30 December 2010

An Open Letter to Critics:

There is no time I hate the world of film criticism more than when the "Best of..." end of the year lists come out. Inevitably, movies you have never heard of, let alone that played in your market, make the list of your local independent movie critics. This is when pretension and self-aggrandizing take center stage over the kind of fare their reader is actually watching. If you're lucky, this happens late in their career when they have become jaded and burnt out from the screenings of some obscure Eastern European art film or documentary. If you're less lucky, this happens early, when they're still trying to find their voice and impress the mythological powers that be that they are above whatever local rag they write for. I hate these people. In my opinion, they ruin the movie going experience.

It is for much the same reason that I don't read most movie reviews. There are a few people and places that I either trust to give me the unbiased news and reviews of the film (slashfilm.com being my favorite) or who's opinion I mostly agree with (Owen Gleiberman- Entertainment Weekly, see the blogs I follow). However, for the most part, I feel like the paid film critic has forgotten their audience. Joe Blow doesn't care how much you loved "Henri-George Clouvet's Inferno". He's never heard of it and is unlikely to seek it out. All he wants to know is whether "Tron:Legacy" is everything he wishes the original had been; or what movies do we need to have seen come awards season? We just want to win our office pool. When these types of critics do review the "popular" films, they tend to bash them as if everything is supposed to be an Antonioni or Merchant-Ivory film. There is nothing wrong with populist fare. "Get Him to the Greek" is funny. It's nice to laugh and no matter how many times you tell me "The Kids Are All Right" is a comedy, I found myself crying more than giggling! I understand your mistrust of and hatred for the Hollywood studio system, but that doesn't mean everything it produces is shit. Only some of it is.

In a perfect world, the avid movie lover would get to see all of these films before the average Joe- I know that makes my day. Instead, they have to wade through the jaded musings of a film critic, who seems to hate the medium they are supposed to love; to attempt to get to the heart of what's happening in movies today.

For shame to all the critics out there who take themselves and their press passes too seriously. Come back to reality. I beg you!

28 December 2010

Worst Movies of 2010

Just like with the best of the year, given some distance; many movies that I was indifferent to found their way on the list and others that I originally found to be alright are now rubbish. Below are my picks for the worst movies released in theatres in 2010. Check out the links for my review. Who did I leave off?

Predators

The Last Airbender

The Wolfman

Skyline

Percy Jackson & The Olympians

Daybreakers

Red- This one went from a feeling of "eh" to the worst list. Next time, let's just film Helen Mirren and John Malkovich run around. It will be a lot more entertaining.

Date Night

When in Rome

Leap Year- Although the original review says 3 stars, it's really just 2. Matt

Greenberg- I guess I forgot to review this movie. I could have sworn... This is probably telling. What many critics are placing in their Top 10 Lists, I am firmly placing in the worst. I love the ennui of Noah Baumbach. "The Squid & The Whale" and "Margot at the Wedding" are wonderful films about family dysfunction. It was particularly painful when after watching this movie (co-written by and co-starring his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh- love!) that they announced they were divorcing. Is "Greenberg" a study at their own lives? Who is misanthrope Ben Stiller representing? The shining light in a movie that is too depressing for its own good is Greta Gerwig, of the Mumblecore film movement, really shines through as a young woman trying to find her own way and getting caught up in the experience of Greenberg. There is a moment in the film when she is dancing for him and for a second you think he's going to change and stop self destructing. Of course, he instantly realizes that too and acts like a jackass. I don't mind depressing movies, really. Sometimes there is nothing better that drinking a bottle of wine and crying. "Greenberg" however isn't just depressing, he's narcissistic and arrogant. He makes you want to punch him in the knee caps. Why would I want to watch a guy like that for 2 hours?


And now for the movies that made you shrug your sholders and promptly forgot about a month later. Here is my list of the movies of 2010 I ended up just being ambivilant about:

Alice in Wonderland


Robin Hood- This got 3.5 stars?

The Crazies- I think with a good amount of beer, this movie could be more enjoyable.

Valentine's Day

Survival of the Dead

Hot Tub Time Machine

The Last Exorcism

Chloe

It's a Mad, Mad, World

* (1 star)



I’m not sure where to start. I’ve been thinking about this review for two days now. “Mad Cowgirl” may be one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I would have given this zero stars if that was something I would do, but; I don’t. The lowest rating is 1 and that’s what “Mad Cowgirl” gets. It is not a “question movie”- You cannot ask the screen a question expecting any kind of answer. I assure you, there are none. Instead, you can only make statements such as: “I have no idea what is going on”, “I thought this would be funny”, “If she is actually having sex with her brother, granted it’s James Duval, I will vomit”, and “I just vomited”.

There doesn’t seem to be any real story here, just a director trying very hard to be subversive about ten years too late. I could have forgiven it more had it not been a poor attempt to, what?; impress Gregg Araki? Casting a bunch of actor’s that have worked with him does not make your movie more interesting. That’s not how it’s done! Gregory Hatanaka is making movies for himself and his friends (I assume they like them as they all seem to be working on this picture), that should have stayed in the comfort of their L.A. squat.

Here goes on the plot. The movie opens with a 70s style public service announcement about the dangers of mad cow disease and how your vegetarian starter kit is available in the lobby after the film. Totally funny and a good idea for midnight showings. Unfortunately, this movie is so bad that dream will never become reality. Therese (Sarah Lassez), a meat inspector, flits through life providing shoddy health code inspections and having a lot of sex with strangers and her "true love" Pastor Dylan (Walter Koenig, Chekov in the “Star Trek” movies). Gross. Her brother, Thierry (Duval), manages a meat processing plant that is severely tainted. Don’t worry, she just shakes her head at him and accepts the free meat he gives her. Later, Therese learns she has some sort of brain disease and she begins to go a bit crazy. No one seems to notice though, even when she stars to believe she is the real life incarnation of her favorite kung fu star, Cindy the Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick, and begins killing people/defeating the 12 Tigers.


The problem is, this is never really explained. We assume Therese is crazy long before she gets the diagnosis. There are about 5 different languages going on here, and Therese seemingly understands them all. Her doctor speaks to her in Sinhala (Sri Lankan dialect); she speaks French to her mother, English to everyone else, with a bit of Spanish thrown in for good measure. The poorly written script is filled out with bible quotes instead of dialog that might move the story along. Therese seems to have a fetish for the divine and not only has sex with her boyfriend while listening to his sermons, but also seeks out a Catholic priest to corrupt and have sex with during a double feature of porn and kung fu in a seedy movie theatre. Is she doing any of these things or only hallucinating? Do we at any point care? By the time she starts killing people, I was bored out of my gourd.

“Mad Cowgirl” throws everything but the kitchen sink into it- oral sex, raw meat, exposed breasts, incest, blood, kung fu, 70s porn, televangelism, paranoia, corruption, religion, morals. An actual kitchen sink would have been a welcome dose of humor! If this were a student film, I may have been able to over look much of the junk thrown in. It is shot primarily in super close up and most scenes contain little more than the actress staring off into space. Oh, so indie! Why there needed to be three cinematographers is beyond me.

