Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CANON OF FILM: ONCE

ONCE (2007)

Director/Screenwriter: John Carney

He (Glen Hansard), is a street guitarist/songwriter who works as a vacuum-cleaner repairman in his father’s shop in Dublin. One night, He meets She (Marketa Irglova) a young Czech pianist, who hears him playing, and she has a vacuum that needs repairing. She’s poor, and doesn’t own a piano, but she practices at the display at a local music store, and one day, He goes with her one day, guitar in hand… What happens next in John Carney’s independent musical “Once,” cannot be described properly using detailed minutia. The word that keeps popping in my head to describe what happens is “magical,” and yet, that word still feels inappropriate. There is for-lack-of-a-better-term,  a spark, in this moment. He knows it. She knows it. Even the guy who runs the music store knows it. We know it. The kind of spark where suddenly one realizes that something special is happening, and that something is not only drawing these people together, but it a feeling, that suddenly, all makes sense in the world, that one has found what one was missing, and that there is a connection then that which can’t be explained, confounded, or described in physical reality. It transcends it. What could I compare this film too? A simpleton who’s concerned about similarities might compare this film to Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” only with musicians. They are similarities, but this isn’t a romance. This isn’t a dreamlike adventure. “Once,” is a simple story on paper, but on film with John Carney’s directing, it’s a poetic story of two people with dreams and commitments that coincide and conflict each other. She, we find out is married, with a young child, and even though they’re separated at the moment, reconciliation is possible, and this puts her music career on hold. He has an on-again/off-again girlfriend in London, but doesn’t want to go without first recording a demo, which costs way more money than he has. Glen Hansard has a couple bands of his own, most notably The Frames, but he might be most well-known in this country for being in the film “The Commitments”, about a group of Irish pub-dwellers who try to put on a R&B/Soul band together, hoping for a big break. Marketa Irglova never acted before. She’s a classic Czech pianist, only a teenager when she made this film. They wrote and performed all the music from the movie, and they won the Oscar for Best Song, and while the soundtrack is great, the movie itself feels like an album. The songs say things that the two characters feel, and want to say to each other but can’t, not because they’re unable to, in fact they both always know what the other is thinking, but because it would be too risky and could destroy what they have now. The way the movie ends, is not the way we wish it did, but it’s correct for it to end our journey with them, and their journey with each other. The movie is called “Once,” for a reason, but that makes what does happen more special, and more poignant. We are allowed one grand gesture at the end, a symbol of their time together, and what they mean to each other. If you’ve read this and you still aren’t quite sure what I am talking about exactly, that I’ve spoken in strange metaphysical adjectives and vague descriptions and haven’t told you what the film’s about, you’re probably right. If by the twenty minute mark of the film, you still don’t understand what I’m getting at…- well, I can’t help you there. This is a movie, but its storytelling devices aren’t in the world of mise en scene, physical and visual analysis, but in the world of music, which is based purely in the emotional. I don’t know what to make of those who can’t relate to emotions, but, that sinking boat can be pointed home, and you’ve still got time.

Note: Hansard and Irglova now tour and record as “The Swell Season.”  


Monday, August 29, 2011

THE FIRST 3,000+ FILMS! THE ACTUAL LISTS! PLUS SOME FACTS AND THOUGHTS ON MEASURING OUT MY LIFE IN MOVIES.

THE LIST OF EVERY MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN
http://mail.aol.com/34062-111/aol-6/en-us/mail/get-attachment.aspx?uid=28113941&folder=NewMail&partId=3&saveAs=Movies_I've_Watched.pdf

and, HOW I RATED THEM ON A 5-STAR RATING SYSTEM
http://mail.aol.com/34062-111/aol-6/en-us/mail/get-attachment.aspx?uid=28113941&folder=NewMail&partId=4&saveAs=STAR_RATINGS.pdf

Well, there they are, in case anybody thought I was lying or joking about my lists, here they are. The first one is a simple list of movies, double-columned on a Microsoft Word program. That one includes a lot more titles, because it also includes numerous short films I watched. If it was shown in a theatre or tried to anyway, it's probably on there. (A few of these title I saw as a volunteer judge for a local film festival, most of which didn't make the festival). As with most lists there's a long list footnotes at the bottom for exceptions and clarifications. The second, is a list of every feature-length film, that I had made on Microsoft Excel, along with a 0-5star rating I gave the film, all of which are subject to change and/or reconsideration later, but they've mostly been consistent with the views I have of the movie(s). I transferred them to pdf. files, I hope that okay for most of you. On the Rating one, some of the longer titles got cut off, hopefully there's nothing too problematic. I tried my best to avoid confusion over some titles, by including the director's name in parenthesis next to a movie if there were multiple well-known films with the same title, although, I seriously doubt that I got every one, so if there's a confusion, just ask, and let me know I'll make a correction. Same goes for any film that may have an alternate or better known title. I tried to use the title a film is best known as in America, and some of the films had multiple-known titles. They're alphabetical, starting with films with numbers beginning the title, so it's from Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris," to Cy Endfield's, "Zulu." It's not completely improbable that I have an alphabetical error, so again if you happen to find one, let me know. Although if you're searching closely enough through this list enough to find an alphabetical error, that might be the only thing that's a bigger waste of time and energy, than me actually making these lists.

Please feel free to look through, and criticize me as much as you want if you happen to disagree with a few of my ratings. I'm already half-expecting hell for my 0 rating for "The Goonies," for instance. Some of you may notice some anomalies. I've only seen one "Terminator," movie, and it was the third one. For those who know my criticisms of "The Lord of the Rings," well, you'll probably notice that the third film of the trilogy isn't on the list. Well, you caught me. Haven't gotten around to it yet. Sorry, wasn't exactly in a hurry after reading the book, and seeing the first two, and yeah, I'm still pissed it won the Oscar over "Lost in Translation." Other interesting facts, almost half of the movies are from this century, including 1,290 from the last decade, and 174 from this decade. How do I know those numbers, exactly? Yeah You guessed it, I have lists for some of the decades too, and those lists are bulleted and numbered, and I have no particular interest in showing those. Seems like a lot, but, you watch mostly what comes out recently, generally. You gotta know what's going on now. And you have to know the past as well. Over half the films are from last century. There's actually by my count, 3,003 feature length films on the list. The official 3,000th was "The Outsiders," for those who are curious. I've watched a couple other films since, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number was actually higher and I've simply forgot about movies I had seen, or watched a movie and forgot to put it on the list at some point, or couldn't remember the title of that midnight movie I watched that night after I'd been up for three days straight. I know there's dozens if not hundreds of short films that I haven't added to the list; most of them are animated shorts that hopefully we all grew up with and loved that starred characters with names like Mickey and Pluto, Bugs and Daffy, and Tom and Jerry, and so on and so forth. I probably could go and scour my old collection of VHS and Beta tapes to see the title of some of those cartoons, but I just haven't yet, and that won't even include the hundreds of others I saw on TV, and then I have to check to see if they were originally in theatres or on TV, or maybe both. (Same goes for "The Three Stooges," shorts now that I think about it.) I could only do so much, but as much as this list is about my past, I also want it to be progressive and pointing towards the future.

You may look through these lists, and see a lot of things, perhaps a big waste of time. Not gonna lie, some of the movies were, and yeah, the making of the list, in hindsight, probably isn't the most productive thing I've ever done. Maybe not though. 3,000 movies is impressive, but many have seen more movies than I have, they just didn't make a list out of it. I mean, I haven't seen every movie ever made, but nobody has. Nobody can read every book ever published or go to all the museums to view every painting, or listen to every piece of music ever recorded. You know what I see when I look at this list, and what I want others to see when they look at this list? All the films that aren't on it. I'll republish this list periodically through the major milestone points, but that's the thing, it's neverending, and there will always be films I haven't seen. I can think of almost 1,000 of them right now that encompass my netflix queue. There's thousands more. Maybe I haven't gotten to your favorites yet? More than any comment I want from anybody who happens to go through this list, is to find a movie that it isn't on my list and recommend it to me. I can't guarantee I'll get around to it immediately, or possibly even ever, but I will certainly try. (Yes, even if it's the third "Lord of the Rings," I'll add it to my netflix, right after I post this. I'm not moving it up immediately though.) Sure, some movies/directors/genres/etc. I like more than others, but that's no reason to limit yourself, you could easily miss something special doing that. So while I measure out my life in movies, if anything, let me know what movies you feel are worth measuring my life out in. Even if it sucks, it's an experience, and it's another movie on the list. Not every book is "Oliver Twist," but that hasn't stopped people from reading. We only have a certain amount of time, to do all the we can in these lifetimes. Might as well enjoy it, and enjoy the best parts of it. 

So, what's a good movie I should watch?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

NETFLIX HATES TV ON DVD: A NEW COMPLAINT ABOUT NETFLIX!

Let me begin with the TV show, "Louie." It's on FX, and some of you might have seen it. I'm very interested in seeing it myself. I've heard  good reviews, it's gotten a few major Emmy nominations recently, and I'm a huge fan of Louis C.K., the show's star. He's a good actor and comedian, and is especially known for being a comedy writer. He's famous for being Chris Rock's writing partner, and wrote much of his well-known material. And I know the DVDs of the first season are available, at least at stores. I've held one in my hand at a Wal-Mart about a month ago. I've been patiently waiting for Netflix to soon carry the DVDs of the show. They once had the show streaming, and then they didn't for awhile, and now they do again, but they still don't carry the DVDs of the first season. It's on my saved list right now, with an availability date listed as "unknown." I'm aware that most major studios have contracts with netflix that require their product to be out on the marketplace for up four weeks before Netflix can carry it, that's a standard in most of the contract deals Netflix has made with the major film/TV distributors, but it's been longer than four weeks now, and it's starting to get annoying, and it's not the first time something like this has happened. Okay, I know most everybody else's complaint about Netflix these days is the price hike, and yeah I'm not thrilled with it either, but I've already made up my mind on that. If I'm pressed, I'll get the DVDs. The streaming sucks and is limiting anyway. But there's two aspects of Netflix that's starting to become annoying, one, is their inability to keep a consistently updated New Release section, and second, their failure to inform users of release of new seasons of TV shows.

