Posted on 12/24/10 11:35 AM
Opening Statement: The Coen Brothers are back this time with their adaptation of the novel of the same title "True Grit." Hailee Steinfeld plays Maddie Ross, a 14 year old girl who is out to catch Cheney the man who killed her father, along the way she hires a man with true grit named Rooster Cogburn played by Jeff Bridges, at the same time a Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon is also out for Cheney since he killed a Texas senator. They cross paths and help one another.
What's Good: This is as close to a classic western that a modern film will come. The characters are very well developed for start to finished. We have Maddie played by newcome Steinfeld who stands her ground well with the big names. She has a natural connection with the character and transforms for the role, a tour de force from her first performance. We also have Bridges who is expectedly good, practically better than John Wayne's Cogburn. Whereas John Wayne played John Wayne playing Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is Rooster Cogburn. We find it at times hard to understand the grumbles of Rooster but it's brutally realistic that we forgive the dialogue we can't understand. Matt Damon gives a great performance as Leboef the Texas Ranger, who at first has antagonistic goals toward catching Cheney first and develops into a whole-hearted person who sympathizes with young Ross. Overall an excellent ensemble work. What's truly magnificent about this story, is not necessarily the story itself but the way the Coens have managed to re-structure it, and truly develop the vibe of the Western.
A lot is owed to Roger Deakins, an excellent award-worthy eye for scenery and cinematography. From the sun sets to the sun rises, Deakins manages his picture with grace. Overall True Grit is a combination of gurus in the film industry who believe in the realm of story-telling and properly handling adaptations. Truly excellent piece of work.
What's Bad: It isn't by far the Coens best. However it still maintains there touch of cinematic vision. Overall for me I was less impressed with the story, especially in the beginning where lengthy scenes of conversation dragged. It's not an action scene every second film, which I am grateful for, it takes time developing the plot in the beginning, some of that time was unnecessary. The second act is a piece of magic that helped me forgive every fault from the first act.
Oscar Possibilities: Picture, Director, Actor- Jeff Bridges, Supporting Actor- Matt Damon (some likely), and importantly Hailee Steinfeld for Supporting Actress. The film itself could also be a shoe in for Cinematography and other technical categories.
Consensus: 'True Grit' is a whole-hearted Western from it's gritty action to its witty dialogue. While it is not the Coens best, it is still highly enjoyable and may bring back memories from classic westerns.
Posted on 12/18/10 07:21 PM
Opening Statement: From the mind of Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) comes a story about a woman named Nina Sayres (Natalie Portman) who is a die hard ballet dancer. She is a perfectionist, and when she is given the role as Swan Queen in the upcoming production of Swan Lake she begins getting nervous and psychologically messed up as she can't perfect her black swan routine. She begins getting distracted by a woman named Lily (Mila Kunis) who is an up-and-coming ballet dancer.
What's Good: The film borderlines perfection. Which the film slightly strays away from (makes some symbolic sense actually.) Right from the beginning we open to a malevolent, but insanely beautiful score from Clint Mansell the embodies the same chords of Swan Lake. We are introduced to Nina (played at a career high by Portman) who is an obsessive ballet dancer and a perfectionist. She lives with her mother (played by Barbra Hershey) who really has high hopes for her daughters success. The pressure is on, and we feel it as an audience to, when she almost loses the role of the lead in Swan Lake, but she starts developing a relationship with the director (played by Vincent Cassel) who finally assigns her a role.
Now that she has the big role, pressure starts to boil, especially when the director is displeased with her performance as the black swan. Very strange things start happening to Nina, she becomes a psychological mess. This film keeps us guessing, but not in a way that we are strapped in for an ultra-twist, in fact the ending borderlines predictable. It's more haunting than ever though. All in all I have to say with a handful of great performances from the ensemble (Portman in particular) and a nitemare-ish psychological plot, we are intrigued from the beginning. Aronofsky has one hell of a gift. Black Swan is the most artistically beautiful horror film ever made.
What's Bad: Not Much to say for this section. For what it is, it is perfect. Once again I have to say it's probably not a masterpiece though.
