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Friday, December 31, 2010

Movie Review: BLUE VALENTINE

BLUE VALENTINE
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

(This'll probably be short, so forgive me.)

Well, one of the most talked about films of the last few weeks has finally hit select theaters, and of course you knew that yours truly would be making his way to see it. Blue Valentine, which has made recent headlines after its successful appeal to downgrade its original NC-17 rating, is an emotional ride that may not be for everybody.

The film, which was directed by Derek Cianfrance, opens on Dean (Ryan Gosling) and his daughter as they try to find their dog who has escaped from his cage. After searching without success, they return inside and wake their wife and mother, Cindy (Michelle Williams) then start their day. There's palpable tension between Dean and Cindy, but it was easy to shrug off for the moment. Everything spirals from that point. The film continues by going back and forth between the present and flashbacks from when Dean and Cindy met, courted and wed. There's a fantastic juxtaposition between the happiness of the early years and the sadness and anger that accompanies their lives at present. I'd go into more detail about the plot, but there's really not much of a plot to begin with. This is a purely character-driven piece.

Gosling and Williams are absolutely brilliant in their respective roles, conveying characters that are so unique and interesting and utterly believable that we just fall into their relationship and go along for this emotional roller coaster, not knowing exactly where we're headed. The two bring such life to a struggling marriage, and you'd probably be hard pressed to find a married couple who isn't going to respond to the situations on-screen. It feels that life-like and real, and it's mostly because of the performances provided by our leads. They're both definitely deserving of their Golden Globe nominations. In fact, the two are so good that they've added a bit of a dilemma for my own personal awards. Until this morning, I figured my best actor race would come down to James Franco in 127 Hours and Colin Firth in The King's Speech, but Gosling has thrown himself into that illustrious shortlist. The same goes for Williams, who has inserted herself into a battle with the dual leads of The Kids Are All Right and Black Swan's Natalie Portman. Things could get very interesting around here in the next couple of weeks...

To be honest, Blue Valentine should never have received an NC-17 rating, but the fact is that it did and it was overturned. Thank goodness. Now more people can actually see it.



Movie Review Summary:
Grade:
A-
Current All-Time Rank:
Best - #131
Thumb...
Up

Addition to Awards
2010: 2 nominations

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Movie Review: CROPSEY

CROPSEY
2010
Not Rated

You can watch the trailer here

I'm having a pretty good run with documentaries today (in case you didn't notice this morning's review of Exit Through the Gift Shop). This time, I went for more creepier fare with a low-budget documentary called Cropsey.

The movie shows two Staten Island filmmakers (Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio) who are attempting to solve the mystery of the whereabouts of a number of children who went missing from Staten Island between 1972 and 1987. They start by telling of a local urban legend: the tale of Cropsey who was a maniac living in the tunnels beneath an old, abandoned psychiatric ward on the island. As with most urban legends, there's no one set story for Cropsey, but everyone has their own little piece to add. However, when a number of children began to disappear from the community, it seemed as though this urban legend may, in fact, be real. After the disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl with Down Syndrome in 1987, a drifter named Andre Rand was taken into custody, tried, and convicted of kidnapping after the girl's body was found. The rest of the film follows a more recent trial connected to another missing child, with the filmmakers also trying to find their own answers and make their own assumptions as to whether Rand is innocent or guilty.

The first thing that you'll notice about the film is the atmosphere that Zeman and Brancaccio have created. The opening montage makes the movie seem like we're about to dive into the depths of a creepy underworld that we normally wouldn't want to encounter, and at times, we do get to explore these places. However, don't assume you're in for another faux documentary like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity - Cropsey is real-life, and that makes it all the more haunting. The story is creepy and haunting and emotional and engaging, and it keeps you hooked from the first second.

On a quick side note, it should be stated that the film's musical score is absolutely fantastic. Alex Lasarenko, of whom I'd never heard until today, composed a beautifully haunting (I know I'm using that word too much, but it's the best one I can think of right now, so bear with me) score that entraps you and keeps your pulse pounding just a little bit. It would be the perfect fit for a decent horror flick if they ever choose to dole it out for something else.

Ultimately, I think the ending is the real selling point of the film. I usually don't like to give too much away about a movie, but I'll just say that it's all left rather open-ended in the end. However, there's a final voice-over from Zeman that brings the entire film full circle, back to the original story told about Cropsey, that really makes you think. It gave me chills. I think that's saying quite a bit about this film which I almost want to call a must-watch. Yes, it dabbles in some very sensitive material (i.e., the kidnapping and murder of children), but if you want a HAUNTING and real-life story, this is easily one of your best bets.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
Thumb... Up


Addition to Awards
2010: 2 nominations

Movie Review: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

Those of you looking for a film about the famous (or should I say infamous?) street artist Banksy will probably have to wait a little bit longer... well, basically for the rest of your lives. I say this because, although from watching the trailer and seeing that the film is "directed" by Banksy himself, Exit Through the Gift Shop actually takes a look at a completely different artist while showing the history and the growth of street art itself.

Thierry Guetta, more commonly known as Mr. Brainwash, is the real subject of this documentary. The film revolves around his obsession with filming every piece of his life (the psychological reasons for this are given in quite the emotional manner), and we see Thierry fall in love with the concept of street art during a vacation to his native France. After being introduced to the art form by his cousin (known as Invader), Thierry drives his obsession towards filming street artists in the process of making their masterpieces. He follows droves of artists under the pretense that he is creating a documentary about street art, becoming friends with such prominent artists as Shepard Fairey (now famous for creating the Barack Obama "HOPE" poster) and the all-too-elusive Banksy, whose political artwork has caused controversy around the world. When Banksy tells Thierry that it's time to put his documentary together, he does so with disastrous results. Banksy tells him to go make his own art while he takes the time to put the film together, and the audience watches as Thierry makes a name for himself by breaking all the rules of a culture without rules.

(To be honest, I never would have heard about this film had it not been for NetFlix. I know I've been championing them quite a bit as of late, but if you haven't signed up for a membership, get on that right away. It'll open the doors to a world of film that you'd probably never see otherwise.)

