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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ben Kingsley!

Today, we're celebrating the 68th birthday of Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley. He got his acting start in the mid-1960s, appearing in television shows and movies, but he didn't his theatrical feature-film debut until 1973's Fear Is the Key. It wasn't until 1982 that he made his second theatrical appearance, but his turn as the titular character in Gandhi nabbed him his single Oscar statuette and set his career into overdrive. He worked steadily throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, where he made early appearances in critically-acclaimed films like 1991's Bugsy (for which he scored his second Oscar nomination) and 1993's Schindler's List. Kingsley would add two more Oscar nominations: for his supporting role in 2001's Sexy Beast and his leading role in 2003's House of Sand and Fog. Most recently, audiences have seen Kingsley play cinematic legend Georges Méliès in 2011's Hugo, and they'll next be able to see him in a slew of 2012 films, including The Dictator, A Doll's House and A Common Man. And so, as a tribute to his acting legend, I've listed my five favorite Kingsley performances and have supplied videos where I could. Once again, happy birthday, Ben Kingsley!

5. Man in the Yellow Suit
Tuck Everlasting (2002)


4. Georges Méliès
Hugo (2011)


3. Itzhak Stern
Schindler's List (1993)


2. Behrani
House of Sand and Fog (2003)


1. Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi (1982)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jude Law!

Today, we're celebrating the 39th birthday of the two-time Academy Award-nominated actor, Jude Law. Jude made his debut in a feature-length theatrical release in 1994's Shopping, but he didn't make a legitimate splash on the Hollywood scene until his supporting role in 1997's Gattaca. He nabbed his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Talented Mr. Ripley before continuing to appear in high-profile films like 2001's Enemy at the Gates and 2002's Road to Perdition. He scored his second Oscar nomination for his leading role in 2003's Cold Mountain. Since then, Law has continued to stay in the spotlight, starring in films like 2004's Closer and The Aviator, as well as 2009's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Sherlock Holmes. Most recently, audiences have seen Jude Law in 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and 2011's Hugo, and they'll next be able to see him in the 2012 film, Anna Karenina. So, for his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Jude Law performances. I hope you enjoy the videos. Once again, happy birthday, Jude Law!

5. Jerome Eugene Morrow
Gattaca (1997)


4. Brad Stand
I Heart Huckabees (2004)


3. Dickie Greenleaf
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)


2. Dr. John Watson
Sherlock Holmes (2009)


1. Harlen Maguire
Road to Perdition (2002)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Denzel Washington!

Today, we're celebrating the 57th birthday of two-time Academy Award-winning actor, Denzel Washington. He got his acting start with an uncredited role in 1974's Death Wish but didn't make his first real splash until 1986's Power. He worked periodically throughout the 1980s, but it wasn't until 1989 that he crashed his way into the collective public consciousness after winning his first Oscar for his supporting performance in Glory. From there, Washington landed roles in some big-time early 1990s films like Malcolm X (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), Philadelphia (1993) and Crimson Tide (1995). After a bit of a break, Washington came back strong with performances in 1999's The Hurricane and 2000's Remember the Titans, and he nabbed his second Oscar win for his leading role in 2001's Training Day. Denzel has continued to work periodically since the turn of the millennium, and in his entire career, he's managed a total of five Oscar nominations with the two aforementioned wins. Most recently, audiences have seen him in 2010's Unstoppable, and they'll next be able to see him in 2012's Safe Room and Flight. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Denzel performances. I hope you enjoy the videos! Once again, happy birthday, Denzel Washington!

5. Detective Keith Frazier
Inside Man (2006)


4. Frank Lucas
American Gangster (2007)


3. Pvt. Trip
Glory (1989)


2. Coach Herman Boone
Remember the Titans (2000)


1. Det. Alonzo Harris
Training Day (2001)

Thursday, December 22, 2011



"Dear Santa, are you real? If you live at the North Pole, how come I can't see you house when I look on Google Earth?"
-- Gwen

Arthur Christmas is a 2011 animated comedy directed by Barry Cook and Sarah Smith that offers a rather original holiday story. With the world so overly-populated in today's society, the current Santa Claus (voiced by Jim Broadbent) utilizes some new technological advances in order to make his annual trip around the world delivering gifts. With the help of his eldest son Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), the two circumnavigate the globe in their massive command aircraft and deliver two billion presents; however, it is soon discovered that one child was missed. When this comes to the attention of Santa's younger son Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), who has been relegated to writing return letters to the children who wrote to Santa, he feels the need to return the gift despite his father and brother's lackluster desire to do the same. So, with the help of his Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy), Arthur takes the old sleigh on a trek to England to deliver the final gift of the Christmas season.

