Friday, February 27, 2009


For the third consecutive weekend, there's nothing remotely interesting hitting the multiplex. Next weekend, of course, brings the arrival of Watchmen, a film I will be seeing in IMAX format ASAP.

But for this weekend, I'll be catching up with some stuff on DVD or ON DEMAND, in particular, the critically acclaimed Mafia film Gomorrah, last year's Greg Kinnear drama Flash of Genius, and maybe something else. We'll see what happens.

It's funny. I have seen three releases from 2009 thus far. But I've only seen one of them in the theater (Coraline 3-D). The other two, Taken and Two Lovers, have been viewed at home, one via ON DEMAND (Two Lovers), and the other via a DVD screener (Taken). I know that the first few months of the movie-releasing year typically involves a lot of crap offerings, but I don't remember a year where I have seen this few new releases by this point.

I'm getting super-anxious for the summer movie season. I will be doing a full summer movie preview in the next few days.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Michael Mann's Public Enemies. July 1st. Oh baby.


Hugh Jackman did a wonderful job. The opening number was dynamite. I wished he had been around more often (he seemed to disappear at the mid-show point) but overall, he did a great job. The stage itself was beautiful and it the entire production oozed class and old-school Hollywood charm.

The awards themselves were exceedingly predictable. I got 20 out of 23 predictions correct. The only major surprise was Departures snagging best foreign language film from Waltz with Bashir, the film that had been expected to take the prize. Sean Penn winning best actor, I guess, was inevitable, but I'd have given the trophy to Mickey Rourke. Penn was indeed great as Harvey Milk, but there was something about actor and role for Rourke in The Wrestler that was just totally sublime.

As for my totally superficial comments about the ladies and the guys, Anne Hathaway looked very classy and elegant (great dress). Angelina Jolie was viper-licious in a simple black dress with emerald earings and ring. I liked Jessica Biel's hair-style, even if her dress was very outrageous. Amy Adams is very cute and she had some great make-up going on. Both Natalie Portman and Jennifer Anniston looked sexy. Brad Pitt looked classic and cool in his tux. Hugh Jackman oozed sex-appeal and charm.

Where was Jack Nicholson?

Jerry Lewis was a class-act but he looked a bit off.

Wasn't M.I.A supposed to sing?

Ben Stiller did one of the funniest things of his career with his impression of the recently in-a-daze Joaquin Phoenix.

Bill Maher was his ususal funny, sarcastic self. Love the dude. When Phillipe Petit balanced the Oscar on his chin after Man On Wire won best documentary was hilarious and totally in keeping with that guy's energy and spirit.

The bit with Rogen and Franco reprising their roles from 2008's funniest film Pineapple Express was inspired. It would've been SO FUNNY had they hosted the entire show in character. Now THAT would have been ballsy.

The best quote of the night was from Rourke, when he appeared on the Barbara Walters special. When asked by Walters if he cared about winning best actor, he responded that it would be a nice way to "cap off this comeback that everyone keeps talking about," but at the end of the day, he didn't really care. Then he layed this choice nugget down:

"I can't eat it. I can't fuck it. And it's not gonna get me into Heaven." Way to stay grounded, Mickey.

The clip montages were all really well done. Lots of good movie moments from 2008.

One thing that disappointed me with the show was the fact that the prodcuers eliminated the "Oscar clip" for the nominated actors. Yes, the idea to bring out past Oscar winners and having them address the nominees directly was very cool and very classy, but there is something always so powerful about when you see that 60 second Oscar clip of each actor doing their thing. I was hoping that a clip would be played for the eventual winner after they gave their acceptance speech, but that wasn't in the cards.

And also, at the end of the show, there was a preview of upcoming films from 2009 that ran over the credits. That brief glimpse of Michael Mann's Public Enemies was fucking awesome. The images of Depp's blasting-away machine gun and of Marion Cotillard's legs (I presume they're hers) in the bathtub were really exciting.

