When I first heard about The Fighter, I thought “here we go again, yet another boxing movie.” But then I realized that, though I could certainly list a TON of boxing movies, I haven’t actually seen that many of them. I’m not at all interested in the “sport” of boxing, and though I definitely enjoy some dark, downbeat films, I’m not a big fan of a lot of violence or gore in movies. All of which means that it’s rare for me to want to go see a boxing film.
But something about The Fighter sparked some interest in me. Perhaps it was the cast, or perhaps it was the story of Mark Wahlberg’s years-long effort to bring the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward to life. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I decided to see the film, because it is absolutely terrific.
Mark Wahlberg has turned in some strong performances over the past few years (even when he’s in films that I don’t really like, such as The Other Guys). He was, for instance, absolutely brilliant in The Departed (click here for my review). Born in Dorchester, MA, it’s clear that Mr. Wahlberg felt a strong connection to the scrappy fighter from Lowell, MA, and that shows through every moment of the performance. Mr. Wahlberg is completely believable as a welterweight boxer, but he also brings an endearing gentleness to the portrayal. His Micky is soft-spoken and desperately eager to please. It’s fascinating to me that the film’s narrative arc rests on Micky learning to actually be a little bit selfish and make a decision that will do right for HIM, rather than for his mother, sisters, or brother.
Speaking of his brother (really his half-brother), as good as Mark Wahlberg is as Micky Ward, this movie absolutely 100% belongs to Christian Bale and his performance as Dicky Eklund. Dicky was once a great boxer and “the pride of Lowell,” but now he’s a crack-addicted shambles of a man who’s convinced himself that training his brother to fight will be his road to a comeback. Mr. Bale’s performance is mesmerizing. Dicky is a whirlwind of tics and energy that threatens to fly apart any room or situation that he’s in. We can see the echoes of his charisma that once made him a local hero, and that perhaps also explains why his loved ones tolerate his behavior. And his smile. Oh, his smile is devastating. It conveys such warmth from the heart of this man-child, but it’s also devastatingly sad and pathetic as we quickly see what a self-destructive force Dicky has become.
(The extraordinary high esteem in which I held Christian Bale’s performance as … [continued]
I really can’t believe how much I enjoyed director Tom Hooper’s new film The King’s Speech!
I was a bit dubious going in. I’d heard that the film was good, but it looked like a classic “Oscar-bait” type of movie to me. You know: period setting, famous actors, a character struggling to overcome a disability as well as his own personal demons, etc. Didn’t strike me as the type of film I’d be at all interested in.
But I’m glad I decided to go see it, because I think the film is marvelous.
The King’s Speech opens in 1925, when Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth), gives the closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The speech goes poorly, because Prince Albert is afflicted with a terrible stammer. Though the Prince has grown weary of dealing with doctors who have been unable to help him, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) arranges a meeting with a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). At first the Prince is put-off by Lionel’s casual manner and techniques, but gradually the two men form a strong working relationship and, possibly, a friendship. Things grow more complicated when Albert’s father, King George V, dies, and Albert’s elder brother, Prince Edward, decides to abdicate the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman. This leaves Albert in line for the throne, and about to face a terrible threat to his nation: the rise of Hitler.
The King’s Speech rests squarely upon the shoulders of Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush. Their complex relationship is the central dynamic of the piece, and it is because of the enormous skill of those two actors that I found the story as compelling as I did. (Though the smart script by David Seidler helps enormously, too!) Both Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush craft layered, nuanced performances, and I found their interactions with one another to be electric. There are some enormous world events that form the backdrop to this story, but despite that I found the most dramatic scenes of the film to be the ones when it was just those two men, sitting in a room, talking.
There’s a strong dramatic arc to Prince Albert’s story, but I was pleased that the filmmakers didn’t ladle on the drama too heavily (a cardinal sin of the “Oscar-bait” types of movies I mentioned above). Indeed, the story is told with a fairly light touch — there’s a lot of humor in the tale.
I’m all for films where the characters are unlikable, broken people — that can lead to some really complex, engaging story-lines — but I think The King’s Speech is well-served by just … [continued]
In Lisa Cholodenko’s film The Kids Are All Right, we meet Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a loving lesbian couple who have been raising two kids together: Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Their lives aren’t perfect, but over-all it’s a stable, happy family unit. But when Laser convinces Joni to help him find their biological father (though Nic gave birth to Joni and Jules gave birth to Laser, they share the same sperm donor), the foundations of the family are shaken.
I was really quite taken with this film. I think it’s an interesting story filled with complex, human characters, and all of the lead actors give terrific performances. I was ultimately dissatisfied with where the narrative wound up (more on that later), which lessens the film’s total impact slightly for me, but it’s still a very solid, enjoyable, aimed-at-adults movie.
