Thursday, December 25, 2008

what star power can (& should) do

the curious case of benjamin button--
rather like a less whimsical forrest gump in that it ties protagonist to decades' worth of historical events. even has its own magical through-line, a la floating white feather, in spectral hummingbird. at heart of things, an elegant love story. from production standpoint, money well spent in every department; absolutely breathes Quality. likely to garner most oscar nominations and must be considered best picture front-runner. should earn brad pitt his first nod for lead actor, as well.
Quality: 5 stars

despite early pre-production struggles and measure of questionable buzz, tom cruise & co. do pull pic off with aplomb. credit bryan singer & christopher mcquarrie (director and writer, respectively, of the usual suspects) with vision. they spin fact-based nazi struggle for internal power into noble crusade. it is fascinating tale, one deserving of big budget treatment. assemblage of international talent--top german-language actors from award-winning films like the lives of others, black book, and downfall, plus cream of brit crop--enables formidable ensemble.
aplomb: 3 stars

* the edge of heaven
(BONUS dvd review)--
winner of 18(!)--thus far--major international festival awards, including screenplay distinction, cannes 2007. frequently compared to critical darling babel, Much better at connecting the dots. authentic, gritty performances by talented multi-national cast. establishes writer/director fatih akin as one to watch on world cinema scene.
gritty: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

business that's personal

the wrestler--
i can't imagine a more appropriate star vehicle for mickey rourke at this stage of his career. and i can't imagine anyone else doing this role justice; he is sheer perfection. darren aronofsky's brutally intimate character study is a heartbreaker. gruesome hard knocks of modern-day gladiator's fading spotlight mirror the crumbling of his identity and deterioration of his very existence. marisa tomei's Stunning soulful stripper represents hope in more ways than one.
heartbreaker: 4 stars

revolutionary road--
not the first utterly depressing breakdown of 50's suburban culture. heralded reunion of kate winslet & leonardo dicaprio is all about tone. this time, rather than discover couple's freeing connection, we witness their suffocating dissolution. Busy(!) cinematographer roger deakins (also framed the reader and doubt) and composer thomas newton command while stars shout at each other. michael shannon, in juicy loony supporting role, justifiably calls into question sanity of everyone & everything Settled around him.
tone: 3 stars

* still life (BONUS dvd review)--
winner, best foreign language film, l.a. film critics. tricky title proves doubly telling. story explores parallel estranged relationships alongside china's yangtze river, where in spots entire villages were displaced by three gorges dam. quiet camera and subdued performances harmonize to reveal emotional core. pic unfolds gracefully into portrait of patience and resilience of human spirit.
patience: 3 stars

Thursday, December 18, 2008

let them have animation

following some really questionable logic, i felt compelled to go see an animated twin bill. as if i need to be running to the multiplex, adding even more to my docket. what can i say? i luvs me some movies.

madagascar: escape 2 africa--
all the earmarks of one to stay away from. yet i bit. and i coulda/shoulda done without. here we have one of those seemingly thrown together projects, hastily greenlit to cash in on success of predecessor. hokey script culls from prior greats. load roster with name voice talent, and that's entertainment? uh, no; not for me. granted, target demo kids (3-8 maybe?) don't know difference or care. bottom line is business, of course, so I'll do best to not support next low-grade waste of time.
uh, no: 0 stars

above pic wishes it could be this fun, smart, fresh. not quite as "awesome" as it purports to be, yet sure to speak to kids of all ages and entertain their parents, too. nice mix of animation styles. dig the peeks inside the hollywood machine and the dissection of Celebrity. would prefer, however, not to have miley cyrus crammed down my throat.
all ages: 3 stars

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

prepare to be challenged

seven pounds--
as biggest movie star on the planet, will smith has his pick of projects (and directors and co-stars and...). it says quite a lot that he selected this story by a rookie screenwriter. and that he went back so quickly to work with helmer of the pursuit of happyness. gabriele muccino Did help smith access something emotionally special therein, directing star to second best actor nom. even More spiritual punch this time around. equally critical: smith's genuine chemistry with rosario dawson (previously partnered on MIB2), who glows--grounded, connected, beautiful, sublime. a wonderful, powerfully moving film.
chemistry: 5 stars

synecdoche, new york--
first time behind the camera for triptastic scribe charlie kaufman. and here's his most personal, most out-there project yet. reminiscent of more esoteric of samuel beckett plays. certainly too deeply existential to grab mainstream moviegoers; some will hail it as genius. we're privy to base inner-workings of protagonist (a writer/director revealing truly heartbreaking self-awareness--is he not kaufman? everyman?), in on the ceaselessly challenging joke of life for many laugh out loud moments and even more melancholy. all the world's a stage, we're reminded. now do with that what you will.
esoteric: 3 stars

Saturday, December 13, 2008

respect must be paid

cadillac records--
first off, i consider jeffrey wright one of the great actors of this generation. here he's joined by a stellar ensemble, including adrien brody, mos def, eamonn walker (hbo's oz), and rising stud columbus short (stomp the yard). international mega-star beyonce knowles brings cache of another sort as well, introducing to a wide-reaching crop of entertainment biz fans everywhere these vital chapters of music history. writer/director darnell martin deserves praise for tackling such an ambitious tribute. script clicks with energy, thanks primarily to rockin' soundtrack, overflowing with early rhythm & blues classics.
tribute: 3 stars

the reader
indisputably packaged, positioned, and presented as Important oscar pic. felt more like three separate films to me, however, the latter two draining life from bold, fun, sensual central flashback storyline. crafty conceit thus bogged down in its own earnestness. kate winslet delivers as expected (no more, no less), ralph fiennes is sufficiently dour, while newcomer david kross truly leads. core strength in Look: legendary cinematographer roger deakins reveals luminous beauty; costume designer ann roth does wonders.
expected: 3 stars

Thursday, December 11, 2008

catholic church & vampires together again

john patrick shanley won tony award and pulitzer prize for hit play. adapts & directs his own work for screen with what appears to be The dream cast. focus now justifiably shifts to actors, with four frequently mentioned for award consideration. they are indeed good--alongside trio of A-listers, viola davis stands out in small supporting role--yet bigger even than names brought in or accolades handed down is hype. and frankly, pic just does not boast a whole lot of Special. writing never Impresses, direction feels basic and flat. count on plenty of notice and little to no hardware.
hype: 3 stars

let the right one in
truly original perspective on traditional vampire mythology. and damn cool. children are the focus--how they live, how they connect, how they love. hard enough for young human to battle his way through adolescence; try being vampire girl next door. goes just a touch further down road to trite than i'd prefer, yet doesn't lose freshness. this terrific film may not be at a theater near you anymore, so put it in your dvd queue Now.
freshness: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

a study in contrast

would you expect anything less than the most showy of spectacle from the man who conjured up moulin rouge! and romeo + juliet? fittingly and wisely, baz luhrmann's sprawling, reportedly $140M antipodean epic is narrated by an aboriginal boy (newcomer brandon walters), a dazzling youngster who declares the saga's storybook intentions from the start. then you're in for a 160-minute jaunt through WWII-era aussie cattle country, replete with pin-up cinema icons--preposterously hunky hugh jackman paired with porcelain nicole kidman, who appears to have done something tragic to her lips--extravagent, fantasy-colorful production design, and the requisite cast of thousands. with countless allusions to gone with the wind and the wizard of oz, pic is tribute to old hollywood glamour And celebration of historical oz. broad in every sense, sporadically fun, and (did i nearly neglect to mention?) Long.
storybook: 2 stars

wendy and lucy--
as close to antithesis of luhrmann production as i can presently imagine. read one review (i'm sure not the Only one such) labeling this film minimalist. if by that, critic meant ain't nothin' goin' on, then slap said label here. director/co-writer kelly reichardt proves relentlessly patient, makes most of simple emotional observations. michelle williams deserves praise for her work--it's so very minimalist--even more for Taking the job; without her, pic, as sweet as it is, would never have seen the light of day.
simple: 1 star

Thursday, December 4, 2008

heavy december underway

heaviest back-loaded film campaign Ever! seeing flicks every day during this time of year. coming w/in the next week: reviews of australia, wendy and lucy, and more....

in gripping denouement, narration comments on television's inherent power to reduce history to images. this film deftly flips a reversal on that process. writer peter morgan adapted his own insightful, powerful & surprisingly funny play--winner of 2007 tony award for broadway's best--then handed the reigns to ron howard & friends. whereas often such silver screen translations don't hold up, everything about production shines. look for oscar nods for best picture, director, screenplay, supporting actor michael sheen, composer hans zimmer, and--i'm calling it now--a win for lead actor, frank langella.
shines: 5 stars