All in all, it was a fun night, even if the show ran 20 minutes over its scheduled run time. The show itself was lavish and extremely well done. I hope the Academy brings back Bill Condon to steerthe ship again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Here are my predictions for Oscar 2009. More than the actual awards themselves, I'm looking forward to the show as a production. Writer-director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls), is exec-producing the show, and A-list star Hugh Jackman (Australia, Wolverine), is hosting the shin-dig. It should be a different atmosphere this year. Very curious to see how it all pans out. Anyways, without further ado, here are my predictions:

Best Picture

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
My choice: Slumdog Millionaire
Note: If Benjamin Button were to upset I'd be pretty happy. But Slumdog is the film of the moment.

Best Director

Winner: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Note: This is a very tough decision to make. Boyle has really evolved as a filmmaker, and he brought a lot of flair and style and energy to Slumdog Millionaire. But Fincher's craft and sensibilities have really been maturing. He should have been nominated for his brilliant work in last year's masterpiece Zodiac, but with Button, he really turned a corner, showing a side of himself as a storyteller that he never has.

Best Actor

Winner: Sean Penn, Milk
My choice: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Wouldn't it be cool...if Richard Jenkins won for The Visitor?

Best Actress

Winner: Kate Winslet, The Reader
My choice: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Note: Winslet should've been nominated for her work in Revolutionary Road. Not that she's bad in The Reader -- far from it. It's just that Hathaway was a revelation, really coming into her own with the best written role of her career. I hope it leads to good stuff down the path.

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
My Choice: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Note: Heath had a tough act to follow with the role of the Joker, which had been made famous by Jack Nicholson about 20 years earlier. He totally owned The Dark Knight. However, I'd laugh my ass off if Robert Downey Jr. won for Tropic Thunder.

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
My Choice: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
But...if Taraji P. Henson or Amy Adams won for their equally impressive work, I'd be happy. This is a strong category.

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
My choice: Mike Leigh, Happy Go Lucky
Note: It'll never happen, but if Martin McDonagh heard his named called up to the podium for his truly original In Bruges screenplay, that'd rule. I'd argue that Milk was a rather traditionally conceived screenplay, and was bolstered by stylish direction and a powerhouse performance from Penn. Reward something truly original, like In Bruges, Happy-Go-Lucky, or even the subversively brilliant Wall*E, a film that used very little actual dialogue, but relied upon genius plotting and a streamlined narrative to tell an extremely compelling story.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Why: However contrived, this is a masterful effort by Beaufouy. In adapting the novel Q&A, he fused an old-school, Hollywood romance with a new-school, non-linear sensibility, creating a wild and fresh feeling story that while ultimately predictable, thrills you for a brisk two hours.

Best Animated Film

Winner: Wall*E
My Choiuce: Wall*E
Why? Wall*E is my favorite animated movie of all time.

Best Cinematography

Winner: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Note: This is my favorite category every year. And it's always damn near impossible to pick a favorite. Film is a medium consisting, first and foremost, of the visual image. In my opinion, the most important aspect to a film is how it looks. You've got a massive movie screen to fill, and if you're projecting an image that isn't well composed, well, you might as well stop right there. Mantle, shooting in various film speeds and stocks, made Slumdog Millionaire feel vital and alive in a way that few films have in recent memory. Sure, he ripped Tony Scott off a lot, but Mantle juggled a lot of different aspects of the craft in composing his film. However, the visual artistry of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button cannot be dismissed. The film, simply put, was one of the most ravishing things I've ever seen on a big screen. Miranda's use of light, texture, shadow, and color, under the supervision of Fincher, was something that washed over me, making me feel warm and soothed on the inside. But hell -- if Wally Pfister won for The Dark Knight, I'd jump for joy as well.

Best Editing

Winner: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
Note: The editing of Slumdog is relentless yet extremely coherent. It's a fabulous effort.

Best Visual Effects

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
My Choice: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Why? Flawless, groundbreaking work.

Best Original Score

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Slumdog Millionaire
Why? Lots of catchy, exotic tunes.

Best Original Song

Winner: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire
Why? It's a catchy beat.

Best Costumes

Winner: Michael O'Connor, The Duchess
My Choice: Jacqueline West, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Note: An almost impossible category to guess. It could easily go to Button. But the work in The Duchess was big and flashy and very realistic feeling.

Best Documentary

Winner: Man on Wire
My Choice: Man on Wire
But, wouldn't it be cool if...Werner Herzog got a chance to thank the Academy?