What must the script have looked like? I really want to know what the actor’s read and if it made sense to them or sounded like a good idea at the time. Lassez has been kept busy, mostly in small indie/art films (“Nowhere”, “Lo”). It’s kind of a shame as she’s not a bad actress per se. Perhaps she needs to go back to TV. Duval is one of my favorite actors but sometimes I don’t understand his choices. He must be friends with Hatanaka as well. I mean, he’s the younger Keanu Reeves (and I mean that in the best possible way)! Like Keanu circa “My Own Private Idaho”. Please James, please don’t do any more movies like this.


The only good thing about “Mad Cowgirl”? The line, “I love you more when you’re gone”.

I’ve turned off very few films and the only reason I didn’t turn this one off was you dear reader. I just kept hoping it would get funny, even unintentionally so, or that something would be explained. I don’t mean in a hold-my-hand-and-tell-me-the-meaning-of-life kind of way, but anything would have been much appreciated.

I loved one of the reviews for this movie on Netflix. “The graphic designer that made the cover of this movie look cool can go fly a kite!” To that I say, "Here here!"

26 December 2010

They Say You've Got True Grit

***** (5 stars)


I'm not sure the Cohen brothers could do wrong if they tried. Sure, they had a bit of a bobble in the early 2000s with "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Man Who Wasn't There", but it seemed more for them to prove to themselves whether or not they could step outside their comfort zone. They could not. Since their first film "Blood Simple", I have been a fan, and with their latest effort, they tackle the classic Western and a classic film at that.

"True Grit" is based more on the book by Charles Portis than the 1978 John Wayne classic (the only Oscar win for the actor). It tells the story of Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), a precocious 14-year old set on avenging the death of her father at the hands of infamous criminal and dim wit Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). To aid in her quest, she hires washed up drunkard Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a U.S. Marshal with the titular aplomb. Wandering in and out of the hunt is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef) who's been tracking Chancey through several states, played by the impressively moustachioed Matt Damon. Through Mattie's determination and hard will, and Rooster's knowledge of the underworld of Arkansas, the two will embark on a treacherous and often funny adventure towards revenge and redemption.

The film is a casting agents wet dream. Steinfeld is a revelation. I may use that word too often, but her performance is really something to see. She is truly deserving of her SAG nomination and in any other year would have surely garnered a Golden Globe nod as well. How someone so young (she was 14 when shooting the picture) could deliver a performance that is so confident and assured amidst Titans of the industry is impressive. That she does it with humour as well left me gobsmacked.


Jeff Bridges is competing against himself this weekend (see my review of "Tron:Legacy" here). He channels his inner Dude (a figure in many ways most resembling him in the real world) and infuses his Rooster with a sense of humour about himself and an inner desire to do good even though he would rather be drinking and sleeping. The verbal tet-a-tete's between him and Damon are some of the best acting scenes in recent memory. He is at the top of his game and stands a chance of becoming the 4th male to win back to back acting Oscars (Spencer Tracy, Jason Robards, and Tom Hanks before him). He missed out on the Globe, but they can be a fickle bunch. Perhaps they didn't like that this was a remake of sorts. Who knows! I'm keeping my fingers crossed he gets nominated.

Damon comes off with the kind of chutzpah that first attracted us to him in "Good Will Hunting". He is the underdog amongst underdogs. Whether being bested by a young girl and a drunken old man or the criminal that is constantly alluding him, he has a strong determination to see this quest through and collect the reward he has been chasing for months. We aren't sure if we are supposed to like LaBoeuf or if he is a sort of anti-villain; someone to get in the way of Mattie's ultimate goal. Through his actions, we find that he is a man of honor and true grit as well.

In the final showdown between good and evil, Chancy has met up with a gang of petty criminals and thieves led by Lucky Ned Pepper (a hardly recognizable Barry Pepper). [side note: Where the heck has Barry Pepper been and what is up with directors making attractive men so much less so?] It is a moment that is both climactic and reserved. The point is not in the action but in what said action sequences represent. It is a defining moment for each character. 


Long time collaborator Roger Deakins brings together both the expanse of unsettled early America and the intimacy between characters with his cinematography. Can we get this guy an Oscar for Pete's sake?!

I was weary about this movie, the original being one of my favorite Westerns of all time; but in the ever capable hands of the Cohen brothers it is a thing of beauty. My father remarked that it is much more in keeping with the novel than the earlier film. I haven't read the book but I will take his word on it. What is evident is that this movie stands alone and outside comparison with the Wayne version. They are almost different entities and are completely different films. I hope this movie does well and we can usher back an age of the Western, the undoubtedly American genre of film that I thought "3:10 to Yuma" would have done in 2007. Of course, that was also a remake so maybe the point is we need new Westerns. Someone call Clint Eastwood and tell him to quit making his political films and get back to business!

23 December 2010

Best Movies of 2010

I don't get to see every movie that comes out in a year. Unfortunately, I have a day job that makes me unavailable during much of the day and leaves me with little money to spend on movies that might be good. Going through the list of new film releases in 2010, I was struck depressed by the number of movies I meant to see but missed. Oh well, that's why god invented Netflix right?

What I like best about putting this list together is how often my opinion changes. While it is rare for a movie to move from bad to good, it may often move from bad to eh? or vice versa. What made it good cannot be undone (unless we're trying to look cool and pretend we didn't like a movie when we did, i.e. "The Switch"). I feel warm and fuzzy inside as I watch the "good" list surpass the other's in quantity. 2010 turned out to be a good year for movies! (Someone tell the HFPA that there were better comedies out there than "Burlesque", stat!)

Below is my list of the best of 2010. Each one was released in theatres in the U.S. this year (so video releases and foreign markets don't count) and, obviously, I have to have seen it. My picks for worst movies and "Eh?", which I call the ones I am ambivalent towards, will be posted later this week.

What should have made the list?

(in no particular order)

Iron Man 2


Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Pt 1

Inception

Tron: Legacy

Kick-Ass

Splice

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

The Runaways

Shutter Island

Repo Men

Devil

Centurion

44 Inch Chest

The Social Network

Black Swan

Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Played with Fire/Kicked the Hornet's Nest)

Easy A

The Fighter

The Switch

The Kids Are All Right

127 Hours

Ondine

Never Let Me Go

The Killer Inside Me

Suck

The Extra Man

19 December 2010

The Legacy Continues

**** (4 stars)


I so rarely get to sit down and type out my review immediatly following the movie, but I am today. Please bare with me and keep that in mind if some of this doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm just too excited to wait!

The original "Tron" was a massive failure. Still, on video and at countless midnight showings across the country it is considered a forgotten gem, a camp classic for the ages. Now, almost 30 years later it is getting a reboot in the form of a continuation story. "Tron: Legacy" picks up almost where the original left off. After getting sucked into his own computer program, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) sends a message through the ethos to his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Soon, Sam finds himself trapped in the grid amidst an ancient battle between Flynn's alter ego Clu and his father. With the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), another program and Flynn's protege, they must rescue Flynn and return home before Clu can cross over and reek havoc on Earth.


