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Josh Reviews Mank

David Fincher’s latest film, Mank, tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the man who wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane along with Orson Welles.  Mank depicts the weeks in 1940 during which the alcoholic Mank worked on the Kane screenplay, while being almost completely bed-ridden due to his recovery from a broken leg.  The film also flashes back throughout the thirties to show the arc of Mank’s relationships with the wealthy power-broker William Randolph Hearst and Hearst’s young movie-star wife, Marion Davies, both of whom were mercilessly lampooned in Kane.  

Mank is, in many ways, an incredible film.  It’s certainly been made with extraordinary craft and attention to detail.  There’s a lot to love and respect here.  And yet, I must confess that the film left me somewhat unsatisfied.  After a first viewing, I don’t feel that Mank holds up with the best of Mr. Fincher’s many great films (from Seven to Zodiac to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to The Social Network and more).

Let’s start with what’s good.  The film looks amazing.  Mr. Fincher has an incredible eye, and the layers of period detail in Mank are extraordinary.  There is so much for the eye to drink in, in every single frame.  Mr. Fincher & Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot Mank in beautiful, lush black and white, just like Kane.  Their mastery of the mise-en-scène, and of light and shadow, equals Welles’.  This is a beautiful film.

I loved the way the film has been structured to resemble Citizen Kane.  Both the fractured narrative and the visual style are reminiscent of Kane.  The film’s credits have a 1940’s vibe to them.  The scene-setting chirons are written as if they’re establishing locations from a film script.  I love these levels of detail.

The script, written by Mr. Fincher’s father Jack Fincher, is sharp.  I like the flashback structure, and there is some incredibly snappy dialogue throughout.

Gary Oldman plays Mank, and as always, Mr. Oldman is absolutely magnificent.  He commands the screen; his charisma and force of personality break right through.  Mr. Oldman’s performance is my favorite thing about this film.

In fact, the entire cast is strong.  Amanda Seyfried is very impressive as Marion Davies.  I love how thoroughly Ms. Seyfried, and the film’s script, humanizes Ms. Davies.  I could imagine a version of this film in which Ms. Davies had been played as an oversized joke (sort of how she was depicted in Kane), but Ms. Seyfried plays Marion as a relatively likable, normal, centered young woman (despite the world of opulence she strides through).  I liked her Brooklyn twang.  I really enjoyed following the arc of Marion’s friendship with Mank over the course of the film.  … [continued]

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“Mr. President.  Welcome back.”

I can’t wait to watch that later today!!

Wayne Knight has reprised his role as Newman from Seinfeld to give some advice on mail-in voting and the importance of making a plan to VOTE:

Moving on to less-serious news… here’s a trailer for the Amazon Prime animated series, adapting the comic book series Invincible:

It’s cool to see the comic’s designs so faithfully recreated on-screen!  And the voice cast looks to be amazing: J. K. Simmons, Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, Gillian Anderson, Andrew Rannells, Zazie Beetz, Wakton Goggins, Jason Mantzoukas, Mae Whitman, Chris Diamantopoulos, Zachary Quinto, Mahershala Ali, Kevin Michael Richardson, Lauren Cohan, Michael Cudlitz, Sonequa Martin-Green, and more!!  The comic book series, created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker and illustrated by artist Ryan Ottley, is actually a lot more interesting than the set-up originally appears.  I’ve been curious to see if this new show’s marketing would spoil any of those twists.  So far they haven’t.  I’m thankful they’re preserving the series’ fun secrets (at least, so far), though that also presents a challenge in how to convey to people that this show is different from all the other super-hero stories people have already seen on-screen…

Here’s our first full trailer for the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, coming to CBS All Access:

I really hope this is good.  I love the novel so much.  The trailer is decent, though it looks sort of “TV” to me, without the breadth I hope this epic tale will receive.  I also don’t think the trailer does a good job of explaining anything about this story to anyone who’s not already familiar with it.  (I’m assuming the way the trailer glosses over the plague that mostly destroys humanity is because, in a world with COVID, they thought that’d be too on the nose.  But focusing on the weird supernatural stuff does a disservice to the story, in my opinion…)

Here’s a trailer for Mank, the new film from David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) about screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and the making of Citizen Kane:

A new film from David Fincher is always exciting, and I love Citizen Kane, so I can’t wait for this one.  I’m thankful it’ll be available to watch on Netflix in December.

