Random Factoid #557

5 02 2011

Grr.  The open door policy at AMC Theaters that has bothered me for so long has once again struck with a vengeance.

I first wrote about this problem back in 2009 after seeing “Bright Star” (that long ago), and I directed my anger at hearing Taylor Swift songs from the lobby while trying to watch the British costume drama into the blogosphere.  The problem has persisted, but perhaps never with such disastrous effects as it did yesterday.

I was “127 Hours” for the second time (because I love it), and the road to amputation was growing inevitable.  It was the last 15 minutes or so of the movie, and the tension was getting to the point that it could be cut with a knife.  All of a sudden, I start hearing noise that I know is not a part of Danny Boyle’s movie.  I perked up my ears and began to distinguish words coming from the lobby.  People were broadcasting their conversations into my theater!

I wasn’t going to go get up and close the door – heck, I don’t even know that it was open – because the movie was too good.  But I had to sit there and bear it for the rest of the movie.  Only until the music flared up to 11 was I able to drown out their disembodied voices.  So, once again, the whole sanctity of the moviegoing escapism experience was violated by the policy.  This has to stop.

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Random Factoid #553

1 02 2011

I doubt many people other than the dedicated fans or the obsessive free promotion-seekers heard about the “I Kept My Eyes Open for 127 Hours” campaign.  Fox Searchlight turned the film’s marketing weak point – people passing out during the graphic amputation scene – into a gimmick to reward the tough moviegoers out there and essentially dare those who hadn’t scene it.

Although I have only limited experience in marketing and advertising, this at first seemed like a strange campaign.  When they initiated it, “127 Hours” had largely run its course in movie theaters, and the awards buzz was beginning to die down.  It felt like just too little, too late.

I got my T-shirt this week after going up some rather strange alleys to get in contact with a Fox Searchlight representative to get a larger size (because I just can’t squeeze into a medium).  I wore it proudly to school and to rehearsal, although under a sweatshirt most of the day as the Houston weather was unseasonably cold, and everyone that saw it had to comment on it.  One friend is even heading to see it over the weekend.

So, Fox Searchlight, consider this a success in goading curiosity.  You’re welcome for sending $20 your way – plus another $10 for me to see it again this weekend.





Oscar Moment: January 7, 2011 Awards Round-Up

7 01 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since I last ran this column (thanks to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and a general lack of events in the awards sphere), and I sure have missed writing.  In a ways, a lot of things have happened since then.  Yet, at the same time, not a whole lot has happened.

So, without further ado, here are some developments in the Oscar race worth nothing:

The Producers Guild nominates. A group representing the interests of Hollywood producers, the Producers Guild is generally a pretty good indicator of how the Academy will ultimately shape their field.  They ultimately solidified that we have eight almost sure-fire nominees, leaving the two remaining spots up for grabs by a few movies.  In case you don’t know which eight movies I’m referring to, here they are in a convenient bulleted list (in alphabetical order):

Some might argue that “The Kids Are All Right” isn’t a lock since it missed a BFCA nomination and wasn’t a big audience favorite; others might say that “True Grit” isn’t certain because it was totally snubbed at the Golden Globes.  I think that both will ultimately get nominated, but “True Grit” is safer because of its robust box office numbers.

But for their last two nominees, they chose Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and Ben Affleck’s “The Town.”  Both were BFCA nominees for Best Picture that missed Golden Globe nominations for the same award.  Neither were big hits with the SAG, only garnering one nomination.

The big story is that Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” was left out in the cold after garnering a BFCA nod for Best Picture and two SAG nominations.  It’s been basically narrowed down to “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” and “The Town” to fight for those last two spots, and missing out on the PGA nomination really hurt here.  It’s not a big movie for producers being the tiny budget indie that it is.

I’d also say that the indie portion of Best Picture has been covered without “Winter’s Bone.” Three nominees for the Best Independent Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Black Swan,” will likely be represented in the Academy’s field.  These three movies had better box office than “Winter’s Bone,” which only made $6 million this summer.  So, in other words, “The Town” has leap-frogged “Winter’s Bone” in my predictions.

For historical reference, the PGA chose 8 of the Academy’s 10 selections, choosing “Invictus” and “Star Trek” over “The Blind Side” and “A Serious Man.”

