Archive for October, 2010

October 21, 2010

Life and Times: Damon in Demand

In honor of Matt Damon’s new film Hereafter AND True Grit, I decided to feature him as this weeks Life and Times recipient. And he is truly an interesting one. Born on October 8th, 1970 (Happy belated 40th!) in Cambridge, MA, his life took the course of many who live there – he attended Harvard University. He dropped out to pursue his acting career, a move that while risky, clearly paid off. After a couple of less than stellar roles, he decided to make his own luck.

That's when the big breakthrough happened. He and his distant cousin Ben Affleck, maybe you've heard of him, wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting. After the movie became a sleeper phenomenon, Damon proved to the world that he was here to stay with a string of lucrative roles.

Since Damon’s movie star life is, well, kind of boring and his big Hollywood narrative was the plot of Good Will Hunting, I’ll just include my favorite smattering of random facts.

– He quit smoking with the help of a hypnotist.

– He founded the H2O Africa Foundation, the Not On Our Watch Campaign, and is a prominent supporter of the ONE campaign fighting AIDS in Africa.

And let’s take a look at his awards:

2 Acting Academy Award nominations

1 Writing Academy Award win

3 Emmy nominations for producing “Project Greenlight”

4 Acting Golden Globe nominations

1 Writing Golden Globe win

5 Screen Actors Guild nominations

I think we can tell that he’s very well respected and is just about due for a few big acting wins.

My least favorite thing about Damon is that in trailers, they always say starring Academy Award Winner Matt Damon, but his Oscar was for Original Screenplay… I’m not taking acting chops away from Damon, but I do see it as a bit of a lie.

But maybe the best thing about Matt Damon is that he’s not afraid to make fun of himself. I think his response to his “Jimmy Kimmel Controversy” says enough, but I’ll also include what may be the best cameo in any movie ever made. That’s right Bill Murray… better than Zombieland.

And now for the composite top 10 list of Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Metacritic, and Flickchart. And this one’s a doozy. We have a tie for tenth AND a tie for first place! Which is why I’ve put my first poll question up – to settle this tie.

1. Saving Private Ryan

1. The Departed

3. The Bourne Ultimatum

4. Good Will Hunting

5. The Bourne Identity

6. Ponyo

7. The Bourne Supremacy

8. Courage Under Fire

9. Chasing Amy

10. Ocean’s Eleven

10. The Talented Mr. Ripley

October 20, 2010

Short Stack: Les Dessins Français

The two short film contenders that I found online this week are two very painterly animated films. The first is from the Animated Short Film winner from the World Wide Short Film Festival – so kind of a big deal. The film was a French flick called Le Silence sous L’Écource, or The Silence Under the Bark. I couldn’t find an embed, but I do have a link to where you can find one. It’s very pretty, but probably a little too weird and abstract for Uncle Oscar’s tastes.

<a> http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2010/06/09/the-silence-beneath-the-bark/</a&gt;

The other film that I found was the Palme D’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival. Another Frenchie called Chienne D’Histoire. This directly translates to Bitch of History (but like female dog), but the American translation is Barking Island. Go figure. This is my surest bet to show up on the short list and not make the final nominations. It reminds me a lot of Cat Piano last year, which I’ll include too – just because it was my favorite Short film of last year.

October 20, 2010

Movie Review: The Incredibles – Pixar’s Dark Side

The Incredibles (8/10)

People will go to great lengths to defend Brad Bird’s The Incredibles as their favorite Pixar movie. It does have a lot of fantastic elements. Michael Giacchino’s score is inspired and exhilarating and the characters are each vivid and unique. But what I want to talk about is the overall message of the film and its construction.

Having recently watched the film, I can tell you that it opens with a grainy film “where were they then?” documentary type thing and then has the briefest of action sequences. After this prologue, the 30 minute long first act has NO ACTION. It basically sets this film up to be a family dramedy where the main characters just so happen to be super heroes. I actually do think this is noble, but it is not what people remember about the film. If you ask most people, they will surely only discuss things like Dash’s chase scene or the fights with the giant droid robot – things in Act two and three or the last 50 minutes. I am just impressed by the easily deletable memories of my friends and family who watch this (and myself to be quite honest) and forget that behind the core of an animated “action” movie, is a family drama.