It's interesting to see this in-depth look at street art, especially since it involves some of the most prominent names in that area. The audience gets a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making some of the art (especially from Banksy's perspective), and all the while, we see the wheels turning inside Thierry's mind as he plans and creates his own pieces that bring people in droves to Los Angeles to see his ultimate gallery. I think a lot of credit has to go to whoever edited this film simply for finding effective and lasting images from all of Thierry's movies. Like I said, the man filmed everything in his life, and he had boxes and boxes and boxes of film that probably comprised thousands of hours of run-time. Whoever went through it all and made a legitimate documentary out of the chaos should be applauded and awarded.

Despite this, the film really rests on the charm and the energy that Thierry Guetta brings to the table. Had he not been as engaging, the movie would have been good at best, giving a nice look at a very different type of subculture. However, the eccentricities and the manic energy that we see from Thierry makes us want to love him and hate him and applaud him and ridicule him all at the same time. Part of me wanted him to enjoy lavish success for all that he had accomplished, but another side of me wanted him to crash and burn for standing on the shoulders of giants. If that doesn't make sense, then you'll have to watch the film.

In writing this review, I've also come to a bit of a revelation about the film that, with more thought, may make me push its grade a little bit higher. In the movie's final scene, we see Thierry spray-painting the phrase "life is beautiful" - which was also the name of his gallery - onto the remains of a brick wall standing in what looks to be a junkyard but could just be an empty lot. As he walks away, the screen cuts back to the wall which is subsequently toppled by a bulldozer hiding behind it. Then the film ends. Now, I may be reading into this way too much, but it just hit me that perhaps that scene reflects the entire context of the movie as well as life itself. It's as if to say that yes, life is beautiful, but life is also fleeting, much like street art. For all the work put into the craft, street art rarely lasts a night or two in today's society, making it a momentary wonder. Sure, you can see it on the Internet all the time, but to see it in person is something of a rarity considering how quickly officials will remove it. This is the reason that people like Shepard Fairey and Banksy were so keen to have a documentary about their work because it would leave a lasting impression for a piece of art that does not last. So maybe the film (and street art in general) are really telling us to appreciate what's right before us in the moment because we never know just when it will disappear.

Just something to think about, I suppose.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #142
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Addition to Awards
2010: 1 nomination

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Movie Review: JOHN RABE

JOHN RABE
2010
Not Rated

You can watch the trailer here

I found this movie while randomly searching through the foreign film section of NetFlix's Instant Watch films. I'm definitely glad I took a chance on it.

John Rabe (pronounced rah-buh), which was directed by Florian Gallenberger, tells the true story of a German businessman running a Siemens factory in Nanking, China in the late 1930s before the start of the second World War. When the Japanese start to bomb Nanking, Rabe (Ulrich Tukur) decides to aid the Chinese workers in his factory, many of whom he had known for the majority of his twenty-seven years in China. After the initial attacks, Rabe and his wife Dora (Dagmar Manzel) attempt to flee to safety, but John stays behind only to see his wife's boat attacked and destroyed before his very eyes. He falls into a state of depression but maintains his resolve to help the Chinese by creating a "safety zone" within the city that they hope the Japanese will acknowledge. With the help of a college teacher (Anne Consigny), a doctor (Steve Buscemi) and a young German idealist (Daniel Brühl), John Rabe does everything in his power to help the Chinese people while keeping the Japanese forces at as great of a distance as possible.

To start, I'd like to say that John Rabe is as much a foreign film as 2001's No Man's Land - yes, there are scenes in languages other than English, but there's also plenty of screen-time with characters speaking only English. If I had to break it down, I'd say that this film is about forty percent German, thirty-five percent English, twenty percent Japanese and five percent Chinese. We get the whole package when it comes to the languages, so I guess it's fair to call this a "foreign language" film. However, there's no mistaking that this was a German-made and produced feature, so that can't be taken away from it.

That being said, the screenplay is actually pretty good. Despite the constant change in language, I never felt lost with the story or the dialogue. I think that the story was conveyed as best as it possibly could have been, although there were a few scenes that probably didn't need to be left off the cutting room floor. I think that the writers did a decent job giving us some very emotional scenes that expressed the gravity of the viciousness of the situation in Nanking, so that's also a plus. I don't really have any qualms about the screenplay - it's just solid if not fantastic.

The acting is also very good all-around. Tukur is splendid as our lead, a historical figure I had never heard of before seeing this movie (which may be a bit of a shame considering all he did). He conveys his emotions in a very quiet manner, and I think that made his character all the more likable. Tukur made me want to root for Rabe to succeed in his endeavor. Brühl is also very good in his supporting role, and if you recognize him, there's a good reason - he played Pvt. Fredrick Zoller in 2009's Inglourious Basterds. Even Buscemi gives a great performance in a completely surprise role (yes, I was utterly speechless when he showed up on the screen; apparently I need to do a little more research before I watch these movies...).

Overall, it's definitely a film worth watching, especially if you're a history buff or are interested in wartime films. It's an interesting story that made me think about Schindler's List quite a bit, but it's nowhere as good as that masterpiece. Still, John Rabe should be seen if only to advance a little bit of historical knowledge in somewhat entertaining fashion.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
Thumb... Mostly Up


Addition to Awards
2010: 1 nomination

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
(Män som hatar kvinnor)
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

So I'd heard quite a bit of buzz about this Swedish film over the past year or so, and I saw the source novels popping up in my local Borders and Barnes & Noble. A few of my friends have read - or are currently reading - the trilogy (yes, there's two more movies; they must have filmed them all together), and they've all said good things. So when I saw that NetFlix had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Instant Watch, I figured I'd give it a shot.

The film, which was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, opens with the sentencing of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to three months imprisonment for slandering an industrialist in his investigative journal, but he claims he was set up by a friend. At the same time, we meet professional hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who has been following Mikael's life for her boss. Mikael has six months before he has to do his time, and his investigative prowess is soon employed by a man trying to solve the disappearance of his niece from forty years earlier. As Mikael begins to work through all of the information, he finds out that Lisbeth has been hacking into his computer and, impressed, asks for her help in his investigation. The two team up and try to solve a mystery that's much more complex than either can imagine.

That was probably the toughest plot synopsis I've ever had to write. Sure, there are movies with more intricate plots (i.e., Inception), but I didn't want to give anything away from this one. The screenplay is very good and very tightly-written, and it kept me engaged through its nearly two-and-a-half hour run-time (which is pretty impressive if I do say so myself). Although I did guess parts of the ending relatively early in the film (it's this semi-predictability that keeps it from being an amazing movie), I was still so entrenched with the story that I had to keep watching just to see how it got to that point. I think that says quite a bit about the movie on its own. I did have a couple of issues early in the film with one of Lisbeth's relationships - I understand why the filmmakers put it in the movie, and maybe it's more prominent in the books, but I just don't see why it was necessary other than to give character development that we get elsewhere anyways.

