30 November 2012

Review: The Man in Black (Killing Them Softly)


Two overwhelmed pseudo-gangsters (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendehlson) managed, by the skin of their chattering teeth, to take the score. Money is hard to come by in this small town, so the concept of robbing a card game populated by made-men doesn't seem as insane as it would during a better economy. You see they had a scapegoat sitting pretty to take the fall in Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), the head of the games who managed to pull this same scam years earlier.

These two men however are not long for this world though, Jackie Cogan has been sent to restore confidence to the board. Jackie's services are soon to be required by a corporate board left reeling after the card game left most wealthy men in the city with pockets emptied. Those men want to make sure their money never gets taken again and Cogan can guarantee that.


The scale of Killing Them Softly is considerably smaller than Dominik's last effort, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Rather than focus on a historic figure bordering on mythic, this tale centers on a hitman. This particular hitman, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), prefers to strike from a distance, like an act of God. Anything else just gets too emotional.

Cogan prides himself on delivering services in a humane manner—or as humane as it can be for killing them.

Some have said that Killing Them Softly is a rebuke of the last two presidential administrations, but it is much more simple than that. This is a tale about crisis of faith. Whether that money be in a Wall Street institution, or placed in the hands of a man like Trattman. Cogan understand these complaints, a contract killer isn't a murderer anymore, he's a small business. Even the act of putting out a hit has been corporatized, a liaison (Richard Jenkins) must agree to approve any charges that Jackie incurs.

For as often as these moments are hammered home, the overall effect of Killing is uneven. Moments of harsh brutality and cynicism are undercut with grandiose, stylistic shots. Yet even with the occasional overreach on behalf of Andrew Dominik, the ace cast and nuanced performance of Brad Pitt make for a solid genre outing (the last line is one that stays with you out of the theatre). This image of a downtrodden America where even the underground is skimping on dollars.

***/****

29 November 2012

'Hobbit' IMAX Posters Are For the Truly Devoted


Those Hobbit fans watching the film at its midnight premiere on December 14th will take home a very splendid Christmas gift. These four very handsomely crafted posters featuring Gollum, Bilbo Gandalf and Thorin are all in Elvish, so giving them to midnight showing attendees is probably the best idea.

THR Director's Roundtable


That's quite a cast of high-caliber directors (Affleck, Tarantino, Lee, Russell), my question is why isn't Kathryn Bigelow there? Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most anticipated flicks of the winter and she doesn't get an invite? Odd.

27 November 2012

Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook Lead Spirit Nods

That time is upon us once again, the time where the high caliber films start making waves during awards ceremonies. Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom have landed the first blow with the most nominations for this year's Independent Spirit Awards. The momentum may not carry for Moonrise, but given that SLP is backed by The Weinstein Company, expect a big push for that film.

Keeping my fingers crossed for Jack Black for Bernie, very much deserving of the praise and unlikely to receive its due with Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington and John Hawkes in the fold.

Best Feature
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Bernie
Keep the Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Female Lead
Linda Cardellini, Return
Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed

Best Male Lead
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On
Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
Wendell Pierce, Four

Best Supporting Female
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice
Lorraine Toussaint, Middle of Nowhere

Best Supporting Male
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
David Oyelowo, Middle of Nowhere
Michael Péna, End of Watch
Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom

Best Screenplay
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ira Sachs, Keep the Lights On

Best First Feature (Award given to the director and producer)
Fill the Void
Gimme the Loot
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sound of My Voice
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best First Screenplay
Rama Burshtein, Fill the Void
Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed
Christopher Ford, Robot & Frank
Rashida Jones & Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever
Jonathan Lisecki, Gayby

Best Cinematography
Yoni Brook, Valley of Saints
Lol Crawley, Here
Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Roman Vasyanov, End of Watch
Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom

Best International Film
Amour
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia
Rust And Bone
Sister
War Witch

How Christopher Nolan Blew Up Heinz Field


The DVD/Blu-Ray for The Dark Knight Rises doesn't come out until December 4th, but you can catch a glimpse of how they filmed Bane (Tom Hardy) blowing up Gotham Rogues stadium here. Ravens fans will be disappointed to find out it was special effects, I'm sure most hoping that they actually destroyed it.