The first thing that hits you while watching "Legacy" is the look. Gone are the fuzzy, almost pastel lights and sound stages. Here is a whole world created with the magic of CG and the technology unavailable in the early 80s. This is a movie that was screaming for a remake! Thank you Hollywood. Bridges plays both his current aged self and the ageless Clu, ssimilar to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", and the FX team must have crossed themselves since they had access to footage of Bridges from the original movie. While in the grid universe, this copy and paste technique works wonderfully. Everything has that slick, wet look and the light suits and weapons cast a similar glow to all the actors. It is truly amazing. However, a brief scene in the beginning of the film was misguided. It totally removed me from the story to see a shiny, happy Bridges talking to his young son. Oh well, we can't win all the time.

Kevin Ishioka ("Avatar", "Chronicles of Riddick") does an amazing job with the art direction of the film. Usually, talking at length about how good a film looks would be the kiss of death, but "Legacy" relies on the sets, the FX, the costumes, to bring this world to life. If we don't buy it, it's just "Tron: Redux". I can't say enough about how great and consuming the overall look of the film was. The 3D was also pretty good. It wasn't campy or trying to hard. It just gave depth to the computer world and breathed life into it. If 3D was used this consciously in every movie, maybe I wouldn't have such a huge problem with it.


This new "Tron" also has a nice script by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (the writers/producers of "Lost" TV series, "Birds of Prey"). They seamlessly weaved in the recap of the first movie without making it seem like an afterthought. Quorra has some really nice lines and the relationships between all the characters is well developed. If there is a weak point, it's in James Haygood's editing. At 129 minutes, it's just a tad too long. Some scenes seem like they were thrown in last second (or more realistically, after a bad screening). During a lovely conversation between reunited father and son, we jump cut to Clu in his lair for the ubiquitous and meaningless "I'm gonna get you Kevin Flynn" moment, then jump back to the dinner table conversation. What was the point? We know he's out to get him. That's what they're talking about at the table! I wish more movies could leave a bit to the audience to imagine (great case in point- the sparse "Black Swan"). It could have been much tighter. The score by techno-legends Daft Punk is very good though a bit overwhelming in places. It's as if the director and editor didn't know what to do so they just layered a loud piece of music over the scene. It's not really Joseph Kosinski's fault, or really anything to blame. Far worse has occurred in other director's first films and I'm sure he will have a long career if he wants it.

The action scenes and fights are really fun to watch, especially the grid battle between teams of light cycles. I nominate David Leitch ("300", "Fight Club") for a Stuntman Award. His coordination of the films stunts is great and we never give the stuntmen and coordinator enough credit. Applause!! My buddy who went with me and I both agreed that the sound was off the charts! How nice to see a movie that finds that perfect pitch of quiet and loud. A certain Oscar contender.


If it is possible to love Olivia Wilde more, it is after seeing this movie. I never watched "The O.C.", but I really liked her in "Alpha Dog", the short lived "The Black Donnelly's", and she was certainly the best thing about "Turistas". "House" also picked up once she was cast as 13. In "Legacy", she gets to play something totally different- a girl. Not someone tough and jaded or guarded, but a strong young woman who finds humor in the smallest places. I highly recommend reading the interview she gave to /film where she talks about fleshing out the character and the importance that she not be just another pretty face (which she certainly is). I just loved her!

Bridges is best when it's actually him acting and not his CGI morphed face on another actor's body, but that's a bit to be expected. Hedlund (the upcoming "Country Strong", "Eragon") does a fine though somewhat flat job as Sam. He is at his best when acting opposite Wilde and in the more tender moments between himself and Bridges. I'm certainly curious to see more from him, though am reserving love or hate for later.

If you have any interest in seeing "Tron: Legacy", you must see it in the theatre and I recommend in 3D.

PS- Someone get me a light cycle!!

18 December 2010

The Kids Are Alright

**** (4.5 stars)



I love Lisa Cholodenko's style of writing and directing. It sounds like how real people talk to one another and looks like real life. That is not to say it's boring in any way, it isn't, only to say she is a truly talented director. “High Art” and “Laurel Canon” are two fantastic, and very different, films. Why is it that female directors only seem to make one movie every 5-10 years but Ben Stiller keeps cranking out the crap? Get on it ladies!

“The Kids Are All Right” (nominated for multiple Golden Globe, Spirit, and SAG awards) tells the story of a married couple Nic and Jules (Annette Beining and Julianne Moore) during the last summer before their daughter goes off to college. Now that she’s 18, Joanie (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”) can finally petition to find out who is the donor daddy to her and her half brother Laser. Said daddy turns out to be beatnik-y Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who personifies our ideas about Los Angeles. He owns an all local restaurant and farms his own organic produce. He rides a motorcycle and likes fine wine. He’s a stud. The ménage-a-trois that results between the adults is at times heartbreaking and funny.


Cholodenko recognizes the differences in this family ("Joanie has two mommies"), but keeps it focused on the bigger picture of family as opposed to making it cliché. Nic is a bit overbearing and seems to love her wine more than she does her partner at times. Jules is the free spirit, kept at home to raise the kids, she starts and stops businesses with the whimsy most of us pick out an outfit. Together they are ying and yang, and that’s why it works. Feeling alone and frustrated with the everyday familiarity that comes with a long-term relationship, Jules steps outside the marriage in an attempt to save it.

The big surprise for me here was the kids. Wasikowska didn't impress me much in "Alice in Wonderland", but she has that perfect 70s vibe that's all the rage these days. Even under all the long hair she wears as a mask over her face, her pixie like innocence is staggering. She’s happy with what is and doesn’t want to rock the boat. Her brother, on the other hand, is at the age when a male figure would be welcome and he pushes his sister to explore their more true identity. Hutcherson looks so familiar to me but I realized I've never really seen any of his films (“Zathura”, “Bridge over Terabitha”). It's mostly kiddie stuff. In this film, he gets to grow up and find his voice. The look of excitement on his face on the way to meet their donor, the deep seeded pain when he realizes his family is falling apart; are signs of burgeoning genius. I hope he sticks with the more adult fare.


In her now traditional style, the film doesn’t so much end as she simply stops filming. We don’t know what happened before the movie started, so why should we know what happens in the end? This is a family still growing, still learning, still recovering. It is a wonderful movie and still my pick for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes.

[side note: Attention ladies with an unhealthy addiction to "America's Next Top Model". (Of course you're only watching it to make fun of Tyra. We believe you. You may recognize the hostess at Paul's restaurant as YaYa from cycle 3, the snobby runner-up. Well, we get to see a whole lot of her in this movie. FYI.]