The Writers Guild nominates. Before listing the nominees, it’s worth noting that there were many high profile ineligibilities this year.  In original screenplay, “Another Year,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The King’s Speech” were among the most notable; in adapted screenplay, they excluded “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone.”

In original screenplay, the surprise nominee was “Please Give,” which will compete against probable Best Picture nominees “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” and “The Kids Are All Right.”  I envision this race as a battle between the latter two movies; the winner will then have to go head-to-head with “The King’s Speech” at the Oscars.  (All three were nominated at the Golden Globes but will probably lose to “The Social Network.”)  As for “The Fighter,” it will probably be fighting “Another Year” for the final slot in the category – and will most likely be snubbed due to the Academy’s worshipping of Mike Leigh.

In adapted screenplay, they threw a total curveball by throwing “I Love You Phillip Morris” into a field that included “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “The Town,” and “True Grit.”  Aaron Sorkin is going to run away with this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Town” and “True Grit” make way for “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” at the Oscars.

The USC Scripter finalists announced. An award for film adaptations of literature, the USC Scripter award is a nice award for screenwriters to pick up on the way to Best Adapted Screenplay.  (In case you couldn’t deduce it, “Toy Story 3” was ineligible.)

The surprise nominee was “The Ghost Writer” among potential Oscar nominees “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  It’s a nice boost for Roman Polanski’s movie, and it certainly gives it a blip on the awards radar.  But given how unofficial the award is, it’s probably unwise to look to much into it.

Besides, as I already said, it’s the year of Aaron Sorkin.  However, many people believe it to be practically an original screenplay as Sorkin finished his screenplay before Ben Mezrich finished his book, “The Accidental Billionaires.”  Mezrich sent Sorkin his notes and research while he was writing the book, and “The Social Network” is based on those – NOT the final book.  So perhaps as an adaptation, it’s not the kind of movie that could win this.

BAFTA longlists announced. The real nominations for the BAFTAs (the British version of the Oscars) aren’t announced until January 18, but for some strange reason, they choose to announce a field of 15 in each category that they will ultimately select their nominees from.

The result is ultimately a bunch of clutter not worth looking too much into.  “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” led the long list with 15 mentions each.  Obviously the former, being such a prominent British title, stands a pretty good chance of taking the most nominations when the real ones are announced.

They did star the top five vote-getters in the preliminary rounds which do provide some interesting insight into their ultimate nominees.  So with that in mind, here are some highlights from the list so you don’t have to look at it yourself:

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” made their Best Picture longlist.  (They didn’t star any nominees in the category.)
  • Danny Boyle was one of the starred directors.  This is a good sign for Boyle, who seems to be slipping with his movie in the Best Director race.  If the British contingent is behind him, he could outmuscle the Coen Brothers for the final slot.
  • Aaron Eckhart was longlisted for “Rabbit Hole” (personal favorite, sorry) as were both Leonardo DiCaprio performancesi in 2010.  Starred were the usual suspects Eisenberg, Firth, and Franco as well as Jeff Bridges and surprisingly Javier Bardem, who could use a boost right now other than an endorsement of “Biutiful” by Julia Roberts.
  • Among likely Best Actress nominees Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, starred selections included Carey Mulligan for “Never Let Me Go” and Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right.”  This is big for the latter, who seems to be bullied out of the Best Actress category by her co-star Bening.
  • Justin Timberlake was longlisted for “The Social Network,” but co-star Andrew Garfield was starred, along with favorites Bale, Rush, and Ruffalo.  Also starred was Bob Hoskins in the British movie “Made in Dagenham.”
  • All three of the supporting females in “Black Swan” were on the longlist, including Winona Ryder.  Surprisingly, it was Barbara Hershey and not Mila Kunis who was starred.  (Fingers crossed Hershey could score an Oscar nod!)
  • Melissa Leo, the apparent frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Fighter,” was not starred.  Her co-star Amy Adams was starred, as was Miranda Richardson was starred for “Made in Dagenham.”
  • Category fraud was seemingly corrected by placing Hailee Steinfeld in leading actress for “True Grit” and Lesley Manville in supporting actress for “Another Year.”
  • Don’t trust them too much – “Alice in Wonderland” was listed as a potential Best Director and Best Actor nominee.