Grittiest Addiction Movies of All Time

(this post comes from Lily Reynolds)

Movies can either glamorize drugs, or show their destructive powers. For every Blow there is a gritty, hard hitting movie that shows the true cost of the drug lifestyle. It might be tempting for people to depict drug use as an adventure in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but gritty movies about the hell of drug addiction may prove to be the best way for cinema to convey what life is like as an addict. Some of the more famous drug movies include Pulp Fiction, Withnail and I, Scarface, A Scanner Darkly, Pineapple Express and Training Day. These six gritty drug addiction films take the perspective of the drug addict, some their relations and others the point of view of dealers and narcotics officers.

Christiane F
Perhaps less famous than the other movies on this list, Christiane F is the story of a young teenage girl in Germany in the 1970s. She is bored, yet fascinated by the disco scene. Despite being too young, she gets into one of the clubs and her descent into drug addiction, disco and prostitution begins. This is a tough movie, though best seen in its original German audio rather than the dubbed version.

Midnight Cowboys
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboys was one of the original dark drug films of its kind. It is also famed for being the only X-rated movie to have won the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Made in 1969, Cowboys captures the life of a Texan who goes to New York for the big life, but gets stuck in a repetitive and seemingly endless cycle of drugs, prostitution and crime. Setting the template from which many have split, Midnight Cowboys nails the glamour, the temptation and then the awful aftermath of when the high fades away.

Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream does not just follow one person’s battle against drug addiction, but shows the spectrum of addicts from the young to old. The movie is directed by Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan and The Fountain fame. It's not just about heroin, but covers the less famous pills out there.  A complete no-holds-barred look at violence and prostitution, but where Requiem differs from other movies is its banal look at addiction with Sarah (Ellen Burstyn).

The Basketball Diaries
It is not just playboys (the subject of  glamorized drug movies) or the poor who succumb to drugs. As many sports stories have shown with steroids, drugs are rife in sport. The Basketball Diaries follow Jim Carroll’s descent from a budding basketball player to a drug addict. Even as he became a great player and part of a great team, his demons were massing inside of him. Carroll’s drug problem started young, at 13, and the movie follows him playing basketball, fighting addiction, his fall from grace, jail time and his attempts to fight back and reclaim some part of the life he had.

Trainspotting
It is possible to argue that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting covers both the highs and lows of the user. The movie certainly glorifies them at first, but this is a movie about heroin addiction and this is an addiction that rarely ends well, especially on the screen. The hardest to bear parts of Trainspotting come when Renton (Ewan McGregor) goes cold-turkey. The film proves that getting opiates out of your system is not an easy thing to do and the he tries many times while his friends descend into ever deepening spiral.

Pure
Most movies have been about the drug addicts themselves, but with Pure, the story follows the impact of drug addiction on a young child. This is perhaps the harrowing point of view it could have possibly taken. Even more so than the descent of an addict or the effect on a spouse. The movie’s lead, Paul, is small boy with a mother addicted to heroin. He spends most of his time looking after her and his younger brother. Paul fights with all his limited strength and knowledge to stop his mother from killing herself with the drug, even when he knows he will probably lose.

24 November 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #6

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are 1-5 thus far. This quote is from a film that came into creation purely by the passion of its fanbase. Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from.

"What ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in What?"

22 November 2012

Review: A Man and His Legacy (Lincoln)


Times are contentious in the Union. The Civil War rages on and the death toll is in the hundreds of thousands. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has two choices placed before him by his trusted Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn at his wit's end). One, an amendment that would allow for slaves to be freed and the other, a peace agreement with the South. His recent re-election has bundled some goodwill for his agenda and he means to package it for the amendment.

The House is publicly divided between the Democrats, conservative and radical Republicans, with abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (an Oscar-bound Tommy Lee Jones) corralling his caucus and Seward's task force of Bilbo (James Spader), Latham (John Hawkes) and Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) trading positions for votes.

