Monday, December 28, 2009

Christopher Nolan Back In Form

The newly released second trailer for Christopher Nolan's "Inception," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, doesn't give any more insight as to what the movie is actually about. It does, however, make me all the more anxious for summer 2010 when this mind-bending action-thriller is slated for release. It's nice to see Nolan returning to his style of "Memento" for a nice departure from Gotham City.

Apple has the trailer, and you can watch it here.

Lingerie, Italians, And Singing


I've seen but all of five minutes of Fellini's "8 ½" from 1968, so please allow my review of "Nine" to have no judgment calls based on this source material from which this musical is so strongly influenced. It is also based off the 1982 Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for best musical. Both are mashed into director Rob Marshall's ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha") own adaptation which takes the same story of the Italian director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is stuck in a creative block and is overwhelmed and surrounding by the pack of women in his life. It's in 1960s Rome, and although he's made great movies before as his co-workers call him Maestro, he's stuck in a rut selling publicity about some epic called "Italia" that doesn't really exist yet even on paper. This is all meant to be interesting as we follow the moping, chain-smoking Guito in his self-discovery, but it isn't. Guido's no hero. He's a scumbag.

Casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido was the first misstep. Isn't he too old? Breaching into your fifties, any sort of mid-life crisis isn't endearing or fascinating, it's just pathetic. Sure, Day-Lewis does what he can with what he's got, but when singing his accent entirely changes from sounding a whole lot less Italian, and why, may I ask, why do all these women adore him? Some dimension of his character is sorely missing. First there's his wife, Louisa (Marion Cotillard), and then his mistress, Carla (Penélope Cruz). Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is the woman Guido always casts as the leading woman in his films, and even they have a history. Meanwhile, a Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson) is throwing herself all over him. An Italian prostitute (Fergie) from Guido's past as a boy also sneaks into the mix. Keeping Guido in check is his costume designer (Judi Dench) and the memory of his mother (Sophia Loren). The actresses who play these women are all Oscar nominees or winners of some sort, and it's surprising to see them all together in this mess. It was all obviously meant to be something better.

Marion Cotillard being as talented as she is actually presents one of the biggest problems to "Nine" as a whole. Her character's hatred for Guido is so intense and fierce that we as an audience end up hating him more perhaps than we already did. She's that good and a stand-out amongst an otherwise shrug-worthy movie. Penélope Cruz is also effective, and that includes scenes aside from her rolling around in skimpy lingerie. Nicole Kidman is barely there, and her musical number is instantly forgettable. Kate Hudson's meant-to-be show-stopper, "Cinema Italiano," is catchy, sure, but embarrassing if you actually listen to the clueless lyrics. Numbers such as hers had a majority of the movie feeling like the runway of a Victoria's Secret show.

I personally enjoyed some of the musical numbers, though, especially Fergie's "Be Italian" and Cotillard's moment of revelation, "Take It All." The problem, though, is that Rob Marshall uses the same technique for his songs here as he did in "Chicago," except it actually worked then. Every musical number exists in a fantasy set alone on a stage, except in the case of "Chicago," those moments always worked to either explain a character's mindset or progress the narrative even if just a little bit. Not the case here. The songs feel claustrophobically stage-bound, and even though they may be nice to look at, it becomes tiring knowing that we're just going to have to return to the plot without anything advanced. It essentially becomes a list of mostly ho-hum songs strung along by a thin and boring plotline about a man with whom we don't even sympathize.

You can't knock this movie for not having ample amounts of passion. But to what cause? It's an ultimate misfire, a musical full of razzle-dazzle that doesn't add up to anything more than just a two-hour preview for the movie it wishes it were. In the credits, they show all the actresses performing their musical numbers with flashes to shots of them rehearsing these musical numbers not all jazzed-up. It's a clever move considering "Nine" is a film about making a film, which is essentially meant to be the film we just watched, but it's an issue when watching those credits was my favorite part.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Clooney Among The Clouds And Uncertainty

Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has what some would consider the worst job in the world: he's the man who has to tell other people they no longer have their job. He does the job that bosses and employers don't want to deal with, and so people like Ryan get hired to do just that. The thing is that Ryan loves his job, and he takes it as performing a service to others, something that demands procedure and protocol, both of which Ryan makes sure to have in order. He has no home and no family. While flying on a plane and asked where he lives, Ryan responds with "here."

If Ryan were played by any other actor aside from George Clooney, this man probably would have been despicable; however, with the snarky smarts of Clooney, he's relatable and likeable. His performance holds the same depth he brought to "Michael Clayton" where he also played a man whose soul was in jeopardy. Except here you'd swear that he's just playing himself, which allows it to seem so effortless. Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking," "Juno") has pulled off something of beauty with his third feature, "Up in the Air," and Clooney is at the center of it. It is an intimate and scalding character study while at the same time a brilliant and aware cultural study. This is our culture, the state of the nation we live in. It's hard to pull off timeliness, but this movie does it with ease putting a face on the recession and the crisis of unemployment. It is cynically funny but also deeply sad while romantic but also unapologetic and real, and it's a clear example of what we need to see more often from major studios. It is a movie of our time and our moment, and it's the best of 2009.

Ryan spends his detached life flying around the country with endless supplies of passkeys to hotel rooms and airport lounges and with the best deals with those companies. He's a valued customer carrying around special VIP cards, and he especially has his eye on reaching a certain mystical number of frequent-flyer miles. This goal he holds in the highest esteem. He knows the ways of the airport and has perfected the systematic lifestyle, one which America is more and more leaning toward. It's a world of Blackberry, text messaging, and fitting each other into a tight schedule programmed into a laptop. Most importantly, it's a lifestyle of downsizing and not only in the workplace. On the side, Ryan gives self-help lectures where the topic is keeping the load of your rhetorical backpack as light as you can. The people he talks to are exactly the kind of people he fires. Ironically, however, Ryan is forced to literally carry around a piece of his family; it's a cardboard cut-out of his sister (Melanie Lynskey) and brother-in-law (Danny McBride) with which they want Ryan to take pictures of the places he goes.

Threatening Ryan's own job is the talented young Natalie (Anna Kendrick of "Twilight") who offers a promising solution of grounding the firings and completing them over the Internet. It would make what Ryan has lived for all his life entirely obsolete. In an attempt to scare Natalie, Ryan agrees to take her along to show her the ropes and what firing people can really do to one's sense of humanity. They even make a stop in, yes, Detroit, and they don't hesitate in making it seem to be in the worst economic condition. Ryan and Natalie's sparring is a delight because Natalie has fast-talking comebacks that catch even Ryan off-guard. Their relationship isn't at all meant to be romantic as that is saved for a fellow frequent-flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga), who Ryan meets in an airport lounge. She's a corporate shark just like him, and she has a biting sensuality that is irresistible. To Ryan she describes herself as him just with a vagina. Both Kendrick and Farmiga are already up for award nominations, and rightfully so. They are pitch-perfect in their parts each relating to Clooney's character in different and complex ways and each peeling back more layers as things progress.