* baby mama (BONUS dvd review)--
didn't expect much from what turned out to be a legit sleeper hit; hence how i held out for dvd to check it. since i Did wait, perspective reveals pic as smartest comedy of '08. right away i was struck by writer/director michael mccullers' script. clever format tweak, as opening montage concisely intros protagonist journey. tight jokes for grown-ups; wry and witty throughout, not crass. only aspect more impressive was cast--brilliant hires, hilarious peformances.
smartest: 4 stars

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

giving thanks

glad i hadn't read any of the books, allowing me to appreciate pic on its own merit. there is much to enjoy here, thanks to exemplary direction by catherine hardwicke (thirteen). she was perfect choice for job, again smoothly connecting to and portraying teen spirit w/o playing down to demo. soundtrack tonally perfect, high marks for casting on all levels (too many noteworthy to list), rare moments of pushed acting, makeup scary bad at points. i get the comparisons to harry potter series; similarly broad appeal. among best of contemporary vampire tales. drama, relatability, action (thrilling), and romance (hot)--recommended for all.
teen spirit: 4 stars

can't stress enough how important it is to assemble right Team to fully realize a Great film. producers dan jinks & bruce cohen (oscar winners, american beauty), director gus van sant (nominated, good will hunting), star sean penn (winner, mystic river) comprise dream team leadership for topical biopic. as a result, one of the best movies of the year. pic sure to be called several times when academy noms are read (expect josh brolin's first nod), boys above likely repeat honorees, penn is a lock. startling feeling our cultural evolution through this lens, crawling from 1978's prop 6 through this month's prop 8, onward & upward....
topical: 5 stars

Monday, November 17, 2008

the style and the fury

quantum of solace--
the reinvention of james bond in casino royale was an across the board success. producers and studios Needed a reboot, daniel craig brought...everything that he brings, film was brilliant, audiences Loved it, record profits were made, all were happy. naturally, expectations are high for this installment, first sequel in franchise history. cue marc forster, a director of subtle and/or intimate fare (finding neverland, monster's ball)--wait, What...? to say that this hire backfired is putting it lightly, although blame for frustrating mess shall not rest solely on captain's shoulders. plot is practically impossible to follow, countless throwaway characters bouncing between innumerable global hot-spots. craig has no arc to play out, so bond feels more automaton than conflicted hero. pic is one long, uber-destructive action sequence that i'd thrill to see, but it's been edited to Death; flow is jarring and incomprehensible. need i go on? let's not continue this direction.
frustrating mess: 1 star

slumdog millionaire--
never met a danny boyle movie i didn't like. this one's based on a novel, and not surprisingly, feels as fresh as director's own brainchild. rich in color, texture, and character, it's a stylistic rags-to-riches fairy tale built on hard-knock, real-world foundation. drags a bit into predictably saccharine territory in act three, yet if you're not completely engaged by then, you've got no pulse. here's a truly universal cinematic experience, one of the more heartfelt films of the year.
universal: 4 stars

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

catching up

took some time to get caught up on a couple films released months ago--one likely award-season contender nearing end of limited run here in l.a., one underground comedy hit finding legs on dvd.

i Really like this script, based on a philip roth novel and deftly adapted by nicholas meyer (the human stain). unflinching dissection of aging masculinity showcases ben kingsley--one of his best performances--with intelligence, charm, and humanity. penelope cruz moves with coy, subtle grace and warmth heretofore undiscovered in english-language work. perhaps aided by spanish compatriot, gifted director isabel coixet, who shows knack for pacing and sensivity to emotion. look for distinction at independent spirit awards.
humanity: 4 stars

* the foot fist way
(BONUS dvd review)--
great porn title is literal translation of true subject matter, tae kwon do. championed by will ferrell & adam mckay, distributed by mtv films, absurdist comedy in their collective spirit. put lead danny mcbride (tropic thunder, pineapple express) on hollywood map. crafty premise for caricature silliness, beyond its star discovery...
nothing special: 2 stars

Friday, November 7, 2008

the elizabeth banks show

three major releases--w. (reviewed oct 27), plus the pair below--in the span of one month. three principal roles, positive buzz for each turn. although you'd have been hard-pressed to recall from where you recognized her prior to this tremendous run, the veteran go-to supporting beauty is suddenly a Major star. these days hollywood truly is elizabeth banks' world, and we're merely living in it.

zack and miri make a porno--
i love the setup, a premise often joked about (perhaps frequently manifest) among struggling hollywood up-and-comers. distinctly a kevin smith film, yet allegedly a romantic comedy first. not as cute or funny, however, as bawdy and simple. too often slow-paced as well--a problem i attribute to writer/director also assuming editing duties. briefly fun to see smith regulars and judd apatow players mix with a couple porn legends.
simple: 1 star

role models--
best effort from creators of wet hot american summer. a nice counter to above. at times base, yet never crass, pic is legitimately clever, well-executed, packed with heart. paul rudd is impeccably droll, seann william scott at his Best, and jane lynch downright Ridiculous. kids, too, are exceptional. one of the funniest films of the year.
exceptional: 4 stars

Monday, October 27, 2008

history as told by...

if this is oliver stone being even-handed, i'd be most curious to see a director's cut: attack-dog version. at turns outright farce and preachy polemic (each mode effective), it figures to please the average bush-basher and piss off the staunch right-winger. josh brolin is mesmerizing as our 43rd prez, somehow managing to make the familiar mannerisms and the too-familiar idiot-speak come off authentically. the w. on screen is a fully realized character, ground in truth, motivated mostly by paternal approval; the film, a revealing look at a fascinating man who has bungled his way through every significant chapter of his now ominously weighty history.
effective: 3 stars

i enjoy director clint eastwood when he goes toward the gritty, and as such i consider pic among his finest works. the root of this true story is horrific, the years-long tale Involved. in the hands of a lesser skipper, could easily have been too gruesome or just plain boring. instead, detractions are relatively minor. credit as well to veteran tv scribe j. michael straczynski, and to angelina jolie for holding down an emotionally challenging role. (at times i wanted to Throttle her character for not fighting back!) no shoe-in, yet could be in the running for some post-season hardware.
challenging: 4 stars

Saturday, October 18, 2008

taking a stand

bill maher takes on organized religion in this documentary directed by borat helmer larry charles. as with that outrageous mock-interview sensation, we're privy here to the host's work & private insights as he hits the road in search of answers. with Doubt & Skepticism his primary guides, nary a sect is safe from the comedian's pointed inquiry. his thorough research and razor-sharp wit combine for Many laugh-out-loud moments, yet little we see or hear comes off as (ahem) revelation. preaching primarily to the converted (i doubt religious conservatives will flock), this thought-provoking & funny film is unfortunately not likely to be a world changer.
pointed: 3 stars

miracle at st. anna
looked forward to this for a black WWII soldiers' perspective delivered via a spike lee joint. in the end, that's about all i got from this formulaic yawner. no miracles here; it's like warfilm101...delivered via a spike lee joint. actors appear to struggle through most basic of issues: staging is awful, script often worse (frequently groan-inducing), shot selection and editing forced. the good and impressive elements are simply outweighed by the bad.
warfilm101: 1 star

Friday, October 10, 2008

master directors at work

body of lies--
easy to be deceived by the bland, generic trailer; tagline flat-out says Deceive Everyone. likely the marketing folks (justifiably) felt they wouldn't need to sell much more than dicaprio, crowe, and ridley scott. in light of blase' campaign, i was actually fearing this one would fall flat. not so. as with nearly all scott's films, technical aspects are Tight--cinematography, editing, sound, music all dazzling. performances, too (no surprise), come through. and thanks to william monahan's (academy award, the departed) snappy adaptation, action is riveting, even when story is the stuff of which so many other genre flicks are made.
riveting: 3 stars

writer/director mike leigh does it again: a completely unconventional story that grabs you and shakes you and makes you Feel. he crafts by shaping improv with his actors for months before shooting, so what you experience are fully-formed, lived-in characters undergoing transformation. lead sally hawkins is a revelation. she is the heart & soul of the piece, steadfastly smiling, quipping, genuinely loving her way through the profound challenges of the daily urban grind. even the deeply disturbed, frightening foil boldly embodied by eddie marsan can't keep this trooper from seeing her path as a blessed one.
profound: 4 stars

Friday, October 3, 2008

so you wanna make a western

safe to say this one wouldn't have seen the light of day without ed harris' involvement. afterall, he had a hand in nearly every aspect of the production. he, viggo mortensen, and jeremy irons fit right into the western filmscape, all solemn and gritty. renee zellwegger, conversely, sticks out like a sore thumb, in that she looks and acts rather like one. there is admirable work done here, to be sure, yet the script's weaker elements--including hints of trying too hard--simply prove too glaring to overcome.
admirable: 2 stars