Despite the heavy title and the prestige that the marketing and advertising have treated Lincoln with, this is not a biopic that showers its protagonist with awe. This is no Honest Abe by any means, he is a wily politician who knows people and what needs to be done to get legislation passed. It is easy to forget over the course of time that these icons were still men. That truth is often lost to time.

A man like President Lincoln casts a long shadow over history. He presided over an unparalleled time of controversy and he united a nation. What makes Lincoln successful is that Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner play with the myths in the shadows.

Here, Lincoln's voice is not rich, it is of a plain speaker. He was not a perfect father, nor a perfect husband. He did not possess a crystal ball, but he held his beliefs with fierce conviction. Some of the Lewis' best scenes come when he is pressed on why he feels slavery has to be abolished at the cost of creating peace between the Confederates and the Union.

One of the directors that Steven Spielberg has been most compared with is John Ford. Now, it is no coincidence that both are masters at utilizing light and landscape. Often during the film Lincoln creates a large shadow walking into the room, but very quickly it shrinks down. The human interactions between him and Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) or Abe and Marie Todd (Sally Field) bring Lincoln down to an earthly scale. Day-Lewis and Sally Field's scenes offer a revelatory take on the dynamic between President and First Lady.

Considering the majority of Lincoln takes place in legislative halls and the halls of the White House, Kushner does an excellent job with the dialogue. The shop-talk portions including Spader, Jones and Strathairn feel like being let in the Capital in the 1860s. Limiting the scope of Lincoln's life was the best possible decision that Spielberg and Kushner could have made.

Whatever hold-ups some may have with Spielberg handling Lincoln are largely unfounded. Frequent collaborator, John Williams, refrains from creating swells of music that take viewers out of the drama of the moment. The tone is not Pollyanna-esque as one would expect, Lewis plays Lincoln as the world-weary man tired of war on his watch and tired of what humans are capable of doing to one another.

What Spielberg's film does is take Lincoln out of his marble casing and let's him stretch his legs amongst the people.

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

10 Words or Less: Life of Pi (2012)


Zebras and tigers and boats, oh Pi!

21 November 2012

Review: It's Not Always Sunny (Silver Linings Playbook)


Of all the franchises in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles have the most impassioned fanbase. Wins move the entire city, a loss, particularly at Dallas, could ruin an entire Sunday. Eagles fans' well-being depend on a winning season. The Solitanos are such a family.

Pal Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has no control over the things that come out of his mouth. Everyone is guilty of having their mental filter go on the fritz, but Pat's is permanently stuck on off. He's been working on self-improvement at the clinic he was court-appointed to following a violent conflict between himself, his wife and her lover. His mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) has decided that eight months is long enough and brings Pat back home.

Pat has a game-plan toward getting his life back in order: get in shape, get his old job and get his wife back. Nikki has since moved on and as a gesture of good faith, filed a restraining order against him. Despite what his friends tell him, he is quite happy in his delusions.

In an effort to get Pat readjusted, his buddy invites him to dinner with his wife and her sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).

From their first meeting Tiffany gets Pat, when most people in a room step back from him, she steps forward. Pat is hesitant to ingratiate himself with Tiffany, she's loose with her body and Pat needs to maintain with Nikki that he is above such behavior. Oblivious to Pat, Tiffany has her own problems. Since her husband's death she has been an inconsolable mess, any contact she can get, she takes.

While it is immediately clear to the audience that Tiffany and Pat are kindred spirits, he needs convincing. Tiffany slyly offers a deal: be her dance partner and she will pass along his letters to Nikki, in an effort to convince her to get back together.

With Pat spending so much time at Tiffany's, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro, on a streak after Being Flynn) just wants his namesake to sit alongside him Sunday afternoon and take in a game with his old man. Each passing week, Pat Sr. puts a little more money on each game, with his son as his good luck charm, he can't go wrong.