I’ve been complaining a lot recently about films with one-dimensional characters. I don’t mind films having heroes and villains, and likable and unlikable characters. I simply tend to prefer films where the characters aren’t completely black and white. (Ex. This father is a TOTAL JERK with no redeeming qualities.) So major props to writer/director Ms. Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg for crafting a story filled with truly human characters. No one in The Kids Are All Right is a total saint. The characters have positive qualities and some negative ones as well. Likable characters make some bad decisions. It’s thrillingly refreshing.
This top-notch material is elevated by a wonderful cast. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both phenomenal as Nic and Jules. These characters felt completely REAL to me, and their relationship felt equally honest. It’s sweet and messy and complicated and feels really true. I like that we get to see the two sharing some tender moments, as well as the times when they seem completely distant from one another.
Equally wonderful are the two kids. Mia Wasikowska was one of the few good things in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (read my review here), and it’s delightful to see her looking and acting like a real human being without all of that accompanying Tim Burton weirdness. Ms. Wasikowska is able to bring to life Joni’s innocence, as well as to her growing temptation to leave her childhood behind and step into the trappings of an adult. Josh Hutcherson is also strong as her brother Laser (pronounced Lazer). He’s already begun to push at the boundaries of conformity and acceptable behavior, but Mr. Hutcherson keeps reminding us of Laser’s good-natured side as well (a product, one can assume, of the strong upbringing he’s received from his two moms).
Then there is Paul … [continued]
Back in June I posted a trailer for Rob Reiner’s new film, Flipped, and I wondered if, at last, Rob Reiner (the mastermind behind This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and A Few Good Men) had broken his long dry streak and finally directed a good new film. Unfortunately Flipped was only in theatres for about five seconds, so I never got to see it — but I was happy to have a chance to catch it on DVD.
And I am happy to report that the film represents a strong return to form for Mr. Reiner!
Adapted from the book by Wendelin Van Draanen, Flipped tells the story of Bryce Loski and Juli Baker. When Bryce is seven, his family moves into the house across the street from Juli’s. She immediately develops a crush on him, while he finds her attentions to be annoying in the extreme. By the eight grade, though, Bryce finally begins to see what’s so special about Juli… at the same time as she starts to think that maybe Bryce isn’t the amazing kid she always thought he was.
While I wouldn’t argue that Flipped is of a level with the amazing films listed above that Mr. Reiner directed earlier in his career, it’s a really fun, sweet film that I quite enjoyed. Mr. Reiner has always had the ability to craft what one might call “family” films that avoid the simplicity and schmaltz so prevalent in “all-ages” types of films, and that skill is on fine display here. Flipped isn’t edgy, it isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s an extremely well-crafted little story that I found to be really endearing.
The film employs a device (which, I gather, was a main hook of the original book) of continually switching back and forth between Bryce’s & Juli’s perspectives. We see event unfold narrated by Bryce, and then the film cuts back and we see the same events from Juli’s perspective. As the film began I wondered if that device wouldn’t get tedious, but in Mr. Reiner’s skilled hands nothing of the sort happens. He knows exactly how to cut the footage so that he shows us just enough, on the second run-through, of what we need to know without boring the audience by replaying every single second, and the narrative is so-cleverly crafted that our second viewing of the events always shows us something we hadn’t learned before. (With one notable exception. Towards the end of the film there’s a scene in which Bryce is talking to a friend about Juli in the library, and although we don’t see her at the time, I found it … [continued]
I’m not really sure quite how to put this so I’ll just go ahead and say it:
Black Swan freaked me the fuck out.
And I pretty much loved every second of it.
The one-two punch of The Fountain and The Wrestler have made me a big, big fan of Darren Aronofsky, and with Black Swan he’s pretty much made me a fan for life. Black Swan is one of the most viscerally engaging experiences I’ve had in a movie theatre in quite a while. The film is intense and erotic and gruesome and it grabbed me by the guts and never let go. It only squeezed harder as the film built to the absolutely wonderfully madcap insane final twenty-or-so minutes.
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is cast as the lead in her theatre company’s new production of Swan Lake. The company’s director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), knows that Nina has the technical perfection to play the White Swan half of the role, but he worries that her dancing is too cold, too polished, for her to embody the more sensual Black Swan half. As Nina pushes herself harder and harder to satisfy Thomas, things start to fall apart for her in a big way.
Right from the beginning, Mr. Aronofsky and his team establish a creepy vibe for the film. Nina is clearly an extremely tightly wound creature, so one immediately knows that the pressure of the starring role might be trouble. This concern is only magnified when we’re given a glimpse of her home life. Nina still lives with her mother (played by Barbara Hershey), and it’s clear that the two have a very weird relationship in which Nina seems to be extraordinarily infantilized. For example, her little room is decked out with stuffed animals and other pink, frilly things as if she were as seven year-old girl. There’s a great scene in which Nina is reluctant to eat a cake that her mom has bought her to celebrate her being given the lead role in Swan Lake, and her mom’s extreme reaction to this minor rejection clearly indicates that this co-dependant relationship is fraught with problems.
