31 January 2011

Wha?


Who saw this coming as short as a month ago? The Social Network was cruising through the critic's circuit and taking award after award. Now, The King's Speech has taken the last three important steps: wins at the PGA, DGA and SAG. Only once has a film won those three awards and lost Best Picture, and that film was Apollo 13. So the question has to be asked: was The Social Network the game-changer the critics predicted it as, or simply a well-crafted film?

Either way I guess we should have all expected as much. The King's Speech is a period piece, a triumph over hardship and features Colin Firth. Realistically that film had it in the bag a long time ago. It comes as a shock to many because in past years the Academy has gone with non-traditional films for Best Picture.  While many lament this is just another example of picking the "safe, formulaic film", The Departed, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker are hardly considered prestige films. This year the Academy may have decided to take one for themselves.

28 January 2011

Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Street art and graffiti never really became a phenomenon until the internet became a household mainstay. If you felt like placing an homage to Space Invaders on the side of the bridge it was something you could acknowledge on your way to work/school/whatever.

Now, within minutes, your passion can be searched and copied on Google within seconds. Artists like Shepard Fairey, Space Invader, Banksy were all relative unknowns, now, they are legends of the underground art world.

Documentaries function best when they take a subject most are unaware of and delve into it with a sense of verve. Covering such material without overloading the audience on jargon is also a plus. By letting us into a world which we are unfamiliar documentaries enlighten and expand upon unseen vantage points of life.

The subject of this particular documentary? One of the most mysterious pop culture figures in recent history, the man known only to the world as Banksy.

Little is known about Banksy, his work is scattered through the streets of Los Angeles and he dons a now trademark black hoodie, but that is all we know. Curious to find out more about our enigmatic protagonist, the camera takes a detour. As Exit Through the Gift Shop unfolds it is made clear that the documentary about Banksy is really a documentary about Thierry Guetta AKA Mr. Brainwash. How meta.

Whether Exit Through the Gift Shop is real or not is not the question. That Mr. Brainwash can become a celebrity overnight through nothing more than the repetition of other's work is the main focus of the story. Originally a voyeur of the street scene, Thierry managed to take the art world by storm and succeed despite his proudly displayed eccentricities.

Each cut away from Mr. Brainwash prompts the viewers to ask themselves: is my chain being yanked? This man can't be succeeding, he is a barely functioning psychopath!

Back to the point, Thierry's art brings to mind the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Throw Away Your Television". "It's a repeat of a story told, it's a repeat and it's getting old." Nothing Thierry Guetta presents is original and the gallery which brought him such fame is largely not even his own work. He is an icon for all of the wrong reasons.

Pop art is eating itself alive and Banksy's documentary is a clear indicator why.

You want to be fooled...

***1/2 out of ****

26 January 2011

Review: The Rite (**)



It's frustrating to watch a movie that almost draws you into the experience, but leaves you teetering on the edge of getting into it for stupid reasons. The Rite was almost enthralling, but some gaps in the script left me feeling just shy of enjoying the film.

As I understand it, exorcism and demonic possession are part of the faith of the Catholic church and of certain fundamentalist sects. For most protestants, to say nothing of the pantheon of other religions out there, it's a bit of an alien notion. Regardless, it seems that people from all stripes enjoy exploring the idea of possessions. The Rite does a good job in this respect; for the most part, the religious aspects of the film were quite interesting and well done.

The protagonist of the film is a young priest who is also an atheist. It's hard to believe the character because he maintains his atheism even after witnessing all kinds of demonic phenomenon. In the same situation, I would be running to church to sing hallelujah.

The tactics of the demon are also questionable. It's not giving away anything to say that the antagonist spends the duration of the film essentially training the protagonist to exploit his only weakness. For being an all-power hell beast, he is pretty stupid.

The film succeeds in creating a spooky environment, and garners a few cheap and not-so-cheap scares. Unfortunately it's failings are more than skin deep, and the viewer is left wishing things had been a bit different.

25 January 2011

The Snubs of 2010

Well the nominees are out and - just like every year preceding this one - someone deserving of a spot in the big dance is robbed (what does Christopher Nolan have to do?). Ryan Gosling, Daft Punk, and Barbara Hershey all come to mind, but in my mind these are the some of the lesser known snubs of 2010.

