Thursday, October 14, 2010

RED


Red hits theaters with a sketchy combination of big-name talent and a dangerously vague title. You've likely seen the ads (and if you haven't, check out the previous post). You likely know the stars. Now the simple question is...is the movie any good?

Check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Hunting you Down Tomorrow...



Red hits theaters this weekend, and the review is coming promptly. But while you wait, tackle this question: are you excited about a high-octane graphic novel adaptation which basically falls into the "Old-Guys-Still-Have-It" model?

Looking forward to the movie? Does the celebrated cast tip you into the "anticipated" category?

No judgment...just wondering. Review on the way.

Twinkle Fairies for Everyone!


Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue is now on Blu-Ray and DVD!

Ever wondered what happened to Tinker Bell before Peter Pan came into her life? No? Well your kids might, and that's why you should check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bourne is Nowhere to Be Found...



...and he won't be found. At least, not in the next film that bears his name.

Tony Gilroy, brilliant writer of the first three Bourne pictures (and deserving Oscar nominee for writing and directing Michael Clayton) has completed work on a script for The Bourne Legacy, the fourth installment in the popular action franchise, set for a 2012 release. He will also direct, marking the first time in the series since the original (when Doug Liman shepherded the franchise into existence) that Paul Greengrass hasn't been behind the camera.

Also, no Matt Damon.

In fact, no Jason Bourne. Yeah, that ain't no typo -- Jason Bourne will not appear as a character in the film that bears his name.

Gilroy is a great in the making, so let's all just calm down and wait to see what he comes up with. But for now, there will be confusion.

For more, check out my commentary on examiner.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Delicious



I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino's beautiful and brilliant saga of love, family, and sweet, glorious food -- and the film that was  unjustly robbed of Italy's Best Foreign Film Oscar submission -- is now available on DVD. One of the truly remarkable films of the year...you must experience it for yourself.

Check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Secretariat


The story of the Triple Crown's most legendary thoroughbred gets the Disney silver screen treatment, with great work from Diane Lane and John Malkovich. Gather the whole family together and buy some popcorn...but first go read my review at filmcritic.com.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Social Network: The Anti-Twitter Review



This is "The Anti-Twitter Review" because it is so long and languorous and it took me so long -- with some stretches in between where I couldn't get to the keyboard -- to crystallize my thoughts on the many different elements of the film. Sorry for the delay, so now block off half of your day and start reading...



The Social Network
is a gangster epic that happens to be about a 21st-century internet phenomenon. It is Goodfellas for the Age of Internet Isolationism.

Now, hold on just a second: the above statement does not automatically mean the film is a classic masterpiece on the level of Scorsese, Coppola, or the like. There have also been critics who have mentioned the film being reminiscent of Citizen Kane, which is an equally gargantuan leap of critical affirmation, though there are ways in which it is structurally and thematically accurate (yes, this movie has its own version of "Rosebud"). But in the way in which it unfolds, The Social Network, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, is a great mob epic that chronicles the lightning-fast rise and grandiose fall of a young genius. That fall, by the way, has nothing to do with money, as the film's chief anti-hero, Facebook mastermind Mark Zuckerberg, still thrives as the world's youngest billionaire. No, Zuckerberg's fall is one of humanity. His is a loss not of innocence, since the man is not portrayed as having a ton of innocence -- or likeability -- to begin with, but a loss of the precious commodity that is human joy and connectivity. Kind of ironic for a guy who allegedly linked the entire electronic world together.

In essence, The Social Network presents the impetus story for one of the most infamous and iconic socio-boons of our current culture. It is part docu-drama, part character study, and part social chronicle. What perhaps keeps it from becoming an instant and enduring classic is its emphasis on the former two elements rather than the latter. As I've noted in a previous article, the birth and growth of the social networking craze possesses implications that run so deep that it seems nearly impossible to fully encapsulate its social significance, the ways in which the rise of electronic friendships has led to interpersonal isolation and other ills. This film feels like an epic, but its canvass is not broad enough (perhaps in this specific incarnation, it can't or shouldn't be broad enough) to encapsulate the cultural strains that Facebook and its like has infected, both positively and negatively (primarily negatively). But in telling this story, in focusing intently on these characters, in bringing a "face" to this phenomenon, The Social Network does find itself on the precipice of making a profound cultural statement, which in itself is mighty impressive. And the film is rendered with such magnificent prowess on every possible level that it would be monstrously entertaining even without the real-life social implications.


The film's true focus is on character, and in that pursuit is able to achieve that most laudable of narrative accomplishments: using the specific to influence and comment upon the general. The main protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, in his best screen performance), is the nerdy Harvard genius whose billion-dollar empire was, according to this story, born of a relationship gone awry, a drunken moment of infantile vindication against a woman who rejected Zuckerberg's particular brand of narcissism. In that moment, depicted in the film's brilliant opening sequence (arguably its best, although it isn't accurate to say the film goes downhill from there), Mark's sort-of girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara, whose screen presence instantly commands star-level attention), rebuffs the repulsive arrogance that Zuckerberg bears naturally, and it sends the hurt and angered young, entitled genius back to his dorm room, where the initial seeds for The Phenomenon That Would Be Facebook were planted in a soil of alcohol, blogging, and mind-boggling algorithms.

Most interesting about the Fincher-Sorkin-Eisenberg distillation of Zuckerberg (since this film is proudly a compilation of reality and rumor, of documented reality and cinematic invention) is that he is not so much a driven megalomaniac but rather a boy genius who is driven by girlfriend revenge and henceforth intent upon being seen as cool. In The Social Network, Facebook is invented in order to get girls, make friends, be seen as cool. And that is the goal that drives Zuckerberg for the remainder of the film: he wants to be cool. Plain and simple. He makes billions, but it is coolness that he seeks, and that never fails to be his ultimate mission. It is an interesting psychological representation, and one that does speak to the ultimate nature of social networking as it has progressed (transgressed?) over the better part of the 21st century: people want to add to their friend lists, want to be liked and enjoyed by a wide swath of people. Coolness is the goal.

Eisenberg is brilliant in this role. He is always fabulous -- has been since his big-screen debut in Dylan Kidd's wonderful Roger Dodger, and that continued through roles in The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland, and Zombieland, among others. What is so brilliant about Eisenberg's embodiment of the cinematic Mark Zuckerberg -- indeed, what is so ingenious about Sorkin's creation of this character -- is the viciously sharp edge that is brought to the traditional Geek Hero. Zuckerberg is simultaneously the film's anti-hero and its chief villain -- he is a complete prick, hateful and full of arrogance. He comes by these traits naturally, as his genius is nearly unparalleled even by his Harvard classmates. He can create a web universe in a week's time, then turn around and spin verbal yarns that twist his foes into knots when they question the validity of his enterprise. He is a complete nerd -- the kind that usually is presented as so sweet and wonderful in most modern comedies, and the kind that Eisenberg has made a successful career at perfecting -- but the hard truth is that nerds have the same seedy underbelly, the same cutthroat desire for likability and success, the same reckless narcissism that pretty, popular people possess. It is such a precise twist on the perception of the Cinematic Geek, such a unique upending of expectations, and such a beautiful tweak to Eisenberg's typical persona that the character is divine. And Eisenberg is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination, and at this point is likely the odds-on favorite to win.


