effortless. After about a year of hearing Scorsese talk up 3-D technology, finally we are able to see what he was talking about. The way he uses 3-D is perfect. It adds that extra dimension of depth that puts you further into the movie whereas so many other films use 3-D in a way that takes you out of the movie. Plus, how can you not love watching long tracking shots in 3-D? Technically, the film most definitely moves like a Martin Scorsese movie and yet it's so different than anything he has ever done. Just when you think you had him all figured out, Scorsese goes out and does it again. The man is a filmmaking maestro.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, December 2, 2011

J. Edgar review

By no means is "J. Edgar" a bad film. There are some very good, strong moments to the film, there are some interesting stories contained within this film, the makeup to most of the actors looked pretty good, it has beautiful cinematography and excellent production design. You can tell a lot of careful attention and design was put into this film. Unfortunately, you can't really say that about the performances and pacing of this film, which is where the movie falters.

In the last ten years, Leonardo DiCaprio has made a name for himself and his acting career by carefully choosing the projects and directors he works with. He's been in a lot of good movies, some great ones, and a couple of misfires. One thing that I have been noticing about him though is that he's sort of been stuck playing the same character-type lately. Even in a role as varied as J. Edgar Hoover, Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is really not all that different than his performance in Shutter Island, Inception, or the Departed. In all these films, he's playing a man struggling with deep inner turmoil. At his best, he's very intense and captivating. But in a movie like this, it just feels cold, lifeless, and dull. And since "J. Edgar" revolves around his acting, the whole film feels cold, lifeless, and dull.

Clint Eastwood is known for being very actor-friendly. He's also known for shooting very minimal takes and getting his films done under budget. One wonders, however, what this movie could've been like if more focus and attention was paid to the acting. It feels like, at some point, Eastwood has stopped focusing on the actors. Angelina Jolie's performance in Changeling is the last performance in a Clint Eastwood movie that really moved me. My main complaint and gripe with Mystic River was that I thought it was too overwrought with emotion and drama. With J. Edgar, I feel like it could use some of that emotion and drama. As it is, there are too many parts to J. Edgar where I could feel the dramatic potential, but ultimately did not feel moved or attached to what was happening on screen. Consider the scene after J. Edgar witnesses his mother's passing or the scene between J. Edgar and Clyde after J. Edgar tells him he's considering proposing to a woman. These scenes should've been the emotional and dramatic highs to the film, but it ultimately feels too calculated. I felt that more could've been gotten out of those scenes. What we are left with are scenes that simply feel incomplete.

Another part of the problem with this film is the inter-cutting between the past and the present. The past being J. Edgar's rise to being the head of the FBI and the present being his twilight years. The scenes where we watch J. Edgar Hoover in the '20s and '30s are very fascinating, particularly when it goes into the case of Charles Lindbergh's missing baby. In the film, we get a very clear picture of not only how J. Edgar came to be, but how the FBI became what it is today. The film tries to delve into all these other little areas of J. Edgar's life but the sum of all these scenes don't really add up to a full portrait of this man. Although that could have also been part of the point of the film. The film at least tries to tell us that there's J. Edgar's version of who he thinks he is and then there is the reality. We get hints and snippets of what that reality is, but nothing more than that.

Overall, something just feels incomplete about "J. Edgar." At it's best, it's a very well-done, well-made soft, subtle drama about this powerful man at the twilight of his life. At it's worst, though, it's almost completely lifeless and too calculated for us to feel any connection between J. Edgar or his close associates. Armie Hammer gives an inspired and noteworthy performance but even he feels like wasted potential. Meanwhile, Naomi Watts was completely underused. This leaves us with Leonardo DiCaprio. He no doubt looks and talks the part, but he doesn't feel the part. Physically he embodies this man, but I'm not sure I felt the connection on a personal and emotional level. I would even go so far as to say that his portrayal of Howard Hughes felt more real than this. A finger has to be pointed at Clint Eastwood and the uneven script by Dustin Lance Black. I actually thought the hints towards J. Edgar's sexuality was done really well, in fact, the relationship between Tolsoy and Hoover was portrayed fairly well. I just think there was too much going back and forth for us to really get connected with the J. Edgar of old.