I am very excited to learn that Benedict Cumberbatch will reportedly be appearing as Doctor Strange in the third MCU Spider-Man film!  I’m also slightly concerned, though cautiously optimistic, to read that Jamie Foxx will be reprising his role as Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  I [continued]

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Josh Reviews Gone Girl

The idea of a movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl probably wouldn’t have been something that, on its own, would pique my interest, but the involvement of director David Fincher immediately put the project on my radar.  I have been a fan of Mr. Fincher’s ever since Alien 3 (a film that I feel is a terrible Alien sequel but that, if considered on its own as a stand-alone sci-fi/horror film, is a gorgeous and haunting piece of work).  The magnificent and terrifying Zodiac (a vastly underrated film) cemented Mr. Fincher in my mind as one of the finest directors working today, and I have been following his films eagerly ever since.

In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home on the day of his five-year wedding anniversary to discover an empty house and signs of a struggle.  His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing.  The police begin an investigation, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens).  Suspicion falls upon Nick, and as the story becomes a media sensation (because Amy was the subject of a series of well-known children’s books written by her parents called Amazing Amy) public opinion turns dramatically against him.  Nick, continuing to profess his innocence, eventually hires a high-profile defense attorney, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), who specializes in high-profile media cases.  The circus continues to escalate.

The hook of the film, of course, is the twisty mystery of what happened to Amy Elliott-Dunne.  While that is compelling, as the film progresses, we see that there is far more to the story of this film than a simple who-dunnit.  As we watch, the film slowly pulls back the layers of the onion of the story of Nick and Amy.  Scene by scene, moment by moment, layer upon layer are slowly revealed of both Nick and Amy’s relationship as well as the events of the fateful day of Amy’s disappearance.  About half-way through the film, we learn the answer to the mystery.  It is the film’s best trick that the story gets only more interesting once the central mystery is solved.  (That is an impressive narrative feat.  I have high praise for Gillian Flynn, who wrote the screenplay adapting her own novel.)

The cast of Gone Girl is spectacular.  I’ve always been a fan of Ben Affleck, and I think he’s a far better actor than he often demonstrates, hindered by his often poor choice of films in which to appear.  In the past few years, he’s been getting much well-deserved acclaim as a director.  (His first film, Gone Baby Gone, is one of my favorite films of the past decade.)  So it’s fun to see Mr. Affleck really shine here as an … [continued]

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And so, at last, we arrive at my final Best of 2012 list!  I hope you enjoyed the rest of my lists.  You can follow these links to see my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.  Click here for part one of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012, and here for part two.  And finally, you can click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2012, and here for part two.

And now, my final list: the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2012!

10. Great documentaries for not-so-great films: Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises Both of these films disappointed me when I saw them.  The Dark Knight is an extremely well-made film and a great super-hero epic, but it’s a big let-down after the magnificence that was The Dark Knight.  And Prometheus was just a catastrophe.  Nevertheless, the blu-rays of both films contained terrific feature-length documentaries.  Prometheus’ special features are particularly compelling — the 220-minute documentary “Furious Gods: The Making of Prometheus” (directed by Charles de Lauzirika) is extraordinary.  Is it crazy to be so interested in the behind-the-scenes stories of two films that ultimately disappointed me?  Maybe, but I loved these glimpses behind the curtains.

9. Jay and Silent Bob Get Old: Tea-Bagging in the UK Every few years, Kevin Smith releases a DVD collection of some of his Q&A  sessions, and I always gobble them up.  None have topped the original An Evening With Kevin Smith DVD from 2002, but Mr. Smith’s skill as a spinner-of-yarns is unparalleled, and I adore listening to his lengthy, raunchy, hilarious answers to the audience’s questions about his life, his film-making, and all sorts of other details of his personal life.  (I even saw Mr. Smith live, in Boston, a few years ago!)  This latest DVD is a recording of some of the “Smodcast” podcasts that Mr. Smith recorded with his “hetero life-mate” Jason Mewes, on tour in England.  These shows are nowhere near as great as some of the previous Q&A DVDs — I like Jason Mewes, but I think Mr. Smith is much funnier solo — but these shows are still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the frank, friendly interplay between Mr. Smith and Mr. Mewes.

8. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 — This animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal comic book from 1986 is one of the best of Bruce Timm’s recent direct-to-DVD animated films.  With solid (though not spectacular) animation and a phenomenal voice cast, I was very impressed … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

January 20th, 2012

Let’s get this clear from the outset: I haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s original novel, nor have I see the Swedish film adaptation.  What put the American film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my radar wasn’t any connection with the source material, but rather my great love for the films of director David Fincher.  (Click here for my review of The Social Network, here for my review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, here for my review of the Director’s Cut of Zodiac, here for my review of Fight Club, and here for my review of Se7en.)  So I’ll be judging this film purely on it’s own merits.

Do I really need to summarize the story for anyone?  Even I, who had never read a word of Mr. Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, was quite well-acquainted with the basic story going in.  Well, OK, let’s keep it brief: disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) gets hired by wealthy, elderly Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the death of his young niece, Harriet, thirty years earlier.  Eventually Mikael’s path crosses with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) a young, brilliant but extremely maladjusted computer hacker and investigator, and the two wind up working together to solve the decades-old mystery.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an extremely weird movie.  There are elements of true genius at work, but also aspects of the film that I felt were not entirely successful.

The most notable aspect of the film is Rooney Mara’s fierce interpretation of Lisbeth.  Ms. Mara dramatically transformed her physical appearance in order to create this character, but that’s just the beginning of the way in which she sunk into the role.  Ms. Mara’s Lisbeth is a haunted, withdrawn, almost alien creature.  The way she looks, the way she talks, the way she interacts with other people is distinctly abnormal.  There’s a humanity there, but it’s buried deep down underneath the fortress that Lisbeth has constructed around herself.  She is an abused and lonely young woman, but she’s also a superhero with extraordinary cunning, mastery of technology, and great physical strength.  There are times when Lisbeth is extraordinarily sympathetic, and times when she’s extremely difficult to like.  There are times when her thoughts and emotions are writ large on her face, and times when it’s almost impossible to determine what’s going on in her head.  Ms. Mara’s work as Lisbeth is the center of the film, and by far the most interesting aspect of the whole proceedings.  It’s a staggering performance, and one that stayed with me long after having seen the film.

The bulk of the movie — the middle two hours … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Fight Club (1999)

September 5th, 2011
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After re-watching David Fincher’s 1995 film Se7en (click here for my review), I couldn’t resist taking another look back at Fight Club.  As with Se7en, I had seen Fight Club only once before.  I’d really enjoyed it, but because of the violence and the extraordinarily down-beat tone, I’d never been driven to revisit it.

The first thing that struck me upon re-watching the film is that, while the film is just as violent and anti-social as I’d remembered, it’s also incredibly funny.  Maybe my shock at the brutal, casual violence that runs through the film had blinded me to this when I first saw it, or maybe I’d just forgotten.  But Fight Club is very, very funny.  Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (which I really need to read one of these days), the script by Jim Uhls (which was apparently rewritten by an uncredited Andrew Kevin Walker, who also wrote Se7en) is very sharp.  Fight Club is a tough, take-no-prisoners social satire.  The film has quite a lot to say about our commercial society, and the way advertising holds so many of us in its thrall.  (I love the pan, in the film, of the main character’s apartment, when we can suddenly see on-screen the labels for each purchased-from-a-magazine item of furniture.)

Through the character of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the audience is swept along in the appeal of this society-rejecting rebel.  Tyler has abandoned commercialism and the accepted ideals of how we should be living our life.  Rather than a fancy, well-furnished apartment, he prefers to live in squalor in an abandoned, decrepit building.  When he discovers this do-what-you-want, live-how-you-want lifestyle, Edward Norton’s character (and, by extension, the audience) finds it to be incredibly freeing.  With no one living within a mile of him and Tyler, the two can do whatever they want, whether that’s hitting broken bottles with golf clubs or beating the snot out of one another.

The film — and Tyler — slowly drags Edward Norton and the audience along into weirder and weirder places.  At first, the idea of a fight club — where men find themselves by engaging in brutal one-on-one fistfights — might be horrifying.  But Tyler — happy, sexy, joyous Brad Pitt — is able to sell it to Edward Norton’s character, and to us, as a way to throw off the smothering curtain of “civilized” behavior.  There’s an appeal there that Norton’s character grabs ahold of with both arms, and which the audience can understand.