Eisenberg is joined by a stellar ensemble cast, including the breakout Mara (who will take on the title role in Fincher's upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, and on the basis of her work here I believe she can do it justice); Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man) as Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's best friend and co-founder of Facebook, whose mild-mannered business strategy is eventually flattened in the wake of Zuckerberg's big-thinking; Justin Timberlake, oozing slime from every orifice as Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who ushers Zuckerberg into the world of megalomania; and Armie Hammer, who comes out of nowhere to play twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, hulking members of the Harvard rowing crew who ask Zuckerberg to help them with a smaller, Harvard-based concept similar to Facebook, who eventually sue when he leaves them in the dust to pursue the much-larger worldwide phenomenon.

The film unfolds in a Rashomon-style multi-perspective style, which underscores the notion that there is no one answer to the Facebook conundrum. Many characters have many different ideas of how certain events unfolded, and none of these characters are truly, completely knowable. One thing that we know for sure: it is awfully lonely creating such a widely-embraced social enterprise, a fact that leads this Zuckerberg down the road of the aforementioned quick-rise, hard-fall gangster kingpin. He has "500 million friends," as the film's tagline cleverly exploits, and yet he is alone in a room, sitting in front of a screen. That is how his empire was created, and it is how his story concludes. It might seem ironic, but it is quite fitting.


There is a visceral excitement both within and surrounding the film, that sort of cosmic energy that tends to befall the films we think of as The Great Films. It is one of those movies where the beautiful combination of director, writer, cast, and crew that seems to breed unbridled greatness. Here the director, David Fincher, he of the gorgeous moody lighting, ambitious themes, and sardonic humor, has brought his particular cinematic attitude and worldview to a form and a genre that he has never before tackled. After a string of epic thrillers (Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac) and a throwaway literary adaptation (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Fincher finds himself squarely in the midst of a real-life drama. Because of the nature of this story and the attitude of this culture, Fincher is in many ways the ideal director for this subject matter.

In the same way, the writer, Aaron Sorkin -- he of the masterfully witty dialogue, unendingly intelligent characters, and tales of interpersonal love and struggle writ very emotionally large -- is a very interesting choice for this screenplay, which carries with it all the weight and implications discussed above. He brings a different sensibility to the table than one of the other big-name writers who might normally tackle the "Based On a True Story" cine-epics, like Eric Roth or Brian Helgeland or William Broyles, Jr. Sorkin brings a verbal energy and colloquial verve that automatically heightens the atmosphere, leavens the proceedings, injects a vial of sass. It automatically shifts the tone -- not from heavy to light, but from leaden to buoyant. At the same time, a guy like Sorkin could also easily cutesify the narrative with its talky nature and purposely heightened verbosity.

I've written forever, and yet there is still more to say. The conversation will surely continue for the rest of the year, as this film will surely be a frequent topic throughout awards season. The Social Network is an epic for the moment. It is not perfect, but its vast audacity and grandiose form lend it a certain magic that make it great. There likely is no way to make a single film that perfectly deconstructs the social networking phenomenon, but in tackling the myth head-on, The Social Network is about as ultimate as any such film could be.



My Nightmare: Another One of These Pieces of...


A Nightmare on Elm Street just landed on Blu-Ray and DVD. I didn't see the film in its theatrical release, primarily because I never bother to waste my time on regurgitated horror remakes when they are in theaters. It has always seemed like such a profound time- and energy-suck, not to mention a waste of blog space. Every once in a while one of them comes along that raises my ire enough to make disgusted comments (last year's Friday the 13th remake comes to mind). And that is sort of the case with this Nightmare remake, albeit on a different level.

Unlike the 2009 Friday the 13th, unlike Hostel, Saw, or any number of other modern pieces of horror-porn, this film does not blend elements of salacious sex with brutal, unrelenting violence. I suppose that is to its credit, since the blending of sex and violence is one of the more offensive -- not to mention dangerous -- trappings of that heinous genre known as "Modern American Horror." But the simple lack of softcore sex doesn't come close to excusing the inept lack of drama, the soulless copying of the original, the cynical attempt to inject some sort of sanctimonious moral to this story, or the basic thematic and emotional preoccupations that plague this and every other Modern American Horror film.

That is to say, the Narcissistic Slog of Role-Playing Catharsis.

If you watch the new Nightmare on Elm Street, you might be struck by how closely it skews to Wes Craven's original -- which itself is not so fabulous upon my recent revisiting, but at least took an original concept to then-unseen places. This new film, directed by music video director Samuel Bayer and starring the great, resurgent Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, does literally nothing to alter much of its basic structure from the original, which would be fine if the film were intent on cleverly homaging the material and proliferating a sense of fun. But "fun" is not a basic tenet of Modern American Horror, but "repulsive, persistent nastiness" is. There is an attempt to add a backstory to the character (a la Rob Zombie's self-serving, repugnant Halloween remake), one that, without giving anything away, offers two possible explanations, neither of which is less cynical than the other. And it makes no difference either way, because the point of this film is not to make audiences feel, but to make them jolt at false shocks, thus giving them some brief sense of release.

The audience is where I want to focus in this particular discussion, because as one who willingly sat down to view this film, I was taken aback at how entirely not scary, exciting, or even remotely compelling any of the material really was. It is not only a carbon copy of Craven's original, but a psychic copycat of every other entry into the modern horror-porn cannon in recent memory, which is to say it only exists to lure the late teens/early-20s set into theaters to vicariously cheer death and dismemberment. Watching the film, I could picture the type of person who would find this film enjoyable -- the sort of person who spends their days "Like"-ing Facebook status messages and sexting their entire contact list. There is nothing in this film that caught me by surprise -- one enters each scene under the expectation that it will be "shockingly" revealed to be a dream, and that there will be terror and eventually bloodshed. It is entirely episodic and not remotely surprising or intriguing, and yet I can imagine packed theaters jumped and shrieking with "terror" (read: delight). And it makes me wonder why.

Horror used to be socially relevant and spoke to a certain cultural malaise. In the days of early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper and George Romero, there was sharp commentary and real terror being displayed on the screen. Horror was not only scary, but legitimately engaging on multiple levels. Now, in the age of Modern American Horror, the only commentary is that "pretty people should die," and the only people who find it scary or shocking are those who enter the theater seeking some sort of odd enjoyment from slaughter. In fact, I think most fans would willingly admit that horror is no longer scary, but a venue that showcases psycho-worship and empty violent catharsis. Roger Ebert has called this type of film a "geek show," and I couldn't say it any better myself.

The film is half-populated with good actors -- alongside Haley, who obviously decided to parlay his recent critical success into a big financial pay-day here, there is Rooney Mara as the lead, Connie Britton as her mother, and an interesting brooder named Kyle Gallner as "the boyfriend" -- and the other half consists of blank-faced 90210 rejects who are thankfully offed early, but not before they perpetrate heinous crimes against acting. Once Mara takes center stage, she is fabulously cinematic, a real breakout star with enormous talent (she's also flat brilliant in limited screen time in Fincher's The Social Network) who obviously saw this role as a way into the business, and she upstages the material at every turn. Gallner (the punk-boy victim from Jennifer's Body, a horror-satire that works in every way a movie like this fails) is also good as the emo-boy who researches the Freddy Krueger legend to aid his lady friend. Haley is not particularly fabulous, since Freddy doesn't talk much or interact in ways that don't involve screeching his blades against walls. He doesn't even get to chew much scenery with any great vigor. After he was Oscar-nominated for the brilliant Little Children, carried the weight of Watchmen on his back, and added great spice to Scorsese's Shutter Island, this just seems like a paycheck movie for Haley, which is unfortunate, but, I suppose, a rite of passage for the newly-minted star.