The movie is adapted from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, and it feels so shockingly in-tune with the state of today's society all thanks to a screenplay from Reitman and Sheldon Turner and polished, sharp-eyed direction from Reitman. In the sequences where people are given the news, those aren't actors. Reitman auditioned real people who had really lost their job and told them to articulate their feelings for the camera. That stuff hits home. Actors are interspersed into this footage, as well, including Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons.

"Up in the Air" has a title that not only refers to the act of frequenting air travel but also the feeling of being unemployed, the uncertainty and the unpredictability. To those people everything is up in the air. In the closing moments, Ryan looks straight into the audience with a look that is hard to define, one that could be of either hope or pain. The film is optimistic and pessimistic all at once, and it is finely nuanced in both directions. Is Ryan's future bleak or not? And what does that mean for everyone else? We've captured an era on-screen while it's still happening, and the only thing that can be said for sure is that everyone needs some company, a co-pilot.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Plague Of Late-Comers

The season of award candidates is dragging its feet this year, as well, except not nearly as bad as last year. Two award contenders, which have already been nominated for Golden Globes, are being released in January.

"The Last Station" is being hailed for its strong cast including Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy, and Christopher Plummer. It looks to have a similar appeal that "Doubt" had with dialogue- and emotion-driven action.

From Germany's Michael Haneke comes this black-and-white period piece that is being labeled as the front-runner for the Best Foreign Language Film race at the Oscars.

For now, there are a lot of choices for people to see this Christmas season: "Up in the Air," "It's Complicated," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," "Sherlock Holmes," and "Nine."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Fox Really Is Fantastic

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Freely based off Roald Dahl's 1970 children's book, director Wes Anderson's ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Darjeeling Limited,") "Fantasic Mr. Fox" is pure joy, an animated fable that is a rough-and-tumble and tactile visual wonderment to behold. Anderson used stop-motion animation and the reported pain-staking labor it took to make this movie certainly paid off in the casual, nonchalant piece of art it really is. The thing with this director is that maybe he was meant to direct animated films all along because this way his world feels more believable and therefore becomes more endearing and also allows his wits and sharp humor to shine through the material. When he was once creating real-life twisted into the unreal, he has now transformed the talking animal world into something surprisingly real.

Rarely before has such texture exploded in a film with fur that shifts, moves, and sways, and smoke and foam made from cotton balls. This is also a world that breathes in shades of orange, brown, and colors of autumn whether it's from the earthy underground where the foxes live or from the color of the foxes' fur itself. The film is shot rather two-dimensionally with the camera rarely tracking in or out, and this helps to emphasize the storybook quality. The plot is ruled primarily by a riddle that is repeated through the movie even, in some cases, through the voice of singing children: Boggis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) was once a mischievous crook who stole chickens with his wife, Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep). After a close call, Mr. Fox promised his wife never again. He retreats into a job of journalism writing a column but quickly gets the urge to return to thievery against the trio of evil farmers all the while doing so behind his wife's back.

There is also Mr. Fox's clumsy son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), who wants to be considered naturally talented and athletic like his father. Unfortunately for Ash, his cousin Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson) swoops in to do everything better, and he steals any thunder Ash might've had. He becomes the family's golden child, or fox, rather, and the story of this quarrel becomes of immense importance to the greater picture of all the animals. Badger (voiced by Bill Murray) gets Mr. and Mrs. Fox a nicer place to live above ground in a massive tree. Mr. Fox's undercover side work gets blown, however, and all of a sudden an all-out war is declared, and the animals are all digging underground to save their tails, sometimes even literally.

In the same spirit of Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are," this is a PG-rated movie that isn't so much for children. Like the book upon which that film is based, there are some dark undertones lurking here along with some violence and a large usage of tongue-in-cheek language using the word "cuss." But sometimes children's movies that push the boundaries are all the better for kids to endure, especially this one with a hero that has his own set of flaws. Mr. Fox certainly isn't perfect with his boastful and sometimes selfish personality. He is, however, grounded and realistic, and George Clooney's snarky attitude fits the part. They're all wild animals at heart, and the intelligent script by Anderson and Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale") don't ignore this fact. And in a moment where Mr. Fox meets his phobia, a wolf, the film strikes a high point of poignancy and profundity that comes as a welcome surprise.

Wes Anderson may be self-consciously aware of his hipness, especially with a quirky original song and fascinating score by Alexandre Desplat, but it is well-deserved and becomes even admirable with the resounding and seemingly effortless success this animated feature is. In the end, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is, astonishingly enough, even better than Pixar's "Up," which is saying a lot. It definitely gets my vote for Best Animated Feature of the year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Big Win For James Cameron


James Cameron has been all the rage with the ever-approaching release of his first movie since 12 years ago when he made "Titanic." With anticipation at its boiling point, judgment day for the self-proclaimed King of the World has finally arrived. The verdict? Well, let's just say he's keeping his crown for this one and perhaps expanding it to King of the Universe. Like many others, I was skeptical toward the director's venture that reportedly cost him $300 million. The building buzz for his new feature was holding up some lofty expectations that I was just worried wouldn't be met. It turns out, however, that every bold claim Cameron made about his latest film came true, and it was money well spent. So, here I am standing before you attempting to transform my skepticism into an undying love. I'm here to set the record straight: "Avatar" is the real deal. In astonishing and stunning IMAX 3D, this is a movie that transports in a way like nothing you've ever experienced before, and the unbelievable technical prowess involved is like nothing ever done before in cinema. Simply put, this is the most visually gorgeous film I have ever seen and a landmark in moviemaking.

The world of Pandora is such a rich, breathing, and fully-realized place it is comparable to other fantasy worlds represented in film such as "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter." This world's environment is similar to Earth with luscious forests, sprawling landscapes, except all the more fantastical with places such as floating mountains with waterfalls dropping off into nothingness. The world is inhabited by creatures both colorful and dangerous and also the natives, the Na'vi. They are a blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, slender, 8-foot-tall race. This world and these people are all rendered largely by CGI except it's like the next generation of CGI. The Na'vi are created through motion capture techniques that are entirely convincing, and they look like particular actors when they're supposed to without any creepy effect. Their blue skin glistens, the trees rustle and sway, the waters pound, and every aspect of Pandora--the eye-popping colors, textures, and meticulous attention to detail--is breathtakingly beautiful and an explosion of sensory delight.

But enough about the visual. How does the story hold up? It's simple, yes, but never too thin. And at the center is an emotional romance, one of elegance, grace, and real flesh and blood. Blue flesh, that is. The Na'vi thrive off their planet by being deeply connected with nature, but the nature of their planet is threatened by a mission lead by U.S. Armed Forces that want to harvest a rich mineral only found on Pandora and one that is worth millions. Armored, gun-wielding hover ships probe through the planet as they carry out their goal of displacing the native Na'vi. Diplomatic solutions are of first priority, but open-fire is a welcomed close second. To venture closely into Pandora outside the safety of machinery, they use avatars. These are linked to the minds of humans who remained wired on the ship, but they still have all the sensory connections to their avatar. They are them.