The fun of the film, of course, is the way Tyler Durden’s behavior eventually causes the viewer to question, and perhaps (or maybe I should write “hopefully”) ultimately reject … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Se7en (1995)

I saw Se7en on the big screen back in 1995, and it freaked the hell out of me.  I’m not sure what prompted me to go see it in the first place, but I know that I was entirely unprepared for the brutal film that unfolded before my eyes.  It was tough, shocking stuff, and while I really respected the film I never felt any desire to go back and watch it again.

Almost a decade and a half later, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network have cemented my opinion of David Fincher as one of the finest American directors working today.  With the release of Se7en on blu-ray, I thought it would be interesting to give the film another look.

Even so many years later, Se7en remains as punishing a movie-watching experience as it was back in 1995.  There is some truly vile, stomach-turning stuff on display in the film.  Some of which we see on-screen (I remember my first glimpse of that horribly obsese corpse — the first murder victim discovered at the start of the movie — from 1995, and I found it just as unsettling the second time around), and some of which is just discussed (such as the terrible fate of the prostitute).  But the two blend together into an almost unrelenting parade of horrors, from the first frame to the very last.

All of which, of course, was certainly the intention of David Fincher and his collaborators.  Watching the film, today, I can step back a bit from what I’m watching on-screen to recognize the extraordinary skill on display by the filmmakers.  On crisp blu-ray, Se7en is absolutely beautiful in its unremitting ugliness.  The filmmakers have created a word of unending gloom, from the seemingly never-ending rain in the unnamed city in which the action takes place to the sickly yellow light of Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman)’s refrigerator.  The oppressive urban decay and the constant rain remind me distinctly of Blade Runner, and there’s even a great shot of Brad Pitt running across a street and jumping over cars, his weapon drawn, while the rain continues to pour down, that is a direct quotation of an iconic shot of Harrison Ford from that film.  But Mr. Fincher and his team have gone beyond homage to create a distinctly real, potent environment that is unique to this film.  This city breathes and sweats, and we (and the film’s characters) feel it as an oppressive force.  In Se7en, the city is as much the enemy as the serial-murdering John Doe.

Mr. Fincher has come to be well-known for his meticulous attention to detail, and that is on fine display throughout … [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies from 2010.  Here now are numbers 5-1!

5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — This documentary totally took me by surprise and completely changed the way I look at Joan Rivers.  As the cameras follow Ms. Rivers for a year of her life, we see the struggles of this aging comedienne who wants, above all else, to keep working, working, working.  The film gives one ample opportunities to analyze just why Ms. Rivers is so intent on remaining in the public eye, whether that be by doing stand-up in clubs, hawking merchandise on the Home Shopping Network, or appearing on Celebrity Apprentice. But whatever one’s conclusions, positive or negative, I found it impossible not to be astounded by this woman’s endurance and stamina.  The film is well-crafted, and presents what I felt was an extraordinarily well-rounded picture of this iconic and polarizing figure.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Toy Story 3 — One of these days the folks at Pixar are going to make a bad movie (I’m afraid it might be Cars 2, but we’ll see…) but for now I can only relish in their unparalleled recent win-streak of amazing films: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and now Toy Story 3. This movie is simply deliriously entertaining.  It’s incredibly funny and also extraordinarily poignant.  While the ending certainly isn’t tragic, I nevertheless found it to be devastatingly sad.  It’s a wonderfully emotional climax to the story of Woody, Buzz and the gang, and pretty much every note is exactly perfect.  The voice cast is stupendous, and the animation is absolutely beautiful (as are the 3-D effects).  Pixar, my hat is off to you.  (Click here for my full review.)

3. Black Swan — I’ve been an admirer of Darren Aronofsky’s work for a while now, but this film made me a fan for life.  I couldn’t believe I’d ever go see a film about wrestling, let alone love a film about wrestling as much as I did Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler (click here for my review). And I DOUBLY wouldn’t have believed I’d ever go see a film about ballet dancers, let alone have been as head-over-heels in love with one as I am with Black Swan. The film is magnificent.  Natalie Portman dazzles in the lead role of Nina Sayers, the young dancer cast in the lead role of Swan Lake, who just might be losing her mind as she struggles to take her dancing to the next level.  The film is viscerally intense, with an escalating what-is-going-to-happen-NEXT mania that builds to a … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

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!)

