Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Mark it down as another likely Oscar win for Meryl Streep...but this is no Music of the Heart...it isn't even just another Devil Wears Prada, even though that was quite a fabulous performance. Streep's work here marks what is likely her best performance of the decade.
Also mark it down as another landmark piece of work from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is really the crowned king of actors at the moment. After a mind-bending, earth-shattering role in Charlie Kaufman's widely misunderstood, completely underestimated, arguably revolutionary Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman somehow comes off as simultaneously bullyish and scared, at once smug and humble. The ambiguity of the work is stunning...and will likely not get as much attention as it should, given the push for the equally brilliant Streep.
Viola Davis is getting all kinds of buzz for her 10 minutes of screen time...and it is totally deserved. Amy Adams is getting snubbed all over the place...she brings her typical sunny innocence to the pivotal role of Sister James, the story's moral barometer, but it is not simply a typecast performance; this character is wrought with tension, inner turmoil, and, unsurprisingly, doubt. It is a great performance.
John Patrick Shanley, writer of the original stage version of Doubt, adapted and directed the film version, making his first directorial effort since Joe Versus the Volcano, if you can believe that. His visual skills are not flashy and will not gain much attention, but what is so remarkable about his work is that he--as a stage person would--gets out of the way and allows the actors to simply unleash. They build the tension to such a degree that the dialogue exchanges in Doubt are more palpably intense than most of the year's high-octane action sequences. But Shanley also adds visual touches--subtle but powerful--that communicate the film's subtext with graceful clarity. On the visual storytelling end Shanley has the added help of Dylan Tichenor's masterful editing and Roger Deakins' polished and professional cinematography, and the trio work in tandem to create a seamless, affecting visual experience.
Doubt is small but huge. It is subtle but explosive. Herein lie themes so loaded with textual and subtextual implications that K wondered if perhaps the film, brilliant as it was, tried to tackle a little too much. But therein lies the film's message--there are so many angles, so many points of view, so many lives being lived simultaneously in this world. It is impossible for any of us to be certain about anything other than what we've seen...and even then we could question ourselves. The collective experience of our lives--our hopes and fears, outward virtues and hidden sins, the thin line between the person we project to the world and the feelings we keep trapped inside--is the unflinching, immovable force of life (a profound common denominator this film shares with Synecdoche, NY, even though empirically the films couldn't be more different). We are all in this together...and we all have no idea.
A quick and hasty update, with more detailed reviews forthcoming (some of which may occur on the ever-exciting, anxiously-awaited [!] Top Ten list)...
See Slumdog Millionaire...it is a revolutionary.
See Doubt...more on that very soon...
See Milk...it is a staggering work of art.
See Seven Pounds...if you engage your mind and open your heart, you will be moved.
See Marley and Me...and expect much more from this alleged "studio family fare" than most are giving it credit for.
Rent Man on Wire...and prepare to be amazed.
If you ever come upon the opportunity to see Synecdoche, New York, take it...you might hate it, but at least you will have a chance to process it, and it will stay in your mind for days.
Even the lesser films can work a little magic. Bedtime Stories is all concept, no execution...but there is a slight fanciful charm that eventually ingratiates itself into your heart. Yes Man at first seems merely pleasant and almost half-assed...but it hits its stride in the second act and keeps on going.
There's a lot out there this holiday season...more than I initially expected, and so much that even K and I haven't seen it all yet. Happy Holiday viewing...more soon...
Monday, December 22, 2008
We were able to accomplish exactly what we had hoped to accomplish this weekend, catching four movies over two days, three of which will be under serious "Top Ten" consideration, two of which will be THE MAJOR OSCAR CONTENDERS, and one of which will be anointed the filmic equivalent of Barack Obama.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I love movies. Last year in particular highlighted to me exactly why I love movies so much. A great year for film, 2007 was. This year has, for whatever reason--whether it was the WGA strike halting production on many good films (which is basically untrue...the strike affected TV moreso than movies) or, more likely, the election forcing studios to halt their major movies until after November 4--been sort of dead, quality-wise. There have been a few moments of greatness...WALL-E, obviously...The Visitor...In Bruges...The Dark Knight...Hancock...the visual power of Speed Racer.
This weekend is the first in a forthcoming string of exciting weekends. Wannabe Oscar players Changeling and Rachel Getting Married expand. Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno will not be in any awards race, but is an exciting film nonetheless...I always hope for surprises and poignancy in a Kevin Smith film...I always hope he brings his best self to the table for every film.
