Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Best Films of the Decade (Cont.)

44. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - Directed by Tomas Alfredson (2008)

Films about supernatural creatures and classic monsters are tricky. If you take a look at the history of vampire films, you're likely to find something like a 1% success rate, by which I mean: for every 100 films about vampires, only 1 was good. Up until I saw LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, I couldn't remember the last time I had seen one. I like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, but that was so long ago and I wouldn't call that film great. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, however, is great.

The Swedish film is beautifully executed and haunting. I don't particularly care for films that prominently feature children, but the performances here are excellent. The relationship between the social outcast, Oskar, and the new girl in town/vampire, Eli, is captured so well and is so touching that I'd be hard-pressed not to acknowledge it as one of the greatest friendships in cinematic history. The film's quiet and melancholy moments are punctuated by extreme moments of vampiric violence, which shock, but also delight in their brutality. I remember seeing this film around the time that TWILIGHT's popularity was starting to peak. In that world, the vampires act like they are something tragic, but in reality, they are clean, nice, and possess few disadvantages in life. Eli is truly a tragic monster, complete with all the drawbacks of being a vampire. Her life is hard, violent, and very dark. This is not the type of vampire that anyone would want to be, which makes her story a lot more interesting. The details of her life and mental state are not given within the film and have to be wondered at. The realizations you come to about her life on your own, possibly days after viewing the film, are the things that make this film truly special.

Unfortunately, the American DVD release of the film was tainted by inferior subtitles that greatly effect its quality. Due to the enormous amount of negative feedback, the distributor stated that they would release a DVD with the original, theatrical subtitles, but I'm not sure that that's yet been done. An American remake of the film directed by Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) called LET ME IN is due out later this year. This seems like a foolish idea, but I won't judge until I see the film.

Awards: Won Saturn Award for Best International Film, Won Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, Nominated for The BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film, Currently on the IMDB Top 250 list, it also maintains an impressive 97% at Rotten Tomatoes - receiving only 4 negatives reviews out of over 150.

43. THE 25TH HOUR - Directed by Spike Lee (2002)

For a while, THE 25TH HOUR was my favorite film. This is one of Spike Lee's strongest projects and certainly his best in recent memory. The action follows Montgomery Brogen (Edward Norton) in the final days before having to serve a 7-year jail sentence for a drug-related crime. The supporting performances by Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman are very strong. Besides being Monty's friends, they have their own issues. Set against the backdrop of 9/11 ravaged New York, The 25th Hour is fast-paced, thoughtful and always has you questioning how everything is eventually going to play-out.

Awards: 25TH Hour was grossly overlooked and didn't receive any awards of note. It maintains a 78% at Rotten Tomatoes and was #2 on the AV Clubs Top 50 Films of the Decade list.

42. MYSTIC RIVER - Directed by Clint Eastwood (2003)

One word to describe this film: powerful. Three kids are playing together on a Boston sidewalk when a car pulls up. The man inside says he's a police officer and demands that the kids come with him, two resist, but one goes along. This moment in time changes the lives of these three people forever and propels the plot of the film until the very end. MYSTIC RIVER is, at times, a very good mystery, but it's mainly an actor-driven character piece. Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins all give memorable performances with the skillful hand of Eastwood to guide them. I don't really want to give too much info away about the film, but just writing about it reminds me that I haven't seen it in a while and I really would like to soon.

Awards: Won Academy Award for Best Actor - Sean Penn, Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor - Tim Robbins, Nominated Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Currently on the IMDB Top 250

41. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING - Directed by Peter Jackson (2001)

If you talk to anyone about this trilogy, you're likely to find many different opinions. Everyone has their favorite among the three. I feel that THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is the only one that deserves to be on this list. I enjoy all of the Rings films, but I enjoy the books more. Part 1 really captures the spirit of the books, and the awesome feeling I had while reading them, more than the other two. Whereas TOWERS and RETURN feature prominently the world of men and epic battle scenes, FELLOWSHIP is pure fantasy, introducing the uninitiated into this vast world with ease and excitement. The prologue to the film delivers necessary information in a riveting sequence that doesn't feel at all like the exposition that it is. The Black Riders, The House of Elrond, and the Mines of Moria, are straight come out of my imagination in a way that I couldn't even dare to improve. RETURN won Best Picture, but this film is really the heart and soul of the series.

Awards: Won Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, Best Score, and Best Cinematography, Nominated Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Supporting Actor (McKellen), Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Original Song, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Currently on IMDB's Top 250 list at #18.

40. GANGS OF NEW YORK - Directed by Martin Scorsese (2002)

This film, too, was, at one time, my favorite movie. However, I wasn't sure about including it on my list because repeated viewings have found it less impressive. But Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Bill the Butcher elevates this film to the level I'm looking for. He's the antagonist, but one you like, not just for how bad he is, but because he truly is somewhat likeable. His accent is perfect and his viciousness is done with such a level of entertainment, it's hard to disapprove of him. Acting opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, who is OK as Amsterdam Vallon, but not particularly energetic, you might be persuaded to root for the butcher. Another great aspect of this film is the sets. It is New York - 1846 as the above trailer says. It's almost like something out of a painting. The ending of the film shows the landscape turn into New York circa 2000 c.e. and it's hard to believe how much has changed from these barbaric times not 200 years ago. Apparently George Lucas visited the set and marveled at all that Scorsese was attempting and told him "you can do this all with computers now". I respect Scorsese so much for not going that route. Lastly, the opening scenes of this film are probably some of the craziest/cool moments in cinema.

