Thursday, December 20, 2007

Talk to Me (Lemmons, 2007)

"Wake up, goddammit! "

Curse you procrastination! I've been slacking on my reviews and it's about time I started to add a little bit more content to this blog of mine. Thanks for your continued support!

Please, someone give Don Cheadle an Oscar already. This blatant attempt at false modesty needs to come to an end before someone gets hurt. His ability to transform himself for every role (no matter how minimal) is astonishing but he continually gets snubbed. Why is that? We know that the academy isn't racist despite their inconsistent reputation at making bone-headed decisions and several actors of color have won in the past (even though they were questionable at best: Halle Berry for Monster's Ball anyone?). 2004 was Cheadle's year when he gave a tour-de-force performance in the political thriller Hotel Rwanda as Paul Rusesabagina and even though he was nominated, losing to Jaime Foxx was a travesty. Don't get me wrong, I think Foxx proved himself to be taken seriously as an actor and while he was able to convincing portray Ray Charles down to a tee including his speech along with the various mannerisms, it lacked the control of Cheadle's performance which felt more natural and less of a gimmick.

Don Cheadle returns this year in another biopic, this time as Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene, African-American convict who decides to pursue a job as a radioman during the 60's that influenced the medium by walking on a thin line between radio code of conduct and pragmatism without straying too far into blind-sided chauvinism. As an outspoken individual who gave no precedence to say the truth regardless of the crackdown on the freedom of speech for minority groups especially Blacks, Greene becomes a voice for the people, not only to the frustrated lower class African Americans (despite them being his largest fanbase) but to an entire nation that was at war with itself during the Civil Rights movement. His friendship with Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the man who puts his career on the line to get Petey the job at the radio station is the heart of the film; two men who are fond of one another but have different visions of what they want to achieve with their newfound success. The wonderful chemistry between Ejiofor and Cheadle is palpatable and they both light up the screen as their brotherly love begins to disintegrate as ardent decisions are made and circumstances split them apart. The script is chalk-full of great dialogue and the two leads take full advantage of it. The clash of disparate personalities allows for plenty of humorous exchanges of dialogue that flow naturally. Don Cheadle loses himself completely in this role that is so authentic that it becomes difficult to distinguish the actor from the chracter he is playing. I'm thinking about starting a campaign on his behalf in order for the Acadmedy to recongize this performance because it is clearly one of standouts of this year.

Biopics seem to be a dime a dozen these days. While Talk to Me follows the formulaic rise and fall of the central protagonist, newcomer female director Kasi Lemmons infuses a refreshing amount of charm and sophistication to elevate her film above the typical run-of the mill genre tropes. It becomes a powerful statement on the freedom of speech that doesn't succumb to ramming the message down the viewer's throats. As provocative as it is heartfelt, this is a groovy film told with honesty and not only is it an invigorating true story but also happens to be one of the best films of 2007.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Atonement (Wright, 2007)

Robbie Turner (McAvoy) and Cecilia Tallis (Knightly) share a passionate embrace by the seaside.

Reminscent of a stuffy ivory chamber drama except with a much bigger budget, Ian McEwan's breathtaking novel of forbidden love, deceit, the growing pains of childhood and the power of art all set to the backdrop of WWII is brought to life by Joe Wright (of 2005's Pride and Prejudice fame) and his group of talented young actors in Keira Knightly, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan. What made the novel such a rapturous read was McEwan's exceptional story-telling ability, the rich detail and his firm grasp of the English language that took on a classic poeticsm so rare in contemporary literature. Wright's film is an earnest adaptation that is faithful to the text only it feels slightly hollow containing only the main plot points of the book abandoning McEwan's elegant literary craftsmanship. While the film posesses moments of cinematic beauty and impressive direction including a sweeping long-take lasting several minutes during the evacuation of soliders stationed at Dunkirk, much of the stylistic flourishes become redundant and come across as filler due to the lack of a strong narrative.

It would be too easy to label this film as "Oscar bait" and even though it is bound to be clumped into that infamous category, part of me believes that there are enough positive aspects that prevent such placement. The acting all around remains the saving grace here with Knightly giving the peformance of her career and James McAvoy stealing every scene whom is bound to be nominated this year. Even newcomer Saoirse Ronan does excellent work as the precocious young Briony who is the integral figure of the story who sets the traumatic events in motion. Her chracter's wide-eyed innocence and curiousity in which she doesn't fully comprehend the adult world is portrayed with great maturity for an actor so young. The low-ley transient score by Dario Marianelli compliments the tone of the film perfectly and creatively implementing the sound of the type-writer keys was a nice touch. Finally, there's Joe Wright who has clearly established himself as a director in control of his vision and actors. Atonement being his sophmore effort, Wright shows tremendous talent as a budding director and he's one to keep an eye on in the future. The tackling of such a complex piece of literarture would be a daunting task for anyone and even though he is only marginally successful, one must applaud his efforts.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December Viewing Log

05/12: Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, 1954): [****]
05/12: Broadway Danny Rose (Allen, 1984): [****]
05/12: Mission: Impossible III (Abrams, 2006): [**]
05/12: Say Anything (Crowe, 1989): [***1/2]
06/12: Scoop (Allen, 2006): [***]
06/12: The Ice Harvest (Ramis, 2005): [***1/2]
09/12: Melinda and Melinda (Allen, 2005): [***1/2]
13/12: Better Off Dead (Holland, 1985): [**]
15/12: Talk to Me (Lemmons, 2007): [***1/2]

18/12: Atonement (Wright, 2007): [***]
20/12: Rosemary's Baby (Polanski, 1968): [***1/2]
20/12: Fresh (Yakin, 1994): [****]
20/12: Radio Days (Allen, 1985): [***]
20/12: Ginger Snaps (Fawcett, 2000): [***1/2]
24/12: Three Colours: White (Kieslowski, 1994): [***1/2]
25/12: Les Diaboliques (Clouzout, 1955): [***1/2]
25/12: It's a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946): [****]
26/12: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, 1974): [***]
26/12: A Zed and Two Noughts (Greenaway, 1985): ????????
26/12: Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945): [***]
26/12: I am Legend (Lawrence, 2007): [**]
29/12: Block Party (Gondry, 2005): [***1/2]
30/12: Before the Devil Knows Your Dead (Lumet, 2007): [***]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Old Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Newell, 2005)

Written November 20, 2005

Some people just won't be happy with anything less than a dressed stage reading of the Harry Potter books. Try to see this from a producers point of view: J.K. Rowlings Goblet of Fire is a 734 pages long and if it was adapted page for page the film would end up being 10 hours long putting the audience to sleep and cost even more money to make (the budget is already 150 million!). Therefore, it makes sense that certain parts need to be cut from the book in order to fit the required running time which is the case here. For instance, in the book, Dooby is the one who provides Harry with gillyweed for the second task but in the movie it is Nevell. Why would they change this small detail? The most logical explaination would be so there isn't any time wasted by re-introducing Dobby. As a matter of fact, I am glad Newell decided to give Nevell a larger role in the film because he becomes a much more important character in the later books. The mystery surrounding the assailant who released the dark mark at the Quidditch World Cup is actually revealed which eliminates the entire Winky The House-Elf subplot. Hermione's S.P.E.W activities are also cut along with the annual quidditch season at Hogwarts. Hardcore Potter fans will probably be upset that a lot of the material was tweaked or cut but considering the difficult task that Steve Kloves (screenwriter) and Newell faced, I think they did a great job in focusing as close as they could on the major plotlines of the story and weeding out anything that was not remotely related to Harry's plight.

Sitting comfortably in the jam-packed theatre, I could barely contain my excitement and my friend had to repeatedly tell me to calm down several times because I was literally jumping out of my seat in anticpation. I could not help myself! I'm a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and the Goblet of Fire is my favorite book out of them all (that can change depending on book 7!), so naturally I was so anxious to see how Newell would approach the material. Needless to say, the movie did not disappoint and is by far the best of the adaptations. It's Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts and the school is hosting the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Two other magical schools arrive to take part in this legendary event. Only one student from each school is chosen by the Goblet of Fire to compete in the dangerous tournament but when Harry's name is mysteriously expelled from the Goblet, he now must now stand up to the challenge. With a new year, comes a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and this time it is an ex-auror (dark-wizard catcher) named Mad-eye Moody played superbly by Brenden Gleeson. All the supperting characters are back but I would have been more satisfied if Snape (Rickman) was given more screen-time since he is one of the more intriguing supporting characters. This film is much bigger, darker, emotional and more satisfying than the predecessors. Its interesting how the films keep getting better instead of declining in quality like other sequels (*cough, Star Wars).