The hero is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who has been sent on this mission to replace his brother who died. An avatar was built for his brother, and Jake is the only genetic match. As his avatar, Jake journeys into the wonders of Pandora and comes across a Na'vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She saves his life from some vicious banshees, and from there she reluctantly takes Jake under her wing and convinces her community to teach Jake the ways of Na'vi. The team back aboard the ships is thrilled because Jake can get them closer to a negotiation with the natives. Jake, however, with a fellow member who has a tender history with the Na'vi, Grace (Sigourney Weaver), begins to see things differently. The leader onboard the ship is the rough and aggressive Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who briefed Jake to be a good soldier, and now he feels betrayed.

The movie is 160 minutes long without ever a dull moment. Just consider the complexity of the battle taking place, the final warfare that ignites a revolution, the human drama, the Na'vi drama, the complexity with humans and Na'vi combined, the internal secrets that Pandora harbors such as those white, glowing, floating creatures that are the soul of the planet, and, hell, it just all makes for grand, epic, sweeping entertainment at the highest caliber that needs to be seen more than once to fully admire and absorb. The first time you're simply taken aback by the shock of it all. There are an endless number of captivating scenes. One that especially comes to mind is when Jake has to capture and tame a flying dragon-looking creature. The Na'vi literally become one with the great beasts they have at their disposal for transportation.

Expectations tend to be a double-edged sword. Fail them, and you're doomed. Meet them, however, and you soar. Thankfully for James Cameron, he is soaring above and beyond all expectations and doubts that preceded this release. And the box office results will be there to match it. "Avatar" is anti-war and pro-Green. It is not only a film but a cultural phenomenon, an event that cannot be missed. If you do, you're out of the loop. I don't care if it's Hollywood and profitable and a shoo-in for being the big-budget crowd-pleaser for which the Academy may have been searching. It doesn't matter. "Avatar" will blow your mind. Go see it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why "Precious" Is Just Too Much

OK, Jim Emerson posted this video in his blog, and it appears he had the same reluctance of going into seeing "Precious" as I did. I turned out to not like it (I have my reasons; just refer to my review), and so I thought this was spot-on and hilarious. It may be a bit harsh, but honestly, you have to just take "Precious" a little not-so-seriously. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone already slammed it into his number one spot on his Top 10 list. Don't let the trend continue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great Movies For Spring 2010

The "Iron Man 2" trailer got leaked, and who is that I see? Mickey Rourke as the villain? And was that Scarlett Johansson I saw? And Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard) in his own suit of armor? I'm excited.

And continuing the trend of 3-D IMAX features, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" will be presented as such, and it looks to be a fantastical blend of live-action and CGI starring Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Rugby As Reuniting A Nation


In the opening of Clint Eastwood's "Invictus," there is what appears to be real-life footage of Nelson Mandela, but then, upon further observation, one can notice that it is actually Morgan Freeman in reenacted footage. And from that moment on, Freeman embodies the voice, mannerisms, and even ideologies of Mandela and gives a performance that evokes the spirit of a man who became an icon in South Africa. In this opening moment, Freeman shares a wide, genial smile and gives a portrayal that is calmed, subdued, and charming. He infuses Mandela's speeches with the same grace he gives when he, well, when he plays God. Here's a movie that, in its serious, classical, handsome, and well-produced style and direction, for which Eastwood has become a trademark, is an Academy Award contender automatically because it deals with a worthy subject in the hands of an intelligent director with superb actors dealing with real-life people. And in that respect, it succeeds as a great movie.

The movie takes place in the 1990s when Nelson Mandela was elected the country's first black president after being in prison for 27 years. The challenge facing Mandela upon his election was finding a way to make peace with the apartheid forces that had originally put him in jail. His weapon? Forgiveness. The Afrikaner nationlists living in South Africa are viewed as the enemy, and so Mandela's vote into office had them waiting for his payback. It never came. Instead, Mandela embraced his position and took it as an opportunity to unite his country that had been so harshly divided by racism. The politics of the film have deeper implications that go beyond the time and the place and breach quite blatantly into today. Obama's name of course never gets mentioned (how could it?), but we know in the back of our minds the historical analogies being made.

Mandela turns to the all white (save for one player, Chester Williams) rugby team, the Springboks captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). The core of the movie rests in Mandela's counterintuitive decision of promoting support for the Springboks even though they were mostly hated by the nation's blacks. The fascinating aspect of the sports drama portion of the film is the way in which it fits into the political drama already unfolding. And even more fascinating is that it was simply because Mandela was a loyal fan of rugby. Both stories are substantial on their own merit, but together they make for a more potent and moving experience. While the climactic moment of the World Cup match is predictable, and although Eastwood spends a rather unnecessarily lengthy 20 minutes on it, it is still a moment that is earned. In any case, the weight of the moment resonates throughout the film's final scenes, and when the fade to black over Mandela's face arrives with the words to the Invictus poem being read aloud, it'll hit you.

Based on John Carlin's book, "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation," Eastwood and his screenwriter Anthony Peckham tell the story with straightforward assertiveness that doesn't pour on the glorification as Hollywood could've done with this underdog tale. Matt Damon plays the leader of these underdogs, sporting a beefed-up physique and platinum blonde hair, and he is admirable in the role. Francois visits the very cell where Mandela was held prisoner, and, as the film was shot on location, we're shown the actual cell. There is a chair and a blanket on the floor, and upon seeing that image, you can't help but wonder how this man waited so patiently in faith, and even, after all that, still had the courage for forgiveness and not revenge. For Francois, ever since a first visit with Mandela for tea in his office, he had become the greatest man he had ever met.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Setting The Stage With The Golden Globes

The nominations for the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced early this morning, and leading the pack was "Up in the Air" with a total 6 nominations, followed by "Nine" with 5 and "Avatar" and "Inglourious Basterds" tied with 4.

Along with "Up in the Air" in the category for Best Picture were "Avatar," "Precious," "The Hurt Locker," and "Inglourious Basterds." At this point and at the rate "The Hurt Locker" has already been collecting the most wins for Best Picture and Director over "Up in the Air," I'm going to have to put my prediction there. And wow, how deserving that movie really is. I couldn't be any happier that it got remembered from over the summer.

Although "Invictus" got snubbed for the Best Picture slot, Clint Eastwood is still up for Best Director alongside Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," James Cameron for "Avatar," Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air," and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds." Lee Daniels was left out of this one, and rightfully so since it was his direction that was the biggest fault in "Precious." Bigelow has got this one in the bag.

With the Golden Globes-specific category of Best Musical or Comedy, the nominees were "(500) Days of Summer," "Nine," "The Hangover," "It's Complicated," and "Julie & Julia." The frontrunner here is definitely "(500) Days of Summer" and the probable winner.

For Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy the nominees were Matt Damon for "The Informant!," Daniel Day-Lewis for "Nine," Robert Downey, Jr. for "Sherlock Holmes," Joseph Gordon-Lewitt for "(500) Days of Summer," and Michael Stuhlbarg for "A Serious Man." Since "A Serious Man" got snubbed in every other category (even Best Comedy or Musical), I would hope that Stuhlbarg would win this, but it's hard to say. I'm hoping that the Academy rectifies this crucial snub.

The Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy nominees were Sandra Bullock for "The Proposal," Marion Cotillard for "Nine," Julia Roberts for "Duplicity," Meryl Streep not once, but, yes, twice, for "It's Complicated" and "Julie & Julia." That woman is seriously a powerhouse and her performance in the latter movie will probably win.

Matt Damon received his second nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor for "Invictus," along with Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station," Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones," and Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds." Waltz is the shoo-in for this category as every other actor seems to be the odd-man-out. His performance deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress nods went to Penelope Cruz for "Nine," Mo'Nique for "Precious," Julianne Moore for "A Single Man," and both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air." Like Waltz for Supporting Actor, Mo'Nique is the for sure winner for this category. There are always the painfully predictable ones, aren't there?

Nominations for Best Actor went to Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart," George Clooney for "Up in the Air," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," and Tobey Maguire for "Brothers." They almost had it right here. These nominations match what we'll see with the Academy minus Maguire. Replace him with Renner for "The Hurt Locker," and that'll be it. Jeff Bridges is the rumored frontrunner for this race.

Best Actress nominees were Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Helen Mirren for "The Last Station," Carey Mulligan for "An Education," and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious." When the competition is slated out like this with comedy or musical set aside (that meaning Meryl Streep set aside), either Mulligan or Sidibe will probably win this one, but hopefully Mulligan.

Best Screenplay included some interesting choices such as Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for "District 9" and Nancy Meyers for "It's Complicated." Aside from that it was the standard affair with Mark Boal for "The Hurt Locker," Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for "Up in the Air," and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds." "Up in the Air" will take this one, hands-down.

Nods for Best Foreign Language Film went to "Baaria" from Italy, "Broken Embraces" from Spain, "The Maid" from Chile, "A Prophet" from France," and "The White Ribbon" from Germany, the last of which is rumored to win.

Best Animted Film nominees were "The Princess and the Frog," "Coraline," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Up," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." It's really a toss-up between the last two, but now it seems that Wes Andersen's efforts are being more appreciated over Pixar's now-regular excellence. I'll accept that.

Best Original Score nominations were Michael Giaccino for "Up," Marvin Hamlisch for "The Informant!," James Horner for "Avatar," Abel Korzeniowski for "A Single Man," and my personal favorite and the one I hope to win, Karen O and Carter Burwell for "Where the Wild Things Are." It would appear that the HFPA has a certain thing for "Avatar," so its score will probably nab this award.

So, how right does the HFPA have it this year? In terms of Director and Best Picture, I'd say about pretty close, if not exact. That is, if the Academy is willing to accept "Avatar" even with its blockbuster appeal. As for the other categories...some things went awry for the most part aside from the known shoo-ins. "(500) Days of Summer" should get more recognition, along with "An Education" and "A Serious Man" at the Academy Awards.

For the complete list of the 2010 Golden Globe nominations, check out E!'s comprehensive list. There are some noteworthy television nominations, as well, such as "Glee" garnering a total of 4 nominations.

And be sure to watch the award ceremony on January 17th on NBC at 8 p.m. to find out who the winners are!

One More Before Tomorrow

And just one more group to keep an eye on before the Golden Globe Nominations go out tomorrow. Here we have the nominations for the 15th Annual Broadcast Film Critics Awards, otherwise known as the Critics' Choice Awards. "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine" nabbed the top spots with ten nominations each.

The ten films selected for the Best Picture nominations were "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Invictus," "Nine," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up," "Up in the Air," and yes, "Avatar." Seems like a pretty solid bunch and reasonable for what award buzz has already been churning out for predictions.

The nominees for Best Actor were Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart," George Clooney for "Up in the Air," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," Viggo Mortensen for "The Road," and as a nice addition, Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker."

For Best Actress was Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Carey Mulligan for "An Education," Saoirse Ronan for "The Lovely Bones," Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious," and Meryl Streep for "Julie & Julia."

Best Supporting Actor nominations went to Matt Damon for "Invictus," Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christian McKay for "Me and Orson Welles," Alfred Molina for "An Education," Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones," and Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds."

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress were Marion Cotillard for "Nine," Vera Farmiga and also Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air," Julianne Moore for "A Single Man," Samantha Morton for "The Messenger," and, of course, Mo'Nique for "Precious."

Best Animated Picture nominees were "The Princess and the Frog," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Up," and "Coraline."

This award show also has the categories of Best Comedy and Best Action Movie.

The nominees for the former were "District 9," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Star Trek," and "Avatar," all of which are arguably in heated competition. Looks like we just had a whole lot of great action movies this year.

The nominees for the latter category were "The Proposal," "It's Complicated," "Zombieland," "The Hangover," and "(500) Days of Summer." This year turned out to be a lesser year for poignant comedies.

The most interesting category to look at here is Best Directing. I believe these nominations give us a clear indicator of what we'll be seeing for the Academy Awards. The list included Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds," James Cameron for "Avatar," Clint Eastwood for "Invictus," Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air," and Lee Daniels for "Precious."

It's going to be an interesting award season, and hopefully one that turns out to be less predictable than years' past. It looks like there are some solid contenders, and many more present than the five that are allowed to fit into the Best Picture slots at the Oscars.

For the complete list of nominees, go here.

And tune in late tomorrow for the Golden Globe Award nominations when things really start to heat up.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"The Hurt Locker" Gets Recognized

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their award winners tonight giving the award for Best Picture to "The Hurt Locker," the film I was worried would end up being the one critics forget. "Up in the Air" was the runner-up, the film that the National Board of Review gave Best Picture while mostly ignoring "The Hurt Locker."

"The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director with Michael Haneke as runner-up with his Germany submission for Best Foreign Language Film to the Oscars, "The White Ribbon."

Jeff Bridges received the award for Best Actor for his performance in "Crazy Heart," which as yet to be released basically anywhere, with runner-up Colin Firth for "A Single Man," leaving George Clooney with nothing.

"Fantasic Mr. Fox" surprisingly beat "Up" for Animation while "The Cove" and "The Beaches of Agnes" tied for Best Documentary.

Yolande Moreau won Best Actress for "Seraphine" with Carey Mulligan as runner-up for "An Education." A potential award for "Precious" here was left out.

But making up for that was a win for Mo'Nique in Best Supporting Actress with runner-up Anna Kendrick of "Up in the Air."

Best Supporting Actor went to Christoph Waltz for his bizarre portrayal in "Inglourious Basterds."

So, it would appear that "The Hurt Locker" certainly hasn't been forgotten since its release way back in August, and thankfully so.

The complete list of winners from LAFCA can be seen here.

Next up after this is the nominations for The Golden Globe Awards which will be announced this Tuesday, December 15th. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Colossal Disappointment

Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" has been getting lackluster reviews so far after having people think it could've been the big awards candidate for the year. Not anymore, as it turns out.

