Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Eye on Television: "Survivors"

Just a short recommendation here. Today marks the DVD release of the only two seasons of BBC's "Survivors". Here's a little description of the show:

"Set in the present day, the series focuses on a group of regular people who survive the aftermath of a devastating viral pandemic – referred to as "European Flu" – which kills most of the world's population. The series sees the characters struggling against terrible dangers in a world with no society, no police and no law and order led by the de facto matriarch of the group, Abby Grant."

The post-apocalyptic show benefited from high ratings in its first season. However, this would also be its curse. Slipping ratings for the second season were used as justification for canceling the show earlier this month. Even though the ratings generated in the second season would be considered a success for most outlets, this was not the case for BBC 1.

The show's run may have just been 12 episodes, but during that time it displayed a powerful narrative, strong character development and slick production values. The show's cancellation is a disappointment, but It is sure to live on, to be mentioned in the company of other great shows that were prematurely axed (Deadwood, Firefly, Arrested Development etc.).

The show can be bought at Amazon for $38.99 and is available on Netflix. I highly recommend it.

South Park - Episode 201

I know the buzz surrounding the South Park BS from last week has died down a little, but I'm still mad. I wasn't able to catch the controversial episode and I assumed it would be no problem catching it later as Comedy Central often replays the episode. Other options included Hulu, South Park's website and on-demand, but I was sorely mistaken. Instead of replaying the episode, Comedy Central insists on playing older episodes and "Ugly Americans". Episode 201 has also not been uploaded to any legit outlets online. Why would they do that? I wonder. The episode was already censored, so just play it. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the culprit is shame. Comedy Central did what they felt they had to do, but they're ashamed of it. Ashamed that they chickened out and censored the very name of Muhammad and they speech at the end about the nature of fear (which Parker and Stone say makes no mention of the Muslim prophet). I would settle for just seeing the censored episode, but even that is too much to ask. I'm relegated to watching parts of it on Youtube. 75% of it is decent quality, just backwards for some reason and the ending 25% is from a video that someone shot of their TV. The fact that I have to go to such extremes is pathetic. The whole episode is right here on this blog for the time being, but it will likely be taken down. Yes, that's another bit of bullshit - people are being forced to remove the episode from Youtube because of copyright concerns. Comedy Central refused to play the episode, so I feel they forfeit the right of others to air it.

This is a HUGE deal. It's not being treated as such because people take South Park so lightly. It's a joke. People are likely to say "oh, that South Park, what'll they pull next?". That is not the mindset we should be taking. South Park and free speech were held at gunpoint this week by a radical faith. I'm not going to say Muslim extremists because the very nature of the religion is extreme. Comedy Central gave in. These people will continue to take more and more until everything is censored to their liking. How are veiled death threats acceptable? We don't have to be tolerant of those who are intolerant. If you don't play by the rules of tolerance then you're not a part of the game. Aside from commemorating 200 episodes of their show, a large part of Parker and Stone's message was about fear, about the very shenanigans that were perpetrated against them. This is the 21st century, get in line.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Franchising - Reboots, Remakes and Returns

A lot of people complain that there isn't an original thought in Hollywood anymore. Others would take that even further and include all of film. Not me. Yes, it is true that a good percentage of films being released these days are either remakes, reboots, or sequels, but I wouldn't say that is all bad. Sequels (like IRON MAN 2) have the potential to expand on their predecessors, which probably spent a good deal of time building up the characters and the universe of the film. They can be more fun or more creative. Reboots can give franchises new life when everything has been drained from a particular story arc or when a film didn't live up to its potential (reboots currently in the works: Superman, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four). Remakes are probably the touchiest category I'll be examining. Remakes are often frowned upon for being utterly unoriginal and lacking any new vision. Oftentimes, films are remade for the simple purpose of exploiting a known franchise's popularity and inserting a couple "flavor-of-the-month" actors. However, to me, remakes are a way to right certain wrongs; a remake might contemporize a dated film or help fulfill the potential of a film that fell short. That is to say, in theory, a remake could be used for such things, but 99% of the time are not.

There is hope in that 1% though. If you're an idiot, you might think INFERNAL AFFAIRS is better than its American re-imagining THE DEPARTED, it's not. I found Roger Corman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS to be downright unbearable, but I thoroughly enjoy Oz's musical version. Both THE FLY and THE THING are solid improvements of their classic originals. So, you see, there at least some room for optimism in the realm of remakes.

The next couple years (and the foreseeable future) are going to be littered with recycled plots and franchise building, so we might as well just get used to it and try to enjoy the good that might come out of it. There are some films on my radar that fall into one of these categories and I'd like to speculate as to their potential.