The most glaring snub this year has to be for Leonardo DiCaprio for Shutter Island. Creating a portrayal of psychosis that leads the viewer to invite themselves to his point of view without going into judgement is easily one of the hardest performances to create. That it is also easily one of the scariest descents into madness captured on film is due to Mr. DiCaprio.
 
The Supporting Actor field was quite crowded this year with Bale, Rush, Renner and his own 'Social Network' co-star Andrew Garfield, but Armie Hammer made a large splash in his big debut. He has it all: strength, wealth, and rugged good looks. Thankfully, he also can appreciate the irony of himself and his twin chasing down the "karate kid". As one man playing two of the most self-entitled people on Earth he does his job admiringly, even if I dislike the characters he plays.

Comedy is generally the enemy of Oscar, but Emma Stone really impressed in Easy A this year. There were multiple depths to her role; as Olive the girl she maintains an intellectual honesty that could have easily been dispensed with when conflicts arose, but, harder yet, she suffers for her experiment instead. As a teenager who operates under no motives Olive instead acts on what she knows is best.

Lastly, it wouldn't be the snubs without presenting who got robbed by the Academy for Supporting Actress. And there is no better candidate for that than Marion Cotillard in Inception. She may have had limited screentime, but there were few actresses who had a larger impact on a story than Mal. She was a freight train running throughout Cobb's mind and while she may not have been seen she was always there driving the story forward.

83rd Academy Award Nominees Announced


Well, a few surprises: Tron Legacy getting snubbed in visual effects, John Hawkes for supporting actor, Christopher Nolan getting shafted for Best Director again!

Best Picture
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“Inception”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King's Speech”
 “127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Winter's Bone"

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film
“How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
“The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
“Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Art Direction
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
“Inception”
“The King's Speech”
“True Grit”
Cinematography
“Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
“Inception” Wally Pfister
“The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
“The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
“True Grit” Roger Deakins

Costume Design
“Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
“I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
“The King's Speech” Jenny Beavan
“The Tempest” Sandy Powell
“True Grit” Mary Zophres

Directing
“Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
“The Fighter” David O. Russell
“The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
“The Social Network” David Fincher
“True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Documentary (Feature)
“Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
“Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
“Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
“Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
“Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Documentary (Short Subject)
“Killing in the Name” Nominees to be determined
“Poster Girl” Nominees to be determined
“Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
“Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
“The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Film Editing
“Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
“The Fighter” Pamela Martin
“The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
“127 Hours” Jon Harris
“The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Foreign Language Film
“Biutiful” Mexico
“Dogtooth” Greece
“In a Better World” Denmark
“Incendies” Canada
“Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

Makeup
“Barney's Version” Adrien Morot
“The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
“The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Music (Original Score)
“How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
“Inception” Hans Zimmer
“The King's Speech” Alexandre Desplat
“127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
“The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Music (Original Song)
“Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Short Film (Animated)
“Day & Night” Teddy Newton
“The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
“Let's Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
“The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
“Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

Short Film (Live Action)
“The Confession” Tanel Toom
“The Crush” Michael Creagh
“God of Love” Luke Matheny
“Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
“Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Sound Editing
“Inception” Richard King
“Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
“Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
“True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
“Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing
“Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
“The King's Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
“Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
“The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
“True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects
“Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
“Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
“Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
“Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
“The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
“True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
“The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
“Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
“The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
“The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

24 January 2011

Acceptance.


This man has accepted his fate. All the drugs, the drinking, the battles of his trade, they all have taken their toll. We can see it in his face as well as the scars that mark his body.

What allows The Wrestler to leave such a lasting impact is that we can all recognize the face Randy wears at the end of the film. Acceptance. He does not care if he dies in the ring because the ring is the only place that really allows him to exist. Life has chewed him up and spat him out but here, among the cheers of his legion, he is King.

21 January 2011

Rubber Trailer


This is either the craziest idea for a film, or the best. I can't decide yet.

20 January 2011

The Vault: PCU (1994)

It's fair to say that a lot of comedians, and people in general, have had issues with political correctness, particularly when it is taken to extremes. People worry, and rightfully so, about cultural movements that aim to limit freedoms. PCU was released in 17 years ago, in 1994, when public worries about political correctness were cresting. It's a standard college comedy with the standard cast of characters: the everyman, Jeremy Piven plays the Van Wilder archetype; the stoner, Jon Favreau puts in an early role as the oft-confused Gutter; David Spade takes a turn as the wealthy elite; we also have the frosh, the love interest, and other standards.