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

here they come

oh boy! here it do be a'comin': that snowball of releases which long to be taken seriously. that's not to say that there won't be Plenty of fluff mixed in. but rest assured, fall movie season is legitimately upon us. and the reviews do be a'rollin' out right alongside.

flash of genius--
it's about the guy who invented intermittent windshield wiper blades. yeah, really. it's his story. that's the sell. sounds impossibly boring, right? yet it succeeds. it succeeds with heart and character and patience, and most of all Truth. it doesn't get bogged down in the workshop, or in family matters, or (heaven forbid) in the courtroom. debut helmer marc abraham wisely allows the naturally engaging underdog tale and his veteran actors to work their persistent charms. and you leave feeling good.
succeeds: 3 stars

Thursday, September 18, 2008


the duchess--
everything you expect from a high-brow period costume drama: lush production design, lavish costumes, extravagant sets & seemingly unreal locations, big name actors playing characters stifled by societal convention.... oh yes, and little to no excitement. an impressive film in many ways--even a compelling "true" story--yet i can not recommend it. the action is simply not engaging. keira knightley will get some awards-season play; ralph fiennes, in top form here, even more.
not engaging: 2 stars

rachel getting married
jonathan demme directs this festival piece (nominated for golden lion at venice) that could be a primer for indy filmmakers. handheld cameras, improvised dialogue, mainstream ingenue playing against type, lazy-bad directorial choices--you know the drill. anne hathaway is remarkable (check her last five roles and tell me she's not outstanding) as the messed-up sister of the titular betrothed (impressive rosemarie dewitt). all moves along nicely until an inexplicable 10+min wedding music montage brings the denouement to a screeching halt. remove that useless, obtrusive segment of crap, and it's tight. hathaway makes it right.
primer: 3 stars

* the fall (BONUS dvd review)--
released early this year on a meager 111 screens nationwide, it's unlikely you caught this visual masterwork in theater (heck, even i missed it). writer/director tarsem (the cell) is widely heralded for his vision, oft criticized for his scripting. he nails them both here, crafting an intimate, charming, adventurous/playful, bittersweet fantasy. watch it on blu-ray, and the colors pop like you won't believe. and i'm not exaggerating when i tell you that every single frame of this magical film is a breath-taking stand-alone photograph.
masterwork: 5 stars

Saturday, September 13, 2008

great expectations

burn after reading--
here's one way oscar gold can really pay off: one film removed. the coen brothers' first release since taking home best picture honors for no country for old men is hardly a comparable effort, yet almost certain to do big business. it's clear the cast was eager to be involved with the highly regarded directing duo; star names fill the bill, even in supporting roles. plus the marketing folks know how to push their product, touting celebrity and hardware in one breath (natch). good for all who got to work together, good for the studios and all the money folks. not so good for viewer. dulled into boredom by typical coen character silliness, i found myself Waiting for something truly Funny. then just when i started to was over.
marketing: 2 stars

righteous kill
pacino & de niro. that should be enough, right? enough to get me to Go, yes, yet not enough to turn a run-of-the-mill cop thriller script into an exceptional film. all technical aspects were adequately handled, enough charisma on screen to keep folks interested (plus carla gugino looks Hot).... really just an unoriginal story told in predictable fashion.
unoriginal: 2 stars

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

labor pains

labor day is a traditionally brutal holiday for movie-goers. you can count on a bunch of stinkers being dropped in at the multiplex between the summer tentpoles and the fall award hopefuls. best to stick to the art houses for a couple weeks or revisit some of your seasonal popcorn faves.

made enough impact at sundance this year to get picked up for limited release, but wow has it gone quietly. unfairly so. i enjoyed this crafty indy piece, especially the squirrelly second act buildup. casting was a boon: apropos rube woody harrelson, pitch-perfect lead emily mortimer (ever under the radar, quietly becoming one of my favorites), always-accented antagonist ben kingsley.... sufficiently suspenseful and mostly believable, pic presents series of twisted conundrums (relationship drama, anyone?) to keep viewer squirming.
crafty: 3 stars

Sunday, August 24, 2008

good times

a trio of highly entertaining films, each from a different genre, each masterful in its own right. plus, my first 5 star rating of 2008:

vicky cristina barcelona--
not only one of my favorite woody allen films ever, my favorite fiction of the year so far. the script is a hoot, including the trademark allen-esque voiceover narration. the principals all turn in solid performances, with javier bardem and penelope cruz looking at likely nominations come award season. the subject matter certainly won't suit everyone, but it's a bold, fresh take for woody--very european. his work away from new york is suiting him well, and he frames barcelona beautifully.
favorite: 4 stars

tropic thunder
definitely some really funny shit. the whole concept is clever, and they hold nothing back in execution. highlights include the faux movie trailers preceding the pic, tom cruise's foul-mouthed studio mogul, and robert downey jr. again running things. damn, he's having quite a year. it might be the best comedy this year, and it definitely is the most original. kudos to newcomer brandon t. jackson for More than holding his own with some real heavyweights.
funny shit: 3 stars

man on wire
documentary filmmaking at its best. top doc of the year thus far, and one of the more engaging i've ever seen. utilizes interviews, home video footage, re-enactments, and heaps of character to tell a spectacular true story. it's more immediate and more fantastic than being in the room to hear it straight from the crew who lived through the experience. the story itself would seem wholly unbelievable if we didn't know the truth. and as wonderfully charming as the storytellers are, the director proves an even bigger star. this film is truly not to be missed.
character: 5 stars

Monday, August 18, 2008

get 'em high

pineapple express--
let the judd apatow backlash officially begin. i can appreciate the talents of those in his clan, yet four of his last five productions have been crap. including this one. on the plus side, james franco fully embodies his ever-baked drug dealer, and seth rogen has some clever enough moments (delivering dialogue that He wrote). i Do feel that a good stoner movie should go for broke, yet this one rarely elicits more than a chuckle. it is overflowing with adventurous cliche-silly action shtick--something you don't see too often in this sub-genre--and incessant shouting & fighting.
chuckle: 1 star

Sunday, August 10, 2008

yesterday's news

swing vote--
would have been socio-politically relevant eight years ago, perhaps interesting and clever four years ago. today, for a host of reasons, the whole exercise feels quaint at Best, most often schlocky and dated. reads like an extended sitcom from 2001. kelsey grammer and george lopez feed this notion most, sticking out like...well, like hammy television actors. they, like kevin costner himself--who, to be fair, manages to craft a likeable loser, earns a few laughs--are power players from another market in days gone by. coming to your home theater yesteryear, only on vhs.
schlocky: 1 star

Sunday, July 27, 2008

updating the classics

brideshead revisited--
nice to see Talented, up-and-coming english stars matthew goode (the lookout), ben whishaw (i'm not there), and hayley atwell (cassandra's dream) in such a prominent period showcase. and fun to watch emma thompson Work the kind of grande dame role maggie smith and judi dench have been commanding for years. gorgeous locations and lavish production design highlight this fine adaptation of the classic novel. a sprawling story ripe with complex themes, much was necessarily trimmed to reduce to two hours what once spawned an 11-hr miniseries.
ripe: 3 stars

the dark knight
the principals all do wonderful work, and what a cast. the script is ambitious, perhaps a tad over-reaching (2:32 is one Long superhero movie). the direction is good, the editing at times frenetic. much to say about the record-breaking film, yet the conversation will always come back to heath ledger. his turn as the joker is truly inspired. what could easily have been standard bad-guy schlock instead comes through as depth, complexity, and intelligence. both his pain and his fearlessness are palpable. a real villain for the ages.
heath: 3 stars

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ah, the silliness

mama mia!--
heaven help you if you're seeing this movie without knowing that it's a musical filled with songs by abba; cuz if you don't know That, you didn't sign up for silliness. for me nearly all of the pleasure of this film comes from watching "serious" actors--meryl streep, pierce brosnan, colin firth, stellan skarsgard--willingly, knowingly look ridiculous, singing & dancing like "real people"--in other words, like amateurs. the vocals from this elite hollywood roster are average at best, the choreography is absurd, and the production values are chintzy. all this, and mama mia! (just like the hit broadway show on which it's based) still proves a good time. lead amanda seyfried has the makings of a real star (just you wait). for further proof, see her work in mean girls, alpha dog, and tv show big love, among others.
silliness: 2 stars

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the average-ness

next week: reviews of the dark knight and mama mia!