A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET - Directed by Samuel Bayer (Based on the Wes Craven original)
I feel as though this film is already receiving some unfair ire from film fans. Why unfair? Because this film doesn't really stand to tarnish the original. How so? Well, I don't know how to put this nicely...the original kinda sucks. Yeah, that's right. The Nightmare series does have a few shining moments (mostly stemming from Robert Englund's performance and the increasingly creative ways to inflict death), but that doesn't make it good filmmaking. The original film starts off well, but it quickly falls apart. Bad acting and plot holes drag the film down to its train-wreck conclusion. What the hell was supposed to be going on there!? Horror remakes are usually garbage, but I can't imagine it being any worse than the original. I think the trailer actually makes the film look promising. Sure, Jackie Earle Haley has some big shoes (and striped sweaters) to fill, but I bet he'll make a good Freddiy. I get the impression that this Krueger might be a bit darker than the fun-loving psychopath portrayed by Englund, which suits him. As for the directer - Samuel Bayer is a successful music-video director, which could certainly be a bad thing, but I currently have little to judge him off of. Everybody has to get there start somewhere.

This remake hits theaters next Friday.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK - Directed by Breck Eisner

This remake has been planned for a couple years now. John Carpenter gave his blessing (though he seems like a nice guy who isn't too protective of his work). I'm not a huge ESCAPE fan, but I like the film. It's certainly good for its time, but I can see some potential in some sort of re-hash. It's a very imaginative piece of work that could benefit from some fleshing out in the proper hands. A lot of people have been hating on the announcement of the remake (Rotten Tomatoes included it in its Worst Ideas of the Week section), but I have a lot of respect for Breck Eisner after what he did with THE CRAZIES earlier this year. There he had another remake that most people didn't think was necessary and he pulled it off in a big way. All my optimism aside, there's one HUGE issue with this film being remade - main character and badass icon Snake Plissken. Who do you find to wear Kurt Russel's eye-patch. At this moment, I can't think of anyone that wouldn't come across as either underwhelming or incredibly annoying. For a while, this was going to be a starring vehicle for Gerard Butler, I just hope it does not go back to being. So, I guess I'm torn on the subject of this remake. I'll just have to wait and see. Right now, we're looking at a 2011 release date.

CAESAR - Directed by TBD

There has been a lot of talk over the past couple years about a PLANET OF THE APES reboot/prequel/remake. A lot of the talk has been about whether such a film will be getting made at all. It appears, at least at the moment, that it will indeed be getting made. I'm not a fanatic about this series either, but when I first heard the idea for the plot, I was intrigued. CAESAR is going to be about the first super-intelligent ape and the events that lead to there being a Planet of the Apes. To me, this sounds like good sci-fi, but "sounds like" is a lot different than "is". I later found out that this is actually a remake of PLANET OF THE APES IV, which I recently watched. I enjoyed it, but simply because it made me laugh and laugh a lot. Granted, all the APES films are a bit silly, but this one was particularly silly. How a remake can be pulled off, with presumably serious intentions, without becoming a laughingstock is a mystery, but one I await enthusiastically. Look for CAESAR (if it gets made) in 2012.

ARTHUR - Directed by Jason Winer

The only reason I bring this one up is because there was an announcement this past week that Helen Mirren was joining the cast. I was dismayed because I thought that this plan had been dropped. The original ARTHUR starred Dudley Moore as a rich playboy in what many people would consider a classic. The man who aims to take on the role in the remake: none other than professional douche-bag Russel Brand. I liked Brand well enough when he burst onto the scene in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, but it soon became apparent that the guy wasn't acting in that film and actually is a jackass in real life. The fact that Brand himself has been pushing for this remake for years only makes me hate him more. He's so egotistical that he campaigns for the iconic role. I hope this doesn't get made. Brand's star is fading. I can only imagine this film will be an incredible failure despite the Dame's participation.

TRON: LEGACY - Directed by Joseph Kosinski

TRON came out 28 years ago. On December 17th of 2010 the sequel hits theaters. Such a long time between installments is unprecedented, but it makes this film really exciting for some reason. If a TRON sequel had surfaced in the 80's, there's a good chance it would've sucked. I like TRON well enough, but it's certainly dated and a little boring. LEGACY seems like it might actually improve on the original, making it something more epic than it ever was meant to be. The trailers look great and the cast is solid, so I'm actually quite excited. The director is a bit of a mystery though. He has no prior credits and actually seems to be coming out of nowhere, but (I'm told) he has a lot of experience in graphic arts and a pending sci-fi script called OBLIVION. If I had to guess just judging from the trailer, I'd say this guy has some talent.

ALIEN Prequel - Directed by Ridley Scott

For a long time I've feared that the ALIEN series was dead, its only mark on this generation in the form of low-brow AVP films. I was more than a little excited when it was announced last year that Ridley Scott, director of the original ALIEN, would be returning to the franchise with a prequel. My excitement also came with a bit of trepidation considering this project was far from confirmed and Scott likes to entertain lots of different projects. However, an interview last week confirmed that he is indeed working on it and he anticipated a release at the end of 2011. From what I can tell from the information he's giving, this could be a very interesting film. Here's the article/interview - lots of good stuff inside: http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1637638/story.jhtml

More impending reboots and remakes:
TRUE GRIT - 12/2010 (Coen Brothers)
THE THING prequel - 2011 (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.)
OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL - (Shankman or Mendes)
PREDATORS - 7/9/10 (Antal)
STRAW DOGS - 2/25/11 (Lurie)
SPIDER-MAN - 5/2012 (Webb) - Ha! A man named Webb directed SPIDER-MAN

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I've been excited about VALHALLA RISING for some time. Today, a friend pointed me in the direction of a trailer/review. The new film by Nicolas Winding Refn (PUSHER, BRONSON) played at ActionFest along with CENTURION (see earlier post) and received a one very positive review that I've seen. The story follows a mute warrior, One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), as he travels on a viking vessel to a dangerous new world.