PCU fails to make a coherent argument against political correctness. The premise is that all the tolerance of different groups is fracturing society, while it would be better if we were all as one. You know, e pluribus unum and all that jazz. It's a pretty weak thesis, considering that political correctness originated as a way to ease cultural frictions arising from multiculturalism by replacing the pejorative terms with (more) accurate ones. To claim that society would be better off if we all acted the same misses the point. Society is not homogeneous. The real shame with political correctness, and an ironic one for a movement based entirely around the use of language, is that the word "political" managed to sneak in there. It's a misnomer for a cultural phenomenon, and it acts as a lever for injecting invective into the debate.

Poorly made criticisms of PC aside, PCU is a relatively enjoyable college film. And it's worth seeing just for the George Clinton parts.

19 January 2011

Bane, Catwoman Confirmed for 'Dark Knight Rises'

It has been decided. Tom Hardy will be playing Bane and Anne Hathaway is confirmed as Catwoman in the third and final Nolan-helmed Batman film. Hardy seems like perfect casting - if you have seen Bronson anyway - and Hathaway has a darkness that could be mined for her role in the third film as well.

The questions now are: is Bane associated with a new League of Shadows? Or is he a rogue agent? Is Catwoman a villain or an interloper?

18 January 2011

10 Words or Less: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Men Who Hate Women would have been more fitting.

14 January 2011

The Vault: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Two notable films have been made about the transition from silent film to talkies, Singin' in the Rain is the funniest (if not simply just because the other film is Sunset Boulevard) it is frequently referred to as the best musical of all-time and sits at number five on the AFI top one-hundred films lists.

Don Lockwood's motto is "Dignity, always dignity." Just don't ask the matinee idol about how he started in Hollywood and that motto will stand true. He along with his best pal/songman Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) have hit it big and are enjoying their Hollywood lifestyles. Currently Don is linked to his frequent co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) but in truth he can't stand her and she is too dumb to know the difference. 

Talkies are ushering in a new age of film and even people like aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) are starting to take notice. Don's latest picture The Duelling Cavalier is going to be transformed into a talkie, but you guessed it, Lina's voice simply won't allow that picture to succeed. With the help of Kathy, Cosmo suggests they turn the Duelling Cavalier into the Singing Cavalier. Kathy and Don soon fall in love, but all the work they have put into The Singing Cavalier is endangered when Lina learns her role has been recorded over and threatens to blow the situation sky-high for all of them.

Although it is the first meta-film to really send up Hollywood what really made Singin' in the Rain the greatest musical of its time is in the fashion the music blends seamlessly with the plot. Nothing is shoe-horned in just for the sake of having a song. And what makes the film one of the best comedies is the rich dialogue that should be savored after every line. As Lina is lamenting about Don's barbs regarding her stupidity she counters, "Sticks and stones may break my bones..." to which Don replies, "I'd like to break every bone in your body." You just don't get one-liners like that in film anymore.

Review: Black Swan


Grace, endurance and a tolerance for pain, these are all three aspects of a talented ballet dancer. They are also characteristic of a wrestler, so it should be no surprise that Darren Aronofsky followed up his 2008 hit The Wrestler with Black Swan. Both films focus on the sacrifice asked of these professionals: self doubt, surreal expectations, and extraordinary committment, so much so that it begins to tear them apart. So when it was announced that Natalie Portman would be taking the lead I was hesitant. She had never pulled of anything like this before.

Natalie Portman, much like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, is playing a mirror of herself. She has never really acted in any darker material previous to Swan, but that only serves to make her performance here much more impressive. It is only when Nina's mother says, "where is my sweet little girl?" and Portman snaps back, "she's gone now!" that the implications are realized, Portman is done playing the girl next door.

The horror of Black Swan is that beneath the glittering lights, the showmanship, and the elegance lies sheer brutality. One shudders to think of the toll the punishment takes on the bodies of these women. Wrestling is a violent sport, but its physicality is worn on its sleeve. Ballet is deceptive in its methods.

So when Nina (Natalie Portman) finds herself up for the role of Swan Queen in Thomas's (Vincent Cassel) new production of Swan Lake, she needs to decide if her way of life is worth being passed over again and again. Technically, she is a perfect dancer, but she is timid and lacks the passion that playing both the White and Black Swans requires.