It's seems like the simplest part of the website. Once a week, there will be  new DVDs released, and Netflix will have all/some/many in stock, usually on a Tuesday, which is the industry standard for when new DVDs are released to the public, and these newly-released DVDs will be listed for the customers on the Netflix website. This includes TV series. A check at the New Release section of Netflix, reveals that they have five new TV series in stock this week. However, they didn't mention when they got in stock, a new season of a TV series, that they had one season of in stock already. I'm not even talking about TV series bad some bad cable reality show on VH1 or something like that. No, I'm talking about critically acclaimed TV series, important TV shows. In the last two weeks, I had to find out the hard way that new seasons of "Eastbound & Down," "The United States of Tara," and "Dexter," were available on Netflix (Eastbound & Down, will be available on the 30th). A couple of those series, they're well-known for streaming, (I first saw "The United States of Tara," on Netflix, as a special preview of the show they offered, before it aired on Showtime!) How did I find out about these new seasons of some of my favorite shows? As many of you know, I like to makes lists. No, I don't have a list of every TV show I've ever seen, like I do movies. That would be impossible, and way, way too long. I do have a small list of TV shows that I use to remember shows I haven't seen and keep track of shows on cable that I am unable to watch until they're on DVD, and I keep track of what season of the show I'm on. I made this list by going through every major cable channel's website, and check out their shows, and tried to make notes of the more important shows to eventually watch on DVD. I try to keep that updated to as new shows on cable are constantly coming up, and because a cable network has a different programming schedule than a basic channel, there's new series debuting all the time, not just in the fall anymore. When a show ends, and I've seen the last season of it, I knock it off the list. I'm more updated on some shows than others. At least I thought I was. Netflix started doing something unusual a while back. I think it was done as a time and space saver. It's that, instead of giving each season of a TV series, it's own space, they instead shove the entire season of a TV show together. So, instead of looking up, "True Blood, Season Three", let's use that for an example, they'll send you to "True Blood," and instead of the typical "ADD," options, which allows you to add the series to your queue, it's replaced with a "DISCS" option. Clicking "DISCS" take you to the show on Netflix, and announces which seasons they have in stock, in this case Seasons 1-3, with an option to Save Season Four to your queue for when it's available. They've tried to do this now, for most of the TV series, and at first glance, it seems rather helpful. But, there's a lot of TV series, on top of a lot of movies, and maybe we forget. Of course, many people have other options, hulu for instance or some other streaming site, video stores carry DVDs of TV shows, or they could buy them if they're financially well-off enough to do so. I only think that last option is worth it for the most personal favorite TV series that you know you'll watch over and over again, and there isn't an traditional outlet like constant reruns that may already provide that option, but, still.... (Redbox has probably wisely chosen to stay out of this market.) And when a new season of a TV show on DVD is released, every store, Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, you name it, will place that new season, in a New Release Section, for everyone to see. Now, Netflix, used to do that. Recently though, because they group these TV shows, separately for the show, as oppose to a different group for each new season, the computer doesn't read these new seasons of a show on DVD as a new release. So, it's not on there. So now, back to my list, I have to go through, every currently-running TV show that's on that list, particularly ones that I haven't seen a new season for recently, and double-check to see if there is one. This list that I made, which was only there to remind me for when I finish "The Sopranos," to look at and go, "Ah, yes 'Men of a Certain Age,' I meant to watch that 'cause Andre Braugher got nominated for it..." is now more critically, a list I have to keep looking up and checking in on once a week, to make sure that, I'm not missing a new season of "Weeds," or "Dexter," or whatever, insert favorite show here.

And what about this "New Release Section," of Netflix. Originally, they had a New Release Section, and then, one day they didn't. I kept trying to look it up, and it wasn't there. I finally called in, asking to find it, as I was informed that they had gotten rid of it. Apparently, they had done some research that showed that people didn't look at the New Release section, and preferred to find movies on their own, and through the recommendation system they use based on our previous viewings experience and preferences. (And there is nothing funnier than how that machine characterizes our movie preferences. I apparently love cerebral foreign-like dramedies with strong female protagonists.Whatever-the-hell that means.) I found that troublesome originally, because that didn't make much sense to me. There's new movies coming out all the time. If you're going to bother with Netflix, wouldn't you want to be up-to-date with movies? Even if it's simply enough to find the movie at a video store or Redbox so you can save Netflix for harder-to-find films? They recently almost tried the same stunt, temporarily pulling the page while they did some reworking of the website. Now, there's two ways to go to the New Release section on Netflix. One, to go to Browse DVDs, then click New Releases, and go to "Released in the last", and choose "Week". Either that, or the secret way, which is to go type in www.netflix.com/AllNewReleases, which gives you a list of all that week's new releases. You can't get to that site by starting on Netflix.com, so you have to type that in (At least once, and then mark it as a favorite, which is what people should do for this blog). It still, seems strange that they don't take greater care in this. Go to a video store or the video section of any store, and essentially, there's two sections, "New Releases," and "Everything Else." Everything Else, is often organized in some manner through genre or subgenre, which can really get confusing, but that's a subject for another time. After careful consideration, I don't believe that research. Maybe there are many more people who don't just look up what the latest film released is, but I think that research must have been flawed; I mean, they brought the New Release section back eventually, but even so, why wouldn't you still provide a section like that for those that are, am I'm betting most the most devoted filmgoers/filmviewers are constantly keeping up-to-date with stuff like that, and use Netflix as a vital tool in their filmviewing experience. That includes TV shows, which are just as culturally important as film is, if not moreso. I know Netflix is a company, and they're trying to make money, hence that price-hike everybody is pissed at, but let me tell ya, you don't treat the customers correctly, the stockholders are going to hear about it, and they're gonna pull out, and it won't be the price-hiking that's going to do it, it's going to be these constant little problems, that seem far easily fixable that are gonna lose customers. Netflix, I'm still a devotee, but this is a fixable problem that needs to be addressed, and soon.

NOTE: Before I posted this blog, I decided to call Netflix's Customer Service Line. I've called on many occasions before, usually because of a streaming problem, that usually could correctly be blamed on my internet provider. Also, I had made similar complaints in the nature of this blog on the Netflix Blog on multiple occasions, but hadn't decided to call in about it until now. First off, in regards to "Louie," not being available on DVD yet, while it is available currently for streaming, they are having a problem with the distributor of that series, and therefore do not have it in yet. While I found that unusual, I did suspect a problem of that nature. They are usually good with TV shows on FX being available through both streaming and DVD; "The League," "Justified," "Sons of Anarchy," and "Damages," for instance, are available through both DVD and Streaming on Netflix, and this is an anamoly for them. I then asked about the problems with the New Release. The CSA, who I must say was incredibly nice and supportive, as every call I've made to Netflix's Customer Service Line has been, seemed to indicate that we was aware of this problem, and had gotten similar complaints, and he himself had complained about the problem. He particularly wanted to let me know that the more people that call in with these complaints, the more Netflix will do to address and fix them, as they are always trying to make everything available to the customers. Based on past experiences, I believe he's right, and Netflix will provide and correct for such services, they have been for the most part, especially generous in this regard. So, here's the phone number for Netflix's Customer Service Line: 1-866-716-0414. Everybody call in, and soon, no more having to be shocked that your favorite TV show's latest season has been on DVD for six months.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

CANON OF FILM: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

Director: Charles Laughton
Screenplay: James Agee based on the novel by David Grubb

Although he acted in over 50 films during his illustrious acting career, Charles Laughton only got to direct one film in his lifetime, but he made it count, and it stands as strange unique essential film that’s part “Huckleberry Finn,” and the rest, this surrealistic nightmare with a tone that seems to directly influence modern horror/slasher film directors like Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. “The Night of the Hunter,” frightened the hell out of me on my first viewing, and still continues to shake me on subsequent viewings. It’s at times a little over-the-top but the film follows nightmare logic, so then there’s no reason for it to make any sense anyway, as long as we’re constantly frightened.

The opening shot is a warning from Lillian Gish, an old silent film star who transitioned brilliantly into supporting roles with talkies, as she “Reverend” Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). Powell is a sadistic career criminal who finds out from an inmate about $10,000 he stole from a bank that the police haven’t found, because he’s given it to his two children (Peter Graves and Pearl Harper) ages around 11 and 8 to keep hidden. After their father is executed, Powell sweeps into the town wearing a priest collar, a black hat, and “LOVE,” and “HATE,” tattooed his knuckles as he retells Genesis with his story of right-hand, left-hand. “With this hand Cain struck his brother low.” The only two people in town who don’t buy his act are the two kids, and it doesn’t help them that he’s dead-set on marrying their disillusioned mother (Shelley Winters), and trying to coax out of the kids where they hid the money. (And although they reveal it fairly early, I ain’t telling you where they hid it.) After he drowns his wife, the kids board a raft and start heading up the Mississippi, while Powell maliciously follows them using any means necessary and destroying anything in his path. Mitchum was broad-shoulder, big and handsome, and because of that, he usually played the hero in most of his films, especially Westerns. Yet, he played two of film’s most iconic villains, along with Max Cady from the original “Cape Fear.” His natural charisma lets us follow him almost as blindly and some of the townspeople who seem to make up his congregation, as he references the bible the same way Michael Corleone references his contributions to politics with a wink of the eye so silent, nobody catches it, except the kids. Kids seem to be better at spotting bullshit than adults, I don’t know exactly why. I won’t reveal the heart-wrenching and terrifying third part of the film which lends itself to a little bit of falsehood, but by this point, any sign of brightness is wanted and warranted, and besides, and old lady with a shotgun is always going to be a crowd pleaser, especially this saintly one. The film baffled critics and audiences upon original release, because it didn’t feel like anything that came before. Not much has since. David Gordon Green did a loose remake of this with his film, “Undertow,” that had Green’s more natural southern gothic twist (When he’s not making “Pineapple Express”). Not much else though. You don’t get too many dreary psychological horror films that are also popcorn-eating, elbow-bruising chase movies. There’s a lot a story in this simple little tale, and it’s the unique frightening manner in which it’s told that we remember. It's a shame this is the only thing Laughton ever directed. Imagine what else he could have done behind the lens? Scary.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIES REVIEWS: EDITION #6: "THE COMPANY MEN," PLUS OLDER MOVIES, INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL "FRIGHT NIGHT"

It's been another slower-than-usual week of movies, and I only saw one movie that was from a film released within the last couple years. Actually, I've been spending much of my time catching up on TV these last few weeks, watching the latest season of "Breaking Bad," on DVD, as well TV movies like "Tin Man," and "The Special Relationship," and I'm currently in the middle of "Shakespeare Retold," which is a collection of 4 films from the BBC, that are all modern twists on Shakespeare classics. And, I also rewatched season 8 of "Project Runway," on DVD. My mom hadn't seen it, so I had to keep it on my netflix for her-, ah, whom, I'm kidding, I wanted to watch it again. I mean, that season had everything, and just when you thought it was over, there's a fight with the judges! They never-

Alright, I'm gonna stop myself there, that could go on for awhile, and I already wrote my blog on the show, which is the Older Posts section if you want to read it. Besides, this is a blog for critical analysis and not excessive fandom (Not this week anyway). So, yeah, I've been behind, and hopefully that'll change soon. I've been a little behind on this blog too. After this, I'm gonna post another Canon of Film blog tomorrow to try to catch up, so for the loyal, all four of you, that's what you got to look forward to. And by the way, I know I tell people to check out my blog on my facebook, and that's fine, I've gotten somes "likes," and I even got some nice comments, but can more of you "Join," the blog, if you can? I know it's a little tricky for some, but I only got 6 followers, and I'm occasionally getting more readers than that, it'd be nice if some of you joined the blog as well, and to members of my family, that includes you too! I didn't think I needed to tell you guys, but apparently....