The three main leads are maturing just like their characters and this time around, their acting abilities have vastly improved. They no longer seem to be reading off cue cards or acting over-the-top. I always felt that Daniel Radcliffe was the weakest out of the three when it came to acting but in this film, he really seemed to come into his element. Surprisingly, Rupert Grint did an admirable job in his role as Ron and managed to not come off as annoying like in the other films. He is the comedic centerpiece of the film and even though his facial expressions were a little repetitive, Grint seemed much more comofrtable in his role. Personally, Emma Watson who plays Hermione, outshines her two male co-stars in this film. Many will probably say that she "over-acts" in many of her scenes but I disagree. I think she did a great job portraying the fragile and emotional Hermione who in the book does go through bursts of fluxuating mood swings. Well, that's puberty for you.

The speical effects are expanded greatly but the filmmakers did a great job of not having it overshadow the story. Newell did an amazing job with the The Yule Ball sequence not only in design but in terms of characterization. Being teenagers, they obiviously have to deal with issues such as relationships and the Yule Ball really provides that sense of teenage angst. It acts an emotional focal point where the characters become more self-aware of the opposite sex and have to deal with their feelings towards one another. The first task with the Dragons was intense and having it chase Harry around the Hogwarts grounds was a nice touch. The second task with the Mermaid people was weaker in the special effects department but still managed to be quite exciting. The final task with the gigantic maze was riveting but I was hoping they would show some of creatures like the Sphinx in the maze, but that was cut. I can forgive them for that small detail since the filmakers wanted to spend more time on the gripping climax. In terms of the score, John Williams has stepped down for this film and is replaced by Patrick Doyle who offers a less bombastic musical accompaniment but manages to hit all the right notes. I wouldnt be surprised if he is nominated for best musical score come Oscar time.

If you haven't already noticed, I am a harry-potter fan boy and this review is slightly biased but of course there were certain aspects that the film could have approved on. The editing could have been more polished and less disconjointed which might throw certain viewers off. At times, the story did feel a bit rushed and certain scenes would just seem to cut to one another unexpectedly. From another perspective this allows the film to have a very brisk pacing but others might mind find it to a tad bit disorienting. For instance, there is a lot of emphasis put on journey to the Quidditch World Cup but they don't show any footage of the actual match. The first two films by Chris Columbus were easy to follow for those who had never read the books. But with Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban and especially with this film, those who have not read the book might find it difficult to follow along because there will be too many unanswered questions. I am skeptical if there will ever be a Harry Potter film that will perfectly capture the esscence of Rowling's vision but The Goblet of Fire is as close as it gets. The waiting game for the Order of the Phoenix now begins...


I am sorry for all the distress I have caused you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Red Shoes (1948)

This is the first time I've ever participated in a blog-a-thon and hopefully my contribution meets the preliminary expectations. There one taking place at Beyond the Valley of the Cinephiles if you so happen to be interested and I would recommend checking out this film blog because there is a lot of fascinating intellectual criticism by the lovely lady behind the site.

The Red Shoes was my first introduction to Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's prodiguous film canon and it's with great reverence that I proclaim them to be nothing short of masterful artisans of the highest order. Their creative story techniques are thematically compelling whilst taking full advantage of technicolor to form a lush tapestry of vibrant color schemes emphasizing the grandiose sets, costumes and choreography. Gushing praise aside, the primary focus of this review will pertain to analyzing two aspects that interest me a great deal which include the ambiguous life imitating art debate and the prestigous mise-en-scene where both run parallel to transform this film into a breathtaking piece of cinema.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Basket of Sour Lemonz

For my 9K over at RT this idea came to me and thought I'd start brain-storming here. I will producing (ha, pun not intended) a list of 100 films that sucked well, lemonz and have received two stars or less from me. I tried not to go with the obvious choices. Let the flaming begin.

1. Morvern Callar
2. Red Road
3. Shopgirl
4. After Life
5. Tout Va Bien
6. Passion of the Christ
7. La Notti Bianche
8. Picnic at Hanging Rock
9. I Heart Huckabees
10. Wonderland
11. Fat Girl
12. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
13. Grand Illusion
14. Happiness
15. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
16. Death-Proof
17. Battlefield Earth
18. Big Fish
19. Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World
20. Simon Birch
21. Pscyho (1998)
22. Hollow Man
23. Natural Born Killers
24. Stranger Than Paradise
25. Planet of the Apes
26. Shane
27. Finding Neverland
28. Junior
29. Pay it Forward
30. Mars Attacks!
31. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Monday, November 12, 2007

50 Novels to Read This Year: March 24, 2008 - March 24, 2009

A list about books? Isn't this supposed to be a blog devoted entirely to the various encompassing aspects of cinema? Well, the answer to that question is "Why, yes of course. But that doesn't mean I can't try something a little different to spice things up." Plus, the few readers that actually visit this blog are probably getting bored by re-reading the same old medicore film reviews. I've recently rekindled my love for literature and decided to put off watching films religiously (blashpemous, I know) in favor of catching up some literature. Not to mention I seem to have burned myself out watching on average three films a day and nothing seems to interest me anymore. So, with further delay, I present to you dear reader a list of 50 pieces of literature that I plan on reading throughout the year. If you have any suggestions for me please don't hesitate to let me know what essential works I should devote my time to. This list is in no particular order and is subject to change.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel garcia Marquez
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Bottoms by Landsdale
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
The Brothers Karamazov
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen
A Streetcar Named Desire by Williams
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Life of Pi
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Kavalier and Clay
The Zero by Jess Walter
East of Eden by John Steinback
Crime and Punishment
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
Me Talk Pretty One Day
The Plague by Camus
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
La Debacle by Emile Zola
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Bloodsucking Fiends
More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
To Marry Medus by Theodore Sturgeon

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November Viewing Log

A new month is upon us so you know what that means!

01/11: Grosse Pointe Blank (Armitage, 1997): [***1/2]
02/11: Whisper of the Heart (Kon, 1995): [**** (M)] Note: Possible top 10 material
06/11: The Neverending Story (Petersen, 1984): [***1/2]
07/11: Sweet and Lowdown (Allen, 1996): [***1/2]
07/11: The Da Vinci Code (Howard, 2006): [**]
21/11: Paris, Texas (Wenders, 1984): [****]
22/11: Ace in the Hole (Wilder, 1951): [***1/2]
22/11: Being There (Ashby, 1979): [****]
27/11: The Red Shoes (1948): [***1/2]
27/11: Barton Fink (Coen, 1991): [***]
28/11: A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993): [***]
28/11: Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007): [***1/2]
29/11: Breakfast at Tiffany's (Edwards, 1961): [***1/2]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

#23 Female Performance: Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson
Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola's sophmore effort conveys the disillusionment and sense of alienation felt by its two main characters by intuitively creating a specific tone of melancholy through striking visuals, its shoegaze infused soundtrack and understated sleep-walking performances from Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. Influenced by European directors such as Godard and Antonioni, Coppola abandons traditional narrative conventions by creating a lucid dream-like atmosphere within her minimalistic story-line that is more driven by aesthetics rather than characters or plot. Instead, the film strives to portray a specific mood through self-reflexive means with the aid of contrasting image and sound (specifically music). Story-wise, Lost in Translation is not particulary ambitious and at times frivolous which in turn, reflects the attitudes and state of mind of Charlotte (Johansson) and Bob (Murray) who are both unsatisfied with their current positions in life and desperately seeking for some kind of enlightement vicariously through each other.

Johansson's quiet performance is understated in every sense of the word which doesn't rely on any kind of histrionics. She does an excellent job of internalizing her character's ennui and mediocrity. Charlotte is instantly relatable with the same emotional hang-ups of any pos-graduate plagued with uncertainty of the future. Her longing to find that special connection with someone also feels awfully familiar especially when miscommunication or lackthereof has become a popular norm in today's technologically motivated society. Charlotte's breakdown in the hotel room strikes a chord in its profundity as it reveals the overwhelming desire for finding a meaningful purpose in her life. Johansson's proclivty to internalize her character's existential turmoil is done with such subtley and natural conviction making her search for enlightenemnt all the more resonant.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Old Review: Antz (1998)

“I was not cut out to be a worker, I'll tell you right now. I feel physically inadequate. I, I... My whole life, I've never... I've NEVER been able to lift more than ten times my body weight.”

Due to the lack of updates, here's another review I digged up that was written in 2001. Seems like my writing hasn't improved that much at all.

When it comes to computer animated movies, Pixar is a tough cookie to compete against. Nevertheless, Antz which was created by a team from Dreamworks Studio is an absolute animated delight. What most impressed me was the way the team of animators was able to create such an infinitesimal world with striking detail. It’s truly a wonderful sight to behold. Each frame contains gorgeous animation that I would argue would be a worthy contender against Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and I personally find myself watching the former more often than the latter.