As the tension and pressure on Nina builds, things get creepier and weirder. The film really plays with the notions of reality. We never quite know if what we’re seeing is real or just in Nina’s head. There are a few really quick, subtle visual effects shots that are dropped in at just the right moments to give the audience (and Nina!) a jolt. Mr. Aronofsky’s camerawork also serves to keep the audience on our toes. We’re continually pushed right up close to the characters’ faces. The cinematography really keeps the … [continued]
Some movies are so bad that they are soul-crushingly painful. It kills me when I sit down in a movie theatre with great hope and anticipation for a new film, only to watch my dreams slowly shatter as the turd-on-film unfolds. I’m not talking about films that disappoint, I’m talking about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull spirit-demolishing catastrophes. These films are just sad.
Then there are the films that are also terrible, but in a different way that makes them laughably ridiculous (as opposed to shoot-me-now painful). These are the films that are so over-the top bonkers, so wrong-headedly BAD, that you just can’t help but laugh at the madness you’re watching on display.
The Green Hornet definitely fits into the latter category.
I didn’t have high hopes for this film, but I have great respect for the talents involved (including Seth Rogen, who I’ve found hysterical ever since Freaks and Geeks, and director Michel Gondry, who helmed the amazingly beautiful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and so I had some interest in checking out what they had done with the pulp story of the Green Hornet.
Wowzers. This film is so unbelievably terrible right from the first scene that it’s jaw-dropping.
I’m not kidding. RIGHT FROM THE FIRST SCENE this movie is awful. That first scene shows us Seth Rogen’s character, Britt Reid, as a child, being berated by his father (played by Tom Wilkinson). I guess this scene is supposed to show us the complicated father-son relationship between these two, and also perhaps instill in us some sympathy for young Britt. But the scene does neither because it’s so over-the-top in every single respect as to be ludicrous. Tom Wilkinson — one of the finest actors working today — plays Britt’s father James, and he has never been worse in a film. He’s stiff and forced to spout silly, over-the-top dialogue that hits us over the head with the idea that he’s a jerk who is insensitive to his son. Meanwhile the music is going full-bore ominous, there’s a crazy sound effect when James pops the head off his son’s toy, and right there I was shifting in my seat thinking “uh oh.” Everything is dialed up to eleven. James isn’t just a jerk, he’s a JERK with capital letters who is completely, one-dimensionally horrible to his kid. The music is over-the-top. The sound-effects are over-the-top.
And the WHOLE MOVIE is just like that scene.
Oh, sure, there are some jokes that are funny. I mean, you can’t have Seth Rogen on screen for two hours and not laugh occasionally. But the ratio of jokes that hit to jokes that miss is … [continued]
I’m always intrigued by the idea of world-building in film. Whether we’re talking about fantasy worlds a long time ago and far, far away, or the depiction of distinct real-life settings or time-periods, when I watch a movie I love to be immersed in a fully-realized universe in which the story takes place. In some movies, the setting is barely mentioned and basically irrelevant to the story. In others, the setting becomes almost a key character in the story, and the filmmakers expend great time and skill in bringing that particular universe of the story to vibrant life.
Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik and written by Ms. Granik and Anne Rosellini (adapting the novel by Daniel Woodrell), definitely falls into the latter category. The story is set in the Ozarks, a rural area of Missouri. I have no idea if the world of the Ozarks as depicted in this film bears any connection to real life (I assume that it does, but I certainly can’t verify that myself), but whether it does or not, I have found it difficult to shake the picture of this downtrodden community that Ms. Granik has created in her film.
Winter’s Bone focuses on Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17 year-old girl who has assumed the role of caretaker for her family (a sick mother and two younger siblings) in the absence of her father, a meth cooker who has vanished — either dead or on the run for the law. Though she harbors a dream of joining the army and leaving her home behind, when we first meet Ree she seems to have settled impressively well into her role as head of the family. She exhibits great responsibility and maturity in taking care of everything that needs to be done, without complaint, and she gives enormous amounts of care to her mom and siblings. But her precariously-balanced existence is thrown into grave jeopardy when the local Sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) informs her that her missing father (Jessup) had put up their house and all their possessions as bond. If he doesn’t show up to his court date, Ree and her family will lose everything. With her back up against the wall, Ree begins trying to locate her father by making inquiry with her neighbors — most of whom seem to be related to her in some way, and most of whom seem to be involved in the same criminal activities that her father was. They are proudly defiant of the law and as such refuse to help Ree track down her father. With the clock ticking, the young girl feels her options waning.
I’ve read reviews of this film that describe it as depicting … [continued]
Hope everyone is digging the site’s new look! This has been cooking for a while, and I’m really excited to have finally unveiled it this week.
If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out our revamped Comics Archive interface. You’ll find an alphabetical listing of every movie I’ve parodied so far, and if you click on the first strip of any of the movies, you’ll see the swank new way we’ve set up to navigate through the cartoons. I think it’s pretty cool — hope that you do too! Big thanks to my college buddy Andrew Mirsky for all of his hard work at putting together the revamped site. If any of you out there reading this are looking for a top-drawer web-designer, contact Andrew via his web-site!