The acting is solid in the film with the leads carrying, and delivering, much of the weight. As good as Nyqvist was, I think the accolades have to (and have gone to) Miss Rapace for her performance. I could go into detail about the nuances and psychology of the development of her character, or I could talk about the range that Rapace delivers, from subtly quiet to over-the-top anger. However, the one thing that truly stood out - and this is probably going to sound pretty lame - is that she never once smiles during the movie. It may seem something too small to mention, but the fact that Lisbeth Salander doesn't smile makes the character much more complete and realistic. Although I don't know any of Noomi Rapace's previous work (it's all been in foreign films to this point), I can assume that she completely embodied this character to the best of her ability, and it definitely shows.

As I previously mentioned, there were a couple of things here and there that kept The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from being a fantastic film. That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't watch it. I know that I'd definitely give it another viewing, and it impressed me enough to seek out both of the film's sequels (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) and watch those as well.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A-
Current All-Time Rank: Best - # 242
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Awards
2010: 3 nominations

Monday, December 27, 2010

Movie Review: THE GHOST WRITER

THE GHOST WRITER
2010
PG-13

You can watch the trailer here

The Ghost Writer follows a young, well, ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) who lands a job crafting the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a former prime minister of Great Britain. From the start, the writer feels a bit of concern with the job, and his nervousness isn't aided by the fact that accusations of war crimes soon surface against Lang. The writer travels to the United States (where Lang is staying/hiding) to work on the book, but he soon becomes engrossed with discovering the secrets uncovered by the previous ghostwriter who had mysteriously drowned only days earlier.

Honestly, the plot is much more intricate than what I've laid out, but if you really want a full synopsis, look it up on Wikipedia. I try not to give everything away. As excited as I was about watching this movie, I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed. It's not that there were holes in the story, although I'm sure I could name a few; instead, it was that this political thriller left me rather bored fairly quickly. Sure, it picked up in the last thirty minutes or so, but the film just didn't have that thrilling of a quality about it. I just felt like everyone was trudging along, going through the motions. There just seemed to be too much information being thrown at me all at once, and maybe I couldn't keep up with it, but who knows. I did, however, like the fact that McGregor's character was never named - it accentuated the fact that he was a ghostwriter. A little lame, but I liked it.

The acting is good, but it's definitely nothing to rave about. McGregor is decent as our lead, but it's nowhere near his best work. Considering he's on-screen for most of the film, I wish he would've given a little bit more. Brosnan was grossly under-used - all I'd heard was that he was fantastic in his supporting role (and he is very good), but he's barely in the movie. Out of the two hours, I'd be surprised if he's actually on-screen for more than ten minutes. Hell, that's usually not enough to get your picture on the poster, but I guess that's marketing for you. The best acting in the film probably belongs to Olivia Williams who plays Lang's neglected wife.

To be fair, most of the film's press came from the fact that it was directed by the troubled Roman Polanski who's still dealing with all of his legal issues. I don't have many Polanski films in my repertoire (the only other film is 2002's The Pianist), so I can't really compare it to the rest of his filmography, but I can tell you that The Ghost Writer has been very well-received by critics. It's also worth mentioning that Brosnan's character is apparently a near-perfect analogue for the real-life former prime minister Tony Blair, but I'm also not well-versed in the particulars of his life. Maybe Polanski fans or people with knowledge of Tony Blair will appreciate this film more than I did, but for me, The Ghost Writer was just a bore.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C-
Thumb... Down

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Movie Review: JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

If there was ever a film that had a subtitle that fit as well as this one's ("A Piece of Work," for those of you who have no idea what a subtitle is), then I'd definitely want to see it. Miss Joan Rivers truly is a piece of work.

The film, which was directed by Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, follows Joan over the course of a year in her life during which she struggles to find consistent work. While passing her seventy-fifth birthday, she wonders whether her time in the limelight may be ending, but with the help of her stint on "Celebrity Apprentice," she rebounds her career and continues to be one of the premiere performers in the entertainment industry.

I will give this to the film: it paints Joan Rivers in a light that most people would probably never see. We see the vulnerability of a comedy icon as her professional life continues to spiral out of her control. There are quite a few touching scenes that make you want to fall in love with Joan and stand up and cheer for her when things go right for her.

However, there are just as many scenes where you can see that celebrity ego slip through the cracks, and it really takes away from her personal image. Going into the film, I didn't have much of an opinion of Joan herself. I had never heard her stand-up comedy aside from her Comedy Central Roast. I probably knew her most as the poster child for plastic surgery as that seems to be the most prevalent image of her in everyday society. A Piece of Work does show her doing some good things (such as taking Thanksgiving dinners to sick and home-bound individuals), but there's an aura of conceitedness that follows her around and makes its way onto the screen every now and again. As much as I wanted to like Joan, these scenes, which were few but profound and blatant, essentially kept me at a distance. I think this goes against the image the filmmakers wanted to present, and for all I know, I could be the only one who felt this way because the film garnered incredible reviews.

We do get a few interesting cameos either from archived footage or from actual interaction with Joan. Be on the look out for the likes of Kathy Griffin, Don Rickles and Johnny Carson as well as a few more familiar faces.

Overall, it's not a bad documentary by any means. Sure, I had some issues with how they portrayed her, but on the whole, this is a very intricate and intimate look at Joan Rivers, arguably one of the most important comedic icons in history.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C+
Thumb... Slightly up

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Review: TRON: LEGACY

TRON: LEGACY
2010
PG

You can watch the trailer here

If any of you saw my review of the original TRON from 1982, you'll know I wasn't exactly drinking from the TRON Kool-Aid. I saw the film for what it was - an advance in technology that lacked a decent storyline or intriguing characters. Suffice to say, I wasn't really expecting too much from this sequel twenty-eight years later, and I can tell you now that Disney hit par for the course.