I first started hearing about Arthur Christmas around last year's holiday season, and because it was so close to Christmas 2010, I thought it might be getting ready for a late 2010 release. However, the film was still under production at that point, and it wasn't until summer 2011 that we got a teaser trailer to see what this film might be about. I knew that the film would be British-centric considering the caliber of acting star-power lending their vocal talents, but aside from that, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect until a legitimate trailer (posted at the end of this review) was released. Early reviews posited that the film should be a smash success, so it was only a matter of time until I was able to give the film a viewing.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the final product presented in Arthur Christmas. We're getting a rather splendid screenplay that gives a completely different view of Santa than we've seen in films past. While Santa himself is an older, bumbling man, he relies heavily on his son Steve who is the real brains behind their high-tech operation. The film's opening sequence, which illustrates how this Santa delivers gifts to children in today's modern society, is quite a sight to behold, and it has both an action-y and comedic feel. It isn't until after the opening salvo that we actually meet our titular character and start to learn about his personality. After the successful Christmas mission, we learn that one child has been left present-less, and when Arthur and his Grandsanta decide to embark on their own mission to deliver that gift, the screenplay becomes even greater. The rest of the film serves as a clash between the old and the new, showing both the pros and cons of each point of view. The final scenes of the film, however, show that all the bickering and arguing over who's method works more effectively is ultimately a moot point in light of the true spirit of Christmas. This screenplay brings comedy, adventure and a healthy heaping of heart, and it works exceptionally well from start to finish.

As I previously mentioned, we're getting some high-caliber acting power bringing the vocal work this time around, and everyone is pretty much on their A-game. McAvoy is fantastic as our lead, playing the clumsy worrywart Arthur to a tee. In complete contrast, Laurie brings a headstrong and confident Steve to the screen, offering quite the foil for our central protagonist. Also offering a strong performance is Ashley Jensen, who plays the gift-wrapping elf Bryony who aides Arthur and Grandsanta in their insane endeavor. Also be on the listen for Imelda Staunton, who does well as Mrs. Claus. Overall, the vocal talent is simply fantastic and fits the film quite well.

At the end of the day, Arthur Christmas is a well-made animated film that's sure to delight audiences this holiday season. I'm sure you'll still be able to find it in a theater near you, and if you haven't given it a chance, you just might want to do so. And if you're in the mood for some new Christmas fare, then this one's right up your alley. I can assure you that you haven't seen anything quite like it before.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Happy Birthday, Ralph Fiennes!

Today, we're celebrating the 49th birthday of two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph (pronounced: "Rafe") Fiennes. He nabbed his first role in a theatrically-released feature film as Heathcliff in 1992's Wuthering Heights but made his first major splash in Schindler's List, for which he scored an Oscar nomination, the following year. He appeared in 1994's Quiz Show and 1995's Strange Days before nabbing another Oscar nomination for his role in 1996's The English Patient. From there, Fiennes starred in a string of lesser films and didn't nab a role in another legitimate film until 2005's The Constant Gardener, which also marked the year he reinvigorated his career by portraying the central villain in the Harry Potter franchise. In between his portrayal of the evil Lord Voldemort, he's managed to make small appearances in critically-acclaimed films like 2008's In Bruges and 2009's The Hurt Locker. Audiences last saw him in the final chapter of the Harry Potter franchise, and they'll next be able to see him in the sequel to the 2010 film Clash of the Titans entitled Wrath of the Titans in 2012. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Ralph Fiennes performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I was able to supply. Once again, happy birthday, Ralph!

5. Michael Berg
The Reader (2008)


4. Lord Voldemort
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)


3. Contractor Team Leader
The Hurt Locker (2009)


2. Harry
In Bruges (2008)


1. Amon Goeth
Schindler's List (1993)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie Review: SANTA CLAUS


"Now, all those within the sound of my voice, and all those on this Earth everywhere know that henceforth you will be called Santa Claus."
-- Ancient Elf

Santa Claus is a 1985 family film directed by Jeannot Szwarc that tells the story of the origins of Santa Claus himself before giving him a contemporary problem to face. The man who would be Santa Claus (David Huddleston) lived a humble life delivering toys to the children of his village on Christmas Eve, but after his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) and he are caught in a snowstorm on year, the two magically find themselves surrounded by elves who lead them to a mystical factory at the North Pole. According to an ancient prophesy, this man was destined to become Santa Claus, and so, he begins to take his gift-giving on a global scale for all of eternity. Fast-forward to the present day, and a slightly disgruntled elf named Patch (Dudley Moore) who desperately wants to impress Santa with his toy-making skills makes his way to New York city and joins with a big-time toymaker B.Z. (John Lithgow) to create the next big sensation for the mass consumer public, forcing Santa to reconsider his entire toy-making philosophy.