hellboy II: the golden army
most obvious and most important is that this is a guillermo del toro project through & through. he wrote and directed, so it comes loaded with his signature flair. his vision is truly singular, and the hellboy universe serves as an apropos playground for all its bizarre manifestations. we're treated to more unique creatures than frequent the star wars cantina, yet sadly they do little to adequately fatten up the lean story. our hero's not the most complex character in the comic pantheon, and not a terrible lot happens in this sequel. fun filmmaking, lightweight product.
obvious: 2 stars

the wackness
i don't consider it a Good thing when a soundtrack is the best aspect of a film. what i recall from every review since this festival fave dropped gave props to the old-school hip-hop flavor, not much else; now i see why. sir ben kingsley's accent is truly scattershot, yet at least his performance feels risky. that's more than can be said of the two youngsters at the heart of the story, or even of the story itself. feels like when the knighted one got involved, this film got the green light that it needed, when really there's just not much to it. not exactly wack, far from dope, more like average.
average: 2 stars

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

high octane summer

wasn't exactly eager to see this one. felt like silly shoot-em-up popcorn fluff to me. and james mcavoy as an assassin? gimme a break. as per usual, his acting here is rich, and he proves up to task for any challenge at hand. angelina, too, is strong as one might expect. stunts, f/x, and camera tricks are laid on Thick, and they look good. even though i'll call the script a weak point, i do appreciate the storytellers' sermon to the sadsacks and couch potatoes of the world about choosing & living the fulfilling life.
tricks: 2 stars

will smith is the undisputed king of the july 4th holiday opening. folks flock to see what he'll bring to each summer blockbuster. here's an extraordinarily cool premise that doesn't measure up to its potential, yet is certainly worthy of both its star and release date. count me as one who likes the "twist" and the ending. dig all three principals too. don't at all, however, like the music supervision (cheesy bad, dated song selections), or, more importantly, the direction. this--any jiggy mid-year romp, really--just strikes me as a bad fit for peter berg. he's prone to heavy-handedness (e.g., the kingdom and friday night lights), and his staple hand-held shots and dramatic close-ups don't fit tonally.
worthy: 2 stars

pixar keeps churning out the charm and raking in the bucks. the animation is spectacular, and the score delightful. (could have done with less hello dolly, though, soundtrack.) not quite as fun or clever, on the whole, as some of their past efforts (could have something to do with less actual dialogue), yet sure to play to all audiences. guaranteed to pick up significant post-season hardware, but i'm predicting early that best picture oscar nom hype is merely that.
charm: 3 stars

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the big, the green, and the ugly

the happening--
even the most ardent m. night shyamalan supporters must acknowledge that the director's product has been in steady decline since he exploded onto the hollywood scene in 1999 with the sixth sense. i felt, going in, that this would be a crucial film for him, considering. smart marketing (including his first R rating) and his reputation for harrowing tales buoyed the first-week take beyond $30M. next week mark the precipitous drop in receipts, cuz this movie stinks. in the past, even when his writing was subpar, his direction impressed, often inspired. here, it's All bad. acting? mark wahlberg gives his worst, while zooey deschanel is simply awful. story? i won't even get into the grade school didacticsim on display. perhaps the title is meant to offer vague reasoning for his own fall from grace; i'm now doubtful we'll ever see greatness from shyamalan again.
stinks: 1 star

the incredible hulk--
everyone wants to know: Is it better than ang lee's hulk, released only five years ago? well, it's certainly different. things, overall, have been markedly so since marvel started running their own show. already steering two franchise characters (iron man and hulk) to top of the box office, the new kids on the hollywood block seem to have a grasp on what their comic fans want to see. that's Action. not weighted down with gravitas, dull exposition, or even much backstory (film smartly doses you with need-to-know info in opening credits), this hulk gets the job done in the trenches. i'm not keen on the casting (william hurt as a career military man?), yet the actors are game. tim blake nelson and tim roth shine. cgi is, uhh, good enough, and script inoffensive. predictable (and apropos) Green light for sequel & director louis leterrier.
action: 2 stars

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

a pair of blockbusters

these two powerhouse franchises dominated the box office last week. for more extensive, specific chatter about either or both, hit me up directly. i've got Loads more to say about each:

indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull--
i am one who was psyched for the fourth installment in the indy series. so yes, expectations were high. the overly stagey opening sequence felt pulp, almost stock in every technical regard, and shifted me quickly into head-shaking mode. then throughout i found myself battling between objective and disheartened. frankly, no matter how i slice it, there are simply too many moments, scenes, sequences that feel forced, corny, derivative.... i couldn't escape all the spielberg-isms & lucas-isms so recognizable from their respective works. i couldn't get over the whelm of the Grande Collective Effort put forth to make this up to expectations. it was all just Too Much.
forced: 2 stars

sex and the city--
i am a fan of the tv series. granted, i didn't feel the Need for a movie; however, one was certainly welcome. not surprisingly--their shrieking reunions notwithstanding--i had fun reconnecting with our fave foursome of nyc gals ... for approximately 44 minutes. at that point, i reached my single episode threshold. i wanted the bitching, bitter, petty, Righteous ladies we All know & love (again i say, i am a fan) to get over it already! (mostly i wanted them to shut the hell up.) of course i expected the label worship and the silly dress-up montages, the catty bickering and the detestable egregious superficiality: that's our girls; that's the show. 142 minutes is just too damn long for that, people. i was done, i got bored, i grew incredulous, then Uber-Bored, finally ... redemption. i enjoy the way it all came together. i like the message we're left with. nicely resolved. now for the sequel can we Please do it all within, say, 90 minutes?
142 minutes: 2 stars

Monday, June 9, 2008

little things mean a lot

the visitor--
another winner from writer-director thomas mccarthey (station agent). he has a real knack for witnessing real people (feeling people) and for telling simple stories simply. like his exceptional first effort, this one develops slowly--with a patience that shows confidence in both his story and his lensing--unfolding and revealing with a steady, beautiful quiet. just as important as what happens is what doesn't (it's fantastic how much you feel what's going on just beneath the surface with any of the principals), so when credits roll, the emotional payoff warms into a definitive sense of wanting more. career supporting actor richard jenkins is the lifeblood of the film in a lead performance that's sure to win many critical praises.
winner: 4 stars

Saturday, May 31, 2008

one late, one early

so Finally i went to see iron man. and, as promised, although some of my screenings come a little Later than i'd desire, some come early. so here's a pre-release review as well.

iron man--
Do believe the hype: this film is really entertaining. And it Is all about robert downey, jr. that being said, you've gotta hand it to the tremendous teamwork of a Whole Lot of superstar artisans who made it shine. (i'll talk departments, You look up names, numbering too many to mention.) exceptionally good script, Outstanding music supervision And composition, good art direction, great f/x (apparently every f/x house in christendom pitched in), cool wardrobe, good cinematography, good gwyneth....
so for any shortcomings that jon favreau may have revealed during this monstrous undertaking (rumors of $30M in reshoots come to mind), he certainly did deliver a final product with flair. kudos to his knack for comic moments and one-liners, his passion for the material, and most importantly, for his Leadership. for a director, hiring a good team is Essential, because a film will ride on the strength of collective craftsmanship.
teamwork: 3 stars

kung fu panda--
kids will love it, sure; and as is true of every exceptional animated feature, this is a movie for everyone. youngsters will certainly respond to (maybe as much as the old guy behind me did) the countless panda pratfalls, while adults will also vibe with the lessons of eastern wisdom. all the classic martial arts film tropes are there, perfectly tweaked for maximum titters. superb voice casting and acting, tight script, and slick animation. the delightful requisite fight-training montage that ends act two is topped only by the "awesomeness" of the opening sequence.
delightful: 4 stars

Thursday, May 22, 2008

on the road again

i admit it's been Tough, for so many reasons, to be away from l.a. for so long. having a lovely time on the island of bali; not exactly prime spot for taking in the latest flicks.
very excited to return home to see iron man and the new indy (see last blog for dates you can expect my review on each), among others.
i Did, however, catch some movies on the plane--one of which is recent enough release to warrant a review While i'm still away. if it's still playing in theaters, it's fair game. and it is. so it is.

my blueberry nights--
although the titular metaphor is indeed made relatively clear early on, it's not so well played out. norah jones, in her bigscreen debut, proves a passable protagonist. more to the point, she doesn't Detract from the curiously lightweight tale. jude law and natalie portman are dependably strong, yet they can't hold together the looseleaf bits of story director wong kar-wai attempts to fashion into something worth watching. part-time wannabe romance, part-time road movie, it simply meanders to its only reasonable (read: foregone) "conclusion".
meanders: 2 stars

Monday, May 5, 2008

the value of free screenings

i was all set to go see iron man during this opening weekend madness when i got my first email of the season from the SAG film society.
every year i pay a nominal amount to receive access to dozens of private (screen actors' guild members only) screenings here in hollywood. season begins in may, so when i got the notice announcing showings of iron man at month's end i was torn.
should i pay to be among the first to see it--thus on pace with my usual reviews to match newer releases--or wait to see it "free" (in quotes cuz i've technically already paid) some four weeks later?

well you're reading This instead of a review, so clearly i'm waiting. you'll get your review of iron man by may 31. by then you'll already have seen it. maybe even more than once if you're a comic junkie.
the new indy film will be late for me too, as that screening is scheduled for june 6. so consider this a friendly heads up: most of my reviews will align with opening week of release, more still by second week, many even pre-release; but occasionally, especially here at the beginning of screener season, there will be a brief delay.
more reviews of new releases again next week. thanks for your patience and understanding. bless yer little heart.