"Jackson undermines solid work from a good cast with show-offy celestial evocations that severely disrupt the emotional connections with the characters."
-Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Some books are not meant to be adapted to the big screen. Alice Sebold's best-selling The Lovely Bones falls into that category."
-Claudia Puig, USA Today

"The filmmakers’ evident affection for the book expresses itself as a desperate scramble to include as much of it as possible, which leaves the movie feeling both overcrowded and thin."
-A.O. Scott, The New York Times

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Best Of A Decade

Because my Top 10 list for 2009 is not coming until January and because I'm getting too anxious with all this "Best of" nonsense already and all these lists already floating around, I figured I needed to make a list of some sort. So, here's my Top 10 list for what I feel to be the best movies of the past decade. Except we're heading back an extra year because 2009, which has already proven to be a year filled with spectacular movies, isn't quite over yet. And because I feel every year needs a representative, there will be no double-dipping in terms of year in this list. Each year will get its best film.

Being John Malkovich

An insanely inventive screenplay from Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's exquisite directing proved to be a perfect combination as the two would team up again to make "Adaptation." While darkly comic and wonderfully fanciful, the film was also a strangely profound meditation on gender, sexuality, identity, and consciousness.

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky's most well-known and controversial film and also one that is unforgettable. Here's a film that shakes you to the core with its disturbing and chilling vision. Just watch what drugs do to the people in this movie, and you'll never look at self-destructive addictions the same again. It's a knockout.

Mulholland Drive

David Lynch works his crazy magic with his most approachable movie. This sleek, sexy, absolutely incomprehensible adventure into the dark depths of Hollywood is the absolute definition of mind-fuckery, and it is cinematic perfection. Here's a movie you can watch an endless number of times and come up with endless theories to unravel the puzzle that Lynch creates.

Spirited Away

From the Japanese master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, this is a surreal journey into a world that is a cross between "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz." In this world, a scared little girl has to find her way through a colorful cast of characters, and it becomes a breathtaking journey of self-discovery. It is a wonder to behold and simply labeling it a masterpiece does not do the film justice. All you can do is go see it.

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson deliver excellent performances as two strangers in Tokyo, Japan who find each other and, consequently, find themselves. It's a fantastic story about two dislocated people just trying to make it by, and these characters feel entirely truthful. The genius of this film comes from director Sofia Coppola whose keen style found a balance between the hilariously comic and the deeply sad.


Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, this film from director Alexander Payne is a bittersweet and sublime variation on the buddy road comedy. The casting is all around superb with Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh all turning in absolutely ideal performances. They don't misstep once. Here's a movie whose greatness doesn't come to the forefront until the end as it gradually builds along the way.

King Kong

Peter Jackson takes on a classic and does a marvelous job. This is sweeping, epic, romantic, pure moviegoing bliss, the best we've seen since "Titanic." It's the reason we go to the movies in the first place with big, eye-popping, breathtaking action and set pieces. Jackson has taken the hidden potential and opportunities of the original classic and has brought them to exploding life.

Pan's Labyrinth

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro presents audiences with fantastical and real-life monsters with a stirring and masterful blend of history, fantasy, and horror. This violent and shocking fairy tale for adults will keep you riveted, and by encoding its message on morality in magic, the film pulls off a dazzling feat. It is utterly unmissable.

No Country for Old Men

With an ending that hits you like a sledgehammer, this Best Picture-winner from the Coen brothers is their darkest and most profound movie they've made. As commentary on America's dark underbelly, this sparse and probing masterpiece is adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name.


The finest piece of animation to come out of the Pixar canon, this is a riveting cautionary tale disguised as a family film and one that works on both fronts. The romantic tale of two robots is the forefront with a earth beyond repair as the backdrop. And from an opening sequence that is entirely void of dialogue and onward, the film is pure poetry. This one was worthy of not only the Best Animated Film Oscar but also the Oscar for Best Picture.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Up in the Air" Makes Headlines

The National Board of Review (NBR) has named "Up in the Air" as the best picture of 2009. Jason Reitman's film also won for its screenplay, along with actor, George Clooney, and supporting actress, Anna Kendrick. From the look of things, it would appear that this timely crowd-pleaser, which has already been gaining substantial steam, will continue its way right on to the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. And it hasn't even reached wide release yet.

"Invictus" garnered two awards from NBR including one for Clint Eastwood's direction and another for Morgan Freeman's leading performance.

Other major awards went to Carey Mulligan for her lead role in "An Education," Woody Harrelson as supporting actor in "The Messenger," and Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man" for original screenplay.

"Up" was awarded for best animated film and "The Cove" for best documentary.

NBR also compiled a Top 10 list of the year:

1) An Education
2) (500) Days of Summer
3) The Hurt Locker
4) Inglourious Basterds
5) Invictus
6) The Messenger
7) A Serious Man
8) Star Trek
9) Up
10) Where the Wild Things Are

"Precious," an Oscar favorite as of right now, remained conspicuously absent from the list, and thankfully so in my opinion.

James Cameron's Risky Endeavor

The big question of December: Will Oscar-winning director James Cameron's highly-anticipated "Avatar" sell or flop? This massively CGI-rendered sci-fi 3-D adventure epic reportedly cost $300 million to make. Are the box office returns going to go above and beyond that? With "Titanic" under his belt, I guess it is really anybody's guess as to what could happen. It has been sneaking its way into the consideration of some experts' Best Picture predictions, but we'll have to wait until the 18th to find out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Man And His Boy Against All Odds

The Road

This is the journey of a Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at the end of the world. The Man "carries the fire," and teaches the Boy well throughout their time together, a bonding that thoroughly proves the undying power of love alone. It's what keeps them going and what keeps them alive. The Man is surviving in order to fulfill the obligation he feels he owes to his son. They represent a minority in the world, whether it's after the world's demise or otherwise, and it's this minority who chooses to be righteous against chaos and evil. This ideology is similar to "No Country for Old Men," and rightfully so as that and this film, "The Road," are both adaptations of novels by Cormac McCarthy, this time from his Pulitzer Prize winner from 2007. Like the Coen brothers, director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") does a fine job at interspersing McCarthy's restrained and beautiful prose into his adaptation. It's what makes this post-apocolyptic movie much more poetic than, say, "2012."

This isn't a disaster sci-fi affair as the actual cause of the world ending is left up to ambiguity. Fires raged, but we don't know why. There are sporadic earthquakes without explanation. Only flashbacks give us any clue to the past and what happened (disease, war, or worse?), and they're shot in sunlight, a stark contrast to the grey, fog-covered world the Man and the Boy drift through in present day. Hillcoat keeps his scenery real and grounded as there are minimal special effects with sparse landscapes of Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Louisiana used to convey an empty, desolate place with abandoned vehicles on the roadside and towns turned to wreckage.

In the flashbacks there is the Man's wife (a reserved and glowing Charlize Theron) who left them when things got too rough. She chose death over a life not worth living, and as McCarthy's words state, "She was gone, and the coldness of it was her final gift." This leaves the Man and the Boy alone in a world of people turned evil, and the film is correct about showing how such circumstances turned modern society to complete savagery. The only thing scarier than knowing you're the only ones left is knowing that any other group you run into is more likely an enemy than a friend. The Man and the Boy come across cannibals who resemble flesh-eating zombies from horror movies, except this time the horror is their reality. A scene inside the basement of an old house will leave you breathless.

