In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 12:24 AM
Movie #107 Cape Fear
(1991, US, d. Martin Scorcese)
The early 1990’s were busy times for Martin Scorcese. And in his case, busy usually means good. Unfortunately though, Cape Fear is a misstep in his reputable filmography. The biggest problem with Cape Fear lies in the fact that it’s mostly style over substance. The first half of the film is great. It’s tense, well-acted, and stylistically something very unique – especially for a mainstream thriller. Scorcese and cameraman Freddie Francis use an array of colors and camera techniques to embellish this story of a crazed man (Robert DeNiro) out to avenge the counselor (Nick Nolte) who caused him to spend 14 years in prison. The second of half of that film seems to lose any sense of control over its style and just massacres the entire movie. It felt like a bad Indian movie – the villain just never died and the movie lasted about 45 minutes longer than it had to. By the end I was just hoping and hoping it was going to be over. Robert De Niro, who was nominated for Best Actor that year (but lost to Anthony Hopkins for Silence of the Lambs) is at his maniacal best. It’s hard to imagine fearing DeNiro’s presence especially since the latter part of this decade has featured him in no threatening role, to say the least. But DeNiro is a fantastic actor and he is something in this. The other noteworthy performance of the film belongs to Juliette Lewis (also nominated) for her troubled teenager performance. Overall, the second act is so bad that it really overshadows any good that happens in the first, even though the first hour of the piece really is great.
In Uncategorized on December 30, 2010 at 7:37 PM
Movie #106 Inception
(2010, US, d. Christopher Nolan)
Okay, so if you know me at all, you’ve definitely heard me talk about this movie way too much. Therefore, I’ll just keep this review short since chances are, we’ve all seen this. I’ll also try to talk about some things that weren’t mentioned in the summer. First off, watching the movie for the third time really highlights a lot of expository dialogue that while necessary for the audience to understand, sounded really awkward when you’re already familiar with the rules of the world they’re in. For example, why would professionals need to explain that killing each other in dreams would only wake them up in reality to each other? Don’t they know? It’s phrases that are added to regular conversations that throw the dialogue of this film a tad off. And though this is one of my favorite movies of the year, I don’t think this is a perfect movie. If you’re one of those people who think Inception is on the fast-track to winning Best Picture this year, think again. I love this movie beyond explanation and the world Nolan introduces us to is one of the most fascinating places cinema can take us, but originality can only take you so far with the Academy. Second, he won’t be included in any award categories though I think he should, but Tom Hardy delivers the best performance in that film. Stealing every scene he’s in, Hardy (who plays the forger, Eames) injects just the right amount of humor, cynicism, apprehension, and professionalism into nearly every line he delivers. He’s one of the best actors out there and judging from the recent Entertainment Weekly issue, it looks like 2011 will be a good year for him. And for those of you who still have to watch this film, drop what you’re doing and rent it now.
In Uncategorized on December 30, 2010 at 6:52 PM
Movie #105 The Earrings of Madame De…
(1953, France, d. Max Uphols)
As beautiful as it is in plot and style, The Earrings of Madame De… (originally titled Madame De…) is a masterpiece of cinema. The story is complex enough to entice a modern viewer. It follows a pair of meaningless (at the time) earrings that Madame De… (played by Danielle Darrieux) sells as they trek across Europe and end up back in the hands of Madame De… nowthrough fate and love. The earrings then become something of great importance to her, but this time, they mark her own downfall as they are the catalysts of the tragic spiral that the film then takes. A wonderful and progressive look on women as sealers of their own fate for the time, what was most remarkable about Uphols’ film was the camera work. Uphols’ and Christian Matras’ camera is restless. It tells every piece of the story in a grand and sweeping style. The dance montage scene and the opening scene contain some of the best gliding camera work that I’ve ever seen captured on film. Inspiring filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorcese, The Earrings of Madame De… is both tragic and beautiful and a gem that I hope continues to last throughout history.
In Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 at 6:35 PM
Movie #104 The Fighter
(2010, US, d. David O. Russell)
Moving and inspiring, The Fighter is not at all what you would think it would be. First of all, it’s not really a boxing movie. Sure, there’s boxing scenes a couple of times, but it’s more about the support group that Mickey Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) has around him. People like his brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale) or his girlfriend (played by Amy Adams) or his mother (played by Melissa Leo) or any of the other people in the working class town of Lowell, Massachusetts all influence the outcome of Mickey’s fights. The real struggle of the film lies in getting that support group united as one. Since every person in that group comes with their own problems and hatreds, that task is a hard one. Produced by Darren Aronofosky (of this year’s Black Swan), The Fighter is an inspirational story in very adept hands. It may not have the same croud-rousing moments as other sports films for regular audiences, but I was at the edge of my seat. The relationship tensions and personal tensions of Mickey’s life are reflected so well in the fight scenes that the winner of those not only determines who gets the title shot or who even worked harder, but reflects who is behind him. I thought that was a wonderful embellishment to the film. Like always, Mark Wahlberg is only as good as the movie he’s in. And ironically enough that’s the same situation his character in, just with the people around him. So in an odd way, I think this role is sort of perfect for him. Though with nod-worthy performances from Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, it’s Christian Bale’s crack-addicted, vicarious, dominating, and “has-been” performance that steals the show as Micky’s brother. Looking at nominations now, I’m sure this film will continue to be included in the range of award ceremonies this winter.
In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 8:53 PM
Movie #103 The Kids Are All Right
(2010, US, d. Lisa Cholodenko)
What’s best about this extremely politically correct film is that once you get into it, it doesn’t seem politically correct at all. Lisa Cholodenko does a great job of hiding the fact that not only are there no stereotypes in this film about relationships, but everyone and every decision that is made is almost a radical idea in modern mainstream culture. The parents are lesbians, the sperm donor is a playa who wants to get close to his kids, no straight relationship in the film is not bi-racial, etc… Everything has this sort of counter-culture, radical, 60’s vibe recycled for the 21st century to it. But throughout all this, Cholodenko manages to tell a fairly compelling story about a couple who are so caught up in their kids’ lives and their kids’ problems that they fail to examine their own shortcomings, hence the title. It’s an irony you don’t grasp until later on but I think it was done very well. The awards season in general have consistently been rewarding both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore with nominations for their performances but I think it’s Mark Ruffalo that steals the show here. It’s his quiet, humorous, but altogether genuine performance that anchors the film and puts the most heartfelt strings on it. In fact, I think it was Ruffalo that was hiding the extreme leftism of the film as a genuine and beautiful story. Granted I have absolutely nothing against lesbians and bi-racial couples, but there’s a point in any film when you start to wonder whether the filmmakers want to tell a story or just push an agenda. Ruffalo’s performance allows Cholodenko to do both. And do it well.
In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 1:47 AM
Movie #102 True Grit
(2010, US, d. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
There’s something about the Coens. They have an incredible capability to not only shoot out movie after movie like a factory line, but they do it really, really well. True Grit is a Western and like any good Western, it comes with all its regular iconography: Indians being killed, hangings, lynchings, shootouts, desert landscapes, lone rangers, Texas rangers, etc.. However unlike a regular Western, the narrator of the story is a 14 year old business-minded girl out to avenge the killing of her father. Her name is Mattie and her performance is what carries the film. It’s a darn shame that she didn’t even get a nod from the Golden Globes this year. In fact, unlike any reputable awards show this season, True Grit has been completely snubbed from the Globes. Like any Coen film, the plot is always a beautiful complement to the eclectic group of characters that occupy it. You have Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) – an old, fat bounty hunter who prides himself on being acquainted with nearly every person he sees – and La Beouf (Matt Damon) – a Texas Ranger who, as he never fails to mention in any conversation at least twice, is also a Texas ranger. The plot is simple, but it’s how the Coens and their Director of Photography Roger Deakins guide these characters from point A to point B that counts. It’s a quiet ride. But it’s a very thrilling ride. Again, shame on the Golden Globes.