More major titles will bow after the election. It's almost time to get back to movies. I, for one, can't wait...and I hope there will be several movies to get excited about when the time comes.
So...5 days to go. I am asking readers to give me a buffer no matter what the final outcome next Tuesday. If Obama wins, give me a couple days to bask in the glory...and then I will gleefully jump back into the movies. If McCain wins, I might need longer...and it will surely be a slower, more melancholy transition back into film. I, of course, am hoping to refocus on movies as soon as possible...if you know what I mean.
In the meantime, here's a great film to watch...
Monday, October 13, 2008
...or the fact that there is a big opening for a talking chihuahua movie because there is such a depressing disparity of quality filmmaking so far this fall?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
With that in mind, I am taking my dog and pony show over to the iKonoclast, run by the Magnificent K. I am stepping in as a contributor not because she needs my help (as evidenced by here latest, stellar post, Obama/Biden: The Ticket of "Us", featuring an incredible video that everyone in the country needs to see), but because she was gracious enough to have me. I have a lot to say about this Most Important Election in Our History--I want to make sure it is in the most appropriate venue. the iKonoclast is that venue.
Do not abandon Cinema Squared. There will always be reviews, box office and business info, and stimulating film discussion herein. But never fail to stop by the iKonoclast, which will continue to be the home of K McKiernan's brilliant political analysis....and now J McKiernan's...hopefully equally brilliant ranting.
So, in getting back to the typical Cinema Squared topic of conversation--powerful moments captured on film or video--check this video out...
Thursday, September 4, 2008
During last night's convention speech, Sarah Palin confirmed that she fits the neo-conservative mold like a glove.
The current Governor of Alaska, she of the most conservative record in Alaskan history, she of the worst environmental record of any sitting Governor, went on for 45 long, often boring minutes that rose to occasional crescendos of fear, hate, and distortion. Went she wasn't putting me to sleep with her lame, rehashed rhetoric of John McCain's heroism and "reaching across the aisle" independence, she was offending me by resorting to the same nasty Republican boilerplate that Rovian politicians have been peddling for three successive elections now. She made no mention of any pertinent issues, didn't say word one about anything that matters to voters during this election cycle. She just attacked Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the Democrats with the same reckless vigor, the same nasty vitriol that any common right-wing news pundit would. She was an extremist attack dog--exactly what she needed to "electrify," to borrow a commonly-used word by the MSM, the Republican base, but exactly the kind of empty, biased, horseshit rhetoric that the intelligent masses--independent voters among them--should be rejecting on its face. Her message was repugnant, her mud-slinging revolting.
Most amazing of all was that her speech was divided into two seemingly warring halves--a fact that was shrewdly pointed out by a few post-debate analysts. The first half was intended to reach out to the common man--and especially the common woman--to let them know she was "one of them." She told her story and relayed it with all the "aww-shucks" realism of an everyday person. Fair enough--that's supposedly why McCain picked her. I get it. But about halfway through her speech made a stark diversion from the populist message of its beginning, and took a headfirst dive into Republican thuggery ("Rethuggery," if you will). Palin spewed the most smug and hateful distortions of Barack Obama's experience, record, and plans for our country since...well, Rudy Giuliani's babbling nonsense just minutes before Palin took the stage.
One thing Palin was careful to do was completely sideswipe any legitimate issue during her nasty performance. People care about the economy during this election...while Barack Obama has outlined his comprehensive plan for widespread economic relief, Palin only spoke seven words on the subject, words that did not detail John McCain's plans for our economy, but words that fit in with typical Republican smear tactics: "our opponent wants to take your money." I hate to resort to online-speak during what I intend to be a scholarly essay, but WTF?!?! Nothing but a complete distortion and false simplification intended to dupe the masses into hating Obama.
People also care about health care this year. Did Palin mention anything about the McCain plan? No.
People care about getting out of Iraq as soon as possible. Did Palin discuss a timetable? No--she proudly exploited the fact that her son is being deployed to Iraq next week (on September 11, of all dates).
People care about individual rights during this election. But Palin would never think about mentioning anything about that--if she did, she would expose herself for being a radical right-winger who wants to take away individual rights, most especially rights for her own gender.