Awards: Nominated for 10 Academy Awards including - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Costume Design (how it didn't win this I haven't the foggiest), Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, Day-Lewis picked up the BAFTA for Best Actor in a Lead Role

So, the countdown from 50-40 is as follows:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hey! Look At This: GODSPEED

I can't be clear on all of the details of GODSPEED's plot, but an interesting trailer and rave reviews have caught my attention. GODSPEED premiered at CineVegas International Film Festival last June where it won the award for Exceptional Artistic Achievement. Here's the official plot:

"After a journey into the wilderness, Charlie (Joseph McKelheer) discovers clues behind his family's killings in this arresting dramatic thriller. Six months after his wife and son are brutally murdered, Charlie -- a former faith healer -- walks like a ghost through his small Alaskan town. He is shaken from his stupor when a young girl (Courtney Halverson) enlists him to help her own grieving father. From there, answers start unfolding."

The film was directed by relative unknown Robert Saitzyk and stars Joseph McKelheer. Look for it on DVD 4/20/2010.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jeremiah Johnson Fights/Kills American Indians

Well, the title really says it all. JEREMIAH JOHNSON is on AMC right now and I was just reminded of how much I enjoy this film. It was directed by Sydney Pollack and stars Robert Redford as the title character. Some would consider it a classic, but I actually enjoyed it because of how ridiculous it is.

First there's the hilarious theme song:

Then there's the fact that the majority of this film consists of Jeremiah hunting, fighting and subsequently killing Crow Indians:

This is the best, it's an actual montage from the film because, I'm guessing, the film was running too long and they couldn't include yet another hour of Redford killing indians:

That music is just perfect.

I think there were some possible whispers about a remake, but I'm not sure any of those were ever legitimate. I'm not sure a film that so heavily relies on mountain man on indian violence would be PC in these sensitive times. Either way, lots of fans of the original would throw a big stink about one if there was. I wouldn' long as it was a comedy and starred Will Ferrell as the mountain man. He'd also have to sing the theme song himself.

JEREMIAH JOHNSON - check it out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - KICK-ASS

More buzz coming out of SXSW was for Matthew Vaughn's KICK-ASS, which currently holds a 100% on Rottentomatoes with 11 reviews. I hope this strong start carries the film to box-office success because I believe it faces an uphill battle, being an R-rated film featuring kid-superheroes. I can see how the trailers might give off a silly vibe, but reading why it's received a Restricted rating makes a different impression:
"Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children." This is going to be brutal superhero/vigilante film, not kiddy fare.

I good reason this film appeals to me is because it seems to somewhat close the disparity between what's possible in the film and graphic novel mediums. Films are my favorite entertainment medium, but they seem to take a few less creative chances than graphic novels, in which almost anything is possible. The type of material in KICK-ASS comes standard in good comics these days, but it would be incredibly risky and risque in a movie. Early reviews seem to suggest that the film is actually quite shocking, but also quite good.

I'm looking forward to judging for myself.

KICK-ASS gets a wide release on April 16th.

Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - PREDATORS

Last week, preview footage of PREDATORS was released after premiering at the SXSW Film Festival. It was quite a treat.

A trailer for the film also premiered at the festival and was released on Thursday. Everything I'd heard about the film supplemented by the sneak peak made my expectations for the trailer very high. It did not disappoint.

When Robert Rodriguez first started talking about this film, he expressed that he wanted it to be a more fitting sequel to the original film than PREDATOR 2. I get that from these trailers. There's something very ALIENS about it. It's a group of badasses fighting an unstoppable population of alien hunters on an unfamiliar turf, The plot is very similar, but the trailer itself seems throwback. The beeping/scanning noise that plays over most of the preview with no music, just dialogue, really paints the film as something tense and serious. These predators are something to be feared, which is something they've lost in the AVP movies because they had to play the inevitable lesser of two evils. Instead of targeting humans, they were primarily after aliens. Here, they appear to have returned to true form as horrific antagonists.

I'm just mildly disappointed that Topher Grace wasn't featured in the trailer as his character sounds pretty interesting. The decision to cast him and Adrien Brody was met with some ridicule when it was made last year, but I saw great potential in it. Are these types of movies really better when they feature the most muscular actors? I don't think so. I believe Brody and Grace possess the talent to put on some interesting performances, which would obviously increase the overall quality of the film.

The film also stars Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, and Alice Braga. PREDATORS was produced by Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY, DESPERADO) and Directed by Nimrod Antal (ARMORED, KONTROLL). It comes to theaters July 7th.


Well, if the reports are true then Chris Evans has been offered the role of Steve Rogers, Captain America. The past couple weeks have seen a whirlwind of releases, claiming that various actors were up for the part. Numerous teen-television heartthrobs were on the list as were "The Office"'s John Krasinski, Ryan Phillippe, and Channing Tatum.

Is Evans the best man for the job? I can't say. Of all the actors listed in connection with the iconic role, he is certainly at the top. It's just such a troublesome character to cast. The actor needs to be younger, but not too young, famous, but not too famous, capable of period acting and physically impressive. Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Thor didn't require such delicate selection. Most of the candidates seemed too young, too limited and/or lacked the physical characteristics of the super-soldier. You also have to consider the level of talent now at play in the Marvel movieverse. Downey Jr., Edward Norton, Samuel L. Jackson are all big names to put together for the impending AVENGERS film. You can't go adding someone to the mix who can't hack it with the big boys. Chris Hemsworth (THOR) isn't a very well-known actor, but he seems to possess a certain presence (see: STAR TREK) that makes him acceptable in the company of bigger stars. And also, not to offend any Thor fans out there, but he is no Captain America. The actor playing Cap needs to be more relevant than the one playing the Norse god.