And even though I did actually think the makeup of on Leo, Armie, and Naomi was nicely done, I feel there was way too many closeups on these characters. As good as old people makeup can be, the more closeups you have on the artificial faces of these characters, the more artificial it seems. On another note, the film was weird in that it didn't attempt to have portrayals of JFK, FDR, Capone or any other important figures throughout these times. But the portrayals it did have (RFK, Nixon, Lindbergh) fell completely flat in my opinion. Things like that was what kept this movie from reaching the potential of this fascinating story. Better yet, a fascinating portrait on the very complicated life of J. Edgar. A life so complicated, it couldn't possibly have been figured out 2-3 takes at a time.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muppets review

"The Muppets" has received a lot of praise since it came out and, in my opinion, it's completely warranted. Never mind the actual content itself, the fact that there's a movie out that manages to make both kids and adults laugh while successfully reviving a dead franchise... that's unbelievable to me. After all those terrible bastardized CGI remakes of all those great cartoons everyone my age or older grew up on, here's a movie that stays true to its form and keeps the irreverent and offbeat humor alive which was what made the old Muppets tv show and first few movies so fun to watch.

Much of the credit has to go to Jason Segel and his crew. This was Segel's dream project for the longest time and you can see just how much care and attention he paid in order to make this movie work. That love is there in all of the scenes as the movie doesn't waste a minute without making a great joke. There is so much to laugh at in this movie, so many cute quirks, and just enough self-referential jokes that really makes this a joy to watch. It does so many things so well that by the time you're hearing chickens doing a cover of "**** You" by Cee-Lo Green, you're laughing yourself silly.

So "The Muppets" opens up telling us the story of Gary and Walter. They are brothers who grew up in Smalltown, USA. Walter is a muppet, Gary is a human... but the movie makes you accept the fact that they're brothers without mentioning anything else about it. As they turn into adults, Walter's obsession with the Muppets show grows exponentially. This takes us to present day where Gary plans on taking his girlfriend Mary to a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Walter, of course, is coming too which excites him because he'll finally get to see Muppets Studio.

When they get there though, they find out the studio is all run down and is about to be sold to an evil oilman (Chris Cooper). The Muppets would have to raise $10 million in order to prevent this from happening. Finding this out, Walter and Gary decide to convince Kermit the Frog to get the gang back together for one last show in order to raise the money.

Seeing all the characters being re-introduced is like a trip down memory lane. All of your favorite characters appear from Fozzie to Gonzo to Animal to Beaker and ultimately to Miss Piggy. The movie is actually quite brilliant in the way that it reintroduces these characters as it's a good starting point for the young ones watching the movie as well as it is fun for the fans to see these characters once again.

One of the main highlights in the film are the musical numbers. They do a great job of incorporating new musical numbers with some old classics (Muppets Show Theme, Rainbow Connection) and the new musical numbers work on so many different comedic levels, it's a real riot. When we do get to the classics, like with Rainbow Connection, it's one of the sweetest and most poignant moments in any movie this year. The Muppets is about enjoying the past in a gleeful, nostalgic manner and at the same time being able to embrace change and move on to the future. What "The Muppets" sets out to do isn't just to write a different chapter in the Muppets canon, but to make a whole new book altogether. This is one of the few films I've seen lately where I can't wait to see a sequel. They did so many things right and they were firing on all cylinders that I can easily see them having plenty of material for a second and third movie with these guys.

Obviously not everything about "The Muppets" is picture perfect, but you know what, this is a better movie than it has any right to be. Before it came out, you wondered why it was getting made. Now that it's out, you can't imagine the world without it. The fact of the matter is that this movie DID need to be made because I really do think we were starting to forget about these guys. Hopefully this film will make them that much more impossible to forget.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, November 18, 2011


Damn, this looks good.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Tree of Life review


The Tree of Life is such an accomplishment of artistic vision that it's hard for me not to want to embrace it completely because of how much Terrence Malick accomplished with this film. And yet, there is a part of me that feels hesitant to do that because I feel like I was thrown into an eccentric artist's mind and then was spit out and now I have to attempt to tell people what I saw. I don't know what it is I saw exactly, I don't really know what to make of The Tree of Life as a whole, but goddamn once The Tree of Life finds its groove and you start to settle into the movie, it's hard not to be blown away.

First of all, this is a film the demands to be seen on the big screen. Hopefully, watching it on blu-ray with a large tv screen will do it justice. But, you know, the fact that Malick had the balls to go as far and as deep as he did in this film makes me want to applaud him. It's not a perfect film, only because there is no way this film could've been perfect with the way Malick approached it. It's so all over the place and it's meant to be as it's a collection of memories and visions and thoughts and philosophizing. That can be a bit much for people and believe me it was a bit much for me at times. The worst thing you can do when watching The Tree of Life is trying to make sense of it all as you're watching it. The best thing to do is wait until the end and then try to think about it. I did a bit of both.