I can honestly say that I had never heard of this film before doing a quick search on NetFlix for a fancy holiday movie to watch this evening. Unlike many of the other films I've reviewed during this holiday season, this one just hasn't quite been on anyone's radar, and after giving it a viewing, I'd have to say there's probably a good reason for such. Critically, the film never garnered much success - it currently holds an 18% approval rating on - and it hasn't fared much better with your average reviewing public (the Internet Movie Database lists its current score as a 5.2 out of a possible 10.0). Despite the negative feedback that the film has received, I still held out hope that it might prove to be at least moderately enjoyable.

Sadly, the film falls short of any real expectations. The screenplay can be split into two sections, almost two acts, if you will. The first act focuses on Santa's origins, and to be fair, that part of the story fascinated me more than the second part. Sure, the filmmakers made every attempt to include as many Santa and Christmas clichés as possible, but despite that, it still serves as an interesting version of how the many may have taken up his duties. The film's second act, however, fails to stir even the slightest bit of imagination. I feel like I've seen it all before: a former employee decides to go against his former boss by helping out the main competition. How many films have followed that storyline in the past? It seems tried and tested, and under the Christmas lights, it just doesn't seem to fit all that well. The film turned sour and ultimately a bit boring, and I had to fight to keep my attention with the screen.

What's worse is that our acting ensemble doesn't exactly pick up the slack. While there are some recognizable faces, there's no one who's really giving all that great of a performance. While I've personally never heard of our titular lead Huddleston, a quick look at his acting career shows that he's appeared in such big-time films as 1974's Blazing Saddles and, perhaps most famously, as the titular character in 1998's The Big Lebowski. However, he doesn't offer much in terms of a role here, despite playing a Santa Claus that I think we all could wish was the real one. We're also getting some spotty performances from some bigger names like Oscar nominees Moore and Lithgow, who are both too over-the-top to be believed in any way imaginable. We're also getting some moderately bad performances from our two child actors - Christian Fitzpatrick and Carrie Kei Heim - but I don't want to stomp on them too much. The only person who offers even a slightly is Cornwell as Mrs. Claus, but she's used so sparsely that it's almost impossible to notice.

Ultimately, Santa Claus is probably a Christmas film that you should pass. It's not really offering anything all that fascinating, and I personally couldn't find a way to keep myself engaged with the characters or the storyline. Still, I can't completely bash it because it does have quite a dash of Christmas spirit. That being said, I still don't think it's worth the time or the effort to watch it, so watch it at your own discretion.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: F
1.5 Thumbs Down

Happy Birthday, Samuel L. Jackson!

Today, we're celebrating the 63rd birthday of Academy Award-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson. He got his acting start in the 1972 film Together for Days, but it wasn't until his small role 1988's Coming to America that really started to put him on the Hollywood map. From there, he landed a supporting role in Spike Lee's 1989 venture, Do the Right Thing, as well as a bit part in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film, Goodfellas. Jackson nabbed his most famous role in 1994 with his inclusion in Pulp Fiction, a role that ultimately landed him his sole Oscar nomination. Since then, he's appeared in such high-feature films as the Star Wars prequels, 2000's Unbreakable, and 2006's Snakes on a Plane. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a bit of a tribute post for Sam Jackson, listing my five favorite of his performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've found. Once again, happy birthday, Mr. Jackson!

5. Zeus Carver
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995)


4. Elijah Price
Unbreakable (2000)


3. Ray Arnold
Jurassic Park (1993)


2. Mister Señor Love Daddy
Do the Right Thing (1989)


1. Jules Winnfield
Pulp Fiction (1994)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Review: DIE HARD


"These guys are mostly European judging by their clothing labels and... cigarettes. They're well-financed and very slick."
-- John McClane

Die Hard is a 1988 action film directed by John McTiernan that centers around a heist of a major corporation during their annual Christmas party. After six months of separation, New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) decides to fly to Los Angeles to visit his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids for the Christmas holiday. He goes to surprise her at her office in the still-under-construction Nakatomi Plaza building where her company is celebrating an incredibly successful year. After a short time, however, a band of terrorists led by a German man named Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) breaks into the building and takes over, claiming that they are going to teach the greedy international company a lesson by stealing $640 million in bonds. Unfortunately for them, however, they do not realize that McClane is in the building and will do anything to stop them from their plot.

