Random Factoid #472

12 11 2010

The New York Times ran a piece this week talking about the impact of celebrities on charitable work, talking specifically about Sean Penn’s work in Haiti and Brad Pitt’s work in New Orleans.  Obviously, any celebrity who does work for charity is a good thing, as giving back is the right thing to do (this coming from a member of my school’s community service committee).

However, charity work has become a great PR stunt in recent years, and I feel at home in a generation full of skeptics who doubt the motivations of the celebrities at times.  I feel like Sean Penn does these things out of the good of his heart, but he’s a radical at heart with some sort of secret political motivation.  Pitt, on the other hand, I have little doubt is genuine since New Orleans is his home.

Anyways, for my personal connection to this article, I felt compelled to give to a charity after a celebrity sponsored it.  I was 8 years old and obsessed with celebrity “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and developed a bit of a crush on Tyra Banks after she sat in the chair across from Regis Philbin.  All the celebrities were playing for a charity, and hers was T-Zone.  What the charity actually was I had no idea, but I wanted to make contact with Tyra Banks!

So I worked odd jobs around my house and neighborhood, gathering my profits in a Quaker Oats box.  I wound up making about $65, which I enclosed along with a personal note for Tyra Banks to T-Zone.  Hopefully they got something out of my small contribution.  The moral of the story: the generation uncorrupted by skepticism can be inspired to do great things by celebrities they see working for charity!





REVIEW: Megamind

7 11 2010

Pixar’s “The Incredibles” produced many great quotes, but I’ll never forget the grave statement that the villain syndrome made towards the end of the movie: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”

The point I’m trying to make here is not to draw a comparison between “Megamind” and Pixar’s 2004 gem, and that’s not just because it hardly exists since the two aren’t even in the same ballpark in terms of quality.  What I want to say is that movies involving superheroes and supervillains have pervaded so far beyond the Marvel and DC universe that the word “super” has lost quite a bit of luster.

The latest creation from the minds at DreamWorks animation (their third in 2010) is following hot on the heels of “Despicable Me,” another supervillain movie that somehow managed to set the box office on fire in spite of its middling mediocrity.  The two do have quite a few similarities, largely the central characters who put on the façade of a villain when they are actually big softies.  Neither offer anything new for viewers who have sat through countless superhero movies for kids, and “Megamind” importantly raises the question of how long audiences will toleration this repetition before it all drowns into monotony.

There’s some nice humor throughout the movie to help offset the predictable plot, and it’s a bearable watch that could be marginally enjoyable given you watch it in the right disposition.  The talented voice cast brings their A-game to the table: Will Ferrell with his over-the-top schtick, Tina Fey with her brilliant sarcasm, Jonah Hill with his “Superbad” obsequious dork rambling, and Brad Pitt with his … well, he does the deep voice, and his kids will scream with excitement when they hear him.

I will give “Megamind” that it does attempt to jump into musings on the nature of good and evil and the inherent nature of man. However, these concepts are explored in the most basic, watered-down, “Sesame Street”-manner that they might as well have not been attempted.  Really, the whole movie could have just not been attempted to save us all some time.  Sure, it’s fine entertainment, but don’t we already have more than enough quirky superheroes and supervillains?  Do we really need a blue one with a giant cranium?  C+





FINCHERFEST: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

30 09 2010

As part of a deal with Paramount and Warner Bros. to make “Zodiac,” David Fincher took on the $150 million production of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  The result was his first nomination for Best Director and the most Oscar-nominated movie of the decade.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a masterpiece.

YES, I used the dreaded m-word.  Do I regret it?

Absolutely not.  I stand by assertion 100%, and I will argue my side until you see it.  Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is the closet thing I think we will ever get to a 20th century epic.  It’s a sweeping story of love, time, and life, not to mention the single most beautiful movie I have ever seen.  Aside from the typical splendor of a period piece, Fincher’s film has the greatest visual effects I have ever seen.

When I first saw “Benjamin Button,” I was under the impression that the younger (as in newly-born) Benjamins would only be voiced by Brad Pitt, not acted by him.  Yet after doing some research, I found out that aside from the last five minutes of the movie, Benjamin Button’s face was always animated by Pitt.  It’s completely possible to not notice that it actually is him because the effects are so subtly incorporated, and doing such is such an incredible achievement in film history.

I’ll address two common criticisms of the movie, the first being its similarities to “Forrest Gump.”  These concerns might be valid had the two not shared the same writer, Eric Roth.  I see no problem with an author exploring similar issues, especially when he delves deeper into more profound revelations.  “Benjamin Button” gets to the heart of what it means to be alive in the grandest of fashions.