We’ve got lots more fun stuff coming to the site in the coming days. In addition to our continuing adventures through Tron: Legacy, I’ve got a ton more “Catching Up On 2010″ reviews to share with you, and in about a week and a half I’ll finally be posting my Best of 2010 lists. I’ve been working on these for a while, and I’m eager to see what you all think of my choices.
See you tomorrow with my thoughts on a great but little-seen 2010 flick: Winter’s Bone.… [continued]
If there was any doubt in your mind that Emma Stone is a bona fide movie star, that should be erased by Easy A. She’s clearly a vibrant, intelligent, beautiful young woman, and she’s very engagingly watchable. She has no trouble carrying this film on her young shoulders.
Unfortunately, other than watching Ms. Stone dig her teeth into her first starring role, I found precious little to enjoy in this movie.
The biggest problem is that, as talented as Ms. Stone clearly is, she’s just way too vibrant, intelligent, and beautiful a young woman to be believable as the totally unnoticed zero that she claims she is in the film’s opening monologue. Much of the plot of the film depends on our accepting Olive (Emma Stone’s character) as a lonely looser, but nothing in her scenes on-screen leads me to buy that reality! The problem is not contained just with Ms. Stone. As the film progresses, we get to meet the young man who’s the real object of her affection: the boy she nicknames “Woodchuck Todd” (Penn Badgley). I guess he’s also supposed to be something of an oddball, since he doesn’t seem to hang out with the “in” crowd kids, and he’s apparently the school’s mascot (a woodchuck, hence the nickname). Except that when we see him without his shirt (which is often), Mr. Badgley is clearly an extraordinarily handsome, well-built fellow who looks more like the football team’s star quarterback than the goofy team mascot. As with Ms. Stone, he’s entertaining, but I just don’t buy him in the role.
The rest of the actors supposedly playing high school kids all look equally too old and too good-looking to really be high school kids. Look, maybe I’m spoiled by my devotion to Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Greeks, a show where the high school kids ALL ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE HIGH SCHOOL KIDS!! Easy A certainly isn’t the first movie or TV show to cast older, more impossibly beautiful people in the role of high school kids. But it seems particularly egregious here. (It doesn’t help, by the way, that the film features Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation” on the soundtrack at a key moment. I can’t help but compare your movie to the brilliant Freaks and Geeks when you ACTUALLY USE FREAKS AND GEEKS’ THEME SONG IN YOUR FILM!! Sheesh!!)
But while I didn’t believe Emma Stone to be a lonely, unseen kid, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t really enjoy watching her in the role. She truly is a lot of fun, and when the movie works it works because of her charisma. She effortlessly takes on the lead role.
I also really enjoyed the scenes … [continued]
Despicable Me seemed like a movie that I’d really dig. It’s an animated film about dueling super-villains, which is a great hook, and it features a spectacular voice cast: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Jack McBrayer, Danny McBride, and more.
Boy, what a disappointment!
First of all, despite what the trailers indicated, the film isn’t about dueling super-villains at all. Jason Segel’s character Vector, who is presented in the trailer and in the opening scenes of the film as a rival for Steve Carell’s villain Gru, hardly factors into the story at all until the very end. Instead, the plot of the film really focuses on Gru’s adopting three cute little girls (as part of one of his dastardly plans), but instead of manipulating them he grows fond of the girls and discovers that he can be a great dad.
Boy oh boy, this film failed on pretty much every level for me. It’s more interested in cutesy-moments (whether featuring the three oh-so-cute little girls or the oh-so-adorable little yellow “minions” that work for Gru) than actual jokes. There are a few funny moments, but they’re few and far between.
The plot, as it were, is very thin. The idea that Gru could adopt those three girls is more ludicrous than any of the super-villain hi-jinks in the film. There are a few perfunctory scenes with the girls in their orphanage, run by a cruel woman named Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), which are clearly only in the film to minimize the horror of the idea of this bizarre man being allowed to adopt three innocent little girls. (“Hey, at least he’s not as bad as SHE is,” we’re supposed to think!) Then the film attempts to mine some drama from Vector kidnapping the girls at the end, but there’s no tension because he’s clearly no match for Gru. After the opening scenes, the film has tried to mine laughs from Vector being presented as a total doofus.
The film doesn’t even really bother to explore the premise that it sets up — a world where there are apparently no super-heroes and super-villains are allowed to operate with impunity. Where are the heroes? How does society react to the free reign these villains apparently have? Are there other villains out there besides Gru and Vector? How did Gru create his minions? I could go on and on. Compare this to the fully-relized universe created in Pixar’s super-hero film, The Incredibles. Not only did that movie feature three-dimensional characters and a compelling story-line, but it also managed to really explore the world being presented. We learned about the effect that the heroes … [continued]
This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly features a brief interveiw with the Coen Brothers, in which the writer congratulates Joel & Ethan Coen on True Grit, a “four-quadrant” movie (meaning a flick that appeals to men and women, young and old), and the biggest box-office success of their careers.