See the full longlists HERE at In Contention.

Technical guilds chime in. The Cinema Audio Society announced its five picks for Best Sound Mixing, which included “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “Shutter Island,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit.”  Perhaps the most surprising nominee is “The Social Network,” which isn’t perceived as a big technical movie.  Yet if it continues to pick up nominations, it will prove how widely appealing the movie is – and make it that much more likely to win Best Picture.  The more nominations it can pick up, the better.

The Art Directors Guild recognized excellence in three categories as follows:

Period Film
Get Low
“The King’s Speech”
Robin Hood
Shutter Island
“True Grit”

Fantasy Film
Alice in Wonderland
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
“Inception”
TRON Legacy

Contemporary Film
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“The Town”

Again, it’s good for “The Social Network” that it picked up a mention.  But perhaps the movie most in need of technical guild support is “Inception,” which came up blank at the SAG Awards.  To take home Best Picture, it’s going to need to make a strong showing with these guilds.

“Shutter Island” showed up on both guild lists, setting it up as a dark horse Best Picture nominee.  I doubt it happens, but now it can’t be totally unforeseen.

Critics groups all but wrap up. In case you didn’t hear, “The Social Network” swept pretty much all of the critics groups in 2010.  It earned its status as “critical darling,” taking home Best Picture from just about everyone.  Here are those that dared to be different:

  • Austin – “Black Swan”
  • Central Ohio – “Inception”
  • Dublin – “A Prophet”
  • Phoenix – “The King’s Speech”
  • San Diego – “Winter’s Bone”
  • Utah – “127 Hours” (tied with “The Social Network”)

So as you can see, there was no clear second place movie for critics to “The Social Network.”  But someone with the time to calculate the results wrote that “Black Swan” took the second-most honors from critics groups.

The first phase of the Oscar race in 2010 is over, and “The Social Network” has clearly won.  But can it keep the lead?  Or will another movie come and steal awards from the BFCA, Golden Globes, or SAG?  Check back next week as phase two begins.





10 for ’10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

31 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

By the time the clock runs down on 2010, I will have seen over 90 movies.  Most of them were average, nothing special but nothing horrible.  An alarming number were downright terrible.  But, as always, there are enough gems that shine above the coal to fill out a top 10 list.  It wasn’t quite as agonizing a process this year, but that’s beside the point.  I want to leave 2010 smiling because, for the most part, it was a good year for the movies – provided you were willing to look off the beaten path.

What I found in common with these 10 special movies released in 2010 was a challenge.  Each movie, in an entirely different way, issued a challenge to the moviegoer.  These movies weren’t complacent just providing two hours of escapism; they went so far as to engage our minds, hearts, and souls in the moviegoing experience.  They provided something that stuck with me, the movie watcher and reviewer, long after they ended and will continue to stick with me well into 2011.

So, here’s to the challenge, here’s to 2010, and here’s to movies!

#10

Easy A
(A Challenge to High School)
Directed by Will Gluck
Written by Bert V. Royal
Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, and Amanda Bynes

It was about time that a movie like “Easy A” came along and perfectly encapsulated what it’s like to be a high school student in the era of texting and Facebook.  I was scared that my generation wasn’t going to get a Hollywood spotlight until twenty years later, and that would make us look like some kind of hokey antiques like the kids in “Grease.”  What makes “Easy A” so brilliant is how it incorporates the modern with the past, be it as distant as the Puritans or as recent as the Breakfast Club, to show how fundamentally different the high school experience has changed even since 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

For me, very few moments were so beautifully authentic this year as the movie’s high-speed mapping of the rumor mill, which now moves at the speed of light (or a 3G connection).  Propaganda posters after World War II suggested that loose lips cost lives, but in 2010, “Easy A” shows how it can cost reputations, something much more precious in high school.  Technology may have evolved, but high school hasn’t.  Society may have improved thanks to these innovations, so why haven’t we?