Whatever the case, this new Nightmare is a complete dead zone (no pun intended at all). It is empty, predictable, boring, and sort of sad. And to top it all off, in a year in which Christopher Nolan's extraordinary Inception so precisely and originally deconstructed the state of human consciousness and all the psycho and emotional weight that comes with it, this movie about a burn-faced specter who kills people in their dreams just seems so limp, so elementary, so pointless...so irrelevant.

Emma Makes Spidey a Must-See. Seriously.


Sent a brief tweet about this when the news dropped yesterday, but a few additional comments are necessary.

I have not been a fan of the idea of a brand-spankin'-new Spider-Man franchise being crafted out of whole cloth. For proof, allow me to remind you about my posts from last year, first when I lambasted the very idea of starting a perpendicular Spidey franchise, and later when I discussed the hiring of Marc Webb as director, which was a good move given the guy's obvious filmmaking panache, but made me worry about his future career for jumping into a Spider-Man franchise that is attempting to ignore Sam Raimi's billion-dollar cash cow.

Of late, British actor Andrew Garfield signed to play Spidey, and lately he has made a splash as part of the brilliant young cast of David Fincher's The Social Network. Based on what I've seen of him, he will fit right into the Peter Parker persona.

And now, the news from yesterday: Emma Stone has been signed to play Gwen Stacy in Webb's new Spider-Man. And now I will be lining up early for this one.

Stone was the greatest possible hire that this franchise ever could have hoped to make. If you don't believe me or don't understand, go watch Superbad. Then watch Zombieland. And right now, while you can, go see Easy A in theaters, then stay to watch it again. It's brilliant. And she is especially brilliant.

Stone was originally rumored to be playing Mary Jane Watson, but Webb's film has moved on to another of Peter Parker's comic-book love interests -- a wise move, because it gives this new franchise a distinction from the Raimi films, which cast the wonderful Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Good for them for not imitating or attempting to over-match, and good for them for nabbing a casting coup.

Gwen Stacy did appear in Raimi's ill-fated Spidey 3, played ever-so-briefly by Bryce Dallas Howard, whose talents deserved better than the throwaway role she received. Now the character will get a full character arc, and will be embodied by the most infectious leading lady of the moment. No lie...Emma Stone has made me get excited about seeing the new Spider-Man.

Instead of dread, I now have anticipation. Instead of cynicism, I now have hope. And this development has also made me re-think the other pieces of the puzzle. Garfield is a very interesting actor, and it will be interesting to see him assume the Peter Parker role. As for Webb...(500) Days of Summer is a fabulous movie with oodles of style. That is just about undeniable. He will bring a very specific attitude to this franchise that will be fresh and interesting, especially with this cast.

For the record, I am still wary of jump-starting a new franchise only a few years after the demise of one of the most critically- and financially-successful franchises of the last decade. I would feel that way about any such endeavor (certainly the Ed Norton Incredible Hulk, which was horrible and unnecessary), and certainly about Spider-Man, which was so seamlessly and wonderfully crafted by Raimi, Maguire, Dunst, et al.

But maybe -- just maybe -- one of these reboot franchises can come together and work well. You can't make this many good decisions and leave me uninterested.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Barry Munday


Oddball indie comedy now in select theaters. Watch respected actors strut around like morons...if you dare. But first, be sure to check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's All Over, and Yet It Continues


It was expected for months, and last Thursday, it became official: Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy, citing assets of $1.02 billion against $1.46 billion in debt.

So what does it all mean?

Undeniably, competition has been bad for Blockbuster. Netflix and Redbox have been swallowing a vast chunk of the rental market, due in great part, I think, to their respective outlets -- Netflix's mail-delivery service and Redbox's in-store kiosks. In addition, Netflix offers instant streaming on an expanding library of titles, which itself has become more solvent in recent months due to the increasing ubiquity of network Blu-Ray players and instant streaming discs for video game consoles like Wii and XBox 360. The companies have swiped business from Blockbuster in spite of facing a 28-day window in which new films for the majority of major studios are contractually committed to only renting from Blockbuster, meaning that renters are willing to wait an extra month for the ease and convenience of mail delivery or picking up a disc on their way out of the grocery store. Additionally, On-Demand service from cable and satellite providers is becoming an increasingly viable option for renters, especially since there is no 28-day window for On-Demand service and most pay-per-view films are now available in HD, meaning one could hypothetically access a new video release in Blu-Ray quality picture with the click of a button, for a small fee...and they don't even have to own a Blu-Ray player, or pay a monthly fee to a rental company (those pay-per-view fees start to accumulate fast, though).

For their part, Blockbuster Online utilizes its own mail-delivery service that is almost identical to Netflix, and is planting its own branded kiosks to counter the Redbox onslaught. The former renting behemoth also offers an instant streaming option, although each viewing costs a small fee, whereas the Netflix streaming is included within the monthly fee for standard membership (yet another caveat, though: Blockbuster streams everything, with an emphasis on all new releases, while Netflix's streaming catalog, while expanding, is still limited and doesn't include many new releases). And yet, while Blockbuster has been solid at utilizing the formats offered by competitors, that very fact is, in many ways, representative of its downfall: the company is great at adding the features of its competitors, but unable to break new ground in order to raise the stakes for those competitors. Netflix raised the stakes. Redbox raised the stakes. Blockbuster won't -- perhaps can't -- re-raise. And it has been borrowing itself into oblivion just to be able to meet the standards set by other companies. Now all that borrowing has caught up to Blockbuster.

So what happens now? Well, more borrowing. According to reports, the company has reached a deal with bondholders, led by billionaire NY investor Carl Icahn, in order to rebuild and reorganize. Apparently $125 million has been committed by investors to repay suppliers and employees for the duration of this rebuilding period. Blockbuster Powers-That-Be promise that they will once again be able to achieve solvency, and that there will be a newer, better Blockbuster.

But the Blockbuster Era, such as it was, is over.

No more market domination, no more rental monopoly, no more Blockbuster-as-usual, much as they will work to make it seem that way.

Several Blockbuster stores have been shut down, and hundreds more will follow in the coming months. The number of Blockbuster stores nationwide that is being frequently quoted in the media is 3,000. That number will probably shrink to well under 2,000 by this time next year. More Redbox-style kiosks will pop up all over the country. The mail delivery and instant streaming enterprises of Blockbuster Online will continue in earnest. And over time, we will see how the the former juggernaut intends to survive in this Era of Home Entertainment Access that, at some undefined point, leap-frogged Blockbuster's old model while they were asleep at the wheel.

Wow, what a difference.

Sally Menke

There will be a continuing stream of posts that were already in progress throughout the day and week, but this is some shocking and sad news that just arrived in my e-mail inbox.