Sir Ian McKellan starts filming next month on The Hobbit, reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey.  Say Hallaluyah!!

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]

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Josh Reviews The Social Network

It’s hard for me to a recall another film that has so bravely allowed its lead character to come off as so completely unlikable.  In The Social Network‘s power-house of a first scene, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is clearly presented to us as a Grade-A, prime-cut jackass.  It’s a hell of a way to start a movie!

As you are all probably aware, this arrogant Harvard undergrad is the man who will go on to become the billionaire creator of Facebook.  Based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaire, The Social Network follows Mark from his days at Harvard through the world-wide explosion of Facebook and the eventual lawsuits brought against him by several former Harvard classmates, including the young man who had once been his closest friend.

There has been some questioning of the accuracy of The Social Network, but screenwriter Aaron Sorkin defends the film.  He told Entertainment Weekly: “If we know what brand of beer Mark was drinking on a Tuesday night in October seven years ago when there were only three other people in the room, it should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and to the events.”  Producer Scott Rudin makes similar statements: “You can’t make untrue statements about someone without running the risk of getting sued.  Look around and notice that nobody has sued us.”

While of course I myself have no idea about whether events truly unfolded the way they are depicted in The Social Network, I can say that the film FEELS real to me.  All of the characters in the film — including Mark Zuckerberg — are depicted in a three-dimensional way.  There aren’t easy heroes and villains in the film — most of the characters seem likable and unlikable at different points in the narrative, just as real human beings are.  (This, to me, is in contrast to a film like A Beautiful Mind, in which it seemed so clear to me as a viewer that the filmmakers had shaved away any unlikable aspects to John Nash in order to create a more heroic lead for the film.)

But knowing that the parties involved strongly dispute just what went down over the course of the creation of Facebook, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin cleverly decided to embrace that ambiguity with the film’s structure.  As we watch events unfold chronologically, the film regularly cuts forward in time to the depositions in the two lawsuits eventually brought against Zuckerberg.  In those scenes, we see the participants debate and argue about the moments that we, the viewers, just saw occur.  This is a really smart way to allow the film … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Valkyrie

I know some people who can’t stand to see a movie a second time — they think “been there, done that, I’d rather see something new.”  I certainly don’t have anything against seeing something new, but I’m also someone who loves seeing movies for a second time — and, if it’s a good movie, seeing it many more times after that!  (I’m the same way with books, comic books, etc. — I love re-reading stories that I enjoyed multiple times.)

I find that my feelings upon watching a film for a second time often vary wildly from the experience of seeing it originally.  I can absorb the film without all the baggage of hype, my anticipation, etc.  I can also more accurately judge the movie for what it is, rather than what I had hoped it would be or was expecting it would be.

During September I had a chance to take a second look at three films that I really enjoyed during last year’s Oscar rush of films (in late December 2008).  Did my feelings about them change, for better or for worse, upon a second viewing?  Read on!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — read my original review here.  Benjamin Button was one of my very favorite movies from last year (it ranked as no. 6 on my list of my favorite films from 2008) and, if anything, I was even more in awe of it the second time around.  The film is magnificent.  It is one of those special collaborations where every single element works just perfectly, from the gorgeous sets and costumes, to the jaw-dropping visual effects (that create fully-realized environments from France to Russia to a tug-boat in the middle of the Pacific, not to mention the completely convincing creation and de-aging of Benjamin Button himself that is as wonderful a combination of makeup, prosthetics, and incredible CGI as I have ever seen), to the wonderful performances by Brad Pitt (who proves in every film he’s in why he is so deserving of his movie-star fame), Cate Blanchett, and a wonderful array of other talented actors.  Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) knows how to incorporate cutting-edge visual effects into a film without ever letting those effects overpower the film, and he knows how to tell a deeply emotional tale without ever veering into schmaltz.  As I said: magnificent.  (I also had the fun of watching this film on Blu-Ray, and let me say that my jaw was on the floor at the clarity of the images, the colors, everything.  As the enclosed booklet notes, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was created in the digital realm without ever … [continued]

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Top 10 Movies of 2008! — Part One!