Alright, on to this week's reviews:

The Company Men (2010) Director: John Wells
3 1/2 STARS
“The Company Men,” is the first feature film by famed TV producer John Wells (“ER”, “The West Wing,”) and at times, the movies feels like this was an abandoned pilot script that kinda got expanded. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, I kind of enjoyed that, had the movie not had such good acting, I would’ve thought, maybe this could be a really good show, to see what happens with these characters. Of course, that could also just be the lack of real character development to begin with. For a TV show, that’s okay, characters have time to develop, in a movie, that’s a little trickier. The movie is a fairly straightforward story about the way the recent recession affects people, and while they do add some news clips of the collapsing stock prices and bailouts, the film’s based around a fictional company called GTX, where the CEO (Craig T. Nelson) is more interested in keeping the company’s stock price up than he is in keeping jobs for the company, that originally started by building ships. The first casualty is Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) the company’s top salesman, who’s one of many that’s downsized because of redundancy. He’s bought into the yuppie lifestyle that he used to afford, and is angered when his qualifications don’t get him another job right away. Gene McClary, whose been with the company from the beginning, and is Salinger’s (Nelson) right-hand man, is starting to voice disgust with the constant firings. About the only people who’s job seems secure is Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) who’s the HR rep in charge of downsizing, essentially, and is sleeping with Gene. There’s nothing unpredictable in this film, but that’s okay, it’s done and acted incredibly well. On top of the performers mention, there’s great performances by Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and I especially want to mention Rosemarie Dewitt as Affleck’s wife, that takes a second job among other household cutbacks, some might know her from her word on “Mad Men,” and/or “The United States of Tara,” and she’s quite good here, as is everybody in parts that are strangely general and non-descript. The acting is the star of this movie, and it elevates the material, which actually looks at this recession through a more eh, what’s-the-word, basic viewpoint. There isn’t a deep analysis here or nothing new, and that’s been an easy criticism of the movie, but I didn’t exactly want to sit through “Wall Street,” again anyway.
Fright Night (1985) Director: Tom Holland
2 1/2 STARS
Admittedly, I hadn’t even heard of the original “Fright Night,” movie until some friends were bragging about going to see the remake. So, when I happened to run into on TV Saturday Night, I thought, maybe I should take a look at it, to see exactly what I’m missing. A teenager (William Ragsdale) suspects correctly that his neighbor might be a vampire. This annoys his girlfriend that’s held out on sex with him for a year. The girlfriend, btw, is played by Amanda Bearse, who played Marcy on “Married with Children,” and that’s one of the funniest things about the movie, to me. The movie, I think was played for camp, (at least I hope it was) and on some level it succeed at that. Roddy MacDowell has the most interesting part as a former B-movie horror star, named Peter Vincent, who now hosts one of those local late-night movies shows, that usually either has someone dressed like a vampire or some other weird monster, if they can't get Elvira. MacDowell is certainly the most interesting part of the film, having a lot of fun with this, really strange role that’s part complete ham, and part Van Heflin-type pseudo-expert on the subject.  Other than that though, I didn’t find any particularly reason to watch this film other than as either preparation for the recent remake, or just as a typical late-night bad movie to watch, and frankly as a bad movie, it had some camp, but not enough to really be funny, except for some of the bad acting, and it wasn’t particularly scary. The joke of coming up with classic ways to kill vampires from old movies not working, well, the joke stopped working pretty quickly. It’s a close call, but it just missed for me.  
Smokin’ Aces (2006) Director: Joe Carnahan
2 STARS
To the cute, goth, red-haired girl on the bus with the cool back tattoo, I think you’re name was Tiffany, who told me to go and see “Smokin’ Aces,” about four years ago, and I promised it was on my Netflix, it was, and I finally got through all the movies I had ahead of it (apx. 200+).  So, this review is for you. As for “Smokin’ Aces,” this movie has inspired a sequel, which I found strange considering the fates of most of the people in the film. The movie is one of those Guy Ritchie-inspired films where you get a bunch of different kinds of bad guys together in a very slick, overly-shot, overly-produced way. I’m not a fan of his, generally. In fact, if pressed, of the films of his I’ve seen, the one I like the most was his remake of  “Swept Away,” which starred his then-wife, Madonna, and that’s mostly ‘cause I like the original so much. I’m kinda stumped by this genre in general, and this film in particular. There’s a hit on a Las Vegas Magician, (Jeremy Piven) who has close connections with the last of the Las Vegas Mafia, and they’ve put a hit on him, of a million dollars, and this leads all hitmen and FBI to Reno, where the target, is protected in a penthouse suite at a Reno hotel. I wrote on facebook, that the movie kinda reminded me of a farce, except when you open a door, instead of finding somebody naked, you find somebody trying to kill ya. It had a few interesting moments in the beginning, where we’re introduced to all these characters, but it just devolves, into a mess of bloody violence as all these hitmen try to kill the same man at the same time, or maybe not. There’s a lot of confusion. Thankfully, there’s some recognizable actors to distinguish between these hitmen and cops, but it just became too mind-numbing, and frankly, you couldn’t understand what was happening anyway. There’s an explanation at the end of the movie, of exactly what happened, what went wrong, and why, but by that time, I didn’t care about any of these characters enough to even bother. It just felt like they’re were trying to put a bunch of meaningless violence into a context of a story, when if anything, at that point, I would’ve preferred the violence to just be meaningless.
Infamous (2006) Director: Douglas McGrath
3 STARS
At the same time Bennett Miller was making “Capote,” Douglas McGrath was making the film, “Infamous,” both of which are about Truman Capote heading off to Kansas to do research for the book, “In Cold Blood.” “Capote,” was released first, and was hailed as a masterpiece, and won an Oscar for it's star, Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Infamous,” came out later the next year. It does pail in comparison to “Capote,” although it is kind of unfortunate that these two films are forever linked. It’s not that unusual for an incident like that to occur, where two different movies with similar stories are made at the same time. Recently, both “No Strings Attched,” and “Friends with Benefits,” came out months apart, and both are romantic-comedies about friends have occasionally have sex with each other. (I'd explained the relationship further, but the two titles of the movies do that for me.) The most famous of these incidents involved “Dr. Strangelove…”, the Stanley Kubrick satire about Cold War annihilation fears, which got released before the Sidney Lumet film, “Fail-Safe,” which took the same material deadly seriously. “Strangelove” was a hit, and “Fail-Safe,” wasn’t, although both are considered classics now.  “Infamous,” is simply okay  and interesting. It’s well acted and Toby Jones, is good as Capote, although he does come off a little too much like the Capote that we’re all familiar with from his appearances on things like Match Game and TV interviews and such. There doesn’t seem to be much added substance to him, and it borders on simple impression at times, but I think that's more the material than the performance. The movie kinds feels, partly like a documentary, where many of his fellow New York socialites are seen in interview segments, played by people like Peter Bogdanovich and Hope Davis, and a strangely casted Sandra Bullock in the Harper Lee role, and many of the other scenes seem like throwaway genre exercises where they got the scene, and then got “like a Woody Allen movie,” out of the hat. (Allen is an advisor to the film.) Daniel Craig as the convicted murderer Perry Smith, is very good, but this movie just isn't as fulfilling and intimate a story as it could be, and we know it can be. It’s an interesting examination of the auteur theory, but alone, it's a little bit of a mixed bag, mild recommendation.
Ordet (1955) Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
3 1/2 STARS
There’s must be some religious fervor in Denmark, ‘cause most, if not all of the movies I’ve seen from there, at least the ones not directed by Susanne Bier, all have to do in some way with a local culture of excessive devotion to God. “Ordet,”  (Which translates to “The Word,” as in, “of God”.) was one of only four feature films directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. He directed a lot of short films mostly. The only other film of his I’ve seen is “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” which is considered one of the best silent movies ever made. (Similar to Terrance Malick, he only made a feature film every ten years or so. It involves two families, in the 1920s rural Denmark, where there’s a lot of monologues about God. The conflict arises when neither family wants their children to be together, because they don’t belong to the same, practically similar Christian religion as the other. The movie is very slow-moving in the beginning; this is not a film for everyone. It’s not really a film for me, either. I like religious conflict and symbolism, but I like to stay with Bergman, he can at least be humorous at times. Dreyer is somewhat way more serious about these conflicts of dogma he analyzes. His movies are certainly distinctive and memorable, and despite the very slow beginning, we get to learn these characters, and then think about what happens to them, and the part religion plays in their lives. I like the movie, but it’s not for those who are looking for a film that they don’t have to think about when they watch. It’s good, but Dreyer is for the advanced filmgoer.
Stolen Summer (2002) Director: Pete Jones
4 STARS
“Stolen Summer,” became famous for having been the film selected by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon during the contest for the TV show, “Project Greenlight,” during it’s first season, where the making of the movie was then documented on HBO. Damon and Affleck caught a break when their screenplay “Good Will Hunting,” was sold and they became famous and subsequently won an Oscar for the screenplay, and they wanted to give another unknown screenwriter/filmmaker a chance, they did, and while they didn’t make a movie as great as “Good Will Hunting,” they did make a good one. “Stolen Summer,” takes place in Chicago, and young Pete (Adi Stein) is out of Catholic school for the Summer, and he’s deeply concerned he’s going to hell. His family is devoted Irish-Catholic, led by his mother and father (Bonnie Hunt and Aiden Quinn, both very good as usual), and they have a lot of kids. After learning that Jews don’t go to heaven, Pete decides to hang out by the synagogue, where he sells free lemonade and Jesus, with the permission of the Rabbi (Kevin Pollak). The rabbi’s son Danny (Mike Weinberg) becomes interested in Pete’s goal to help Jews get into heaven, and he volunteers to help Pete on his quest. It’s a good first film by writer/director Pete Jones; both families and their trials and tribulations, seemed realistic and accurate. He’s still getting work in Hollywood too, he just wrote the film “Hall Pass,” that came out earlier this year. Just proves once again, a good screenplay, is the first step to a good movie, and that being a good writer, can get you good work as a writer.  
Half-Life (2008) Director: Jennifer Pheng
3 STARS
DISCLOSURE: I met one of the producers of this film during a film class once, when he was a guest speaker. It's the only time I've met him, and have had no contact with him outside of that discussion, and it doesn’t affect my opinion of the film.
“Half-Life,” is the kind of independent film that really is a mood piece. Either you’re gonna like the mood or your not. It involves some sci-fi elements, but it’s really about a family where the father has suddenly disappeared literally into the night sky. The plane he piloted never landed. There’s lot of news reports that are played through-out the film about events happening throughout the world, and beyond. One of them involves an astronaut on a spaceship that suddenly decided without warning, to steer the spaceship towards the sun. These strange events escalate all over the world, but in the Wu family, the tensions is more based in the everyday. The mother, Saura (Julia Nickson), has brought a new boyfriend home, and her two kids, Pam and Tim (Sanoe Lake, Alexander Agate) aren’t as smitten with him as the mother. Sometime, they go into their imagination, and there are some wonderful animation sequences in the film. A lot of the ability that apparently the son has isn’t explained fully, I’m not even 100% sure if it’s in his mind or if it’s real. There are a lot of side-characters that seem to have their own narratives at times, and I’m not always sure these things piece together. I’m not quite sure they’re supposed to either. There’s enough that I liked, just enough to recommend though, especially for the more banal sequences, for instance a great scene with the mother and son where she’s brought him along to work with her, and she actually washes airplanes at the tiny airport her husband took off from. Despite all the film’s other flaws, I did get the feeling that this was a family that was legitimately torn apart, and was struggling to adapt to the new norm. It was written and directed by Jennifer Phang, she’s mostly done short films up to this point, and I think she’s got a lot of interesting ideas, visually and story-wise, and there might been too many, but just enough for me with this film, barely.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