#9

Rabbit Hole
(A Challenge to Coping)
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Written by David Lindsey-Abaire
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist

Grief is either overdone or understated.  In “Rabbit Hole,” it’s presented in a manner so raw that it manages to be both at the same time, making for one of the most moving experiences of the year.  A story about a husband and wife, played to brilliance by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, grieving their lost child, the movie shows many ways to cope.  Kidman’s Becca wants to move on, Eckhart’s Howie wants to live with it, and in the middle of it all is Becca’s mother, played by Dianne Weist, offering her advice on how to get to the peaceful state in which she resides.  There’s no answer to the question of who handles it best or which way is best; in fact, there’s not even an attempt to answer it.  But there’s something beautiful about an unanswered question, and maybe that’s why the grace of “Rabbit Hole” has stuck with me for so long.

#8

Get Him to the Greek
(A Challenge to Remain Silent)
Written and Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, and Sean Combs

Okay, you can forget the challenge here.  It’s not coming from “Get Him to the Greek,” it’s coming from me – I dare you not to laugh at this movie.  Between the dynamite comedic pairing of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, the scene-stealing farce that is Sean Combs’ foul-mouthed music exec Sergio, the ridiculous and totally awesome music of Infant Sorrow, and the hilarious situations that drive the movie, “Get Him to the Greek” was my favorite comedy of 2010.  It’s filled with endless quotables and capable of many repeat viewings without any diminishing laughter.

#7

Fair Game
(A Challenge to Patriotism)
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth
Starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn

Rather than fall into the pile of scathing movies about America’s involvement in Iraq, “Fair Game” takes its anger in a fresh and different direction and funnels it into something constructive.  The story of Valerie Plame Wilson, a scapegoat for the federal government in the wake of their exposure, is meant to rouse us, not to dismay us.  We are proud that there are still people in this country who believe in the Constitution and the principles on which we were founded, and staying silent is simply not an option.  While it hits you with rage, the knockout punch is of pride in Valerie and her courage to stand up for herself.  “Fair Game” stands out as an exuberant flag-waving fan while all other movies of the same vein just mope in dreary cynicism.

#6

Inside Job
(A Challenge to Care)
Written and Directed by Charles Ferguson
Narrated by Matt Damon

Who is responsible for the financial collapse of 2008?  Charles Ferguson lets us know who he thinks in the activist epilogue, which you can more or less disregard if you choose to do so, but in the hour and 40 minutes prior, he points the finger at just about everyone possible.  Including us.  Sure, there were many factors leading to a worldwide meltdown of the economy that were out of our control, but a little bit of oversight, we could have seen it coming.  By his systematic explanation of everything you need to know to understand what went down (call it “Global Meltdown for Dummies” if you must), he is challenging us to be the oversight that was lacking two years ago.  And judging by how things have developed since then, we are going to need a whole lot of it.

#5

Inception
(A Challenge to Imagination)
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

For as much as I love the four movies I’m ranking ahead of “Inception,” none had such a monumental impact on the way movies are perceived and made quite like it.  Christopher Nolan successfully redefined what imagination means for millions of moviegoers, many of whom had to see the movie multiple times to figure out what was going on in his labyrinthian dreamscape.  With a massive spending allowance, he brought the spectacle to life and managed not treat the audience like children, which proved to be one of the most thrilling and psychologically satisfying experiences ever.  If a movie like this can’t change the fabric of filmmaking, maybe we are headed for the dark ages like Roger Ebert cries.

#4

The Social Network
(A Challenge to Modernity)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake

As an old adage goes, “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”  David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network” may appear to be a movie planted in the digital era, but as has been said many times, it’s a movie about age-old themes like power, greed, and betrayal.  In essence, we’ve seen it before.  Yet retold as the story of the site we visit every day, it’s fascinating.  And it’s sublime thanks to brilliantly sculpted characters who never fit traditional hero/villain roles driving the narrative.  However, this is not just a rehash; it’s a brilliant cautionary tale for our times about individuality, innovation, and solitude.  “The Social Network,” along with its cryptic leading man Mark Zuckerberg, is the best movie of 2010 for serious conversation that’s relevant away from the screen and out of the theater.