Bradley Cooper is one of those familiar faces recognized from parts as the sidekick and the aggressive boyfriend, but he never really broke out. With his performance as the at times lucid and at others raging Pat, Cooper has announced that he has taken that step into the next tier of leading men.

David O. Russell has a knack for capturing dysfunctional familial units. His most recent effort, The Fighter, garnered him an Academy Award nod for the first time, but, despite the quirk of brothers Micky and Dicky, the the film was ultimately viewed as a workman effort. Silver Linings however comes right out of the auteur's wheelhouse. Russell adapted and directed the film, adding alterations to the story that ultimately result in a tighter, better film.

The popular knock against Silver Linings Playbook is that the film lacks awareness when it comes to mental illness. That conclusion obfuscates the trying moments that Pat Sr. and Dolores combat with after he comes home from the hospital. Russell's film is more or less about capturing the daily highs and lows of Pat and Tiffany's issues. Not every living moment for a person with an illness is wrenched in agony.

Silver Linings destigmatizes disorders in a way that most films just don't care to. Like the Solitano's home, it invites you in.

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

10 Words or Less: Red Dawn (2012)


'MERICA!

20 November 2012

Tarantino XX Collection Hits Today

Tis the season for hoarding items, armed combat and sleeping on sidewalks for gifts. This deal however requires no hoarding or sleeping on a sidewalk. The revered filmmaker is always controversial, but if someone in your family is a big cinephile, this gift is high on their list. All eight of Quentin Tarantino's films (Inglourious Basterds, Death Proof, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs) available in one box-set for the first time.

On top of all of those films, other entertaining features include:

Critics Corner 
The Films of Quentin Tarantino In-depth critics' discussion piece exploring Tarantino's films that redefined cinema and the impact of one of the most influential writers/directors of our time.

20 Years of Filmmaking
Take a look at Tarantino's career from the beginning, with interviews from co-workers, critics, stars and master filmmakers alike as well as a tribute to his greatest collaborator, Sally Menke. 

Jackie Brown Q&A: A Film Independent at LACMA Event 
Quentin Tarantino, Robert Forster, and Pam Grier reunite for an intimate and enlightening discussion about Jackie Brown. Moderated by Elvis Mitchell, renowned film critic and curator for Film Independent at LACMA series. 

19 November 2012

A Very Sore Ryan Gosling Presents 'Only God Forgives' Poster


Ouch. Anyone catch the plate of that truck that hit Ryan Gosling? Nicolas Winding Refn is no stranger to brutal violence so why beat around the bush? Gosling is going to get beaten badly.

Julian (Gosling) lives in exile in Bangkok where he runs a Thai boxing club as a front for the family’s drugs smuggling operation. When Julian’s brother Billy is killed, their mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), arrives in the city. She wants revenge and forces Julian to find the killer. Julian’s contacts in the criminal underworld lead him directly to The Angel of Vengeance, a retired police officer who serves as both Judge and Executioner. Jenna demands that Julian kill The Angel of Vengeance, an act that will cost him dearly.

18 November 2012

Review: A Downward Spiral (Flight)


In a return to live-action filmmaking, Robert Zemeckis' first in twelve years, Flight succeeds as a character study in a world where not many of them exist anymore. This particular examination looks at Captain "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a man that hungrily partakes of all Earthly pleasures: women, fine alcohol,  and narcotics. Hell, he can't even get out of bed in the morning without a quick bump to help him coast through his work and life without any hitches. Little does he know that severe turbulence is about to darken the silver lining of Whip’s twenty-four hour high.

However, the aftermath of the wreckage is just the beginning of Whip's worries. The National Transportation Security Board is going to have a hearing and whether Whip saved those people or not, karma is going to catch up with him.

Unsurprisingly, Robert Zemeckis really shines at the technical aspects of the film. He gives the crash a real sense of peril by leaving the viewer inside the plane. The scene very well could have been the high-point of Flight, but Zemeckis rallies the story back around its central character and the spectacular performance by Denzel Washington.