An all star cast of actors do an excellent job of providing the voices for their digital characters including Gene Hackman, Christopher Walker, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Danny Glover, Ann Hesche, Dan Akroyd and even Jennifer Lopez. However, the star voice actor is Woody Allen who voices Z, the main protagonist of the story. Allen basically plays himself here, that neurotic type of character we have come to know so well in his movies. The script is original, witty and sharp which I believe Woody Allen himself contributed to because it seems to contain his trademark writing style and nuances. It’s a perfect blend of comedy, romance, action and drama.

Can one ant out of billions really make a difference? Darnell and Johnson explore the possibilities of this question and they succeed The story in a nutshell resolves around an ant colony that is governed by a communist dictatorship where General Mandible (Hackman) makes the major decisions with or without the Queen’s (Anne Bancroft) consent. Z is a worker ant, the lowest class in the colony that is forced into back breaking labor and has to comply with the orders given to him by the higher authorities. He wants his own independence and to put it in his words, “to think for himself.” Democracy, free will and equality come into play rather nicely but not in a heavy handed way.

The strikingly beautiful animation coupled with a great script and talented voice actors, Antz proves to be more than just an animated movie. It all feels so real, full of imagination, adventure, and humor provided by one of the funniest comedians ever; Mr. Woody Allen. It’s seems to have been forgotten in comparison to the more popular Pixar films which is a damn shame. Not only is it an amazing accomplishment but one that every one of all ages can enjoy. I can only hope that it in years to come it will be remembered as a pivotal step towards animated feature films.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

October Viewing Log

02/10: The Weatherman (Verbinski, 2005): [***]
02/10: The Proposition (Hillcoat, 2005): [****]
03/10: Mysterious Skin (Araki, 2005): [***]
03/10: Metropolitan (Stillman, 1990): [***1/2]
03/10: Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006): [****] 2nd

04/10: Sunshine (Boyle, 2007): [***1/2]
04/10: Deathproof (Tarantino, 2007): [**]
05/10: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer: [**** (M)] 2nd
06/10: The Lookout (Frank, 2007): [***]
08/10: Live Free or Die Hard (Wisemen, 2007): [***1/2]
12/10: Pleasantville (Ross, 1998) - [****]
12/10: 1408 (Hafstrom, 2007) - [***1/2]
16/10: Ratatouille (Bird, 2007) - [****]
16/10: Reign Over Me (Binder, 2007) - [***]
17/10: Monster House (Kenen, 2006) - [****]
17/10: Le Samourai (Melville, 1967) - [****]
17/10: Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981) - [**]
18/10: POTC: End of the World (Verbinski, 2007): [*] 2nd
18/10: The Lives of Others (Donnersmark, 2006): [***]
18/10: The House of Flying Daggers (Yimou, 2004): [***1/2]
18/10: Network (Lumet, 1975): [**** (M)]
23/10: The Third Man (Reed, 1944): [***1/2]
24/10: Night and the City (Dassin, 1950): [***]
24/10: Sleuth (Mankiewicz, 1972): [**** (M)]
24/10: The Bourne Ultimatium (Greengrass, 2007): [****]
24/10: Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995): [***1/2]

25/10: The Big Heat (Lang, 1953): [****]
25/10: 3:10 To Yuma (Mangold, 2007): [***]
28/10: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hill, 1969): [****]
29/10: Bottle Rocket (Anderson, 1996): [***1/2]
30/10: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box/Park 2005): [***1/2]
30/10: Battle Royale (Fukasaku, 2000): [**]
30/10: Sicko (Moore, 20007): [****]
31/10: Miller's Crossing (Coen, 1990): [****]
31/10: Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955): [****]
31/10: Chicken Run (Lord/Park, 2000): [***1/2]

#21 Female Performance: Amy Adams

Amy Adams
Ashley Johnsten
Junebug (2005)

Don’t think for a moment that I had overlooked some of those great supporting female performances that have cropped up in the last 6 years or so. They deserve to be recognized just as much as main leading actresses do and sometimes even manage to steal the spot-light altogether. This is such the case with Amy Adams from Phil Morrison’s debut film Junebug. She plays Ashley, a high-spirited young woman from a small town in North Carolina who is in the last stages of her pregnancy. She couldn’t be more thrilled to have a baby and along with her uncontrollable eagerness to finally meet her brother’s new fiancĂ©, Ashley is on the verge of hyperventilating from all this excitement. Right when we first meet her, her shining optimism and wide-eyed innocence is infectious – it’s hard not to fall in love with her, albeit not instantaneously. Ashley may not be the most sophisticated of people and she starts out as annoying with frivolous questions and juvenile behavior. As the story progresses her immaturity translates into adorable charm and conclusively to sole wisdom as tragedy strikes a low blow to the family. There is a real star-quality to Amy Adams and whenever she isn’t on screen, the film feels that it is lacking a little spark. The rest of cast also does superb work in bringing depth to their characters through subtlety although it is Adams who goes one step further to delicately engage the script bringing her character to life and make it completely her own. She’s a one woman show, authentic and with plenty of talent to spare.

There’s a terrific scene where Adams proves why she was nominated for an Oscar that year. Ashley’s conceited husband who does actually love her even though he isn’t particular good at showing it is downstairs while there is a baby shower celebration going on upstairs. He knows that his wife has affection for mongooses and flipping through the channels he stumbles upon a wild-life documentary on the animal. He quickly scrambles to find a VHS tape to record it and is unsuccessful. Screaming in frustration causes quite a stir to the upstairs festivities and Ashley comes down to see what the entire ruckus is about. In a film that could easily fall into clichĂ©, you would expect Ashley to be furious with her husband for disrupting her guests but the filmmakers opt for a more simplistic alternative that reveals a great deal about the couple without saying much. She faces him and simply says, “God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Ashley says these words to him with utter warmth rather than conviction as a way of expressing how his irritable behavior has been since the beginning of the pregnancy; his displeasure at the soon future prospect of being a father. Her optimism becomes the driving force of the entire film and Adams sells every moment. This is the kind of performance you won’t soon forget.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

#22 Female Performance: So-ri Moon

So-ri Moon
Gong-ju Han
Oasis (2002)

We all know how Hollywood has a soft-spot for actors who portray mentally or physically disabled characters and their sympathy usually translates into countless praise and even awards come Oscar time. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that if Chang-Dong Lee’s Oasis had a wider American distribution around the time of its release, the lead actress So-ri Moon would have been nominated for an Oscar. She did go on to win several awards at various film festivals for her performance so at least somebody out their thought it was praiseworthy.

Moon plays a young woman with cerebral palsy and loses herself completely in the role you’d think she actually suffered from this crippling disease. She must have spent plenty of time researching the part in order to prepare for such a demanding task. Her behavioral patterns are spot on including all of those disjointed muscle spasms where the legs and arms become stiff and awkwardly contracted. To quote Woody Allen from his film Annie Hall: “I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.” That pretty much sums up my feelings towards her character.

It’s a shame that the actual film doesn’t do Moon’s performance justice. It’s overlong with questionable intentions on the part of the director and a last act that completely falls apart in its absurdity. Personally, I felt Lee went overboard by treating his protagonist in the most cruel ways possible as a means of drawing sympathy from the audience when she really didn’t require it because anyone with a little bit of heart is going to feel empathy towards her, regardless. Criticisms aside, Moon’s performance along with her tender relationship with the central male protagonist prevents Lee’s film from being a total catastrophe and totally makes it worthwhile.

Friday, September 28, 2007

#23 Female Performance: Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunton
Vera Drake
Vera Drake (2004)

If it weren’t for her role in the newest installment of the Harry Potter franchise as high inquisitor Dolores Umbridge, most people would be asking “who the hell is she?” Watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and then Vera Drake back-to-back made me reconsider Imelda Staunton in a whole new light. It’s amusing how she plays polar-opposites; the latter being a cruel, and pompous authority figure in the same vein as Margaret Thatcher dressed in fluffy pink outfits. The former role being that of warmth and kindheartedness whose sense in fashion reminds me of clothes my grandmother would wear. Imelda Staunton is one of Britain’s finest actresses working today with an extensive career in television and has appeared in several low-budget British films. Her versatility remains her greatest strength, a gifted character actor able to tackle any role with ease. Staunton is a scene stealer in every sense of the word, capable of causing those around her to seem vastly inferior.