Obviously, the Die Hard franchise has proven to be one of the most successful action franchises in cinematic history, and with four films - and allegedly a fifth on the way - it's easy to see that they're incredibly popular with their fanbase. However, it all started with this Academy Award-nominated 1988 venture that put the name "John McClane" into the collective public consciousness. I can't quite remember the first time I had the chance to see this movie, but I remember loving it instantly, and I have to say that this viewing only made me appreciate it all the more.

Let's talk about the film's screenplay. It's difficult to make a convincing screenplay for an action flick because, in the course of cinematic history, nearly every action cliché has been tried and tested over and over again. However, I posit that there are two specific reasons why Die Hard's screenplay succeeds. First, the film finds a way to come full circle without leaving any loose ends. There are some larger, extremely important story arcs that need to be addressed before film's end, and your average action flick would address these and hope for the best. However, where Die Hard succeeds is in its attention to detail, coming full circle with even their minute references here and there. In stage production, there's an old adage that says, "If you show the audience a gun in the first act, it must go off in the second act." In a way, Die Hard follows this frame of mind. Even the slightest mention of something earlier in the film is addressed by film's end, and this attention to detail is simply fantastic.

The second reason the film's screenplay proves to be so effective is that it creates very unique and complete characters with whom the audience can relate. The characters themselves are extremely well-written; however, it's up to the actors to bring these characters to life, and I think that each member of the cast plays their part to a tee. Obviously, Willis has made a bit of a name for himself by portraying McClane time and time again over the years, but he brings his best performance in the role here, introducing us to the "shoot first, ask questions later" cop whose gruffness we all grow to know and love. However, I think that Rickman's Gruber is the best-written character, bringing a very precise set of ideologies to the table that Rickman portrays extremely well in what was his first feature-length theatrical release. We're also getting a bit of comic relief from some of the supporting characters (see: Reginald VelJohnson and De'voreaux White) who keep the movie on a bit of an even keel and play off Willis's brand of comedy quite well. Overall, I'd say we're getting a top-notch cast for an action film, which is saying quite a bit.

I'd also like to make note of the film's soundtrack, which relies heavily Beethoven's 9th Symphony as well as quite a bit of Christmastime music. The use of Beethoven in some of the film's scenes accentuates the scenes perfectly, and it stuck out so wonderfully that I had to mention it here. I apologize if this seems like a tangent, so I hope you'll forgive me for the digression.

Ultimately, Die Hard is one of the most iconic and well-received action films ever to hit the silver screen. It currently holds a 94% approval rating on, which offers the following critical consensus:
Its many imitators (and sequels) have never come close to matching the taut thrills of the definitive holiday action classic.
I don't think I could've said it any better myself. Die Hard set the gold standard for the action genre, and while there are some films that have come close in the twenty-three years since its release, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that truly and completely surpasses it in quality and enjoyability.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Review: WARRIOR


"Lock up the china because the boys are at it again!"
-- Bryan Callen

Warrior is a 2011 dramatic sports film directed by Gavin O'Connor that centers around two brothers who compete in the same mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament. When they were young, brothers Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) had to live with their alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte) and his violent tendencies. Brendan chose to stay with his father, but Tommy left with his mother and started a new life on the west coast. Brendan got married and became a physics teacher, but when money becomes tight, he starts to moonlight as a fighter to make ends meet. Tommy went into the Marine Corps after their mother passed away but deserted after his battalion was destroyed by friendly fire. The two separately hear about a landmark MMA tournament called Sparta that will award the winner a $5 million purse, so they both start to train in the hopes of winning the cash. Little do they know, however, that the other is training to fight against them. As the tournament draws closer and closer, the stakes continue to climb, adding even more stress to the Conlon brothers' debacle.

I started hearing about this film at the beginning of the summer in preparation for its September release. I was immediately drawn to the film based on the fact that Edgerton and Hardy were going to be attached, considering I've loved their past films. Then the first trailer hit the theaters, and I was astounded by the possibilities. I even placed the film on my Fall Movie Preview, which highlighted the films I was most excited to see this fall. So, as you can probably imagine, I was a tad bit anxious to see this one. Unfortunately, September came and went, and I was unable to see the film during its initial theatrical release. However, I was able to give it a view tonight, so here's what I thought.

In the past, boxing movies have always been quite a big draw for audiences. In comparison to bigger and grander sports, there's something rather simple about filming a boxing match. And, considering its long-standing tradition in the United States - as well as its basic fundamentals - it's an easily accessible sport that has translated itself onto the silver screen in many a format. I mean, Rocky nabbed the Academy Award for Best Picture back in 1976, and we saw more recent success from the likes of 2010's The Fighter, which was nominated for Best Picture. So as you can see, boxing has done well when it comes to the movie audiences.