The highs and lows of Whitaker's spiral are exquisitely synced to the soundtrack. When times are good it is no surprise to hear "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker and when the lows scrape the barrel then Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" echoes in the background.

Denzel Washington's selection as the Captain may seem like a curious one until you consider his talent for making grey characters shine (Training Day). Playing bad gives Washington the license to fully convey the traps that lie in waiting for a man too proud to admit his problem doesn't exist because he denies it. Whether he be falling down drunk and muttering in his glass, or utilizing that grin that has made Mr. Washington famous, he runs the gauntlet. He hasn't given a performance like this in a while and it's nice to see him given the time to develop it onscreen.

While Flight undoubtedly has one of the best lead performances of the field, it is also sidetracked with one of the weaker scripts. John Gatins drew a lot of Flight from his own personal history of addiction, but too many road bumps in the form of preaching often detract the audience from Washington's role as Whitaker.

It's not the messages that side characters offer so much as the forced manner in which they do it. The phrase "act of God" is thrown around frequently, but there is nothing to suggest that anything Whitaker did was due to some higher calling. Just experience. One of the more intriguing aspects cast away pretty quickly is the notion of being a hero. What can be gotten away with if the ends always ultimately justify the means in the eyes of others?

***/****

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #5

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. This quote is from a film that came into creation purely by the passion of its fanbase. Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from.

"Can I make a suggestion that doesn't involve violence, or is this the wrong crowd for that?"

16 November 2012

Review: All the World's a Stage (Anna Karenina)

Of all the many literary classics that have graced the silver screen, Anna Karenina is perhaps the most beloved. Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice have been made into features almost as often, but even those pictures don't have the prestige that Anna Karenina does.

If the name Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) were to come up in gossip circles, she would be spoken of highly. She is the young and attractive wife to government officer Karenin (Jude Law). While Karenin loves his wife, he is distant, their marriage is one of convenience. No embers of passion burn when they are together. Her life is not completely lacking in love though, Anna imparts that love to her son.

Yet, some wants just do not go away.

Despite the conventions of society, despite what she knows to be a bad idea, wife and mother Anna has fallen madly in love with Russian officer Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). When they meet at the grand ball, they only have eyes for each other. The romance about to transpire is obvious to everyone, including Anna's husband.

Her cuckolded husband Karenin is not unreasonable in his demand that the two be discreet, but the love that Anna and Vronsky share cannot be repressed.

There is a B story revolves that revolves around Vronsky's spurning of Kitty, who is repeatedly courted by the demure Levin (Domnhall Gleeson), chum of Anna's brother Count Oblonsky (Matthew MacFadyen). Infidelity, as it seems, is also an issue for the brother battling the same lustful wiles that are plaguing his sister. Levin has none of these faults and he spends his days contemplating the nature of life.

Tolstoy paid equal attention to both Anna and Levin in his novel, but it is easy to understand why a romantic affair would be played up.

Additionally, what separates Anna Karenina from many film adaptations of the classics is Joe Wright's decision to place the proceedings on a theatrical stage. Wright starts off like every other version of the film in Oblonsky's study, but this study is located in the arch of a stagnant theatre. The director never misses an opportunity to flaunt his stylistic choice, yet in doing so he brings more attention to himself than the story.

The staged aspect of Anna Karenina initially has promise, but it removes all of the emotional bonds that Keira Knightley's performance depends on. The strength of Tolstoy's play is the resonance of Anna's raw emotion. She is perhaps, literature's most pitiable figure.

It's easy to get at what Wright's motioning toward: life for the wealthy in 19th Century Russia was a show, but it's too meta for its own good. That the film succeeds at all is due entirely to the tenacity of Keira Knightley.

**1/2 out of ****

Behind the Scenes of 'Life of Pi'


Academy-award winning director Ang Lee is known for his dedication to getting things perfect before they are captured on film and without doubt Life of Pi will have no shortage of scenes that make you go "wow." Don't be surprised if cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Tron: Legacy, Curious Case of Benjamin Button) takes home an Oscar for his work on Pi.  He has been nominated before, but given all the raves the film has received from screenings, this year could very well be the one for him.