#3

Toy Story 3
(A Challenge to Feel)
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Written by Michael Arndt
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack

So maybe the whole prison escape plot wasn’t the most original thing in the world.  But “Toy Story 3” has a heart so big that nothing else matters.  I have no shame in admitting that I cried like the child that the movie made me feel like.  For the last 20 minutes of the movie, I felt the most beautiful mix of nostalgia, sadness, and joy that may just be the most powerful potion Pixar has brewed.  To be my age and watch this movie is like an ultimate realization that childhood can’t last forever.  But the tears aren’t just mourning, they are happy as the torch is passed to a new generation.  I pray, for their sake, that no technology can ever replace the comfort that a toy and a little bit of imagination can bring to any child.

#2

127 Hours
(A Challenge to Live)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Starring James Franco

Life-affirming isn’t a word I get to use to describe movies very often, and that’s precisely what makes “127 Hours” one of the most special experiences of 2010.  The perfect combination of Danny Boyle’s superhuman directing with James Franco’s rawly human acting makes for a movie experience defying the odds.  Who would have thought that a movie about a man losing his arm would be the movie that made me most glad to be alive?  The movie that made me most appreciative for the relationships in my life?  The movie that took me on the most gut-wrenching yet blissfully rewarding roller-coaster ride?  I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch “127 Hours” again, but I’m so glad I watched at least once because it truly was a movie I’ll never forget.

#1

Black Swan
(A Challenge to EVERYTHING)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John MacLaughlin
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel

It’s such a fantastic irony that “Black Swan” is a movie about the inability of humans to achieve perfection, yet Darren Aronofsky’s movie is the closest thing to cinematic perfection in 2010.  Behind Natalie Portman, who delivers one of the finest, if not the finest, performances I’ve ever seen from any actress, the movie soars to heights that I had previously thought unfathomable.  It challenges just about every cinematic boundary that still exists and then proceeds to demolish them.  But “Black Swan” doesn’t just destroy these boundaries for fun; it’s a purposeful and intelligent movie that gives a reason to change the boundaries of cinema for better and for good.  Fearless director Darren Aronofsky choreographs a master ballet of a movie that weaves together horror, beauty, and psychological breakdown with such poise that you’ll wonder why every movie can’t be as thrilling as his.  “Black Swan” is a glorious exaltation of cinema and a monumental achievement that will go down in history.





10 for ’10: Performances

30 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

It’s impossible to celebrate a year in film without mentioning the performances that riveted us.  Without further ado or fanfare, here are the 10 actors who reminded me of the power of their craft with their work in 2010.

Women

Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming in “The Fighter

My original review:
Adams, usually the delightfully effervescent charmer, plays gritty and unapologetic in “The Fighter” and pulls it off to Oscar-worthy standards.  She’s able to pull off just about any sort of character she takes, and the tenacious Charlene is different than anything we’ve ever seen her do before.  It’s exciting to see an actress nowadays who isn’t content with finding one adjective to act and then carve themselves a niche, and Adams is quickly proving herself one of the most versatile actresses of our day.

Reflection:
Amy Adams has wowed me in a variety of different roles, from her unassuming nun in “Doubt” to the ditzy princess in “Enchanted.”  Yet as Charlene, I think she may have hit the most beautiful note in her career so far with her heartfelt conversation with Bale’s Dickie on her front porch.  As she reflects on her life and her good intentions, it’s such a wonderful moment filled with every ounce of sincerity that she has to give.

Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers in Black Swan

My original review:
The best of the supporting bunch [in “Black Swan”] is by far and away Hershey as the pushy and demanding stage mom.  Such roles often become stock characters; however, Hershey takes the role in frightening and invigorating new directions.

Reflection:
There wasn’t a more frightening performance this year than Hershey as Natalie Portman’s mother.  There’s a whole lot of subtext that Hershey has to act, perhaps a whole hidden backstory as director Darren Aronofsky alluded to, and that’s usually a daunting task for actors to pull off.  Hershey shows no dust from her long hiatus from acting, keeping us scared and entranced at the same time.

Julianne Moore as Jules in “The Kids Are All Right

My original review:
It’s Julianne Moore who absolutely brings down the house [in “The Kids Are All Right”].  As the more flighty, free-spirited Jules, she wins our hearts from the get-go, even if her antics only illicit groans from her other half.  The character is very complex as she begins reeling from Paul’s introduction, exploring sides of herself she didn’t know even existed.  It’s glorious to watch Moore dig deeper and deeper into her character as the movie goes on.  She’s responsible for some of the movie’s funniest moments but also for its most effective emotional scene.  Academy, take note.