Evans possesses a lot of qualities necessary to take up the shield. He is young, but he can pass for mature. He appears to be somewhere in between the skinny private Steve Rogers, and the jacked up Cap, meaning he could pass for both parts. He's well-known, but he's not a huge star. This film will likely raise his profile, putting him more on-par with Downey Jr. by the time THE AVENGERS gets rolling. As far as his ability to portray someone from the WWII era, that has yet to be seen. From a glance, it might appear that Evans doesn't have the best acting chops in general, but I'd disagree. He's played some corny roles and done some lame films, but I feel like he could turn it up a notch if he wants to. He's great in SUNSHINE. Though it's a supporting role, the quality of his performance was one of the first things I remember commenting on when leaving the theater.

There will, no doubt, be a fair share of naysayers, but I'm content. Yes, he played the Human Torch in the two FANTASTIC FOUR films, but those sucked and don't really matter in light of the new path that Marvel Studios is cutting. The Fantastic Four are supposedly getting a reboot anyway, so some other actor will take up the Torch's mantle shortly and claim the role as his own.

Congratulations Mr. Evans. You've been given the ball.

Now I'm interesting in who's going to fill the shoes of Cap's best bud, Bucky.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Casting Report

I stumbled upon some interesting news yesterday: One of my favorite directors, David Cronenberg, has chosen his next project. He will be directing an adaptation of Christopher Hampton's book "The Talking Cure", which focuses on the intense relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The film is slated for a 2011 release.

Everything Cronenberg has been putting out lately has been gold, but such an ambitious project requires proper casting, which I've believe he's done. Stepping into the shoes of Jung will be the immensely talented Michael Fassbender and taking on Freud will be Cronenberg favorite Viggo Mortensen. Newly-awarded Best Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz was set to play Freud but was recently replaced by Mortensen. Both are good choices, but I believe Viggo might even be better for the part. Keira Knightly is also slated for a starring role.

"Justified" Premieres Tomorrow on FX

A month or so ago I was buzzing around my apartment with the TV on, not really paying attention when I caught the tail end of a teaser for a new show on FX called "Justified". I was intrigued, so I rewound and watched the whole thing. It made me laugh because I'm currently working my way through the final season of "Deadwood" which stars Timothy Olyphant as Sheriff Seth Bullock and this new show also stars the actor as a forceful lawman (a U.S. Marshall this time). He even seems to be carrying on a similar demeanor to Bullock as this new character, Raylen Givins, as if Bullock stepped into a time machine and wound up in present day. This might seem like a critique of the yet-to-air show, but I assure you it is not. I love "Deadwood" and Olyphant is terrific in it. If he ends up acting similarly in "Justified" then I'll have no complaints, but if he ends up going a different direction I won't complain either.

Basically, I have high hopes for the show. I feel like FX is pushing for it to be a hit as I've seen probably 100 distinct TV spots for it; I'm not sure I've even seen the same one twice. However, there is a connecting fiber between each of the commercials: they all showcase Olyphant being a badass and beating up punks. I'm sure the program will be more layered than this, but such a show doesn't sound entirely unappealing. FX is getting pretty good at creating successful shows ("Damages", "Sons of Anarchy", "Rescue Me"), I hope this is able to take a spot alongside them.

"U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is a modern day 19th century-style lawman, enforcing his brand of justice in a way that puts a target on his back with criminals and places him at odds with his bosses in the Marshal service. That conflict results in a reassignment for Givens to the U.S. District covering the town where he grew up. He is an anachronism - a tough, soft spoken gentleman who finds his quarry fascinating, but never gives an inch. Dig under his placid skin and you'll find an angry man who grew up hard in rural Kentucky, with an outlaw father, who knows a lot more about who he doesn't want to be than who he really is." - From FX

"Justified" premieres tomorrow on FX at 9:00pm central.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Last night, I was able to attend the opening night of the Winter Edition of the Milwaukee Film Festival and catch the Milwaukee premiere of Werner Herzog's THE BAD LIEUTENANT. I had been excited about seeing this film since the project was announced over a year ago. I wasn't sure what to expect especially when considering its relation to Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT. Herzog marches to the beat of his own drum, so I knew his film would be substantially different. I was right.

I know it's a bit short-sighted to compare this film to the other, but I feel that they differ in some interesting ways, specifically the setting. Ferrara's film took place in New York and, obviously, Herzog's takes place in New Orleans. Both are notoriously dark, crime-ridden cities, but they each provide a different atmosphere for their respective films. New Orleans is a city suffering in the wake of a catastrophe. It wasn't all sunshine beforehand, but Katrina thoroughly ravaged the area and caused things to go from bad to worse. New Orleans may be a haven for crime, but there's something desperate and highly sympathetic about it. New York is less sympathetic. Its dark side is something we see as entirely self-imposed. There is a corrupt backbone to the city that spans centuries and the descendants of those corrupt individuals continue to impose their ugly nature on the landscape. These different settings also foreshadow the differences in Cage and Keitel's characters. In Ferrara's film, Keitel is a truly horrific human being who does some truly horrific things. There is no catalyst for his behavior, but it probably has something to do with the city itself, his demanding job and the shady environment it puts him in, as well as a predisposition for nastiness. Cage's character, Terrence McDonagh, might have some natural badness in him, but his real troubles begin with an injury sustained committing a good deed and the subsequent chemical dependencies he acquires trying to handle the pain. So therein lies an important difference between the films; we watch Cage with disgust but it is laced with sympathy and considerable more amusement.