It’s delightful to see the public embracing True Grit to the degree that it has, because while this film might be more easily categorizable than the last several Coen Brothers films (A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men), it’s still a Western that has been filtered through their unique and sometimes bizarre sensibilities. And I love it all the more for that!
Hailee Steinfeld plays fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross. Her father has recently been murdered by an outlaw named Tom Chaney, but despite her efforts, it doesn’t seem like any lawman seems much interested in pursuing him. So Mattie hires herself a bounty hunter: the aging, cranky, one-eyed Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). She also encounters a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has been pursuing Chaney, under a different name, for another murder that he committed. At first she takes a strong disliking to the pompous Ranger, but as the chase commences and she & Cogburn continue encountering LaBoeuf, Mattie begins to wonder if she hasn’t hitched her wagon to the wrong horse.
I found True Grit to be great fun from start to finish. There’s a strong emotional throughline — Mattie’s increasingly desperate efforts to find someone who will help her achieve vengeance for her father’s death — and the film is very well-paced. I thought it was intriguing and engaging throughout. As always, the Coens know how to stage an action scene, and there are several sequences that are true nail-biters (including the shoot-out outside of the cabin about half-way through the film, and of course the climactic encounter with Tom Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang). The film is intense and violent at times, but it’s never gory. True Grit is rated PG-13 (in that EW interview, Joel Coen comments: “It seemed obvious to us that because it’s a movie where the main character is a 13-year-old girl, 13- and 14-year-old girls should be able to see the movie”), but it never feels dumbed down or softened the way I often feel PG-13 movies are.
But the real joys of True Grit are the tremendous performances. Jeff Bridges proves once again that he is unbeatable when directed by the Coen Brothers. His protrayal of Rooster Cogburn is one of those iconic performances that I suspect we’ll be seeing clips from in highlight reels for years to come. Rooster is tough and cunning, but … [continued]
I was extremely saddened to learn, right after the new year, of the death at age 92 of Richard Winters.
Anyone who has read Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers, or watched the riveting 2001 HBO mini-series of the same name, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, certainly recognizes this name. Major Winters was the commander of Easy Company, a Parachute Infantry Regiment that was involved in a stunning number of key engagements in World War II, from the landing at Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the capturing of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.
I’ve watched Band of Brothers many times — it’s truly one of the greatest TV epics ever produced, powerful and emotionally shattering every time I see it — and I’ve always felt that Richard Winters was one of the most striking real-life characters presented in the series. I’m not talking about Damien Lewis’ portrayal of him — though it’s a phenomenal performance, and one worthy of great praise — but of the glimpses we get of the real Richard Winters in the opening segments of each episode (and in the documentary We Stand Alone Together that aired after the mini-series was completed). The man’s dignity and courage and heroism are astounding. This was a true American hero, and I wonder when we’ll see his like again.… [continued]
It’s very possible that John Cazale has the greatest batting average of any actor in history. He only appeared in five films, but they were, in order: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. It’s an amazing streak of five phenomenal performances in five phenomenal films, although that only emphasizes the tragedy of Mr. Cazale’s death at the incredibly young age of 42.
Anyone in the cult of The Godfather, like me, already knows the name John Cazale. He, of course, plays the sweet but hapless Fredo, brother of Michael (Al Pacino) and Sonny (James Caan). Although not one of the big-star names in the film (like the afore-mentioned Mr. Pacino and Mr. Caan, along, of course, with Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall), Mr. Cazale’s work as Fredo is absolutely amazing. He creates, in Fredo, a role of enormous depth and sophistication. Fredo is a character who is, on the one hand, all surface — he’s unable to hide his thoughts and feelings the way his brother Michael can — though Mr. Cazale brings enormous soul to the character and shows us deep layers of emotion and feelings behind his amazingly expressive eyes.
Those eyes are often commented upon by those who loved and admired Mr. Cazale in the documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, directed by Richard Shephard. The film is aimed at introducing movie fans to this incredibly talented, yet sadly somewhat forgotten, actor.
Even at the time, Mr. Cazale’s talents were often overlooked. The film points out that, while the five films he starred in were nominated for a total of 44 Academy Awards (quite a haul!), Mr. Cazale himself was never nominated. And in a sad scene early in the documentary, we see pedestrians in New York City asked to identify Mr. Cazale from a picture of him as Fredo from The Godfather. While many are able to recall the name of his character, not one knew Mr. Cazale’s name. (I always wonder if scenes like these in films aren’t the result of judicious editing to make the point that the filmmakers want, but in this case I have no doubt that most people have never heard John Cazale’s name.)