In really straining herself for the lead, Nina finds herself pushed to the brink by her obsessive mother and newfound competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis). Perfection requires everything, Darren Aronofsky's film announces, and sometimes giving it all your all is not enough.

The problem with Black Swan is that it never really strives to scratch below the surface. It is already known that excellence comes at a high cost. The Red Shoes displayed that artistic mentality quite brilliantly. It isn't the passion that drives Nina, but her own ego.

Another source of conflict is found in Portman's performance. Nina is clearly broken at the beginning, so her arc is not as pronounced. The ramblings of a crazed ballerina are only of interest if it is the result of a transformation. She snapped long before the opening credits.

**1/2 out of ****

13 January 2011

Sony Releases Spider-man Screenshot


This photo looks like a Gotham-y Spider-man, but Andrew Garfield seems to have pegged the look of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger. It is much appreciated that Marc Webb did not just copy and paste the look of the film from the Raimi series.

(Courtesy: Sony)

10 January 2011

Review: The King's Speech (***1/2)


I enjoy history, but when it comes to the history of British royalty, I'm a bit of a commoner. I can't say this is ever been a problem, I don't tend to hobnob with royalty, well, ever. When it comes to films like The King's Speech it can come in quite handy--it means I can sit back an enjoy the story for what it is, rather than compare and contrast it.

The story starts with a rather disastrous speech given by Prince Albert (Colin Firth) at Wembley Stadium in 1925. It isn't the speech, it's the manner in which it's delivered-- and as I'm sure you all know from trailers and synopses-- Prince Albert, or 'Bertie' as he is called by his family, has quite the stammer. It is because of this that Bertie's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) goes out searching for better treatment options and comes across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian-born speech therapist.

The relationship between his majesty and Logue is kind of a rocky one to start. Rather than following the formalities he's supposed to, Lionel calls Prince Albert 'Bertie' just like the rest of his family, and Lionel's insistence to have the sessions in his own office (basically an empty old flat in London) means that Bertie is out of his element. In addition to all of that, Logue's methods are foreign to the Prince-- Logue asks prying questions about Bertie's personal life attempting to get to the heart of the psychosis, and continually contradicts the prince when Bertie gets forlorn.

Ultimately, this method starts to help Bertie overcome his stammer, but it also leads to a ten year hiatus between Bertie and Lionel, one only broken because Bertie's brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne to marry a rich American socialite, and Bertie becomes King George VI. With the country emerging from a depression and on the verge of war with Germany, the British Empire needs a King that can carry them through on the waves of his voice.

Colin Firth absolutely deserves all of the recognition that he's received from his portrayal of King George VI. From the very first we see of him on the screen, we can see the discomfort he has not only with his ability to speak in public, but also being a public figure and having so many expectations placed on him. There's a nervousness that is constantly visible on Firth's face and in his mannerisms, ever self-conscious about an impediment that renders him falsely pitiable. The pride that he shows and the temper is a volatile part of the performance as well, not to mention the sincerity and sweetness that he shows with Elizabeth, his daughters, and even with Edward. The transformation that he makes is slow and steady, meeting all challenges and showing tremendous fortitude until we're seeing him swearing and singing in order to loosen himself up and prepare for the first war time speech in 1939 after Britain declares war against Nazi Germany. There is no line in between Colin Firth and King VI's character, his performance was superb.

But I sincerely doubt that this performance would be half so good if Geoffrey Rush had not done such a commendable job as Lionel Logue. Straight shooting and loveable, he lends the support to Bertie that Bertie needs to work through his stutter. He does not accept any of the down talking that Bertie says to himself, balancing the line between his obscure, irreverent methods and the formality that kings generally receive. Delivering the snappy dialogue without a care, and showing a genuine concern for Bertie at the same time, Geoffrey Rush should be a real contender for the best supporting actor nomination come Oscar time.

Speaking of Oscar-worthy performances, how nice it is to see Helena Bonham Carter in something other than a Tim Burton film, or playing some wacko of sorts. She is so likeable in this movie--so supportive of Bertie and so unbending in her regality. She does a fantastic job as Queen Elizabeth.