[side side note: Have you seen the trailer for the latest remake of "Jane Eyre"? It looks fantastic. I loved the Zefirelli film with Charlotte Gainsbourg, but the book made me want to kill myself. I'm holding out hope for Wasikowska now that I know she can act. Throw in Michael Fassbender and I'm sold!]

16 December 2010

The Fighter

**** (4 stars)


Following up his successful collaboration with Mark Wahlberg in "Three Kings" and the critic's favorite "I Heart Huckabees", director David O. Russell is back with "The Fighter". The true story of a down on his luck boxer and his even further down the rabbit hole brother, it has already garnered critical acclaim and several high profile nominations (Golden Globe, SAG).

Mark Wahlberg is Mickey, a welterweight "stepping stone" who gets beat up more than he actually boxes. In his corner is his brother Dickey (sublime Christian Bale) who used to be a notable fighter in his day before succumbing to drugs, and his mother (Melissa Leo) who's also his manager. When Mickey meets Charlene (Amy Adams), he gains the confidence to step out on his own and look out for himself first with family obligations second. Soon he finds he has a shot at the title, but is it worth anything without his brother?

The city of Lowell, Massachusetts plays as much a character in the film as any of the actor's. It's is the picture by which we all imagine the Boston suburbs to be- hard, down on their luck Irish with drinking problems and anger issues. Instead, this film portrays it's residents as equal parts "trash" and hero. They take pride in the few things they've got and don't let anyone mess with them.


Wahlberg delivers much as you would expect him to. He's the perfect toughie with the heart of a lamb. The scenes of him boxing (shot in cinema vérité style by Hoyte Van Hoytema, "Let the Right One In") are brilliant; more in the style of "Raging Bull" than "Rocky", and certainly pay homage to the great boxing films that came before. When we first meet our heros, they are being interviewed by HBO for what they are told is a documentary chronicling Dickey's return to boxing. Each scene shifts from the standard 35 mm format to digital which recreates the televised fights and interviews.

I was surprised by how much this was really Dickey's story and Bale the powerful center of the film. It's his scenes you most look forward to. What is he going to ruin now? How will he regain Mickey's trust? Who is he going to hurt next? Bale famously dropped weight for this movie but it isn't in your face as it was in "The Machinist". Instead, his frail yet powerful body are a map to his triumphs and struggles. It amazes me the amount of stress he puts it through, yet it never fails him. The guy really needs a few films where he can just enjoy a normal weight as I'm sure the frequent fluctuations are not good for his long term health. Dickey can't seem to catch a break, so he lives through his brother. He pushes him and molds him to be what he never was instead of allow him to be his own person. It is an amazing story of brotherhood more so than it is a tale of boxing.

Melissa Leo is genius as their mother. Overprotecting and oblivious to what's going on around her and how she is manipulating her sons. She deserves all the nominations she can get and is my front runner to win the Golden Globe. On the reverse, Mickey's dad (Jack McGee, "Rescue Me", "NYPD Blue") is the caring father, the true Irish standard. He only has eyes for his son and won't let anyone, not even his wife, run him down. Adams looks haggard, which I suppose is on purpose, but I just kept thinking, "She's not going to age well". That really has nothing to do with her performance except it was a bit distracting. She surprised me actually. I think of her as the "cute girl", the chick from "Enchanted" and "Julie & Julia". Even in "Doubt" when she was able to attack a more serious role, she always looked dow-eyed  and sweet. She gets to be dirty here and it's as if for the first time she believes what she is doing and who she is portraying. I can only applaud Russell for his excellent direction as she gives a performance I'm not sure she could have with anyone else.
[side note: I now believe Adams could be Janis Joplin. Well, maybe believe is a bit strong, but I'm certainly less opposed.]


I really liked this movie. Maybe part of it had to do with seeing it in a packed theatre with an audience that applauded during the fights. It is always a better viewing experience when the audience gets wrapped up in the film, when they laugh, cry, cheer. Somehow I always enjoy myself more than if I were at home with a bottle of wine by myself. I recommend "The Fighter". It is not what you think it is. It's about family, and struggles, and triumphs. Oh, and it's also a little about boxing.

15 December 2010

Golden Globe Nominations

The nominations have been announced and as with every year there are some surprises and some snubs. Below is the complete list with my opinions on who will and/or should win. Of course, we'll have to wait until January 16th to find out for sure!


Best Motion Picture- Drama
- "Black Swan"
- "The Fighter"
- "Inception"
- "The King's Speech"
- "The Social Network"

Personally, I would love to see "Inception" win here. This is a movie that continues to twist audiences brains and illicit deep conversation. "Black Swan" is an amazing film, and if it is going to win any of the major awards in the U.S., the Golden Globe is it. Voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFP), this movie has done very well over seas and has a very European feel to it.

Best Performance by an Actress- Drama
- Halle Berry ("Frankie and Alice")
- Nicole Kidman ("Rabit Hole")
- Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone")
- Natalie Portman ("Black Swan")
- Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine")

This is Portman's to lose. I've heard amazing things about Williams but am with holding judgement until I see "Blue Valentine". Berry and Kidman play other versions of past winners and Lawrence should just be excited for the nomination.

Best Performance by an Actor- Drama
- Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network")
- Colin Firth ("The King's Speech")
- James Franco ("127 Hours")
- Ryan Gosling ("Blue Valentine")
- Mark Wahlberg ("The Fighter")

This is going to be a tough race. I would put my money on Franco and his extremely honest performance, but we may be surprised by Firth or Eisenberg. Wahlberg does a wonderful job in "The Fighter" (my full review will be posted later today), but the star of that show is really Christian Bale.

Best Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical
- "Alice in Wonderland"
- "Burlesque"
- "The Kids Are All Right"
- "Red"
- "The Tourist"

These are some weird nominees. Recently, it seems like the HFP is just grabbing at straws for enough films to fill this category. That being said, I think "The Kids Are All Right" is the clear winner. "Alice" was all style, no substance. "Burlesque" hasn't won raves for anything. "Red" may be a surprise here, but I didn't like it. And, why is "The Tourist" in this category? Is it funny? If so, maybe I misjudged it but I think others will be confused as well.

Best Performance by an Actress- Comedy or Musical
- Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right")
- Anne Hathaway ("Love and Other Drugs")
- Angelina Jolie ("The Tourist")
- Julianne Moore ("The Kids Are All Right")
- Emma Stone ("Easy A")

Holy f-ing Batman, Batman! Stone is nominated for "Easy A"? I'm tickled pink over this even though I don't think she will win. What a coup for her and "R" rated comedy though. My monies on Bening.