Sally Menke, one of the great modern cinema editors, whose beautiful work helped define the brilliance of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and Death Proof, and who was freshly coming off an Oscar nomination for Inglourious Basterds, was found dead early this morning in Los Angeles. She was 53.

According to news reports, Menke went hiking Monday morning with her dog. When friends reported that he never came home Monday night, LAPD conducted a search. Her body was found near Griffith Park early Tuesday. No word yet on a cause of death, nor whether the current extreme heat in Los Angeles was a factor.

There will be more information as it becomes available, but for the moment, there is nothing but shock and sadness over the loss of a great film artist.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Better Than Ever...and Now Back On TV




Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies is the long-gestating, long-awaited, long-wondered-if-it-would-ever-come-together television project spearheaded by the Man himself. A while back, when the old Disney syndication contract ended and the historic "Thumbs" were packed away firmly within Ebert's palms, Ebert openly discussed vague plans for a new show--one that would feature Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips and Ebert's former Siskel replacement, Richard Roeper, and one that would restore the Thumbs to their showcased role as the foremost public arbiter of filmic quality.

Time passed. Disney continued without Ebert, Roeper, and the Thumbs, first casting a film review program that attempted to resemble the Ebert version with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and "critic" abomination Ben Lyons. That tanked, for obvious reasons. Of late, the faux "At the Movies" featured Phillips--who, in his role with the Disney show, bailed on the new Ebert concept--and NY Times critic A.O. Scott. The result delivered stronger criticism and not-much-stronger television. And, as of August, it was defunct.

But alas, earlier this month, Ebert and Co. delivered the above video, a 7-minute demo of The Program That Will Be. It will feature Ebert not as a co-host, but in his own weekly segment, "Roger's Office," where he will do what he really cherishes the most: shed glowing light on overlooked gems, smaller pictures that are near and dear to his heart. It is a fitting segment for Ebert, who has long been famous for his thumbs and his arguments with Gene Siskel, but has been most passionate about sharing the joy of film with the world.

Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Elvis Mitchell, former NYT critic and host of public radio's The Treatment, will serve as co-host, and Kim Morgan (sunsetgun.com) and Omar Moore (popcornreel.com) will be regular contributors. The show will retain the basic format of At the Movies' former incarnations, but with additional content and more feature segments, as indicated in the 7-minute pilot. Ebert has been quoted as saying the new show is "a rebirth of a dream," a sentiment that will surely be echoed by those of us who made the old Siskel & Ebert show a weekly obsession.

Ebert's health battles have been well-chronicled over the past four years, and his eloquent and triumphant return to the throne has been wonderful to behold (for my discussion of that journey, read my article from earlier this year). Roger may no longer be able to speak, but his voice is still loud and clear. He has, almost indisputably, never been better. And his new show will hopefully restore the passion and verve to the enterprise that has long been missing.

Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies is slated to premiere on PBS in January. If I could set my DVR now, I would. But I will be waiting impatiently. I hope you are, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Can't Wait For...



Directed by David Fincher. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, who leads an emsemble of one of the more interesting young casts in recent memory.

The film is receiving more widespread critical buzz than any film this year...can we start calling critics "Social Network Stalkers?" Will reviews for the film be called "Pokes?"

It looks mighty intriguing. And a film like this is very important for a time period such as this. But still I have questions. Is the film merely a (very recent) period piece recounting the controversial birth of a social phenomenon? Or will it dig deeper, recounting the birth of something much bigger, much more insidious?

The birth of socialization in miniature...the birth of iFriends...the birth of e-socialization in the face of flesh-and-blood isolationism. There are a great many implications to this era of social networking, and most of them are ugly.

If the film is brave enough to confront them, then we will have found a new American classic...and alongside last year's Up in the Air, the most prescient and relevant American film in years, and this year's Inception, a seminal masterwork of buried emotion and human consciousness, we may be marking a remarkable period of beautiful, frightening self-awareness in American cinema.

If it's not brave enough, we may still be intrigued and entertained, but the ball will be dropped on a monumental level.

I can't wait for The Social Network, but I still await the end product -- moreso even than with any other film -- to see if my anticipation will be fully rewarded.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Blu-Ray and DVD: Letters to Juliet


Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave are very huggable, but their movie came on way too strong for me. Letters to Juliet lands on Blu-Ray and DVD today. Check out my review on filmcritic.com.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Blu-Ray and DVD: Killers


Precisely the kind of movie one would describe as "wait for video." And as luck would have it, Killers is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD. Check out my review at filmcritic.com.

On DVD: Sparkle



TV-tastic Brit dramedy is now available for your home entertainment. But before you add it to your Netflix queue, check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Been a While

Hey there...remember me?

From September 2009 through March 2010, I posted hundreds of updates, solidifying a significant web space for Cinema Squared, jump-starting a wonderful series of discussions on all things film, and gaining some faithful followers in the process. Plus, it very simply gave me space to rant about the movies, a chance to share my voice with the world.

Once March hit, the posts became fewer and further between. In March, I averaged a posting rate of about once every 10 days. From April to May it was about once every two weeks.

Now it has been precisely 111 days since my last post.

There are several reasons for the lapse. One is the rhythm of life, which never fails to dictate one's schedule. Another is the presence of a day job, as I unfortunately don't get paid for writing, editing, and moderating this blog. And in my particular case, said day job has been pretty heinous for the past few months, so much so that it sucked all the energy out of me. Reason #3 would have to be the movies themselves, albeit with an asterisk. There certainly hasn't been a large amount of exciting films thus far in 2010. There has, however, been an expansive (and expanding) amount of awful ones, and an even larger number of disappointing and/or mediocre ones. So my energy level has been depleted, and the movies -- for the most part -- haven't been exciting enough to raise that energy level. But you know what...that's no excuse. Movies are movies, and though the modern cinema may giveth and taketh away, it is still my passion to watch, analyze, critique, and discuss film.

I want to get back there. I think I'm ready to start.

Before I do, though, I should mention one other major reason for my absence...

My blog has been invaded by space aliens.***

Rogue invaders have taken to posting random gobbledygook comments on various posts -- sometimes several at a time -- and the Powers-That-Be have done nothing to assist me in the matter. It started back in March, and was the initial reason my posting frequency began to drop off (you may remember the Technical Difficulties post, which vaguely referenced this issue...and has now itself been plagued with nonsense commenters). I persistently attempted to resolve the issues with the Higher Ups, but was turned away time and again. I then decided to put the issue behind me and continue with the work, at which point the aforementioned distractions began looming. Thus, it became that much easier to let the dust pile up on Cinema Squared.

But after all this time has passed, it just seems like enough is enough. Time to push past all the reasons to ignore what I love. Time to forge ahead with the work. Time to reignite this fire.

In the coming weeks, you can expect to see more frequent updates to Cinema Squared. There are so many things to discuss: Blockbuster's monopoly on the first month of the home video window, Netflix's potential big-deal instant streaming purchase, the 2010 wave of wonderful foreign and independent films, the 2010 wave of awful mainstream studio fare, and, of course, the movies themselves.

I've yet to discuss the overwhelmingly powerful beauty of Mother and Child.

I haven't had a chance to giddily discuss the towering genius of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

And then, there's Inception...one of the greatest films ever made. Period.