And this family drama is quite complex. It deals with a daughter not being incapable of helping her mother and rising to the challenges, it deals with mother content with home-making reclaiming her former undomesticated self, a father through a mid-life crisis, and something of a coming of age tale about the son. I’m not kidding. This might as well be American Beauty.

Now here’s my real beef with The Incredibles. I don’t think this is what Brad Bird intended, but who cares about intentions any way? Basic film theory says the meaning of film is what you get out of it. So here’s what I get out of The Incredibles. Early on in the film, Mr. Incredibles rejects Buddy/Syndrome as a sidekick. Why? A combination of a) simply not needing help, b) it is dangerous work for a kid, c) Buddy doesn’t have superpowers and therefore can’t keep up. So the boy without powers, at this point, is supposed to be an obsessed fan boy. But isn’t he also just someone trying to help. To do what he can for the greater good. (P.S. Favorite line. When Frozone says that he’s trying to help the greater good and his wife responds, “The greater good? I am your wife. I am the greatest good you’ll ever get!”) So Buddy is just a normal person trying to help and Mr. Incredible rejects him.

Then Buddy takes a turn to the dark side, invents weapons, and becomes his own super hero/villain. Now to me, this just looks like someone with ambition accomplishing their dreams and overcoming an obstacle. So then he gets a little crazy and locks Mr. Incredible in an electrode cell thing. In his necessary evil villain monologue he says that he wants to give everyone super powers “so that when every one is super, no one is.” Now this is a very powerful quote about reducing what is special about our protagonists and their way of life. But I can’t help reading it that he is just upset that life dealt him a bad hand of cards by making him not a super hero and when he had to work hard to overcome it. Furthermore, all he wants to do is give everybody the same advantage that these other privileged superheroes get. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not the best message to be sending kids?

I strongly feel that the film is unintentionally sending the message that you have to be born special to achieve greatness. But that’s if if you focus on the super heroes and not the family drama as I’m sure Pixar put their energies. But does America? Probably not. But I also don’t think that small children pay too much attention to the subtle nuance of villainy.

October 19, 2010

Flashbacks: 1991

Oh my goodness. I have virtually seen nothing from ’91. That’s not true. I’ve seen a couple. And some of what I have seen is quite good. But my regrettable haven’t seen list is not pretty (although the ugliest for sure will come in 1994).

5. My Girl

See how sad this list is? Now, I don’t want to take anything away from one of the sweetest movies, but it’s not exactly top 5 material. But here it is and I’m not that ashamed. Macaulay Culkin is illegally cute and depressing. I still get a little misty-eyed when I think of bee allergies. And the girl, Anna Chlumsky, is quite endearing and doesn’t not carry the film. This is the single perfect movie to watch on a gloomy Mother’s Day at 2:00 PM. It just has that kind of home-grown happy times feel, despite being horribly sad. Either way, a hallmark in gushy cinema of the ’90s.

4. City Slickers

I swear the next movie will be phenomenal. Although City Slickers is pretty damn funny. You have Billy Crystal at his comedic peak, a hilarious and gritty performance from Jack Palance, and I also think this is the movie where a cow goes into labor. Instant classic. And my affinity for the comedy western genre has just recently been touched upon with my new found love of Cat Ballou. Are there any other good comedy westerns? Oh! And P.S. Director Ron Underwood’s other great movie is Tremors. His resume is truly legendary.

3. Cape Fear

Here’s where things get cooking. Maybe one of the least respected Scorsese/De Niro combinations, but it still is a doozy. As Nick Nolte and family try to deal with Robert De Niro’s fearsome Max Cady, Scorsese creates a tension that is truly palpable. This just rides on so much tension. And Scorsese keeps the audience right where he wants them at all times. Never before in a film have I shouted so loudly and frequently at a main character as when throughout the whole film Nolte lets his emotions and fear get the best of him. This film displays the tension between society and paranoia better than most others who have tried while never letting the fear go from the audience. It also expertly uses the REAL LIFE location of Cape Fear.

2. The Silence of the Lambs

No 1991 list is complete without this classic horror film. From easily quotable jabs from Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter to the horrifying images of Buffalo Bill dancing with his you-know-what tucked in you-know-where. Jonathan Demme created a truly eerie film that has seeped into pop culture so deep, that people who haven’t seen the film can quote it. That’s really saying something. Unlike most of America, my favorite moments all involve Bufflo Bill. I think Ted Levine gives a truly chilling performance. Not to say that Lecter isn’t creepy too. I just always felt (a little) safer because he’s behind bars. This also is the most recent film to sweep the big 5 awards at the Oscars. So Congrats to Demme, Foster, Hopkins, and Ted Tally for their reigning place in Oscar trivia absurdia.