The review I saw of the film on Twitchfilm.com points out a couple interesting things about the film. One, Mads Mikkelsen, by far the film's biggest and most international star, plays a mute and apparently he holds true to that, not muttering a word or a sound, not even when he's destroying people. To me, this sounds awesome, but it is risky, subduing the star like that, but I anticipate interesting results. Kudos to Refn for taking the risk. The second interesting observation made by the reviewer is that Refn's style is similar to that of Terrence Malick, legendary director of BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN and THE NEW WORLD. If this is even remotely true, then VALHALLA RISING must be quite impressive visually. Malick is notorious for taking painstaking measures to get a perfect shot. I can't judge RISING's visuals as a whole, having not seen the film yet, but the trailer does hint at a some very calculated shots.

However, though this might be a plus for the reviewer at Twitchfilm, it doesn't seem to be pleasing everyone. Lots of fan reviews I've found at IMDB complain that the film lacks extensive plotting and is, to them, "slow" or "boring". I don't give these criticisms too much credence as average film viewers lack attention spans and artistic appreciation. To me, these complaints only further the evidence that this film belongs in a vein similar to Malick's work, which is very exciting. No matter how this film turns out, I'm fairly certain I'm in for something interesting.

A release date for this film is a mystery. There is a June release date listed at IMDB, but I can only assume that will be a limited release. I hope it comes to my town or DVD quite soon as I've been waiting for some time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Eye on Television

I keep my primary focus on film, but occasionally I'll cast an eye on television. Two stories have captured my attention recently and I believe they are worth noting:

1. "The Pillars of the Earth" miniseries will premiere on Starz in July in 8 parts. The Pillars of the Earth was a international bestseller by Ken Follett about 12th century England set against a backdrop of war, religious strife and power struggles which tear lives and families apart. The book was also part of Oprah's Club, for what that's worth.

The Miniseries boasts a strong cast with Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Rufus Sewell and Tony Curran. It is directed by Croatian director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, a television director of whom I'm largely unaware. However, he does possess an impressive resume, having directed episodes of "Battlestar Galactica", "Prison Break" and "Heroes".

I can't say exactly why I'm drawn to this, but it's likely due to McShane's involvement and the apparent quality of the trailer.

Now I'm left wondering just one thing: do I have the Starz channel?

2. The second television story I'm following is that of the highly anticipated "Walking Dead" series. "The Walking Dead" is slated to premiere on AMC in October (just in time for Halloween).

There aren't a whole lot of details available about the show just yet, but it is based off of a graphic novel series of the same name by Robert Kirkman. I've read a majority of the run and it's quite good. The story focuses on a group of survivors following the zombie-apocalypse as they struggle against nature, villainous fellow survivors, intense grief and, of course, zombies. The tone of the narrative is framed by the revelation that *gasp* they (the survivors and not the zombies themselves) are the walking dead! It's dreary and it's bleak, but it's great drama, which is probably why it was picked up by AMC.

The facts we do know about the series are: As of the pilot episode, it's being produced, written and directed by Frank Darabont, director of THE GREEN MILE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE MIST. Darabont is a talented filmmaker, which makes his involvement in the show very exciting. I think he'll be able to capture the group dynamic, the desperation and the horror as well as anyone. There might even be a chance that the television series could achieve greater artistic value than the source material. I've been clamoring for a television series about the zombie apocalypse for a coon's age. It's a story arc that lends itself very well to the medium as it contains a (conceivably) ongoing or everlasting plot. I seem to even recall remarking on how "The Walking Dead" might make a good television series while reading it.

The lead role of Rick Grimes has been cast with British actor, Andrew Lincoln taking the challenge. The show is scheduled to begin filming shortly. When a preview is eventually released, I will be sure to include it here along with any other interesting news that becomes public.

Hey! Look At This: CENTURION

I came upon a trailer for this film recently and it certainly got my attention. CENTURION is directed by Neil Marshall - the man responsible for THE DESCENT (which appears on my 50 Best Films of The Decade list).