The Man and the Boy are traveling with two bullets in a handgun and a shopping cart with sparse amounts of food to a mythical coast that promises a blue expanse of escape. Escape from what is unclear, but the point is that it's a goal, something for which to reach. Along the way, they come across a wandering traveler like themselves. This man is on the verge of collapse and covered in dirt and grime. He can't ask for death because "it's foolish to ask for luxuries in times like these," he says. The man is played effortlessly by Robert Duvall as a man who speaks in only tongue and riddles. These are people who live in a constant state of weariness, alert, and fear.

Viggo Mortensen is unstoppable in the vast roles he has played. From a Russian mobster in "Eastern Promises" to a Middle Earth warrior in "Lord of the Rings," his range is endless. Here is a demanding and affectionate performance from him, and he brings striking realism to a man exhausted to death but not lacking a soul and a heart in the right place toward his son. They are not sympathetic together, but rather, real. A young actor named Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the role of the boy, and he is deeply convincing.

Amidst all the doom and gloom "The Road" provides in ample dosages there is an ending note of optimism and hope that is refreshing and welcoming. In this respect John Hillcoat's film acts as a proclamation of the life-affirming power of the human spirit, but we've also heard that once or twice or too many times before from more memorable movies. This is a good movie, but it doesn't resonate with importance like it wishes. While impressive, it falls just short of being the Oscar-bound masterpiece it originally aspired to be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Guilt For Not Loving This Movie

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

"Precious," with the clumsy subtitle of "Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 16-year-old black girl living in Harlem in 1987. Precious' mom (Mo'Nique) is a deadbeat who doesn't work and spends her days watching TV and screaming at her daughter while demanding she cook her food. Precious got raped by her father who impregnated her not once but twice, and her second baby is on the way. Here's material that produces a long, dark tunnel of despair, one that requires a light at the end of the journey. Director Lee Daniels' (a former producer whose credentials include "Monster's Ball") Sundance sensation disappoints in that it is a film that lacks a proper reward system. To put audiences through such grueling depravity without a glimmer of hope at the end goes against the definition of an uplifting experience. The goal of "Precious" was to drag you down into the depths of human cruelty and then pick you up again, except the latter part never happens. Nothing is resolved in the end.

Rather than allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions and feel their own naturally-evoked emotions, the movie twists their arms into empathy. In this respect, it is very calculated and constructed in drawing us down into Precious' depressing world. There's no room to properly observe and contemplate but rather just be forced to feel what the movie expects us to feel. This leaves for an ultimately unmoving experience, the exact opposite of what Daniels set out to do. Immediate empathy for Precious was the goal, but somehow I found my heartstrings not being tugged. I couldn't stop myself from thinking that Precious really should have given up her second child like her teacher suggested. Sometimes doing what you feel is most courageous to prove a point really isn't the best solution. Sure, there can be the hope that she continues her education while supporting her two children, but realistically I found Precious hard to root for.

Newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, 24, plays Precious, and she does an admirable job for a debut performance. She understands the character she is playing, and she gathers sympathy from Precious' teacher, Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), and her social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey). From audiences, however, this isn't a role of sympathy but one of pity. Sidibe plays Precious with an emotionless mask, a passive shell of a human being. She doesn't look people in the eyes, and she mumbles when she talks. It's hard to connect with her. We only see flashes of her shining soul in fantasy sequences where she dreams of being a glitzy celebrity. These fantasies, however, feel odd and unfitting to the movie's overall tone, and we follow Precious throughout this journey that lacks a certain structure and consistency.

After getting kicked out of school, Precous gets directed to an alternative school where Ms. Blu Rain gets her started on a GED with other girls in similar situations. The classroom scenes don't shine any new light on the condition of inner-city teaching, and the constant return to them gets repetitive. The breakthrough in these sequences is Paula Patton as the lesbian, kind-hearted teacher Blu Rain who knows how to motivate Precious and break her out of her shield of armor she had been putting up all her life. Being inside this classroom is Precious' escape from the madness of the life she knew.

Precious also makes visits with Ms. Weiss, her social worker, who is played very effectively by an un-glamorized Mariah Carey. There is a final scene between Precious, her mother, Mary, and Ms. Weiss, a scene that will leave you shaken. And in this scene is Mo'Nique playing Precious' mother at her most extreme. She represents a pattern of abuse and cruelty that goes back generations where the root of her own evil is uncontrolled agony. She claims that Precious stole her man away from her, and she uses that as reason to exploit her daughter for welfare checks. Comedian Mo'Nique is absolute dynamite in a first-time dramatic performance that has her rightfully already on the track for Oscar consideration. If there's anything that saves "Precious," it's her shocking and powerful portrayal that puts a face on the monsters in this world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Instead Of The Twilight Saga's "New Moon"

Check back for two more movies next weekend just in time for Thanksgiving break:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Now Including Less Gay Kissing

Compare these two trailers for "A Single Man." The first is the original trailer which includes Colin Firth's character kissing his lover. The second trailer, while 4 seconds longer with snippets of critic praise, omits this shot but still includes the kiss with Julianne Moore's character.

Also note the poster above. The Weinstein Company's change in marketing campaign to mute the gay themes of this new film coming out this winter? Either way, this looks to be a remarkable movie.



An Education Indeed

An Education

It's 1961 in London just before the grooviness and sexual liberation age of The Beatles hit and right around the time post-war cautious conservatism was still lingering. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 16-year-old girl, straight-A cello-playing student living in a tidy suburb of London, Twickenham. She is aspiring to attend Oxford, but she is also bored to death. And then enters David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man in his early 30s who promises not only something new but simply for something to happen, the feeling of being alive. Danish director Lone Scherfig ("Italian for Beginners") is careful not to let her new film, "An Education," fall into the conventional holes it easily could've with such a premise. With writer Nick Hornby ("About a Boy," "High Fidelity"), they have taken the memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber and shaped it into a smart, quiet, and charming coming-of-age story that sparkles with the knowledge and detail of an era. It shows a social revolution not yet in the making but one in the distant horizon, and one that Jenny is ready to grasp with open arms.

David comes driving up in the pouring rain offering to put Jenny's cello in the backseat so it wouldn't get any wetter. They begin a conversation about classical music, and it's in this exact moment that we realize what a smooth and suave guy David is. He's reasonably handsome, but most of all, he knows how to turn on the charm, and in that sense he becomes irresistible. They just so happen to bump into each other again, and David invites her for a night out. Jenny meets David's fabulous and cultured friends, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike), and next thing she knows she's caught in a whirlwind of concerts, restaurants, jazz clubs, and the leisure of high-living. David wants to take her on a weekend in Oxford and then a trip to Paris.

How are the parents of a 16-year-old handling all of this? Well, they become just as disillusioned as Jenny. Her mom (Cara Seymour) and dad (Alfred Molina) are an old-fashioned couple who want the best for their daughter, and they are very loving about it. When David enters their home well-dressed and well-mannered, they can't find the harm in him. They are naive just like Jenny. How he explains his interest in Jenny is that he's interested in her mind, intellect, maturity, and potential. He wants to teach her things, and Jenny's parents view it as an older gentleman assisting her daughter in the real-world, an opportunity neither of them can pass up. Paris is safe because, well, David's aunt will be there chaperoning, of course. It's a little white lie, the type of lies David is filled with, but ones so minuscule they are never harmful. You see, David is a bit of a scoundrel, but the film is keen on not letting audiences aware of that until later, right about the time Jenny starts to realize it. And yet, she goes along with him still because, even when she sees through him, she wants to continue playing along to become a part of that lifestyle. She wants to embrace it in order to become it.