It is easy to forget that with all of the techniques made available with CGI and companies like Weta that some shots still require physical work and finesse to get it right. Like filming in an Olympic sized pool. So that we have beautiful scenes like these.






(This post is sponsored by Twentieth Century Fox)

Review: Pillow Talk (The Sessions)


The word can't is either missing from, or torn out of Mark O'Brien's dictionary. Mark (John Hawkes), despite being a paraplegic, has graduated college, earned his Master's Degree, started his own publishing company and released dozens of books of poetry. In all of that time, however, he has not shared love with a woman. Success has not been missing from his life, yet he feels a hole that should finally be looked at. Even at age 36.

These "based on a true story" tales are often derided for saccharine cliches that inevitably remove all interest from the non-fiction, yet this is not the case for The Sessions.

Mark may be confined to an iron lung and he may not have long, but The Sessions is no tale of woe. There is a sense of warmth infused throughout the film that tempers what could be a very dampened storyline. One of those key sources is William H. Macy as Father Brendan.

Premarital sex is most definitely a no-no in the eyes of the Catholic Church, but how could God begrudge Mark on his quest given everything he has lived with? Whereas Father Brendan is torn about Mark's goal, Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is sure-handed. In six sessions she will provide the advice, training and understanding for Mark to be able to have a successful relationship with a woman.

John Hawkes has always been known as that guy in whatever film he appears. You may not recognize his name, but you know his face. He sent shivers down your spine as the stoic-but-deadly Teardrop in Winter's Bone and the charismatic cult leader Patrick in Martha Marcy May Marlene. That Sessions succeeds as it does with Hawkes as its leading man is another testament to his talents.

Hawkes and Hunt leave nothing on the table in their performances, both prove willing to disappear completely into the respective roles they are given. Blurbs like "outstanding performance" and "guaranteed Oscar nomination" are thrown around quite a bit, but given what little canvas Hawkes is able to use for his role as Mark O'Brien, he really should be commended. Given the physical restraints Hawkes had, he couldn't give loud, grandiose speeches, or wrench himself in tears, so the trembles in his voice and the expression in his eyes must make for everything.

The Sessions may not receive the loads of gold statues that other winter fare will, but if one thing is for sure, the cast shines well enough anyway.

***/****

14 November 2012

Variety Picks the Ten Best Scores of All-Time

Variety published their top ten scores of all-time today. Well, ten isn't the real answer, but with any list of importance ten is rarely the final number. Unsurprisingly, Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams all appear on the list twice. The Mission taking the top spot was definitely not the consensus I had assumed would win. I would have figured Jaws would have made the list as well.

1."The Mission" (Ennio Morricone, 1986)
2."E.T." (John Williams, 1982)
3."Psycho" (Bernard Herrmann, 1960)
4."The Shawshank Redemption" (Thomas Newman, 1994)
5."Star Wars" (John Williams, 1977)
6."Lawrence of Arabia" (Maurice Jarre, 1962)
6."Once Upon a Time in the West" (Ennio Morricone, 1968)
8."Chinatown" (Jerry Goldsmith, 1974)
9."The Empire Strikes Back" (John Williams, 1980)
9."Planet of the Apes" (Jerry Goldsmith, 1968)
9."Vertigo" (Bernard Herrmann, 1958)

What tops your list?

The Vault: Garden State (2004)


After the death of his mother, Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) faces returning to his hometown for the funeral. The moment is a contentious one for him: his career hasn't taken off since his performance as a mentally-challenged teen in a football film, he's left all of his anti-depression meds in California and then there's the prospect of reconnecting with friends he hasn't seen in years.

After leaving home, the presence of a void looms in Andrew's life. His father (Ian Holm choosing an American accent that isn't New Jersey-ish) has never forgiven him for his part in his mother's death and Andrew isn't sure he can forgive his father for holding that grudge. Their relationship is strained enough, yet pushed further when considering that his father is also his psychiatrist. If he is ever going to move on with his life, he will need to make some drastic changes.