Best Foreign Language Film

Winner: Waltz With Bashir
My Choice: Can't Say
Sadly, I haven't seen any of the nominated films. But not for lack of desire. They just haven't opened near me yet. Really want to see Bashir, and really want to see France's selection The Class.

Best Art Direction

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
My Choice: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Why? Beause it was f'ing gorgeous to look at.

Best Sound Editing

Winner: The Dark Knight
My Choice: The Dark Knight

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
My Choice: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Animated Short Film

Winner: Presto
My Choice: Presto

Best Live Action Short Film

Winner: New Boy
My Choice: Don't really have one. This is a total guess.

Best Make-Up

Winner: Button
My Choice: Button
Why? Because the work done was brilliant.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Winner: The Final Inch (total guess)

Friday, February 20, 2009


Provocatuers Larry Charles (Borat, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Bill Maher absolutely crucify (pun intended) all religious sides in Religulous (****), a piercing, hysterical, and often enraging documentary about the world's dependence on the belief of a higher power. Maher, a sarcastic prick if there ever was one, focuses his efforts on all religious sects -- nobody is safe in this incendiary piece of cinema. The fact that he's totally right all throughout the documentary is beside the point; what's most fascinating is the blind devotion that some people have for the idea of god, something that Maher justifiably trashes in this film. Going up against scholars, theorists, scientists, priests, rabbis, politicians and anyone who'll talk to him, Maher cuts everyone down to size, leaving many of them searching for words, words they'll never be able to find. The points that Maher and Charles are making are obvious and direct -- without any concrete proof and with so many biblical contradictions throughout any number of religious texts, how could anyone take any of this seriously? Sure, the film is one sided; Maher is an atheist and this film's goal is to essentially debunk anyone with a religious belief. This is a film that will piss a lot of conservatives off; I think it's a spot-on expose of how corrupt the world's religious leaders have become, and it provides ample evidence of how inane and backwards some religions operate. The sexual abuse scandals of the Roman-Catholic church, the endless years of religious-based death and war in the Middle East, the ridiculous contradictions of Judaism, the absurd notions that Scientologists and Mormons cling too -- all of these issues are discussed and critiqued. And to be honst, it's all rather disgusting, and, in a nut-shell, fucking retarded. Religulous is an incisive, angry, and yet thoroughly emotional documentary, something that everyone should see at least once, no matter what your religious inclinations are.

Courtney Hunt's quietly electrifying debut Frozen River (****) is everything independent cinema should be: thought provoking, risk taking, strange and new, and extremely powerful. Anchored by Melissa Leo's Oscar nominated, tour de force performance of a woman nearing her emotional breaking point, Frozen River subverts its thriller genre roots, and by its conclusion, provides a strange tableau of hope amidst a cold background of despair. The plot revolves around the smuggling of illegal immigrants over the Canadian/NY border in Mohawk territory, with shades of Wages of Fear and Sorcerer thrown in for good measure. Co-starring Native American actress Misty Upham as the woman who brings Leo's character into the smuggling ring, Frozen River takes it time mounting an intricate story that reflects the problems of these two women, who while coming from very different social circles, are very much alike. There is a distinct feeling of tension running throughout every scene of Frozen River; you never know what's going to happen from moment to moment. Simple plot strokes become major developments, and Hunt's expertly conceived original screenplay (which was Oscar nominated) never sags for a second, allowing all of its characters to come full circle, and the plot to connect all of its dots in a richly satisfying way. The ending is a whallop, something you'll want to discuss right away, and while it might seem like a little too much, it makes complete thematic sense upon further reflection. This is a fantastic and intimate movie.


Nothing. At least not in the theaters. I'd like to see The International but I might wait until DVD. But there are zero new releases this weekend that interest me.

I will probably rent something on DVD -- maybe Miracle at St. Anna or Choke or Flash of Genius.