Oh yeah, and isn't Oscar season just about to slap us all across the face again?

It's all coming at you soon...as long as I can push forward and stay excited.

I will.


*** = By the way, I know there are no aliens taking over the blog...just random bored morons who have nothing better to do than screw with people's work.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Can't Wait For...

Only 3 Days Away...but still...

Summer's about to get jump-started. And Favreau, Downey, and Co. better deliver.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oh, the Crimes being perpetrated...

Everyone, quick! An outdated ABC Family TV movie has been limply packaged into a pathetic DVD release to cash in on the subsequent success of bit player Megan Fox!

Rush to the video store if you must, but stop by filmcritic.com to read my review first.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Date Night's Weekend Gross...What Happened?


The weekend estimate for Date Night: $27.1 million.

The weekend actual for Date Night: $25.2 million.

The difference between the top spot and a close second: priceless.

Check out my analysis of this mini-boondoggle on examiner.com.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I can't wait for....

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD




Starring Michael Cera. Directed by Edgar Wright. Featuring fight scenes that are a stylistic cross between arcade video games and Japanese anime, complete with visible onomatopoeia bubbles with phrases like "WHAM!" and "POW!"

Need I say more?

The film opens August 13...and I can't wait.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Random Instant Update #2

Question of the day: Hot Tub Time Machine toes the line between inspired hilarity and hideous trash. How far is too far for these interchangeable sex comedies?

There Will Be Tweets

Coming soon: Cinema Squared Mobile, featuring updates brought to you by mobile devices. Mobile updates, Twitter feeds, and more!

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Week Later: A Final Look at the Oscars


It's all over. And in the interim, while Cinema Squared has been toiling away at dealing with some debugging issues, we've all had time to think back on the Oscar season that was.

Awards season functions in a six-month cycle -- six months of Oscar build-up, and six months of rest and relaxation. We have just entered the off-season. And it feels simultaneously freeing and frustrating, exciting and empty. Plenty to talk about, not a lot to get excited about. For better or for worse, Oscar season hones the focus of entertainment journalists of all stripes, and gives a context for the entire discussion for nearly half the year. In the case of Cinema Squared, I have always felt like it brought out the best in our content -- always fascinating items to bring up, discuss, and analyze. And, of course, there are the Oscar movies, which may not all be perfect, but that strive for perfection in a way early 2010 releases like Edge of Darkness or Dear John would never dare. (I can't stress enough in this first quarter of the year: Thank God for Shutter Island).

So, in honor, in remembrance, in a quiet yearning for the return of...the Oscars, here's a final look back at this year's ceremony, based on some of the notes I took throughout the ceremony.

Extended Actor Excerpts: Good
In the supporting categories, viewers were given extended sequences of each nominated actor's performance, allowing us to fully understand the depth and complexity of each work and get an insight into each character. It was one of the few real changes this year's producers decided to make, and it was a successful one. I would have preferred the same strategy be applied to the lead acting categories instead of the "former co-stars take stage to shower praise on each nominee" format, but that was decent enough as it was.

Wrap-Up Music, and By Extension the Decision to Race Through the Show: Bad
Contrary to popular belief, this year's show raced by with uncommon zeal, obviously an attempt to capture viewers' attention for the entire broadcast and to finally combat accusations that the show runs long. But the show still ran long, so it didn't matter that they rushed the entire ceremony, which felt less intimate and more business-like than usual. The most offensive arm of this strategy -- even more offensive than in past years, even -- was the use of wrap-up music to cut off any attempt at a lengthier acceptance speech. The Oscars are supposed to celebrate every facet of filmmaking, thus reinforcing what a group effort the filmmaking process really is...except that preferential treatment was given to those higher on the totem pole. No one would dare try to interrupt Bridges or Bullock, and why should they? Both gave wonderful speeches that deserved to be heard in full. But the same holds true for the filmmaking team behind The Cove and the special effects team for Avatar, yet they were cut off the same way a dozen others were cut off throughout the night. Sorry, but that's bullshit. The shooting gallery will take their shots about length no matter how short the ceremony is, so allow these filmmakers -- at ALL levels -- to finish their speeches. This moment is supposed be special. Don't spoil it for them.

Martin and Baldwin as Hosting Duo: Good
Because the hosts only do real hosting for the first 10 minutes of the show, it's hard for any of them to really exude consistent greatness. With his forceful musicality, Hugh Jackman sustained greatness for nearly four hours, making him the best Oscar host in years, and if next year's producers know what's best for them, they will make him an offer before anyone else. But, as a comedy duo, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a fine job. Their old-school rapport was one of the only elements to work really well in this year's show. Their back-and-forth shtick worked really well for them and for the show.

Horror Dedication Montage: WTF?!
What was the point? If you wanted to do an extended dedication to genre, and horror was one part of a much larger whole, then fine. Or if one or two of the prominent Best Picture nominees were horror films, that might even work. As it was, there was no rhyme or reason. It was a strange montage that included films that weren't even horror pictures. It stopped the show dead in its tracks.

Best Picture Intros: Decent
The use of frequent breaks in the action to introduce each of the ten BP nominees worked pretty well, with a separate stage for the presenters to stand apart from the rest of the action and a card at the bottom of the screen that listed each nominated film's primary credits.

Best Picture Announcement:
Odd
Tom Hanks did a fine job presenting the Best Picture award (and I kinda liked the suppressed smirk on his face as he read the winning title, as if this was rooting for Hurt Locker all along), but the actual moment was so truncated that it felt like one rushed afterthought at the end of a rushed night.

Avatar
shut-out in major categories: Good
We all pretty much knew this was brewing for weeks, thanks to the overall critical love for Hurt Locker and the David vs. Goliath story that resulted from it. But it was nonetheless satisfying to see a film that didn't deserve to win any of the major awards lose in every major category. Amazing thing is, Avatar also lost in some of the smaller categories, getting shut out of the sound categories by The Hurt Locker. Cameron's epic walked away with three awards, but only two of them -- visual effects and art direction -- were deserved. I had predicted The White Ribbon to win Best Cinematography, and actually assumed if it lost, it would be to Hurt Locker. But it's not a ridiculous win for Avatar, so...whatever.

So funny that watching the Oscars brings out the cutthroat, "rah-rah" mentality in all of us. I was actively rooting against Avatar for the entirety of the Oscar broadcast, even though I actually really like the movie. The Hurt Locker wasn't my number one for the year, but I feel like it was a big victory that it took home so many awards. Kinda ridiculous.

Up in the Air
shut-out in all categories: Embarrassing
The biggest jaw-dropper of the night was Up in the Air losing the Adapted Screenplay Oscar to Precious. It is utterly shameful that the year's best, most enlightened and important film failed to win even one Oscar, especially for the core of its profundity, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's beautiful screenplay. Amazing...in the worst way. For his part, Geoffrey Fletcher was also shocked by his own victory, so much so that he literally couldn't muster a word without ample stuttering. The guy was in awe and I admire his genuine happiness, but of all the awards to give Precious, Screenplay was the least deserving, in my opinion. Fletcher's speech did provide fodder for the evening's best joke, when Steve Martin took the stage upon Fletcher's exit and proudly stated, "I wrote his acceptance speech."