I like Marshall and think he's quite a talent. He had two cult hits in DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT before his last film DOOMSDAY. That film was not as much of a success, though I won't judge its quality having yet to see it (though I hear it's actually decent). Marshall has avoided offers to direct films for large production companies in favor of making films that he conceptualizes himself. I have a great respect for that because it is a mindset that possesses the potential for truly original filmmaking and plots. CENTURION definitely sounds exciting, here's the official description:

"Based on the legend of the Ninth Legion, an army of 3000 unstoppable Roman warriors who vanished without trace, Centurion is the tale of their vicious conflict with a murderous adversary, the Picts. Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a Roman corporal, is taken hostage by the Pict King, Gorlacon and the Ninth are charged with bringing him home and ending Pict domination of Britain. Led by General Virilus (Dominic West) and guided by a Pict prisoner and warrior woman named Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the army marches towards enemy territory and finds itself in the midst of a perilous battle with a mysterious foe."

The film stars Michael Fassbender, who is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. Recently, he had magnificent and varied roles in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, FISH TANK and HUNGER and will appear in this year's JONAH HEX. It appears as though CENTURION will help to strengthen Fassbender's potential as an action star, which will only quicken his inevitable ascent into the mainstream.

CENTURION played at ActionFest last week and currently claims one positive review at Rotten Tomatoes. Its wide-release date is penciled for August 27th of this year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Joss Whedon to Direct THE AVENGERS

Big news hit the internet yesterday: Joss Whedon has been chosen to direct THE AVENGERS - coming to theaters in the Summer of 2012. And that's not another remake of the 1960's British television series, that's Marvel's Avengers we're talking about. The movie stands to be one of the biggest in film history, bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and potentially The Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton). By the time THE AVENGERS is released, these men will have all starred in their own blockbusters (excluded Nick Fury who will appear in most of them). I can only imagine each film will do astonishingly well, considering the popularity of superhero films and the fact that it is now public knowledge that each film is leading up to THE AVENGERS.

When plans for this film started to come together around IRON MAN's production in 2008 it seemed like an impossible dream. Sure, Marvel was going to try and put together individual films about its most successful properties. That news was great enough. It seemed as though a potential Avengers film could be put together, but it might be too ambitious. However, after the unexpected level of success that IRON MAN received, it seemed as though THE AVENGERS had become Marvel's ultimate goal. The primary characters would have their own, distinct films, but they would all be leading to eventual team-up. This plan of attack is so cool because it emulates the world of comics (specifically Marvel) so well. Each character has his own series, but they all exist within the same universe (in this case The Marvel Universe) and there is that potential to crossover and collide. This serial method is something that has made graphic novel storytelling so unique. Never has it been accomplished in the world of film; probably due to the difficulty is managing a collaboration between directors, writers, producers, and actors over a span of several years. But here we are, on the verge of such a collaboration. I only hope that nothing goes wrong in the next two years to disturb this process.

Now back to my reason for writing this entry: something that has gone very right. When I read the news about Joss Whedon last night, I was instantly excited and I can't even explain why. I'm not a huge follower of Whedon, though "Firefly" has long been on my to-watch list. What I know about him is primarily through reputation. There was just some part of my unconscious nerd-brain that whispered "this is right". I'm not usually impressed by casting decisions or director appointments these days; they never turn out how I'd like them, but that's to be expected. To be honest, I hadn't really begun to think about who would direct THE AVENGERS. I always just assumed someone already working with the Marvel films would get the gig. Jon Favreau might have been a good choice, but I think he's better suited for strictly Iron Man films. Louis Leterrier did a fine job with THE INCREDIBLE HULK, but I wouldn't have been comfortable with him taking on all of the Avengers. Branagh is perfect for THOR in some crazy way, but I also couldn't see him making the transition. I know Joe Johnston (director of THE FIRST AVENGER: CAPTAIN AMERICA) had expressed some interest in the job, but he still has to prove that he's not a hack. Whedon doesn't come with a lot of big-budget, feature film credentials, but he certainly has a lot of nerd-cred. His television shows have garnered some of the most rabid fans in the history of entertainment. His screenplay for ALIEN: RESURRECTION (not the greatest film, I know) is outrageously creative. Perhaps most importantly though is his work within the graphic novel medium: he wrote for "The Astonishing X-Men", one of the most popular Marvel Comic series in recent memory. This guy knows nerd, he speaks the language. I have faith that he can churn out an awesome, fan-pleasing, crowd-pleasing Avengers film.

In the near future I plan to get my hands on a lot of his work so I might build a more informed opinion of the man, but for the moment, I'm happy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hey! Look At This: SPLICE

There was some buzz surrounding this film earlier this year when the lineup for Sundance was announced, but I've heard little since. Apparently, SPLICE is headed for a wide release this June. The official trailer hit the internet last week and it looks quite promising:

SPLICE stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley and is directed by Vincenzo Natali (who directed the vampire segment in 2007's PARIS, JE T'AIME). It currently has five reviews at Rottentomatoes, four of which are positive. A quality sci-fi/horror is something rare and I'm pretty interested to see if this film is the genuine article. Either way, it looks...original, which is also unique enough these days.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The 1st Annual Golden Schmoo Awards - Best Picture

The Nominations for Best Picture are:

MOON - Directed by Duncan Jones - Starring Sam Rockwell. This is one of the best films to come out of the sci-fi genre in decades. An Instant classic.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Directed by Quentin Tarantino - Starring Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, and Eli Roth. In the closing moments of this film, Aldo says "This might just be my masterpiece". I can only assume that Tarantino is speaking through him. This is probably his best film. Trailers would have you believe this is some sort of action vehicle for Brad Pitt, but it's hardly that. It's often slow (but in a good way), full of subtitles, and focuses a great deal on foreign film history. An intensely enjoyable film.