Of course, this Sunday is the Oscars. I'll be posting my predictions at some point over the weekend. I am really rooting for Mickey Rourke, and it'd be nice to see a few surprises. But I think that Slumdog Millionaire is going to clean up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


The marketing blitz for Watchmen is now in full swing. The film hits theaters in a few weeks (on 3/6) and the early word from long-lead press screenings has been...well...mixed. I have never read the graphic novel that Zack Snyder's film is based on -- I just can't get into reading comics or graphic novels. That being said, I am extremely excited to see this film. I am a huge fan of Snyder's previous work (his hardcore remake of Dawn of the Dead and the gloriously stylish 300) and from the footage in the trailers that I have seen thus far for Watchmen, I am quite anxious to see what he's cooked up. Anticipation is building. What will fans of the graphic novel think? How big will the film be at the box office? Will the hard-R rating hurt the film? Will there be a lot of curious non-fans of the graphic novel who will check the film out based on the trippy trailers? It's the first big "event" movie of 2009 and I am really hoping that it's a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


To state that I'm a fan of Danny McBride's work would be an understatement. I think this guy is one of the funniest people on the planet right now, up there with the likes of Kristin Wiig, Sascha Baron Cohen, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And McBride is just getting started. His goofy mug might not be totally recognizable yet, but after this summer's impending blockbuster The Land of the Lost opens, he'll really be in the Hollywood spotlight. If you saw last year's two funniest movies -- Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express -- than you might remember him as the loud-mouthed explosives expert in Tropic and as the gun-toting, loyalty-reversing, pot-dealing buffoon named Red in Pineapple.

This guy doesn't just spice up the scenes he appears in -- he OWNS them, completely takes them over, and leaves them in smithereens. At one point, McBride was an aspiring director. He was classmates with filmmaker David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Snow Angels) while in film school, and was offered a spur-of-the-moment chance to act in one of Green's earlier efforts, All the Real Girls. Apparently, an actor had to back out, and Green asked McBride to do him a favor. Thank you, Mr. Green, for getting McBride in front of a camera, because if you hadn't asked him, we might not all be able to enjoy this guy's amazing comedic chops.

McBride was a one-man tour de force in The Foot Fist Way, an amazingly cheap-looking but incredibly funny black comedy directed by up-and-comer Jody Hill, whose latest film, Observe and Report, is getting some seriously strong buzz. The Foot Fist Way was an amazing opportunity for McBride to go all out with a white-trash character that he's now refined to perfection on the new HBO show Eastbound and Down. In Eastbound, McBride plays a washed-up major league baseball pitcher who gets thrown out of the majors and heads back to his hicky hometown to become the gym teacher at his old middle school. Last Sunday's pilot was hysterical, and further proof that McBride and Hill (who co-created, co-wrote, and directed) are a new comedic force to be reckoned with. Their ability to mix the sarcastic with the crude is phenomenal; it's reminiscent of the work being done on the underrated FX comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

If you aren't familiar with McBride, trust me, rent some of his work and get to know him. You'll be laughing all f'ing night. Here's a link to his IMDB page.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This film looks fucking incredible.


Full reviews will be coming up soon, but I recently saw, and loved, Courtney Hunt's tension-filled directorial debut Frozen River, which has an amazing performance from Melissa Leo at its center. And the richly textured (both thematically and aesthetically) romantic drama Two Lovers was damn fine, yet another impressive effort from writer/director James Gray (We Own the Night, The Yards).

Coming from Netflix for this week is last fall's hot-button doc Religulous, from HBO provocateur Bill Maher. Really looking forward. Also out this week on DVD is another film I missed in theaters last fall, the true-story drama Flash of Genius with Greg Kinnear. It looked solid. I'll be catching up with that one soon.


Ridley Scott's supremely underrated and extremely entertaining Middle East thriller Body of Lies hits DVD today. I was a big fan of this kick-ass actioner when I saw it last October, and while it didn't light the box office on fire, I think it's yet another film that unfairly got shafted by audiences who aren't interested in seeing topical films that deal with our current war on terror. This is an intelligent (the screenplay is from The Departed scribe Bill Monahan), action-filled ride, directed with the customary style and rigor that one can expect from a Ridley Scott production. And it's got two beefy, A-list performances from DiCaprio and Crowe. This film will definitely find a second-life on DVD, which it truly deserves. I can't wait to check it out again.