Oscar Possibilities: Portman should win Actress, Bening being her only competition. The film will get a BP nod, along with a possible director nod for Aronofsky (he is long overdue.) As far as the supporting cast i'd say the most likely is Kunis who recently received a Golden Globe nomination. We are also looking at Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, and I have my fingers crossed for Mansell's score.
Consensus: Black Swan embraces the dark side of the ballet art. It demonstrates the pressure and anxiety of life in the theater, only through a schizophrenic eye. Portman gives the performance of the year. Black Swan is gorgeous!
Posted on 12/14/10 08:09 PM
Opening Statement: Mark Wahlberg stars as Micky Ward, a boxer who has some family complications when he realizes the fights his family puts him through could be hurting him more than helping him. After this realization he has to prioritize his life and career, to help do what's right for himself. Through this he starts separating himself from his troubled crack-addicted brother, played by Christian Bale, and his mother played by Melissa Leo.
What's Good: This film, in the end, turns about to be a film around family values, and it is totally character driven. Every character has realistic intentions, without the realization of their actions. It's real easy to cross examine the characteristics of each of them, what's really complex is the character of Micky played humbly by Wahlberg who at first focuses on what's good for him, the separation from his dysfunctional family only to realize that it is his family afterall. The conflict is developed ever so subtly by screenwriters Silver, Tamasy, and Johnson who create a film around the 3-act structure, and create dialogue and characters that are interesting to watch. The comedy in the film comes from, not what is written in the script, but what's written in the character personality.
Most characterization is owed to an All-Star cast, some of the best ensemble work in a film in a while. While Wahlberg succeeds with his Micky Ward, he is upstaged by his supporting cast. Leo is marvelous as his mother who wants what's best for everyone deep down but her actions say otherwise. Leo hits her spot on, Bale plays Dicky in a more realistic fashion than a character like that could've been portrayed. Bale, all skinny and mentally unintact deserves the Oscar and it will be disgraceful if he doesn't receive it for this portrayal. Bale is an artist with his performance, and he really transforms into this character. Amy Adams also hits home playing Charlene, Ward's girlfriend that helps him realize his family is leading him down a wrong path.
Something needs to be said about the direction from David O. Russell, infamous for his outbursts on the set of "I Heart Huckabees" he helps drive his actors, and takes all advantage of his artistic medium. Also with some help from cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who develops an interesting, and natural look to Massachusetts and together they form realistically choreographed boxing fight sequences, that sometime develop the effect of an actual match being watched on television.
What's Bad: A lot of criticism for the film revolves around its heartwarming cliche'd nature. Yes it is heartwarming, and a sports film being heartwarming is usually considered a cliche' however that is not a criticism you will hear from me. This all actually happened and when something that involves overcoming drug abuse, family disconnect, and ultimately developing as a boxer with good intentions, it is miraculous and one amazing thing.
As far as my criticism goes, it simply lies in length. It was two hours, but it felt a little longer. The last match probably went on to long, but honestly when you truly think about it, this is the best way this story could be told through film. Just don't expect a new "Rocky" or "Raging Bull" but deep down "The Fighter" probably makes the top 5 greatest boxing movies of all time. It's simply just not a masterpiece.
Oscar Possibilities: It just received a bunch of Globe recognition. Hear it from me now, Bale is for sure nominated, no doubt, the win is right there as well. Wahlberg is the least likely to gain a nomination from the ensemble, however Leo and Adams have good chances in the Supporting category. Leo will be nominated for sure. It will also more than likely squeeze in as one of the 10 nominees for Best Picture.
Consensus: The Fighter, at heart, is a character movie and each character has some sense of development through the duration. Wahlberg, Leo, and Adams deliver amazing performances, and Bale takes the cake for best supporting performance of the year.
Posted on 11/26/10 08:14 PM
Opening Statement: Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is beginning to get into being a pharmaceutical rep, but he is slightly having a problem turning doctors onto Zoloft over Prozac. Soon he meets a woman with Parkinson's Disease played by Anne Hathaway they start with casual sex which soon moves to something bigger along with his career upon the release of Viagra.