A SINGLE MAN - Directed by Tom Ford - Starring Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, and Julianne Moore.

A SINGLE MAN was more than just a mild surprise. This is Tom Ford's debut as a director and he created a stylish, visually impressive film and though a lot of the credit must go to Firth himself, Ford deserves some credit for capturing his career-defining performance. This film is about love, loss, grief, and life itself and it treats all of these things with the great respect they deserve.

STAR TREK - Directed by J.J. Abrams - Starring Chris Pine, Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, and Karl Urban.

For all of its fanfare, I still contend that STAR TREK is under appreciated. Most film snobs won't give it any respect because it's a fun, big-budget film, but it's so much more to me. I already went over this in the Best Writing category, but the way this story is told and its relation to the original Star Trek timeline is huge. I was never a Trekkie, but this film made a Star Trek fan out of me, just because I love how its universe works. Abrams used its budget well and made a well-crafted film and despite the bitching/moaning about his lens flares, they too have their purpose. This was one of those rare cinema experiences that transcends the viewing. I will always remember it in a similar vein to how I remember first seeing Jurassic Park as a child.

THE WHITE RIBBON - Directed by Michael Haneke.

This is probably Haneke's best film to date. It's just done so well and shot so beautifully, even though the subject matter is grim. There is an element of mystery in the film, but that is overshadowed by Haneke's true purpose; to make a film about the generation that would grow up to serve Hitler and the upbringing that lead them to such a fate. Powerful filmmaking to say the least.

THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Directed by Wes Anderson - Starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe and Michael Gambon.

Anderson certainly has his detractors, but I'm not one of them. This guy consistently puts out great films. They are all different, but they each possess his signature. Nobody makes film's like him. When I heard this was being made into a movie, I thought "that's cool", but I just assumed it would be a straight adaptation from the Roald Dahl classic. In retrospect, I can only assume that such a film would have been a little bland. Anderson's take is funny, poignant, and visually impressive. Despite its seemingly light material, the film carries with it some heavy themes about life, aging and devotion to family and community. With each repeated viewing I come to understand more about the film. Those are the films I like most.

FISH TANK - Directed by Andrea Arnold - Starring Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender.

AN EDUCATION was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. It shares with FISH TANK numerous themes and plot points, but it doesn't even approach the quality Arnold's film. Jarvis gives a terrific debut performance and Fassbender is at his best. Their chemistry is intense, which certainly contributes to the uneasy feeling I felt throughout the film. This is a heavy film with so much tension that it spills out on screen throughout. Behind each character is something raw and animalistic that is a rare sight in cinema. Very bold filmmaking reminiscent of British Kitchen Sink dramas of the new wave. In a fight between FISH TANK and AN EDUCATION, FISH TANK would beat AN EDUCATION to a bloody pulp.

UP - Directed by Pete Docter - Starring Ed Asner

Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of Pixar films. I liked FINDING NEMO and I really liked this. There was definitely an uphill battle for this film to win me over; it most certainly did that. Anyone who's seen the film knows why it's great. Whimsical isn't a word I use too often, but I'd use it to describe this surprisingly emotional film. Pixar's best film.

A PROPHET - Directed by Jacques Audiard - Starring Tahar Rahim.

I wasn't sure how much I was liking A PROPHET while watching it, but once it was over I knew I'd seen something special. You have to be patient, like Malik, biding your time until everything finally comes together. The plot takes its time and keeps you waiting and therein lies the film's strength. The closing scene of the film is one of the best endings I've ever had the privilege of viewing.

THE HANGOVER - Directed by Todd Phillips - Starring Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis.

That's right, THE HANGOVER completes my list. I don't need a whole lot of justification for this, just that it's one of the funniest films of the decade. It would be easy to make a film about a night in Vegas where four friends go nuts, but this film is about the day after. There is such easy material in the night before, but THE HANGOVER makes comedy gold out of the mystery of the following day when three of the four friends are waking up out of the fog. A comedy classic.

And the Golden Schmoo for Best Picture goes to - All of the films are in order from first to tenth place - MOON wins.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The 1st Annual Golden Schmoo Awards (Cont.)

The Nominations for Best Actress in a Lead Role are:

1. Katie Jarvis - Fish Tank
2. Carey Mulligan - An Education
3. Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds
4. Charlotte Gainsbourg - Antichrist

The Golden Schmoo goes to - Melanie Laurent.