DEAR "SEX AND THE CITY," PLEASE DIE ALREADY. SINCERELY, BIG FAN

Within the last week, just randomly checking the main headlines on imdb.com, I read about five different stories about whether or not there's a new "Sex and the City," movie on the works. This'll be the third since the show went off the air. I've also read about an apparent pilot deal HBO has with CW about a prequel to the show, taking place when Carrie Bradshaw was in high school, and one article about rumors about an entire new season of the show, to air on HBO. Look, this is hard for me to say, because I am a fan of "Sex and the City." I didn't miss an episode when I had HBO, and I eventually got through all the DVDs, and even occasionally watched reruns, despite how badly edited down some of them were. But, this is getting ridiculous now. This show has been off the air since 2004. Seven years ago! And it's not like the show, ended without a legitimate conclusion. It actually had one of the best finales of any show ever. It was satisfactory, it concluded every character's major storylines in a believable way, and yes, in an unbelievable way, Carrie got her fairytale happy ending, with Mr. Big. Alright, predictable, but is was emotionally cathartic, and a perfect ending to the series. Yet, we got a movie. It wasn't a good movie, and while it had some moments of inspiration as sort of an afterword, much of the movie was exactly what the show wasn't. Uninspired, contrived and sitcomish. Yet, it was popular and a box office hit. As was the second movie, which got some of the worst reviews of any film last year. (Yet, the movie is on my netflix, and unusually high for a film with such bad reviews.) But, now I'm just confused by this excessive need to continually bring these characters back and give them a new adventure/dilemma(s) to deal with. Why? What is it about these women, that we are going so far out of the way to keep them in the public's mind, despite the show having long been off the air? Believe me, there are many shows I wish were still on the air, and a few I wish for one reason or another to come back, but  "Sex and the City," is not one of them, especially after the first movie so drastically failed to live up to the standard of the show. I don't know the answer to this desire for more of the show, but I have a feeling it's got something to do with need for nostalgia, and the many fans of the show that might be legitimately disappointed that there isn't another particularly comparable show on TV currently. I don't think there is, and I don't think there can be one. The show had the creative freedom that being on HBO provides, which make similar attempts to recreate the structural formula on the show have failed on basic TV, including "Miss Match," and "Cashmere Mafia,"  which were both produced by famed "SATC" writer Darren Star, as well as the numerous other attempted basic TV copies, the most memorable one to me was "Lipstick Jungle," which was also based on a Candace Bushnell book, who wrote the original "SATC". These attempts, like most attempts at replicating a previously successful show was based on the most basic plot outlines of the show, which simplistically includes, hot, modern women, usually working women, who are close friends, although generally the reasons/explanations for their friendship are rarely if ever explained, they talk frankly about sex, love and dating, which in the hands of the wrong writer, can very easily be confused with each other, and some apparent romantic-comedy cliche(s) that women seem to love and fascinate over the way men fascinate about porn. (That last part, I'm borrowing a bit from the hypotheses of Whitney Cummins.) They copy the words, completely missing the music, as most copies of successful show formulas have noted. (I'd give examples of failed attempts to remake "Friends," but there's too many of them.) However, the interesting and unique part of "Sex and the City," that I believe many of the shows critics, and many of its fans completely miss, is the hidden reality(ies) of the characters in the show that we don't get to see. Yes, the show exists in a fantasy, a Woody Allen-esque New York, filled with beautiful, interesting, smart intellectuals and the bright light of the city is as much a character of the show and any of the actresses. I'm sold already; I love this world, but why this New York and why is the shows is so glamourous. It's not simply a choice in storytelling, it's because the entire show is the creation of it's main character. The title, "Sex and the City," refers to the column Carrie Bradshaw rights for the fictional newspaper, New York Star. The column is a modern female take on the world of dating. Many local weekly periodicals used to have a female writer that would discuss such things, my favorite was the "Sonya," column that used to run in the Las Vegas Weekly. In this article, she discusses not only her personal life, but the life of her three friends. There's some debate as to whether or not the friends are actually based on real people or made up by Candace Bushnell, but the only things we ever actually really know about the characters, with the exception of a few rare occasions, is through the words of Carrie Bradshaw, and her article which purposefully limits the scope of what she talks about to essentially their sex lives. This is the little key to the show, that I think everybody gets tripped up on, they think it's simply that "SATC," had women talk frankly about sex, and they copy it, and they come up with incredibly unrealistic characters. A lot of those who don't care for the show think they are shallow characters. They're not. We just only get to see this very narrow, perspective, that's altered and manipulated, through Carrie, so at times, if you don't read between the lines of the show, it could come off as shallow. It's her voice rewriting these adventures, and leaving out many of the other facts about there lives. This was the part of the show that always remained the most fascinating, because it was through these tales where we had to think and look at how exactly is Carrie Bradshaw telling these stories compared to what might have actually happened, including her own tales of sexual misadventure. Sometimes she's probably retelling things her friends told her exactly verbatim, but much of the time, they're stories that are reworked by her, sometimes heavily exaggerated, other times they might be completely made up, possibly giving one story to a different character. She focuses on certain aspects, and not on others. We always get only part of the actual story, and sometimes, it's possible we only get something out of her imagination. My favorite trick this involves is giving all her friends and lovers fake names. Mr. Big, her most famous on-again/off-again lover is the most obvious one, but none of her characters use their actual names. Samantha Jones, Miranda Hobbs, and Charlotte York, are the names she gives these friends in her article, not the real names of the characters. All three have big jobs that women who would simply sit around hip New York restaurant drinking cosmos wouldn't be sober enough or qualified enough to have in real life. Samantha Jones, a high-powered press agent, has a man-sized personality, work ethic and sex drive, and is given a name, that is typical shortened to a masculine form, "Sam Jones." Miranda Hobbs, is named after a Supreme Court Case, and a law that makes extortion illegal, is a workaholic lawyer that puts career before love. Charlotte, is about as innocent and childlike a name you can get (with the exception of the fact that the word "harlot" is in the middle of it),  is very young to be able to have the education to run an art gallery,  however "York," which is not only a name that sounds like it comes from Old Money, it's the name of the city they're all in, which is also a clue to her more romance-fantasy visions of love, which come from a more sheltered and wealthy background, one where she can afford to study art in college, and not have worries about getting a job after. I bring up this critical part of the show for a few reasons, one, I think it's the most critical part in regards to truly understanding the show, (It's also a tricky thing not only to write, but especially to act.) secondly, with the movies, I have started to wonder whether Michael Patrick King, the longtime producer/director of the show, and the writer/director of both movies has forgotten this aspect of the show, which is also a reason this series should be put to death by now, and third and most importantly is because of this unusually storytelling conceit, there are only a few distinct moments of the TV series, that are we aren't simply getting hints or allusions to the more everyday realities of the characters, and we actually get a look at them, not through Carrie's column. I believe there are only three moments this occurs in the series, and two that I absolutely positive about. The first one involves an episode where Carrie's laptop suddenly crashes, and she has to take it to the shop. She's now, unable to write, and therefore unable to create (and she also loses all of her old columns. so symbollicaly, everything she's created is now gone), so for this brief period of time, we get to see the real lives of the characters of the show. The other was the final episode of the show. The second half of the two-part episode, involves Carrie, running off to Paris with her current lover, Aleksandr Petrovsky, and this time, she abandons her laptop in her New York rent-controlled apartment, and even her voiceover now, has completely disappeared, and were now no longer given her words to help elaborate or place in context any of the scenes in the show. Here, especially, we're given brief glimpses into the real worlds of her friends, and while some might have happy conclusions, none of them are reminiscent of the spirit and tone of Carrie's column. They involve Samantha, after breast cancer chemotherapy trying to regain her sex drive, Charlotte having to deal with the extreme difficulty of adopting a child from China, (This after numerous attempts at Charlotte getting pregnant have failed) and Miranda, having to deal with her mother-in-low, who is quickly beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's. While this is happening, Carrie is now stuck in Paris, realizes she's with a man who won't reciprocate love as equally to her as she does to him, and ends their whirlwind fairytale romance. Just as all hope is lost, and Carrie is stuck alone in a foreign country, without a job or a husband, (And sorry for ruining the ending for anybody, but it's been seven years, that's long enough to have caught it by now) suddenly Mr. Big makes the grand gesture she has long waited for, arriving in Paris to sweep Carrie off her feet, if she'd takes him. It is a fairytale, romantic moment, that the best romantic-comedies couldn't have come up with, but the key fact is that it's really happening. This dream-like prince saving Cinderella from the ball before midnight, and it's not a creation in Carrie column, it's not an exaggeration, it's not something she's altered and rewritten, or something that happened to somebody else. This time, it's real life, and we are finally seeing her get what she always wanted, which makes it special, especially after six years of hoping with Big, and a lifetime of hoping that these kind of romantic-movie moments of love could actually happen to her, and it has. It's a perfect and complete ending to a wonderful, ground-breaking series. It's Michael Jordan hitting that last shot in the Finals over Byron Russell, winning the championship for the Bulls. And now, we have movies and sequels and prequels, that are all afterthoughts that aren't necessary. They couldn't have ended it any better, and yet they're still trying to keep it going. Everything since is Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards. No matter what, it will never equal, or even come close to the quality of the show anymore, it's era and time, has become long gone, and there's no reason to continue. I don't know if this is a fan-led charge to get some kind of new "Sex and the City," out there, or if its created by it's own creators, but either way, it's really gotta stop, now. It's the week where all the Emmy ballots are due, and the news in the industry is about a tv show that ended seven-years ago.