Her role as the title character in Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake garnered her first Oscar nomination and rightfully so. If it were up to me, she would beaten Hilary Swank that year and taken that Best Actress Oscar home to place on her mantle piece. I don’t mean to discredit Swank’s work in Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby because she held her own and redeemed her otherwise lackluster career. Staunton on the other hand is simply incredible; pushing the boundaries of dramatic acting to a whole new level without going over-the-top. Anyone can cry on screen but to make it feel genuinely honest is another story altogether.

Taking place in early 1950’s Britain, Vera Drake is a benign philanthropist with a heart of gold. She’s a loving mother and wife, takes care of the disabled and her elderly mother without nary a peep. She also makes an honest living working hard at her day job as a maid cleaning rich people’s houses. Vera is the type of mother we all wish to have; a gentle spirit providing food on our plates and endless nurturing love. Of course, there has to be a catch – no one is that perfect. She has a separate life that her family knows nothing about. In her spare time Vera performs illegal abortions, except not for profit. Surely someone of such compassion for the welfare of others wouldn’t dare commit these crimes? And therein lays Leigh’s dilemma that he poses towards the viewer. Are we to feel sympathy for a woman who breaks the law because she feels that what she is doing is benefiting these young girls and also happens to be a sweet old lady who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Or does she deserve to be punished regardless of her intentions? There is a tragic scene where Vera confesses to her husband about carrying out these abortions and her emotional break-down is devastating. The fate of Vera Drake I dare not reveal here although it does make for interesting discussion on the morality of her actions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

# __ Female Performance: Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert
Erika Kohut
La Pianiste (2001)

If there was ever a female performance from this decade that deserves to be more recognized, it’s Isabelle Huppert from Michael Haneke’s sexually charged psychological drama La Pianiste. The plot unfolds in an atypical manner, keeping the audience in the dark while at the same time methodically peeling away layer after layer of subtext. The final shocking revelation at the end of the film opens the door for a wide variety of interpretations and adamantly insists on a complete reassessment of everything prior to this moment. Haneke is constantly challenging the viewer on an intellectual level and those unwilling to invest a little bit of brain-power will find this film to be an unpleasant experience to sit through. There is pandering to a certain degree on Haneke’s part but it is done in such a captivating and thought-provoking way so as to not be a major distraction.

Furthermore, it is Isabelle Huppert who has this unspeakable transfixing power that makes it difficult to keep one’s gaze off of her. She plays Erika Kohut, a highly respected piano teacher who champions a strict attitude towards her students. Her profession is more of a false projection of her true self because outside of the classroom she is one creepy lady. Just to give you a taste of her perverse disposition – she goes to a drive-in movie theatre and masturbates to a young couple having sex in the backseat of a car. Or how about when she goes into an adult-movie store full of male customers, enters one of the private booths and watches porn stoically while sniffing the tissue paper of discard ejaculation. This is only the tip of the ice-berg concerning Haneke’s sadistic agenda as he has his heroine sexually pursue one of her male students resulting in a vicious and uncompromising depiction of male/female gender roles and masochism.

I honestly can’t think of a more disturbing female character than Erika Kohut and it is because of Hubbert’s skillful ability to present such a repressed individual that Haneke’s message is given a heightened intensity. Huppert’s character doesn’t actually say much but the way Haneke analyzes her with his camera angles and shot compositions suggest that she is constantly at war with her inner demons. Rarely has an actor managed to disguise aggressive sexual tendencies as chillingly as Huppert in this film. She is an emotionally disturbed woman who represses a shady past along with sado-masochistic desires. Her actions take on a moral complexity and it is fascinating to try and understand what possibly could have triggered such erratic behavior. I can only image what conclusions a psychiatrist would arrive at if she were a patient.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

#25 Female Peformance: Miranda July

Miranda July
Christine Jesperson
Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

As this list progresses, Miranda July’s performance in her debut film Me and You and Everyone We Know will seem like an anomaly. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t deserve recognition for her work here, far from it. In retrospect, her position feels justified despite being overshadowed by the female powerhouses preceding her but what makes July so special is the way she brings an inimitable personality to the role. With experience in performance arts, her filmmaking style embraces this unique art-form allowing for immeasurable creativity. The narrative is breezy and unprecedented full of colorful characters that speak, behave and react to various situations in ways that we do not anticipate. To label the film an exercise in quirkiness (a cringe-worthy term) would be to turn a blind-eye to the infusion of charming poeticism and deep-rooted sincerity that permeates every frame. July has crafted what I believe to be one of the best films of the decade; an entertainingly insightful film on 21st century living that also happens to be profoundly moving.

That’s enough gushing about the film for now. Let’s get to brass-tacks and focus on July’s actual performance which is essentially what this thread is all about in the first place. She plays Christine, a coy, beautiful young woman who is a struggling artist who has a part-time job as taxi-cab driver for seniors. The plot focuses on several different characters as well who interweave throughout each other’s lives often in unpredictable ways but ultimately, it is Christine who remains the focal point with whom everyone else is connected. Her eccentricities eventually lead her to Richard, a shoe-store employee whom she quickly develops a strange relationship with. The emotional highs and lows of unrequited love are portrayed by July with such jubilant earnestness and soft heartache. In a film packed with memorable moments, she and Richard share a tentative stroll down a street that is so inventive and charming that it words cannot do it justice. Pay attention to July’s expression as she awkwardly confesses her true feelings towards him as they make their way to the end of the street. It confirms an actress with the ability to naturally convey true sensationalism without coming off as phony.

July also has knack for comedy although not in the traditional sense. Christine is a peculiar character who seems to be in her own little world and it is through her strange antics that July’s sense of humor shines. It’s not so much a physical type of comedy as it is observational humor. There’s this naivety and childlike playfulness to July that she utilizes to her benefit and this makes her genuinely funny. She brings a fresh sense of absurdity and seriousness to her role in one of the most stunning debuts in recent years.

The Top 25 Female Performances of the Decade (2000-2006)

To spice up this blog which seems to have been taking a nosedive in quality recently, I've decided to take on this challenge. A buddy of mine from Rotten Tomatoes is taking care of of the top 25 male performances and you can check out our thread here. As a rule, only one role per actress is allowed. The compilation of this list was of a complex nature involving various criteria including screen prescence, emotional range, charcteriztion, my level of obsession with said actress and other enigmatic imperatives. It's a subjective list of actresses who have left a considerable impression on me. I don't expect many of you to agree with my selections so try not and get upset if one of your favorites has been left out. Comments are always welcome. Enjoy!

25. Miranda July in Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
24. Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
23. Scarlett Johannson in Lost and Translation (2003)
22. So-ri Moon in Oasis (2002)
21. Amy Adams in Junebug (2005)
20. Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake (2004)
19. Isabelle Huppert in La Pianiste (2001)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

High Fidelity: An Old Review

This is from 2004. Feel free to poke fun at its wretchedness.

Here we are again with another delectable romantic comedy starring none other than John Cusack who has established himself as one of todays leading actors for this genre. Adapted from the popular novel from British author Nick Hornby, Cusack plays Rob, a cynical thirty-something year old bloke who is a complete music geek and owns his own record shop. When the story begins he has just broken up with his long time girl-friend Laura (Iben Hjejle) and handles the situation by recounting his Top 5 most memorable break-ups. He is fond of making lists, not only for displaying his musical interests but also as a way to organize his life. Personally, Rob is one of the most identifiable characters that I have come across in the movies. We seem to have a lot in common and the striking contrasts are uncanny. We have both gone through some rocky relationships, making lists of everything has become a sort of ritual and if you replace his obsession over music with movies, that is pretty much me in nutshell.

Being a huge fan of the book, I was surprised in how well they kept faithful to the source material even though the setting of London was changed to Chicago which is not a big deal at all. John Cusack even collaborated on the screenplay which is very well written, sharp, clever, humorous, and flows consistently. The use of voice-over-narration is well done and having Cusack look straight into the camera and talk to the audience (adopted from Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer Annie Hall) is also helpful in engaging the viewer with him on a more personal level. The use of flash-backs as Robs narrates his earlier relationships with other women is insightful and quite funny at times as well.

His two best friends Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black) work for him in the store and they are also music snobs. Lousio plays the perfect loser while Jack Black is hysterical and steals every scene he finds himself in. Black is playing his same eccentric self but this time around he doesnt come off as annoying. Instead, because of the great script, he is able to spit out lines that are so funny and his wacky behaviour is a complete riot. Black also gets the oppportunity to display his singing voice by and the man definately has some talent in the vocal department.His rendtion of Marvin Gaye's famous love song "Let's Get it On" is one of the many highlights of this movie.