Mixed martial arts, however, has had a bit of a hit-and-miss beginning at the cineplex. One of the most memorable MMA-style films is the 1988 film Bloodsport, which stars Jean Claude Van Damme, but more recent examples include 2008's Redbelt and Never Back Down. This style of fighting had yet to receive a signature, critically-acclaimed film until Warrior came along, but after striking it rich with the critics, we may have actually come across a film to hold that particular title.

Warrior finds a way to succeed on nearly every level. The screenplay itself is quite a doozy, and although it's a tad bit predictable at times, it makes up for it with well-written characters and more emotion that you can probably handle. Sure, the trailers hyped the film's ending by telling us that the two brothers were going to face off in the tournament's final, but I think that only added to my personal anticipation for that climactic battle. Seeing how they fared in the three rounds before the championship set up a brilliant final round, and I think the emotion conveyed throughout the film was released in those final scenes with an intensely cathartic resolution.

The acting is spot-on as well, and it'd be tough to pick just one actor to salute more than the rest. Edgerton is great as our likable lead, but I think I need to tip my hat to Hardy, who manages to play a leading role that's both likable and unlikable at the same time. In the beginning, I wanted to hate him, but as I learned more about his character, I wanted to start to root for him along the way. In a sense, Hardy's character is the more complete one, and while this is no knock against Edgerton's performance, I think Hardy steals a bit of the spotlight this time around. Also worth a serious mention is two-time Academy Award-nominee Nick Nolte, who brings one of the strongest performances I've seen from him in years. It's been fourteen years since Nolte was last nominated for an Oscar, and it's been nearly that long since he's had a solid cinematic performance. However, I've already heard little bits of Oscar buzz for his supporting role. Whether it will come to fruition remains to be seen, but as of now, I'd put him on the short-list to at least get a nomination. We're also getting rather good, if small and slightly underutilized, performances from Jennifer Morrison as Edgerton's wife Tess and Kevin Dunn as his former boss.

Overall, Warrior is a fantastic film that definitely sets a new standard in the world of MMA-centric films. I would even argue that it surpasses some of the greater boxing films of years past, including Rocky (of which I was not entirely impressed, although I do not have a review for that film at this time). The reason it works so well is because it delves into the emotion of the sport and the family relations surrounding the characters' particular situation, and for that, I have to applaud O'Connor for his deftness of direction. This film could have easily bombed, but with the collaborative effort of the entire cast and crew, they've managed to make an instant sports classic.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: HUGO


"I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."
-- Hugo Cabret

Hugo is a 2011 family film directed by Martin Scorsese that's based off the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. The story follows a young boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who started living in a train station after being orphaned by his father's (Jude Law) death. His father left him a strange automaton that will supposedly write when it is working properly, and Hugo believes his father programmed the robotic creation to write him a message should he ever be able to fix it. He steals bits and pieces to fix the automaton from a toymaker (Ben Kingsley) in the station until the man catches him and takes away the notebook with the robot's schematics. In an attempt to retrieve the notebook, Hugo follows the man home and enlists the help of his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is fascinated by Hugo's livelihood. In their attempt to find the notebook, the two start to realize that there is a deeper story behind the automaton that involves Isabelle's godfather, and they embark on an adventure to find the secrets that lay behind this automaton's mechanical creation.

When I first heard about Hugo, I was a tad bit perplexed as to how it was going to be created. Considering Martin Scorsese has made a career on creating some of the most famous gangster films that contain a slew of adult-only themes, I was fascinated to see how he might handle some more family-friendly fare. The film opened to fantastic reviews - it currently holds a 93% approval rating on - and has started to receive some high-profile nominations from upcoming awards ceremonies, so it was only a matter of time until I was able to give the film a viewing.

My first reaction to the film has to be one of utter amazement. While I had my doubts going into the film, every one of them was silenced about halfway through. At its base, Hugo is a movie about movies. The first half of the story shows our main characters trying to figure out the meaning behind this automaton, but when it finally yields some sort of message, the film takes a different direction entirely. It leads towards Kingsley's character, who turns out to be none other than Georges Méliès. For those of you cinephiles like myself, that name should easily ring a bell. One of the grandfathers of filmmaking, Méliès was the man who brought us hundreds of short films, most famously Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), in the early 20th century. Here's that aforementioned short film, which I'm sure many of you will recognize:

The swing in the story sparked a number of reactions from me, but most fascinating was the emotional reaction I had to the realization that Kingsley was portraying Méliès. Had I taken the time to look at the cast credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), I would have known this beforehand; because I had not, however, it came as quite the pleasant surprise. The inclusion of this material put an entirely different frame around the film. It went from being just a story about a boy trying to find his place in the world to a story of a boy trying to find his place in the world by bringing an old man a little bit of magic from his past. The context of the film shifts to the life of Méliès, which is followed rather religiously, portraying mostly fact rather than delving into Hollywood exaggeration. The look at early cinematic history was so strong and so beautifully-crafted that I couldn't help but tear up from time to time during the film. It's quite the emotional experience for a film fan like myself.