Most films dealing with royalty are shot in a very conservative manner, but the direction by Tom Hooper has some very modern camera shots. Rather than keep all of his characters the central focus of the camera, he would, at times, shoot them more peripherally, from high above, or from below other objects. Also, the infusion of actual newsreel footage from Nazi Germany only heightened the importance of King George VI's therapy, so I thought that was a nice touch. The coloring of the film was also quite deliberate. Rich coloring within the castles, but everywhere a common person might be found was mostly gray or graying coloring, save for Lionel's zesty blue pin-striped suit.

This film was a fine piece of work, excellently acted and beautifully photographed. Hopefully the awards season will continue to be good to it.

Most Valuable Performances: Kate Winslet


Clementine. We have all known a Clementine in our lives. The person that we thought was "the one" but eventually the newness fades away and we see these Clementines for what they are. Fragile human beings who have the same worries and fears as the rest of us. They aren't perfect and we should never have expected them to be.

What makes Winslet's performance so impressive is that we never not once see Kate Winslet, Academy Award winning actress. We see the one who broke our hearts. Winslet only plays one half of the onscreen couple in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yet ultimately she is the sole focus. Joel (Jim Carrey) can't stand knowing that she had him erased from his memory so he seeks to perpetrate the same act against her.

What Joel comes to find out and what we already know is that you can't remove that presence from your life. These people are an influence on our lives and what wisdom they place with us as they depart should not be dispensed.

The arguments, the intimacy, the mundane, all of it matters. It makes us human. Clementine is indispensable from Joel's existence and Winslet's raw, and true portrayal makes that clear.

That Clementine and Joel's break-up has such a personal effect on the audience is a testament to Winslet's complete presentation of a woman that has no ulterior motives, she just wants to be happy. We need for her to be happy with Joel as well. And the last scene that parts us from the film is a bittersweet moment as it gives us an opportune moment to reflect on our second chances.


07 January 2011

Review: The Fighter


Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) just needs one big fight to get him where he needs to be. Just one.

He sits in a resort in Atlantic City awaiting his next step on the ladder to a title match. His opponent has been scratched, they can bring in a new fighter, but he outweighs Micky by a weight class. Alice, the matriarch of the Ward clan tells Micky to take the cash and fight the sub. Flash forward a few hours later and Micky sits bruised and humiliated, the substitute was not the schlub that was promised. Prison left nothing to do but lift weights and work-out. Micky was over-matched.

That feeling doesn't stay in the ring either. Alice (a very feisty Melissa Leo) and her domineering daughters surround Micky and sway him in all of his decisions. To boot, Dicky (a transformed Christian Bale), who is in and out jail more often than people change socks, serves as Micky's trainer. Dicky is what Micky ultimately hopes to become, but rails against. A champion who started beating himself. HBO is making a documentary about the failed Eklund, though Dicky thinks the film is about his comeback he's making.

Failure is sweeping Micky up and given the environment around him, it won't take much longer. Charlene (Amy Adams, playing against type) knows his problem isn't his skill, it's his mother. If Micky wants to reach the heights that he is capable of, he must get away from Alice and Dicky. If he wants a title shot, he has to look out for himself. Micky eagerly awaits his chance for a belt, yet feels torn in pushing away the family that has always been there for him, good or bad.

Mark Wahlberg may not get the accolades that Bale and Leo receive for their performances as Dicky and Alice, but how Wahlberg underscores Micky keeps the dynamic from becoming a game of one-upping the other in every scene. Christian Bale in full method-mode and a scenery chewing Melissa Leo would be impossible to combat with in dramatic scenes, yet there are those that complain that Micky Ward is too withdrawn for The Fighter to be successful. It is because that choice seems intentional. Micky is less of a outlandish presence because of his mother and half-brother and his achievements go on his sleeves not in the papers. He is a Lowell boy through and through.

David Russell, known for his trademark dysfunction serves as a journeyman on The Fighter. Russell did not participate in the creation of the script, but what he adds to the final product of the film is heart in a genre that tends too often to go by the numbers. Micky's fights are recreated ignoring overstylized glossy shots in favor of two boxers hitting each other hard. The Fighter succeeds where others don't by getting into the head of an underdog rather than just watching him climb great heights without seeing him out of the ring.