The Hurt Locker
mini-sweep: Very Good
Six Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece, which is a nice haul for one of Oscar's lowest-grossing Best Picture winners ever. The film charted an interesting trajectory, from little indie picture to critical favorite to Oscar dark horse to a victim of Avatar's expected dominance to the odds-on favorite. But this was one instance where the film in question deserved all the praise and came out on the proper end of the spin machine. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing...an impressive showing.

Bigelow Making History: Wonderful
Don't forget this moment...it may not happen for a while. But it has been done, which means it can be done again. The glass ceiling has been broken, and the road has been paved for future female filmmakers. Kathryn Bigelow could not have been more gracious in her moment of glory -- which, for me, was the ceremony's high point. She also could not have been more deserving. Politics come into play in any Oscar campaign, but Bigelow always stayed above the fray and let her work speak for itself. Make no mistake: this award was earned. And I can't wait to see what Bigelow chooses to follow up this momentous achievement.


HAPPY TEARS


The new indie drama starring Parker Posey and Demi Moore is now in select cities and On Demand. It may cause more tears of cinematic despair, for this is one of the worst indie dramedies I've seen in years.

Check out my review at filmcritic.com.

Technical Difficulties

Hey there, loyal readers. Guess what?

We're still here!

The past week has been a strange and tiresome one for Cinema Squared. We have had to deal with a couple different issues that have kept us from continuing the work we are dedicated to doing for you all. It seems -- for the moment, at least -- that we have managed to resolve said issues to the best of our ability. And with that in mind, it is time to return to the work.

Thank you for sticking with us. There are plenty of updates lined up...plenty of things to talk about.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscar Winners



BEST PICTURE
The Hurt Locker

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

BEST ACTOR
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mo'Nique, Precious

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), Argentina

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Cove

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Up

ART DIRECTION
Avatar
Art Direction by Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration by Kim Sinclair

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Avatar
Mauro Fiore

COSTUME DESIGN
The Young Victoria
Sandy Powell

FILM EDITING
The Hurt Locker
Bob Murawski and Chris Innis

MAKEUP
Star Trek
Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow

ORIGINAL SCORE
Up
Michael Giacchino

ORIGINAL SONG
"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart
Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

SOUND EDITING
The Hurt Locker
Paul N.J. Ottosson

SOUND MIXING
The Hurt Locker
Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett

VISUAL EFFECTS
Avatar
Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, and Andrew R. Jones

History


Don't underestimate the moment.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

OSCARS: He Said, She Said Final Predictions


Oscar hour is almost upon us. Before tuning in tonight to find the actual winners, check out what we think will win and (because we just can't help ourselves in the big categories) what we think should win.


Best Picture:
KM
Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: The Hurt Locker
JM
Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: Up in the Air

Best Director:
KM
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow (...period.)
Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow (...period.)
JM
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Should Win: Jason Reitman (with big props to Bigelow)

The rest after the jump...

He Said: THE BEST OF 2009

For as long as I can remember, I've spoken of how bad 2009 was for the movies. In many ways, that's true -- far too many mediocre films, outright disappointments, and some of the worst films of the last decade bowed in 2009, and it was enough to drive a critic crazy. Perhaps this list was delayed so long because I wondered if the year even deserved such a celebratory retrospective.

But whether or not the year deserves it, the movies deserve it. This year I have 20 titles to represent the year's best, and they are all worthy of special mention. A few others, pushed just to the outside, deserve mention as well. They are, in alphabetical order: Amreeka, Big Fan, Coco Before Chanel, Coraline, The Cove, Food, Inc., Funny People, The Hangover, Hunger, Sugar, Tyson, and Whip It.

So I guess the year deserved it after all.

Here are the Best Films of 2009...

Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, March 5, 2010

She Said: BEST OF 2009

Here we are. Very late, but here nonetheless. Even though there were plenty of stinkers this year in film, 2009 was a truly fantastic year for cinema (in my opinion anyway). Dear "Oscar" has already declared its love with its top ten nominees, and tomorrow, we will learn which movie is Hollywood's pick of the year. However, below you will find my #1 in addition to 19 more that round out a top 20. There were so many worth mentioning this year, that I finalize my list with a few honorable mentions as well.

Without further ado...

Continue reading after the jump...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He's Why I Do This. He's Why I Love This.


Roger Ebert is the reason this blog exists.

No, I've never met the man, and haven't had anything more than a one-sided e-conversation with him in the form of my many letters to his famous "Movie Answer Man." But without him, I would not be a movie writer. It was the years and years of watching Siskel & Ebert and the countless hours of reading all of Ebert's reviews, both new and archived, both in print and online, and the years of studying Ebert's historic, legendary work in his many books, from the wonderful Movie Yearbook series to the invaluable Great Movies collections. Roger Ebert has always been, and will always remain, my greatest hero and greatest inspiration in this field. He is the Scorsese of Film Criticism.

Why am I saying all this? Today, Ebert will appear on Oprah, and the world will witness the debut of Ebert's new voice -- which is, amazingly enough, his old voice. After many years of battling a few different forms of cancer and several surgeries on his neck and jaw region, Ebert was left without the ability to speak, and his face has been re-constructed to the appearance that recently appeared in a wonderful Esquire piece on the World's Most Notable Movie Lover. For the last few years -- while his writing has thrived unlike any other period in his career -- he has spoken through a computerized voice program, the first version of which his wife, Chaz, fondly dubbed, "Sir Lawrence," due to its British accent. Lately he's spoken in an American accent called "Alex." Now a Scottish company, CereProc, has devised a way to utilize all the recordings from Ebert's TV appearances and his DVD commentary tracks to form a new "voice" for Ebert, a voice that will sound far more familiar than Lawrence or Alex. It is an exciting development, and will be something to watch. So, too, will be his discussion of the upcoming Oscars, which I'm sure will also be an obligatory -- but oh so fun -- segment on Oprah's show.

I also mention Ebert based on another recent article, by Will Leitch for Deadspin, in which the author recounts his own personal history of following Ebert as his idol, much as Ebert has been my idol. It is a wonderful story...the story I wish I could tell, in all honesty. And so I link to the piece with some requisite light resentment -- why couldn't I have sat with Ebert in a deli, listening and learning and laughing? -- but also with an identification of a kindred spirit. Ebert is a luminary, a legend, but he is also, very simply, a movie lover who inspired me to be a movie lover. For the longest time, my movie reviews mimmicked Ebert's writing style, and I'm sure some of that tone still seeps in from time to time. His influence on me, as was his influence on Leitch and countless others in this business, is inestimable, invaluable, and incredible. I wouldn't be here if not for Roger Ebert. He can take full credit for me even though he's never met me.

Maybe one day I will meet him. Maybe not. But as we approach the industry's annual formal celebration of the cinema, I must give a note of recognition, a note of love, a note of thanks, to the person whose unmatched love of film both formed and informed my own.

Thank you, Roger.

Oscar Charts, Round 4: Five Days To Go

I'm amazed at what a crap shoot it's all become. It seemed like it would be an incredibly competitive Best Picture race from the start, then Avatar came along and pounded its blue CGI chest...but then The Hurt Locker won 99% of the pre-Oscar awards...and now people are floating the idea of an Inglourious Basterds upset! Now we are back to square one...maybe not quite that far, but none of us can be so sure of our predictions...not even Tom O'Neil.