In the process he has a chance meeting with Sam (Natalie Portman), a girl whose extroverted nature helps Andrew figure out who he really is. Her way of life offers such an unique prospective on life that Andrew is simultaneously intoxicated and alienated by Sam.

Zach Braff is wonderful as a wayward son just off his depression medication, Natalie Portman provides a good counter as Sam, and Peter Sarsgaard excels as Mark whose sleaze requires no embellishment.

Braff (serving as writer, director, and lead) made a fantastic directorial debut. The first acts of Garden State were hilarious. In a genre that sometimes focuses too much on the more dour aspects of life, some scenes crackle with delight. As it went on, the pace of Garden State adjusts itself many times during the film's run-time. With its characters changing, so must the flow of the film.

A promising beginning for a new talent, we shall see where Braff goes from here.

13 November 2012

Second Time Around for 'Dark Knight'


For all of the hardware Heath Ledger took home and all of the guild's nominations the film received, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight got a goose egg for Best Picture four years ago. Will this time around be any different? Peter Jackson's film took best picture when the trilogy concluded, but that was against weaker competition and the reviews for Rises are not as strong as its predecessor. We shall see have to wait to see what happens.

11 November 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #4

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. Readers are 1-3 thus far, so I made this weeks a little easier (as long as you consider what was released on Friday). Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from:

All of my key employees are my sons. Blood is the best security in this business.

10 November 2012

Review: Homecoming (Skyfall)


Skyfall opens with a fatalistic sense of immediacy. The thrilling action sequence is familiar, but it ends with a gasp rather than a cheer. The problem with most Bond films is that there never a sense of urgency felt. Agent 007 will face endless numbers of enemies, gunmen, terrorists, etc. but none of them will ever seriously pose mortal danger. What Sam Mendes adds to the franchise is consequences and acknowledging a legitimate threat: that 007 may be obsolete.

Whereas the other twenty two films of this franchise spend a majority of their run-times traveling to exotic venues, Skyfall resides in the rainy U.K. The homeland is under attack and MI6 is facing a lot of critics for its handling of spy matters, "this is the 21st Century," Gareth Mallory (an always withering Ralph Fiennes) argues, 007 and his ilk aren't needed anymore.

Addressing the antiquated nature of James Bond poses a risk to the audience. Will Mendes go too far with this line of thinking and alienate audiences, or will he try to mold the franchise to fit his liking rather than coalesce his talents with those of the character? Fortunately, the director understands that his name is not the one that stands the test of time, it's Bond. James Bond. That said, Skyfall need not be some common trope, but a living, breathing evolution.

Alas, but what is a Bond movie without his counterpart? One of Quantum's problems was that its mastermind was rote; a baron of some sort of holdings that has been seen over and over again. The man tasked with bringing the roof down is not that boring. Or sane. Javier Bardem's Silva lends credence to the maxim blondes have more fun, Bardem is perhaps the most disturbed villain that Bond has faced off against and one of the most compelling. When he is onscreen the air leaves the room, but he is not without the face of service. The foil he presents himself as fits very well with the strained relationship James has with M (Judi Dench in perhaps her finest turn yet as the head of MI6). The supporting cast excels often in Skyfall, but Roger Deakins cinematography must be celebrated in its own right for dazzling scenes in the neon paradise of Shanghai, or the mellow greys of London.

It is open to argument whether Daniel Craig is one of the better Bonds of the seven men who have donned the tuxedo, but he without doubt the angriest. Craig's incarnation of the martini-swilling agent was created for an era bathed in paranoia that slept with the light on at night. He couldn't be the collected Connery, nor the quippy Moore, he needed aggression. For this reason the Craig Bonds have held themselves this far away from the other films. The surprise of Skyfall is that it opens itself to the mythology previously ignored.

In tracing back connections to the lore of Bond, Daniel Craig has become in-step with those before him. Cutting ties with the isolation of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace with the additions of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw). Quite simply, this is the Bond for our age. And he is stepping into his own.