Reflection:
Throughout the awards season, many pundits have thrown out that Annette Bening’s role in “The Kids Are All Right” is the character the audience is meant to sympathize with and thus makes her the better candidate for Best Actress.  Without dragging politics into it, I found Julianne Moore’s Jules the more sympathetic character and, by the end, the only one I actually cared about.  Moore has delivered so many fantastic performances, but what makes this one stand head and shoulders over the rest is her total emotional engagement in the role.  We feel her torment, her frustration, and her confusion so profoundly because of how engrossed she is in the character.  And what she puts in, we get out of the performance.

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in “Black Swan

My original review:
The star of the show is Portman, and “Black Swan” is made all the more fascinating by how Nina’s development mirrors her performance.  Much like Nina must lose herself in the role of the Swan Princess, Portman absolutely disappears into her character.  It’s a shocking and startling transformation due to Portman’s dedication to learning the craft of ballet and her impeccable acting.  The movie stands as a testament to the fact that she is one of the best emerging actresses of her generation, and her flawless showing here deserves to be minted in history alongside the greatest of all time.  Portman gives a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and to miss it would be to deny yourself the chance to see as close to perfection as is cinematically possible.

Reflection:
Perfect.  It was perfect.

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in “True Grit”

Reflection:
I have yet to review “True Grit,” but when I do, expect the highest of praise for newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.  There are very few actors that can spit out period dialogue at lightning speed with confidence, and there are probably even fewer that can do the same with the dialogue of the Coen Brothers.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do both so well, a feat that would impress me from an Academy Award-winning actress but floors me when I consider that this is a debut performer.  At such a young age, she has a complete and total mastery of her character’s deepest desires and feelings, and such a strong presence out in front of “True Grit” makes it a movie and a performance I won’t soon forget.

Men

Christian Bale as Dickie Ecklund in The Fighter

My original review:
The knockout punch of “The Fighter” is the performance of Christian Bale, a totally authentic portrayal of a drug addict, former boxer, jealous trainer – and all simultaneously.  He doesn’t act or perform as the real life Dickie Ecklund so much as he becomes him and inhabits him.  Every twitch, every word is meticulously planned by Bale, who slimmed down from his Batman physique to play the gaunt Dickie.

Reflection:
“The Fighter” is Micky Ward’s story, but it’s Dickie Ecklund’s movie.  Bale, completely lost in the character, brings together all of his strengths to deliver what could be the quintessential performance of his career.  It shows his physical commitment, his uncompromising authenticity, and a strangely pervasive sense of heart that’s often a little rough around the edges.

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network

My original review:
Eisenberg nails all the eccentricities of the fast-talking technological wiz, and the nuances in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg will captivate for endless viewings.

Reflection:
Who is Mark Zuckerberg?  After “The Social Network” was released, millions of people were left trying to answer the question.  Is he the savior of the Internet and the symbol of a new era, or is he the force that will inadvertently bring it down and destroy all the comforts of our former lives?  What makes this screen version of Zuckerberg so captivating is that Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t attempt to answer this question.  Eisenberg gets to the core of what he thinks is motivating Zuckerberg, going so deep that no bias or opinion can color his interpretation.  Then, he lays it all out on the screen and leaves it up to the viewer to decide who Mark Zuckerberg is.  With the magazine TIME naming the entrepreneur their person of the year, Eisenberg may have made Mark Zuckerberg the folk hero of the digital age.

Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech

My original review:
It’s Firth’s show in the flashy role of King George, a character that must be inhabited, not just performed.  Firth nails it, getting inside every thought and stammer of the king.  He doesn’t just brush the surface as many actors playing historical figures do; he makes George vulnerable and sentimental.  Firth’s poignant performance reminds us that what we should be looking for in movies like this is heart.