The only resal issue Palin spent any significant time discussing--which obviously became one of the sub-themes of the entire convention--was "energy independence" by way of off-shore drilling. But she didn't discuss the dangers of such an action--she didn't even pull a Dubya and say "the jury's out." No, Palin--and by extension, the entire Republican convention--stated clearly that the solution is to drill and drill now. "Drill, baby, drill," the crowds roared, in their giant-sized bubble of isolationism and arrogance.
The Republicans have always been arrogant, always been rude, always been cheating, conniving pigs who consistently hit below the belt. But this convention moved them even further down the spiral. They've now become complete narcissists.
It's time to take them out.
Friday, August 29, 2008
We have endured eight long years of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and a right-wing stranglehold. Eight years of failed policies, failed posturing, and failed peace-keeping. Eight years of corrupt partisanship, enacted to serve only those in power. Tax cuts for the rich and zero relief for the poor. Tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs and zero reward for companies that stay at home. A healthcare system that shuts people out, plays by a shifting set of rules, and discriminates against those who need good care the most. A self-serving foreign policy that has completely abandoned vital American diplomacy and strong strategic intelligence. A unilateral occupation entered under false pretenses that has alienated the United States from nearly all of its once-strong partners and allies. A stubborn, greed-fueled reliance on foreign oil that has ushered in the arrival of $4 gas prices...and even higher than that in certain areas. An environmental policy that has ignored the environment and thus worsened our global climate. Eight years of neo-conservative leadership...and we have indelibly worsened the state of our country and its citizens.
It's been a long way down during these eight long years. But finally we are transitioning into a new era of American history. We are nearing the time when the atrocities of Bush 43 will be considered past-tense. We are leaving "then" and entering "now." The primary season we all experienced--some would say endured--in the past months was pristinely indicative of the move toward "now." As grueling and difficult as the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was, there we all stood, at the doorstep of the future, the gateway to progress, the precipice of history. After years of white male dominance, the two top contenders for a major presidential nomination were a woman and a black man.The uprising began, and after months of hard-fought struggle, a winner was finally declared. Three days ago, the woman who didn't quite make it stood up and spoke out to the masses, all of those whose passion was ignited by this exciting moment in American history. She stood up to say that we must not forget where we are and where we need to be. She told us to put any shred of enmity behind us and to unite behind the tidal wave of change. She exhorted us all to fight for this moment--our moment, our NOW--and never look back, not even when we think the job is "done," for it never truly is.
In this moment, as we stand on the brink of taking back our world, it is more important than ever to do every single thing we can to usher change into Washington, into the White House, into Congress, and into our lives. There is not a moment to spare. This is our Now.
Of course, if this was an easy task, there would be no reason to fight. But the resurgence of pride, the revolution of humanity, and yes, the audacity of hope, are movements that will chafe against the brick wall of apathy, the barricade of the status quo, the all-consuming evil of regression. There are enemies in this battle to take back our country, and they will not let up until their antiquated ideas for an evolving world become even more widespread than they already have.
John McCain is running on the image of a "straight-talker," a "Maverick" politician who understands the wisdom of bipartisanship. But McCain's image, much like his policies, are rooted firmly in the past. After falling victim to the upstart insurgency of Rovian political machinations in the 2000 Republican primary, McCain opted not to work at beating the sinister forces of neo-conservative fear and smears, but to join them. For the last eight years, the Senator from Arizona has made it his mission to pander so completely to the far reaches of the right-wing that his reliable "Maverick" moniker was no longer appropriate. Indeed, it was no longer recognizable. Stating broadly that McCain has voted with the Bush administration 90% of the time is damning, but it is vaguely damning. Stating more clearly that McCain not only voted for the Iraq war, but continues to support it to this day is more specifically what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain does not support a woman's right to choose and does not believe that women should get equal pay for equal work is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain thinks the economy is moving in the right direction, that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans need to be made permanent, and that the working class poor are not suffering under the current system is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain's solution to solving the issue of sky-rocketing gas prices is to drill off-shore, kill the environment, and hope for the best is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain wants to privatize Social Security, thereby demolishing the longest-standing and most effective and celebrated social program in our nation's history, is what our people need to hear. Stating clearly that McCain does not wish to reform a health care system that has left the sick, injured, and dying without proper care and with no way out is what our people need to hear.
These are not the policies of an independent soul. These are not the plans of one who wants to work with the opposition. These are not the promises of a Straight-Talking Maverick. No--these are the wrong-headed and dangerous ideologies of a brainwashed, power-hungry politician. He is pandering to the innocent people who were duped by Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and now he wants to dupe us, too.