And then there are those who claim that the movie’s 166 minute runtime is absolutely unbearable.  To those poor, impatient souls, I say that our journey is Benjamin’s journey.  We don’t just watch time go by; we feel it with him.  Glancing through an inverted lens gives us a fascinating look at the passage of time and its effect on one man fated – or perhaps doomed – to live it that way.  Just because I say this is a masterpiece doesn’t mean that I think it is perfect.  I don’t think any film can be entirely perfect, but when a movie is truly great, it has many beautiful, fleeting moments of perfection.  Some claim that the movie drags, and I’ll agree that certain scenes could have used a little more time in the editing room.  However, the pacing is not slow.  It is deliberate, and only at this wistful speed can we truly appreciate Benjamin’s world.

Everything about this movie got so much attention, but I’d like to draw attention to one element that got completely and unjustly overlooked: Cate Blanchett’s performance.  She received absolutely no awards or nominations for her performance as Daisy Fuller, Benjamin’s love interest, which is a shame because this is by far her most emotionally compelling and sensitive performance ever.  What I found particularly remarkable about her in “Benjamin Button” was her ability to turn small moments into things that can stick with us.  When I think of her in this movie, I keep coming back to a small scene where Daisy looks plaintively at a young girl with all of her physicality intact and suddenly just finds herself overcome with despair.  It’s as much her story as it is Benjamin’s, and Blanchett wins our hearts just as quickly as Pitt does.

It’s a marvel that Fincher can transition so seamlessly from his violent thrillers and dramas to this romantic vision of the 1900s.  In my mind, it’s his best and most thoughtful work, displaying more of his top-notch precision than ever (albeit in a totally different form).  There are very few movies that have the power to stun us into silence, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of them.  It has the power to make us feel light as a feather and make us fly in a gentle wind, full of emotion and with a new appreciation for life.





FINCHERFEST: Fight Club

27 09 2010

Fincher followed up disappointment with “The Game” by directing “Fight Club” in 1999, which would prove to be an iconic movie and cultural phenomenon.  While it didn’t do much business in theaters, it became a cult hit on video.  In today’s installment of Fincherfest, I’ll attempt to peg what has made it such a smashing success with fans for over a decade.

There are a multitude of ways to interpret “Fight Club,” and for precisely that reason, it is a great movie.  It can mean so many things to so many people; everyone gets something different out of it.  Heck, you can even see it through a Fascist light!  I’ve only seen it once, so there is a certain level of depth of the movie that I haven’t reached.

However, I don’t intend to bore anyone by reciting the plot or saying that the acting, directing, and writing is great.  That’s been common knowledge for over a decade now, and me saying that doesn’t really add anything to the movie.  The proof is in the celluloid (and now DVD and whatever other formats are out there).

I watched the movie a year ago after some residual curiosity from “Benjamin Button” compelled me to check out David Fincher’s violent side.  But before that, I had heard nothing but amazing things from the legions of male fans my age.  Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed.  Although it still ranks behind “Button” for me, this is my favorite of Fincher’s early explorations to the darker side of human nature.

Here’s what I think has made it such an endearing classic for the younger generation: we have been so diligently trained to suppress all our impulsive emotions that eventually we want to explode.  Sometimes, our lives are so sheltered and so desensitized that sometimes we have the deep desire to feel some kind of emotion, even if it must be pain.  To quote Lady Antebellum, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.”

“Fight Club” indulges that side of all teenage boys and budding men by going back to our primordial cavemen instincts.  We have to fight for what we want.  Kill or be killed.  The movie finds a sort of catharsis in violence, using it to express all the frustration men feel at the oppression of their natural tendencies.  So in a messed-up kind of way, the movie has served as a wake-up call to boys and men everywhere to reclaim their masculinity and reassert themselves.

There’s a perfect quote from Fincher himself that sums up the movie from my interpretation:

“We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. There’s nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman [the narrator] is created.”





FINCHERFEST: Se7en

25 09 2010

A real review of David Fincher’s work should begin with “Se7en,” the first movie he takes full credit for.  It was a financial success in 1995 and has since become an adored movie by fans on video.  The movie currently sits at #26 on IMDb’s Top 250 movies as voted by users, and in today’s installment of Fincherfest, I will attempt to explain what has made it so endearing over the past 15 years.

I’m a big fan of “Seven,” but I hate to say that I don’t think it’s quite as good as some people think it is.  According to Lisa Schwarzbaum, overrated is a big critical no-no word; however, since this is more a look in retrospect than a review, I don’t feel quite as bad using it.

Fincher does an excellent job directing a very cerebral world of horror, and as his first real directorial effort, it’s quite impressive.  Yet overall, I wasn’t quite as affected by it as I felt I should have been.  When it comes to serial killer movies, I much prefer “The Silence of the Lambs” and “No Country for Old Men.”