Let's not forget about the acting though, shall we? Our two young leads - Butterfield and Moretz - are simply fantastic as our central protagonists, and they play off one another well. I've been saying for a while that Moretz is going to be the next big thing on the Hollywood scene, and she's taking another huge step in that direction with her role here. Butterfield, of whom I had not heard prior to seeing this film, also managed to "wow" me with his portrayal of the titular character. Kingsley is at his finest, and although it's not the best role of his career, I'd argue it's easily in the top five. His character experiences the full spectrum of emotion, and Kingsley remains believable throughout it all. We're also getting some great supporting performances from the likes of Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer and Helen McCrory, and be on the lookout for Ray Winstone in a cameo appearance. Law does well with his limited screentime, and we even get a fine, albeit a little too small, performance from Michael Stuhlbarg (of A Serious Man fame). My only real issue with the casting was that of Sacha Baron Cohen who seemed a little too over-the-top in his role. It works within the constructs of the film, but at times, he's just a little too much.

I'd also like to reference Howard Shore's fanciful score that truly sets the mood for the film. The film takes place in Paris, and Shore is able to create a score that both stands on its own but also brings a very Parisian feel. Despite the fact that we're located in Paris, we're only reminded of it on a few small occasions. The rest of the film takes place indoors - mostly inside the train station - so it's often difficult to remember exactly where we are. However, with Shore's score leading the way, it's impossible to forget our location and the importance it plays in the overall story of the film. Here's just a snippet of the soundtrack, for your listening pleasure:

Ultimately, Hugo is one of the best films I've seen this year, and it should stand as one of the greatest films I've had the privilege to see in my lifetime. Martin Scorsese has had a long and storied career, and he has given the world a slew of fantastic films to think about and talk about and enjoy over the years, but he just may have created his best film to date with this one. I know that's a rather tall order considering his personal filmography, but I'm going to go out on a limb and take the stance regardless of what anyone else happens to think. At its heart, Hugo is a brilliant film that's going to pander to cinephiles more than a casual fan, but there's still quite a bit to love for a viewer of any age.

I'd like to leave you with the critical consensus from, because I'm not sure I could possibly put it more eloquently:

Hugo is an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids' movies, and one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema.
If you love film and the magic it has created in the over one hundred years since its inception, then do yourself a favor and see Hugo as quickly as you possibly can.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

Happy Birthday, Jake Gyllenhaal!

Today, we're celebrating the 31st birthday of Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The brother of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jake got his acting start in the 1991 film City Slickers. He worked sparingly throughout the 1990s, but he made his first real splash on the Hollywood scene with his starring role in 1999's October Sky. From there, Jake nabbed the lead in cult-favorite Donnie Darko in 2001. He nabbed his first - and to date, only - Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the critically-acclaimed but controversial Brokeback Mountain opposite the late Heath Ledger. Since then, Jake's career has been a little hit-and-miss, but he's managed to continue to bring a solid level of acting to his performances. Most recently, audiences saw him in 2011's Source Code, and they'll next be able to see him in the 2012 film, End of Watch. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've supplied. Once again, happy birthday, Jake!

5. Colter Stevens
Source Code (2011)


4. Anthony Swofford
Jarhead (2005)


3. Tommy Cahill
Brothers (2009)


2. Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko (2001)


1. Jack Twist
Brokeback Mountain (2005)



"I thank you, Gentile friend, for your generous offer of that deliciously unkosher snack."
-- Mordechai Jefferson Carver

The Hebrew Hammer is a 2003 comedy directed by Jonathan Kesselman that pits the Christmas holiday against the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Growing up as a Jewish boy was never easy for Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg), who dealt with oppression from the likes of Christians as they celebrated Christmas at the same time he celebrated Hannukah. As he grew older, he turned himself into the Hebrew Hammer and started to take to the streets to protect his Jewish kin from the likes of Christian persecution. One day, however, he hears from the Jewish Justice League (JJL) that Santa's son Damian Claus (Andy Dick), the new heir to the Santa Claus throne, has decided to destroy the Hannukah celebration completely. In an attempt to stop his evil plot, the Hammer joins with Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal (Judy Greer) and Kwanzaa-celebrating friend Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim (Mario Van Peebles) to keep the Jewish holiday intact.