Reflections:
The royal family of England always feels so distant on film, living a life filmmakers believe is so different that ours that they have to put them in an ivory tower.  Yet Colin Firth, armed with a fantastically written human being by the name of King George VI, tears their mythological status down brick by brick until his royal figure is so down to earth that he feels like an old friend.  The movie wouldn’t have been half as inspiring had Firth not brought such an enormously relatable pathos to the role.

James Franco as Aron Ralston in “127 Hours

My original review:
There’s never a dull or wasted moment to be found in the movie thanks to Franco’s sublime and enlightened performance.  While shooting on location, Boyle consistently had him act in character for 20 minutes straight and then relied on the editor to find 30 seconds to make it into the final cut.  This total immersion into Ralston’s desperation makes Franco all the more raw and moving.

Reflection:
The blasting score, fancy editing, and flashy cinematography of “127 Hours” can only go so far to make a static movie work.  It requires a dynamic actor, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, that we can stick with until the bitter end.  James Franco does just that and more as he makes pain and hope so tangible and so authentic that the movie never feels anything less than real.  If anyone ever had a doubt that we need actors more than ever, Franco’s flawless work is all that’s needed to silence any critic.

Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network

My original review:
Andrew Garfield as the upright Saverin is a force to be reckoned with, a true presence throughout the movie with his very likable charm.  For just that reason, he makes it wrenching to watch the inevitable turn when Saverin gets cheated.

Reflection:
While Zuckerberg’s prickly exterior prevents us from ever liking him too much, Andrew Garfield endows Eduardo Saverin with a sharp mind, firm beliefs, and a strong moral compass, making us fall head over heels for his character.  He’s an irresistible force on the screen, the good angel resting on Zuckerberg’s right shoulder whispering in his ear to follow common wisdom.  The movie’s emotional climax wouldn’t work if we weren’t rooting for Saverin the entire time, and when he explodes with anger, you’ll want to jump in the frame and punch the jerks who wronged him.





10 for ’10: Criticism

29 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

If someone classified this blog (good luck trying to do that, anyone that might attempt to) as one thing, I bet they’d be likely to say it’s a movie review site.  While I do much more, and I urge you to check out all the other things I do, it’s probably true that I am most prominently a movie critic.

So how can I look back on a year of blogging without retrospectively looking at my own writing?  So here are excerpts from 10 of what I believe were my best reviews this year – 5 good movies, 5 bad movies – that I believe best demonstrate my love of writing, language, and some good wordplay.

(NOTE: I’m only putting excerpts because I want you to go read the whole review!  So don’t be afraid to click the links!)

The Good

Black Swan

There’s really no one else but Aronofsky who could pull off a big, brassy movie like this.  He’s simply the best visual filmmaker out there.  As if his first two movies, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” weren’t powerful enough, “Black Swan” is Aronofsky in full bloom, showing absolute command of all cinematic vocabulary.  There is no boundary too sacred or stiff for him to toy with, and he doesn’t so much push them as he does eradicate them.  Thus, “Black Swan” isn’t just a victory for Aronofsky and the rest of the crew; it’s a victory for the craft of filmmaking as we know it.

127 Hours

But overall, it’s the humanity that Danny Boyle brings to the screen that makes this a cinematic achievement unlike any other.  He manages to engage our senses on frightening levels.  The pain we feel as we watch the boulder crush Ralston’s arm.  The disgust we feel when Ralston is left with no alternative but to drink his own urine.  The fear we feel as Ralston slowly loses his mind and begins to have delusions.  The gut-clenching agony we feel as Ralston amputates his own arm – and the catharsis we feel when he at last emerges from the canyon and finds refuge.  Ultimately, Franco and Boyle’s commitment do more than engage our senses.  They engage our souls.

Inception

Nolan pulls out all the stops to make sure that this world comes to vibrant life, beginning with his own script that never fails to captivate us.  It’s heavy on the hard-hitting drama, and he always makes sure to remind us that no matter what’s going on around these people, they are still humans with emotions as complex as the world around them.  These characters are fully realized, with rivalries, passions, and hatreds.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when a movie exists in four different layers of reality, but we manage to stay grounded through these characters and Nolan’s impeccable sense of direction.