Friday, April 25, 2008

back at it

smart people--
overall, a disappointment. very well could have been called miserable people. although the piece is heavy with top-notch talent doing good work, there's almost nothing to like about any of the principal characters. one must assume this is the very plan, yet may not one also expect to see more than a hint of redemption? thankfully, thomas haden church, who plays the only allegedly not-so-smart one of the bunch (also, not surprisingly, the lone rep for happiness), is delightful in a choice, funny role. other lowlights include: ellen page's horrid wardrobe, a cliched indy soundtrack, and a dubious...ending...?
a disappointment: 2 stars

forgetting sarah marshall
what stood out most, as a surprising Positive, was the lack of traditional star power. i really enjoyed seeing some fresh faces deliver the goods. we recognize kristen bell, mila kunis, and writer/star jason segel from television; now they can be called movie stars. this is a fun flick, a witty breakup story, and nothing special. there's plenty to appreciate, i had some good hearty laughs, and i left feeling appropriately entertained. true blue popcorn pic worth the price of admission.
popcorn pic: 3 stars

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

what i Haven't been seeing

the simple, succinct conclusion is, of course, Films at the cinema.

haven't been moved. just ain't.

o, there have been several-many days in the past two weeks when i've felt obligated to drag my ass down to the theater to take in one or two ... but i just couldn't do it. i just couldn't get excited, try as i might, about the ruins. or nim's island. or drillbit taylor. or street kings. or prom night. or superhero movie. or even leatherheads.

know what i'm sayin'? do you feel me, dog?

now, leatherheads, in particular, is (yes, remains) a tougher one to leave alone. last fall i was genuinely looking forward to seeing it. scheduled as an end-of-year release, it boasts stars of heft and with verve--george clooney & renee zellweger in a zany feelgood rom-com cary grant-style throwback. stars, hijinx, love, laughs, c'mon...! what's not to love? plus it's about football. early days, leatherhead football, sure, but i Love football. and john krasinski of tv series the office; he's cool too.

but then the release date was bumped, which (ahem) isn't Always bad.... then came whispers of weakness. of tweak-ness. i waited, optimistically.
so the new spring opening came, and i waited. i listened and felt and waited. i'm still listening (which maybe is the problem, if there is indeed a problem), and i still haven't heard anything really Good about it. i hear plenty of Fine's and Okay's and Almost's and such. and i'm curious. i'm certainly curious. you see, i want to like it. i want to. (don't You wanna like george clooney & renee zellweger and hijinx and laughs & love--don't you wanna like laughs & love?!)
i do.
i just can't bring myself to Go.

Monday, March 31, 2008

last of the first

apparently i saw a lot of films this month. i'm likely to take on less of a load in april. i say that because i'm not aware of much on the spring slate that sounds real promising. but then again, i was surprised by the first quarter returns. closed it out with another pair, in just under the wire.

what stands out most is that this one's a mtv films production. so during opening credits i'm clued in to what style of movie i'm getting. no surprises in that department. ryan phillippe does respectable work here. abbie cornish is versatile, yet i'm repeatedly distracted by how her character favors model/actress estelle warren. i'm then repeatedly glad i'm seeing the better actor. serious protagonist moral quandary addresses serious political issue, fairly addressed and adequately handled.
respectable: 2 stars

it's good. and for the first time i get jim sturgess. hooray - finally! a couple of the hollywood turns on these real events are a bit much, yet not enough to kill the pleasant buzz adroitly established (and maintained) by director robert luketic. kevin spacey does a spot-on kevin spacey, and kate bosworth is pretty. (and good golly, they work together a lot.) kudos to josh gad for some standout character moments in the nebbishy best friend role.
good: 3 stars

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

a dash of art house

banged out a coupla quick art house flicks last week while the rest o' you kiddies were checking out the new seuss:

paranoid park--
latest from director gus van sant, who is steady keeping up his dreamy pretty people on the fringe trope. about halfway through i'm annoyed, figuring this one too is going nowhere...and slowly. (i need not list how many disappointments in a row he's churned out.) lead gabe nevins gives us tone-perfect naturalism as alex, drifting through his daydream teen day-to-day. the direction follows slyly, meandering, honing in for focus/story clarity only as it needs to, in bits, as authority figures and friends alike peck around for clues to alex's existence. what develops is an adroitly explored, simple portrait of a young man growing into discovery of his sense of self. it's appropriately arty, intimate, careful--classic van sant, his best in years--lead with heart, and ultimately full of hope.
arty: 3 stars

funny games--
remake of 1997 austrian film also by writer/director michael haneke. rarely does a helmer get the chance to pull a "do-over," essentially reframing the same story for english-speaking audiences (read: for hollywood). my question is Why do it line-for-line, shot-for-shot? does he feel that, even ten years later, there is no room for improvement?on anything? bummer, i say, cuz the time away could have served him better. it's torture porn with a wink, an audience-inclusive what-if, literally questioning our desire for a nicely-wrapped package of story. clever enough exploration, yet i'd like a little more challenge in this game. like what if the director did something more than simply turn convention on its ear? the idea shows such great potential, then coasts along feeling good about itself. this do-over feels too much like opportunity wasted.
bummer: 2 stars

Friday, March 14, 2008

seasonal surprises

if you read my earlier posts, you're aware of how lightly i regard the standard releases during the early months of the typical calendar year. it is true that the multiplexes are still ripe with winter dreck. wedged therein between every four or five stinkers, however, there have already been a handful of surprisingly solid offerings. this week alone i was treated to three such legitimate exceptions, each a distinct genre--something, i suspect, to satisfy nearly any frequent filmgoer.

the other boleyn girl--
not only a period piece, a history piece; the stuff Heavy (read: boring) films are made of. throw in natalie portman, scarlett johansson, and eric bana, however, and you've got youthful spirit, sex appeal, and (whatdoyouknow?) box office. i was a bit worried in the first act, when setup is rather stock. once past what i'll call a directorial warmup, the work delivers. david morrissey's realistically villainous duke of norfolk sparks the intrigue early and keeps it rolling throughout. portman gives a commanding performance, her career best. johansson reminds us she's got chops. bana proves a convincing (albeit a bit too studly) henry. the writers have fun with their history lesson, in the process managing a most agreeable tone. also notable were the cinematography and costumes.
delivers: 3 stars

the bank job--
...really is as good as you've heard. so much more thriling when you see that it's based on a true story (some liberties, sure, but heaps of fun nonetheless). also the first authentically human character i've seen jason statham play. right on. the titular heist itself is handled fairly early, and the ensuing runabout pulls you into the action ever deeper. i found myself desperately wanting the hard-luck crooks to get away clean. and (no spoiler here) see for yourself, you'll be rooting for them too.
thrilling: 4 stars

snow angels--
it's not news to say that director david gordon green has a way with small-town life. he paints crisp, thoughtful portraits full of it-could-happen-to-you scenes with textured characters who never come off character-y. heck, he's flatout good for actors. this 2007 sundance standout gives wings to its ensemble. top tier turns from kate beckinsale, sam rockwell (devastating monologue in act two), adorable olivia thirlby (so dependable in juno), and relatable, likeable michael angarano. funny, poignant, romantic, and heartbreakingly sad, it is ultimately beautifully human.
standout: 4 stars

Monday, March 10, 2008

more from the multiplex

greetings, friends! a couple weeks now since the last fresh reviews. i've continued to catch some flicks, of course--including some old-timers and foreign gems (go rent this very instant films directed by korean slickster chan-wook park!) via dvd--just gave the oscars a little space to dominate the landscape. that being said, on to the business at hand. here's how i see it:

the spiderwick chronicles--
this could be one of my shorter roundups for two reasons: one, it's already been a few weeks since i saw the film; two, there just wasn't anything particularly special about it. i did appreciate the casting--a terrific bunch of recognizable names in both physical and voice talent. freddie highmore is a gifted young actor, good enough to handle playing distinctly different twin boys. kudos too to teen sarah bolger; she's got charisma in spades, likely a long career ahead of her. the adults don't have much to do, but the fx do. it's the usual kiddy fantasy fare all around, predictably dosed with some agreeable life lessons.
kiddy: 2 stars