There is one scene in particular that really stands out in its comedic hilarity (it always manages to put me in stitches) but also captures an all too real situation that everyone can relate to in one way or another. Laura's new boyfriend Ian (Tim Robbins with a ponytail) visits Rob at his record shop and tells him to stop stalking them. He responds with a simple ok and Ian leaves. It then cuts to three different scenarios of the same awkward situation that are imagined by Rob in what he should have said or done to Ian at that particular moment. Not only is it very funny but also quite identifiable. How many times have we all been in some sort of situation where we acted a certain way and reflecting on it later, realizing that the outcome could have been completely different if only we conducted ourselves in another way? Personally, I have been in this situation so many times before and witnessing Rob going through the same feelings of regret is comforting.

Affable and full of wit, High Fidelity manages to balance comedy with drama so elegantly. Rob's story is so absorbing that carries a sense of pathos as the audience is pulled directly into his life. He is a confused, jaded and frustrated man who just wants to make up with his girlfriend but in the process, embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The break-up with Laura sends him searching for meaning in his life that just seemed to resonate with me. The problems he has to face and his experiences in dealing with life carry a strong sense of honesty and are completely understandable. The replay value is through the roof and seems to improve with increased viewings. If you love music and romantic comedies, High Fidelity should not be missed.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Spider (Cronenberg, 2002)

The human mind is a fragile nervous system of complex interconnected neurons firmly constructed similar to that of a “spider-web” that even with the slightest disruption can cause the structure to collapse. David Cronenberg’s Spider showcases one of the most successful deconstructions of mental illness that I have seen in my short time as a cinephile.

In a tour-de-force performance, Ralph Fiennes plays Dennis “Spider” Cleg, a disturbed man suffering from schizophrenia in the search of answers concerning his shady past as a young lad growing up in a small town in England. Sent to a safe-house for the mentally unstable, he spends most of his time in isolation; cooped up in a small, barren room intensely pouring over a small diary full of random symbols continuously mumbling incoherent thoughts. The story is told from Cleg’s distorted perspective which consequently brings into question whether or not his account is true or just a fabrication of his mind playing tricks on itself. This dichotomy allows for a fascinating subversive examination of psychosis.

Thankfully, Cronenberg is able to work with one of the most versatile actors in the industry and it is through Ralph Fiennes’ uncanny ability to portray a severely conflicted individual with perfect nuance and pathos that allows the poignant story to unfold in a deeply thought provoking manner. He spends the majority of the film mumbling his speech, staring wide-eyed as if on the verge of discovering something profound and yet, seems completely on the edge of sanity. It is a quiet, subdued performance where Fiennes relies more on his body language to convey his emotions. His behavioral patterns are spot-on, convincingly depicting a mentally unstable man struggling to overcome his affliction to make sense of the past. Rarely has an actor managed to step this deep into the murkiness of insanity as compellingly as Fiennes in this film.

Monday, September 3, 2007

September Viewing Log

03/09: The Prestige (Nolan, 2006) - [** 1/2]

It was okay. The twisting plot is compelling but strays almost into self-parody as Nolan tries to outsmart the audience with double-crosses and various acts of deception. The whole film unfolding like that of a magic trick is a nice touch but the story then becomes way too calculated. As clever and cunning as Nolan's film is, it seems to outsmart itself in the final act revealing a twist that is downright silly and completely undermines the rivalry between the two magicans. Other than Scarlett Johannsen, the cast is perfect (even David Bowie makes a memorable appearance) and the production values are top notch. I only wished by the end when all the cards and layed on the table, that I actually cared about what had transpired.

03/09: Brick (Johnson, 2006) - [****]
04/09: Saved! (Dannelly, 2004) - [***]

Saved! is one of the smarter high-school satirical offerings of recent memory and succeeds laregely on the fact that it manages to walk a tight rope in dealing with Christianity without being offensive. In lesser hands, it could have easily exploited the Christian faith to generate laughs but the filmmakers decide to take a more informal approach with sprinkles of light humor and well-drawn characters. It wasn't pro-Christian either as it clearly questions God's existence. If anything, the film is more about 'faith' and what it means to be a good person. Or at least, that's what I took from the film.It can also be appreciated as a great high-school comedy with the whole social cliques and observant teenage behaviour. Mandy Moore really surprised me with her sinister performance as the 'Queen Bee', similar to the Rachael McAdam's character in Mean Girls. Overall, the film was a charmingly witty take on Christian virtues via a high school setting that took a major risk that paid off in spades.

04/09: Little Children (Field, 2006) - [**]
05/09: Dead Man's Shoes (Meadows, 2004) - [***1/2]
05/09: The Hudsucker Proxy (Coen, 1994) - [**** (M)]
08/09: Black Snake Moan (Brewer, 2007) - [**]
11/09: Spider (Cronenberg, 2002) - [*** 1/2]
11/09: I Heart Huckabees (Russell, 2004) - [*]
12/09: In American (Sheridan, 2002) - [****]
12/09: The Station Agent (McCarthy, 2003) - [***1/2]
12/09: The Passion of the Christ (Gibson, 2004) - [*]
13/09: Knocked Up (Aptow, 2007) - [***1/2]
13/09: Bloody Sunday (Greengrass, 2002) - [***1/2]
13/09: Little Manhattan (Levin, 2005) - [***]
14/09: The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach, 2005) - [***1/2]
15/09: Far From Heaven (Haynes, 2002) - [****]
15/09: The Black Book (Verhoeven, 2006) - [***1/2]
16/09: The Piano Teacher (Haneke, 2001) - [**]
17/09: Red Road (Arnold, 2006) - [*1/2]
18/09: Dancer in the Dark (Trier, 2001) - [****]
18/09: Junebug (Morrison, 2005) - [***1/2]
18/09: The New World (Malick, 2005) - [****]
18/09: Marie Antoinette (Coppola, 2006) - [***1/2]
18/09: Maria Full of Grace (Marston, 2004) - [***1/2]
19/09: Morvern Callar (Ramsay, 2002) - [1/2]
19/09: Away From Her (Polly, 2007) - [***1/2]
19/09: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Yates, 2007) - [***1/2]
23/09: Kings and Queen (Desplechin, 2004) - [**]
25/09: Vera Drake (Leigh, 2004) - [***1/2]
25/09: Oasis (Lee, 2002) - [**1/2]
26/09: Once (Carney, 2006) - [***1/2]
27/09: The House of Mirth (Davies, 2002) - [***]
27/09: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park, 2005) - [**]
29/09: Lilja 4-ever (Moodysson, 2002) - [****]
29/09: The Departed (Scorsese, 2006) - [****]

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Yes, I'm still alive.

My brief hiatus from blogging was caused primarily by work, the show Dexter, procrastination and a little vacation that I took to get away from my dank dungeon that I like to call my basement. I will be returning to my rigoruous movie-watching within the next few days (most likely Monday and Tuesday since those are my two days off) with some brand new spankin' reviews. I still need to reach 80 movies for my challenge so if you want to recommend more films, that would be greatly appreciated. Hope you all had a great summer! The fall movie season is about to begin...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bleu (Kieslowski, 1993)

Julie (Binoche) takes a moment to reflect on her past.

Recommended by Ali

Where has Juliette Binoche been hiding all my cinematic life? She’s a naturally beautiful woman who could pass as Audrey Tautou’s older sister and although her radiance is captivating, the sensitive performance she delivers in this film is even more striking. I am now very curious to seek out other films she has appeared in because this is one talented actress. She carries the entire film on her delicate shoulders with such residual melancholic perseverance. Binoche has this soft, unspoken fragility about her; an almost angelic quality with glowing porcelain skin and bright hazel eyes. Her portrayal of a woman with deep unsettling grief is nothing short of dazzling. The way she bottles up her tormented feelings is gripping to say the least; Binoche’s luminous eyes and pretty face expressively depicting an emotionally scarred individual unable to come to terms with tragedy.

Bleu is the first of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy followed by Blanc and Rouge which represent the three colors of the French national flag. The color blue itself is strongly used as a form of symbolism throughout the film whether it through lighting, lens flares and even as an editing tool to transition scenes which reminded me of Bergman’s use of the color red in Cries and Whispers. Viewed as an allegory, the narrative of Bleu represents liberty; a word possessing several definitions depending on the context. What exactly is Kieslowski trying to say about the liberties of human individualism? Is he talking about liberty in a political sense or is it strictly personal? You decide.

Classical music plays an integral role on both the narrative and aesthetic level. Julie (Binoche) is the wife of a famous composer and is also a professional musician. After losing her young daughter and husband in a tragic car accident, she feels that the only rational thing to do now in order to deal with the grief is to run away to start a new life. The pain is just too great and Julie wants to isolate herself as far away from society as possible. Leaving the past behind is not a healthy way of coping with calamity especially when those withdrawn feelings have a nasty habit of finding their way back to the surface. The story is rather trite and simple in structure but the themes are richly conceptualized. Kieslowski is more interested in focusing on Julie’s internal struggles and the creation of mood.