The film spends a few minutes giving us some insight into Mr. Cazale’s background and childhood, but for the most part it focuses on his work in his five films. A plethora of actors and directors — including Francis Ford Coppola (who directed Mr. Cazale in the first three films in which he appeared), Sidney Lumet (who directed him in his fourth film, Dog Day Afternoon), Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert … [continued]
In the film Cyrus, written and directed by Jay & Mark Duplass, John C. Reilly stars a John, a pretty pathetic fellow whose self-confidence is not improved by the news that his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), is about to re-marry. Jamie convinces John to join her and her fiancee at a friend’s party. To John’s great surprise, he actually winds up hitting it off with a beautiful woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). They go on a couple of dates, all of which go very well. Molly seems wonderful. But when he notices that Molly never seems willing to spend a whole night at his place, John begins to wonder if she’s married, or if she’s hiding some other secret from him. When he follows her home one day, he discovers what that secret is: her 21-year-old son, Cyrus. Molly has raised Cyrus by herself, and neither has ever been able to separate from the other. He still lives with her, but that’s the least of it! To call their relationship co-dependant would be a dramatic understatement, and John is forced to wonder whether he can ever fit into the life that those two have created for each other.
I’d read some rave reviews about Cyrus when it played at festivals earlier this year. Even though it’s release to theatres fizzled this past summer, I was eager to watch it on DVD. I’d read that this was a black comedy, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the weirdness on display in this film!! It certainly goes to some places I did not expect. There’s a lot that I enjoyed about the film, though I can’t really say that it all worked for me.
The biggest problem with the movie, for me, was the first twenty-or-so minutes before we meet Cyrus. The film takes this time to establish John as a character. I understand that we need to learn that he’s lonely and odd, because we need to understand why he doesn’t head for the hills at the first whiff of weirdness between Molly & Cyrus. The filmmakers need to show us that John is a man pretty desperate for love and companionship, and that is what causes him to stick things out and try to fight for Molly’s affections. But, boy, I think the Duplass brothers went WAY too far over the top in presenting John as such an extraordinarily pathetic loser in those opening scenes. Those sequences are just PAINFUL to watch — I didn’t find any humor in those scenes, they just made me squirm.
The film comes to life, though once we meet Cyrus. Jonah Hill has come a long way since the first movie he appeared in … [continued]
It’s difficult to express just how much fun I’ve had watching the dueling Star Wars specials that both Family Guy and Robot Chicken have been releasing over the past few years! I was blown away by both shows’ initial Star Wars episodes (Robot Chicken’s Star Wars Special and Family Guy‘s episode Blue Harvest, an hour-long parody of the original Star Wars), and I have been thrilled that the continuing installments have become something of an annual tradition. The end of December saw both the broadcast of Robot Chicken’s Star Wars: Episode III as well as the release of the DVD/blu-ray of Family Guy’s Return of the Jedi episode, It’s a Trap!
Of the two, I prefer the Robot Chicken special, but it’s pretty close! As usual, the Robot Chicken episode is a collection of skits — some just a few seconds long, others lasting several minutes — having fun with the whole breadth and scope of the Star Wars saga. As with their Robot Chicken Star Wars: Episode II special (which focused on The Empire Strikes Back — click here for my review), Episode III focuses on one of the films — in this case, no surprise, Return of the Jedi — though as always there are still skits throughout the show referencing all five of the other films.
The episode begins at the end of Return of the Jedi, with Darth Vader having thrown the Emperor down the deep trench of the Death Star. The video freeze-frames mid-fall, and we hear the Emperor — once again voiced with an extraordinary amount of sardonic bitterness by Family Guy‘s Seth McFarlane (just one of many crossovers of talent between the two shows) — asking, in voice-over, just how the heck he got into that position! McFarlane’s hilarious depiction of the Emperor as a grouchy fellow constantly beset by life’s circumstances was one of the stand-out characters of the first Robot Chicken Star Wars special, and the shows creators have wisely chosen to again spotlight him here. The other character who gets a spotlight — surprising to me, but pleasantly so! — is the unnamed Stormtrooper voiced by Scrubs’ Donald Faison. He gets some choice moments in the show (we see his mishaps driving the Death Star and at Lars and Beru’s home), and Faison is an absolute riot.
Other great skits include a spot-on evisceration of the ridiculous Padme/Anakin scenes from Episode II (“This is my room for talking about non-sexual matters”); a musical version of Emperor Palpatine’s first 66 orders; a dark take on the cave scene from Empire (“Think you would cut his head off, I did not!!”); and … [continued]
One of my favorite web-sites these days is Badassdigest.com — you should definitely check it out if you’ve never seen it. They’ve had some great pieces up recently, such as Devin Faraci’s simple, rational piece about why you should avoid purchasing the just-announced Star Wars saga on blu-ray, and this article decrying the ridiculous people who are putting together a version of Huckleberry Finn with then “offensive” language removed, and this scary story of a Lost fan who won the lotto using the cursed numbers (“the numbers are bad!!”). They also linked to this illustrated history of the Batmobile, which is really fantastic (and extraordinarily thorough!!) Seriously, the site is great. Check it out.
Drew over at Hitfix has also had some killer articles up recently that are well worth your time, such as this epic interview with Edgar Wright (seriously, anyone out there reading this who hasn’t seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World needs to remedy that RIGHT NOW) and this in-depth conversation with The Social Network director David Fincher.