10,000 b.c.--
devotees of this is spinal tap will surely appreciate the notion that i'd find it most fitting to give this film a two-word review. mind you, i only saw this because i figured i'd see some cool fx--you know, badass dinosaur chases and beastly fights and such--and have a few good belly laughs at the sheer inanity of it all. no such luck. it was just too awful--too dull, too long, too formulaic, too stupid--to even snicker at. i was bored out of my gourd, falling asleep, not once impressed by any element of craftwork. this appears in every way to be intentionally made for an audience of the lowest common denominator. it'll be tough to best this doozie for worst picture of the year.
awful: 0 stars

married life--
i'll give you a silly fun hollywood mash-up: this film feels like far from heaven meets little children. chris cooper, patricia clarkson, and pierce brosnan are all perfectly cast in this clever (almost farcical) ensemble drama. rachel mcadams rounds out the winning foursome, although neither her genteel character nor her platinum hair play to her strong suits. it's the snarky brosnan and his wry delivery (bolstered by smart narration) that really move the piece. (incidentally, if you don't know him yet as anything other than bond, rent the matador, evelyn, and see this [and oh, don't forget mrs. doubtfire]; he's consistently commanding in his versatility.) solidly put together, deftly executed, readily recommended.
winning: 3 stars

Sunday, March 2, 2008

top 12 films of last five years

over dinner with a trio of lovely ladies in las vegas the night before the academy awards, i was asked for suggestions on fantastic films from the last handful of years. i replied, naturally, that i could lay down a list of some doozies--maybe even a couple that they didn't expect and hadn't seen. i came home this week and pulled from my files, concocting a conglomerate of elites.

here's a list of my top 12 favorites--not Best, but Favorites--from the last five years (2003-2007), as per our dinner discussion. only the cream of the crop--ones that still Floor me, after this amount of time, with originality and execution. thank you, ladies, for the impetus to put this together:

whale rider
the magdalene sisters
eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
brokeback mountain
hustle & flow
children of men
pan's labyrinth
there will be blood
no country for old men

if you haven't seen any of these, get to it. if you have, it's time for another viewing. i'm truly in awe of how they stand up.
for a more extensive list, or for a breakdown discussion of any of these films, hit me up directly anytime.

hindsight: the Oscars in review

alright: well 15 of 24 is respectable. good enough to help one of my buddies to some office pool winnings, of which i shall (allegedly) be receiving an appropriately respectable 10%. most impressive is the 11/13 hit in what i'll call the top tier categories. misses on supporting actress and documentary feature were surprising, although i feel i should have seen the former coming.

i acknowledged that michael clayton was otherwise looking at a shutout on the evening, and with critical accolades being so evenly distributed among all the nominated ladies, the most likely beneficiary would stand to be indy queen swinton. she did/does consistently tremendous work, is highly respected by critics and peers alike, and it was too early for ryan, too small a role for dee, too many kudos for blanchett. that's the way it's done.
taxi to the dark side would have been my third pick for doc feature. surprise. bound to miss a few.

missed my 50/50 call on costume: my should win, elizabeth, did win. that has me look kinda right. right?
i tend to be real crap on tagging the technical awards and the shorts. just don't have my finger on the pulse of those conversations within the industry.
i definitely felt a disturbance in the force when i realized that i had predicted transformers would take home the second-most hardware. that just seemed too unlikely. and i kick myself for not seeing that bourne would be the most obvious choice in the sound categories. after all, we're talking Respect here. those filmmakers have it in spades, while michael bay gets...well, not as much.
visual effects? golden compass = mild surprise.
bourne for editing = big surprise. hell yes, Absolutely a well-earned trophy, yet a shocker nonetheless. bourne really turned out to be--next to the coens--the big winner of the night, coming from out of nowhere to take home three.

scoreboard looks like this:
no country for old men, 4
the bourne ultimatum, 3
there will be blood & la vie en rose, 2
with the rest of the wealth evenly distributed. and rightfully so.

i was Elated with the outcome of the categories that mattered most to me this year--actress and song.
i felt that marion cotillard's performance was one of the best in recent memory, and it would have been a shame if she were passed over. then Wow, she couldn't have been any cuter in her acceptance. her shock in the moment was palpable, and even as she left stage you could see she was Still trying to get a grip. adorable. Gorgeous and Talented and adorable.
once was my feel-good favorite film of the year, a thoroughly moving piece of artistry on every level. i shared the joy of victory with millions of other die-hard fans (i speak for them all when i say we feel we know hansard & irglova; they are our friends; we Love them) when they trumped the mouse house. my top memory of the evening was jon stewart's gracious gesture of bringing irglova back out to the mic after commercial break, and she made the most of her opportunity with words both heartfelt and inspiring.
overall, a good night at the academy awards. nothing earth-shattering, but definitely entertaining. the kind we've come to expect. why they play the game. why we watch.
the show--good: 3 stars
my picks--respectable: 3 stars

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oscar predictions

collective hollywood sigh of relief: the writers' strike is finally over, which means the academy awards will go on as planned this sunday, february 24.
here's my insider breakdown of who will win and who should win (plus an occasional mention of nominations that should have been).

best picture--
these are all fantastic films, but in the end, it's a two-horse race. atonement is too meticulous for its own good--as in, i found myself often more engaged by the stylistic elements than the story itself. juno doesn't have the true cinematic achievement heft of the others. michael clayton is gripping, focused, and powerful--might even be a winner in a weaker year--but it's tony gilroy's first film, and that does count against him. there will be blood is a sprawling, innovate, artistic epic, a landmark movie that will be dissected and appreciated for decades. a little too dark, a little too slow for some. but most importantly, it's up against the coen brothers' masterwork. just as it carried each of the guild awards, no country for old men will also walk with the most coveted of the academy's honors. deservedly so.
shoulda been: into the wild
will (and should) win: no country for old men

this one's no contest, so let's talk nominations. i was most disappointed by johnny depp's nod, as i felt there were at least three other performances in category more worthy of distinction. i loved george clooney, tommy lee jones, and viggo mortensen, but even they're raving about the clear-cut winner.
shoulda been: christian bale (rescue dawn)
will (and should) win: daniel day-lewis

folks have thrown in the towel for cate blanchett in this category because, of her two deserved nods, elizabeth was less pronounced a challenge. laura linney does beautiful, rangey work, as always, but even her nomination here was a bit of a surprise. i've been hearing a lot of support for ellen page's indelible characterization, and she could sneak in if votes split between the two front-runners. marion cotillard's edith piaf is beyond amazing. i shudder at speculation that she may not tally enough support because hers is a foreign film, and that not enough voters saw this stunning performance to begin with. julie christie has won more critics' prizes and will certainly garner a substantial number of sentimental (for various reasons) votes. this one's too close to call; i'm going with my heart.
shoulda been: angelina jolie (a mighty heart)
will (and should) win: marion cotillard

supporting actor--
casey affleck had three(!) memorable roles this year, and this one deservedly earned top notice. a nom is to be expected for always stellar philip seymour hoffman. tom wilkinson managed--via a character i feel certain was much more difficult to realize than it appeared--to translate the (very real) fine line between enlightenment and madness. hal holbrook's heartbreakingly endearing role, coupled with his 60 years(!) in the biz, may be enough to pull off an upset. it's javier bardem's iconic villain, however, in the year's best film that's most likely to win the vote.
shoulda ben foster (3:10 to yuma)
will (and should) win: javier bardem

supporting actress--
cate blanchett's bob dylan is scary good. as previously mentioned, this nom is her better shot, yet some voters may feel a second win for her in this category is too much too soon, especially in this year of solid competition. saoirse ronan is precocious and lovely, but does not belong with this company on this night. tilda swinton picks up some long overdue award-season recognition as she delivers yet again. could even win if two faves do the ol' vote split. amy ryan's received the most critical kudos, and ruby dee gets the sentimental edge. this category boasts a history of big-time surprises.
will win: amy ryan
should win: cate blanchett

we've seen over the past decade or so that best picture and top director don't always go hand in hand. julian schnabel, recognized here for his innovative stylings, saw his french entry miss the cut for the evening's final prize. both tony gilroy and jason reitman are similarly rewarded with first-time nominations for helming extraordinary product. paul thomas anderson's body of work astounds, and i'll call the man a lock to win within the next five years. although it could happen for him sunday, it's almost assuredly the coen brothers' turn. theirs is the only CV here more impressive than PTA's, and they stay a deuce ahead of him with the oscar 1-2 punch.
shoulda been: sean penn (into the wild); joe wright (atonement)
will (and should) win: ethan coen and joel coen