One of the ways he lucratively explores these two various aspects is with the use of music in an unorthodox fashion. In the traditional sense, the score of a film is usually edited seamlessly to compliment the images but in this film, Kieslowski deliberately draws attention to the way in which music affects audience perception. He does use it for continuity purposes to create mood but often edits it isolated away from the story-action as a way of communicating Julie’s state of consciousness or to audibly convey her feelings at a specific time. As a predominantly quiet film with characters speaking in hushed voices, the random insertion of a forceful classical piece of music can be slightly jarring. There are also several scenes of Binoche trying to work something out in her head when all of a sudden there is a quick fade to black -- possibly suggesting a state of un-consciousness as the beautiful melodies strike up to powerful crescendos.

Calmly observant, Kieslowski’s style of filmmaking is relatively tame but ironically enough, completely mesmerizing. His camera techniques and use of color are alluring in an absorbing kind of way making it difficult to turn away from the screen. His camera remains mostly static as if patiently waiting to capture the perfect moment. His affection for Binoche is apparent in the way he uses many close-up shots of her beautiful face (hell, if I was making a movie with her, I’d use nothing but close-up shots). There are also several extreme close-up shots of her eyes where you can actually see the dilated pupils. It’s almost as if Kieslowski is trying to pierce directly into his protagonist’s soul to release her from the aching burden that haunts her.

Ending the film with a biblical proverb set to operatic vocals seems very fitting and brings the film’s themes full circle. Perhaps it all comes together a little too neatly but that’s hardly an imperfection. The final image is bittersweet and will no doubt leave a lasting impression. It is just simply beautiful. This is a near flawless film that is subversive in its artistic approach of narrative as well as showcasing one of the best female performances of the 90’s. Bravo.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lemonz Presents: The Top 80 films I Haven't Seen Yet!

Ccompiling arbitrary lists especially revoling around films is an amusing obsession of mine and it's about time I started posted some of these. Before we get started, let me acknowledge that I am borrowing this idea from Shannon the Movie Moxie and it would only be fitting if I didn't pimp her cool film blog. Check it out.

This list will be a helpful way of prioritizing films that I have embarassingly neglected to see for one reason or another. I will also be taking a total of 30 recommendations from you kind readers so if there are films that you deem to be "essential viewing" that has not appeared on my list, feel free to use the comment box to let me know your suggested proposals. My goal is to watch all these films within one year's time and to provide a review (no matter how short, for each one). The worse case scenario being I will just have to fill in the remaining gaps if there aren't enough recommendations from you folk, so I urge you to please send your favorite film titles my way. I will list 30 films to start (in no particular order) and hopefully with your involvement, I can reach my goal of 60. Depending on the number of responses I may expand the list so it all depends on you generous people.

Edit: I apologize for not providing a general idea of films I am in dire need of viewing. Here's a few directors that I need to see more work from: Kurosawa (seen only 1 of his), Bergman, Bresson (Seen nothing), Rohmer (Seen nothing), Sirk (Seen nothing), Ozu (Seen nothing), Altman, Antonioni (Seen nothing), Fellini, Hal Hartley (Seen Nothing), Almodovar, Errol Morris (Seen nothing), Melville (Seen nothing), Kieslowski (Seen nothing), Cronenberg, Fueller (Seen nothing), I'm a big fan of romances (go ahead, laugh) and take a particular liking to costume dramas/period pieces. The horror, kung-fu and musical genre are fair game because I have seen very little of these type of films. Thanks again!

1. Paris, Texas
2. Rebel Without a Cause
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
4. Last Temptation of Christ
5. Spirit of the Beehive
6. Seven Samurai
7. Ikiru
8. Persona
9. All About Eve
10. The Sweet Smell of Success
11. Lawrence of Arabia
12. Gone With the Wind
13. M
14. Sherlock, Jr.
15. A Streetcar Named Desire
16. It Happened One Night
17. Bridge on the River Kwai
18. Midnight Cowboy
19. Rashomon
20. Metropolis
21. Rosemary’s Baby
22. In A Lonely Place
23. Blue Velvet
24. The Insider
25. The Battle of Algiers
26. The Third Man
27. Halloween
28. Five Easy Pieces
29. McCabe and Mrs. Miller
30. Pleasantville
31. Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Recommended by Justine)
32. To Be or Not to Be (Recommended by Justine)
33. Portrait of Jennie (Recommended by Justine)

34. Wit (Recommended by Krissie)
35. The Blue Angel (Recommended by Mango)
36. The Man with the Movie Camera (Recommended by Mango)
37. Chimes at Midnight (Recommended by Mango)
38. The Seventh Seal (Recommended by Shannon)
39. La Strada (Recommended by Shannon)
40. Three Women (Recommended by Ali)

41. Apu Trilogy (Recommended by Ali)
42. Diary of a Country Priest (Recommended by Ali)
43. Blue (Recommended by Ali)
44. White (Recommended by Ali)
45. Red (Recommended by Ali)
46. Autumn Sonata (Recommended by Ali)
47. Wages of Fear (Recommended by Ramses)
48. Gosford Park (Recommended by Krissie)
49. Wild Strawberries (Recommended by RC)
50. In America (Recommended by RC)
51. Talk to Her (Recommended by The Metalhead)
52. F For Fake (Recommended by The Metalhead)
53. Wings of Desire (Recommended by The Metalhead)
54. Oasis (Recommended by JediMoonShyne)
55. Memories of Murder (Recommended by JediMoonShyne)
56. The Host (Recommended by JediMoonShyne)
57. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring (Recommended by JediMoonShyne)
58. Brazil (Recommended by DJ Rkod)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Capsule Reviews: Waiting for Guffman (Guest, 1997), MirrorMask (McKean, 2005), A Bittersweet Life (Kim, 2005)

"Well, then, I just HATE you... and I hate your... ass... FACE!"

The "mockumentary" is not a genre that I am particulary aversed to. Christopher Guest has created a reputatation for himself over the years by embracing this style of filmmaking and Waiting for Guffman was my first exposure to his work. Full of colorful characters, spot-on-humor and even its short run time (84 minutes), offers up more laughs than most mainstream comedies released today could ever dream of. It takes a certain level of creative finesse to make a successful mockumentary because one mistep could potentially lead to the downfall of the film. To be more specific, by crafting a fictionalized story within the confines of a documentary format requires that the film be grounded in a believable reality so the audience can take it seriously without straying into farce. Christopher Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy have done just that without being condescending to their characters who could have have become a parody of themselves. Even though this is a comedy, Waiting for Guffman remins genuinely heart-felt despite all the hilarious shenanigans with real characters who very well could exist in this small American town. With a witty and hilarious script crackling with spontaneous moments of comedic bliss, this is a fresh, funny little film for those looking for something different than your typical run-of-the-mill comedy.
[*** 1/2]

MirrorMask (McKean, 2005)
Imagine if Tim Burton directed Alice in Wonderland on acid and you get the idea of what your in store for. With a modern twist on the popular fairy-tale, McKean and writer Neil Gaimen craft a gothic fantasy of a young girl named Helena who finds herself stuck in an alternative universe where everyone including abnormal creatures that seem straight out of a Nightmare Before Christmas wear ominous masks. Much like Alice, she wants to find her way home and bumps into a wild bunch of eccentric characters along the way such as the fast-talking Jester named Valentine who becomes a close ally and helps her to carry out an important task that threatens the very balance of this new world. The further she travels, the weirder the inhabitants and places become. Unfortunately, the story is hollow and confusing with too much time devoted to the haunting, creative visuals which is what essentially keeps the film interesting.

A Bittersweet Life (Kim, 2005)
I want my two hours back. A silly revenge tale of style over substance with good intentions that starts off strong and then dwindles into stupidity soon after. Fans of Oldboy should get a kick out of this violent chaotic film that tries too hard to be cool with something important to say about the gangster lifestyle only to be nothing more than an empty bloody affair. The action is entertaining enough with a great score that is used effectively. Too bad the story is laughably idiotic with an ending that doesn't feel warranted.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999)

Few director's have been able to match the successful creative output of Stanley Kubrick and as his final film before passing away, it is safe to say that Eyes Wide Shut was a perfect swan-song from one of Cinema's greatest filmmakers. On a technical level, the film is just brilliant but the story itself which unfolds as a nightmare of sexual awakening is emotionally gripping as a slow-burning portrayal of one man's struggle to come to terms with his wife's devastating confession. The narrative is a sexual odysey of sorts incorporating elements of an erotic thriller full of fantasy, illusions, conspiracies and dreams with a sucker-punch of an ending that
leaves plenty to think about.