The Town

Over the course of two well written hours, “The Town” explores and analyzes this question all the while providing fantastic drama and thrilling chases, robberies, and shoot-outs.  It has Affleck written all over it, and not just because of the location.  He makes Charlestown a character in itself, and we get to know it just as well as any of the people populating the set.  Very few directors have the dexterity to capture a city in all of its glory and sordidness, and it’s a credit to Affleck’s prowess that he can make it feel so authentic.  He also gets the best out of an extraordinary cast, and everything working together towards Affleck’s vision provides one dynamite moviewatching experience.

Toy Story 3

As the movie chugged towards an ending, I realized that I hadn’t just grown up with the toys.  I’ve grown up with Andy, too.  I was too young to remember seeing the first movie, but I was around Andy’s age at the release of the second installment.  And as Andy prepares to move away from home and go to college in “Toy Story 3,” I am only one year behind, getting ready to make the decisions that will push me farther away from home and the innocence of my childhood.  The movie is especially resonant for the generation of children that grew up with the “Toy Story” movies, allowing us to reminisce about the times where we didn’t need laptops or iPods to entertain us.  Once, it only took a few toys and an unbounded imagination to make us happy, and “Toy Story 3″ gives us a window back into the simpler times of our youth.  It’s a feeling both joyous and sad, but overall, it’s beautiful.

The Bad

The Bounty Hunter

The movie is an action comedy – well, if you count Butler punching a few people as action and a few pity sneer as comedy.  We’ve never quite seen a plot like this, where exes fight with stakes as high as prison, but it never feels the slightest bit original.  In fact, it just feels like an old trip down Memory Lane, mimicking every sort of used gimmick with ex-lovers.  But boy, Memory Lane has never looked so run-down or shabby.  It’s time for some renovation.

The Crazies

Sound familiar?  It’s not just a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original; it’s a rehash of every horror movie since.  Eventually, enough is enough, and cheap jumps and thrills only spell out boredom.  The movie gets harder and harder to enjoy as it drags on … and on … and on.  We know exactly what’s going to happen just from hearing the premise.  Maybe the perceived lack of originality speaks to how influential the first movie was.  But I missed the memo that the original was some kind of cultural watershed, so I’m just going to interpret this rendition of “The Crazies” as the latest dull entry into the woefully overflowing “been there, done that” category.

Dinner for Schmucks

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.

Edge of Darkness

“Edge of Darkness” is more of an epitaph than a movie. Gather here to mourn these fallen talents, it seems to cry. Perhaps Monahan needs Scorsese’s vision to succeed; perhaps Campbell needs the stakes of a hero like James Bond to make a movie work; perhaps Mel Gibson just needs some help.

MacGruber

There are movies that beg you not to be taken seriously, and then there are those that beg you not to take the craft of cinema seriously.  ”MacGruber” is the latter of the two, trying to fly on the flimsy premise that a sketch that can barely sustain two minutes on TV could make an entertaining movie that’s 45 times bigger.  Perhaps Lorne Michaels will come up with a more clever way to make money off this movie in the future: take “MacGruber” off the case and slap on the title “The Worst of Will Forte.”





10 for ’10: Quotes

28 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

A single line can have so much power in a movie.  It can make us laugh, make us think, or make us cry.  It can delve profoundly into the soul, give insight into a character’s mind, provide a perfect punch of beautiful language, or be so foolish that we can’t help but repeat it endlessly.

2010 gave us many great quotes from many great movies.  Here’s just a sampling of how the power of the written word was wielded this year from 10 fantastic lines that served a great deal of purposes.


“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.”
– Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in “The Social Network

“I just want to be perfect.”
– Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in “Black Swan

“That Charlene … she’s one of them MTv girls!”
– Micky Ward’s sisters in “The Fighter

“It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”
– Agnes in “Despicable Me

“This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.”
– Aron Ralston (James Franco) in “127 Hours

“It was almost as if … I had a love that was all mine.”
– Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) referencing Natasha Bedengfield in “Easy A

“You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter … because we’ll be together.”
– Mal (Marion Cotillard) in “Inception

“When the world slips you a Jeffrey, just stroke the furry walls.”
– Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) in “Get Him to the Greek

“Stop trying, SURRENDER!”
– Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) in “Eat Pray Love

“Thanks, guys.”
– Andy in “Toy Story 3