TRON: Legacy was directed by Joseph Kosinski follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the supposedly orphaned son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the man who created the computerized grid where most of the movie takes place. (Note: there's a little bit of exposition in the opening scenes, but it never really comes back into play, so I really don't see a need to talk about it in-depth). All you need to know is that Sam finds his way into this computer-generated world where a program named Clu designed by the elder Flynn is trying to take complete control from the creator. Sam finds his father, and together, the two team up to destroy Clu and the army he's creating to attack the real world.

Seriously, if any of that synopsis (which is, admittedly, bare-bones) made sense to you, then I wish I could give you a cookie. Much like its predecessor, TRON: Legacy's screenplay leaves much to be desired. There's more holes in the logic and the story than a dozen slices of Swiss cheese, and they're visible even to the untrained eye. If questions about the story's continuity and its ability to make sense arise after the film ends, then at least you've made it through the movie with a somewhat entertaining experience; however, when you're questioning sections of story while you're watching the film, there's something awry. There were just too many moments where I was questioning what was going on in front of me. That does not bode well.

Also like the original film, the acting is decent but nothing spectacular. It was nice to see that Bridges decided to be involved again, but he's nowhere near the level of cheesy goodness he was in the original (and yes, I know he's twenty-eight years older, so get off me). Hedlund is a bit stale as the lead, and I couldn't decide whether I wanted to care about him or not. Our leading female, Olivia Wilde, didn't do much either for me or for her character - when she's there, she's just there, but when she's not there, I completely forgot about her. In fact, the best performances in the film were a small, but very different, role from Michael Sheen and a cameo from Cillian Murphy. I was stuck on those parts for most of the film.

Obviously, I can't go through this blog without talking about the visual effects. The original TRON was ground-breaking for its time, and although I can't say the same for TRON: Legacy, the special effects are very, very good. We're transported to an entirely different world, and the settings are entirely believable and realistic. However, the real credit should be given for recreating a young Jeff Bridges as the face of Clu. If you put this creation next to the real man twenty-eight years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to make the distinction between real and computer-generated. It's that good.

Oh, and I absolutely loved the film's musical score, which was done by the electronic music duo Daft Punk. When I first heard they'd be helming the score, I was a little worried, but they absolutely nailed it. I was thoroughly impressed with the music they provided as it fit the film perfectly. So, kudos to Daft Punk for creating a musical atmosphere much better than this film really deserved.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C-
Thumb... Slightly down


Awards
2010: 3 nominations

Movie Review: THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

I know I'm really late in seeing this movie, but I finally got the chance now that it's out on DVD. Thank God for NetFlix, right?

The Kids Are All Right, which was directed by Lisa Cholodenko, follows Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a lesbian couple raising two teenage children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids take the liberty of finding their sperm donor father Paul (Mark Ruffalo) without their parents' knowledge and meet him. As the kids begin to grow attached to Paul, Nic begins to worry that she's losing a grip on her family. Jules also begins to grow towards Paul after he hires her to landscape his back yard. The continual movement towards Paul and away from Nic eventually leads towards an explosion of emotion, but I won't get into the specifics for fear of giving away too much of the plot.

I was actually extremely impressed with the film's screenplay. On the surface, it reads just like your everyday family drama, with ups and downs and semi-expected twists and turns, but something about The Kids Are All Right just felt a little bit different. Maybe it was the fact that our lead parents are both female, but they still conveyed the same emotional ranges that a heterosexual couple would have. In thinking about it, I think that straight people (or maybe just me) have this idea that a homosexual couple would have a completely different dynamic should they maintain a long-term relationship such as a marriage with children. But instead, I saw a relationship that's very similar to what I'm used to seeing in mainstream media, and I think that helped the film. I think it goes a long way to show that love is just love, regardless of who the lovers are.

As much as I loved the storyline and the screenplay, I think most people will watch this movie because of the big-name actresses attached. When the film was released in the summer, a lot of the speculation was whether Bening or Moore would be receiving an Oscar nomination in a leading role. Honestly, it could go either way, and both have scored leading actress nominations for the upcoming Golden Globes, albeit in the comedy category (I personally saw the movie as a drama more than a comedy). I only hope that they don't both get nominated in the same category for an Oscar because that could essentially prove costly in that neither may win (although it'll be tough to beat Natalie Portman's performance from Black Swan). However, not enough has been said for the other three main actors in the film. Ruffalo has SAG and Independent Spirit Award nominations for his supporting role, but I haven't heard anything about either Hutcherson or Wasikowska. Sure, they're not quite as good as our big three, and they're not going to garner any nominations, but they're still very, very good in their respective roles.

All in all, I think this is a definite must-see heading into the awards season. It should pick up at least a couple Oscar nominations - I'd be shocked if neither Bening nor Moore finds her way into the Best Actress race - but I guess we'll have to wait and see. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch. You won't be disappointed.


Movie Review:
Grade: A
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #84
Thumb... Up


Awards
2010: 6 nominations, 4 wins

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Movie Review: ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD
2010
Not Rated

You can watch the trailer here

I first heard about this movie during my last semester in college when a way-too-obsessed-with-theater teacher played us the trailer during class (yes, we were reading Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, so it made sense). In some ways, I wish I'd never heard of it.

This movie, which was directed by Jordan Galland, follows Julian (Jake Hoffman), a former theater director turned slacker living in his father's doctor's office. His father sends him to an interview to be the director of a local theater's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Little does Julian know that the creepy writer (John Ventimiglia) and his female minions are actually vampires with ulterior motives. Julian brings his best friend Vince (Kris Lemche) and his ex-girlfriend Anna (Devon Aoki), who he still loves, into the production, unknowingly risking their lives as well.

Honestly, the story makes little to no sense. I had a hard time following along, and although I found a couple of lines easy to laugh at (but you'd need knowledge of either Hamlet or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to understand them), it just wasn't that funny. It was just too much to try to follow and be entertained all at the same time.

The acting wasn't horrendous, but you can't quite say it was good, either. Hoffman (who happens to be the son of two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman) does just enough to make us pay attention to him. Aside from that, there's nothing worth merit until we get a little bit of a cameo from Hamlet himself, played quite hilariously by Joey Kern.