Here's a link to my review that I wrote last year:

Friday, February 13, 2009


Blindess (***1/2) is a tough sit. Directed by the extremely talented Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), the film, which is based on the novel by Jose Saramago, is a harrowing look at the human condition in a time of great stress and uncertainty. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, and Alice Braga, Blindness is set in an unnamed city populated by characters whose names are never given. One day, seemingly at random, a mass epidemic of human blindness breaks out. Ruffalo, an eye doctor, loses his sight after treating a patient who lost his vision a day earlier; before long, hundreds of people are afflicted. Nobody knows why. Nothing can be done. The government rounds up the newly-blind and sends them to an abandoned prison, quarantining them until a solution can be figured out. The twist is that Moore's character (who is Ruffalo's wife) hasn’t lost her sight; she lies to the authorities so that she can stay by her husband's side. Once inside of the prison, factions are created, and people get restless and rowdy. Food rations are stolen and fought over; some of the nastier people demand sexual favors from the women in return for food, in the film's most repellent sequence. Then, an escape is mounted, and some of the sick are able to leave the prison, only to find a strange new world waiting for them on the outside.

Blindness is a film that you're more likely to respect than outright love. I was blown away by Meirelles first two films; they are both masterworks in my opinion. Blindness is a challenging film on multiple levels, and its ambition sometimes exceeds its grasp. First, it demands that you ask yourself tough and hard-to-answer questions while watching it. Because the film is so subjective in its point of view, it’s hard not to project yourself into the narrative and think about what you'd do if you were in this scary situation. The film feels like a thematic cousin to Alfonso Cuaron's riveting Children of Men, and if Blindess isn't as accomplished overall as that film was, it definitely creates a near-future world that feels punishingly real. It's an extra-stylish film, with highly atmospheric and impressionistic cinematography from regular Meirelles collaborator Caesar Chalone. This is an art film starring some familiar Hollywood faces, and as such, there is a curious vibe to much of the production. The amazing production design convincingly creates a gritty, nasty world; as end-of-the-world scenarios go, Blindess has the look and feel of one of the best. There is a desperate quality to the film that is inherently interesting, and while some people may feel that Blindess is too much of one thing, I admire the filmmakers for their tenacity in telling this hard-to-watch story. However, I felt that the film could have been a little longer, a little more patient with its story. There were a few moments where more dialogue would have helped. Having not read the book, I'm not sure what (if anything) was left out. But what I do know, as a result of watching the excellent behind the scenes doc on the DVD, is that Saramago was very happy with the film version of his original creation. While not reaching the dizzying highs of either City of God or The Constant Gardener, Blindess is yet another provocative and arresting piece of work from Meirelles, who is rapidly emerging as one of the best and most important cinematic voices working today. This is a brutal, demanding film, but it's worth your time.


I'll be catching up with Courtney Hunt's Oscar nominated (best original screenplay and best actress) Frozen River on DVD.

Also, available via On Demand, I will be watching James Gray's Two Lovers, with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. The film is getting a limited theatrical release starting today, but being a 2929 Production (the company run by Mark Cuban), the film is also being released On Demand as well.

I'd like to see The International with Clive Owen, which hits theaters today, but I think I am going to hold off until next weekend. We'll see.

I also have the dark comedy Noise, starring Tim Robbins, sitting on my DVR; hopefully will sneak that in as well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Red: You just got killed by a Daewoo Lanos, motherfucker! How do you like me now, eh? (fires shotgun blowing off Matheson's toes)
Saul: Red!
Red: Saul!
Saul: You lied to me.
Red: I did. I lied big time to you.
Saul: Dale said that, that you didn't even have herpes and I said that you did.
Red: Honestly, like, from now on, just, like, from everything that we've gone through, from, like, seeing this fuckin' asshole's nuts smashed with my Daewoo, I want to be a better friend to you. I really am.
Saul: I fuckin' love you, dog. I fuckin' love you.
Red: I wanna be inside you, homes.
Saul: No more lies, Red.
Red: This is my moment.
Saul: This is your moment.