That leads me to my next point; the films are of completely different tones. Ferrara's film is a gritty, horrifying, dark drama and also largely plotless. Herzog's film is a true dark comedy. The whole film is spastic and uneven, but with a central, identifiable plot. I've seen it referred to as campy, which I'd agree with. There are some ridiculous moments that just don't seem conducive to good plotting (I'm thinking specifically of the 'all is well' scene in the police station toward the very end), but I believe that this is a desired effect as Herzog is certainly talented enough to avoid such things if he wanted to. Cage carries the film as the gradually sinking title character. His performance is uncomfortable, but very entertaining. He is constantly doing drugs and, at one point, he cuts off an elderly woman's oxygen during an investigation, but the audience was chuckling throughout. Just prior to the incident with the old lady, Cage is revealed to have been hiding behind a door with an electric shaver. This is the moment when I was completely sold on the performance. Perhaps the most uncomfortable scene was one that is an obvious throwback to the original film, in which the Lieutenant stops a couple, looking to score some drugs and receives a sexual bribe. This is a dark scene, but the insanity of the performance elicits a shocked chuckle. Keitel's performance in a similar scene from the 1992 film is almost too horrible to watch and certainly doesn't incite any laughter.

Keitel's turn as The Bad Lieutenant is one of the best performances of the 90's, the term tour de force comes to mind. It's powerful, sad, moving and ugly. Cage's Bad Lieutenant isn't the same guy. I'd call him sad and quirky, but I don't mean to disparage the performance at all. I am firmly of the opinion that he should have been nominated at this year's Academy Awards for Best Actor. Cage's career seems like it is rife with missed opportunity. In reality, he seems like a pretty weird dude, but he doesn't embrace that as often as he should in picking his movie roles. He often takes on these big-budget action roles that he just isn't right for. How he got to be the action star that he is is a curiosity, but I suppose he makes a lot more doing those types of films. However, I think he could play eccentric sorts for the rest of his career with great success. I'd especially like to see him team with Herzog again, who has to be credited somewhat with the quality of the performance, as the director has quite a flair for the eccentric.

Apart from Cage, the supporting cast all put in decent performances. Eva Mendes was very good as was Val Kilmer in the role of the trigger happy partner. I actually would have liked to see more of Kilmer, a demand that he seems to already be trying to meet through consistent weight gain.

Lastly, I was impressed, though not surprised, at how well Herzog captured the fascinating setting. I know there are a lot of incentives for shooting in Louisiana, but this film really captured the details of the area that other films would likely choose to ignore. I know BENJAMIN BUTTON was shot there, but a lot of the time that film appeared to take place on elaborate sets or be altered by post-production computer wizardry. THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS really puts you right in the city it claims in the title.

I will be heading back to the festival tomorrow for FISH TANK.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Extry! Extry! Hugo Weaving to Play Captain America Nemesis Red Skull

So there you have it, the first casting news pertaining to the much anticipated THE FIRST AVENGER: CAPTAIN AMERICA. It was announced by director, Joe Johnston, a few weeks back that he would be using The Red Skull as the film's primary antagonist. I knew very little about the character myself, but the important details are that he's Hitler's right-hand man, birthname Johann Schmidt, and he wears a red skull helmet for intimidation and propaganda purposes.

I like the character for the film, but I'm not sure how I feel about Weaving portraying him. I suppose I'm in favor of it, but he's already done the iconic supervillain thing with Agent Smith in THE MATRIX. I don't mean to suggest that you can only play one villain in a long career, I just mean that, having seen him in such a role, I can already foresee where he might take the Red Skull character. He'll use his unique and serious voice to show us that he's an angry and evil sort. On the other hand, Weaving did manage to pull off a decent performance in V FOR VENDETTA whilst behind the confines of a mask, so maybe he is the right man for the job. This would be a chance for the actor to reunite with his THE WOLFMAN director, which wasn't exactly a successful union, but I hope the high stakes will result in some improvement.

However you feel, this news is exciting because it tells us that legitimate casting is imminent for the Captain America film, due out July 22, 2011. I'm still crossing my fingers for a decent Steve Rogers, but only time will tell.

For now, here's some footage of the sonofabitch at work:

Here's the address for where the news broke at The Hollywood Reporter:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Milwaukee Film Festival - Winter Edition

The Milwaukee Film Festival - Winter Edition starts tomorrow, March 12 and runs through the 18th. This is a great opportunity to get out and see some interesting and critically acclaimed films that might not have otherwise come to Milwaukee. Having a mini film festival in between the large scale fall festival is really a great idea. The Milwaukee Film Festival and previously the Milwaukee International Film Festival has really done a lot for Milwaukee's reputation as a film town. The Midwest is trying to build a foundation for a film industry that would be comparable to those in New York and Hollywood. Though it will likely never be as big as those two markets, it would be beneficial for the Midwest to be recognized in their company. Milwaukee seems to be working harder to achieve this than any other city in the area.

The high quality of films on display at the winter festival are also an indicator of Milwaukee's film presence. The fall festival usually features several high-profile films, but also many smaller films (which is what a festival should do), but the winter festival is treating us to, what I'd call, all high-profile films.