And after achieving the perfection that most people could only wish they had the opportunity to achieve, they continue to pick at the masterpiece, and see if something more can be done, and I coudn't help but wonder...  (Yeah, I had to do it. I mean, I do love this show!) ...are we all just obsessed with "Sex and the City," or are we just nostalgic?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

COMIC BOOKS ACTUALLY EXIST! AND OTHER THINGS I'VE FOUND OUT ABOUT COMIC BOOKS AND COMIC BOOK MOVIES IN MY LIFETIME.

One of my best friends, is closely following the reported casting rumors and decisions on the remake of the movie, "The Crow." The latest news I could find is that Bradley Cooper, has recently backed out of the role made, unfortunately infamous by Brandon Lee, and the rumors are that the next two in line are either Mark Wahlberg or Channing Tatum. Well, apparently, many fans of "The Crow," are upset at these casting choices because they'd prefer someone who was more, proportionate to the somewhat smaller stature of Brandon Lee, and has a dark hair color, while the casting standard appears to be a buffer and blonder actor, and there's also going to be distinctive differences in the mood and tone compare to the original film and possibly more importantly, the original story which is based on a comic book by James O'Barr. I never saw the original movie, although, I've heard about it. I know there's a cult following about it, it's on my netflix, along with about 1000 other movies I haven't seen. If you have an opinion on this controversy and would like to express it and possibly elaborate on your concerns or lack thereof in regards to "The Crow," be my guest, you can comment on my blog, on send me a message/post on my wall of my facebook page and I'll happily run it. Frankly though, I think we're all getting a little tired of these comic book superhero movies we've been seeing this year. Actually, I haven't even seen any of them, but I'm already exhausted. "The Green Hornet," "The Green Lantern," "Thor," an "X-Men" prequel," "Captain America," and there's gonna be more next year, which includes a reboot of "Spider-Man," and "The Dark Knight Rises," the third Christopher Nolan's "Batman," films. That's just this year and next year, I'm not even gonna bother looking back a few years. It's arguably now, more important to get a good reception at comic-con than to get good press/reviews/awards at actually movie screening at major film festivals. The point is, they're here to stay, which is not something I particularly mind, but its like any genre, there's a few really special ones, a lot of decent films, and a good amount of junk thrown in, and lately, while I haven't seen all these films, when a particularly unusual subgenre comes out in bunches like this, it's usually a sign that there's a lot of junk out there. Why am I brining this up? I'm guessing that's what you're wondering. Well, here's the thing that's really gonna be hard to believe, but it's completely, 100% true that, until about ten years ago, no, not even, nine years, I didn't realize comic books, actually existed!

Yeah, you read that right, and I realize how silly that is now. It's hard to explain, I had heard of comic books, I heard them being talked about in movies and tv shows, and I recognize some of the storylines and characters from other sources. I knew who "Superman," and "Batman," were, and to a certain extent I had heard about many of the other well known superheroes, I had seen some of the earlier movie adaptations, and TV shows, even, but I don't know, I never made a connection. I thought comic books were something made up and talked about in films that didn't actually exist, like aliens, or sex, or teenager's obsessions over proms. (It's possible there were other things I thought were fictional at one point only to find out they were real later on. I mean, who knew people cared about prom?) I never pieced it together before, and maybe more likely, I didn't particularly care to and/or think about it too much, so I never did, but I also never saw a comic book growing up. There wasn't a comic store anywhere that I knew of. I never saw them in the stores, not Wal-Mart, not supermarket. I remember having sticker books, they were everywhere for awhile. They were these books where they had blank squares with numbers in them, and you had to separately buy the stickers that went with the correlating number. Usually they were themed after, some popular kids thing/show/movie at the time; I seem to remember having one for "Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers." I don't think I ever finished the book; I don't think anybody ever did. I remember a lot of coloring books; I'm sure those are still around. I didn't know anybody in particular who liked and/or collected comic books, nobody in my immediate family had any that I was aware of. Basically, I went, for much of my life, without ever actually physically, seeing or being in the presence of a comic book. If you mentioned comics to me, I probably would've thought you were talking about "Peanuts," "Garfield," "Dilbert," at that time, "Calvin and Hobbes," or whoever else was in the Sunday newspaper. That's still my first instinct to a certain extent. Yet, I found out they existed, and were apparently really, really popular. The first time I saw some graphic novels that some friends of mine were reading. Half of them were written in Japanese, and a couple of them went so far as to try and learn Japanese to read them. Some point later, I accidentally found the graphic novel section of the library, tucked on a shelf or two between the children's lit novels, and documentary DVDs. In 12th Grade English, Mr. Akers, showed a documentary on the history of comic books and comic book mythology and folklore. Strangely, a lot of it I already knew from other sources, but a lot of it, I didn't know. He had a later assignment to create a comic book character of our own, and I don't know remember every detail of what mine was, but he called it Pynchonian. I don't know exactly what to make of that, now that I think about it, but I guess any comparison to Thomas Pynchon is a compliment. I never read these comics. I'd listen to my friends tell me some of the stories. Most of them being Japanese, they involve some kind of fantasy worlds, and often shapeshifting. I made notes when I saw something was based on a comic book or a graphic novel, as they were now often called to sound more sophisticated. A lot of the stories, I was surprised to find, seemed more sophisticated, though. Movies like "From Hell," "American Splendor," and "Ghost World," were based on comics, but they didn't have any of the aspects of the superhero stories I followed growing up. I saw or have now seen nearly every version of "Superman," that's been on TV, and a couple of the original movies. I watched "The Adventures of Superman," with George Reeves, when I was a kid late on Nick at Nite. It was good for two in the morning. I watched the first few season of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," when it was on. I didn't respond too well to the Superman stuff, but I like the Nick and Nora Charles-style banter between Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, which I thought made a good contrast to the superhero parts of the show. I don't understand the appeal of "Smallville," at all. It's taking literally the most boring part of the "Superman," mythology and, is it still on the air? It was on forever, I know that? I thought that part lasted way too long in the "Superman," movie that Richard Donner directed with Christopher Reeves. (I prefer "Superman 2") I also had fond memories of "Batman," growing up. I didn't see those movies until later, (And now I've gone back through a couple of them, I'm glad I skipped them) but I saw a few episodes of the old "Batman," show with Adam West. Again, a good two-in-the-morning show, but then there was this animated Batman series on FOX. They had kid shows on everyday in the afternoon back then, and the "Batman," show, while I didn't completely realize it at the time, was unlike any other animated show I had seen. It was the dark, mysterious caped crusader that we've seen in the Christopher Nolan movies. It was always night, which now I think must have been a pain for the animators. (Generally, in animation, you try to stay away from night scenes, they take longer to animate.) It wasn't the Looney Tunes-type cartoon I was used to and preferred, but I kept watching anyway. It was fascinating. The episodes of that show which dealt with the origin story of Two-Face, was some of the most riveting TV of my youth. For all-intensive purposes, for somebody who didn't see/collect/searche for comic books, I seemed to have grasped much of the basics of comic books, and some of the important parts of comic book storytelling and folklore anyway. I had some opinions on certain things, but I still never spent any time with comic books, until a couple years ago.

I was just starting my film studies at UNLV, and I had been asked to play a part in a short film one of my fellow students was working on. The part involved a comic book fan, who would later work in a comic book store. The first time I was on a film set, the first time I was acting too, with is also strange in of itself, and we shot inside a comic book, something I didn't think existed a couple years earlier. The irony wasn't lost on me. I was suddenly about to go to work, while also journeying into a subcultural world that I had only heard about. While there was a lot of acting, in between setups, I did as much scouring of the store as I could There were about three of four metal stands of comics. The shelves themselves reminded me of some of the shelves my family used to store videos on when we owned a video store years ago. Many of the comics, I never heard of, including many comics that were aimed towards female readers. There were also a lot more oversexualized comics than I would've thought. The kind with covers of giant-breasted, skinny-waisted women on the cover with something that resembled clothing covering them up, that wasn't there when you looked inside. I also skimmed through a Playboy magazine that was open and tucked on a shelf behind a "Spawn," comic, which was also the first time I actually had my hands on a Playboy come to think about it. (I mean, I'd seen plenty of porn on the internet, it wasn't really the special moment that used to be, I think) It was interesting, for about a minute, but than I was done. (Pun intended) It wasn't as interesting as everything else. There were numerous comics, different versions of the same comics, each with different graphic artists. Apparently a big debate involved preferences over how one artist's interpretation of a character was better than another's. That I hadn't particularly thought of, this importance on the art form of comics, it really is essentially like painting, and an entirely different aspect of the world. I also spent a lot of time talking with many people in the back who were playing, sort kind of role-playing game. I'm not even gonna pretend I remember which one it was, but it seemed to center around, I think the Civil War? Some early American war, I'm pretty sure about that. I had friends that played "Dungeons and Dragons," but I never actually hung around when they'd have their meetings, or whatever they call them. A lot of these comics were expensive. No wonder my family never particularly got interested in them. I can find freer hobbies everywhere else, but I could understand the appeal. I didn't buy a comic or anything like that. I've still never read one, and don't particularly plan to in the near future (Although I do have an interest in reading "Watchmen," at some point). But in general, it's the same as the movies, I'd like some, probably not like others. It's certainly an interesting subculture. I think it says something about you when you get asked such questions as "Who's your favorite superhero?". The answer seems to always reveal what that person may most desire. That's the essential aspects of all superheroes, the ability to do things that normal people can't. That's also why we generally refer to there core stories as "mythology," but the fact it they are just like any other pieces of literature. The same way I think of Dickens or Shakespeare references, I can just as easily reference some piece of comic book lore. I haven't read all of Dickens or Shakespeare either. I am no expert on the genre or the subject, but I'm glad there are some out there. And, while the sheer amount is worrysome, I'm glad we're making these movies. Film is ironically a perfect genre to adapt comic books. A comic book is generally an entire story in of itself, similar to how a movie usually is, and a comic book, is essentially better and more carefully drawn-out storyboard cards. Still though, good comics, bad comics, good movies, bad movies, eh comics, eh movies. It's all the same. I'm a little surprised at the amount of those who appeal to it fanatically, but all excessive fandom is strange.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CANON OF FILM: REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)

Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Stewart Stern, adapted by Irving Shulman from the story by Nicholas Ray