Over the past few years, I've caught snippets of The Hebrew Hammer on television from time to time, but I had never taken the opportunity to watch it in its entirety. Seeing as it was readily accessible on NetFlix's Instant Watch playlists, I figured now was as good a time as any. I figured I could add a little bit of Hannukah flavor to my barrage of Christmas posts, and considering this film offers a semblance of a battle between the two holidays, I felt as though it fit the mold of the types of reviews I've been bringing lately.

That being said, I don't think I could honestly recommend that anyone watch this film. It takes nearly every Jewish stereotype you can imagine and lampoons it so strongly that it almost feels like a hate crime to enjoy it. The storyline itself is a legitimate one: we have a crazy, anti-Semitic Santa who wants Christmas to be the reigning - and sole - holiday in December, so he creates a plan to rid the world of the Jewish holiday. Also, considering this film is a play off the old blaxploitation films of the 1970s, you can see that there's that sort of feel to the film. However, with the nearly non-stop jokes about the habits and livelihood of Jewish people in the United States, it's a little tough to take anything even remotely seriously in this one. It all seems like just a tad too much. It's just too over-the-top.

The acting isn't all that fantastic, although each character does relatively fit the stereotypical mold they're attempting to create. Goldberg does well enough as our lead, but he gets a little too annoying about halfway through the film. The same goes for Andy Dick, who is really an acquired taste more than anything else. I'm finding fewer and fewer people are still fans of his brand of comedy, and I think this film serves as a staple as to why those few fans are leaving. The female leads in the film actually fare rather well considering the way their roles are written. Greer plays off Goldberg exceptionally well, and Nora Dunn, who plays Mordechai's mother, offers some of the better laughs during the movie. However, the best performance probably belongs to Van Peebles, who stays with his character religiously and plays him out very well.

Ultimately, The Hebrew Hammer just isn't that great of a movie, and it's consistent attack against the Jewish holiday and everyday traditions is just a little too much to consider this film an effective spoof. That being said, however, I couldn't help but find myself chuckling from time to time, mostly at the over-the-top ridiculousness of the film. So, if you're in the mood for some such fare, then maybe this irreverent, no-holds-barred comedy is right up your alley. I just want you to know that you have been forewarned.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: F
Thumbs Sideways

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The Christmas season is a time for us to reflect on the happiness in our lives and spend time with our friends and family. It's supposed to be a time of jolliness and cheer, and the best Christmas movies do well to convey that sense of cheer. However, there's always that one character who's trying to bash that holiday happiness and bring down everyone's cheery livelihood. This post will salute my favorite holiday villains. They're the ones who take away the Christmas spirit from the rest of the characters and try to ruin the holiday itself. However, sometimes these characters can prove to be the most charismatic and most memorable in a film, and for those particular individuals, I've created this list. I've gone through all of the Christmas-related films I've seen (a relatively short list, but a comprehensive one nonetheless), and I've chosen my seven favorite holiday villains. I've supplied videos for each when possible, so I hope you enjoy them. And enjoy this list of my favorite Christmas baddies!

7. Santa
Santa's Slay (2005)
Played by: Bill Goldberg


6. Hans Gruber
Die Hard (1988)
Played by: Alan Rickman


5. Burgermeister Meisterburger
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)
Voiced by: Paul Frees


4. Abominable Snow Monster
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)


3. Henry F. Potter
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Played by: Lionel Barrymore


2. Oogie Boogie
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Voiced by: Ken Page


1. The Grinch
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Played by: Jim Carrey

Happy Birthday, Brad Pitt!

Today we're celebrating the 48th birthday of two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Brad Pitt. He nabbed his first uncredited role in a film in 1987's Hunk, but it wasn't until 1988's The Dark Side of the Sun that he actually managed to receive a credited feature film performance. From there, Pitt scored roles in 1991's Thelma & Louise, 1992's A River Runs Through It and 1993's Kalifornia. Two years later, he scored his first Oscar nomination for his supporting role opposite Bruce Willis in Twelve Monkeys, but he also starred in Se7en opposite Morgan Freeman that same year. In 1999, his status as as sex symbol skyrocketed with the release of Fight Club, and from there, the sky was the limit. He nabbed a supporting bit in the 2000 film Snatch. then scored a recurring part in the start of the Ocean's franchise in 2001. In 2005, he appeared opposite Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the film which brought the two together romantically. The late-2000s saw Pitt start to take on more serious roles in films like 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which he scored his second Oscar nomination. Most recently, audiences have seen him in 2011's Moneyball and heard him in 2011's Happy Feet Two. You'll next be able to see him in the 2012 film Cogan's Trade. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my ten favorite Pitt roles. I hope you enjoy the videos. Once again, happy birthday, Brad!

