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