As much as I could deride this movie, there's just something about it that's a little bit charming. I mean, who would have ever thought to mix Shakespeare and vampires? I don't think it'll ever garner a cult following, but would I buy the DVD? I just might. I just might.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: D
Thumb... Sideways

Movie Review: THE KING'S SPEECH

THE KING'S SPEECH
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

Whenever I go into a film that's considered to be one of the year's best and a front-runner for the Oscar race, I always go into the theater trying to push all the hype out of my mind and view the film objectively. Sometimes, when a movie is as good as advertised, it's easy to do because you can just lose yourself in the movie. On occasion, you'll get a movie that doesn't live up to its hype, but fortunately for me, The King's Speech did not fit that particular situation.

The film, which was directed by Tom Hooper, opens on the Duke of York (Colin Firth), more affectionately known by his family as Bertie, as he attempts to give his first speech via wireless radio in 1925, and we learn that he has a terrible problem with stammering and stuttering. This problem causes him a deal of emotional anguish, leading his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) to seek professional help for him. After a series of failures, she finds Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist with some unconventional methods. He begins to work with Bertie, and progress seems to be made. Meanwhile, the King of England (Michael Gambon) passes away, leaving the crown to Bertie's older brother (Guy Pearce), who eventually relinquishes the crown to Bertie in order to marry the woman he loves. Bertie takes the name King George VI and goes through the coronation process with the help of Lionel, who ultimately coaches him through his first wartime speech as England finds itself pulled into the start of World War II.

Although the screenplay is very good, I did have a few qualms that are probably more nitpicking than anything else. (By the way, you know a film is good when I have to nitpick to find problems with it). My first issue came early in the film where the time-frame seemingly jumped a number of years in a heartbeat, and I wasn't sure exactly when, or if, that had happened. It happens between Bertie's first and second visits to Logue, and I wasn't sure whether the time between visits had been a few hours, a few days, a few weeks or a few years. It bugged me for a few minutes, but I eventually picked up with the film. My biggest issue with The King's Speech, however, was the actual speech. Obviously, you can imagine where the film is headed the entire way through. Because a film like this is somewhat predictable, you need to deliver your finale as completely and convincingly as you can. However, I felt as though that final speech just came and went without really reflecting on the accomplishment of it all. It was supposed to be the summation of the entire movie, and at least for me, it just didn't have that final umph, if you know what I mean.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have absolutely no qualms with the acting in The King's Speech. Many have been saying that Firth will win the Oscar for his performance as King George VI, and to be honest, he probably will win it. He's absolutely fantastic, and he deserves the award. That doesn't mean I don't think there's anyone who deserves it more (here's looking at you, James Franco), but with how the Academy tends to vote, I'd be surprised to see Firth miss out for the second year in a row. Helena Bonham Carter is also very good, but a lot should be said about Geoffrey Rush who never ceases to amaze. He should give The Fighter's Christian Bale a good run for his money in the supporting actor race.

Please don't think that I thought The King's Speech wasn't any good just because I had some issues with the screenplay. It'll probably win an Oscar. I mean, it's already garnered seven Golden Globe nominations, and that leads the field. The movie got a rousing round of applause from the audience I watched it with. It's definitely worth a watch.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #113
Thumb... Mostly UpAwards
2010: 6 nominations, 1 win

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: CASINO JACK

CASINO JACK
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

Casino Jack, which should not be confused with the documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, is a scripted adaptation of the events that led to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's (Kevin Spacey) rise to his peak before his ultimate downfall. It was directed by George Hickenlooper. The film shows Abramoff as a man who will go to any lengths to aid politicians financially, but that's easily established within the first few minutes of the film. The reason for his rise and then his downfall is the stock he begins to put into his own life by way of raising money for these politicians. I would go into detail about his exploits in the film (which are slyly changed or renamed from the actual events), but the intricacies of it all are just a little too much for me to go into detail here and now.

The screenplay is good, but it's nothing spectacular. We're really just seeing the rise and fall of an extremely influential figure in Washington, D.C. It's just enough to keep the audience engaged when Spacey himself isn't on the screen, but I'll talk about that more in a few moments. We can see the foreshadowing of bad things to come, and if you know even the slightest bit about the real-life story, then you know it doesn't really end well for Abramoff.

The acting in the film is top-notch, and special commendation should be given to Barry Pepper and Jon Lovitz, who play Abramoff's protegé and a type of business partner, respectively. In addition, Kelly Preston gives us a few very good scenes as Abramoff's wife. However, this stage truly belongs to Spacey who takes the role and runs away with it. He creates a character (that apparently is nearly spot-on) of a man who is funny and dorky and serious and thoughtful and well-intentioned and completely without a conscience. And that doesn't even mention the numerous homages to classic movies that he pulls throughout the film - I mean, the guy's fantastic at impressions, in case you didn't already know. Kevin Spacey is the glue that's holding this movie together, and it's no wonder he's been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.

Honestly, if there's any reason to watch this film, it's to see Kevin Spacey do what he does so well: completely embody a character and create an on-screen persona that will leave a lasting impression. I doubt it'll garner any nominations come Oscar time, but it's still a fun little film that could be worth a watch. Whether it's better than the aforementioned documentary which tells the true story behind it all, I don't personally know, but when and if I watch it, I'll be sure to inform you. For now, do yourself a favor and marvel in the brilliance that is Kevin Spacey by watching Casino Jack.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
Thumb... Mostly Up


Awards
2010: 2 nominations, 1 win

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Movie Review: RABBIT HOLE

RABBIT HOLE
2010
PG-13

You can watch the trailer here

Movies that generate Oscar buzz tend to strike a chord on my radar, and Rabbit Hole is no different. After this morning's announcement of the Golden Globe nominations where Nicole Kidman landed a nomination for her role in this film, I figured it was about time I found it and watched it.

Rabbit Hole, which was directed by John Cameron Mitchell, follows a married couple, Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), who are grieving the loss of their 4-year-old son, Danny, after he was hit by a car. The two take different routes towards finding comfort and acceptance. Howie turns towards group therapy where he connects with Gaby (Sandra Oh). Becca tries therapy but chooses to find Jason (Miles Teller), the boy who hit Danny when he chased his dog into the street. In the meantime, the couple has to deal with Becca's sister's (Tammy Blanchard) pregnancy and Becca's mother (Dianne Wiest) who only wants to help with the coping process.

If you're looking for a storyline, you should probably stop now. It's not a film with much of a story arc - the screenplay is giving us a character study more than anything else. The only plot device we really have are that Danny was killed in a car accident that was really no one's fault.