Best Performance by an Actor- Comedy or Musical
- Johnny Depp ("Allice in Wonderland")
- Johnny Depp ("The Tourist")
- Paul Giamatti ("Barney's Version")
- Jake Gyllenhaal ("Love and Other Drugs")
- Kevin Spacey ("Casino Jack")

Hmmm.... I'm not in love with any of these. Depp may cancel himself out, though I did like his performance in "Alice". Giamatti is an award show favorite but not enough people have seen his movie. I didn't even know it was out yet, though it does look good. Gyllenhaal has been overshadowed by Hathaway and Spacey has been off the radar for too long and no one saw that movie. It's a coin flip.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
- Amy Adams ("The Fighter")
- Helena Bonham Carter ("The King's Speech")
- Mila Kunis ("Black Swan")
- Melissa Leo ("The Fighter")
- Jackie Weaver ("Animal Kingdom")

I have heard amazing things about "Animal Kingdom" but it's not out in my market yet. Melissa Leo (Oscar nominated in 2009) should win this hands down. Her turn as a deluded mother/manager in "The Fighter" was brilliant.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
- Christian Bale ("The Fighter")
- Michael Douglas ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps")
- Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network")
- Jeremy Renner ("The Town")
- Geoffrey Rush ("The King's Speech")

I feel bad for everyone not named Christian Bale this year. He was mesmerizing. It takes a lot for us to forget we're watching Batman, but he is able to do it.

Best Animated Feature
- "Despicable Me"
- "How to Train Your Dragon"
- "The Illusionist"
- "Tangled"
- "Toy Story 3"

I don't watch a lot of modern animated movies. For me, everything after "The Secret of Nihm" is lost to me. So, I will defer to my friends who said "Despicable Me" was amazing.

Best Foreign Language Film
- "Biutiful" (Mexico, Spain)
- "The Concert" (France)
- "The Edge" (Russia)
- "I Am Love" (Italy)
- "In a Better World" (Denmark)

I have to vote for "I Am Love" simply because I cannot deny my platonic love for Tilda Swinton. She can do no wrong! Close second for Javier Bardem"Biutiful" and "In a Better World".

Best Director- Motion Picture
- Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan")
- David Fincher ("The Social Network")
- Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech")
- Christopher Nolan ("Inception")
- David O. Russell ("The Fighter")

Another race I'm glad to not be a part of. Who the heck is going to win?! I'm betting on Aronofsky. He is a true auteur and made an exceptionally beautiful and haunting film. Nolan seems destined to be the bridesmaid again this year, but I might but a little action on him. Russell and Hooper are out. The only person who could upset this is Fincher.

Best Screenplay- Motion Picture
- "127 Hours" (Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle)
- "Inception" (Christopher Nolan)
- "The Kids Are All Right" (Stuart Blumberf, Lisa Cholodenko)
- "The King's Speech" (David Seidler)
- "The Social Network" (Aaron Sorkin)

I really want this to be "Inception". What a marvelous piece of writing. His ability to keep it all straight in his head should be reason enough to reward Nolan. Sorkin however is also a good bet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Best Score- Motion Picture
-"The King's Speech" (Alexandre Desplat)
- "Alice in Wonderland" (Danny Elfman)
- "127 Hours" (A. R. Rahman)
- "The Social Network" (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross)
- "Inception" (Hans Zimmer)

Who wouldn't love to see Trent Reznor on stage accepting a Golden Globe. I'm pretty sure it's the 2nd sign of the apocalypse and fraking cool! Elfman has never won and I think is hardly going to with this effort. Rahman won last year for "Slumdog" and this However, I think the award goes to Zimmer. He made something simply amazing and my sister's boyfriend (and budding Zimmer himself) says he is the man. I agree.

Best Original Song- Motion Picture
- "Bound to You" ("Burlesque")
- "Coming Home" ("Country Strong")
- "I See The Light" ("Tangled")
- "There's a Place for Us" ("Chronicles of Narnia")
- "You Haven't Seen The Last of Me" ("Burlesque")

I have no idea... "Burlesque"?

Best TV Series- Drama
- "Boardwalk Empire"
- "Dexter"
- "The Good Wife"
- "Mad Men"
- "The Walking Dead"

Finally, competition for "Mad Men". I would really love to see "Boardwalk" take this one home (though the safe money is still on "Mad Men"). As much as I love zombies, I don't think the voters will.

Best Performance by an Actress- TV Drama
- Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife")
- Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men")
- Piper Perabo ("Covert Affairs")
- Katey Sagal ("Sons of Anarchy")
- Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer")

I'm thinking about making "Gemma for President" shirts so I can show my support of the fantastic Katey Sagal. It's about time she gets some recognition! PS- I totally watch "Covert Affairs" and cannot believe it was nominated. It's like "Alias" but kind of funny.

Best Performance by an Actor- TV Drama
- Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire")
- Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad")
- Michael C. hall ("Dexter")
- Jon Hamm ("Mad Men")
- Hugh Laurie ("House")

Someone bring Cranston down! There should be a rule that the same person cannot win "x" years in a row. I'm sending all my good juju to Buscemi and his brilliantly sympathetic and frightful "Nucky" Thompson.

Best TV Series- Comedy or Musical
- "30 Rock"
- "The Big Bang Theory"
- "The Big C"
- "Glee"
- "Modern Family"
- "Nurse Jackie"

All hail "Modern Family"!

Best Performance by an Actress- TV Comedy
- Ton Collette ("United States of Tara")
- Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie")
- Tina Fey ("30 Rock")
- Laura Linney ("The Big C")
- Lea Michele ("Glee")

I love Laura Linney and hope she gets it. Her show makes me a bit crazy, but she does a great job on it. Otherwise, it's a fight to the death between Collette and Falco.

Best Performance by an Actor- TV Comedy
- Alec Baldwin (30 Rock")
- Steve Carell ("The Office")
- Thomas Jane ("Hung")
- Matthew Morrison ("Glee")
- Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory")

It's Parsons for the win, but who wants to make side bets on whether or not Jane shows up with shoes on or not?

Best Mini-Series or Made for TV Movie
- "Carlos"
- "The Pacific"
- "Pillars of Earth"
- "Temple Grandin"
- "You Don't Know Jack"

While I would like to see "The Pacific" win, I think it will go to Emmy-winning "Temple Grandin"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series
- Hayley Atwell ("Pillars of Earth")
- Claire Danes ("Temple Grandin")
- Judi Dench ("Return to Cranford")
- Romola Garai ("Emma")
- Jennifer Love Hewitt ("The Client List")

Big money again on Danes, though I am pleased to see the inclusion of Garai. She is an actress I have liked for a long time and am glad to see her get some due.

Best Performance by and Actor in a Mini-Series
- Idris Elba ("Luther")
- Ian McShane ("Pillars of Earth")
- Al Pacino ("You Don't Know Jack")
- Dennis Quaid ("The Special Relationship")
- Edgar Ramirez ("Carlos")

Another tough race. I hope Elba wins. He was amazing in "Luther" on BBC America. Really, any of them could win and I'd be happy.

Best Performance by a Supporting Actress- TV
- Hope Davis ("The Special relationship")
- Jane Lynch ("Glee")
- Kelly MacDonald ("Boardwalk Empire")
- Julia Stiles ("Dexter")
- Sofia Vergara ("Modern Family")

Please be Lynch, please be Lynch, please be Lynch. She is the best (and possibly only) reason to watch "Glee". maybe there can be a tie between her and MacDonald!