When I was 12-years old, I don’t know exactly what it was that possessed me to do so, but I sat down one night and watched “Rebel Without a Cause.” I was into old-time 50s nostalgia, such as “Grease,” and “Happy Days,” and decided to see this movie and the James Dean persona/image that influenced many of that decade. Yet, what I found was something else that day. the realization that a film could reveal hidden messages, meanings, and metaphors that aren’t just what the film is about. I remember it distinctly, Jim Backus, who you’d remember more from “Gilligan’s Island,” and the voice of “Mr. Magoo,” played James Dean’s father, was kneeling down on the floor in his business suit and a pink apron over it cleaning up something from the floor, and then the disgust from Jim’s face looking at him pathetically. That’s when I first realize the movie had something to do about masculinity, or lack thereof it. Well, I couldn’t put it into words that eloquently then, the recognition of it was there. Realizing this helped me enjoy the movie more than I probably would have, even though I didn’t understand every underlying message of the film. Watching the movie now, the masculine/feminine conflict of the film is more apparent. Watch how often we see the collision of a circular/hollowed object, along with a long phallic object. James Dean isn’t the brawling image of masculinity that say… John Wayne is. As Jim Stark, he wears a red jacket and a shirt that almost seems pink in the wrong light, than a bully puts a knife through his tire (Circular and Hollow), and then they get into a knife fight around a telescope at the planetarium they’re field trip is at. It’s not exactly convenient either that Jim falls for Buzz’s girl Judy (Natalie Wood) but more interestingly, Plato (Sal Mineo) seems to act very eager to be around Jim, whether Jim wants him there or not. Yes, although it’s never mentioned, “Plato,” is gay. I didn’t get that when I was twelve, at least not at first. There’s two common theme that brings these people together, one, is there own perceptions of there lousy fathers. Jim’s because he’s too weak of a man, so weak that Jim feels he need to protect his honor when he’s called “chicken.” (substitute “chicken” for that  6-letter F-word.) Not to mention his overbearing mother and grandmother. In Judy’s father’s (William Hopper) disgust is shown when she tries to kiss him goodnight, and he yells at her wondering why a 16-year-old girl would still kiss her father. He’s suffering from a mid-life crisis, involving the fact that her daughter looks like Natalie Wood and not he's blind, and the only way he knows to control those thoughts is with blind random outbursts of rage. Plato’s father is absent, and his family situation is somewhat of a secret for most of the film, he apparently changes his story a few times. The incident that brings them together is in “chickie run” drag race on the top of a bluff between Buzz (Corey Allen) and Jim, which ends in Buzz’s death through yet another phallic object in a hollow circle. Where the movie goes from there makes the film’s ending one of the cinema’s most heart-wrenching and shocking, especially rare for a 50s film. Maybe it’s its look at teen angst or the fact that the teens act out due to their lack of angst. Oh, that’s the second common theme between the characters, confusion, about the ways of the world, their homelife, the behavior of others, and the way of the world at large. I say confusion, because the term “teenage alienation,” wasn’t invented until years later. I associate with the early nineties’ grunge era, but Nicholas Ray made many movies about that feeling of alienation. Recently, his films as a whole have gotten a second look, where similar to Douglas Sirk’s films of the same era, hidden meaning and subtexts are somewhat clearer now than they were then (Ray’s other major films include “In a Lonely Place,” where Humphrey Bogart plays an aggressive brawling, drunk screenwriter, and “Johnny Guitar,” which is currently still stuck somewhere on my Netflix list around #205, I think.) I also call these kids confused, because, alienation is a general term, and these are simply unsure or don’t understand the world around them, and there natural instinct is to reject. Jim Stark not only doesn’t have a cause, he’s really not even a rebel. The fact Jams Dean died a month before the film was released made his performance eerie. Today, the movie feels obviously dated, but not because the movie is dated, but because the era of the film is dated. Twenty years later, “American Graffiti,” dared to call this era “nostalgia,” complete with a drag race that is just as memorable as this film. That feeling of alienation holds truer than most later Grunge ideals of it that came decades later. Notice the conversation topics between the kids, how they talk about how lousy their parents are, and then they decide to follow the ideas of their peers. That sounds typical of teenagers, but you didn’t see that in a movie before this one.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS EDITION #5: "RANGO," "UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES," and more!

This has been a little bit of a light week for me film-viewing wise than normal, and part of the reason for that will be explained in my review of "A Passage to India." It also wasn't the biggest week for reviews of newer releases, only two films that have come out with the last two years in this issue. Next week should be more elaborate, and I want to stress again, if anybody's wanted to post a comment on the blog, and were for whatever reason unable to, please feel free to send a message to my facebook or post on my facebook wall. Good, bad, or indifferent, at least you're reading my blog. Okay, onto the film reviews:

Rango (2011) Director: Gore Verbinski
5 STARS
“Rango,” is sure to be remembered for the Oscars next year, at least in the Animated Film Category, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it sneaks into Best Picture. It’s almost as good at referencing the classic western genre as “Wall-E”, was at referencing classic Sci-Fi, but both films manage to tease out of adornment and not out of cynicism and simultaneously create films that are as good or as the best film in se genre. “Rango,” is as good any western, and probably more visual and funny than most.  The story involves a lonely pet chameleon (Johnny Depp), who crosses the road and ends up in the town of Dirt, which is suffering from an unbelievable drought, and through a series of exaggerated claims and ironically lucky incidents, he becomes the new Sheriff of the town, promising to end the water shortage. The rest of the characters, are mostly western archetypes, but they’re well performed and wonderfully animated. Verbinski used kind of an unusual form of, well it's not exactly motion-capture but it's similar. Here, he gets the actors on a regular stage instead of a voiceover booth, and has them act out the entire film recording the sound, and then he use the taped footage of the actors as a reference for the animating of the footage, which was done by George Lucas’s “Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)" special effects company. It’s LMI’s first time doing a fully animated film, and it’s an impressive one. “Rango,” is filled with amazingly visual bright colors and amazing animation, and the best part, it's not in 3-D! I’d recommend the movie just at how well they got a vulture to look like Harry Dean Stanton, but the whole movie is amazing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011) Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
4 ½ STARS
I don’t quite know if I understand what the hell happened in “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” but I kind of got swept away by it anyway. Probably not since David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” have I felt like this watching a movie, where I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, and what was real, what was a figment of imagination, why does the son look like a gorilla, or is the son a ghost, or whatever was with the catfish that does something with a characters, that’s a little unusual for a catfish to do, as far as I know. Frankly, like “Mulholland Drive,” asking for an explanation  is missing the point, it’s the journey that’s most important, in this case, the journey that’s ending for Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar). He’s a Thai farmer, who’s quickly dying of kidney disease. He’s being taken care of by his family and a nurse, and this is when his relatives come, some may be living, some may be ghosts, others may be spirits reincarnated as many things, including a catfish. The movie was the surprise winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year, and it’s basically split critics and audiences ever since. This is s spiritual movie, and once you stop asking questions of logic, you’ll start to, if not understand, you’ll accept that these metaphysical beings and the real world simply exist together. Sometimes, we don’t realize it, and other times, when we’re more susceptible to listening to such voices, like when Uncle Boonmee is dying, we might just listen a little more carefully. I’m not gonna pretend I understood everything, but I certainly understood enough to know I couldn’t wait to see this movie a second and third time to try and find out more. It's a beautiful and spiritually-enlightening film.
TRON (1982) Director: Steven Lisburger
2 STARS
I’m not quite sure why I missed “Tron,” growing up, apparently it was a big deal, ‘cause they made a sequel recently called “Tron: Legacy”. (And according to imdb.com, there's just been a greenlight on a third film) . Apparently the movie has a legacy, so I thought it might be worth watching. Considering when the movie was released, it might have been worth watching for the technical achievement it is. While I think most of it now looks like an early eighties music video for “The Cars,” it’s still impressive. My bigger problem though, and many might consider it a strength, but frankly the movie was very tunnel-vision and insular about the world of computer hacking, and this strange world that is created inside this computer, where either people getting, I don’t know if "sucked in" is the right word, they actually kinda get phased into it, into this bizarre world, where you’re in the computer, or you’re the avatar of your gamer or something, but it’s really you, I was very confused by the entire actual sociological structure of this computer world. It might make some form of sense but I was lost by it. Most of the movie takes place in this world, and it is about the special effect, and there’s plot about a video game creator (Jeff Bridges) whose plans were stolen through this grand master computer, but I could just barely follow it, but even doing so, I couldn’t care about it. The effects are certainly amazing and memorable, but that’s about all the movie really is. It’s impressive, even today, but its not enough for a film, it's more of an interesting curiousity instead.
A Passage to India (1984) Director: David Lean
3 1/2 STARS
“A Passage to India,” eventually became David Lean’s final film, and while the film got 12 Oscar nominations, and won two, including a Supporting Actress win for Peggy Ashcroft, I’m not going to lie, I had trouble getting through this film. It’s not particularly unusual with David Lean, most of his movies are really long epics, but they also can be great epics that are some of the best films ever made. I normally pride myself on going through, about two movies a day on average, but with “A Passage to India,” it took me a few days to force way through it. Lean’s best movies are “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” Great Expectations,” and “Brief Encounter.” (The latter isn’t one of his epics) “A Passage to India,” faithfully adapted from the E.M. Forster novel, is a good film, but it’s in the second tier of Lean’s work. It takes place around the time when India is about to try to regain its country from England. Adela (Judy Davis) and Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashvroft) are the ones on the passage and they the two India’s the English which is filled with typical upper class aristocracy, and the India of the Aziz (Victor Banerjee) who’s a doctor and eventually becomes a well-trusted tour guide. Eventually taking them by train to some famous nearby mountains and caverns (There’s some great scenes where Victor is hanging along the side of the moving train along the edge of a mountain, that are quite stunning, reminded me of some old Harold Lloyd films) This takes a while to set-up, and for Lean, it’s unusually slow-moving up to this point, but finally there’s an unseen incident in the mountains, and Aziz is accused, by Adela of rape, and the country is soon divided over the incident and the impending trial. I haven’t read the novel, but a lot of these scenes I found confusing; I wasn’t sure whether this incident and trial were some kind of symbolism the moving state of India-England relations, or it was simply a trial involving these particular people, and it just happen to stir up conflict and create mass public interest. It's not so much that I wasn’t completely sure, but I got the sense that Lean wasn’t completely sure, either, so it feels like a combination of both, and neither was chosen. It's certainly a good film though, and no director could show us amazing landscapes of faraway worlds the way Lean can. It’s not his best, but it’s a more than suitable last film,  just be aware that you might need some extra coffee to get through it.
Hamburger Hill (1987) Director: John Irvin
3 1/2 STARS
“Hamburger Hill,” was the second movie about Vietnam made in “The Philippines,” in a two-year span. (The first being “Platoon”) and the second most noteworthy of 1987 (After “Full Metal Jacket”), and it really is mostly a movie deserving of those distinctions, it’s not as good as the other movies, well, at least not as memorable anyway. The movie’s title comes from the nickname soldiers gave a particularly had to survive hill, noted for being so much gunfire that soldiers turn into ground-up hamburger. (I wonder if the soldiers who fought there would like “Sweeney Todd”?) Strangely, the movie feels for much of it anyway, like a slice-of-life type film, almost like “The Big Chill,” or something along those lines. The soldiers go through regular drills and such, but there’s a lot of talking, bullshitting with each other, remembering, telling stories, or such. That’s probably why the movie isn’t the most memorable of the Vietnam movie, it doesn’t had audaciousness like “Apocalypse Now,” absurdity like “Full Metal Jacket,” or any metaphorical allegory like “Platoon.” It might actually be a great movie if the contrast with the battle scenes were comparable to those films, unfortunately while they’re good, they’re not as well-shot or as memorable as those aforementioned others. Outside of the war, the movie has kind of a interesting day-to-day, kind of ordinariness, that’s actually kind of interesting, realistic to some extent, and surprising for a war movie. I’m not familiar with most of John Irvin’s filmography, so I don’t have anything to compare with it on that basis, but while this film’s flawed, it’s strangely interesting for all the kind of odd throwaway parts of the movie that he keeps in and focuses on,  and not-as-much so, the war footage.    
The End of the Affair (1999) Director: Neil Jordan
2 1/2 STARS
You ever watch a film and think its okay, but if somebody else directed it, it might be better? (Okay, you can all stop naming random Brian De Palma films now; I’m trying to make a point.) While watching Neil Jordan’s “The End of the Affair,” I was having that thought, but specifically I kept thinking about what Atom Egoyan might have done with this material. His work involves not simply an adult perspective on both nudity and erotica, but his films often involve playing with the linear storytelling structure, and he’s made some of my favorite films like this. (His films include, “Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Chloe,” and “Where the Truth Lies,” among many others.) That not to say that Neil Jordan is a bad filmmaker, in fact he’s quite good, most famously known for “The Crying Game,” but he’s directed numerous movies, like “Breakfast on Pluto,” “Mona Lisa,” “Michael Collins,” and most recently, “Ondine.” (Plus he’s current Emmy-nominee for “The Borgias”.) He’s made good and bad films, as has Egoyan, but his movies are best at having more linear storytelling, and his most interesting tales involving sex, usually concern sexual identity. “The End of the Affair,” begins with Henry (Stephen Rea), fearing his wife Sarah (Julianne Moore) is having an affair, and asks his writer friend Maurice (Ralph Fiennes) for advice involving hiring a private detective to follow her. Little does he know, Maurice had once been having an affair with Sarah. For a while, and it was right under Henry’s nose. Maurice thought it was love, but now, he’ s just as betrayed, if not moreso than her husband. Julianne Moore got an Oscar-nomination for her performance, and it’s a worthy nomination, she gives a strong erotic performance, but the movie itself, while there is all the nudity and sex, and WWII breaking out, and then suddenly the church comes into it at the end, can be surprisingly boring. It’s based on a famous Graham Greene novel, I haven’t read it, but I have a feeling it’s somewhat literally adapted here, which might not have been a good idea if it’s really told mostly from Maurice’s 1st person, perspective and continually jumps recalls flashback memories, the scenes are there, they’re actually shot well, but they’re almost completely lacking in context except as being retold from Maurice, either as memory or as something he’s writing in his “Diary of Hate”, as Maurice puts it. I think Egoyan would’ve known that “to hate,” usually means “to desire”.
The Italian (2007) Director: Andrey Kravchuk
4 STARS
“The Italian,” is a Russian film about an Italian orphan, who goes on a long journey to find his birth mother, right as he’s about to find new parents of his own. It was Russia’s entry into the Academy’s Foreign Language Oscar a couple years back and I can see why, it’s a powerful little tale, that’s not too far away from “Oliver Twist.” Kolya Spiridonov plays the kid named Vanya, and at first he’s happy at the possibility of finally getting adopted, but right after one of his friend’s found a family, his mother suddenly arrived at the orphanage looking for him. She was a little too late, and now Vanya wonders about the whereabouts of his own mother, and who she even is. It takes a while; he first has to learn to read enough so he can read his file, and then find a way to get a hold of the file which is under, guard, lock and key. From there, he hits the trains, while the people who run the orphanage begin trying to follow his tracks. He gets some help along the way, and occasionally runs into some less than reputable fellows, like I said, this is a particularly new narrative, but still a very good old narrative to follow, and it’s effective. There’s somewhat of an open-ending as to Vanya ultimate fate, but we hope he’ll be all right, and either way, he’s finally got/going to get the answers he’s looking for. Well made, well directed, well acted, and it also shows you a lot of Russia, very good film.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010! (Sorry for the 8-month delay)