Now, after a four-day celebration at the Democratic National Convention where those with the passion to change this country united to nominate Barack Obama and Joe Biden as the candidates who will lead us into the future, the enemy has countered with their own news: John McCain has selected a running mate, and that running mate is Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska.
When word came that Palin was McCain's selection, I was wary of what it meant. It seemed like a savvy move, one that would work in McCain's favor moreso than in Obama's. For months now, there has been speculation--mild though it may have been--that Palin was a strong dark horse candidate, one who could sway some of Hillary Clinton's former supporters by virtue of the fact that, aside from seeing a woman on a major ticket, they would also respond to Palin's alleged independent record. I was worried.
But I am not worried anymore.
Now, instead of worried, I am engaged in this election in a way I hadn't been heretofore. My passion has been ignited in a way it hasn't been since the heart of the primary season.
We have a real opportunity here. The selection of Sarah Palin is very revealing, indeed: it was orchestrated to reinforce the Illusion of the Maverick, since in the lead-up to this announcement, everyone from Republican strategists to CNN anchors were touting her "dedication to fighting corruption" and "record of bucking the system."
But that just underscores simultaneously the sneaky tactics of the neo-cons and the fact that no one knows ANYTHING about who Sarah Palin really is. In point of fact, Palin is far from centrist--she embodies the heart of hardcore conservatism.
McCain and Co. want us to believe--and want independents to believe, and certainly want former Hillary Clinton supporters to believe--that Sarah Palin is the voice of common Americans, the voice of bipartisan judgment. But when your VP candidate is anti-choice, anti-women's rights, anti-environment and, alternatively, is pro-gun, pro-war, pro-tax cuts for the rich...she is following in lock-step with the far right base of religious conservatives. She is helping DEFINE the far right base of religious conservatives.
You can't be a system-bucking maverick and a staunch social conservative at the same time. This idea of Palin as Independent was completely and utterly manufactured out of thin air. The idea of McCain as Maverick may have turned into a fantasy the last eight years, but the idea of Palin as Maverick is worse than a fantasy--it's an outright fabrication.
This is the contradiction that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and all loyal Democrats, liberals, and progressives should be pouncing on in the days, weeks, and months to come. Hell, they should be pouncing on it in the seconds, minutes, and hours to come. There is not a moment to spare. The time is NOW.
The time is NOW to put an end to the corruption in our government. The time is NOW to reverse these policies and programs that have set our country so far behind in every area, from the economy to foreign relations to health care to women's rights to gay rights to education. The time is NOW to speak out against those who want to continue derailing the potential of our government and the hard work of our citizens, and to speak out for those who want to help us set this nation right once again. The time is NOW to get out there and knock on every door, make every phone call, and donate any penny of spare change we may be lucky enough to have and afford--no matter how little that may be. The time is NOW to do what we can to help this country fulfill the greatness of its promise.
We cannot let our country down. This is our time. This is our Now.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Will try to get back into the swing of things soon. For now, some brief nuggets...
There are oh-so-many films to discuss, both good and bad....I need to impart the joys of Pineapple Express and the horrors--oh the horrors!--of Mamma Mia! And there are, of course, many more, some more compelling than others...Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers, The Wackness, Hellboy II...the list goes on...
K and I are seeing Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, tonight...I hope to report back great things.
We will most likely see The Rocker, for which I also have my fingers crossed, tomorrow.
Interesting side note: isn't it strange how the release and success of Superbad last August has then led this August to be the Month of Comedy? Nearly every major comedy release of the summer is landing this month...Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder are the most obvious and high-profile of the bunch, but also... The Rocker, The House Bunny, Hamlet 2, and even the lamest of the lame, like College and Disaster Movie. It's nuts. The only major summer comedy to be released before August was Step Brothers, and even that one only missed it by one week. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues next summer...or if each film will so severely dip into the others' grosses that studios will have to go back to the drawing board.
Such a shame to lose Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes in no less than a two-day span. They will be missed.
I will also be missing--happily and deliberately missing--films like The Mummy 3 and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The kids will have to drug me and drag me if I am ever to see one of those things...
We are now, finally, coming to the end of the summer season, which means two things. One is an end-of-summer retrospective of sorts, hopefully delivered by both K and myself. And more importantly, it means autumn--aka, the beginning of Good Movie Season--is nearly upon us. Plenty of wonderful stuff to look forward to...