Ms. Laurent's performance as Shosanna in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was really unappreciated. From the trailers and ads, you'd expect this film to prominently feature Brad Pitt, but Laurent was the true star, taking up a bulk of the screen time and having a majority of the plot focused on her. After my first viewing of the film, her performance was the thing I found most memorable. Her scene at the restaurant seated with her family's killer, Hans Landa, is a fantastic example of why she is receiving this award. Throughout their conversation she shows strained poise and when he leaves, it all comes crumbling down. Laurent is a lovely alternative to perennial nominees Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Tilda Swinton. I hope to see more quality work from her in the future.

The Nominations for Best Actor in a Lead Role are:

1. Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
2. Sam Rockwell - Moon
3. Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
4. Colin Firth - A Single Man
5. Nic Cage - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

And the award goes to - Colin Firth, A SINGLE MAN. This was a very strong year for this category. Rightfully, I could have included Brad Pitt (BASTERDS) and Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9), but there just isn't enough room. Honorable mention also goes to Tom Hardy's amazing performance in BRONSON as the title character. I would have included him as a nomination and originally had intended to, but BRONSON was actually a 2008 film and he was eligible for nominations in that year (He won a British Independent Film Award). Moving on - This category was a no-brainer for a lot of people this year who felt that Jeff Bridges was due for a little recognition. His performance was great, certainly the best part of CRAZY HEART, but that doesn't mean he was the best of the year. I love Bridges and wanted him to be the best, but after seeing A SINGLE MAN, I knew he was not. Firth's performance is the best of his career and one of the best I've ever seen. The film doesn't offer a whole lot of exposition on his character's feelings or history, but his performance makes you feel like you know him. You can feel his pain even if he isn't showing it outright. There were numerous scenes where I was nearly brought to tear and, looking back, I realize that it's all because of his powerful acting. There's a particular scene where he's petting a dog that just broke my heart. Bravo, Mr. Firth, you deserve this and so many other accolades.

The Nominations for Best Ensemble Cast are:

1. Fish Tank
2. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. Inglourious Basterds
4. Star Trek
5. The Hangover

And the winner is - INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

There is some good competition in this category, but was little doubt who deserves this award. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Mike Myers, Eli Roth, Jacky Ido, and BJ Novak are all fantastic in their own way. Maybe Tarantino's best ensemble yet.

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Directing are:

1. Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
2. Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon
3. Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
4. Duncan Jones - Moon
5. Jacques Audiard - A Prophet

The Golden Schmoo goes to - Duncan Jones for MOON. This is Duncan's first attempt at a feature length film. He only had a few million dollars to work with and he created something truly special. He gave life to a robot and created a cast of characters out of just one man. Sam Rockwell is the only actor starring in this film and throughout much he needs to act with himself, but it does not seem cheap or gimmicky. There is such a sadness in this film's shocking reveal, but Jones makes us feel it slowly, so we have to think about it and so it has an even greater effect. The film's aesthetic recalls the cerebral sci-fi classic 2001 and SOLARIS, but it is distinctly its own film. Duncan Jones has created a classic.

Next Up: The Award for Best Picture of 2009

Monday, April 5, 2010

The 1st Annual Golden Schmoo Awards

Well, it's finally here. I've been working on my nominations for months now and this weekend I finally finished off my Must-See list for 2009. The Golden Schmoo is something incredibly minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but I'm hoping, as the years go on, it will mean something to somebody. My selections are not whims of fancy; I'm not just picking out my favorite movies of the year, I'm trying to determine the best films for their respective categories.

The Golden Schmoo is an alternative to the politics and exclusion of major awards like The Oscars or Golden Globes. I'm focused on quality and that alone. You won't see any films sweeping the entire awards because there were so many strong films this year with so many different strengths. My awards will appreciate many films that weren't featured in the big awards ceremonies. Just because a film is independent or foreign does not exclude it from Best Picture consideration. The Schmoo has no interest in advertising Hollywood's dominance, he's just interested in giving credit where credit is due.

Let's begin.

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Sound (Overall, combining both editing and design) are:
1. Avatar
2. Star Trek
3. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
4. District 9
5. Up

And the winner is - UP

Against all of these big-budget action films would appear to be an uphill battle for an animated film, but it actually makes it the most likely candidate. No doubt most of the sound in the four other films were created by sound designers, but UP, being an animated film, had to be entirely from scratch. The whole sound component to the film had to be built from the ground up. The end product is something fantastic, especially when taken to the wilds of South America.

The Nominations for Best Score are:

1. Star Trek - Michael Giacchino
2. Up - Michael Giacchino
3. Sherlock Holmes - Hans Zimmer
4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Alexandre Desplat
5. A Single Man - Abel Korzeniowski

The Schmoo goes to - Michael Giacchino for STAR TREK.

The odds were with Giacchino, having received two of the five nominations. Not that I follow composers all that much, but before 2009 I'd never heard of Giacchino. Needless to say, I'll be following him for the foreseeable future. UP had such an enchanting and original score and STAR TREK's music really helped push it over the edge from being your standard action film to something truly epic. STAR TREK's score is something with which I will forever be linked like I am with the music from JURASSIC PARK or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

The Nomination for Best Makeup are:

1. Star Trek
2. Watchmen

The winner is - STAR TREK.