Things start off tomorrow with BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF NEW ORLEANS, directed by the legendary Werner Herzog. I will be in attendance for this as I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a Herzog film. I'm also a fan of Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT, which starred Harvey Keitel. I'm not exactly clear how Herzog's film is related to Ferrara's because it's not a sequel and it's not a remake. I'm thinking that the spirit and tone of both movies is supposed to be similar. The original BAD LIEUTENANT is a really insane film in which Keitel, and NYPD officer runs amok in New York. Even though I'm not a huge Nic Cage fan, he can really entertain me sometimes and I look forward to him stepping into Keitel's drug-addled shoes.

Here's a trailer for Ferrara's 1992 film -

And now Herzog's film:

I will also be heading out to the festival on Sunday to catch FISH TANK. FISH TANK is a film by acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold. It just recently won the BAFTA film award for Outstanding British Film, putting it in the company of such great films as THE THIRD MAN, SHALLOW GRAVE, and THIS IS ENGLAND.

Also coming to the festival:

RED CLIFF - John Woo's return to foreign cinema and the most expensive Asian film ever produced. Supposed to be quite an epic.

WHICH WAY HOME - The Oscar-nominated documentary about child migrants trying to make it America.

MINE - A documentary about Katrina victims trying to reunite with their pets who were evacuated separately. I really wanted to see this, but I won't be able to make any of the screenings. As an animal lover, I can only imagine it would leave me in tears.

For the complete list of films and showtimes and to buy tickets, visit

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


That's right, I saw THE CRAZIES. I was initially taken in by the first teaser trailer, but I thought of it more as a rental and not something I'd see in a theater. However, the respectable reviews, especially for the genre (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the fairly bad reviews for ALICE IN WONDERLAND convinced me into the cineplex for it. I wasn't disappointed, which is so rare these days.

The film hits the ground running without all of the lame exposition. The first shots are of a small town in flames and even though the story jumps back to before the carnage, it doesn't take long for us to see why things go so bad. The lead, played by Timothy Olyphant of "Deadwood" fame, is back in the shoes of a town sheriff. I'm a fan of Olyphant to begin with, so it wasn't exactly an uphill battle, but the character certainly won me over. He is instantly wise to what is going on and knows exactly how much trouble the town is in. One of my favorite scenes in the whole film is when the sheriff and his deputy ask the major to shut off the water and he refuses because the town relies on crops which require water. For some reason, this smelled to me like a mild JAWS reference.

The trouble the town's in isn't just contaminated water that makes people go well, crazy, but the aftermath of such an outbreak. When Sheriff Dutton can't get a phone signal or internet access, he immediately realizes that the government is on its way to handle the situation. The people responsible aim to keep it quiet, which can only mean trouble for the people of the afflicted town. Herein lies the true horror which is also the film's greatest. The helplessly violent townspeople (the crazies of the title) provide some scares and some tense moments, but they aren't nearly as interesting or disturbing as the presence of the U.S. Government. They are the true antagonists of the film, but they remain relatively faceless. There isn't some slick, apathetic suit representing the enemy, they instead leave their mark with black cars and 'copters, blow torches, bombs and charred bodies. The anonymous nature of the government in the film paints them more as an unstoppable force against which there is no escape, which is much more frightening than a crazy who can be brought down with a single bullet.

My complaints about the film are few. There were a lot of moments when Dutton and his wife were separated needlessly. Each incident resulted poorly, with Mrs. Dutton being attacked by lunatics. This plot template was repeated too much and accompanied by the same pan/reveal/shock each time. This horror movie cliche cheapens the film a little.

A few final thoughts:

I've actually never seen the original THE CRAZIES by George Romero, but I will try to soon. For being a horror movie and a remake, Breck Eisner's THE CRAZIES certainly did very well for itself.

The Sheriff's deputy, played by Joe Anderson, definitely put himself on the map with his charismatic performance.

As of this moment, this is the best 2010 film that I've seen, but it's only March.

DAYBREAKERS (The Spierig Brothers) - D+
THE WOLFMAN (Johnston) - C+
SHUTTER ISLAND (Scorsese) - B-
THE CRAZIES (Eisner) - B

Next Up: GHOST WRITER (Polanski)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Golden Schmoo

In the wake of the Oscars, I'm announcing the very first Golden Schmoo Awards, to be presented later this month. There are still a few more films I'd like to consider before making my final choices.

82nd Oscars Recap

While watching the Academy Awards last night, there were several things that I wanted to comment on:

NPH - Apparently, Neil Patrick Harris did the opening number, I didn't tune in until after. I bet it wasn't that good.

Best Supporting Actor/Actress - Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique win. No big surprises here. The Waltz victory is very deserved. I haven't seen PRECIOUS, but the clips of Mo'Nique's performance do suggest an excellent performance. I'm sure her win is also justified.

The John Hughes Tribute - This was nice. I'm glad they did this. Molly Ringwald looked a little wild-eyed though. The tribute means a lot considering Hughes wasn't as much of a critical darling in his heyday as people might expect. This is a rare example of the Academy exercising hindsight and appreciating a career they never recognized.

The tribute to Horror Films - This may have been the worst misstep of the whole program. I won't mince words - whoever arranged this is an idiot. I start by expressing my confusion at Kristen Stuart and Taylor Lautner presenting such a tribute. The TWILIGHT series is not horror, in any way, though it made it in to the tribute, probably just because these two brats were presenting. I think the Lautner train will die off very quickly when the franchise is finished. This talentless wiener has no business attending the academy awards. Kristen Stewart, despite not being a very good actress, has at least built up a bit more of a resume, so I can see justification for her inclusion. However, she needs to stop acting like a such a snot all the time. You're a successful, young actress, get over yourself and enjoy the fact that you get to be a part of the most important award show in your industry. Anyway, now back to the tribute itself; I bet you could find a hundred better horror movie mash-ups on YouTube - done by amateurs. The compilation had no rhythm or any sense, jumping from black and white to modern day, featuring some films way more than others. THE SHINING was prominently featured, it's as if the editor couldn't think of more than a dozen or so films. Also, the above-mentioned inclusion of TWILIGHT was just ridiculous, as was using a clip of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (also not a horror film!). The whole idea of doing such a tribute is a little weird, but a well-executed one might have been a treat.