In Uncategorized on December 25, 2010 at 10:22 PM
Movie #101 A Christmas Tale
(2008, France, d. Arnaud Desplechin)
A Christmas Tale is a lingering and affecting melodrama that lasts with you long after the closing credits. I watched this movie on Christmas Eve, expecting both comedy and drama from the film, though it’s mostly the latter. It’s a sad, sad tale about a family that has lost the ability to love after the death of their oldest son years before. What we are watching is not the climax or resolution of that story; it is just a depiction of the effects of that loss. Smartly enough, the film barely mentions the child who passed away. The cast is large and everyone in the family decides to spend Christmas together after discovering their matriarch of the family has leukemia. And as I mentioned before, rather than solving the problems that have been poisoning everyone in the family, Desplechin just lets the audience know that these are the problems, and occasionally he will highlight that to a few of the characters. Every character (a credit to the writing) has a very complex and unique relationship with the next and no action is made in the film that does not have varying repercussions. By far, though, the most interesting relationship was between siblings Henri (played by Mathieu Amalric) and Elizabeth (played by Anne Consigny). Elizabeth possesses nothing but pure hatred for Henri, for no apparent reason, although Elizabeth constantly alludes to something that may have happened in the past. Henri claims to not know what he could have done. The “resolution” to that mystery (or lack of), in my opinion, was one the most unsettlingly touching moment in the film. Apart from that, from a filmmaking standpoint, I really appreciated the blending of styles that this film took, an obvious borrowing from early French New Wave cinema. It contained bits of documentary form, comedy, high stylization, minimalist form, and melodrama. Perhaps this was done to create a jarring effect so as to distance the audience from the characters we were watching and thereby judge them objectively. Though I don’t think that was too effective since by the time the film was over, I was very moved.
In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 7:44 PM
Movie #100 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
(1992, US, d. Chris Columbus)
I’m going to be a little biased here. Home Alone 2 is by far my favorite Christmas movie. Not only is it a rare Hollywood example of a sequel being better than the original, but there is no movie that puts me in more of a Christmas mood than Home Alone 2. It’s fun, mischievous, hilarious, touching, and filled to the brim with classic Christmas songs and ones John Williams creates through his musical genius. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are back as Harry and Marv and do a fantastic job spoofing old gangsters while never actually seeming legitimately dangerous. Kevin (with a “K”) McCallister is now stuck in New York City where he must fend of these two escaped criminals in an old apartment while his mother and family try to search for him. I’m fairly positive I’ve seen this movie more times than any other movie in my life and watching yet again brings back the same wonderful memories as years past. It’s another smart John Hughes classic and if you’re at all into old gangster flicks, you’ll really love the homages.
In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 1:21 AM
Movie #99 How Do You Know
(2010, US, d. James L. Brooks)
James L. Brooks has made a couple really good movies, and they’re always about an adult coming of age against a romantic comedy backdrop. Brooks tries to get the same result here but unfortunately, it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s a sizable failure. The cast is there, but the script just wasn’t. The film didn’t know what it wanted and felt as indecisive as some of the characters in the film, which is saying a lot. Paul Rudd probably saves this movie from being a complete disaster here as his is the only performance that feels genuine and funny. I thought Reese Witherspoon’s, Owen Wilson’s, and Jack Nicholson’s characters were all just gross exaggerations of tiny quirks people have. Thankfully, I only paid 6 dollars to see this and taking into consideration the fact that it opened number 6 at the box office on its first weekend, I don’t think you’re missing much.
In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 1:11 AM
Movie #98 Winter’s Bone
(2010, US, d. Debra Granik)
Coming off one film led by its lead actress comes Winter’s Bone, a chilling film that is magnified by the lead performance from newcomer Jennifer Lawrence. Set in Trailer Park City, Hicksville County, Ozarkville, Winter’s Bone does a very unique thing: instead of painting the Ozarks and Nowhere, America as a place of backwards people and bleak hope, Granik decides to portray the place as full of secrets, mysteries, and deceptions waiting to be revealed. Families clash in this nearly two hour thriller/drama about seventeen year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) who must find her missing fugitive father who listed her house as his bail bond. As Ree travels from home to home, she begins to gain a sense for the darker things that run her little community. It felt like a treasure film with an evil twist and bleak dialogue. Though I wouldn’t say I loved this film or even really enjoyed it, I think it’s a great movie.