documentary feature--
there's some mighty powerful political material in this category. four of five--including taxi to the dark side, war/dance, and operation homecoming: writing the wartime experience--address war and its consequences. although michael moore's health care missile sicko has collected more hardware, no end in sight is at least as powerful and it's simply a better film.
will (and should) win: no end in sight

documentary short--
once again, this is the category where i draw a blank. why? i've seen none of the entries--no access. (will someone please help remedy this situation in 2008?) my pick is based solely on industry blah blah; in other words, your guess is as good as mine.
winner: freeheld

animated feature--
2007 was a good year for animated films. i'm disappointed there couldn't be more nominees. these three were top-notch. critical darling persepolis and documentary-style surf's up both belong on the short list, yet ratatouille continues a run of pixar triumphs.
will (and should) win: ratatouille

foreign language film--
this category is an outright bummer. what are these picks? (i couldn't even get through mongol.) and where are they? nowhere near a theater near you, that's for sure. between nomination announcement morning and today's press time, not one of these films was available to public audience in los angeles. after four of the best foreign releases of 2007 failed to qualify due to technicalities (the new nomination system may be even worse than the old), what remains is precisely one standout film. would have merely been a contender, now it scores a decisive tko.
shoulda been: the diving bell and the butterfly; persepolis; the band's visit; 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days
will (and should) win: the counterfeiters

boasting the most level playing field of the night--i remain, after repeat viewings, utterly blown away by all the nominees--this category will be a weathervane for award distribution. if the coens win here, chances are we'll see a sweep for their film. atonement and diving bell are gorgeous, rich photographic tapestries likely to go home empty-handed. roger deakins' dreamy patchwork jesse james could very well steal votes from his own work on the coens' piece. most worthy beneficiary of the parity is there will be blood's robert elswit, who also beautifully lensed michael clayton (not nominated here).
will (and should) win: there will be blood

original screenplay
first time ever we've seen three women among the five nominees in this category. nancy oliver and tamara jenkins receive the moral parting gift of History, while diablo cody's first script is considered by many to be the favorite. brad bird's trophy for animated feature will be his only one of the night. similarly, a win here would acknowledge tony gilroy's gifted work on michael clayton and nab the pic its sole statuette.
will win: diablo cody (juno)
should win: tony gilroy (michael clayton)

adapted screenplay--
although i've not read it myself, friends tell me atonement is an astonishing and beautiful novel. playwright christopher hampton wrote a damn impressive version of the story for the screen, as well. ronald harwood does wonders with diving bell's source material, immersing us in an achingly intimate world of isolation. both sarah polley and PTA deliver personal cinematic yarns rich in character and ultimately lonely. the coens, who've struck oscar gold previously for their original work, take the honor this night for their transformation of a cormac mccarthey short story.
shoulda been: sean penn (into the wild)
will (and should) win: ethan coen and joel coen (no country for old men)

visual effects--
i'm not nearly so well-versed at dissecting the artistry that these technical wizards bring to the screen. i do, however, know what looks real neat. golden compass and pirates both looked cool, but transformers was an experience.
will (and should) win: transformers

animated short film--
no point in really breaking these shorties down for you, cuz you're not likely to have seen them. they're typically made available at one theater each in l.a. and nyc during the week preceding the ceremony. i found this bunch an odd, experimental lot. wouldn't be floored or disappointed if peter & the wolf or my love were to win, but my vote goes to the cleverly illustrated john lennon tribute, using real audio footage from a 1969 interview.
will (and should) win: i met the walrus

live action short film
caught these as part of a double bill with the group above. and similarly, there are three here i feel could take the prize. tanghi argentini is a concise, charming belgian office comedy. the sole entry in english, the tonto woman, is a western based on an elmore leonard short story. i'm going with the strongest ensemble acting of the bunch, the one i also expect the voters to respond to.
will (and should) win: at night

art direction
i was not at all mindful of the art direction while watching either the golden compass or american gangster. the other three nominated films were both spectacular and memorable in that regard. again, the vision behind there will be blood impresses, and atonement virtually radiates throughout. i've often heard it said, however, that this category champions the showy. sweeney todd is nothing without that distinctively surreal, dark tim burton flair--the best thing about the movie.
shoulda been: elizabeth: the golden age
will win: sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street
should win: there will be blood

costume design--
for as much as i was disappointed by across the universe, i must say that i did appreciate the costumes. sweeney todd likewise comes off as overtly theatrical, which may pay dividends. la vie en rose has little chance here against such mega-budget extravagance. elizabeth and atonement each go the extra mile on costuming, it's hard not to notice. choosing between the two may be the most difficult coin toss of the night. i'll take one of each. kinda.
will win: atonement
should win: elizabeth: the golden age

film editing--
best way to get a sense of just how precise an art we're talking about here is to closely watch example cuts like those the academy has presented during their telecast the last several years. fingers crossed they keep that tradition alive. movie editing is a tremendously complex discipline, and any of these nominees--the bourne ultimatum, the diving bell and the butterfly, into the wild, no country for old men, there will be blood--would be worthy of oscar distinction. that being said, it's come to be something of a given that the film honored in this category will also take best picture. my money's on us seeing that twofer yet again.
will (and should) win: no country for old men

sound mixing
the sound awards don't as often go to fx-heavy films as one may suspect. a stylistic balance is reflected in this season's short list, pitting the bourne ultimatum, no country for old men, ratatouille, 3:10 to yuma, and transformers against one another. despite my caveat above, and the quality work of a couple of these more subtle entries, i'm picking the one that most impressed me at the cinema.
will (and should) win: transformers

sound editing
magazine entertainment weekly revealed what i'd call a pretty telling stat: for the last 40 years, they say, every time the mixing winner has also received a nod in sound editing, it's won both awards. nominees here are the bourne ultimatum, no country for old men, ratatouille, there will be blood, and transformers, so four of the five have a shot at the double-double. EW predicted, as i did above, a transformers triumph for the former category, so i thank them for the stat and go back to the well as well.
will (and should) win: transformers

original score--
i'm surprised that i remember musical themes from moments in several of the nominated films, and disappointed that there will be blood and into the wild were declared ineligible for similar qualification technicalities. 3:10 to yuma vibes patently western with a cool contemporary bent, and ratatouille balances appropriately playful with wistful. the kite runner seems odd man out among this grouping; its score did nothing for me. michael clayton, on the other hand, struck me as compelling and mysterious, even daring and unpredictable. i recall tapping into its moodiness. hands down, the most remarkable of the bunch is atonement, where music moved story so effortlessly, so completely, it felt like a character all its own.
will (and should) win: atonement

original song
oh No: another one of those years when three of five nominees are from one movie. (so long as beyonce doesn't sing them all, i'll survive.) and it's a disney movie, no less. happy working song is genuinely funny stuff, so close is piffle, and that's how you know is what i'd call the theme tune, most recognizable, most likely to succeed. raise it up from august rush has no chance against the mouse powerhouse, much less versus the cream of the crop, the breakout hit from irish indy sensation once, entitled falling slowly. the odds appear to favor some flavor of disney here, but any trace of backlash or vote splitting will knock the enchanted trio from the podium.
will (and should) win: falling slowly (once)

eddie murphy does his thing in norbit, looking fat, looking old, appearing a woman, etc. well done, again. pirates returns for a second installment of its own sequel, bringing out the dead, melding creatures with humans, and more such creativity at sea than any man should have to bear. again, well done, again. the only aspect of la vie en rose more astonishing than marion cotillard's performance is her physical transformation. she ages--and not well, mind you--from spry pixie 18 to deathbed decrepit 47, looking natural and spot-on edith piaf every step of the way.
will (and should) win: la vie en rose

whew! that'll do it.
if my selections stick, tally five for no country for old men, three for transformers (second biggest winner of the night?!), and two apiece for there will be blood, atonement, and la vie en rose. sound reasonable?