Because it's a character study, a lot of this film's success rides on the acting performances. Kidman is fantastic as she always is, and she easily deserves the accolades she's received in relation to this role. I've also heard Wiest's name kicked around here and there for a potential supporting actress nomination come Oscar time, and I could get behind that. However, I do have a bit of beef to get off my chest: why is NO ONE talking about Aaron Eckhart in this movie? He's absolutely brilliant! I mean, he's just as good as Kidman, if not better. I understand that she has more of an awards-riddled career (and it's much deserved, mind you), but I just don't see why no one is talking about Eckhart. I'm hoping that he'll pull out a nomination in the way that Maggie Gyllenhaal pulled out a nomination for last year's Crazy Heart - everyone watched the movie for Jeff Bridges, but then they saw how good she was, so they nominated her in a supporting role.

I did have one issue with this movie, and that's the level of emotion it conveyed. If you only watch the trailer, you'd probably expect a bit of an emotional ride that takes you into the depths of sadness and depression, as would be expected over the death of a child. However, I think that works against Rabbit Hole, in a way. Maybe it's just me, but I feel as though that knowing what the film was about going into watching it, I, either consciously or subconsciously, distanced myself from the material being shown to me. Maybe that was the filmmakers intent, but for me, I'd rather feel the emotions that the characters are feeling. I would've liked to have suffered while they suffered, but instead, I felt like I was watching a slow-moving resolution as it came over them.

I couldn't help but remember 2008's Revolutionary Road as soon as I finished Rabbit Hole. For me, it's essentially the same - very strong acting with a story that's supposed to be intensely emotional but leaves you feeling just a little empty without making you go through the emotions. I'm not saying that Rabbit Hole is a bad film; in fact, it's the opposite. It's a very, very good film that's extremely well-acted. However, if you're going to see it, see it for the acting so you don't feel a little empty once its all said and done.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
Thumb...
Mostly Up

Awards
2010: 2 nominations

Monday, December 13, 2010

Movie Review: WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY
2010
PG

You can watch the trailer here

I had been searching high and low for a way to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty since the moment I heard of it, but I could never find it online (not that I ever divulge in the illegal), and it hadn't yet been released on DVD. However, as I perused the World of Disney store outside Disneyland, I noticed it sitting on the shelf and, on a whim, purchased it (I usually don't buy movies unless I've seen them). After just finishing the film, I can safely say that it was an excellent purchase.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a documentary directed by Don Hahn that tells the real-life story of the animators, artists and executives involved with Disney's animation studio from 1984 to 1994. After a bit of a drought that was accentuated by the box-office flop The Black Cauldron, Roy Disney hired Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to help right the ship. The film follows the struggles of the animation studio in the mid-1980s, ultimately leading to its return to renaissance with films like 1989's The Little Mermaid, 1991's Beauty and the Beast and 1994's The Lion King.

There isn't too much I can actually say about the movie other than I absolutely loved it. It's extremely informative, giving a true insight into the hard work and dedication that it took for so many people to bring Disney back to its former glory. It's also intensely emotional, highlighting the struggles that it took to get through all the hard times that Disney Animation faced.

However, I feel as though there is a select group of people who will both enjoy and appreciate what this movie has to offer. I myself am a Disney fanatic, and although I'm not the most well-versed one in the world, I know and love the studio and its works as much as anyone else. Because of this adoration, I feel as though I was more connected and more easily hooked into Waking Sleeping Beauty, but that's not to say that someone who is less obsessed would not have the same reaction. I'm just saying that there are certain people who will appreciate this film more than others.

To sum things up, I'd like to present a quote from the trailer (and I believe from the film, if I remember correctly): "At the Walt Disney studios from 1984 to 1994, a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever. But it almost never happened." If that line left you craving more, then find this movie. It's officially one of my favorites, and I'm so glad I took the chance and bought it today.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: A
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #61
Thumb... Up


Awards
2010: 2 nominations, 1 win

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Movie Review: ZOMBIE STRIPPERS!

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS!
2008
R

You can watch the trailer here

To be perfectly honest, there's little that I can or should say about Zombie Strippers. It's been haunting me on NetFlix Instant Watch for about a month, always tempting me to give it a gander whenever I'm looking for a flick. The site's "Best Guess for Shaun" was that I would give the film 1.6 stars out of the possible five. Turns out I only give it one.

I could talk about everything that's wrong with the film (and even the few things that are right), but there's little to say that will sway any readers one way or the other. Zombie Strippers is a film that will be watched by the people who want to watch it; what I say isn't going to push anyone towards or away from the film. Therefore, I will merely say that I watched it simply for the appearance of Robert Englund (pictured above) who is famous for his portrayal of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Unfortunately, the direction from Jay Lee doesn't really bring much else to the table.

Like I said, if you're even glancing at this post, then you're probably the type of person interested in watching a movie like Zombie Strippers. If you're not, then just know that it's pretty darn bad, although I've definitely seen worse.

(Please forgive me for the short review - I didn't feel like I needed to spend large amounts of time reviewing this movie. If I receive a public outcry for my lack of dedication towards this review, then I'll give you what you want. Otherwise, deal with it.)


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: F
Current All-Time Rank: Worst - #33
Thumb... Down

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie Review: THE TOURIST

THE TOURIST
2010
PG-13

You can watch the trailer here

The Tourist is a 2010 action thriller directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck that follows Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), the lover of an internationally-wanted criminal. When her lover, Alexander Pearce, tells her to find a man who could pose as him, Elise chooses Frank (Johnny Depp), a widower on vacation in Venice, Italy. She panders to him, making it seem as though she is interested in him, but the audience knows that it is just a guise to throw off the people following her in the hopes of catching Pearce. Honestly, I'd go into more detail, but all the twists and turns essentially prevent me from doing so if I want to go through with this review without giving away too much of the storyline.

The screenplay is good enough to keep you captivated with the film, but for me, it became very predictable very quickly. I figured out the film's final twist about halfway through the film, and the moment I learned I was correct, I lost all faith and interest in the movie. This does not mean that it's not a good twist; instead, it means that the screenplay was not crafted well enough so as to keep it hidden from me, at least. There were a couple people applauding at the end of the movie, so maybe I was just a little more perceptive? I'm really not sure...