What's Good: Gyllenhaal plays a sociable, yet still flawed man pretty well. However, the real star here is Hathaway who plays a highly damaged character in the denial stage of her grieving her own disease. Hathaway and Gyllenhaal offer up some great chemistry, if only the screenplay gave their performances justice. Hathaway is nude for a lot of the first and second acts of the film, but it is not gratutious, she embodies the characters ideals of sexuality which is quite impressive. I also enjoyed some of the dramatic conflict between these characters.
What's Bad: The big problem with Love and Other Drugs is that it is a romantic tragedy that tries to hard to be a romantic comedy. Some of the comedy is worth chuckles, but the subject matter calls for a more serious tone. With strong chemistry and great acting the potential was sky high, could've been the next Jerry Maguire or Love Story. However the genre blend is to out of the loop. The comic timing is embarrassingly not intact. If Zwick was to sacrifice the comedy I actually think this movie would've hit harder to us. There is also a mild blend on the medical world, and the world of modern medicine, not sure if Zwick was trying to highlight this or not.
Oscar Predictions: If anything Hathaway has a shot, but still has some strict competition.
Consensus: I usually enjoy the genre blending, but Love and Other Drugs sacrifices some of it's key dramatic build-up for some out-of-place only mildly funny comedy.
Posted on 11/22/10 07:58 PM
Opening Statement: Canyoneer Aron Ralston was out by himself hiking when an accident happened and he was forced to amputate his own arm in order to survive. '127 Hours' is Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy's retelling of that story through ever sip of water and every drop of blood.
What's Good: James Franco is in the limelight for every second of this picture and even in the dark crevice of the canyon he shines. This is an actor who studied Ralston very closely and somehow discovered a way to channel him during the performance in front of the audience. We also have very notable talent behind the camera, and on the computer. Director Danny Boyle's films embodied poetic, fast-paced cinematography that act as a musical toward Rahman's gorgeous score. The script is very well done as well by Simon Beafoy who had to adapt Ralston's experience and handled it with care while still revealing Ralston's selfish flaws.
This is a story of survival against all odds that develops into a a character study of a selfish man slowly accepting his own death before he has a moment of epiphany and realization that all he has in this reality is life and wants to grow old and create a family. This a gorgeously photographed re-telling of something amazing. Something overall incredible and I respect and adore it on all those levels.
What's Bad: It brings a bunch of inspiration but still not as much as would "Slumdog Millionaire" however the simple fact that this is non-fiction that causes its inspiration to over-ride the majority of movies in existence. The flashback's are kind of what killed bits of this experience for me. While they are handled with care it still pushes the edge of the emotion that we are experience what Ralston experience when at times it does very much feel we are. My reasoning for not giving this a higher rating is brutally subjective, so take it with a grain of salt.
Oscar Possibilities: Franco is in for a nod for sure, unfortunately I am hearing Firth in The King's Speech will take it from him. Besides that there is a very likely nominee for Picture and Director (doubtful wins) then we have the screenplay for an adaptation of the book "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" but the adapted script for "The Social Network" will certainly take that home. Technically we have Score. Cinematography, Possible Art Direction, and sound editing/mixing.
Consensus: A movie based around this story could not have been done any better. Boyle for great directing, Rahman for score, Beaufoy for script, and most importantly Franco's incredible tour de force as Ralston. It may not be a classic, but it is definitely the most you will get out of inspiration in a film.
Posted on 11/20/10 08:00 PM
Opening Statement: The 7th installment to the epic series based of the book series written by JK Rowling. Harry and friends are back but this time things aren't so jolly. Voldemort is a lot more serious about his mission to find a destroy Harry Potter and to start his evil reign. Harry is on the run, searching for he hocruxes to destroy the bits of Voldemort's soul.