1. Beauty and the Beast

Maybe this is sentimental. Or maybe it’s because it’s phenomenal. The opening sequence with the stained glass windows is beautiful; the songs are all catchy, memorable, and filled with the delightful lyrics of Howard Ashman, not to mention being Alan Menken’s finest; the jokes still crack me up; the whimsy and magic of inanimate objects coming to life is refreshing and exciting every time. What I’m trying to say is, this movie is near perfect. It best shows the Disney trend of “be true to yourself” idea through Belle’s passion for literature. It speaks to the power of family, friendship, and most importantly, love. And my all time favorite line – “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!”

Regrettable Haven’t Seens:

Bugsy

Hook

JFK

Thelma & Louise

Barton Fink

October 19, 2010

How I Met Your Mother: Architect of Destruction

This episode is the one where we meet her. The ONE! FINALLY THE GIRL who may or may not be the mother. I’m just about done with it. And that’s mainly because I’m positive that she’s not the mother. That’s really just cause I don’t believe that she would be Rachel Bilson’s roommate. But I digress.

This week’s episode featured Ted meeting a new love interest who wanted to protect a building he wanted to tear down. This love interest is named Zoey and played by the House famous Jennifer Morrison. Now I didn’t watch her on House, but people either love her or hate her. And based on this one ep of HIMYM, I think I hate her. She just seemed really cardboard and forced the whole time, which is something the show really doesn’t ever have. I do hope to see this plot develop a little further and maybe she will improve over time.

The side plot had Marshall worrying that Lily was talking to Robin behind his back because he heard that Robin’s boyfriend had a small penis. First of all, whenever there are plot lines like this where some one has a small penis, or is bad in bed, or is the erectile dysfunction spokesperson, I always wonder… Will they ever escape this image? From now on, a guest actor named Geoff Stults will always have a small penis. Shmeh.

This episode was really not one of the best and certainly doesn’t compare to last week’s instant classic Subway Wars, but it was definitely funny. Jason Segel’s freakout and then recovery was priceless. When he fed Lily the lines to what she had to tell Robin, his delivery was pitch perfect in the crazy and desperate and under-appreciated that Marshall always is. Well done Segel!

Best line: “Max is both his name and his level of awesomeness.” – Marshall

October 19, 2010

Trailer Trash: Top Teasers

I just want to share my two favorite teaser trailers that have hit so far. They are both beautifully cut, thrilling, and they make me want to see the movie!

True Grit’s teaser trailer has recently been usurped by a lengthier, showier, regular (Worse) trailer. The teaser leaves out Bridges, Damon, and Brolin to instead feature Deakins sweeping images, a haunting (original?) song, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. And the barrel click at the end? Cheesy and genius! Great cut Coens!

The other trailer is for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. And if the trailer doesn’t impress upon you enough that it is Danny Boyle’s film, then you are as a blind as Helen Keller. It is interesting that they aren’t really trying to sell James Franco or even like Amber Tamblyn – not that she is anyone anymore, but it’s nice to see her. Mantle’s cinematography rivals Deakins and it should be a truly harrowing film. And the song has been playing in my mind for weeks.

October 19, 2010

Movie Review: Cat Ballou

Now I really didn’t know what to expect when I started this film. Was it a Western or something else? How bad-ass was Jane Fonda going to be? The movie that lay ahead is easily my new favorite Western film spoof (that’s right – better than Blazing Saddles). Cat Ballou takes a lot of the conventions of Western films, uses them, then makes fun of them, then turns them upside down, all while keeping a sensible narrative, hilarious jokes, and the beautiful crooning of Nat King Cole.

The best thing about this movie is not Lee Marvin – you will definitely hear about his “scene stealing” performance and while he does play a drunk well, the best part is Jane Fonda. At only 28 years old, this was one of her big breakthrough movies and damn did she breakthrough. She plays the straight woman so well amongst all of these crazy men that when in the end she busts out her own crazy its unexpected and pitch perfect. She smolders in this role and she alone is worth watching this film for.