Then there's the possibility of sex. On her seventeenth birthday, David sweeps Jenny off her feet, but it turns out sex was the least of it. "All that poetry about something that lasts no time at all," Jenny said after the fact. Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan pull off the unthinkable by making this seemingly off-putting relationship one that is believable and unsentimental in the truths it reveals. Sarsgaard strikes the perfect balance amongst a tricky role by becoming a slippery snake of a predator while also being sweet and nonchalant. And he makes a perfect duo with Mulligan whose look is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. She is absolutely breathtaking and worthy of an Oscar nomination. Everything she does we have faith in her decisions, even if it doesn't seem right at the time, because she has the ability to get us on her side. She's the epitomical lovable character.

Along the way, Jenny is confronted by her young teacher (Olivia Williams) when Jenny starts becoming the talk of the school as she's courted by an older man. This teacher is concerned for Jenny potentially throwing away the possibilities of her bright future. There's also vicious disapproval from the headmistress, played by Emma Thompson in a fiery passion. There are two strands of education here: one that gets a young girl into Oxford and one that teaches a young girl a thing a two about life and living. And while both are important, it would appear that one in particular gives Jenny a certain edge. This is a lesson, an education, that'll stick with her because sometimes the lessons that hurt you the most affect you the greatest. Yes, of course Jenny's been to Paris before, but the boys her own age don't need to know that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Von Trier Shows No Boundaries


Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" has polarized critics and was the controversy of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and for fine reason. This is a rare, disturbing, and horrific exploration into von Trier's personal outlook on grief, pain, and despair (chapters of which the film is divided into), and it is at first fascinating but then makes a sharp and crippling turn to infuriating. Von Trier (most known for his "Dogville") notes that filming this creation helped him overcome his period of depression. All right, so we know what this film did for the director, but what does it do for us? Here's a film so frightfully self-indulgent that the artist might as well have kept his vision inside his own head.

It starts with a woman coping with the death of her child. A nameless couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) are in the throes of intimacy when, unbeknownst to them, their young son, a toddler, gets out of his crib, makes his way toward an open window, and goes tumbling out of it along with his teddy bear. The woman's grief is unbearable, and the performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg, which won her the Best Actress prize at Cannes, is one of startling anguish and emotional potency. Her acting is both literally and figuratively naked and also equal parts psychological and physical. Gainsbourg's bravery toward the role is one worth admiring. That is until von Trier sends her character directly into unexplained insanity, much like the rest of the film.

The man, Dafoe in a performance much more subdued and less convincing than his counterpart's, acts as a therapist to his wife attempting to find the source to what she most fears. They both journey to an isolated cottage in the woods called Eden, which is shot by Anthony Dod Mantle ("Slumdog Millionaire") in a beautiful, pulsating, digital style that includes some strange optical effects. The location of Eden drips with metaphor and allegory full of raining acorns, animal fetuses, and a talking fox that looks the man square in the eyes and says, "Chaos reigns." The woman calls nature "Satan's church," and she had been doing research in the attic about old pagan rituals involving women. What does it all mean? Von Trier's meanings aren't ambiguous, they're incomprehensible. It's not that it's over our heads, it just isn't there. It's muddled, and it thematically falls apart. And in the end, it's an examination that gets too close for comfort, and the real shock becomes the sad fact that the only thing von Trier brings to the table is shock value. At one point the film becomes a slasher flick. Allow me to explain:

The latter half of "Antichrist" deteriorates into graphic violence, which includes vivid scenes and close-ups of self-inflicted genital mutilation. This film could've been an intense and dark meditation on some deep ideals, but the fact that it almost, kind of, begins to encroach upon this intrigue is not excuse enough for an ending so absolutely grisly and unwatchable. It's hard to tell where von Trier's mind is on death, birth, infertility, and the intrinsic nature of women. Are they evil? Is the film painfully misogynistic or subtly feminist? In the end, it doesn't even matter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And Who Could've Predicted This?

Roland Emmerich's "2012" has been getting better-than-average reviews with critics claiming it to be over-the-top, ridiculous fun and falling into the "so bad it's good" category.

Roger Ebert gave it 3 1/2 stars.
"The mother of all disaster movies (and the father, and the extended family) spends half an hour on ominous set-up scenes (scientists warn, strange events occur, prophets rant and of course a family is introduced) and then unleashes two hours of cataclysmic special events hammering the Earth relentlessly."

Lisa Schwarzbaum labels it a guilty pleasure.
"God forgive me, but I enjoyed the nerve-racking silliness of this newest, loudest exercise in destruction."

Well, there's no denying that Emmerich is offering up exactly the reason audiences are going to see this movie, and that is to watch Earth get destroyed in incomprehensibly catastrophic ways. Looks like this one may be a surprise success.

But, one still must wonder, will December 21, 2012 itself will be this much fun?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Did the Mayans Predcit This Movie Would Be Made, Too?

Holy shit, "2012," coming out this Friday, is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, which means that it's a 2-hour-and-40-minute-long disaster sequence. I swear, after "The Day After Tomorrow" making this movie must've been like an orgasm for director Roland Emmerich. I can't help but wonder if the entire movie is one giant explosion of CGI or if there's actually a plot. And if there is, well, I know I wouldn't be able to stand watching John Cusack looking concerned for nearly 3 hours. And, really, how does a movie like "2012" end? The world just collapses, right? ...Or does it?

Oh, and how timely! He made Danny Glover the president. I wonder if this is the first big-budget motion picture to feature a black U.S. president.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall Of ABC's Former Successes

I think I've officially given up on ABC's two breakthrough shows from 2004, "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." Having watched both of these shows religiously since their beginning, it's time to finally let go of my dedication. The wells on both of these series is running dry as they enter their sixth seasons.

This latest season of "Grey's" has been focusing on downsizing as Seattle Grace has merged with Mercy West introducing far too many supporting characters. It's all become far too muddled, and the leading stars have been shoved into the background. With an explosive and astonishing first few seasons, the show has been making its steady decline into mediocre melodrama as of recently, and it appears to have finally made it there. Even the soundtrack, which used to be the show's highlight, has been lacking.

"Housewives" has certainly had its ups and downs throughout its lifetime, and although season five showed some promise with jumping ahead five years in the characters' lives, unfortunately this latest season has slumped right back down into nothingness. With yet another introduction to new neighbors, I'm really starting to feel like I've seen it all before. And without Nicolette Sheridan in the picture, it's lost a lot of sizzle.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flat Rendition Of A Christmas Classic

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Robert Zemeckis has done this once before. As he did with "The Polar Express," using his photo-realistic, motion-capture animation technique, he has adapted a holiday story for not just the big screen, but the really big screen: IMAX. And this time, 3-D. Much like he proved with the surprisingly adept "Beowulf," Zemeckis certainly knows how to put 3-D to good use. The thing with his "A Christmas Carol," corporately labeled as a Disney production, is that the animation is better, and yes, the 3-D is wondrous. The look of real actors being animated comes off much less creepy here than it did in "The Polar Express," but even so, that was a better film. The issue is that this time Zemeckis is adapting the timeless 1838 story by Charles Dickens. All the trimmings of Victorian yuletide cheer are there, but the emotional feeling of being a classic just isn't.