The Class-Act Award - This goes to Sandy Powell, winner of Best Costume Design, for dedicating her award to the equally hardworking people of her profession who don't get acknowledged because they don't make period clothing.

THE HURT LOCKER running away with things - I have been concerned since the Golden Globes that AVATAR might dominate the Oscars, but fairly quickly I could sense that the Academy favored THE HURT LOCKER. The film won various achievements that I'm not so sure couldn't have gone elsewhere. It won two awards for sound, which could have (more fittingly) gone to any of the more blockbuster films. Most frustrating though would have to be its win for Best Original Screenplay. I figured this would be the category in which they'd throw Tarantino a bone. Even from the clips beforehand, it was obvious that BASTERDS contained a lot more dynamic writing, which is Tarantino's greatest asset. Probably the most disappointing moment of last night was realizing that I would get to see him accept his second Oscar.

The Hosts - Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin did an okay job, but the whole thing seemed a little off. I also didn't feel like I really saw them all that much.

Best Foreign - EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS wins. I'm excited to see this film. I thought Golden Palm winner THE WHITE RIBBON would win, or critical darling, A PROPHET. Despite loving THE WHITE RIBBON, I won't judge the this other film winning until I've seen it. I remember a few years back really wanting PAN'S LABYRINTH to win in this category, only to be disappointed when THE LIVES OF OTHERS took home the award. Then I saw THE LIVES OF OTHERS and was completely blown away.

The Speeches - If I had to describe the acceptance speeches from last night the word I'd use is - heartless. I feel sorry for most of the winners because they really didn't get to enjoy the moment or say anything interesting because they were rushing. I usually hate long acceptance speeches, and the show went long anyway, but I still think 45 seconds is too short, especially when you have three people accepting an award. Many winners didn't even get a chance to say anything at all. I feel very sorry for these people, I can imagine they're at least a little disappointed. I was as happy as anyone that the bad guy from HACKERS won an Oscar for producing THE COVE, but we didn't get to hear from the director himself, who likely would have had something to say about his incredibly important cause, because he got cut off. It wasn't a problem for the Best Actor/Actress to go on as long as they liked because they are just so much more important than everyone else, as made clear by the overlong mini-tributes done for EACH of the nominations in their categories. Cutting out this nauseating ritual would have trimmed the show down 30 minutes. I can understand the no-limit approach for Best Director and Best Picture because those are the biggest awards and arguably the most important, but I don't feel the Acting awards are as important. Sandra Bullock and Jeff Bridges can just go on Letterman or any news outlet and thank everyone. Those poor behind-the-scenes workers will never see the limelight again and they were cut off from cherishing their moment of glory, probably the highlights of of their careers, if not their lives.

Best Actress - Sandra Bullock wins. Admittedly, I'm just hating on Bullock and THE BLIND SIDE, but every clip I've seen of her performance reveals nothing special. She just seems like plain ol' Sandra Bullock, who also won the Razzie for Worst Actress in WHAT ABOUT STEVE on Saturday.

Strange Acceptances - I feel bad for Best Documentary Short winner, Roger Ross Williams, who was interrupted during probably the proudest moment of his career by co-winner Elinor Burkett, who appeared to have rush at him from off-stage and take control of the mic while he was mid-sentence. Also, Geoffrey Fletcher, winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, was acting like he was on drugs - talking very slow and a bit incoherent. The speech was so strange Steve Martin made a crack about it, saying "I wrote that speech for him". There were a few more that struggled a bit last night, even Kathryn Bigelow seemed really out-of-it while accepting for Best Director and Best Picture.

The Lop-Sidedness - I'm fine with THE HURT LOCKER winning as I do think it was one of the 10 best films of 2009 and I really didn't want AVATAR to win, but I think the Academy went a little overboard. There was just so much hype about AVATAR and THE HURT LOCKER that a lot of other, deserving films were lost in the shuffle. Did The Hurt Locker really deserve to win for sound and screenplay? I don't think so. I just think Academy members wanted to legitimize their picking of THE HURT LOCKER for Best Picture by giving it the nod in numerous other categories. It can still be Best Picture and no take home every award. There were 10 nominations this year, but there might have well been 2. Nobody was even fooled into thinking some other picture might win, which is sad. It's like saying that they didn't even deserve to get nominated. The hype train also extends into the acting categories. Jeff Bridges was very good in CRAZY HEART, but was he so much better than everyone else that there was no possibility of another actor winning? Bridges is a well liked and well respected actor with a nice story who hadn't won yet, so he got the award. I feel like the Academy was honoring his career more than his singular performance. Last year, the Oscars had a chance to recognize another great story with Mickey Rourke (who really did deserve that Oscar), but they chose to throw another award at Sean Penn. Perhaps Bridges is just a more savory candidate than Rourke. When Sandra Bullock got on stage last night, the first thing she said was "Did I really deserve this, or did I just wear you all down?". I would say the latter. With this statement, she even recognizes the importance in campaigning for an award. Her whole victory started with the notion that her performance was something special when the film was released and that snowballed into a guaranteed Oscar since even before the Golden Globes. Hype, and not quality, has become way too important for a medium that requires intense scrutiny to weed out what is truly great.