Jim Emerson's blog recently noted that more and more movie critics are taking the summer to put together a Top Ten List of "Best Movies So Far This Year". As per the usual, wait 'til the end of the year to make simply one list of the Best Films of the year. (Link to article is below.)

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2011/08/the_best_movies_since_last_tue.html

This has become a common practice for critics, especially internet critics, for numerous reasons, I think the main one Emerson hits on the head, when he notes how most studios save their absolute best films for after Labor Day, which is the unofficial start of Oscar season. So in film terms, the first eight months of the year occasionally tend to get forgotten or at times ignored during Award season, and while most film released during that time generally give us plenty of reasons to ignore/forget them, there are always a few gems that shouldn't be, and its nice to make some kind of note on them. However, Emerson's blog attempts to focus on the bigger trend that half-year lists represent is that we are in fact a list-obsessed culture, one that's exploded in the days of the internet, and the general obsession of people making list out of everything. It's interesting timing for me, just as I'm trying to take advantage of that list culture. To those who might not have gone through my earlier blog, I have a list of every movie I have ever seen, and am currently about 20 movies from 3,000 feature-length films on the list, which is when I plan to first publish it on this blog. I wrote an earlier blog on how this list started and then grew to where it is today, which you can check to hear that story, but frankly, I am apart of the list-making, list-obsessing, list-debating, culture. I watched every AFI list program that came out, always had complaints and praises. For a while, when I had cable, I watched every VH1 list they did on Great Artists of Rock'n'Roll, or song, pop songs, dance songs, video, whatever, and somebody somewhere does a new list of random list of something new, I'd say about every week, and I don't mean random people, I mean, legitimate newspapers, magazine, TV channels, known established names within the industry. Hell, I still can't understand why VH1 cancelled "The List," a TV show in which five times a week, special guests made their own lists, and it was debated and voted on by the studio audience. The things is, lists are fun to obsess over and debate and it's easy way to analyze somebody's opinion, and like stamps, they're collectable, and the old ones become more interesting historically, and possibly more valuable because they show us the standards of where we've been. (Okay, maybe a list won't make anybody any money, literally, unless you count increases in sales and ratings) Some people lists are more interesting than others. I look forward to critic lists every year, as its their profession to know what's good and what's better and why. I take less interest in list made by the general public or by internet poll, but there generally based more on popularity than anything else. This is the same reason why I knock down reality shows that have an audience and/or at home vote.

Well, with all this, I have to say, I promised the list of the Best Movies of 2010, last year, and I'm gonna produce it. Why, so late, well, as I mentioned in one of my first blogs, I don't get to go see every movie all the time. In fact, as of today, by my count, I've seen 5 movies that were released in 2011. 4 I saw on DVD, 1 I got to see in theatres. I can make a list, but frankly it's not worth it. It's too small a sample size, even if I do think "Rango," is going to be tough to beat. But, most people don't have the opportunity to watch every film, and I haven't. I've seen about 150 or so films from last year, while that's a lot, there's a lot I'm still missing. I try to watch every important or big must-see movie throughout the year, sometimes it's even hard to tell what that is. I try to watch movies that critics seem to like, even if I don't agree, it good to see what they're recommending. There's always important directors, writers and actors who I almost always make a note to watch their films ASAIC (As soon as I can). Sometimes it's simply personal preference. When is it a good time to make a list for a year? I do think you have to have seen a certain amount of films, and you have to set some standard of quality to judge on. Well, for a minimum standard, I recommend and use the Academy Awards. Actually, I generally like to use as many award shows as possible, the big ones being the BAFTAS (British Oscars) Independent Spirits (Independent Films), Broadcast Film Critics Awards (the aforementioned critics) certain industry union awards are also always worth noting (DGA [Directors] WGA [Writers] SAG [Actors] PGA [Producers], there's dozens of them) and it's always good to keep up with certain films that either win awards at film festivals or get a lot of so-called buzz, at the major film festivals (Toronto, Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, a few others) but if you're not that interested in following all these awards as obsessively as some follow lists, then the Oscars, even if I/you disagree with them, are a good general benchmark. (In case some of you may be wondering, the Golden Globes, despite popularity and the national TV contract with NBC, they're actually not that well respected a standard in the industry, they're one of the minor, minor awards at best, but you can through them in there too.) And even narrowing it to the Oscars, we can narrow it to the major categories. The biggest is Best Picture, that's 10 (This year, I don't know if you've heard, instead of a set number, there's gonna be a surprise variable number somewhere be 5 and 10. Can't wait to see how they screw that one up) So, the main 10, the next category is Director, this year all the Directing nominees coincided with Best Pictures, so 10. That's was a lesser common occurance when there was the traditional 5. There's two writing categories, Adapted and Original Screenplay, so 10 nominees, but only one "Another Year," we haven't already mentioned, so 11. Now we go to acting, that's twenty nominations, but only 5 that we haven't brought up so far, so 16 total. Animated features, there's always 3 or 5 of them, this year 3, one, "Toy Story 3," got a Best Picture nomination, so 2, that's 18. There's a lot of technical categories, some of you might have a preference on them, I have some friends that keep close eyes on the music categories for instance, the two that I would focus on though are editing and cinematography. Editing is often the last stage of filmmaking, and some things are tougher to edit than others. Chase and action movies have a tendency to sneak into this category, and cinematography, is the lighting of the movie, and essentially the first part of the language of film, so it's always critical. This puts our total to, well, 18. All these films got nominated in other major categories. After that, it's always good to try and see the Documentary Feature and Foreign Language Feature categories, but it's not always possible. I haven't even seen three of the Foreign Language Films yet, including last years winner, "In a Better World." Those are preferable, but not always readily available. And basically, if you make it a point to watch all these Oscar-nominated films, plus whatever other movies you happen to watch during the year, you can probably say with relative confidence what the Best Films from last year were. And frankly, it's just a list, you can change it at any time, so it's not really anything of importance were talking about here, but, that's the standard I go with, and when I saw "Another Year," a couple weeks back, I had officially seen all the major category-nominated films, that I just named, and while I wanted to wait to see "Barney's Version," which won some smaller awards and got an Oscar-nomination for the Make-Up, I think it's time that I make an official list of films from last year, especially since if I've seen all these movies I've mentioned, than I know that most everybody can now see them themselves, if they haven't already, and hopefully you all, agree, but if you want to completely disagree with me loudly, that'd be cool too. The following list, will be the general, Top Ten style used by film critics, and mastered in parody form by the great David Letterman, and there'll always be a lot of noted "Jury Prizes", for films that didn't make the Top Ten, but are certainly special and worth noting anyway, and with this year's list, I have to say, I believe 1-4 can basically be interchangeable on the list. I think they're all the absolute Best Movies to come out last year, maybe some of the best ever made, and the order they're in, I've simply based on the most miniscule details of personal preference. After that, I find the list somewhat subjective.