Yet I acknowledge that “Seven” has a very different kind of horror.  We aren’t meant to be freaked out by the murderer John Doe (Kevin Spacey).  We never see him committing any crimes, nor does he ever give us any indication that he might flip and kill another person.  He’s just like anyone you could round up off the streets, and that makes him all the more frightening.  John Doe is like Heath Ledger’s The Joker without a makeup and without any sense of humor.  The tacit implication is that all of us have the capability to be John Doe, something quite scary to suggest and not the kind of message you want to walk away from a movie having learned.  We never see the results of the killings, inspiring the audience to imagine the murder for themselves.  Anyone who can do so has the inherent ability to be Doe.

Such a killer is the last person Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman, pre-God) wants to deal with in his waning hours on the job.  He and his replacement, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), are drawn into the world of John Doe, who commits murders related to the Seven Deadly Sins.  Catching him requires intellect, and they delve into the classic work of Dante, Thomas Aquinas, and others to figure out his modus operandi.  The dialectic struggle between Somerset about to apathetically walk off the job and Mills eagerly awaiting his future is a fascinating backdrop to the rest of the brutal themes of the movie.

Apparently back in the ’90s, New Line Cinema advertised “Se7en” as a movie that you shouldn’t watch in the dark because that atmosphere would scare anyone to death.  I did just that, and I found the darkness to be nothing more than a fitting complement to the universe Fincher crafts.  It’s always muggy and rainy in the unidentified city where the murders take place, and the world view the movie espouses is bleaker than the weather.  According to Somerset, the world is worth fighting for, but it’s hardly a fine place.

The more you think about it, the more you realize Fincher’s challenge to our assumptions of what is good and what is evil.  The villain is defined … or is it?  Such an idea is a little unsettling to audiences, but that hasn’t kept it from being very well received.  Perhaps its forte isn’t in being a serial killer movie; the strength is in the social critique of the godlessness of society.





Random Factoid #105

10 11 2009

Today’s factoid will again be building off the revelation of my former days of cutting the movie ads out of the newspaper and plastering them across my wall. I recently discarded over 5 years of ads, leaving only one. I opened it up to guesses, and since no one replied, I’ll just go ahead and tell you.

The ad was from the day after Oscar nominations were announced this January. It was from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and it showcased all the laurels that the cast and crew had been nominated for or awarded. The ad is in color and has a small shot of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt riding on a motorcycle.





REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

24 08 2009

Quentin Tarantino has made movies the way he wants for nearly two decades now, and that is precisely what has made him one of the most beloved and distinguished directors in recent memory.  His latest outing, “Inglourious Basterds,” has been a pet project for over ten years.  It is Tarantino at the top of his game: gruesomely violent, side-splittingly hilarious, and outrageous fun.  It brings the high-energy approach that Tarantino takes to his classics set in the present day and applies it to World War II.  The result is a testosterone-pumping farce with a climax that will get you up out of your seats, screaming and applauding.

The movie revolves around Lt. Aldo Raine, played to hysterical brilliance by Brad Pitt, and his team of “Basterds,” comprised of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to brutally massacre the Nazi soldiers in France out of nothing but cold vengeance.  But Tarantino’s story consists of multiple layers that contribute to his five-part harmony.  Perhaps the most chilling is the loquacious Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), better known among the French as “The Jew Hunter.”  Landa is always one step ahead of the game, and every scene in which he appears brings you to the edge of your seat.  He radiates a very calm exterior, but on the inside, he seems to be a ticking time bomb.  This aspect lends an aura of suspense to his character as we eagerly await him to just explode with anger.

The story also follows Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the lone survivor of the Nazis massacre of her family who then becomes motivated to avenge their deaths.  She finds the perfect opportunity when German war hero turned Nazi propaganda movie star Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) becomes smitten with her.  He wants to host hundreds of high-ranking Nazis for the premiere of his movie at the theater that she owns.  Her plan is to torch the theater.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Shoshanna, the British are organizing a plot to blow up the theater along with the Basterds and a German movie star gone spy named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).  The collision of the story lines results in a final act that will not soon be forgotten.

Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #20 / An Experiment

17 08 2009

A major plus about the WordPress platform is the ability to see how people got to your blog.  I am often amused by the searches that send people my way, and I check it multiple times each day.  For instance, someone searched “Pee in Sink” and ended up here last week.  So, to see what people really search for on blogs, I am going to be tagging this post with some very random things that have nothing to do with what I am saying.

My inspiration for this is Judd Apatow for writing Leo Koenig in “Funny People.”  Leo records a YouTube video with him playing with cats because anything with “Cute Cuddly Kittens” in the title gets millions of views.  He attaches it to his account, and he postulates that people will click on his profile and check out his comedy clips.  It was one of the funniest parts of the movie, and thankfully they posted it on YouTube.

I’ll post the results of what got me the most searches in a week or so.  What’s your vote for the tag that will get me the most hits?  Comment, please!