And what of the stories that are floating around as we barrel down the home stretch (ballots must be returned by today)? Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier sending out e-mails to Academy members bad-mouthing Avatar...Hollywood mafioso Harvey Weinstein proclaiming that a Basterds win is already locked...Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino throwing lavish schmoozing parties to woo voter support...and the reports that Hurt Locker isn't an accurate depiction of soldiers in combat, and that the film is in fact a damaging portrayal. Bottom line on all these stories: they are all, for the most part, absolute crap. Chartier's e-mail was a mistake on the embattled producer's part, but the note wasn't distributed to so many Academy members that it would even make a difference, nor are his words all that inflammatory (Avatar is a big, blue money-making behemoth...anything false about that statement?). Weinstein, as always, is a bloviating producer monster, and he's out to grab those Oscars as voraciously as any studio head. It would be unfortunate, in my opinion, if he's able to massage Academy members into voting Basterds, but good for him if he does...it would be a move tantamount to his unlikely Shakespeare in Love win back in '98...maybe even bigger in light of the fact that it would simultaneously be defeating the year's unmatched critical darling and the highest-grossing film of all-time. The schmoozing parties are held all the time...no big deal. And as for Hurt Locker's accuracy or lack thereof: most of the naysayers have already been debunked months ago, and regardless, Kathryn Bigelow's film is not intended as an incisive look at military minutiae, but an incisive look into the soldier's soul...military minutiae is merely the backdrop.

Completed ballots will arrive today. Counting will begin tomorrow. Five days until this suddenly contentious season will come to an end. Most of our questions will be answered by Sunday night. Then it will be back to the movies, and isn't that the point of all this...the movies?

Of course, soon enough we will be handicapping next year's Oscar race, so enjoy the movies while you can.

This week's charts...

BEST PICTURE
1. The Hurt Locker
2. Avatar
3. Inglourious Basterds
4.  Up in the Air
5. Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire
6. The Blind Side
7. An Education
8.
Up
9.
District 9
10.
A Serious Man

Note: I'm not parting with The Hurt Locker just yet, nor am I so convinced by all this Inglourious Basterds rumor-mongering that I think it is suddenly a favorite, let alone that it would simultaneously leap over top of both Locker and Avatar. Who knows...maybe that will somehow change over the course of the next five days, but it's unlikely. However, there are clearly three films left in major contention: Locker, Avatar, and Basterds.

The weighted voting system might come into play, and if it does, it seems to me that Avatar would be the first film out. A lot of people think it should be awarded a first-place vote for its innovation and history-making technology...and history-making box-office. But it's hard to imagine, if voters don't think it deserves a first-place vote, that they would place it second or third. For many, Avatar is a love-it-or-hate-it type of experience. And yet it could garner enough first place votes to give it a substantial BP lead before the second and third place votes come into play. Hurt Locker and Basterds are less polarizing, and my guess is that Locker is the least polarizing, given the fact that it has been, very simply, the year's most widely praised film.

The rest of the major categories after the jump...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

He Said, She Said: VALENTINE'S DAY


He Said: J McKiernan: Happy Valentine's Day, K...

She Said: K McKiernan: Two weeks late, but that's okay, Love.

JM: In the spirit, let's unleash some "love" on Garry Marshall's star-studded, money-making, studio-fantastic film, Valentine's Day.

KM: I know it’s not cool to do anything but crack on this movie, but I enjoyed it. Was it the best filmmaking ever created? Hell no, but as a date movie, Valentine's Day delivers pretty much everything I want and expect. I was entertained and I got to sit and be embraced in nice warm fuzzies (mostly) for its running length. It helped that I was next to my valentine as well. Okay, so, go, tear me and the movie apart. I know you want to.

JM: Look, it would be fun to tear this movie apart, but I won't...at least not with the visceral vigor I expected to going in. Is the film pretty simpering and shallow? Obviously. Is it so densely populated with movie stars at every corner that many stories get short shrift? Absolutely. Is it Garry Marshall's lame attempt to score a Love Actually type lovebird happy movie? Yes, and it can't come anywhere near the joyous wonder of Love Actually. But is it the ungodly atrocity I expected walking into the screening room? Well, no, it wasn't. I expected a steaming turd, and I got a mediocrity with some sweet moments.

Continure reading after the jump...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: DEAR JOHN



JM: Dear K, I think we need to talk about Dear John.

KM: Ok, let's get super sappy and start.

JM: So, let's see...movie about young love on some random local beach community where the guy is a black sheep and the girl comes from Southern high society, then he goes off to war -- 'cause he's also a soldier -- and gripping emo-drama ensues. Must be another insipid Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

KM: You know, maybe because it was near Valentine's Day and I wanted to have a good time, but the movie's first hour made me warm and fuzzy. I was along for the ride and was okay with it. But then, blech! Gone. No more good feelings. It really gagged me. Maybe there is only so much sweet I can take!

JM: Look, here's the deal. For the most part, I'm with you. I mean, this being a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, the story is never going to rise above standard romantic boilerplate; the conflicts will never be anything other than trials of love lost, and the solution can never be reached by any plot development more complex than death (Oops! I might have given something away!). But for the first hour, when it's all about charm and loveliness, when we are only receiving vague foreshadowing of the upcoming emotional vomitorium, the film is watchable enough.

KM: That's what I am saying. And, it certainly is not hard to watch the hunky Channing Tatum or the lovely Amanda Seyfried. Both actors are the best part of this film, by far, and they have quite the chemistry brewing. They are as talented as they are "easy on the eyes."

JM: I quite like Seyfried and Tatum as actors, and the film is directed by, of all people, Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), who gives the film more directorial cred than any Sparks movie has ever possessed. But at the end of the day, no wonderful actors and no strong direction can save the day from a story like this, which only functions as an emotional conveyor belt.

Continue reading after the jump....


The Decades: 1990s



A lot of people like to bad-mouth the 1990s. It was the decade that started the culture on a downward spiral, some might say. The music sucked, others might posit. Too many yuppies. Too much malaise. And the movies...well, many would argue that the decade is still too young to determine the true classics from the 1990s.

I don't buy that. The country was actually on the rise throughout the 1990s, and the movies reflect that upward mobility. Year after year delivered classic after classic. The decade started with a massive behemoth of a classic -- Goodfellas -- and ended with a flourish of virtuoso creativity with titles like Magnolia, American Beauty, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, and many others. In between, the decade was marked by countless other films, simultaneously beautiful and daring, challenging and entertaining. Movies to make us think. Movies to make us cheer. Movies to dazzle us. Movies to change our lives. Yes, it happened in the '90s.

And setting aside any high-brow criticism and focusing solely on the personal heart of a lifelong movie lover, the '90s hold a special place in my heart. It was the decade I came of age as a writer, a critic, a filmmaker, a film scholar, a film-obsessed nut. It was the decade I grew up, and I grew up with these movies.

The list follows after the jump...

Is This For Real?

If you happen to pop by the LA Times' Gold Derby blog, run by Tom O'Neil, who for many years was the happy-faced milquetoast who made predictions on all the E! channel's pre-awards broadcasts and is now the awards prediction guru/milquetoast, you may have noticed this little bit of gossip:

O'Neil is touting an Inglourious Basterds Oscar upset for Best Picture.