Henry Selick's magically macabre, stop-motion-animation, 3-D visual extravaganza Coraline (****) is the trippiest film in years. I know that last sentence was a mouthful, but Coraline is something special, a film that warrants heaping amounts of praise for its design and execution. If the story sucked (happily, it doesn't) I'd be recommending the film based solely on its technical merits. Hollywood is about to deluge cinemas with 3-D enhanced films; judging from what I saw in Coraline we're all in for a wild ride. 3-D elements run a risk of becoming merely a trick, and at worst, a distraction. I was left cold with what Robert Zemeckis did with Beowulf, but I was left in awe by the sheer spectacle of The Polar Express. I missed out on My Bloody Valentine (just can't bring my self to pay money for horror movies in the theater) but I heard I'm not missing much other than some great 3-D nudity. But with Coraline, Selick has set the bar very high for everyone else following him. The fact that his film is of the stop-motion animation variety only increases the acid-trip feeling that one might feel while watching a movie with these new "Real-D" 3-D glasses. Positioned as a dark children's story, Coraline is based on a book by famed author Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Stardust), and with Selick's Tim Burton-flavored sense of design and quirk, the film evolves into a startling fantasy about a emotionally and spiritually lost little girl who attempts to find happiness no matter how strange her journey becomes. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz on a sheet of LSD. Armed with a talented cast of voice performers which includes Dakota Fanning (as Coraline), Teri Hatcher, Ian McShayne, and Keith David, Selick has created a wondrous piece of entertainment, something that might frighten small kids (in a good, honest way), but something that will serve as a precedent for filmmaking of this sort.
Coraline is miserable. Her gardening magazine writing parents (Hatcher and John Hodgman) are too busy typing on their laptops to pay attention to their daughter. There's a strange kid named Wylie (Robert Bailey Jr.) who seems to be stalking Coraline with his mangy black cat (voiced with velvety distinction by David). Then there's the matter of Coraline's eccentric neighbors. There's Russian trapeze artist Mr. Bobinsky (McShayne) and two retired (and boozy) actresses named Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French) who figure into Coraline's search for happiness in unexpected ways. But the story takes flight when Coraline, late at night, discovers a strange miniature door in the wall of her living room (ala Being John Malkovich), which when entered, takes her on a vertigo-inducing trip into a house that resembles her own. Except, in this house, her "other-mother" and "other-father" are loving, caring souls who cook up a storm for Coraline and generally treat her with the love and warmth that she's so desperately seeking. But there's one off-putting detail to these alternate parents -- they have big, shiny, black buttons in place of eyes. The film pivots back and forth between Coraline in her normal house and in the “other house”, between her real parents and her "other parents," as she tries to decide where she wants to permanently live. Things get dangerous and supremely wacky as Coraline shuffles between the two realities -- where will she end up? And what are the potentially devious motives of her "other-mother"? Selick keeps his film zipping along, and while the narrative sagged slightly in its midsection, this 100 minute film rarely stops for a breath.

The subversive thing about the narrative of Coraline is how some viewers might interpret the story as an anti-drug parable or a reflection of a suicidal pre-teen who is struggling to find her own identity. There are deeper things going on under the surface of Selick and Gaiman's story, allowing the film to operate on multiple levels while it unfolds. You can choose to read into the subtext of the film or not -- upon reflection, the film has a sinister undertone that some people may not pick up on, or want to pick up on. Instead, most people will be justifiably blown-away by the look and atmosphere of the film. Using the painstaking process of stop-motion animation, Selick, as he did 15 years ago in The Nightmare Before Christmas, has created a world dominated by German expressionism, film noir, childish fantasy, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The cinematography by Pete Kozachik is exquisite as is the art direction by a team which includes Phil Brotherton, Jamie Caliri, Tom Proost, and Dawn Swiderski. But it's the pop-up-book quality of the 3-D experience that truly blasts Coraline off into another dimension. Rather than constantly having things poking out from the screen at the viewer, Selick uses the 3-D technique to enhance depth of field and the overall environment of everything in the frame -- it's a bold and gorgeous film to stare at. Any one shot could be screen captured, printed, framed, and hung on a wall; Salvador Dali would have had to change his pants after seeing this piece of work. By never condescending to his audience and downplaying cheap and obvious sentimentality, Selick has crafted a ravishing and totally immersive movie going experience. Don't miss it.