In case you haven’t figured this out already, I LOVE movies.

And in 2009, as usual, I saw a LOT of movies.  Today and tomorrow I’d like to celebrate what I feel were the best of the best of the new films released between January 1st and December 31st, 2008.

Before we dive in, though, I want to acknowledge that, even though I saw an enormous number of new films during 2008, there were also quite a few that, despite my interest, I never got around to see.  These include: Synechdoche, New York; Waltz With Bashir; Doubt; The Wrestler; Che; Rachel Getting Married; Choke; American Teen; Hamlet 2; Changeling; Rocknrolla; and Son of Rambow.  So if you loved one or more of those films and want to know why on earth they didn’t make my list, now you know.

As with my TV lists, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mention #1 — The Foot Fist Way.  If you, like most of America, discovered Danny McBride this past summer in Tropic Thunder (as pyromaniac Cody) and Pineapple Express (as the indestructible Red), then you owe it to yourself to check out this film.  The Foot Fist Way was filmed back in 2006, but only saw a release (and a very small one, at that) in 2008.  It is written and directed by McBride, who also has the starring role as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor who is, shall we say, a little big for his britches.  This is a dark, dark comedy — not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of McBride’s it is a spectacular showcase for his abilities, and well worth your time.

Honorable Mention #2 — Cloverfield.  For months now I’ve been meaning to watch this film a second time, to find out if it holds up on a repeat viewing.  I don’t know if it does, but I will say that the experience of seeing Cloverfield theatrically was one of  the best times I had in a movie theatre all year.  You either buy the conceit (that one of the kids is able to film their whole adventure) or you don’t.  I did, and had no problem getting swallowed up in this intense thrill ride.  Incredible visuals, great storytelling — this was a ton of fun, and a clever twist on the giant-monster-attacks-New-York sub-genre of movies.

OK, and now here’s the top 10:

10.  Burn After Reading — A disc containing the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) are stolen, and they wind up in the hands of a pair of not-that-bright gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who, mistaking them for government secrets, try to ransom … [continued]

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This is the film I’ve been waiting for.

Steph and I took advantage of our vacation to see a LOT of the big Oscar-hopeful films that have been released in the past few weeks.  As usual, there has been a crazy end-of-the-year rush of “serious” films, many of which won’t get a wide release for several weeks yet.  While we enjoyed almost all of the films we saw (and I’ll be writing about them all in the coming days), none of them really stood out.  Until David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The film is magnificent.  It is emotional and haunting, and it is epic and transporting in all the ways that a truly special film is.  Spanning the years (almost a century) between the last day of World War I and the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the life story of Benjamin (Brad Pitt), who is born as a baby with all the features of an extremely aged man, and who proceeds to live his life aging backwards.  But while Benjamin Button gets the film’s title all to himself, the movie is also every bit the story of his true love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett).  Pitt and Blanchett both turn in powerful, subtle performances.  Benjamin Button is a very quiet film — there are not a lot of acting histrionics to be found.  With the help of amazing makeup and absolutely seamless CGI work, Pitt and Blanchett breathe poignant life into these two people through all the many years of their lives, as one gets older and the other gets younger.  This is a story about loss, about loneliness, and about death, and it is made staggeringly powerful by the way that Pitt and Blanchett capture the audience with their performances.

Over the course of Benjamin’s curious life, he meets quite a few other interesting folks, embodied by some wonderful actors.  Taraji P. Henson plays Benjamin’s sweet and powerful adoptive mother, Queenie.  Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (who was the best thing about the cancelled-too-soon sci-fi series The 4400, and good god do I love his name) plays Tizzy, the man who, for too short a while, becomes a father figure for Benjamin.  Jared Harris plays another father figure, the charismatic, often-drunk Captain Mike, who helps the young Benjamin take his first steps out into the wider world.  Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) plays Thomas Button, Benjamin’s biological father, bringing complexity and depth too this man who we (and Benjamin) should hate but can’t quite do so.  Then there’s Tilda Swinton, who has been getting a lot of press, and rightly so, for her performance as Elizabeth Abbott, a … [continued]