Vulcans and Romulans. That is all.

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Visual Effects are:

1. Star Trek
2. Avatar
3. District 9
4. Watchmen
5. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

The Golden Schmoo goes to - DISTRICT 9

On paper, AVATAR winning in this category is a no-brainer. However, the award isn't for "Most Mind-Blowing Technology Created for the Visual Effects Industry". Sure Cameron created something very pricey and interesting, but I still contend that the use of effects in DISTRICT 9 was better. The prawns look more realistic than the Na'Vi, just as the prawns' ship looks more realistic and in-tune with reality than any flying craft in AVATAR. What really seals it for me is the robot that Wikus ends up in near the conclusion of the film; there are similar machines in AVATAR, but DISTRICT 9's is way cooler.

The Nominations for Best Costumes are:

1. Star Trek
2. Watchmen
3. Sherlock Holmes
4. Inglourious Basterds

The Golden Schmoo goes to - SHERLOCK HOLMES.

One of the best parts about SHERLOCK HOLMES is its utter commitment to Holmes' era. The costumes are a major part of that. Apart from being proper in terms of the film's aesthetic, the clothes look sleek, stylish and like a whole lot of fun to wear.

The Nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role are as follows:

1. Michael Fassbender - Fish Tank
2. Richard Kind - A Serious Man
3. Tobey Maguire - Brothers
4. Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
5. Peter Sarsgaard - An Education

The award goes to - Christoph Waltz.

This is a pretty obvious one. I don't think I need to say much as he's been the consensus winner in this category. Plucked from relative obscurity to be in this film, Waltz really capitalized on the opportunity in a big way. A fantastic career is ahead for this man.

I've decided to forgo the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category for the time being. One film that I have regretfully neglected to see is PRECIOUS, which features the award-winning supporting performance by Monique. From what I can tell from clips, it is quite the performance and I can only assume she deserves this award, but I can't give it to her before I see the film. PRECIOUS is on my Netflix queue, but there is a long wait, so I don't know when I'll get the chance to view it. Rest assured that when I do, I'll address this category.

The Nomination for Best Animated Film are:

1. Up
2. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. Coraline
4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
5. (I did not get a chance to see The Princess and the Frog, but from all the buzz I hear, I can only imagine it would've completed the category)

The Golden Schmoo goes to - THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

This was a good year for animated films. UP was the banner Pixar film for the year, but there was room for more than that style of animation in 2009. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and CORALINE both utilized stop-motion animation to beautiful effect and with THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, Disney returned to the standard cell animation that made them what they are. Out of this unique grouping of films, Wes Anderson's tale about a fox is the best. It's based off the lovely children's book by Roald Dahl, but bears little resemblance to it. Anderson forces his own aesthetic and mode of storytelling on the tale with great success. It's funny, poignant and visually dazzling. "You truly are a quote-unquote Fantastic Fox".

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Art Direction are:
1. Watchmen
2. Sherlock Holmes
3. Star Trek
4. A Single Man
5. Moon

The winner is - A SINGLE MAN.

This film looks like a million bucks, deftly capturing the early 60's through every outfit, setting and element of mise-en-scene. There's also a still sadness over everything within the film that helps the viewer better appreciate the slow, lonely hell of the protagonist.

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Cinematography are:

1. Star Trek
2. The White Ribbon
3. A Single Man
4. Antichrist
5. Moon

The Golden Schmoo goes to THE WHITE RIBBON.

The small village in Germany is eerily captured through this film's camerawork. The viewer is told so little throughout THE WHITE RIBBON that they must rely on the images to evoke an emotional response, which they do with great skill.

The Nominations for Best Achievement in Editing are:
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Star Trek
3. Sherlock Holmes
4. The Hurt Locker
5. The Hangover

The award goes to - INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Sally Menke).

There is a great deal of tension in this film that requires expert editing to maintain, which it always does (see: the opening scene, or the bar scene). There's also a lot of characters here with a lot of interweaving story arcs that are brought together at an appropriate pace so that nobody loses any of their worth within the entirety of the film.

The Nomination for Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay are:
1. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
2. Star Trek
3. Up In the Air
4. A Single Man
5. Coraline

The Golden Schmoo goes to - Star Trek (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman)

STAR TREK doesn't get enough credit for its story. There is something disastrous about a "Star Trek" remake or reimagining because it would require the conclusion of timeline that has yet to conclude. These writers took a risk instead and inserted this new saga into the old one. It's a continuation of everything Star Trek, just on a new path in a parallel universe. This is new world where anything is possible, but it's also supported and influenced by the Star Trek that everyone already knows. They've breathed new life into the series without trampling on it's legacy, which must have been no easy feat.

The Nominations for Best Writing - Original Screenplay are:

1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Moon
3. A Prophet
4. Fish Tank
5. The White Ribbon

The award goes to - MOON (Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker).