But let me tell you why this film must be lauded. Simply put, from the time the film shows you the creation of the universe to the moment in which it stops being about young Jack O'Brien, his two brothers, and his parents... The Tree of Life was quite literally the most perfect, masterful film I had ever seen. From those two points, I was just sitting in my seat being blown away by how minute and careful Terrence Malick was in fitting in every little detail and just the clarity of the vision (with the cinematography and the artistic vision itself) was so amazing. The whole film is a cinefile's wet dream, but for about an hour and 45 minutes, this film was firing at all cylinders and contains some of the greatest scenes Terrence Malick had ever been a part of.

You think that was an overuse of hyperbole? Bullshit. If you've watched enough films for over a 20 year period, you start to decipher among the bad, the good, the great, and the perfect. Watching the montage of little Jack from an infant to an adolescent re-confirmed my belief in filmmaking as a superior form of art. That the film can stir so many different emotions while being so simple in its depiction of childhood is just brilliant to me.

But the beginning and the end of the film is a bit of a hodgepodge and the scenes with Sean Penn just don't really carry any emotional weight at all. They make sense in a literal way since the film is basically told from within his mind, but I don't think it would've hurt the film if we knew just a little bit more about Jack as a grown up and how his brother's death affected him (oh yeah you find out a brother of his dies early on in the film, but I'm not gonna explain the plot to you, the plot doesn't really matter at all).

At this point, I've really enjoyed all five Terrence Malick films and this one seems to be his most personal and emotional. I just wish he were willing to be even more personal and emotional with us to help us make at least some sense of what it all means to him. But then again, that's kind of what is so appealing about a guy like Terrence Malick. Because we have so little insight of the man, we can only really begin to understand him by watching his films. And as with every other Terrence Malick film, its true beauty is revealed after multiple viewings. At this point, The Tree of Life remains a nearly perfect film about a man trying to come to terms with his past and his place in time. There is no doubt Malick knew exactly what he was doing with the editing style of the film and it's a film that begs for a proper dissection and discussion after multiple viewings. This is a very rewarding film for those who are willing to be patient with it and for people who are fans of Malick's other films, you will be in for a treat.

The Tree of Life is currently available on Blu-Ray/DVD, I managed to see it at a special screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema a few days ago.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Descendants review

It's been seven years since Alexander Payne's last film and the last film he made was his best. Sideways came out in 2004 and became a critical darling, winning all kinds of awards, and even managing to nab an Oscar for best screenplay. Sideways was the perfect combination of drama and comedy. It had some silly moments, some thought-provoking moments, and overall it had characters you cared about. Alexander Payne was going to have a tough time following up that film, but he does his best with The Descendants. Even though it doesn't quite compare, it did remind me that I missed Alexander Payne and that he has to make more films. Bottom line it's an excellent comedy/drama that is about how people deal with pain and loss. It's also blessed with a nice cast starting with George Clooney and supported by Rob Heubel, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, and even Matthew Lillard comes out of nowhere and gives a pleasant performance.

The film is about Matt King (Clooney) who had been entrusted his family's land in Hawaii, who have owned the land for hundreds of years, and he has to debate whether or not to sell or keep the land. He also now has to deal with taking care of his daughters as his wife is in a coma from a boating accident. He's the back-up parent, as he says so himself. To make matters worse, he finds out that his wife had been in an affair before she had the accident.

That's really when the movie starts to pick up and seeing George Clooney as Matt King struggle with these conflicts is definitely worth watching. Here, Clooney shows emotional depth that hasn't really been seen from him before and the screenplay allows his feelings to unfold in a slow, natural, and realistic way. Alexander Payne has always been a mature filmmaker, but it's safe to say this is his most mature and dramatic film yet. That said, the combination of the relaxed, laid back Hawaiian pace and the very heartfelt emotional dramatic scenes can be a bit of an odd mix at times. The film is at its best when Matt King is trying to find the guy who his wife had an affair with. The scenes dealing with his wife in a coma can be a bit of a mixed bag. I think it was a mixed bag because it's tough to deal with such a serious subject and try to have light-hearted moments in the mix (kinda like with "50/50").