Kubrick's masterful directing abilities are on full display and the way he frames each and every scene is truely remarkable. He has such a keen eye for maximizing space with particular emphasis on specific lighting techniques in order to set the appropriate tone of his scenes. I also love Kubrick's long tracking shots and appreciate the way he takes such painful effort to make sure that the each scene is meticulously crafted to serve its given purpose. Much of the film takes on certain dreamlike qualities through Kubrick's absorbing visuals that mesmerize and stimulate the senses.

Both Cruise and Kidman deliver outstanding performances and even the supporting players like Sydney Pollack bring their A-game. I actually think Tom Cruise delivers the strongest perfromance of his career. For all those naysayers who think he's nothing but a talentless actor and merely a pretty boy obviously haven't seen this film. He shows plenty of restraint in his solemn demanor to effectively convey a sexually frustrated individual who finds himself in a compromising predicament (which I dare not reaveal here) brought on by his own misunderstanding to satisfy the sexual and emotional desires of his wife. Cruise understands his character thoroughly and it clearly shows even when there isn't any dialogue being spoken. The intensity of his facial expressions and the way he handles key melodramatic moments in the film are handled compellingly.

Flawless in execution with enticing visuals, packing powerful performances and a bizarre seductive plot-line; this is the type of sensual and affecting story that seems like an anomaly from all the dreck that comes out of Hollywood these days. Moreso, it proves how talented Sanley Kubrick really was as a director, inspiring a new generation of filmmakers. He was a true auteur whose prescence is severely missed.

[**** (M)]

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ocean's Eleven (Soderbergh, 2001)

Finally got around to watching this film all the way through and even though the ending had already been semi-spoiled for me (caught glimpses of it on tv several times), I still had a blast. Not a dull moment and Soderbergh directs his crime-caper in such a way that it exudes cool in every frame. It doesn't try to be anything more than an entertaining heist film which it manages to deliver in a rewarding fashion.

With such a large cast of actors, it was surprising how everyone involved managed to make the best of their precious screen-time. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has just been released from prison for robbery and quickly feels the need to put together another heist into action as a way to chase away his guilt for getting caught last time. He meets up with his old crime buddy Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and pitches him the idea. How can Ryan back down when the jackpot is $150 million if the robbery is successful? Knowing full well that they are going to need more people than the two of them, they persuade 9 other con-men/tech wizards to try and pull off one of the most daring heist jobs ever: To rob not one, but three Las Vegas Casino's owned by the cold-hearted Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) in one night. If that wasn't enough, these particular casino's have some of the most tightest security measures set in place making it that much more difficult to breach for the crew. The task at hand seems next to impossible with cameras everywhere, DNA passcodes from employees needed to enter certain restricted areas, advanced motion detectors, secuirty guards with heavy weaponry and not to mention: the access codes to the vaults change every two hours. Yikes! Talk about an impossible task. To complicate matters further, Danny Ocean's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) happens to be a curator for Benedict's casinos and this conflict of interest threatens to jepordize the sting operation. The whole relationship angle isn't clunky and actually services the story.

Though it is fairly obvious that the film can only end one way, the outcome is cleverly executed that may even surprise some of the more skeptical of viewers. Ocean's Eleven is a harmless Hollywood affair that is quite amusing if one is willing to go along with it. Big names, high stakes, great entertainment. What more could you ask for?


Hard Candy (Slade, 2005)

Pulsating with a hypnotic visual style, David Slade's directorial debut is a fascinating psychological thriller that is difficult to shake off and demands discussion afterwards. Revolving pre-dominately around two main characters, a film like Hard Candy lives or dies based on its two lead performances because it is so self-contained. Luckily, Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are outstanding here. They both accomplish to portray deeply flawed individuals on such a humanistic level which is important for a film of this nature which attempts to achieve a sense of realism.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, I'd just like to point out the general set-up that Slade and writer Brian Nelson have prudently crafted. Haley Stark (Page) is a bright and articulate 14 year old girl and Jeff Kohlver (Wilson) is a photographer in his early thirties who meet in an internet chat room. They decide to meet face-to-face at a local coffee house and from the first couple of scenes there is something disturbing about this situation. Right away they seem to form a connection whilst engaging in conversation about normal stuff like food, literature, music, movies. Brian Nelson has a real knack for dialogue and it flows naturally with a great sense of palpability. After having a good-time drinking coffee lattes and eating desert, they both decide to take a ride to Jeff's house. Ok, now it seems pretty obvious where the film is heading. A cute young girl gets into a car with a total stranger who takes her to his house because she is interested in viewing his photography. This can only lead to more serious consequences for Haley who is now in the domain of a potential sexual predator, right? Wrong. The film refuses to deal with the delicative subject matter of pedophilia in a predictable way and there is a clever twist that allows the filmmakers to flex their creative muscles.

A visceral film dripping with atmosphere, Slant employs a lot of detail towards lighting to emphasize the sense of space, mood and character expressions. There are plenty of close-up shots and he makes sure that the lighting is just right to capture the facial expessions of his characters to the fullest extent. Every twitch of emotion on the face is capatured beautifully. There's a scene where Jeff stoically breaks down with a small tear trickling down his cheek and Slades manages to frame the shot expertly using the lighting to vividly portray this raw emotional force. Many of the shots inside the house (the pre-dominant setting) take on a slightly darker tone with little shades of sprinkled sunlight seaping in through the closed blinds. It's an effective stylistic choice because once again, it adds an even more sense of verisimilitude.

Utterly absorbing in its creation of tension, Slant places the viewer at the voyeruistic forefront of this intense scenario. Uncompromisingly sadistic, some scenes are not for that faint hearted. Disturbing and a little over the top but the violence works within the context of the story.

Despite its complexities, the film is rather sublte in approach. Not a lot of questions are answered and there is plenty of room for interpretation. Slade does an excellent job of not taking taking sides or presenting everything in black-and-white which I thought was admirable. He leaves it up to the viewer to form their own conclusions about what is being presented. Essentially, Hard Candy is an intense character study about identity, moral ambiguity and revenge although, one could argue that it isn't necessarily about any of those things at all.

Not enough can be said about Ellen Page's brilliant performance. Sure, Patrick Wilson is fantastic here but she completely steals the show. Page makes this challenging role seem like a piece of cake. I haven't seen her in anything else but if this film is any indication of her acting abilities, she definitely has a bright future ahead of her. At the beginning of the film she is calm, collected and plays it very sweet with a hint of charm. At the pivtoal turning point in the film there is a full reversal and we get to see a whole different side of the character where Page really stretches her acting abilities. Much like Haley, Ellen Page does seem quite mature for her age Even if the subject matter turns you away, this film is worth a viewing for Ellen Page's performance alone which stands as one of the strongest of 2005.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction (Foster, 2006)

It's so refreshing to see a romantic comedy with a unique vision that offers much more than your typcial cliche genre conventions. Featuring one of the most clever premises in recent memory, Marc Foster has crafted a warm love story wrapped in a plethora of creative ideas. Not only does this film showcase Will Ferrell's best performance in a role that is unlike anything he has ever tackled before but also proves to the movie-going public that he can handle more dramatic material convincingly. I was skeptical at first as to whether Will Ferrell would be able to restrain himself as an actor but it didn't take long to realize that he can actually give Carrey or Sandler a run for their money in a serious role. He's able to portray such a sympathetic character and it's astonishing how a great script can transform an actor.

The film has a very unique narrative in that it is a story within a story, within a story (if that makes any sense) and similar to Kaufman's Adaptation, it's explores the difficulties of the writing process. However, it differs by focusing much more of its attention on the fictional characters created by the author. Or more specifically, the protagonist of the fictional work. Harold Crick (Ferrell) is an IRS agent who lives a very lonely and routine life who is unaware that his every move is being dictated by a higher power. No, not God (although one can make that distinction); but a female author (played by Emma Thompson). Being the fictional character in a story that she is writing about, he starts to hear her narrating his life in his head and panics like anyone in this particular situation would. In the mean time, he becomes smitten with a beautiful tatooed baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) with an attitude problem since he is in investigating her tax reports. She initially gives him the cold shoulder for being an auditor but even she can't resist his good nature and begins to fall for him. Gyllenhaal has a certain sweetness about her that is infectious and she is just so darn likeable here.