And he's sticking with it, calling his prediction "100% accurate."

O'Neil bases his pick on previous upset wins by Crash in 2005 and Weinstein's own Shakespeare in Love in 1998. Both of those films took the Best Cast prizes at the Screen Actors Guild awards -- since the acting branch represents the largest block of Academy voters -- over the season's presumed front-runners (Brokeback Mountain in '05, Saving Private Ryan in '98) and surged ahead for the eventual upset BP win. He also cites that, like The Hurt Locker, both Brokeback and Private Ryan won the Producers Guild and Directors Guild prizes their respective years, but the SAG winner took home Oscar gold. So...I get it. But history also shows us that both Crash and Shakespeare won the Writer's Guild award in addition to the SAG. And any sentient and knowledgable filmgoer will know that Tarantino is a writer first and foremost, and if Basterds was assumed to upset in any category, it would be for its screenplay. And Hurt Locker toppled Basterds at the Writer's Guild Awards this year.

So...my thoughts?

Read more after the jump...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are We Really Doing This?

http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/kick-ass/hit-girl-red-band-trailer

View the new red band trailer for Kick Ass (in theaters April 26) and decide for youself. Are today's directors getting lazy or do they know what's super "cute"? Take a great concept and have the 12 year old female actor curse worse than a sailor.

She Says: Cheap. Lazy. Disappointing as hell.

He Said, She Said: PERCY JACKSON AND THE OYLMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF



JM: So, K, are we ready to talk mythology?

KM: Sure thing, J.

JM: Okay, in the mythology of modern epic filmmaking, Chris Columbus is a villain worse than Hades, and his latest film, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is like sitting in the Underworld for two hours.

KM: It felt like longer than two hours, to be honest.

JM: I'm surprised it didn't run longer, given Columbus' bloated, overlong installments of the Harry Potter series. But this introduction to the Percy Jackson series -- an adaptation of the first of Rick Riordan's five youth novels -- is even worse than Columbus' clumsy, pedestrian Potter entries. By far. This movie is heinous.

 Continue reading after the jump.....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: A Tale of Two Atrocities





HE SAID: J McKiernan: Hey, K, let's talk Edge of Darkness.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: If you reallllly want to. Shoot.

JM: I've been waiting for this moment for weeks now, when I could go on record with the following statement: Edge of Darkness is the devil. It is the foremost example of cinematic evil.

KM: I feel really dirty when I leave a film like that, too. I did not think it as evil as you did, but I found it pretty repugnant. And, what is worse is that it does well. The idea of people loving to watch Mel Gibson be bad-ass and cutthroat nasty is really sad to me.

JM: I expected the film to beat Avatar in its opening weekend, but it didn't. So, actually, it hasn't done as well as I expected it to, this being Mad Mel's first on-screen lead in 7 ½ years. But the fact that this film made any money -- the fact that this film got made in the first place -- that's my problem.

KM: Right. Exactly. I am not saying it was the best box office smash, but the fact that it makes money period is nauseating.

JM: And look, obviously the film is not Horror Porn, but it inflicts a similar evil. It is “Revenge Porn.” We are intended to shell out $10 a piece to masturbate our bloodlust and exact emotional revenge on everyone who's wronged us in the past. I'd rather pay $90 an hour for a therapy session than watch Mel Gibson exact violent revenge.

KM: There is this very real and dangerous thread of Revenge Porn (as you so aptly term it) that is polluting cinema. Law Abiding Citizen, a fall 2009 thriller featuring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, which is being released this week on Blu-Ray and DVD, is an even worse example than Edge. I was completely horrified and baffled by the torture and execution of bloody acts in the name of a killed loved one. It should immediately be placed on an amended list of the Worst of 2009.

Read more after the jump......


Thoughts on a Sure-fire Oscar winner


In the midst of discussing every other movie in the world, we never got around to discussing Crazy Heart, even though it scored three big Oscar nominations and is about a 99.9% favorite to walk away with two of them.

And the nominations -- minus one -- are well-deserved. Jeff Bridges is a fabulous, incredible actor, one of the best of his generation and one of the best of the last three decades, period. And his work here, as Bad Blake, is wonderful and tough. He doesn't imbue the character so much as the character imbues him -- with the unmistakable ennui of a grizzled, hard-living shell of a former country legend. Great stuff. And the film's theme song, The Weary Kind, is a lovely ballad that is seamlessly incorporated into the film and perfectly encapsulates the film. Supporting Actress nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal...not as good, but it's not her fault, and we will get to that later.

To the fact that Bridges' Oscar is now a foregone conclusion: the performance isn't so ridiculously brilliant that it should automatically merit an Oscar. Let's calm down and get a hold of ourselves here. For all of Bridges' brilliant work throughout his career, the guy has never won an Oscar. So this year, in this film, in this category, the Academy is choosing to give the understood Career Achievement Award to Bridges. I don't want to diminish the work, because I love Bridges and I really like his performance in Crazy Heart, but it's not brilliant insanity. For this year, I would easily give the Oscar to George Clooney, who took on the most challenging and subtle role of the year in the most important movie of the year. And for me, Bridges should already have two Oscars, one for The Big Lebowski, which many loyal fans will agree with, and another for The Contender, which many people forget about, but shouldn't. If I controlled the universe, Bridges would not win this year, but I understand the reasoning and I admire the work.

The film itself? Decent. Solid. Sometimes more solid than other times, which I suppose would mean "uneven." And that's a fairly accurate critical description of the film in very generalized terms.

Continue reading after the jump....

Over the Weekend, Vol. 2: BAFTAs



The British Academy of Film and Television Arts presented its 2010 awards over the weekend, and the biggest winner was...

...all together now....

The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow's awards season juggernaut (which it absolutely is, sweeping literally everything from critics groups to nearly every major guild...forget about Avatar being the runaway freight train, though it is still in the thick of the Oscar race) continued to plow through the competition, taking home five BAFTAs in all: Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Up won animation. A Prophet took Best Foreign Language Film. No surprise that Reitman and Turner won Adapted Screenplay for Up in the Air. Less surprise that Mo'Nique and Christoph Waltz took the supporting prizes. A little more surprise -- and delight -- that Carey Mulligan and Colin Firth won the lead acting prizes, though not too much surprise, considering they are both Brits. Nonetheless, the great work cannot and should not be diminished.

Avatar took two, for Production Design and Special Effects, and it will likely repeat that combo at the Oscars...though at this point, anything more seems iffy. Maybe one or both of the sound categories. Maybe not. Or maybe it will somehow pull out the Big One. Anyone's guess at this point, though it peaked a long time ago and has been on the decline ever since. The story is The Hurt Locker.

An amazing job by the Hurt Locker crew from top to bottom, and an amazing course charted by this "little film that coud" (HATE using that phrase, especially for this film, though they did deliver so much for so little). It has gone from being a small film making the festival rounds and scoring two low-level Indie Spirit nominations last year (thus making it ineligible this year) to being, at this point, the prohibitive front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, as well as the film that will likely deliver the first female Best Director winner in Oscar history. Amazing work, amazing story, amazing movie.