Speaking of in-depth conversations, those fine folks at the Onion AV Club have posted a wonderful career-retrospective interview with the great Jon Lovitz. This is a great read. (Thanks to my buddy Ethan for sending this my way!)
So, they’re actually making a fifth Jack Ryan movie, with Chris Pine cast as the lead? I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess I hope that they can pull it off. I have a lot of faith in director Jack Bender (a prominent director from Lost) and I do think the series still has legs. I absolutely adore The Hunt for Red October, and while I like all three follow-ups I don’t think any of them quite succeeded on all cylinders. I’d love to see another great Jack Ryan film. Will this be it? One can hope…
I’ve got LOTS more reviews of 2010 movies (and some TV shows) coming up in the coming days, and I’m hard at work on my Best of 2010 lists (which I expect to post at the end of the month), so keep checking back to MotionPicturesComics.com!… [continued]
Before I finalize my Best of 2010 lists (which will be coming in a few weeks), I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the movies/TV shows/comics/etc. that I’d missed during the past very busy twelve months. One of the films that I was bummed to have never gotten to was the recent documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I was able to watch the film on DVD, and it is fantastic. (I have a feeling this might have just bumped another film off of my Best Movies of 2010 list! We’ll see…)
Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, the film follows a year in the life of the 77 year-old working comedian. For so many people these days, Joan Rivers is basically a joke — a nasty woman criticizing people on the red carpet line while herself looking pretty hideously plastic as a result of inordinate amounts of plastic surgery. Being a big comedy fan — and, in particular, stand-up comedy — I’m actually fairly familiar with her early work, when she was a pretty sharp, hysterical comic. But I still had the same perception of her, these days, as most. I had respect for the comedian she’d been, but that only made it more painful these days to see her hocking gawdy items on QVC.
But after watching Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, it’s clear that I didn’t know Joan Rivers at all. The film does an incredible job at humanizing Ms. Rivers. Not by glossing over her faults — no, the film pulls no punches when it comes to moments when she doesn’t appear in the best of light. But in many respects this warts-and-all presentation of Joan Rivers forces audiences to look at her and her work in a new light, and to reconsider our caricaturish perceptions of her.
Most importantly, the film emphasizes what a vibrant, FUNNY comic she still is. The film contains some terrific clips from her glory-days on the stand-up circuit and, of course, some of her appearances on The Tonight Show, but it also contains generous clips from many of Ms. Rivers’ current stand-up gigs, and she is a RIOT. Crude, unflinching, and hysterical. (After the film was over, my wife Steph and I turned to each other and said, “boy, it’d be fun to go see her perform live!”) I was totally unprepared to laugh at any Joan Rivers material post 1980.
The year chronicled by the film (2008-09) was a fascinating year for Ms. Rivers, containing many low points (her disappointment at the criticisms leveled at her play after performances in London; her decision to part company with her long-time manager) and … [continued]
After finally watching, for the first time, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) (click here for my review), I thought it would be fun to crack open the other production of Hamlet I had sitting on my DVD shelf — the BBC’s 2009 version starring Patrick Stewart and David Tennant!
While I certainly enjoyed Mr. Branagh’s version, I was really much more engaged by the BBC’s effort (despite my assumption that it was made for a much smaller budget)!
Mr. Branagh’s version had a more modern look to it than one might be used to thinking of Hamlet – his film seemed to be set around the era of WWI, with trains, newspapers, etc. The BBC’s Hamlet is even more modern than that — this Elsinore castle contains electronic surveillance cameras, a character wields a handgun, and many of the actors wear modern-looking collar-shirts and ties. Some aspects of this modernity were a bit jarring — the device of our occasionally seeing scenes play out through the castle’s surveillance cameras continually felt distracting to me, and the choice of Hamlet’s outfit during the “to be or not to be” speech and the key scenes that followed (jeans and a muscle t-shirt) was weird — but for the most part, the film found a potent sweet spot between modernity and timelessness.
Then there were the scenes in which the film was decidedly NOT timeless, but in a purposeful way that really worked. I laughed out loud, for instance, at the moment when Ophelia pulls a bunch of condoms out of her brother Laertes’ bag early in the film. (It was a decidedly unexpected way to show her gently mocking her brother for the rather condescending speech of advice he had just given her.) And speaking of Ophelia and unexpected, I was not expecting Ophelia to strip down to her bra while freaking out in front of the king and queen after her father’s death! (Though I’m not complaining, mind you.) Those are two extreme examples — I don’t want to suggest that the filmmakers were falling all over themselves in order to make Shakespeare “hip.” This is a series, dramatic presentation of the play. But it’s also one in which the creative team was unafraid to add in a surprising twist or reinterpretation of a famous moment here and there, in a way that keeps viewers powerfully engrossed. (At least this viewer.)