MOON wins because it had such a strong effect on me. The ideas present in the story had my mind boggled and reeling. There are such existential dilemmas present within that it can cause physical discomfort. There's a scene where Sam Rockwell's character, Sam Bell, manages to call his home on Earth that caused a twinge of panic in me and made me want to cry without my immediately knowing why.

After a break I will return with the awards for Best Ensemble Cast, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Film.

But before I do that I will give out a couple more awards that didn't really have any competition.

Best Original Song: This goes to "The Weary Kind" by Ryan Bingham, the second best thing to come out of CRAZY HEART behind Bridges performance.

Best Documentary: The Cove - I didn't see many documentaries this year and I haven't been able to get my hands on many of the Oscar nominees, though I'd like to. The Cove, however, was a fantastic film and I feel comfortable giving it this award. It elicited such a strong feeling of anger and sadness in me that I still feel it months later. Apart from being emotional, the film is also exciting and smart, like the animals it features. Apart from this award, it is also one of the years best films.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Best Films of the Decade (Cont.) - Nolan

39. THE DARK KNIGHT - Directed by Christopher Nolan (2008)

This film was really something special. I wasn't a huge BATMAN BEGINS fan, so I was skeptical of THE DARK KNIGHT's potential, but the trailers had me really excited. I don't think I've ever felt so pleased with a film's outcome in my entire life. There are so many films that I love because they've defied my expectations, but there are very few that shatter my already high expectations. Especially when you get down to this fanboy/nerdy material, even if I like a film, I'm still going to wish that something was done just a little differently. I can't imagine a better Batman-Joker film. The opening bank-robbery sequence is one of the most memorable scenes in film history and really sets this epic tone for the rest of the movie. While watching THE DARK KNIGHT for the first time, you just know that it's going to be a classic. There's this break-neck pace to the film that is unlike anything in I've seen because it doesn't feel rushed. A lot of reviews compared it to HEAT because it doesn't feel like a superhero story, it's a well-crafted crime drama.

In addition, all of the performances are great. The Wayne/Gordon/Dent team is so great together and really recalls the fantastic storytelling of the popular Batman trade "The Long Halloween". I don't even need to say anything about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker because anyone who's seen the film knows just how perfect it is. I know there was some unspoken anxiety before the film's release among fans who were worried the hype surrounding his portrayal was influenced by the fact that he died tragically. I don't think anyone feels that way now. I hate to even think about it, but if he were still alive today, I can only imagine he'd be giving more brilliant performances.

Awards: I still contend, and forever will, that THE DARK KNIGHT was screwed out of a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, however it was up for a lot of other awards. Won Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Ledger), Nominated Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Makeup, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects

38. Memento - Directed by Nolan (2000)

Here's a link to the essay I wrote about MEMENTO that I've already posted: http://schmooatthemovies.blogspot.com/2009/05/memento-creating-male-victim.html

I'll just add that this is an expertly crafted film, which is even more amazing when you consider the incredibly complicated narrative structure. If I had to use one word to describe MEMENTO it would be 'gripping'.

Awards: Nominated Academy Awards for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, Won AFI's Screenwriter of the Year award (Nolan), currently #27 on IMDB's Top 250 list

37. THE PRESTIGE - Nolan (2006)

There's a pattern here. The last three films on my list were directed by Christopher Nolan. He's the only director that's going to appear that many times. I won't blather on about the man because I have before, but I will say again that he's one of the best directors currently working. He has a knack for taking good story material and making it so much better. THE PRESTIGE is about a rivalry between two magicians, but it goes deeper than that. On the surface, especially in today's world, magic can be a tad silly and magicians even sillier. The characters in the film, Robert Angiers (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are fascinating; Borden for his utter dedication to his art and Angiers for his obsession and determination. The first viewing of the film is fun and exciting because of all the twists and turns, but the second viewing is when you really see how good it is. THE SIXTH SENSE has a great twist ending, but future viewings aren't as good because you can only be shocked once. The PRESTIGE is different; the films magic isn't in it's reveal. Once you know exactly what's going on, you can truly appreciate what both characters a going through. Neither man is a villain, though both play the part at some point in the film. They're just incredibly intense individuals who've sacrificed so much. It's very powerful stuff. The two leads really put on a show, but unfortunately went unappreciated during award season.

Awards: Nominated Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction, Won Empire Award for Best Director, Currently #73 on IMDB's Top 250 List


It appears as though Chris Evans' Captain American has found his Bucky. Sebastian Stan will take on the role of Cap's best friend and sidekick. It will be interesting to see how big a role this becomes. Bucky is most often seen alongside the superhero during WWII as a sort of hype-man, but he later takes up the villainous mantle of Winter Soldier. Eventually, Bucky eschews his bad guy persona, even filling Captain America's boots for a time after his infamous assassination.

As to how Stan will perform in the role, I have no idea. He looks like a good choice, but I've never seen the guy act. He had a prominent role in the short-lived NBC drama "Kings" and regularly appears on the CW's "Gossip Girl". This year he can be seen on screen in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and Aronofsky's upcoming thriller BLACK SWAN.