I look forward to more agitation at the 83rd Academy Awards.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The Academy Awards are approaching fast and I've been sitting on this for way too long. When I saw AVATAR a few months back, I was disappointed and a bit confused, especially considering the way it has been talked up in respectable critics' circles. When the film started smashing box-office records left and right, I became perplexed, but I let it go because I could see its appeal to a mass audience. But when it won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, I got very angry. Sure, it's the highest grossing film of all time, but box-office receipts are not a barometer for quality. How could this film, which wasn't very good at all, win Best Picture? It hasn't been the best year for films and some of the fellow nominations are duds, but I still see no justification for it. I won't even start on my bewilderment at James Cameron winning Best Director. Even after the Globes, I was still holding out hope that the Oscars would be more sensible, but as March 7th looms I'm becoming more and more certain that AVATAR will indeed win the most prestigious award in Film. The only other contender was THE HURT LOCKER, but a scandal involving one of its producers and possible vote coercion has seriously lessened its chances. When looking at the inevitability, I ask myself again - "Why?" and "How?. The answer is that there is a multi-layered myth surrounding the film that continuously propels it toward further critical and financial success. Being that it is a myth, I aim to disprove it.

Myth 1: AVATAR is the most immersive film experience ever, which is film's ultimate purpose, thus making AVATAR the best use of the medium ever.

I would argue that AVATAR is incredibly shallow and non-engaging. Yes, AVATAR uses new technology to create some vast landscapes that surrounds you through improved 3D, but an immersive environment should allow you to interact with it in some way. AVATAR allows for no participation, by which I don't mean physical interactions, but mental. Film, in its initial form was entirely visual, but it also had to convey non-visual elements upon the viewer. Visually, AVATAR does very little besides show, it tells virtually nothing. Everything is superficial with the intention of dazzling the average viewer. For a film that is supposed to be this great observable masterpiece, AVATAR relies heavily on words to get the story across. Exposition is almost always a negative element to filmmaking and AVATAR has it in spades. Almost every conversation is meant to tell the viewer exactly what is going on in the film and what is going to happen on Pandora, starting with Ribisi's lame speech to Weaver about "Why they are there", which she undoubtedly already knows.

Information and visuals that might provide a fuller, richer experience with the film are nowhere to be seen or heard. Virtually zero character development is achieved over the 2 and a half hour runtime. There is no great presence or weight to anyone, or even the massive, created world. It could all evaporate into thin air with a simple keystroke. There is no call-and-response to the film. It doesn't give you anything to figure out for yourself or form your own opinion on, or ever have to wonder about. Simply, the film does not require you to think and how can a film be called immersive if you don't have to contribute anything to your understanding of it. AVATAR is something that happens to you, not with you. The film didn't make me feel anything. Questions of good or bad are non-existent; every character and situation is either black or white. According to Cameron himself, there is supposed to be some allusion to interracial relationships through the main characters' relationship, but that doesn't make sense to me as I would describe it more as inter-species. There's also a lot to be said about its supposed "Green" or "Back to Nature" message, especially considering the advances in technology used by the film's hero (Avatars) and also the technology needed to create the film itself. If anything, AVATAR is just exploiting a popular environmental trend like numerous other environmentally destructive industries.

Myth #2: AVATAR is the Star Wars of our time.

I've seen a lot of comparisons between AVATAR and STAR WARS IV: A NEW HOPE. They are both sci-fi phenomenons that made a lot of money. I'd say that's where the comparisons end. STAR WARS has some flaws, I'm not going to claim that it is perfect, but it's certainly a much more weighty film than the fluff that AVATAR provides. STAR WARS is steeped in so much mythology, Joseph Campbell philosophy and true human dilemmas. A lot of thought and research was put into its story as well as its (then) cutting-edge technology. I think it would be hard to argue that James Cameron put just as much thought into AVATAR's story as its visual effects. What is the backbone of his movie's narrative? The Na'Vi are supposed to resemble some real tribal cultures, but it bites off more than it can chew and the result is a shallow mish-mash. There is the incredibly superficial environmental theme that I mentioned above, but there are also a bunch of other, similarly themed films that AVATAR seems to draw from - DANCES WITH WOLVES, POCAHONTAS, and even FERN GULLY.

AVATAR also lacks the iconic characters that STAR WARS has. Jake Sully is not Luke Skywalker. Though some fans of the film really love that character, he just doesn't have the presence or the likability as Luke. When AVATAR is talked about in the media, I hardly ever hear mention of the characters; the technology is the star of the film. STAR WARS is nothing without its characters, AVATAR probably wouldn't be much different. The black and white nature of the film's moral message is also different from STAR WARS, which, from a distance is also a simple tale of good vs. bad, but actually presents several shades of gray, most notably with the complex story of Darth Vader. Also, if I had to predict about the comparable legacies of the films in the decades to come, I'd say that AVATAR will be a lot less fondly remembered. There is so much that people love about STAR WARS that will never be forgotten, even though special effects have long surpassed it. A time will come when bigger and much better films are made than AVATAR (possibly by Cameron himself), at which time the film will have to fall back on its non-visual elements, which are poorly executed, and people will have to acknowledge that the film wasn't all that good to begin with.

Myth #3: AVATAR is a "game-changer", meaning it will change the way films are made.