Having a Nat King Cole song in your movie is great. Actually having Nat King Cole perform? Phenomenal. He takes a simple (Oscar nominated) melody and really turns it into a beautiful recurring theme that doesn’t get old. And what makes this performance even more special is that Cole died just a few months after filming, and before the film was released.

The fast pace of the movie is also something to be commended and helps to drive the comedy. This film also acts as a bit of a Star Wars dark side parable. It is, at its core, a comedy about how and why good people do bad things, a very real and heavy theme. It’s also about dealing with death and morals and ethics. It’s a very heavy film that nimbly dances around many difficult themes to deliver an emotional and hilarious ride.

Did it deserve its Oscars?

Lead Actor Win for Lee Marvin – First of all he’s not even lead! Second of all, over Laurence Olivier!?!? Madness. Maybe he deserved a supporting win… maybe.

Film Editing nom – deserved but nothing is going to be The Sound of Music in 1965.

Adapted Screenplay nom – Again deserved, but this time it’s Doctor Zhivago.

Adapted Score nom – Damn the Sound of Music and it’s beauty!!!

Original Song nom “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” – super repetitive. But it’s Nat King Cole so I’ll let it pass.

I would also give this a Best Picture nomination over Ship of Fools. I haven’t seen Ship of Fools, but this was just great! And easily director Elliot Silverstein’s only movie worth seeing.

9/10

October 18, 2010

Gold Diggers: The Best of What’s Around

The Oscar season is finally in full swing and week after week more trophy hopefuls will be released to the public for bashing intense adoration. So I’ll tackle a main category and sift through some contenders and interlopers.

BEST PICTURE

Let’s start with the big kahuna, the golden enchilada – best picture. If you don’t live underneath a rock you’ve probably heard the buzz for The Social Network. It certainly does “strike the zeitgeist”, or whatever terminology you want to use that means its of the here-and-now, and it also has a cool factor going for it. Aaron Sorkin? Really cool. Justin Timerblake? Cool. Facebook? Cool.

The King’s Speech is Oscar bait if I’ve ever seen it and I couldn’t be happier. Gentle British biopics are my absolute favorite (see An Education or A Single Man). The whole ensemble including Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter are supposed to be as phenomenal as the next and a biopic about a king with a stutter during WWII no less? A surefire hit.

True Grit is one of the only mostly unseen contenders and if it is the Coen Bros. typical standard of film, it will definitely get the nomination. Another outstanding cast, a surely well-written screenplay and that’s about all you need these days for a best picture nomination. Not to mention Roger Deakins… he helps.

127 Hours is my next safe bet, because Danny Boyle is now in the Oscar club and quite cool. This movie is supposed to be a little harrowing and I think it could turn out to be an edgier choice for the Academy. Again, good script, good actor, good cinematograhy = best picture nomination.

This formula, which should also include Film editing, is what will also ensure The Kids Are All Right and Inception, the Summer holdovers, for a nomination. Toy Story 3 has the epic box office, the Pixar Pedigree, and a probably safe slot for animation open in the top 10.

As my guesses get more outlandish, look to my newly found formula of Actors+Screenplay+Editing=Best Picture and when you see two weaknesses, start to worry. Onwards to Another Year (probably sans Editing) but Mike Leigh is well loved and the film has been getting great reviews.

The Fighter may not have the screenplay but certainly has the cast and the editing to push it through. While David O. Russell is extremely unlikeable, he has worked with most everyone who should push him through to a nomination.

I’ll finally go with Black Swan as my number 10 slot. It’s gotten great reviews and certainly has the cast, editing, and screenplay… it just may not have the support. But I think this might be Aronofsky’s time to claim a little bit of Oscar love.

Best Picture (In order of nomination likeliness):

Best Picture:

1. The King’s Speech

2. Inception

3. The Social Network

4. The Kids Are All Right

5. Toy Story 3

6. True Grit

7. 127 Hours

8. Another Year

9. The Fighter

10. Black Swan

 

11. Winter’s Bone

12. The Way Back

13. Blue Valentine

14. Hereafter

15. Made in Dagenham

16. The Town

17. How to Train Your Dragon

18. Rabbit Hole

19. Love & Other Drugs

20. Secretariat

October 13, 2010

Short Stack: 10/13

So one of the things that doesn’t get enough press in the online film blog community are short films. Especially in regards to the oscar race, the short films get relegated to this “too difficult to predict”, “nobody’s seen them”, and “wildcard/who cares?” quagmire of obsolescence. But short films are really where it’s at. Most of the great film makers working today started making short films, and still do. This holds even more true in the Animated short category (A category I might add that predates the Animated feature category by 70 years). So let’s take a look at the process, shall we?