I don't need to write a lengthy piece about Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece The Wrestler (****). It's just not necessary. It's a perfect film. There isn't one false moment, there are no wasted opportunities, and there is zero sense of pretension in this quietly powerful motion picture. Coming from a unique stylist like Aronofsky, whose previous efforts include the brain-tingling, micro-budgeted thriller Pi, the hard-core, drug-addiction drama Requiem for a Dream, and the metaphysical and totally out-there sci-fi romance The Fountain, The Wrestler is no less accomplished as those films, but in a very different way. Working with Italian cinematographer Maryse Alberti and emulating the films of the Dardenne brothers by shooting with naturalistic light and hand-held cameras, Aronofsky creates a dirty, gritty, lived-in atmosphere where his potentially self-destructing characters are set free. Working from a tender yet emotionally and physically violent original screenplay by Robert Siegel, Aronofsky also benefits from having the performance of the year at the center of his tale. Mickey Rourke is nothing less than stunning and completely believable as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestling superstar from the 1980's who barely eeks out a meager existence by wrestling in run-down gyms and local auditoriums. He's got a messed up relationship with this estranged daughter (well played by Evan Rachel Wood, an actress who I have previously disliked over and over) that never seems to take a turn in the right direction. And this is to say nothing of his mega-crush on Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, excellent as usual and frequently nude), a single-mom stripper who exploits her body on stage much in the same fashion as Randy does in the ring. Siegel's screenplay dives into the obvious parallels between the stripping and wrestling worlds, making the case that both Randy and Cassidy are essentially the same people going through the same issues. I refuse to elaborate any more on the plot -- you should discover all of the amazing beats to this story on your own. Rourke, who with this performance announces to the film world that he's back for good, creates one of the most richly drawn screen characters of the decade; his work sits right next to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and Benicio Del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire, performances that I consider to be some of the best in recent memory. The wrestling action is appropriately bloody and visceral; it would have been dishonest for it to be portrayed any way else. The filmmakers want you to feel exactly what it's like to be in the ring and they really bring it. Professional wrestling is one of America's favorite sources of entertainment, and there is something distinctly American about The Wrestler, even while its themes of redemption are universal. And just wait for the incredible ending – it’s absolutely true to everything that has come before it. This is tough, magnificent filmmaking, and the best American film of 2008. If Rourke doesn't take the Oscar for best actor, then it'll be a shame, and a crime.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Last night I went to a screening of the 2008 Cannes/Clio award winning commercials. Still one of the best ways to spend two hours in a darkened theater. What you get to see on these reels is astonishing -- commercials that truly raise the bar in terms of artistry and narrative ambition. This one was one of my favorites from the reel last night. Truly inspired stuff.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I love the work of director Tony Scott. Just love his output. Nobody makes action flicks the way he does. From Top Gun to The Last Boyscout, from Enemy of the State to Domino, the guy brings it every single time. He's been refining his signature style over the last few years, and this summer brings his latest action-fest, a reimagining of the 70's classic The Taking of Pelham 123. Starring frequent collaborator Denzel Washington (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu) and John Travolta (in bad-guy mode), the film is about a cop (Washington) who tries to stop a domestic terrorist (Travolta) from hijacking a NYC subway car. The script is by David Koepp (at the very least) and the release date is 6/12/09. I cannot wait to see it.

Arriving in theaters this April is the reportedly extra-insane Crank: High Voltage, the sequel to the massively entertaining (and amazingly offensive) Crank. I'm a big Jason Statham fan (go rent The Bank Job -- awesome movie), and after watching what filmmakers Neveldine/Taylor brought to their first installment, I'll be in the theater opening weekend to see what they've recently cooked up. Nothing beats the original's "needle-in-the-heart" poster design, but this one is appropriately nuts.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Beautifully designed and gorgeously photographed, Saul Dibb's The Duchess (***) boasts remarkable production values and a sturdy narrative concerning 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (the always lovely Keira Knightley) and her loveless marriage to the extremely despicable Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes). The film functions as a sad reminder of how terrible women had it back in those times and how men of power could control anyone's life that entered their orbit. It's a thematically dark movie but the sharp performances and rich atmosphere keep the movie from becoming a completely depressing enterprise.