...except not Harry Potter 6, which is now being moved to Summer 2009, even though Warner Bros. reports that all post production is completed and the film is completely ready...hmmm...
Tough times at Warner Bros. these days. First they announce the Potter move, which raised a lot of speculation, mostly negative...then Entertainment Weekly--which WB owns, no less--releases their annual Fall Preview edition with Harry Potter on the freakin' cover!...they had to apologize and clean up that mess...and now the trades are reporting that 20th Century Fox is suing Warner Bros. over the rights for WB's spring tentpole release, Watchmen. We'll have to see how that one unfolds.
Any thoughts on your end? What have you been watching while I've been gone...
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
This is not, by the way, meant to distract from the real discussion on The Dark Knight...our two reviews are below...
We waited (in the front) of a long snaking line for an hour and a half just to procure a "prime" seat to view the latest Batman film, and then we sat in the darkness for nearly 3 hours, sandwiched between people in a completely packed house. Was it worth it?
Friday, July 18, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
There is true punk rock and then there is poser punk rock. Wanted is a souped-up poser; it knows the attitude but not the music. There is lots of cursing, plenty of bloodshed, and a lot of ironic voice-over to lull the audience (and apparently many major film critics) into buying the film’s cheap brand of iron-archy. But to probe even one inch into the film’s content, one will find a lot of empty hatred aimed simultaneously at everything and nothing; it’s like the filmmakers just like the idea of being hipster assholes.
Wanted is actually pretty audacious: never have I seen one film so blatantly lift from both Fight Club and The Matrix while posing smugly as if it created something fresh and new. Credit for that should go, I suppose, to director Timur Bekmambetov, a Russian-Kazakh import who specializes in hyper-violent gore-fests and slick gratuity. Perhaps we can be thankful that he didn’t completely humiliate the participants in the film’s few energetic sex scenes, but on the other hand, sex doesn’t seem to be Bekmambetov’s preferred brand of porn…ultra cool slashings, gunfights, and beat-downs are.
Atonement golden boy James McAvoy stars in the Keanu-Norton role, playing Wesley, who suffers from frequent panic attacks, hates his Office Space-esque desk job, has no money in the bank, has a girlfriend who is cheating on him with his best friend, and who can barely stand to get up in the morning. Wesley narrates the film with a heightened sense of irony, as if he is fully aware the audience is listening. I prefer the cold detachment of Edward Norton’s Fight Club narration, which this film is clearly chasing in the wind, but while Wanted can muster the same four-letter words, it can’t come close to matching the meaning behind them.
Wesley is mysteriously recruited by a secret society of assassins called The Fraternity, which is led—as all secret assassin societies should be—by a grizzled Morgan Freeman, who stands on the sidelines—or more to the point, in the shadowy corners—and lets his elite team do the dirty work. The elite team is headed—as all elite teams should be—by Angelina Jolie, but she is not in Lara Croft/Mrs. Smith mode here; she is instead so emaciated that it seems one kick in the gut would break her in half (lucky that never happens to her during the film). Strangely, Jolie is relegated to a pretty small supporting role in favor of McAvoy, whose Wesley whines and screams his way through the film’s first few action sequences before undergoing the inevitable Transformation Into Gun-Slinging God. The training sequences go on forever and get bloodier as they go—this section also starts the film on its more serious “hero origin story” path, which does not coalesce with the smug jokiness of the film’s first half and which only serves to prolong the boring hyper-violence of the film’s last half.
McAvoy is a good actor and he is pretty good here, almost in spite of his mildly annoying character. Freeman has some fun spinning his usual gravitas with some barbed toughness…and he doesn’t chew as much scenery as one might imagine (though that might have been pretty fun, too). Jolie is basically wasted—I think she speaks about 20 words throughout the entire film. I’m not sure what drew these actors to this particular material, other than the fact that slick comic book adaptations (Wanted is based on a series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones) are currently en vogue, and maybe the arrogance of the film’s winking irony appeared half-way intelligent on the page. And Bekmambetov was probably seen as a pretty hot commodity in Hollywood, after his Night Watch and Day Watch films became cult sensations for their kinetic action and remarkably gratuitous gore. But I have news for them, and for you: Night Watch wasn’t all that great, and Wanted plays on the screen like boring action-porn.