There's a real sense of pathos here stemming from these wonderfully drawn characters. Without giving much more of the plot away, the film unfolds in an unpredictable fashion as Crick discovers to finally live for the first time in his life once the barriers within his constrained universe begins to crumble. Even though the last act didn't particularly work for me because of its contradictory nature (which I am coming around to appreciating the more I dwell on it), the film was still a fascinating character study and the contrast between fiction and real-life is handled magnificently. I took a particular liking to the use of religious parables but that is only one interpretation that the film offers. There's much going on beneath the surface and audiences can take so many different things away from it. Simply put, an astounding film that I can see returning to in the near future.


A Change in My Rating Scale

Shocking, I know. For the longest while I have been using the the 1-10 grading scale which has worked like a charm but I will now be using the four-star systematic rating scale. Why the the sudden switch you ask? Three simple reasons: 1) More accurate. 2) Makes it easier to organize film ratings in a massive database that I am slowly working on. 3) Worth a try.

If you take a quick glance to right side of the blog there is an explaination of my new rating scale that I will be using from now on. Sorry for the inconveinance.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

They Live (Carpenter, 1988)

10 Reasons Why You Need to Watch They Live:

10. It's fuckin' hilarious.

9. Clever social/politcal satire.

8. Horrid acting.

7. Roddy Piper gets thrown out of a glass window apartment complex high above ground level only to walk away with a limp.

6. Roddy Piper walks into a bank with a shotgun and goes ape shit.

5. Pure 80's cheese.

4. It stars the awesome Rowdy Roddy Piper.

3. Special sunglasses reveal the true society people are living in which happens to be controlled by hideous creatures from another planet using capitalist propoganda to brainwash everyone. How cool is that premise?

2. Roddy Piper and Kieth David beat the shit out of each other in an alley in one of the greatest fight scenes ever.

1. "I have come here to chew bubblegum or kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum." Best. Line. Ever.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Happy Accidents (Anderson, 2000)

What's with the commen trend of filmmakers having the last name Anderson? It just so happens that two of my favorite modern directors go by the same last name. With the discovery of this underseen gem by Brad Anderson, it is possible that he could potentially join them (I like to pretend that Paul W.S. Anderson never existed) to form a unified trio of talented young American directors with a creative voice all sharing that particular surname.

I love stumbling across underseen gems like Happy Accidents that received little attention when it was released and seems to have been swept under the rug to the point of obscurity. That's a shame because here we have one of the best written, acted and affecting romances of 2000. Part comedy, drama and even a little Science Fiction, Anderson brings a level of freshness to a genre bogged down by cliches and has crafted something truely original. The film follows the highs and lows of a strange relationship between an emotionally fragile ESL teacher named Ruby (the gorgeous Marisa Tomei) and an eccentric man named Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio) who claims to be a time traveler. With such an absurd premise, one would expect the film to crumble under the weight of it's on idiosyncracies. This is not the case. Anderson presents us with a refreshing romance full of whimsy and true human emotions between two individuals both searching for that special kind of connection that will bring some sort of satisfactory meaning to their otherwise messy lives. As banal as that may sound, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Anderson skillfully uses this cliched basic set-up to launch into a more detailed analysis of a disintegrating relationship and at the same time cleverly explore the fascinating concept of time travel. I'd classify this film in a similar categroy as Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind which contains sci-fi elements but is more of a poignant love story. There are no special effects used here and the film is completely character driven relying more on dialogue and personal interactions to express it's themes and meditation on relationships. The script is wonderfully written filled with natural dialogue, witty banter, along with plenty of technical jargon and philosophical debates concerning various aspects of traveling through time.

Tomei and D'Onofrio have great chemistry and it's a pure delight to watch them bring such genuine emotion and intellectualism to their roles. While I found D'Onofrio to be charming in his quirky sort of way, it is Marisa Tomei who truely shines as the vulnerable Ruby. Her insecurity, naivity and one too many heart-breaks have left her in complete distress. She would like nothing more for this relationship with Sam to work out in the end. Unfortunately, he complicates matters and still she can't help but love him despite the constant embarassments in order to avoid the harsh reality of being alone. Ruby spends most of her time trying to figure out of Sam is telling the truth or is just making up his elaborately detailed story just so he can sleep with her. She finds herself breaking down into tears through frustration and even goes beserk at times when she can no longer handle Sam's irrational behaviour. Tomei is totally convincing in these dramatic scenes and she's beautiful and charming enough to cheer on despite her flaws.

The main strength of this film comes from the strong emotionally complex performances from the two leads and Anderson's clever script that deals with far more than just two people falling in love. By putting a spin on the idea of coincidence and fate through a sophisticted plot of time travel, Anderson somehow manages to tie up all the loose threads in a pitch-perfect ending which is a testament it his creative writing abilities. A true rarity that begs to be seen.


Road to Perdition (Mendes, 2002)

With his stunning debut American Beauty, Sam Mendes burst onto the Hollywood scene much to the surprise of many and proved that he was a fresh new talent with a bright future ahead of him. With his second film Road to Perdition he proves that his over-night sensation was no fluke. Here we have a director who embraces the craft of story-telling with a striking visual palette. Even though his depression-era gangster film treads familiar ground, his creative sensabilities as a story-teller come across with striking veracity. As a quiet film that takes it's time to establish the characters, the narrative hurls along at a steady pace and remains fascinating throughout.

Much of Sam Mendes' sophmore effort owes much of its success to the fabulous score by Thomas Newman which swells and chimes with such passionate grace and of course, the awe-inspiring cinematography by the late Conrad L. Hall.

Brilliantly composed without becoming too overbearing, this is one of those memorable scores that perfectly compliments the story-action by adding another layer of poeticism. Mendes does a commendable job of not falling prviy to over-dramatization by using the score in a bombastic fashion. Instead, he finds the right balance of subtlety and uses Newman's beautiful music to set the tone of the scenes.

Road to Perdition is also cinematographer's wet dream. This was the last film Conrad Hall worked on before passing away and it safe to say he went out in a blaze of glory. The use of dark lighting is mighty impressive along with the entire look of the film which is highlighted mostly in shadows. Many scenes take place in heavy rain-fall where Mendes and Hall are able to frame some of he most visually stunning sequences in recent memory. The final show down near the end of the film that takes place in a serious down-pour is destined to become one of those iconic scenes that filmgoers will admire for years to come. The way Mendes meticulously structures the unfolding of the climactic gun-battle along with Hall's keen eye for establishing atmosphere is so beautiful executed that mere description cannot do it justice.

As visually stunning as Road to Perdition is, the wonderfully told story of revenge and the love between father and son don't get lost amidst all of the vivid imagery. The film does contain plenty of stylized violence but it doesn't take center stage. The heart of the story is between the relationship between a professional hit-man named Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his son Michael Jr (Tyler Hoechlin). The supoorting cast are also superb including the always magnificent Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennfier Jason Leigh and Dylan Baker. Most surprising to me was the talent of the young actor Tyler Hoechlin who is able to convey a wide range of emotions and actually brings a level of depth to his character without falling into the stereotypical role of the obnoxious older son vying for the father's love.

Standing out from the pack of countless gangster films because of the emphasis on an actual story and not just the body count, Road to Perdition is able to achieve a level of greatness that few within the genre are able to reach. It accepts the violent nature of the ganster picture without sacrificing narrative and thus, remains thoroughly entertaining along with being quite moving. This is just remarkable filmmaking of the highest order.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

August Screening Log

05/08: Harold and Maude (Ashby, 1971) - 8.0 [2nd]
06/08: Road to Perdition (Mendes, 2002) - 9.5
06/08: Happy Accidents (Anderson, 2000) - 9.0
06/08: They Live (Carpenter, 1988) - :P
07/08: The Dreamers (Bertolucci, 2003) - 6.0
07/08: Stroszek (Herzog, 1977) - 9.0
08/08: The Iron Giant (Bird, 1999) - 10.0
11/08: Almost Famous (Crowe, 2000) - [***1/2]
11/08: Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999) - [**** (M)]
13/08: Waiting for Guffman (Guest, 1997) - [***1/2]
13/08: A Bittersweet Life (Kim, 2005) - [**]
14/08: American Splendor (Berman/Pulcini, 2003) - [****]
20/08: Bleu (Kieslowski, 1993) - [*** 1/2]
21/08: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971) - [***]

Sorry for the lack of updates but...

I've been slaving away at my dead-end job and now that my boss is going away on vacation the hours have been piling up. Huzzah! The closest I actually came to watching a film was last night with City of Lost Children. Unfortunately, exhaustion quickly set in from working all morning and I could barely keep my eyes open. From the small amount that I actually got to watch before stumbling upstairs to bed was fantastic. Can't wait to get around to finishing it. I did manage to do a little more blind-DVD shopping and welcome the following to my collection:

1. Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
2. Black Snake Moan
3. Dead Ringers
4. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

I'm broke.