"Don't make a mess!" That instantly hysterical line of dialogue spoken by a secondary character to Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills in Pierre Morel's shamelessly entertaining (and often sleazy) actioner Taken (***) sort of sums up the entire picture. A total retread of the Schwarzenegger 80's programmer Commando, Taken is a quick (89 minutes) and completely predictable time-waster that has done surprisingly brisk box office. Not that it's a terrible film -- it's well done for what it is and offers people fast, undemanding entertainment. The set-up is incredibly simple: Mills, an ex-CIA operative, has to rescue his 17 year old daughter Kim (an unconvincing Maggie Grace, who is 26 years old) from Paris-based sex-slave traffickers. Kim and her friend are kidnapped almost immediately upon landing in France, and Mills, a "preventer" who knows about 50 ways to kill a person, goes on a one-man vengeance spree, tracking down the Arab and Albanian baddies and sending them to their graves. The film, from the Luc Besson factory line of European-flavored action movies, is nowhere near as exciting as Morrel's previous outing, the boldly dynamic District B-13. Dialogue, by Besson and usual co-writer Robert Mark Kamen, is flat and drab, and the plotting is highly preposterous. But what keeps the film chugging along, aside from the visceral fight sequences and numerous shoot-outs (which Morel stages with solid craftsmanship), is Neeson's steely and manly performance as a father who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back. It's a hoot to see him, at 56 years of age, kicking ass and taking names. The action cinematography goes to great lengths to show that Neeson is doing all (or most of) his own stunts, and the film is refreshingly free of CGI trickery (though some process shots of characters driving in cars are pretty awful). There are shades of Man on Fire and many other revenge flicks all throughout Taken; it's as derivative as it can be. And as the body count rises, you get the sense that Mills could out do Jack Bauer in a game of "Let's see how many terrorists I can off in one day." Taken has been blessed with a dynamic trailer that has lured people into the theater for some easy, revenge-motivated entertainment. Molded by the Bourne series, the film doesn't have half the brains of that franchise, but if all you're looking for is a fun and forgettable action movie to fill up an evening, Taken will fit the bill.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Henry Selick's acid-trip-of-a-film Coraline (****) is amazing. In every way.

Taken (***) was an average action movie with above average action scenes and a manly performance from Liam Neeson.

The Duchess tonight.


The film is called Observe and Report and it's from Jody Hill, the director of The Foot Fist Way. Looks hysterical.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Coraline in 3-D on Sunday afternoon.

Got The Duchess from Netflix for sometime over the weekend.

Would like to see Taken as well -- next week on that probably.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Something new for 2009: three sentence DVD round ups. I might do full DVD reviews for some titles, but in the interest of time, and teaching myself to write in a concise manner, I'm gonna start doing super-short reactions to some of the flicks I see. Here's a bunch...

John Crowley's incisive and thought provoking drama Boy A (***1/2) goes to some dark places but the end result is worth the wrenching journey. Andrew Garfield gives a power-house performance and is matched by Peter Mullan, who turns in yet another sensitive and totally believable portrait of a man caught in the middle of conflicting emotions. The film can't help but take one contrived detour, but overall, this is an extremely well crafted and written piece of work about a hard-to-believe law in England that is the very definition of controversial.

RocknRolla (***) is a stylish return to form for gangster movie auteur Guy Ritchie, who in the past few years has stumbled (the disastrous Swept Away and the incomprehensible Revolver were his previous two efforts). A gaggle of entertaining performances stud this comically violent and typically convoluted crime story which moves along at a hurtling pace. While never reaching the heights of Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla is a solid piece of entertainment.

Cop movies are my thing, which is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed Pride and Glory (***) a lot more than most critics did. There's nothing uniquely special about this efficient genre entry, but at the same time, director and co-screenwriter Gavin O'Connor imbues his film with a lot of gritty integrity and the performances, especially those of top-lining stars Ed Norton and Colin Farrell, crackle with intensity. It's a grim, nasty world conjured up by O'Connor, co-scenarist Joe Carnahan, and cinematographer Declan Quinn (who shoots with a darting, jolting intensity), so if you like these types of movies, Pride and Glory will do the trick.

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (***) was fun for as far as it went, but considering the hype, I expected a better, richer film. There is a ton of chemistry between all of the super-attractive actors in this sexy movie: Jarvier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlet Johansson, and Rebecca Hall all deliver the goods. It's just that I figured there'd be more in store for the viewer by the film's conclusions, and the mystifying nomination that the Academy bestowed on Cruz for a totally one-dimensional piece of acting grates the nerves, especially when considering that the far more deserving Rosemarie DeWitt from Rachel Getting Married was left out in the cold.