I loved the look of the Elsinore castle sets, particularly the throne room in which much of the film takes place (a sign, to me, of a far less expansive budget than that of Mr. Branagh’s film, which was able to open up the story into many different sets … [continued]
I remember reading about Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet when it first came out, back in 1996. I was intrigued by the notion of a filmed version of the complete text of Hamlet, and also by Mr. Branagh’s cast, which combined famed Shakespearean actors with a variety of famous Hollywood stars. But I missed the film in theaters, and for one reason or another I never caught the film on video/DVD until just a few weeks ago.
I can’t say that I found Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet to be entirely successful, though I must respect the enormous ambition of the undertaking.
It’s quite a delight to watch Hamlet performed in its full, complete version. Much praise must go to Mr. Branagh and his studio partners for the respect they show their audience by not feeling the need to shorten the play. The great length does make this film something of an endurance test — and I will freely admit that I watched it in two sittings (something which I’m generally loathe to do, even when watching a long film). By the time I got to the famed play-within-the-play scene, I felt my attention beginning to wane, so I stopped and picked up the film again on another evening. I’m glad I did, because it enabled me to enjoy the second half of the performance more, I think, than had I gone straight through.
I recall reading some criticism of the cast of this version of Hamlet, but I must say that I really enjoyed the, shall we say, eclectic assemblage of actors. I think the entire ensemble acquits themselves quite well, and it’s fun seeing actors like Gerard Depardieu and Robin Williams filling out small roles. Their appearances bring a nice spark to those scenes, and I think the casting was a canny way for Mr. Branagh to draw modern audiences into his story.
There are some real standouts among the large ensemble. Kate Winslet, in one of her first film roles, is absolutely magnificent as Ophelia. She is incredibly skilled with Shakespeare’s words, lending them a fluidity that is impressive. She has a nice spark with Branagh as Hamlet — indeed, their shared “get thee to a nunnery” speech is one of the dramatic high-points of the film for me. Julie Christie is also very impressive as Gertrude. She brings a regal bearing to the role, and gives the character a strong inner life that shines through even in scenes when she has little to do. Charlton Heston brings every ounce of his movie-star persona to bear in the role of the Player King, and he is outstanding. I’ve often found myself bored, I will admit, by the scenes with … [continued]
It didn’t arrive in 2010, but I’m very much hoping that 2011 will bring us Adywan’s version of The Empire Strikes Back. (Click here to read me waxing poetic about his magnificent Star Wars: Revisited.) Here’s a peek:
Did you notice the new approach to Cloud City? The way he has replaced the Emperor’s hologram with the way his face appears in Return of the Jedi (far more elegantly than the hatchet job done on this scene in the 2004 DVD)? The far more action-packed escape from Hoth? The inclusion of additional snow-speeders? The laser burns when Stormtroopers get shot? How robotic bounty-hunter IG-88 finally moves? The way we no longer see the rebel’s laser cannon on Hoth blown up in the scene where the rebels all line up with their weapons, several minutes before the cannon is actually blown up? How we now see other ships fleeing Cloud City, along with the Millennium Falcon, after Lando gives the order to evacuate?
CAN. NOT. WAIT.… [continued]
Before the start of James L. Brooks’ new film, How Do You Know, there was a trailer for a new Adam Sandler film. Apparently, Sandler’s character likes to wear a wedding band, even though he’s not married, in order to score chicks. Then he meets a girl he really likes, but when she finds his wedding band, he’s too embarrassed to admit what he’s been doing, so he pretends he is actually married, to his assistant (played by Jennifer Aniston). But then Aniston mentions her kids in front of Sandler’s new girlfriend, so NOW he has to pretend that he’s married AND that Aniston’s kids are actually HIS kids.
This is exactly why I can’t stand most of what passes for mainstream studio comedies these days. I simply have no patience for films in which we’re supposed to be laughing at characters behaving in the ways that no actual human being possibly would — doing outrageous things and spinning increasingly outlandish webs of deception.
What a refreshing change of pace, then, to watch a film like How Do You Know, in which the characters all actually behave like real people might, and in which the situations seem like actual real-life situations. Sure, there’s some exaggeration for comedic effect, and sure, there are some coincidences involved in the plot (such as two main characters in the story happening to live in the same building), but with only one small exception (which I’ll get to in a minute), the comedy in How Do You Know is drawn from actual, recognizable human behavior and emotions. Thank heavens for James L. Brooks!
Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, an athletic, driven young woman who nevertheless, at the age of 31, finds herself past her prime in her sport and cut from the USA women’s softball team. She’s recently started dating Matty, played by Owen Wilson, an affable though somewhat dim professional baseball player. George, played by Paul Rudd, has suddenly found himself under indictment for suspected unethical stock transactions. He’s pretty sure he’s innocent, though the cost of his defense will most certainly bankrupt him and if he loses the case he could wind up in prison. He’s pretty sure that his father, played by Jack Nicholson, who is also the head of the company where he works, knows a bit more about the situation than he’s telling. Even after a set-up dinner that goes pretty poorly, Lisa and George seem to continue to find themselves drawn into each other’s orbit, as they both struggle to find a way to get through this low-point in their lives when the hopes they had and the plans they’d laid out for themselves are coming crashing down around … [continued]