What's Good: Just a fair warning, some of the things I find good about this movie, you will not. First thing you need to FULLY UNDERSTAND before seeing this movie is that is only half of a story. A prelude, if you will, that goes soft on action. That is the point that will drive people to dislike it, the lack of action. I liked that they traded eye candy fast-paced action into eye candy dark visuals that help bring out more character development and make us feel strongly toward our protagonist. Now once the film abruptly ends (which you should know is going to happen) you really care about our heroes, you care about the mission and it still feels Harry is far from defeating the dark lord. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are all excellent in their roles, probably achieving some of the most top notch action seen from them in the series. We deal with some lustful sensuality between our protagonist when in Ron's dark vision we see a very naked Harry and Hermione in a sexual embrace. Elements such as this show us that we have entered a very PG13 Harry Potter. The film series that appeals to the audience that is the same age as the protagonists (such as myself who has grown up with the series.)
All in all, since the story is divided in half (which could be good, could be bad) we have to move a little slower. Fans of the book complained that previous films didn't translate enough onto the screen, these films also felt fast. This time it feels a little slow building a crescendo up to the high point of the orchestra that is Harry Potter. Speaking of orchestra the score is hauntingly beautiful. Such a fantastic series, with such a fantastic addition.
What's Bad: I liked that the film slowed done for character development and emotional nuance, you may not. It is unlike any other Harry Potter film. The other criticism, which I will just talk briefly about, is that there is a chance they divided it in half for more money. That'd be awful for Warner Bros. to squeeze money out of us, however we don't know the full intention. Maybe they wanted the full impact of the book in the final story, so they divided the movies.
Oscar Possibilities: Art Direction, Editing, Cinematography, Sound Mixing/Editing, Visual Effects, many of the technical categories. I'd like to say this could squeeze into the 10 for best picture, but it's looking highly doubtful.
Consensus: The division of the story causes Part 1 to move much slower than we are use to a Harry Potter moving. However this is a chance for the Yates to develop character, emotion, and really make us feel for these characters who will be enduring the ultimate peril soon. One of my favorite of the series.
Posted on 11/15/10 07:50 PM
Opening Statement: There was a court case over a particular "obscene" poem written by a great man awhile back. The poem was called Howl by Allen Ginsberg. An exceptionally dark, yet beautiful poet. As we go through his life through his poems, his homosexuality, and overall who Ginsberg was.
What's Good: I wish I could truly say more for an biographical film about one of the greatest poets of our time. Unfortunately I can't. The best I can do is mentioned how great the poems are, which are said throughout the film with some beautiful art to them. I would also give kudos to Franco's absolutely transformative performance, the young man has a knack for acting.
What's Bad: It's just not a well-told story. I'm sure the life of Ginsberg is interesting, unfortunately we flash forward often to a court case for 'Howl' that is entirely uninteresting. In this court scene we find some great talent John Hamm, David Straithan, and Jeff Daniels who are playing some really bland one-dimmensional characters. I wouldn't be surprised if they are scripted as Lawyer #1 and Lawyer #2. I'm certain this case was a pivotal mark in the life of Ginsberg, but using it has a method of story structure fails completely. Also we have Ginsberg being interviewed Mockumentary-style. Here is where Franco has some time to showcase his talent, that and a couple actual scenes where he is not reciting poetry. So we have 2 structure holding up a film very unstably. I went in not knowing much about Ginsberg, and I came out knowing about the same.
The Rant: When you are making a biographical film, you are taking someone's life in your hands to show the world. Don't treat it so messily.
Oscar Predictions: None. Bad reviews counted it out, the slightest possibility for Franco if he wasn't already getting a nod for 127 Hours.
Consensus: A complete unstable movie about a fascinating and talented man. Howl tries to use Ginsberg's poetry to make up for their lack of telling us the story of his life, it does ease the pain. But in the end you will feel like you just watched a PBS special.
Posted on 11/03/10 07:39 PM
Opening Statement: Russell Crowe plays a father of one in a perfect lovable family. When his wife is convicted of a murder she did not commit and taken away from him and his son Crowe becomes mixed with depressing emotions. He begins to concoct a dynamic, thought out plan to rescue his wife and son and take them away to Venezuela.
What's Good: For the lengthy time it's on it does a pretty good job keeping attention. There is some good performances from Crowe as a lead, but the real acting to watch here is Banks who is in tears every scene, going above and beyond any movie she has been in. Whenever action is on screen it is captured well, and quite honestly even though we don't know too much about these characters we sympathize with them. For what it is worth it keeps the heart racing, for a nice chase thriller, which consists entirely of action in the final third act.