***/****

Review: Blue Valentine


Boy and girl meet cute, go out on a few dates and fall in love. Very few films cover what occurs after that moment, even fewer do so with such flourishes of authenticity. The stupid jokes and awkward laughs afterward. The brief bouts of indecision to decide whether or not to fully disclose our backgrounds. The dinners with each others' families that leaves one, or both, itching to run out of the room.

Cindy has been itching to run out of the room now for the considerable part of her marriage. The stresses of what she is asked to do and what Dean can't has run her ragged. They are the kinds of things that drive a marriage apart.

The future room is the make-or-break getaway for Dean and Cindy. An opportunity to hide from the problems of domesticity: a lost dog, work problems, and arguments. An opportunity to make love, to drink, to just be them. To say that this event could be the defining moment of their marriage is an understatement.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams go for broke with their performances. There is not one ounce of blood, sweat and tears that don't go into the inception of Dean and Cindy. The harsh gaze on these two warps from observing mere acting to completely inhabiting these people's lives. Years worth of frustrations can be read from a glance of Cindy's eyes. The wounded hounddog look behind Dean's shades could only be earned through countless incidents of questioned masculinity and worth.

Director Derek Cianfrance hits pause on numerous occasions during the swan song trip to the Future Room. Each time he does so reveals another memory; another layer of their existence. More is gained from this thoughtful approach of their history. This couple did not wake up and find flaws in their partners in some hellish easter egg hunt. They have been skirted over and buried beneath the surface for a long time. Each decision noted by the helmer as if it were a score.

It is impossible not to see into each soul of Cindy and Dean as they attempt to sew together some semblance of happiness. These are two people who desperately need something to cling to, but the temptation to bare their teeth and pick open old scabs proves too strong. They really do love another; they just don't know how they got to be where they are now.

****/****

FYC: Tron Legacy

Well this year might be another clean sweep for technical awards again as it was last year with Avatar. Tron Legacy may have been empty below the surface but it was indeed rife with visual flourish.


And please Academy give Daft Punk their do. They deserve it.

05 January 2011

Coming Soon: 30 Minutes or Less


Zombieland Director Ruben Fleischer and star Jesse Eisenburg reunite for 30 Minutes or Less. In the action-comedy, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) a small town pizza guy is kidnapped by two self-deluded criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson).

Now Nick is forced to rob a bank or he will explode. With limited time to pull off the heist, Nick enlists the help of his ex-best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari). The film also stars Michael Pena and hits theatres August 12, 2011.

04 January 2011

'Social Network' DVD Only $13

Amazon is offering The Social Network on DVD for less than $13 and the Blu-Ray is $16.99 That is a great deal for those of us who love movies, but also have no money. This film is going to be a major contender for Best Picture and if you have not seen it in theatres this is your chance to watch it now!

03 January 2011

Review: Tron Legacy 3D


The first Tron was, for-better-or-for-worse a product of its cold-war paranoia time. Yes, it was fused with (what was at the time) ground-breaking technology and featured a storyline about computers, but Neil Flynn's adventure into the webverse was littered with metaphors for communism throughout.

Now, there are no metaphors for the war on terror or other pressing foreign conflicts in Tron Legacy, but it does take on one issue: addiction to technology. "You can be a slave to your preferences" and the film makes that point abundantly clear. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) was a man who used his technological prowess to create some of the most superior videogames around. Now, he is a monk in a world that refuses to let him leave.

Years ago Neil Flynn, alongside Tron managed to save the webverse. Clu (also Jeff Bridges), was created to manage the grid and keep peace. However what happens instead is a betrayal most intimate. Flynn's creation holds Flynn hostage and sets the world in tyranny. Kevin's son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is left empty and orphaned by his father's disappearance more than twenty years ago. Upon receiving a message from his father's old arcade Sam goes to investigate. The apple proves not to fall far from the tree and both Flynns end up entrapped inside the grid. With the assistance of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam tries to escape the grid before they are enslaved.

The world of Tron is a spectacular one, it is almost as if Earth were designed by Apple. Joseph Kosinski takes the framework of Tron and expands on it making it his own. Each facet of Legacy completely revamps and improves on the designs of the original. Landscapes, vehicles, even the weapons, all have advanced far past what Kevin could have ever foreseen, to a dangerous effect. The soundtrack meshes seamlessly with what is happening onscreen and many thanks for Joseph Kosinski having the wisdom to choose Daft Punk for the project. A better match could not be had.