What makes this a standout film of the year is the way the movie takes a seemingly meaningless B-story (Matt King selling the island) and eventually ties it in with the main story. That's when the movie really starts coming into its own. Once you start to realize how serious the stakes are for Matt King, his family, his past, and his future, the current events that are happening in his family mean that much more. Matt King is a character with legitimate concerns who has to make tough decisions that really could go either way. As usual, George Clooney plays him effortlessly, and yet this is probably Clooney at his most emotional. Throughout his career, Alexander Payne has always had a way of getting the best out of his actors from acting giants Jack Nicholson and George Clooney to actors with much lesser resumes like Matthew Lillard, Chris Klein, Thomas Haden Church.

There are so many different facets to this movie, so many different tones to balance and it goes through the whole array of emotions but Alexander Payne handles it all very well. It's not quite his best, but it's still a film that reminds us why he's so revered as a director. I can't wait for more films from him. As for Clooney, I really hope to see him continuing to challenge himself as an actor. He's never gonna go too crazy in his choices of roles, but any movie that manages to get something different out of George Clooney is a successful movie.

rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ten Movies to See in November

10. Tower Heist

Tenth on the list because of some pretty poor recent track records on Eddie Murphy and the director Brett Ratner. However, Ratner can make an entertaining movie when he wants to, Eddie Murphy NEEDS to return to form. His career has been a joke for the past... 15 years maybe? But, who wouldn't love to see live-action Eddie Murphy be funny again? And coupled with Ben Stiller, it should be interesting to see how they work together.

9. Immortals

Tarsem Singh is an interesting filmmaker, but I'm not too keen on these types of films. Especially since studios simply don't know how to market the sword-and-sandal epic anymore, especially after 300. So, I'm approaching caution with this one, but it would be cool if it turned out great.

8. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

The red band trailer looks crazy and it's always fun to see Harold and Kumar back even if the sequel wasn't all that great. They're smart by waiting every 3-4 years to release a film or else we'd probably be sick of them. It looks as if they've upped the insanity up to a considerable degree, it'll be fun to see how far they go with it and Harold and Kumar are just two characters with such great chemistry that just watching the two of them riff of each other is worth watching alone. Plus, it's a Christmas movie... in 3D!

p.s. I was too lazy to find the red band trailer, you're gonna have to find it yourself... or maybe I'll look for it tomorrow.

7. J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, judging from the trailer, it's Oscar bait to the max. But you know what, I love the chances Leo takes with each of his roles. He's played a wide range of characters, although he never really strays too far from characters who are constantly at war with themselves. Still, the combination of him, Clint Eastwood's efficient directing, and the up-and-comer Armie Hammer should make this interesting to watch. Eastwood, however, hasn't really been knocking them out of the park lately. His last few films have been kinda weak, but you can't help but marvel at his work ethic. It's not a bad world to be in when Clint Eastwood's making a film once a year. Let's just hope he can make a few more classics even at his old age.

6. The Artist

You don't know it now, but this could be the film that will be getting all the awards attention early next year. Trying to revive the silent film genre in 2011 sounds like a tough task and yet, I think it's an ingenious move, especially if the film is really as good as the hype is making it sound.

5. Melancholia

Lars von Trier, ever the provocateur, actually has a film coming out this year. Kinda overshadowed by his Nazi comments at Cannes, but there was actually a good critical response to this film coming out of Cannes and even though he's hit-and-miss with me, I'm pretty much over what got him in trouble a few months ago. Plus, Kirsten Dunst gets naked, that's pretty cool, right? But no, seriously, this might be worth seeing at the local arthouse theater.

4. A Dangerous Method

The hype for this one has been a bit muted, maybe a bit toned down, but Cronenberg, Viggo, Michael Fassbender... and they're playing Freud and Carl Jung? I can't help but be intrigued. Word on the street is that Keira Knightley's performance has divided some people, so viewer beware.

3. Hugo

Martin Scorsese making a family adventure film in 3D. Yes, it is happening and you know what? The reviews coming in for this film has been very encouraging. Apparently this is Scorsese's love letter to both film and childhood and that he has a masterful control over the 3D form. Thank God. But also, should we be surprised or should we be that much more impressed with someone like Scorsese? He's entering his sixth decade of filmmaking (his very first film came out in the '60s) and this is his second film in two years. The man is still going strong and he's still showing people how it's done. Don't let the studio's poor use of pop music in the trailer fool you, this could be a truly great film to watch during the Holiday season.