What's Bad: Unfortunately Haggis's attempt to blend sympathetic drama and quick action makes everything seem a bit unbalanced. The first half of the film consists entirely of setting up the plan and visits to prison where we see a crying Elizabeth Banks. The primary theme here is for Crowe's character to overcome being a nice simple man and to have to go all out, and become a violent person to help save his wife. A lot of that stays intact for the majority of the film, but by the third act the film trades characterization and emotion for heart-pounding action which is ok to watch, but kind of a jerk to the brain to transfer.
The Rant: No rant today.
Oscar Possibilities: I quite honestly can't see this getting any recognition against some of the other nods. Not even for Banks, which is most likely.
Consensus: Paul Haggis's drama-thriller strikes average in its attempt to blend the genres. A lot to keep your attention here, but not much to think about afterwards. Average.
Posted on 11/03/10 04:30 AM
Opening Statement: Inspiring some of the greatest quotes, and scenes in cinema history, Casablanca is the story that takes place in unoccupied Africa during WW2. A fugitive is tracked there and that man turns out to have a wife who had a previous relationship with the local, beloved bartender. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, a man always in the "neutral" on every topic, a metaphor for America at the time if you will. Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) finds that her former lover is the only way to get the proper transit papers to exit Casablanca.
Why it's classic: Toping many lists of the all-time greatest, including lists for best scenes and lines in movie history. Simply why it is classic. It was probably a more topical film for its era, which at the time was taking place in "present" not "past." As we see it now. Michael Curtiz is behind the camera and offers some beautiful sets. He sets a tone that adds an unpleasant, but appropriate blend of tragedy and romance.
Originally based off the play "Everybody come to Ricks" the film proves to have a very witty, yet well-paced adapted script. Much is owed to the artful delivery of dialogue between both the main cast, and the supporting cast. Bogart, Bergman, Henreid, and Rains give very note-worthy, if not paragraph worthy performances. At the time the "romance" genre was at its peak, no doubt. With "It Happened One Night" and "Gone with the Wind."
During my second viewing is this classic, I still didn't once feel impatient at its length, like I did with Gone with the Wind. Instead I smiled at the sheer 'classic-ness' of the dialogue and the wit of Bogart's Rick. However the second viewing did decrease that warm feeling of surprise. Not necessarily a five star classic, personally of course, it has aged well but I can't see it attracting many younger viewers unfortunately.
Posted on 11/02/10 09:02 PM
Opening Statement: Claudette Colbert plays Ellie, a spoiled rich girl who has just ran away from her father. As she becomes a pretty big news event she runs into a man named Peter Warne played by the ever-so-witty Clark Gable. Once Peter finds out he makes a deal with her to get an interview, but a lot can happen in "one night."
Why It's Classic: From the get-go you can tell this is a Capra film. Not one of his best particularly, but the man does go down in director history a couple films later. It's a sweet romance, filled with enjoyable comedy that has aged well, and surprising innuendo for its time. This film was released only a couple years after sound was invented and filmmakers learned that using the sound technology they had to make some pretty damned interesting stories. This was one of the bigger accomplishments for it's time.
It creates itself as a classic in my book primarily because it has so many different elements that are used countlessly in our modern films. The acting is incredible from Gable and Colbert, but story is key. The reason it doesn't receive a perfect score from me personally is simply because I enjoyed it at a 4/5 pace. Nothing i'd watch again and while this was a major picture for the time, audiences back then had a railroad of amazing flicks coming (Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane.)
Basically, the film majors in mood, and makes itself one of the greater romantic comedies. Scratch that. Probably the in the running for the greatest romantic comedy to date. Up there with "When Harry Met Sally" a very enjoyable flick.
Consensus: Frank Capra is always excellent with his modest, feel good direction, mixed with an excellent adapted screenplay from Robert Riskin, all in which is helped greatly by two powerhouse performances from Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. A movie to be seen by any movie lover.