Here we go, David Baruffi's
TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2010

1. "The Social Network"- Alright, it's a popular choice, but it really was amazing. David Fincher along with the great Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, crafted a modern-day origin story that's can be looked upon as the answer to the question "How did we get here?". It's also the rare movie that involves smart people who say smart things, a staple of Sorkin's work (TV's "The West Wing,") and also show in Marc Zuckerberg, a portrait of the, modern-day artist, the man who uses computer programs as his paints and easels. Jesse Eisenberg gives an amazing performance, and he is going to be the next great American actor, and this was his best role yet. It's Fincher's best movie yet, the supporting cast, especially Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake and perfectly casted. But it's the screenplay that helped make this unfilmable, elaborate, multi-perspective story about people who work in the language of computer, able to remain the intelligent people they are, while allowing us to understand what exactly happened and how it forever change the world.

2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"- The first of the three films dubbed "The Millenium Trilogy," (All of which are amazing) based on the best-selling novels by Steig Larsson, this movie, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is actually being remade and soon-to-be-released in America, directed by the aforementioned David Fincher, and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. While I have high expectations, this is one of those times where you have to see the original. This film has everything and the kitchen sink, plus a mysterious character that's one of the most unique and interesting film has ever seen. One who's actions we cannot predict, and thoughts we cannot read. The story itself actually isn't that far off from an Agatha Christie novel, but what a way to go about it. There's a rich old millionaire with his an island where his family lives, and he hired the recently sentenced to prison Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to investigate a long-ago murder in the family that's never been solved, and there's eighty possible suspects, many of whom are of a suspicious nature, including former Nazis, and that's just the beginning. Then there's the tiny, tattooed, pierced computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). With all due respect to Nathalie Portman, Rapace gave the performance of the year in my book, and what a tricky, often wordless performance this is. Let me put it this way, this is one of the few films, where I watched it, and then immediately decided to read the book. From somebody like me who doesn't read that much, it's the highest of praise.

3. "Inception"- From the mind that first brought us "Memento," Christopher Nolan has proven to be one of the best and most successful directors in Hollywood, most notably, the recent "Batman," films, which are the best of the superhero movies were constantly inundated with. "Inception," was his pet project that took him ten years to write, and is as genius and brilliant a phychological mindfuck ever created. It also takes full advantage of the most up-to-date special effects, in a way that we hope they get used, but almost never do. The story involves people who infiltrate  mind for business owners to try and find the latest and most hidden of ideas there competitors have, and now they have to infiltrate and plant an idea in someone's head. This movie take place upon layers and layers of out inner unconscious, and yet, I've seen it three times, I barely understand it but, I can't find any contradictions in logic. It's the Best Action movie since "The Dark Knight," and I'm still not completely sure which side of it's open-ending I like to take, but it's the most inventive creation Hollywood's dared in years. Congrats to Nolan, if for nothing else, for having that kind of Hollywood clout, so young.

4. "The King's Speech"- The winner of four Oscars, including Best picture, Director (Tom Hooper) and Best Actor (Colin Firth), it's the most touching film of the year, and easily the most inspirational. I thought Colin Firth's performance the year before in Tom Ford's "A Single Man," was amazing, here, he's proves he's one of the best actors alive. Playing King George VI, who's secret of his stutter was painfully revealed to an international audience due to the advent of radio, and with the Crown, the movie is as much about his friendship with his longtime speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) as it is about how he overcomes his impediment. 

5. "127 Hours"- Another inspirational story based on true events, but this one is a little more gruesome. While James Franco wasn't a great Oscars host, his performance in this film, which is basically all him, is one of the most impressive. From the same director/writer combo that did "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, "127 Hours," refers to the length of time hiker Aron Ralston has his arm, and himself, trapped between a giant boulder and a canyon wall, and how with the most minimal of equipment, he manages to break free, by cutting off his own arm. For an amazing visual stylist director like Boyle, how he manage to keep us entertained with an entire movie taking place stuck in a canyon is amazing even for him. Just the continuous backtracking shots that eventually lead to a bottle of gatorade alone is worth a viewing, even if the rest of the film might make you turn away squimishly.

6. "True Grit"- I had long given up trying to predict what the Coen Brothers are going to do next, but remaking a John Wayne classic would've been nowhere near my guess, and yet, for them, it makes perfect sense, and they made a perfect western, better than the original. (Although casting Matt Damon in the Glen Campbell part alone, might have done that) Similar to how they based "No Country for Old Men," very literally on the Cormac McCarthy novel, they went to the original novel "True Grit," for direct inspiration for this film, instead of the original movie, this makes the sudden appearance of a man in a bear costume, suddenly seem more logical than it should. While the story of a teenager insisting on getting the notorious Rooster Cogburn to find the man who killed and robbed her father is basically the same, the telling is quite different, and with amazing performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and where-did-they-find-this-one newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit," is possibly the Best Western since "Unforgiven".

7.  "Mother and Child,"- From Rodrigo Garcia, one of the most interesting film and TV directors around, comes a multi-narrative story of adoption that's almost cruelly ironic, but is also emotionally heart-wrenching. This was the film that I had the most emotional reaction to this year. Karen (Annette Bening) gave up a child for adoption when she was very young, sight unseen. Now she's a nurse at a hospital and while simultaneously starting to date fellow nurse Paco (Jimmy Smits), she begins to make inquiries on the whereabouts of her child. That child is Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) who's pretty cold-hearted for most of this movie, almost disturbingly so. She sleeps around and usually with people who are unavailable, partly just to ruin there lives. Then after having an affair with her latest boss (Samuel L. Jackson) she becomes pregnant. There's also a couple (Kerry Washington and David Ramsey) who are having trouble in their marriage, but are looking to adopt a child, but not for the same reasons. Don't think just because you've seen these kind of multiple storylines that you can predict how/if they will come together in this film, and why. Garcia is a master at touching, small, human stories. On top of directing such TV shows as "Six Feet Under," and "In Treatment," he made the wonderful "Nine Lives," a couple years ago, which involves nine vignettes, each following one different woman for one long take, in there lives, he also made the Sundance hit and Showtime movie, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her," which also followed many different women. "Mother and Child," is his best film yet.

8. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"- Okay, it's not the most important documentary last year, but it was the most entertaining. Directed by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy, taken mostly out of old footage of street art, that had been collected for years on videotape by French shop owner Thierry Guetta, Banksy, possibly inadvertantly and regrettably influences Guetta to create his own street art, even opening a Warhol-inspired high-pressed 1st show at the former home of CBS Studios. While Guetta is unbelievably passionate about art, he's not the most impressive artist, but he's an incredible subject for this documentary, which also documents the rise of street art from its underground beginnings all the way back to the '80s, to it's place now on found at art auctions and exhibits that grab on worldwide acclaim. And it has some amazing art by such great artists as Sheppard Fairey, Space Invader, and Banksy himself. The movie's also incredibly funny.

9. "Black Swan"-  Darren Aronosfky's "The Wrestler," made pro wrestling look like the most self-destructive, violent, and possibly the most suicidal thing anybody could ever do there own body. In "Black Swan," he makes ballet, look more self-destructive than pro wrestling. Led by Nathalie Portman's amazing performance, as an obsessed, closed-in ballerina, this movie lives in the surreal. She gets the coveted part of both the White Swan and Black Swan in her company's latest production of "Swan Lake," Nina starts to go somewhat insane. There's competition from a fellow ballerina (Mila Kunis, who should've gotten an Oscar-nomination) pressure from both her coach (Vincent Cassel) and her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), as well as the everlingering image of the company's former star (Winona Ryder) who she's replacing. Plus, whatever else is going on in her frigged up mind. I think certain movies where the terror comes from inside one's own mind tend to fail on camera, because it's impossible to capture the visual believably (This is my big complaint about "The Shining") but here, Aronofsky succeeds, scares the hell out of me, and keeps me on the edge of my seat, as Nina's (Portman) world and mind collapse all around her. I don't know what was real and what was imagined most of the time, and that was terrifying enough. Aronosfky achieved one of the toughest things possible with this film, creating terror inside a character's mind, keeping it there, and yet manage to make the audience feel every emotional as viscerally as any film I've ever seen. I don't always remember what happened in this film, but I remember the feeling I got watching this film.

10. "Blue Valentine"- Two of the best and bravest performances last year came from a small independent film that not many people are going to particularly want to watch, (And very few could due to the movie's original NC-17 rating, later changed to an R.) but few films have so painfully and perfectly exhibited a relationship ending (as well as beginning) as "Blue Valentine". Ryan Gosline and Michelle Williams are a working, lower-middle class couple. In flashbacks, we see young love sparkle between them. Today, they're married, with a young kid, and are on their way to divorce, and the unfortunate fact is that, neither one of them are at fault. Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance worked for ten years to make this movie, and it's one of the most devasting and realistic films about relationships I've ever seen, and most importantly, it's amazing performances by Gosling and Williams. It's not just the sex scenes that make it difficult, these two actors have to convincingly play the same character at two distinctly different parts of their life, and make the changes or evolutions or lack thereof of the characters seem believable. It's two of the best performances of the year, in a film that's subject matter might be too realistic and close-to-home for some people.

SPECIAL JURY PRIZES
(For the sake of brevity, these will simply have the title and director of the films listed, but they are all amazing films that just didn't find a place on my list, but easily could've. They'll be listed alphabetically)

LIVE-ACTION AND ANIMATION
Another Year-Mike Leigh
Easy A-Will Gluck
Fish Tank-Andrea Arnold
The Ghost Writer-Roman Polanski
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest-Daniel Alfredsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire-Daniel Alfredsson
Greenberg-Noah Baumbach
Hereafter-Clint Eastwood
I Am Love-Luca Guadagnino
I Love You, Phillip Morris-Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
The Illusionist-Sylvain Chomet
Jack Goes Boating-Philip Seymour Hoffman
The Kids Are All Right-Lisa Cholodenko
Machete-Robert Rodriguez
Mother-Joon-Ho Bong
The Other Guys-Adam McKay
Rabbit Hole-John Cameron Mitchell
Red Riding Trilogy-Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker
The Runaways-Floria Sigismondi
Somewhere-Sofia Coppola
Toy Story 3-Lee Unkrich
Welcome to the Rileys-Jake Scott
Winter's Bone-Debra Granik

DOCUMENTARIES
Catfish-Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman
Gasland-Josh Fox
Inside Job-Charles Ferguson
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-Rikki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Restrepo-Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Hunger
Waiting for 'Superman'-Davis Guggenheim
Winnebago Man-Ben Steinbauer