Another similarity with the original STAR WARS is AVATAR's status as a game-changer. STAR WARS was the biggest film ever at the time of its release. Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic was able to dazzle audiences, who thought they were seeing the future of filmmaking. In a sense, they were, but only a very small portion of filmmaking. Every movie that has come out since has not been made like STAR WARS for two, simple reasons: 1. It wouldn't be appropriate for all genres and 2. It wouldn't be economically feasible. Even in the wake of AVATAR, there will still be smaller films because film-goers can't abide on sci-fi alone and even most bigger films won't be able to follow its model because they just can't afford a half-billion dollar budget. Also, even if such enormous films were to become prevalent, they wouldn't be special anymore and they all wouldn't gross billions of dollars. Without the potential for significant gains, production companies aren't going to fork over the necessary funds to produce AVATAR-esque films. AVATAR has encouraged a few films to convert to 3D, but that trend was well on its way before the release of AVATAR. But even 3D will never completely take over filmmaking for the simple fact that it doesn't really create better films.

I'd also argue that people aren't going to want to see ALL of their sci-fi/fantasy/comic-book heroes as computer-generated images. I didn't feel as though I could connect with Jake Sully and the Na'Vi because they weren't real. Even though they were created by the best CG in existence, that still doesn't make them look more tangible than the best practical effects. I went to see DAYBREAKERS (a fairly awful movie) a couple weeks after AVATAR and I found myself thinking, "these vampire-monsters look more real than anything in AVATAR". I don't think CG will ever be able to cross over into the plain of true existence. In an entirely animated film, I might not have a problem with it, but since footage of real human beings is juxtaposed with the faux-world of Pandora, it creates a nagging discrepancy.

I'm not a hater. I wanted this film to be good. I like James Cameron films. I would consider seeing a sequel because there is always potential in something Cameron directs. I just didn't like this film, for the reasons above and for many others. I think part of my intense dislike for AVATAR stems from my disappointment. I don't love the technology and my eyes roll when people say it is the wave of the future, but it might have been cool to see it utilized with a truly awesome film.

When looking at the box-office numbers, I can throw up my hands and say "I just don't get it", but when it comes to potential Oscar statues, I have to get angry. AVATAR has rode a stream of undue hype into a position where it might be named "Best Picture". I think this would be a huge mistake and one that would be looked back upon with shame.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hey! Look At This

I was just doing my typical web-surfing when I saw a link for this movie trailer on IMDB. I had heard about Neil Jordan's ONDINE a few months back, but there wasn't a lot of info or a projected release date, so I put it out of mind. I'm glad to see that it's due for a limited release in the near future. It debuted at The Toronto International Film Festival last year and was featured in The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival a couple weeks back. This isn't one for my "Most Anticipated" list, but I think it's definitely something of interest.

Despite all of the criticism Colin Farrell takes, he has the potential to be a very good actor (see THE NEW WORLD or IN BRUGES). I hope this role further proves this. Neil Jordan is also a fantastic director and I look forward to seeing him returned to true form after the rather underwhelming THE BRAVE ONE.

Most Anticipated Films of 2010 - INCEPTION

INCEPTION - Directed by Christopher Nolan, Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy (7/20/10)

Over the course of the past decade, Christopher Nolan has quietly become one the most celebrated directors in Hollywood. I say quietly because his name does not yet resonate with your typical moviegoer like Spielberg, Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, or even someone like Michael Bay. I also say quietly because, despite his box office and critical success, the man does not seem to get a lot of credit around award season. THE PRESTIGE is a prominent fixture on many “Best Films of the 2000’s” lists and was highly praised at the time of its release, but it didn’t garner any major awards. MEMENTO can also be found high on such lists, but it also can’t claim any landmark achievements. Nolan’s most recent film, THE DARK KNIGHT, is one of the most financially successful titles in film history and, despite its heavy praise, was plainly snubbed at last year’s Academy Awards in favor of the massively inferior THE READER. Nolan is a peculiarity because he makes popular films without compromising quality (unlike Bay), but he has none of the accolades to show for it (unlike Spielberg). However, I feel as though this new decade will be different for him. His time is due, Oscar nominations are imminent.

Nolan’s first film of this decade is INCEPTION. I have no way of knowing whether this will be the film to earn him the accolades I project, but there’s a good chance simply because he’s at the helm. After the release of THE DARK KNIGHT, there was a lot of speculation about a 3rd Batman film, but he quelled early buzz when he told everyone that he was working on something else; a science fiction mystery that takes place within the framework of the mind. Even a year and a half later, not a lot more is known about the film. There have been a couple trailers released, but they aren’t a lot of help either. However, they are very captivating in their own right, especially the initial teaser trailer.

To me, there’s something great about keeping the audience in the dark. More details will undoubtedly surface as the film’s release date becomes closer, but I would assume much about the film will remain guarded. It’s no fun going into a film knowing everything that’s going to happen, but that’s often how many marketing schemes seem to work. I prefer the opposite approach that INCEPTION is taking as there’s something special about watching the opening credits of a film and suddenly realizing that you have no idea what is about to unfold.

What we do know about the film is:
- A vague synopsis from IMDB:
In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a single idea within one's mind can be the most dangerous weapon or the most valuable asset.
- The film is an original idea written by Nolan himself.
- It stars a whole slew of talented people. (The presence of strong supporting actors Hardy, Murphy and Watanabe round out a remarkable ensemble cast)

For now, this is all I need to know. Next to IRON MAN 2, this is probably the film I'm most excited for in 2010.