From what I’ve gathered there are two main ways that a short film can be eligible. 1) Have a release in Los Angeles for longer than a week. I don’t live in L.A. but I don’t think this is common. So 2) Win a major award at a film festival. This is probably where most of the pool comes from. There approximately 70 different festivals. And you have to win between October 1st and September 30th of the competing year, the same timeline for foreign films. It looks we just passed that deadline and I will be working dilligently to accrue a list of all eligible short films.

But what’s the fun in the short films if you can’t see them? So I’ll eventually get a complete list, but I’ll only post the ones with links.

Dime Que Yo – won the Goya Short Film Award in 2010. I couldn’t understand it, but I liked it anyway.

Departure of Love – won the AMPAS Award for Animated Student Short. Really cute. Great narrative. Probably not weighty or long enough to contend, but definitely a shortlist possibility. It won’t embed, but be sure to follow this link.

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=393978751853&ref=mf

Surface: Film from Below – won the AMPAS  Award for Experimental Student Short. Super interesting, and very unique. I would love to see this shortlisted, but alas…

I Close My eyes and Walk Away – won the Athens Film Festival Experimental Short Award. No chance, but really artsy.

The Machine – won the Atlanta Film Festival Animated Short. Way too weird. Way.

 

 

October 13, 2010

Movie Review: The Green Mile

I had never seen Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile until just the other day, and to be quite honest, I was underwhelmed. Let’s start out with the fact that its 3 hours long. Now this isn’t always a problem, but these three hours feel long. And as Darabont’s second feature (and his second Stephen King adaptation) it really doesn’t challenge what we knew about him as a film maker. He makes very comfortable movies that I think are what the populace expect a good movie to be. But maybe I’m crazy when I think a truly good movie should challenge you.

There will be another time and place for why I dislike Tom Hanks (it mostly has to do with Meg Ryan and Big), but his performance as a death row jail warden is very touching and sincere. The supposed “breakout” performance is from the Academy nominated Michael Clarke Duncan. He gives about zero emotional range and just strains his face into contortions that inspired The Ring. I actually don’t think he was terrible, he was quite good, he just had the unfortunate job of being next to Sam Rockwell, the best working character actor. Although fun fact, apparently if you recognize Duncan on the street, he’ll give you 5 bucks. Good for him.

Sam Rockwell gives the craziest performance as a very showy, loud, offensive, sinister, and let’s face it, hilarious criminal. He gives this incredibly honest and tortured performance that completely outshines everyone else in the cast.

I discussed Darabont’s safe take on this work earlier. He doesn’t push the mysticism, the racism, the class difference or anything. He stays in the very comfortable happy miracles and friendship zone. He does however stick to something, if only to create a frame narrative. SPOILER When the old man reveals that he is 108 years old and still young, Darabont introduces the dark element of any King adaptation. Our centenarian is accepting God’s punishment for letting John Coffey die. It’s a little dark, a little creepy, and I like it!!!!!

And since the Oscar’s are the true measure of whether something is good or not, let’s look at its nominations and its deserving-ness.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Clarke Duncan in the role of John Coffey. Sure he deserved it, but Rockwell deserved it more.

Best Sound: I’m no sound mix expert but there were a lot of cool sound effects and nothing offended me. I’ll buy the nomination.

Best Adapted Screenplay: It’s long, emotional, and successful. In those terms I understand it’s nomination, but I wouldn’t have given it the nomination. I think it actually lags in a couple place. It’s only redemption is the ending.

Best Picture: Well I’m glad it lost to my favorite Best Picture winner, “American Beauty.” This is another not deserved nomination. Magnolia deserved this spot and I don’t even like that movie. But it challenges me and is well made. Or what about the Talented Mr. Ripley? Certainly just as Oscar-baity and I think a lot more gutsy, stylized, beautiful, and thought-provoking (not to mention better acted and filmed).

All in all. I liked the film. It’s very touching, its successful in its goals, it handles the mystic well, and cuts the happiness with a bit of a dark ending. And possibly the best mouse film. I would recommend it, but only to my mom and my grandma, not to cinephiles. I don’t think it nearly deserves its #85 ranking on IMDB, but what are rankings anyway.

6/10