The acting is good, but it's definitely not up to snuff with what Jolie and Depp have proven they're capable of doing. Even Paul Bettany, whom I usually love and adore, was average at best with his role. It's not that they're terrible, but when you look at these two leads, you just expect so much more out of them. Granted, it could be how the parts were written, but I feel like Jolie, and especially Depp, are very good at making the most out of very little. I was just a little disappointed with the both of them.

I know this review is very short, but there really isn't all that much to say. I found The Tourist to be rather dull and entirely predictable. I'm not saying you won't enjoy - it seemed like others in the theater really liked it - but for me, it was just another run-of-the-mill, entirely forgettable film.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C
Thumb... Slightly Down


Movie Review: BURLESQUE

BURLESQUE
2010
PG-13

You can watch the trailer here

I know that I'm by no means the key demographic for this film, but with Cher's return to the screen after a seven-year absence as well as the first acting role in a feature film for Christina Aguilera, there was a few reasons to see the movie.

In this Steve Antin-directed flick, we're basically given a pretty standard story of a down-home girl who wants to hit stardom in Hollywood. Ali (Aguilera) sets off from Iowa to make a name for herself in Los Angeles, ultimately starting by waitressing at a burlesque club run by Tess (Cher). After forcing her way into an audition, Ali becomes a back-up dancer at the club, but when a fellow dancer (Kristen Bell) tries to sabotage one of Ali's performances, she responds by singing live in front of the audience. This skyrockets her to a mini-superstardom that attracts the affection of Marcus (Eric Dane), a man trying to buy the club from Tess before it goes under. All the while, Ali is living with Jack (Cam Gigandet), one of the club's bartenders, and is slowly falling in love with him.

I'm gonna be totally honest: the screenplay is absolutely horrendous. Well, that may be a tad harsh. It's not the worst screenplay I've ever seen, but there's absolutely no originality to it whatsoever. Aside from the fact that our main setting is a burlesque club, you could ask a toddler to trace this film's path and they'd probably get it right. It's much too simplistic, and it left a lot to be desired.

Thankfully, the acting somewhat makes up for the pitfalls presented by the storyline. It's always nice to see Cher on-screen, and although she's not by any means at the top of her game, she does give a few spirited scenes, especially via musical number. I also think that Aguilera gives a fine performance. She was wise to choose a role like this for her transition to film because it's so similar to her singing career. I don't think she's as good of an actress as she presents in Burlesque, but maybe this will fool some studios into thinking she is for a little while until she can actually grow as an actress. Luckily, we do have a bit of a scene-stealer in Stanley Tucci, whose little quips and remarks throughout the film are so perfectly timed that I'm not sure I would've liked the movie at all had he not been around.

I'd also like to mention the music in the film which proved to be outstanding. As you can imagine, most of the songs are performed by Christina Aguilera or Cher, and they both do very well, but that shouldn't be much of a shock. If anything, the music is what kept me intrigued throughout the film, with "Express" and "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" being my personal favorites.

As I said before, I'm definitely not the target demographic for Burlesque, but it's not the worst film I've ever seen. Had the screenplay been a little stronger, then maybe I could've said I liked it, but hindsight is 20/20.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C
Thumb...
SidewaysAwards2010: 1 nomination

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Movie Review: CREATION

CREATION
2010
PG-13

You can watch the trailer here

If you're looking for a movie about Charles Darwin that's going to give you a little insight on his discoveries, this isn't really the film for you. If you want a sweeping movie about his many adventures into then-uncharted territory, go find something else. This is a study about the man himself as he struggled to put pen to paper and create his world-changing book, On the Origin of Species.

Director Jon Amiel's tale opens on Darwin (Paul Bettany) telling a story to his eldest daughter Annie (Martha West) of one of his many adventures. We soon learn that Darwin has been trying to write his book for some time now, but the death of Annie has thrown him into a tailspin. He has taken physically ill and constantly conjures Annie in hallucination as she continues to haunt him. The film progresses through the present moment interspersed with a series of flashbacks to Annie's life, illness and death. Throughout, we see the dynamic between Darwin and his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly), who remains staunchly religious in her convictions despite her husband's beliefs against it. Annie's death spurs a rift in their marriage, sending her more strongly towards religion while he takes solace in science. However, as time continues to progress and he accomplishes nothing, Darwin learns he must face his demons - namely, the handling of Annie's final days of life - before he can take up this "war against God" with his theory of evolution.

If anything, this film carries a lot of intense emotions that may not convey to most viewers. There's no real place for the viewer to hook themselves into the movie or the family's dynamic, so it's difficult to get attached to the situations at hand. I'll admit that I teared up a bit at Annie's death, but I just feel like I missed some of the power of the scene. The screenplay is filled with moments like this. It's as though they were trying much too hard in order to craft an intensely emotional story, and it just comes across as moderately emotional. However, there is one scene where Darwin is studying a captive orangutan that is rather precious to behold.

The acting is definitely not the issue here. Bettany is wonderful as always, but to be fair, he's essentially played a Charles Darwin-esque character before (see 2003's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). In fact, if you want to see "Darwin" out in the wild, actually studying the world, that's probably the better film to watch. Sure, you'll have to sit through some action sequences, but that movie's just fantastic anyways, so you should watch it. Connelly is also very good in a role that could either be classified as a lead or supporting role (it really comes down to your personal preference). However, the real spotlight should go to young Martha West who, in her first (and to this date, only) feature film, is an absolute revelation (although, as the daughter of 300 actor Dominic West, it's not difficult to see where she gets her acting chops). She brings such a power and wonder to her role that it's hard not to like the Annie she creates. I was thoroughly impressed.

As I said before: this film may not be for everyone, especially if you're looking for the sense of adventure Darwin must have felt on his many journeys and expeditions. For me, it's a little difficult to categorize. Although there were some issues with the storyline and the film's emotion, I cannot say enough about the greatness of the ensemble's acting. It's probably not a movie I'll watch again, but I'm not angry that I spent nearly two hours watching it. It's just one of those in-between movies that's nice to watch in a bit of down time, but don't expect anything absolutely brilliant.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B-
Thumb... Sideways

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Movie Review: TRON

TRON
1982
PG


You can watch the trailer here

I can see why Disney decided to recall every last copy of TRON circulating through today's society. Apparently they're absolutely terrified of releasing the original film on Blu-Ray. Over the summer, the original film was played at Disney World in the hopes of instigating a new wave of fans as they made their final preparations for the release of the sequel, TRON: Legacy; unfortunately, the film was laughed at and ridiculed beyond belief. By recalling all copies, Disney has essentially created the possibility for people to see TRON: Legacy WITHOUT seeing its predecessor. I, personally, refuse to watch a sequel without seeing the original film, so I had already come to terms with the fact that it would be a while before I could see the newest installment (in theaters on December 17). However, as luck would have it, my dad found and old VHS copy of TRON, giving me the opportunity to view it in all its 1980s glory.