Jeff Bridges is unquestionably the star of the picture despite Sam getting the most screentime. Kevin Flynn is the soul of Tron Legacy and every time Bridges is onscreen that fact is abundantly clear. Hedlund and Wilde don't really make a huge impression, but that is due to the fault of questionable dialogue.

Not since Avatar, has 3D been featured so prominently in a picture. For my money full-immersion is the only way to go and nothing else will substitute. This may be nothing more than a popcorn thriller, but in a year woefully low on excitement in the theatre outside of Inception, that is a wonder in itself.

***/****

Paprika vs. Inception

Months before Inception hit the theaters forums were alive with rumors that Christopher Nolan either accidentally or intentionally stole some details from another film, the Japanese anime Paprika. The biggest point of comparison for some bloggers and forum runners was the fact that both of the films featured a device that allowed a person, or people, to travel into another’s dreams and delve into their subconscious.

Minor points of comparison include scenes in Paprika where the character Paprika breaks through a mirrored wall by holding her hand to it, as well as a scene where a police detective falls his way down a hallway. Claims have been made that Inception abounds with imagery similar to or exactly like the anime movie, but with the recent release of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray, and with Paprika available for several years now, an examination of the two plots can be made more fully.

In Paprika, one of the machines used to enter the subconscious of the dreamer goes missing, and because it is in the experimental stage of development it inevitably begins to malfunction, infecting others with a single dream that drives them insane. Users under the dream machine’s power begin to jump off buildings, confusing the dreams they are having of flying with reality. For this film, the dream device acts as both a tool for the characters to go into the dream, and as a catalyst for anxiety in its own right. The machine is a form of terrorism, waging its power to put others under a spell until the rift has been closed between dream and reality.

Yet it is only with the use of its brother device that the heroine Paprika is able to emerge, harnessing her knowledge of the psychosis of dreams and reality to try to fix the damage done by the other dream machine. Also, while Paprika is within the dream, her dreams are visible to another doctor by use of a computer. Through the use of the computer, the other doctor has the ability to relay some messages. Ultimately, that ability to communicate is moot because dreams (in this case, a grandiose nightmare) invade reality.

For Inception, it could be argued that the dream machine is used as a type of terrorist device since its purpose by Cobb’s team is solely to raid the secrets hidden in one’s subconscious. In this film, however, the machine is not out of control and there is a predictable behavior from the machine. The application of the machine, despite it being in the middle of car chases, hotels or gunfights, was also in a clinical method—a drug is used to render Fischer asleep, and then all members of the team entering the dream are sedated before they are inserted into the dream world.

The main dangers that arrive from the use of the dream machine are the highly trained projections of Fischer’s mind looking for the thieves and Mal, Cobb’s memory projection of his dead wife. Since the infiltration of Fischer’s dream machine relies on heavy sedation, any death that of a team member will lead to limbo. Limbo is not death, however, and even being trapped in limbo does not kill the dreamer in real life. The dream world is well-contained within the dreamer’s subconscious, and the separation between dream and reality remains.

Another difference between the two films is that the dream machine in Inception is brought into the dream with Cobb’s team; it’s the reason for their ability to go deeper into the subject’s subconscious. Because it is Fischer’s subconscious that is being invaded, it is he that has control over the projections, characters that fill the dream for detail. The only exception to that is when Cobb unconsciously brings Mal into the dream, but even then Cobb is not in control of her. No one is.

As for the validity of the comparison between the minor details from Paprika being stolen by Nolan, it is difficult to say without looking at the shots in context. It is true that both of these movies feature a scene where a man is falling down the hallway. In Paprika, though, it is part of the dream world of the Detective Toshimi. He is dealing with the violence of his job while simultaneously reliving a moment of regret in his life. In this reoccurring nightmare, the detective is unable to deal with the regret at this point, and the repression he is going through manifests itself visually in the bunching up of the rug and the disappearance of the hallway floor beneath Detective Toshimi’s feet before he wakes up sweating.

In Inception, as I’m sure most of you are aware, the hallway begins falling out beneath Arthur’s feet because of Yusuf’s driving in the dream layer above. There’s no fancy symbolism or anything to account for it.

As for the scene in which the female heroines both break a mirror to travel into a new section of the dream, there is no way to justify the similarities—they resemble each other too closely. But we already know that Nolan was inspired by the 2006 film; too many sites have cited that Paprika was an inspiration for Ariadne. Nods to that imagery are allowed in film though.