Best Performance by a Supporting Actor- TV
- Scott Caan ("Hawaii Five-O")
- Chris Colfer ("Glee")
- Chris Noth ("The Good Wife")
- Eric Stonestreet ("Modern Family")
- David Strathairn ("Temple Grandin")

Make that two reasons to watch "Glee". Colfer is amazing, but I think it's more about the writing. Caan is the best thing about his show too, but it's too new. Money on Stonestreet with a possible upset by Strathairn. I just love him, although I always think he might smell a bit. Can't explain it.

There you go! Who would you vote for?

11 December 2010

The League of Evil Exes Strikes!

**** (4.5 stars)


I’m a little behind. Where I once went to the movies every weekend, sometimes more; now, I find myself struggling to find the time to watch even my Netflix rentals. Chuck & Beans put this beautifully in a cartoon published recently:

You know the feeling- I work all day for little pay, but at least there’s the weekend. It sounds like a country song. But, what if you work weekends? How are you supposed to indulge your greatest desire, to see every movie that comes out as soon as it comes out? I missed “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” when it hit theatres. It’s especially sad as it was a movie I was super excited about. Edgar Wright is the reigning master of the odd blend of low and high-brow comedy England is famous for. From the TV series “Spaced”, to his mock-u-genre pictures “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, I think the man is brilliant. When my Dad and I went to see “Hot Fuzz” in the theatre, we were a bit dismayed by the fact we were the only ones laughing, and laughing loud and hard. Surely the comedy wouldn’t be lost on Americans who didn’t grow up watching “The Thin Blue Line”. What? They weren’t addicted to PBS like we were? Oh well.


Based on a series of comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim follows the titular character on his quest for the girl of his dreams Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Wolf Lake”, “Final Destination 3”). Unfortunately, Ramona has some serious baggage in the form of The League of Exes- 7 Evil Exes who try to control the fate of Ramona’s love life. In order to be with her, he must defeat (i.e. kill) them all. How exactly is a scrawny sad sack and deluded Lothario supposed to do that? Why, with all his years of video game training of course! Each fight resembles something straight out of Nintendo with the defeated villain worth points and coins. When a fist or foot connects, it resembles Adam West’s “Batman”. Ka Pow! Will Scott win his lady love? Will his band Sex Bob-Omb win the Toronto Battle of the Bands?

                              Computer: You've got mail.
                              Scott Pilgrim: Dude, this thing claims I have mail.
                              Wallace Wells (Keiran Culkin): It's amazing what we can do with
                                                                                computers these days.
                              Scott Pilgrim: Dude, now I'm totally reading it.

Scott Pilgrim is almost too smart for mainstream audiences. It’s heavy pop culture references are lost on anyone under 25 and even then it’s a slippery slope. One scene plays like an episode of “Seinfeld” complete with theme music and laugh track. Another opens with the Universal Studios’ (the distributor of the film) theme music playing. The winks and nods to Hollywood movie and comic book culture are all over the film. On second viewing, it became a bit of a game to identify them all.

Cera steps out of his comfort zone a bit here, even if it’s only a foot outside. He is less bumbling and awkward, a little more confident. We have to believe that Scott could defeat these evil exes and that a girl would be interested in him. He has depth that has previously been under the covers before. That we do believe it is, I hope, testament to the growth of Cera as an actor and I hope the direction he will be using going forward in his career.
Each evil ex has their own personality and sad story (often shown as animated cells from the comic book). Ex #1 Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) fights with the full force of a Bollywood number behind him. Ex #2, Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, “Fantastic Four”, “London”) uses his stunt doubles to do his dirty work. Ex #3 turns out to be a girl, Ex #4 (Brandon Routh, “Superman”) harnesses the power of veganism in a seriously hilarious scene also featuring Scott’s ex Envy (Brie Larson, “United States of Tara”). After defeating a set of twins, Scott must now face the ultimate evil- Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman, "Rushmore") who is also the record producer they’ve been tracking since the beginning of the film. Get the girl or the record contract?


Scott’s band mates and roommate provide much of the comic banter and inside jokes strewn throughout the movie. Each character is introduced by a title bubble that pops up on the bottom of the screen giving their basic information (Name, age, position in the band, etc). Mark Webber (“Storytelling”) is the singer, Alison Pill (“Pieces of April”) the drummer and Scott’s ex. Her acerbic wit and deadpan delivery account for many laughs. Stuck on the sideline is Young Neil (Johnny Simmons, “Jennifer’s Body”) who is the perfect groupie and lackey combined. Keiran Culkin ("Igby Goes Down") is Scott's gay roommate who eggs him on in battle and steals everyone's boyfriends. He's also hilarious and has many of the best one-liners in the film. Personally, I like Keiran a lot and hope he continues to make interesting, indie movies.

"Kick her in the balls!" - Wallace Wells

I really loved “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” and plan to buy it soon if for no other reason than the special features are not available on the rental disc. Blast!! All I want to do is watch some bloopers.

08 December 2010

Odds and Ends

The NY Times released "14 Actors Acting" with many stars (both international and domestic) portraying classic archetypes. The one with Natalie Portman is reminds me of a great burlesque performer. I also liked how Tilda Swinton's was reminiscent of "Jeanne d'arc". Is there anyone else to play that part in such minimalist style? Which is your favorite?

*****************************************************************

IMBD.com reports that "Blue Valentine" has received an "R" rating- finally! Unless we can see full penetration, there is no reason for a sex scene to automatically receive an NC-17 rating. What about "A History of Violence"? If the MPAA's reasoning was that Michelle Williams character was not completely game with what was happening, doesn't Cronenberg's film fit the same bill? How emotionally devastating was the scene on the stairs between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello? What do you think about the decision and are you excited to finally see what all the fuss was about?



*****************************************************************

Does there really need to be a sequel to "Clash of the Titans"? Did anyone like that movie? $163 million domestic sounds impressive, until you factor in that the movie cost upwards of $125 million. It gets a bit better with foreign distribution, but as I always say, "If they liked it, let 'em have it!"

*****************************************************************

Finally, my tip to you: The best way to get squares out of a bar is to play "Jennifer's Body" at a slightly higher than normal decibel. This worked well for me after a concert I was working in tandem with. Nothing makes the elderly move quickly like the line, "It smells like Thai food in here. Have you guys been fucking?"

05 December 2010

Francophile is Not a 4-Letter Word

According to my father (The Walking IMDB, Sr), there are two types of people: Those who love French cinema and those who don't. We easily fall into the former category and lap up anything with a Gaulic twist. I'm always weary of those who fall into the later category. What do they have against the French? Is it simply because it's "cool" to dislike them? Did a Frenchman steal their mother away from their father? Did they go to France once and get sick on foie gras? What did France ever do to them?