TRON, which was directed by Steven Lisberger, follows a software programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who lost his job at a gaming company called ENCOM after a fellow programmer (David Warner) stole his work on a series of new video games. In an attempt to take back what was his, he enlists the help of two friends in the company, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), to help. While cracking into the Master Control Program (MCP), Flynn is transported into the realm of the program's universe which takes pieces of each of his video games and creates a living, breathing environment. He learns that he is the only "user" surrounded by a series of "programs" manifested as other people. He meets TRON (also played by Boxleitner), the program created by Alan to help break through the MCP's layer of security. The two set off on their journey to take down the MCP with the help of Yori (also played by Morgan) and a program named RAM (Dan Shor).

Normally, I talk about the film's screenplay at this particular juncture; however, I think it makes more sense to talk about the film's positive attributes first. One of the reasons TRON was essentially laughed out of the theater at Disney World was for its simplistic and dated special effects. Sure, by today's standards, they're absolutely ridiculous, but I can imagine the fascination and wonder of those people in the early '80s who had never seen anything like this before. There was a reason that this film became a cult classic, and it was not the story or the acting. It was the special effects, all of which were generated through a computer. This had never been done before, and it was absolutely groundbreaking at the time. So, yes, nowadays we have some spectacular special effects, but thirty years from now, the next generation will probably look at the effects in Avatar in the same way.

The acting is okay, but it's really nothing to rave about. Bridges is always a revelation to watch, and if it weren't for him, this film would probably be a total train-wreck from a storytelling and acting standpoint. He just exudes this level of unmistakable charm in each one of his roles, and it's hard not to like him. His supporting cast does just enough to keep you engaged, but it's really Bridges who acts as the glue holding everything together.

There's two main problems with TRON's screenplay (and I know this is probably nitpicking considering you should never critique this type of film this harshly, but still). For starters, everything seems to come just too easily for Flynn and his fellow programs. I get that they're all computers (or computer-savvy), but there was literally no thought process when it came to solving the problems they faced. They were just able to do everything at a moment's notice, as if being thrown into this fascinating world made perfect sense. The second problem was that Flynn had absolutely no character arc. Neither did any of the other characters, but they're computer programs, so maybe they shouldn't have them anyways. However, Flynn starts and ends the exact same person, and it just bugged me a little bit. I'm not asking for some grandiose change or some Oscar-worthy emotional breakdown, but a little bit of change and recognition of his experience would have been greatly appreciated.

Overall, I'm not quite sure if I really want to recommend this movie. If you can watch it for what it is (a dated special effects bonanza) and appreciate how groundbreaking it must have been in 1982, then it's probably for you. I can't help but think that TRON was the Avatar of the early 1980s: groundbreaking technology meant to wow and amaze while putting little to no emphasis on legitimate story or acting. At least now I can watch TRON: Legacy in all of its special effects glory in theaters where it is meant to be seen.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade
: C-
Thumb... Sideways

Friday, December 3, 2010

Movie Review: BLACK SWAN

BLACK SWAN
2010
R

You can watch the trailer here

When a film generates as much Oscar buzz as Black Swan has since its arrival at film festivals a few months ago, you can be sure I'll be one of the first in line to see it. I had an opportunity to see the film about a month ago at an early screening, but it conflicted with my work schedule, so I had to wait like the rest of society. Due to its limited release, I had to drive about forty minutes away on the freeway in order to see the movie, and let me tell you right now: it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Black Swan follows a young ballerina named Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who is vying for the lead role in the company's upcoming rendition of "Swan Lake." After all her hard work, she is finally awarded the part, but this proves to be a little bit problematic. Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the director of the ballet, has re-imagined the role for the lead to play both the White Swan and the Black Swan, a feat which he believes Nina unable to fulfill. She struggles throughout the film as she tries to embody both roles, all the while fighting off an apparent opponent for the part in Lily (Mila Kunis) who appears to be doing everything in her power to sabotage Nina's chance at stardom.

To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the screenplay for most of the movie. I thought it was good, but everything seemed to be held together by Portman's performance (more on that in a second). However, the final scenes of the film are really the selling point. I won't go into detail because I would never want to ruin the surprise, but I will say that I found the final resolution to be absolutely beautiful.

And now, where can I even begin with Miss Natalie Portman? I've been a fan of hers since I first saw her grace a screen (although for much of that time, it was purely based on her stunning beauty). However, I gradually began to see her expand as an actress, and when I heard about Black Swan about a year ago, I began to let myself grow an eager excitement. Ladies and gentlemen, she does not disappoint. Portman takes us through every stage of stress-induced psychosis, all the way to the film's final scene. The character arc she brings is extreme, and she really got the chance to show off her wide range. It should be noted that Cassel and Kunis, as well as Barbara Hershey (who plays Nina's mother), are all very good themselves, but this really is Natalie's show. I can definitely see an Oscar in her near future.

If anyone else deserves a commendation, it's Darren Aronofsky for his stellar direction. I don't often talk about the director's role in the filmmaking process, but here, it bears mention. Aronofsky, whose previous films include Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, holds nothing back this time around. He has placed his stamp on a trippy set of films, and Black Swan is definitely no different. He creates a fascinating world of seeming insanity, and we can see and feel the emotional distress that Nina feels as she slowly loses her mind. I honestly can't really explain this all - I'm drawing a blank as to how to word it - but Aronofsky has easily put forth his best career effort with this film.

I could probably go on and on about the psychology of this film (trust me, I could talk for hours on end about it), but I'll spare you all that for the moment. However, I have found a rather fascinating review from The Globe and Mail's Rick Groen about the film that you may enjoy. Trust me when I say that you should absolutely see this film. I know I'll be making another trek to the theater to see it one more time, although I'll be waiting until the release expands to somewhere a little closer. But please, do yourself a favor and see this movie.


Movie Review Summary:
Grade
: A
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #23
Thumb... Up

Addition to Awards