with the exception of a handful of stone-cold locks, this feels a more difficult year to call than last, when, if memory serves, i went 18/23, whiffing as expected on the technicals. i've taken few risks this campaign; also admittedly led quite a bit with my heart. now looking much forward to sunday to see how it all shakes down. i'll be back soon with some post-awards analysis and water cooler chat (maybe another review between now & then, too). in the meantime, of course, would dig hearing how you see things. so get on it!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

president's day weekend

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days--
stark, dark, and real. winner of major film festival awards worldwide, yet sadly disqualified for oscar recognition. (look into how academy's own new foreign nomination standards got in the way of this year's best candidates.) director mungiu crafts an eerily bleak portrait of 80's-era romania, then makes you squirm and sweat with his characters through every urgent moment. exceptional, theatrically long takes and daring stillness add to the sense of immediacy. the cast is stellar; lead anamaria marinca impresses.
exceptional: 3 stars

reminiscent of the three keys to smart real estate: location, location, location. PYT's hayden christensen and rachel bilson bop around the world from one impressive world landmark to the next, engaging in a sci-fi wargame of teleportation. it's a promising fx premise executed with flair by director doug liman, yet it rarely feels like more than a high style geography romp. i doubt the target audience cares for much more. it's fun in that teen date movie kinda way, but i certainly won't be holding my breath for those rumored sequels.
fun: 2 stars

step up 2 the streets--
proof for my assertion that dance movies are like porn. endure the paper-thin plot and stilted dialogue until the next big display of the talent's primary skill. tight opening number for setup (including a smooth cameo by channing tatum), talk, Perform, talk talk, Perform, etc. further feeding the porn analogy is delicious star briana evigan. she can flat-out move it on the dancefloor, no doubt; but, really, i'd watch her do anything. good enough chemistry with hunky, deft counterpart robert hoffman, but we just keep waiting for them to (ahem) perform. their hottest shared moment comes in the climactic dance sequence in the rain, a save the best for last number typical of the genre. choreo is nice, but, sadly, never wows.
typical: 2 stars
evigan: delicious

Saturday, February 9, 2008

blah movie season underway

no no, don't feel like you have to rush out and see them all straightaway. mediocre movies will be available to you all year long. and of course their dvd counterparts do boast seemingly inexhaustible shelf life. yet this is the time of year when the floodgates open, releasing some real doozies into multiplex and art house alike.
ah, i remember the curdled cream of 2007's rotten crop (of those i was "bold" enough to endure)--spider-man 3 and walk hard: the dewey cox story. in a word, awful. now i've seen the first big stinker of this campaign:

in bruges--
starring colin farrell, brendan gleeson, and ralph fiennes, it certainly has enough star power to draw an audience. but writer/director martin mcdonagh (who wrote staggeringly brilliant stage play The Pillowman) simply gets it all wrong. the scenes feel incongruous, the humor consistently misses the mark, the shot selection appears amateurish, even the allegedly picturesque city gets lost in the directorial mess (might as well have filmed on a soundstage). honestly, why beat this dead horse? (i don't like writing reviews so scathing, esp. when such talent is involved; we're all artists. sorry.) i can't give it zero stars, cuz lord knows i've seen (and been in) much worse.
all wrong: 1 star

Friday, January 18, 2008

the Rest of january

well, shucks: i've really started out quite slack. wrote one blog to wrap up the last year of film, then promptly fell off the face....
Have seen a handful of films, of course, in the last two weeks. figured i'd get caught up on my limited-release international selections, for starters--a couple of which i considered surefire candidates for best foreign film oscar nods. notsomuch.
better films than usual for a january, i must say. while most folks are looking to catch up on last year's late releases/this year's award nominees, we forge ahead.

the band's visit (review written jan 20)--
i don't suspect that israel's entry into the academy sweepstakes will ultimately grab one of the five coveted nods, yet i did find it to be a pleasant piece of indy art-house cuteness. the pacing and shot selection show real discipline, lending themselves smartly to the sad, lonely cast of characters and their literal & figurative isolation. one masterfully staged (choreographed, really) and executed scene really stood out. you'll know it when you see it, but let's just say it's a kitschy, clowning bit of coaching in how to woo the girl that simultaneously brings to mind both cyrano de bergerac and sixteen candles(???). weird + cute + foreign + indy + slow = pleasant: 3 stars (of 5)

heard the hype for months, since it made quite an impression at cannes last year. distinct in that it's old-school 2-D, black & white animation in a 3-D IMAX hyper-tech world. the characters, however, are as rich and full and real as any you'll find on screen, and the autobiographical story is thusly compelling and fun. not enough fun, for my taste, to warrant a feature-length film, and, despite its many critics' distinctions and academy nomination for best animated pic, certainly not among the best overall films of the year(!).
distinct: 3 stars

the orphanage
certainly has the look & feel of a del toro production, and prospers accordingly. terrific casting, beautifully shot, and legitimately spooky, this is the best quality scary movie in a long time (yeah, there were none in 2007). rather than go the route of today's typical shock/horror cinema, director bayona cares enough to deliver a classic experience. a true supernatural/psychological thriller. more akin to hitchcock than to rob zombie.
classic: 4 stars

released exactly one year after i simply could not get a ticket at sundance, this is one i had been most eager to see. takes about half the film to settle in to its ultimate tone, yet once it does, it hits the ground running. very clever, often ridiculous, totally unique. lead jess weixler won a special jury prize in park city last year "for a juicy and jaw-dropping performance"--justifiably so. at turns sweet high school virgin, hysterical mess, and vengeful vixen (to name a few), she's got it all down. watch her closely through the film's numerous shortcomings, you're witnessing the birth of a star.
clever: 3 stars

i admire abrams' producer guts on this one: he's trying new things. and some of them succeed. i mean beyond the marketing. i liked the camera work least of all, though, and i feel that's way too big a piece of the puzzle to mess with (cuz let's see: we've got only picture & sound to relate to...). and historically, creature features have had such significant socio-political messages embedded, i left feeling a bit short-changed by this trifle of a tale. no standout characters, no real story resolution, no significant allegory, no ultimate recommendation.
trifle: 2 stars

cassandra's dream
i've been racking my brain trying to figure out the last time a film ending was so disappointing. not because of the outcome, but due to the fact that the writer/director completely jumped ship! this film has a solid foundation, some key winning attributes--colin farrell doing some of his best work in years (maybe ever), a stirring score by philip glass, luscious relative newcomer hayley atwell, and more--then literally within one minute the damn thing is just...done. what happened to the denouement, a third act, any kind of resolve?! yuck. damn near ruined the entire experience for me. may explain why the release date was pushed back from last fall into the dead zone that is january, and with virtually zero marketing. it's too easy (cliche, even) to lambaste woody allen for the precipitous decline in his work over the years, but with an ending this crap, what's a critic supposed to say?
disappointing: 2 stars

next up: more reviews (naturally), plus an in-depth analysis of next month's academy awards, including who will win versus who should win.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

2007 Standouts

greetings, friends! welcome to my first stand-alone blog site, devoted to providing a regular (the goal is weekly), semi-thorough explication, via review, of the film world.
i'll be offering up reviews of all the films i see, highlighting their strengths & weaknesses, plus occasional quick rundowns of why i skip the many releases i do.

i recommend bookmarking this page to use as an easy reference for what is and what is Not worth your time & money. i intend to offer insightful commentary from a (laughably low-level) hollywood insider perspective (for whatever that's worth), without the filters that necessarily censor so many mainstream pundits.

here's something fun and easy to kick off the site and the new calendar year: my comprehensive list of 2007 standouts--movies, direction, performances, etc. that grabbed me and demanded special mention. not necessarily the best (i.e., not who will or should be nominated for any particular awards shows), but my favorites, in no order, maximum ten per major category. i'll dissect the awards shows as they drop; you can get an idea of where i stand in comparison by soaking this up.
and i'm excited to hear your feedback. so bring it.

There Will Be Blood
No Country For Old Men
American Gangster
Eastern Promises
Into The Wild
Michael Clayton

Sean Penn (Into The Wild)
Coen Bros. (No Country For Old Men)
Ridley Scott (American Gangster)
Joe Wright (Atonement)
David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises)
Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly)

Don Cheadle (Talk To Me)
Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn)
Tommy Lee Jones (In The Valley Of Elah)
Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men)
Joaquin Phoenix (Reservation Road)
Richard Gere (The Hoax)
Frank Langella (Starting Out In The Evening)

Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Julie Christie (Away From Her)
Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)
Keri Russell (Waitress)
Amber Tamblyn (Stephanie Daley)
Jodi Foster (The Brave One)

Supporting Actor—
Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild)
Alfred Molina (The Hoax)
Ben Foster (3:10 To Yuma)
Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men)
Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men)
Casey Affleck (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford)
Armin Mueller-Stahl (Eastern Promises)
Elijah Kelley (Hairspray)
Max von Sydow (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly)

Supporting Actress—
Ruby Dee (American Gangster)
Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Jennifer Garner (Juno)
Catherine Keener (Into The Wild)
Susan Sarandon (In The Valley Of Elah)
Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Tilda Swinton (Stephanie Daley)
Emily Mortimer (Lars And The Real Girl)

Ensemble Acting—
No Country For Old Men
Into The Wild
Eastern Promises
Michael Clayton