2. The Descendants

I do this often, but let me tell this to you all again, please go see more dramas in the theaters. I know it's more convenient and easier to wait to DVD, but it really does hurt the process that much more. Mainstream studios don't make dramas anymore and films like The Descendants will wind up coming out less and less if we don't go and see them. Alexander Payne is one of the great filmmakers of the last 15 years and he's made four great comedy/dramas in his career. The Descendants is his first film since 2004, starring George Clooney, and the word is that he hasn't missed a beat since he left the cinema world with the Oscar-nominated Sideways. I'm looking forward to this a lot because I've really grown to respect and admire Payne as a filmmaker since his seven year hiatus and I won't take his effortless filmmaking skills for granted this time around.

1. The Muppets

This is basically me going back to relive old childhood memories right here. Not only that but they've done a great job of marketing this film in really creative and clever ways. Add the fact that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) are behind the film and there's much intrigue and desire to go see this movie. It does concern me that the great Frank Oz didn't participate in this film mainly due to his disagreement with the script, but I'm willing to take a plunge into the Muppets world if Segel and Stoller do a good enough job with it. How could you not want to see this film? Holy shit, right? The Muppets are back!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Let me briefly go into the next few months...

Definitely want to see:
The Descendants
The Muppets
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
War Horse

Very interested in:
J. Edgar
A Dangerous Method
Young Adult
The Adventures of Tintin
We Need to Talk About Kevin

Could be very good/more curious than excited:
The Rum Diary
Like Crazy
The Artist
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
We Bought a Zoo

Just for fun/some I may skip, but is on my radar for now:
A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas
Tower Heist
The Sitter
Sherlock Holmes 2
Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

I'll go into more detail about some of these movies in the next few days/weeks.

So, a recap on some of my favorite films of the year

Best films of 2011, as of 10/17/2011

1. La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In)
2. Drive
3. Moneyball
4. Bridesmaids
5. X-Men First Class
6. Contagion
7. Super 8
8. 50/50
9. Ides of March
10. Source Code

Then there's Win Win, which is getting more and more forgotten as the months go by. There are loads more films that look really good coming out in the next two months so I don't expect this list to remain nearly the same by the year's end. But this is where I stand so far. Four films with a 9.0 rating or higher, three with an 8.5. Things are starting to heat up. Can't wait to see what November and December bring.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

50/50, Ides of March, and The Skin I Live In


So 50/50 came out a few weeks ago and didn't really make a big buck in the box office and that's a shame because it really is a great movie about a guy's personal struggle through cancer. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, the film is based on a true story. In fact, it's actually the personal account of the screenwriter of the film who wrote the script based on his battle with cancer. It's not hard to tell, either. 50/50 is a refreshingly honest film that deals with the disease maturely and yet still has a sense of humor. They always say humor is the best medicine. 50/50 manages to have funny scenes and dramatic scenes without too much sentimentality and it does its best to avoid the big cliche tearjerker scenes. Although, it's easy to be moved by the film emotionally.

The film tells the story of Adam, a 27 year old man who works for a radio station and is best friends with, Kyle (played by Seth Rogen). Soon after you get to know Adam is when he finds out that he has cancer. From this, he has problems with his girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), his mother (Anjelica Huston), and also has a hard time connecting with a young psychiatrist (played by Anna Kendrick). The movie does a great job of not feeling too formulaic and it gives off more of a relaxed, slice-of-life type vibe than anything else.

That said, I wasn't too keen on all the performances and sometimes I feel like it used the comedy scenes with Seth Rogen as more of a crutch. Even though those scenes played out pretty well and Seth Rogen does a great job, the film does self-consciously try to strike a balance between the comedy and drama. This makes the film pretty easy to swallow. And there's nothing particularly wrong with that, it just doesn't make the dramatic scenes feel as strong. For me, the comedy of the film plays off a lot more convincingly and I found myself moreso looking forward to those scenes than the scenes with the mother or the psychiatrist. What makes this film great though is how it all sorta comes together for a very strong finale.

Overall, 50/50 is a great film that puts a bunch of great young actors on display and it does a remarkable job of attempting to maintain a consistent tone. Some scenes may be more stronger than others, but the great final act kinda makes the whole ride very much worth the time.

Rating: 8/10

Ides of March

The most exciting thing about George Clooney's career is the way he has improved as a filmmaker. Ides of March is the fourth film that he's directed and it's his most controlled and contains great performances. Even though the plot may be a bit much and some of the details sort of come off as a little far-fetched, the great performances from Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti makes this film more fun to watch unfold.