This is a premise we all know, so it's not worth repeating, but here's a basic outline: Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is a bitter old man whose business partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), died on Christmas Eve. He therefore hates Christmas, and with his stooped back, drooping skin, and pale eyes, he loathes everything about the holiday. He is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, all distinct and all teaching Scrooge things about himself he may have never even realized before. Majority of the dialogue throughout the film is directly lifted from the original story, and to that extent this adaptation pays rightful tribute to Dickens. Zemeckis stays true to Dickens' most potent and finest themes, and with such comes a rather dark tone, one that focuses on moral disparity and even death. In this instance the movie can be eerie and even downright scary, which means that this is one definitely not for the youngest kids.

There's no denying that Zemeckis' "A Christmas Carol" is visually splendid with sequences swirling with magic and a rendering of 19th century London that is seamless and gorgeous. And yet it feels like Zemeckis gets a little carried away. This isn't meant to be the Christmas Carol roller coaster ride, and perhaps there simply wasn't enough material to work with. Between all of the exuberantly-designed chase and action sequences, the real narrative, the appearance of each ghost, almost become the backdrop to the thrill-ride. It gets tiring after a while, especially when there is so much to offer with Zemeckis' vision of these ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past is exceptional with just a face in a lit candle, whispering and flickering.

Jim Carrey pulls his weight, voicing not only Scrooge but also the three ghosts. Gary Oldman does the voices of Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Marley. Deep beneath the layers of animation is Carrey playing Scrooge quite well as he does a good job of playing it straight without any flairs or goofiness. The expressions of the CGI characters are now more fully-realized with thanks to technological advancements. Scrooge is no caricature with Carrey giving him the perfect dose of remorse and melancholy.

While Zemeckis works hard to stick with Dickens' sentiments, one must really wonder at the end of viewing "A Christmas Carol" if another adaptation was really necessary. It's a sight to behold and certainly will get viewers promptly in the mood for the holiday season (which perhaps is the primary goal), but the desired emotional level of connection is never reached. The plight of Tiny Tim is there in all of its sadness, but I just didn't find myself in sympathy as much as I felt I should've. Observing Scrooge's personal transformation becomes like viewing it from afar, and the endeavor feels ultimately removed and sadly soulless.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"The Gurus Of Gold"

So, I guess it really is that time of year: Oscar season. It is the beginning of November, except it feels unfortunately just like last year that, even though worthy films are being released, I have yet to see them for myself. Hopefully it won't be as painfully delayed as it was last year where I'm scrambling to see "Revolutionary Road" a week before nominations are released.

Check out this website that Roger Ebert included in one of his tweets. That's right, Ebert now has a Twitter, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it.

Looks like "Up in the Air" and "Precious" are in the lead for the Best Picture predictions followed closely by "The Hurt Locker" and Clint Eastwood's latest movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, "Invictus."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Pains Of Just Being

A Serious Man

It's "Oy Ve!" over and over again in "A Serious Man." If pain and suffering is the root of all laughter, then Joel and Ethan Coen's new film is hilarious. And it is one of brilliant comic cruelty. Here's a comedy so black that its underlying philosophical outlook on life and fate is so hopeless and bleak that it rivals "No Country for Old Men." The Oscar-win for the writing-directing duo has allowed them to make their most original and personal feature yet. They deal, for the first time, with their Jewish heritage in placing the setting in a 1967 suburb, one that resembles the Minnesota town in which they grew up. This entry proves now more than over that the Coens are a master of the craft. The direction is keen and the script plays out like a richly textured novel, one tinged with the hilarity of cosmic despair.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has always tried to be a serious man. He's convinced there's reason to everything in the world. Is there? The Coens are convinced otherwise, and in close relation to "No Country for Old Men," the brothers have a fascinating interest in a fundamental absence of there being meaning to anything. Man's attempt to find that meaning becomes a futile search. The movie opens with a prologue spoken in Yiddish that tells an ancient tale of a couple who either rid their house of a dybbuk (a ghost) or murdered an old man. It's the proclamation of an evil curse, one that we see play out in Larry's life. His wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce, his candidacy for tenure at his job as a professor is under fire, his son (Aaron Wolf) has his bar mitzvah coming up when he's more interested in experimenting with pot, and their Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind) is living on the couch draining the fluid out of his cyst while writing in a notebook filled with mad, mystical physics.

Larry is constantly bombarded with requests, message, phone calls, demands, and complaints, and the performances from mostly unfamiliar actors reflect this hectic feeling through tart and dry dialogue. Larry's daughter (Jessica McManus) complains about Uncle Arthur taking up the bathroom all the time when she needs to style her hair, Larry's son needs the reception fixed on the TV so he can watch "F Troop," a student from South Korea (David Kang) bribes and blackmails Larry with money for a better grade, Larry keeps getting calls from Columbia Record Club requesting payments, his neighbor is encroaching on the property line in their lawn, and the list goes on and on. Every tiny incident in Larry's life takes on a hugely sinister tone, and it just keeps building up. The Coen's focus on the mundane banality of the American Jewish lifestyle is presented like a loopy circus show. All of the inconveniences, they keep piling up, interrupting and contradicting each other, and they all amount to absolutely nothing. And this was four decades ago. Imagine now.

The movie is shot with such exquisite artistry and inventiveness thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins. Every angle (canted angles included), every choice of framing, and every character (no matter how minor) have significance toward the grander theme. Consider Larry's sexy neighbor, Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker), who is like an angel wearing an orange sweater and black eyeliner promising an escape, or Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) who is stealing away Larry's wife. Sy becomes a permeating presence, a guidance counselor who guides only the grief he supplies.

In endlessly wondering why everything goes wrong for him, the "Why me? Why me?" mentality, Larry seeks absolution from the advice of three rabbis. The senior rabbi tells the story of a dentist who found the Hebrew words for "Help me" engraved in the back of a patient's teeth. One rabbi finds explanation in the simplicity and wonder of the parking lot outside. Another rabbi ends up being helpful in listing off the members of Jefferson Airplane, a band whose song "Somebody to Love" becomes the moral backdrop and ultimate punch line for the entire movie.

During one of his lectures, Larry presents a mathematical equation that takes up the entire blackboard and deals with the concept of uncertainty. And yet isn't math based all around certainty and theorem? Well, yes, this is a certain theorem on uncertainty. How is that at all reasonable? How is it reasonable that the culmination of the results of an x-ray and the onset of a tornado attribute to the same thing? From its fable-like beginning to its offbeat but pitch-perfect ending, "A Serious Man" delivers what the Coen brothers do best, and it is a work of serious accomplishment. It would appear that the only thing certain in life is the existence of suffering.