In Inception, Cobb says that the most resilient form of parasite is an idea. If the parasite is an idea, then perhaps a movie is a form of virus, taking that parasitic idea at the core of its being and mutating it to create a more resilient strain of movie. This was the case with Inception and Paprika. Both films might’ve been spawned from the same idea, but it mutated into two separate and distinct movies. It is only through more thorough examination that the differences can be revealed to show how unique each of them are.

02 January 2011

The Vault: The Fog (1980)


John Carpenter's early films had an immersive nature. Upon viewing, one is wrapped up in the moody visuals and tailor-made soundtracks.

The Fog was released in 1980. It tells the story of a town haunted by the ghosts of fishermen who were drowned 100 years prior. Carpenter masterfully whips up the tense mood with the dramatic telling of the ghost story, as seen above. The feeling is heightened throughout the film, all the way to the stunning climax.

The Fog also features a great cast, including Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and horror icon Janet Leigh.

01 January 2011

The Year of the Double Take (Best Films of 2010)


2010 saw many things; the rise of more original scripts, the box-office flops of properties that were thought to be assured, and surprisingly films with adult audiences did well in a year that could have killed them. Mind-fucks seemed to be the theme of the year as Shutter Island, Black Swan and Inception stirred up audiences considerably. I myself needed two viewings of both Shutter Island and Inception to fully grasp what happened.

The Town took Affleck's sophomore effort into the realms of some of the best crime drama offered and the two weeks of December had Jeff Bridges go from neon-cloaked Zen Master to drunken Marshall with a penchant for killing.

Animated and foreign films did not make the cut for me personally, especially after Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox debuted strongly last year, but Toy Story 3 did make up for much of the slack. I did not get a chance to catch How to Train Your Dragon so that probably colored my opinion of the genre this year. However, documentaries were quite good (and two of them ended up in my top ten favorites).

Films that very nearly made the list include a low-key love story between two outcasts and a film involving redemption for a man cast in his brother's shadow. Films that ended up on several year's best lists - like Kick-Ass and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo - were closer to the bottom of my barrel.

Colin's Top Ten
10. Casino Jack and the United States of Money
9. Easy A
8. The Social Network
7. The Tillman Story
6. Toy Story 3
5. The Town
4. True Grit
3. Blue Valentine
2. Inception
1. Shutter Island

Review: True Grit


Why remake a western starring one of its genre's most legendary icons? Why take an unknown as the lead? Why cast a man most widely known for playing a stoner as Marhal Rooster Cogburn? Why the hell not?

This may come as blasphemy, but it needs to be said: John Wayne may have won his Oscar for True Grit but his take on the role is nothing close to what the novel sought. Current Marshal Cogburn was once a Confederate soldier who participated in the massacre at Lawrence, Kansas. The Duke had too much of a clean-cut image to live up to to take on the more despicable qualities of his character, so Bridges has enough room to make the character his own. Bridges's Cogburn is a man that an orphaned girl (Hailee Steinfeld) can turn to for true grit.

She hires the Marshall to take vengeance against the man who killed her father and insists on riding shotgun because she can't trust him to go it alone. Along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, sporting a glorious mustache) who has his own reasons for wanting Chaney, but he provides many zingers while the trio treks through Indian territory. Young Mattie is the only character who mildly resembles common sense between the drunkard, the over-inflated Texas Ranger and the grotesque Tom Chaney (poor, poor Josh Brolin).

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is truly a lead actress and the little attention that has been brought to her performance seems like a slight. In a cast filled with A-list caliber acting, she sets the sole focus of the story about Mattie's drive for vengeance in a world seemingly short of people willing to find it with her.

Those looking for it can find a spiritual link between this film, No Country for Old Men, and A Serious Man, each film, at some point, elaborates that evil can be fought in this world, but it rarely comes without larger consequences.

The plot largely remains the same of the original. While it is shot just as beautifully as No Country for Old Men, this film is not as menacing. The Coens cut back on some of the dark nihilism that the brothers have trademarked in over the years. Don't fret though, the ironic comedy is still around in spades (the first we hear of Marshall Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn is in an outhouse). Somewhere I can hear Joel and Ethan laughing.

***1/2 out of ****