I randomly think about this topic throughout the year. I guess you could say I'm a bit obsessed. I love foreign films. An early diet of Herzog, Wenders, Wargnier, Truffaut, Godard, Kurosawa, Antonioni, etc; has bred me to prefer subtitles to dubbing, the avant garde to the normal. My parents are wonderful people with few restrictions when it came to movies when we were children. Sex, drugs, rock and roll; all were okay with Mom. She was a bit protective about gratuitous violence, but if it served the purpose of the story...


I started reading "Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard" this week. Of all the nouvelle vague auteurs, he is my favorite. "Vivre sa vie" my favorite movie, "Breathless", "Le Weekend", "Pierrot le fou", "Alphaville". Each and everyone is brilliant. The book is not designed for the casual reader though. The in depth study of the birth of New Wave, it's colourful characters, it's politics, is a bit daunting if you are not deeply interested. However, as a portrait of a man from a professional point of view only, it's quite good.


My dad asked me if I had ever seen "The Last Metro". It was on TV the other day and he caught it again. Oddly enough, I had just taped it. Truffaut's story about the German occupation of France centers on a fading theatre run by Marion (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband who must now hide in the basement from the Nazi's. For my dad it was a testament to the wonder of Deneuve, an actress I have always been passionate about. In her earlier works, he believed her beauty got in the way of her true talent. Here, in a more mature performance, he could recognize her subtle ability to blend into any character. Yet one does not become the face of a countries cinema and it's reigning queen on looks alone. How difficult it must be to forget you are watching Catherine Deneuve! She has appeared in over 100 films (!!) and worked steadily in 6 decades. What prompted me to push my viewing up on my internal list was his claim that it, and her performance, was better than "Indochine"- Which I have long believed to be her most amazing work and a great film.


With Christmas around the corner, it's time to brush off those movies that sit sadly on the bottom of the pile, waiting for that one day a year in which we watch them. For the francophile, a great choice is Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" (now available on Criterion). What could have easily been trite and boring has instead breathed new life into if by an amazing cast. Four generations come together for Christmas, but dysfunction wins out and lives are forever changed. Led by family matriarch (Denueve), the typical becomes atypical. Also starring a who's who of French cinema: Jean-Paul Roussillon , Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni (Denueve's real life daughter), Melvil Poupaud , Emmanuelle Devos , and Hippolyte Girardot . It is a depressing film for those of us who prefer Halloween to Christmas. 

So, where do you fall? Lover of French cinema or hater? Pro-foreign films or against?  

01 December 2010

The Birth of the Black Swan

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been starring at this page for twenty minutes. How do you review a movie that begs you to keep its secret? What can I say that won’t give anything away? That will preserve the purity and excitement of seeing it for the first time in a darkened theatre? I can tell you that my Best of 2010 list just got a lot more complicated.
Provocative director Darren Aronofsky’s 5th feature is “Black Swan” , a psychological drama set in the world of classical ballet (don't let that dissuade you guys, there's plenty for you as well).  Nina (Natalie Portman) is a rising star in the City Ballet company dreaming of being cast in a lead role, determined towards perfection, but with the timidness usually found in children and not in the cut throat world of professional dance.  When a new dancer enters the company (Mila Kunis), Nina's already fragile mind is threatened. Is she going mad or is her paranoia real?
After learning of this movie last year, I read very little about it, avoided all trailers, and only visited the viral companion site once (It’s pretty cool and doesn’t give much away. Hint: Type in the names of characters to reveal more information). It was a total media blackout on my end and I couldn’t have been happier! This movie should just happen to you. I’ve tried my best to avoid spoilers or, for that matter, any real information on story below. However, I do discuss the film (isn’t that why I’m here?) so proceed at your own risk.

Comparisons to Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” have been well publicized but I think a bit misplaced. Besides ballet and the occasional horrific moment in “Black Swan”, the two films are night and day. Instead, I think this film owes more to “Carrie” and the early work of Roman Polanski, especially “Repulsion”. Is it scary? At times, but it’s more haunting. The little nuances of each character, of the art direction (check out the background of almost any scene for additional insight to the character), the use of sound and editing, all create an atmosphere that pulls the audience into the twisted vision of both the director and characters. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique has worked on all of Aronofsky’s films, as well as “Gothika”, “Iron Man 1 & 2”, “Inside Man”, and “The Number 23”. Here he references 70s exploitation flicks with his use of low level lighting and close ups. In fact, the majority of the film is shot in close up and mid shots; keeping the audience inside the mind of Nina. The bustle of the camera advances our anxiety and nervousness. We are given an experience, a film that will crawl inside our minds and infect our brains. It is impossible to shake off.

[side note: I did enjoy the use of the “Suspiria” theme song in the trailers for “Black Swan”, but I think it was more a wink than a nod]
The film is belongs to Natalie Portman and it is hers to lose. Everyone else is a supporting player to her tour de force performance.  Portman can cry. She’s pretty good at it too. What’s really impressive is her transformation in this film. She looks like a ballerina (she studied dance until age 12), her body long and sinewy. Every thought and feeling reads on her face, at times making the audience uncomfortable. I love her. She seems like someone I would want to be friends with. We could chat about books or politics over yummy vegan fare and gossip about boys. There have been some baubles along the way (“Anywhere but Here”, “Star Wars”- don’t send your letters, those movies never needed to be made) but the highlights far outweigh. Must viewing:  “Leon/The Professional” (get the European version, “Leon”, if you can), “Beautiful Girls”, “Closer” (a double feature of this with “Black Swan” is sure to lead to heavy drinking), “V for Vendetta”, “Brothers”. I have high hopes for “Your Highness” and “Hesher” (both out next year I believe), but am worried about “Thor”. Dear god, please don’t let that movie hurt her.

The biggest surprise though may be Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey. Kunis has always been a comedic actress and one I don’t pay a lot of attention to. She’s talented; I loved her in “That ‘70s Show” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, but was unprepared for what she was capable of. By contrast, Hershey is a seasoned actress with multiple awards and nominations under her belt. Here, she is truthfully frightening. Vincent Casell is the perfect smarmy, talented ballet director and I expect him to be brilliant.
“Black Swan” is another example of when working with the same people pays off instead of hindering the project. From the DP, to the editor (Andrew Weisblum), to the composer (Clint Mansell- someone give this guy an Oscar nomination already), have all worked with Aronofsky before. New to the crew, Art Director David Stein should be praised as well.
A must see in the theatre. Perhaps I’ll see you there when I go again on Friday!

30 November 2010

Centurion

**** (4.5 stars)


It makes me nervous to say that Neil Marshall has never let me down. Having written and directed some of the most interesting horror films of the past 10 years, he continues to push the boundaries of what defines him as a filmmaker. His first feature film, “Dog Soldiers”, is on all of my personal lists: Best Horror, Best Movie You May Have Never Seen, etc. It is without question one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Following that, he took us spelunking in “The Descent” which managed to creep me out even though I watched the making of first! “Doomsday” is an underappreciated homage to apocalypse films like “Mad Max” and “The Road”. His newest release, “Centurion” departs from the unapologetic gore that earned him membership in the “Splat Pack”.