That's especially true with Ryan Gosling, who gets the most screen time and plays Stephen Meyers, one of the top staff members of Mike Morris's presidential campaign (Morris played by George Clooney). Stephen, along with Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) attempt to come up with the best strategy in order for Mike Morris to win the democratic primaries. The film is smart in focusing on the relationships between the characters because the few times it attempts to go into details about the political issues Morris supports, it sometimes falters. This is a political drama that pays the most attention on its characters, especially Stephen Meyer's attempts to make a name for himself in the political scene.

What I found most fascinating about the film was how it divulged into something that we all kinda feared about presidential campaigns: that it's more about the people working the political campaign than it is about the presidential candidate himself. Mike Morris tends to take the backseat in this movie and this is primarily Stephen Meyers and Paul's ride. But Stephen Meyers is going to learn a few harsh realities about what it's really like to work on a presidential campaign as a few rookie mistakes puts his whole career in jeopardy.

The movie soon starts to unfold and the shit starts to hit the fan and soon Stephen Meyers is scrambling to keep some of the mistakes that he made away from the press. There's a lot of backstabbing, double-crossing, and manipulation involved in the movie and it makes for some really great drama. Like I said before though, things are sort of amped up to the point where it feels like it's sort of getting far fetched, almost to the point where you almost get taken out of the movie. Some of the character motivations don't particularly add up, but for the most part, the movie tends to stay away from being a convoluted mess. This is George Clooney's best film and he proves to be a director with considerable skill. As much praise needs to be given to the films actors, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman who proves yet again that he is a brilliant actor. If you're a fan of good acting, you will enjoy this movie.

Rating: 8/10

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In)

What a movie this is.

La piel que habito is Pedro Almodovar's newest film and it's another brilliant film from a filmmaker who has made quite a few of those in his career. What's so great about this film is while it contains a lot of the same subjects that Almodovar loves to delve into, it's completely different than any film Almodovar has made in the past and his direct, focused approach to the material gives it the necessary edge that is needed for a film with such a strange premise.

Basically, I will do my best not to give anything away about the film because it's so important for you to go into this with as little plot details as possible. Set in Toledo, Spain in 2012, Antonio Banderas plays a surgeon who has spent much of his time trying to create skin that cannot burn. He has made speeches within the scientific community that go into the work he has done, saying that he has done his research with only mice. But, in his large home where he conducts his research, it is discovered that he has been doing all of his research on a woman that he's been holding captive. His main assistance is from his servant, Marilia, and she helps to provide the necessary amenities for the captive, but is mostly kept in the dark about Robert's (Antonio Banderas) true intentions with her. And so are we, for a brief period of time, until the film starts going back in time a few years and the truth starts to reveal itself in one of the most shocking and unbelievable twists I have seen in quite some time.

What is so brilliant about this film is the way Pedro Almodovar plays with the audience and keeps his cards close to his chest until he finally decides to tell you what is really going on. It's a masterstroke from someone who has been making excellent films for four decades now, this might just be one of his best. As what tends to happen with some Almodovar films, some details within the plot get a little bit messy, but the best thing about the film is how slowly it stretches out the story and you really get into the intentions and motivations of Antonio Banderas's character. Antonio Banderas, by the way, has never been better. Another one of Almodovar strengths are just the way he's able to get such great performances out of his actors. Antonio Banderas is no exception. He, like Penelope Cruz in some of Almodovar's other films, bring their A-game when working with the legendary Spanish filmmaker and the results are just beautiful.

It's tough to say just how great this film is because repeated viewings are absolutely necessary. Surely, the second and third time that I watch this film, they will be completely different experiences than from the first time I watch the film. And because Pedro Almodovar does such a great job with playing with audience expectations, repeated viewings will be just as fun and the twist will be just as satisfying as it was the first time. It's not that you can't figure out what's going to happen, it's just that you can't believe and imagine that it's actually going to happen. Pedro Almodovar is such a great filmmaker though and he is at the point in his career where he can have the balls to go through with such a story like this. Easily one of the most original premises I have witnessed in a long time. The Skin I Live In is the best film of the year so far and it's going to be really tough to beat it.

Rating: 9.5/10

50/50 and Ides of March are really great, solid dramas. Honestly, so far, September and October have been very satisfying months with The Skin I Live In being the biggest surprise for me so far this year. I'm not particularly interested in the rest of the movies coming out this month (maybe The Rum Diary, but I wasn't too impressed by the trailers). Very soon, I'm going to go into the films that I am most looking forward to in the closing months of 2011. Stay tuned.