****/****

09 November 2012

Doug Liman Kills Tom Cruise Over and Over


A lot of people claim to have a dislike of Tom Cruise, but only Bourne Identity director Doug Liman is willing to take his dislike to the max. In All You Need Is Kill, Liman blows up Tom Cruise again and again. Cruise plays Lt. Col. Bill Cage, a soldier forced to relive violent battle with aliens when he is thrown into a time-loop. Lord only knows what Mr. Cruise is running away from in this set photo, but one thing is for sure, Doug Liman is a twisted man.

(Courtesy: Collider)

World War Z Trailer Promises Carnage


If this is how the world ends at least we have Brad Pitt to usher us toward the exit.

07 November 2012

Review: Method to the Madness (Seven Psychopaths)


Stories are odd things. They take on personalities of their own, they leave loose ends, they make profound connections. Screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is not writing one of those stories. Even with the prompting of his best friend (Sam Rockwell) writer's block has kept his slate empty. With his slate empty, he's taken to the bottle and arguing with his girlfriend.

Fortunately, reality always proves to be more appealing than fiction and with a masked murderer gunning down made men in the streets of Los Angeles, this string of murders prove to be just the inspiration that Marty needs. His screenplay featuring a murderous Amish man, a very angry Vietnamese priest and a serial killing couple who only kill serial killers practically writes itself.

Billy and Hans (beloved oddball Christopher Walken) have found their own way to make a living. By stealing dogs and then returning them back for reward money, Billy and Hans have quite a sweet gig. The only problem with all of this is that they made a huge gaffe in taking a dog belonging to resident psychopath, Christopher Costello (Woody Harrelson). You see Mr. Costello loves his dog a great deal and he has absolutely no qualms about killing anyone and everyone who is keeping him from that reunion.

Eventually, it's not just Billy and Hans that come into the fold of Costello's path of rage. Marty has a target on his back as well.

Much like Brendan Gleeson did with Martin McDonagh's first feature In Bruges, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken completely steal the show from the rest of the eclectic cast. Colin Farrell stands in for McDonagh as a Hollywood scribe trying to piece the events together as the audience is so he has to be semi-relatable, but Rockwell and Walken have no such reservations. They are the jacks in the box of Seven Psychopaths creating a sense of chaos throughout the proceedings. The self-seriousness of these revenge films often lends to a desensitizing tone whenever a character is killed, but the interludes of comedic insanity make each loss felt with a thud.

Seven Psychopaths on the surface looks like a typical shoot-em-up film in the vein of Snatch, Pulp Fiction and the like, but when the guns are drawn the film takes a turn down a less-traveled road. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie often use violence to conclude their films, but McDonagh emphasizes its use as a continuous cycle. He aims for more with a type of film that all to often ends with a shootout to end a story.

An all too rare originality flavored with the dialogue that Martin McDonagh is very quickly becoming known for, Seven Psychopaths is yet another surprise in a year filled with great genre releases.

***/****

04 November 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot #3

The game where I throw out one of cinema's more obscure quotes and you try to guess it. This week's version is a little different as it is themed for the election.

Let's see if you can name the film this quote is from.

"Who doesn't want a shortcut to greatness?"

02 November 2012

Community to Return February and On Thursdays!


Yes, Virginia, Community will be brought back on NBC and it will return to its original showtime of 8 p.m. The start of the season will take place February 7th and it will be replacing the slot 30 Rock is occupying during its shortened final season. When NBC giveth, NBC taketh away.

(Courtesy: NBC)

Win A 'Friends' Prizepack


PartnersHub is teaming up with Warner Bros. to promote the entire series of Friends on blu-ray! To help publicize the event during the next thirty days readers can add their badges in the comments, take quizzes and add follow the #FRIENDS hashtag on Twitter. The contest ends Nov. 30th so get cracking, the reader with the most badges can take two oversized Monica mugs and a frame complete with the whole gang.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

01 November 2012

10 Words or Less: 127 Hours (2010)


Cuts to the bone.