[side note: Other members of the “Splat Pack” include Alexandre Aja, “High Tension”, Darren Lynn Bousman, “Saw 2-4”, Greg Mclean, “Wolf Creek”, Eli Roth, “Hostel”, James Wan, “Saw”, Leigh Whannell, executive producer of the “Saw” franchise, and Rob Zombie, “Devil’s Rejects”. You can read more about them here.] 

“Centurion” tells the fabled story of Rome’s 9th Legion, one so deadly and feared, they were considered unstoppable. As with all things given such a grand title; they were eventually lost in the woods of Scotland and believed defeated by the Picts. Quintus Dias (the always amazing Michael Fassbender) is a Centurion who escapes capture by the Pict leader Gorlacon and joins up with the 9th while on the run. Shortly after, they are ambushed and General Titus Virilus (Dominic West) is captured. What is left of this great army must now fight to retrieve their fallen leader and escape back to the Roman stronghold. The Picts are not a passive people, and they hunt the Romans with equal virile and the help of their best scout, Etain (Olga Kurylenko). Kurylenko shrugs off any patina from her Bond girl days to play this tortured and mute tracker.


This film got a lot of attention due to its violence level (something we can surly expect from Marshall) and not for the interesting story, great camera work, and fine acting. The complexities of the relationships between the soldiers often mirror that between the Romans and the Picts. Of course its violent and gory, but much of it appears just off screen or from behind: A sword connects with a man’s head, but the camera is behind him so we never really see it connect. Here we have the Roman’s, a civilization that at that time controlled most of Europe and parts of Asian, up against the one enemy they can’t seem to tame, the Picts (Rome met equal resistance from all of the Celtic people). Is it any bloodier than “Glory” or “Saving Private Ryan”? Not really. The difference here is we are fighting with swords and bow and arrow. It’s always unsettling to me how a movie about war can be bloodless. Is this what we should be teaching our children? Not that children should see this movie per se, there is a lot of profanity and gore. (Don’t even get me started on the frequent use of the word “fuck” which was not recorded until the 16th century).


Filmed on location in Scotland, the cinematography of Sam McCurdy (Marshall’s longtime collaborator) is breathtaking. No establishing shot is wasted (*cough* *cough* Harry Potter), and is instead used to transport the viewer to the freezing tundra, dark and damp woods, or through a raging river. When coupled with Chris Gill’s editing (“28 Days Later”) it creates a tight 90 minutes of action and suspense. Make-up artist Paul Hyett (another frequent Marshall contributor, “Hunger”) has outdone himself as well. Legs are wacked off, heads severed from their body, gashes carved into the torsos of fallen soldiers. Bloody and disgusting.

If you haven’t already seen “Centurion”, I highly recommend you add it to your queue today!

29 November 2010

Doghouse

*** (3 stars)


"Alright, calm down... You sound like a dolphin"

I watched "Doghouse" on the recommendation from my friend who is equally obsessed with horror. We go back and forth sending trailers and posting articles about the latest, greatest, and missed treasures of gore and fright.

Doghouse follows a group of longtime friends out to cheer up their buddy following his divorce, and they only have one thing on their minds- birds (women). Well, maybe it will be nice to get away from their own nagging spouses too. On the suggestion of Mikey (Noel Clarke, "Centurion", "Doctor Who"), they travel to Moodly where his gran lives and the population is 4:1 ladies. Win-win, right? Wrong. All of the women have been turned into zombies with a craving for male blood and guts. Can the happy bachelor gang get out alive? Will any of them "score"? Will you care?

Director Jake West specializes in what I would call "B-horror, slapstick". His movies don't seem to try to be anything that they're not- bloody, gory, and void of plot or sense. His best know work may be "Razor Blade Smile" about a vampiress out for revenge against the Illuminati, or his addition to the "Pumpkinhead" idiom; the made for TV "Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes". Armed with this knowledge, I probably would have ignored my buddies advice, but the cast was too interesting to pass up. What were these guys doing in this movie?


The macho male crew is rounded out by leader and self proclaimed playboy Neil (Danny Dyer, "Human Traffic", "Malice in Wonderland"), the recent divorcé Vince (Stephen Graham, "Boardwalk Empire"-he's amazing!, "Public Enemies"), comic geek Matt (Lee Ingleby, "The Last Legion"), recent zen convert Patrick (Keith-Lee Castle, "Seed of Chucky"), the requisite homosexual Graham (Emil Marwa, "East is East"), and slacker Banksy (Neil Maskell). They're driven to the country by Christina Cole ("Hex") whom they immediately dub "Candy". Eventually, the guys run into an Army guy (Terry Stone) trying his best to kill the "zombirds" and redeem himself in the role he played in their creation.

If I were not a woman, or had the ability to completely check my brain at the door, I may have liked this movie more. Unfortunately, all I could think about was how misogynistic the men were (no wonder their women hate them), and how I wished they would die. The story lags about, not quite sure if it's a comedy or just a B-movie. Women are harlots and zombies hell bent on destroying/pacifying a man and men are the lonely victims to their plans. Please.

The opening scenes of the movie rip off British gangster movies with each character being introduced to us through the misdeeds they do to their significant others, then freeze frame and animate to reveal their names. Guy Ritchie doesn't even do that anymore people! Move on! Cole is completely underused and I kept wondering why she was even in this movie. Has life been that bad for you girl? Your IMDB page tells a different story. The idiocy surrounding them only makes it the more amazing that any may actually survive. How hard is to to lure a zombie out of a van and then get in it? Just run around in a circle people. Why run off into no man's land? Pun intended.


My feelings on the movie were actually heightened after watching the making of featurette, an in dept look at production, cast interviews, post production, and FX. "Doghouse" was shot with the Red HD Digital Camera, which fuses the best of film and digital filming into one camera without any of the negatives. The Red is able to give crisp picture and definition in low light, eliminates blur when used as a steadycam, and provides high definition playback. Digital filming allows the director and actors to go for longer takes, and is cheaper than shooting on film. Other films shot with this amazing new technology include "The Social Network", the upcoming "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides", "District 9", "Che"; as well as numerous television series like "Southland", "Covert Affairs", "Sanctuary", and "Louis". It is truly amazing.

First time screen writer Dan Schaffer makes a valiant effort at crafting a 90-minute story line, but gets weighed down by the limitations a screenplay has over his usual comic book format. I am curious to read his comic works, especially "Dogwitch" about an outcast witch obsessed with the sick and unstable subcultural population. Could be good.

The FX are really great- heads being chopped in half, guts galore, crazy zombie make-up. It's got it all. It's no surprise when you consider that the team responsible also worked on "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", "Splintered", "Prince of Persia", and "Moon". Great make-up and FX can really help a poor movie become a good one.

All in all, I like this movie more after learning more about the behind the scenes, but I don't think I could really recommend it. Unless, that is, you've got a beef with women and enjoy watching idiots attempt to fight zombies. You would do better to rent "Shaun of the Dead" again.