10. Richard Jones
Babel (2006)


9. John Smith
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)


8. Achilles
Troy (2004)


7. Benjamin Button
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)


6. Billy Beane
Moneyball (2011)


5. Jeffrey Goines
Twelve Monkeys (1995)


4. Mickey O'Neil
Snatch. (2000)


3. Jesse James
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)


2. Tyler Durden
Fight Club (1999)


1. Lt. Aldo Raine
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Happy Birthday, Steven Spielberg!

Today we're celebrating the 65th birthday of three-time Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg. After creating a number of short and made-for-TV films, Spielberg got his first hit with the smash box-office success Jaws in 1975. He immediately followed that film with his 1977 critical sensation, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1981, he introduced the world to Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film that has since spawned three sequels. He also brought forth other films in the 1980s like 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and 1985's The Color Purple. The early 1990s saw him bring the world Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, for which he won his first two Academy Awards. Five years later, he nabbed another Oscar for Best Director for 1998's Saving Private Ryan. His work has been a little more sparse since the turn of the millennium, and the last time audiences witnessed his directorial efforts was in the 2008 film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; however, he has two films debuting this month: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, both of which are sure to make a splash at the next Academy Awards. So, to celebrate this twelve-time Academy Award-nominee's birthday, I've created a list of my ten favorite Spielberg films. I hope you enjoy the videos! Once again, happy birthday, Steven!

10. Munich


5. Schindler's List


4. Jurassic Park


3. Saving Private Ryan


2. Raiders of the Lost Ark


1. Jaws

Friday, December 16, 2011



"I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?"
-- Charlie Brown

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 1965 animated TV special directed by Bill Melendez and written by Charles Schultz that serves as one of the longest-running television specials in American history. The story starts with Charlie Brown (voiced by Peter Robbins) telling his best friend Linus (voiced by Christopher Shea) about his disdain towards the Christmas season. Even though he understands the idea of getting and giving presents each year, he still says he feels down and depressed come each Christmas. After consulting Linus's sister Lucy (voiced by Tracy Stratford), she offers Charlie Brown the opportunity to direct their Christmas play. When he attempts to do so, however, he has difficulty getting the other kids to listen to him, so Lucy sends him to find a Christmas tree for the play. The one he chooses is the only real tree he can find, but it happens to be a sad little tree that loses pine needles every time he touches it. Obviously incensed at his decision, the other kids get angry, forcing Charlie Brown out of the theater. However, he decides that he is going to make this tree beautiful, despite everything they say.

Now I know that this is by no means a feature-length film (it's run-time currently sits somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-two minutes, depending on which version you're able to find), but I have been known to review short films from time to time (see: The Black Mamba). When special circumstances arise, I will generally review any type of film, and considering this is the holiday season, I figured there was no way I could possibly leave A Charlie Brown Christmas off my review slate. It's such a classic holiday fixture that you'd probably be hard-pressed to find someone who both hadn't seen the special nor even heard of its existence.

As is the case with every Peanuts special, we're getting our same basic slew of characters, and they don't really divert themselves from their normal personalities. Charlie Brown is still the down-on-his-luck leading character with whom every audience can seemingly relate. His buddy Linus represents the child in every adult, especially in this particular special (more on that in a moment). Lucy is still bossy, Schroeder (voiced by Chris Doran) still plays the piano, and Snoopy (voiced by Melendez) still does whatever he wants to do. So in that respect, there's not all that much different from other Peanuts specials.

What sets this one apart is the rather spectacular screenplay we're receiving. The entire storyline revolves around Charlie Brown's negative attitude towards the commercial aspect of Christmas. All throughout the first half of the story, we see him scoffing in disgust whenever a monetary want or desire comes to the surface (i.e., Snoopy's attempt to decorate his doghouse; Sally's fixation on the presents she wants to receive). It seems so ingrained into the culture that Charlie Brown doesn't really know how to handle himself. And so, when he's given the chance to direct the play, he elects to find the true spirit of Christmas and convey that through his performance.

The anti-commercialism message is a good one, and it's probably one that we need to hear, especially in today's economic state here in the United States. As we've seen in some of the other films I've reviewed - most glaringly, 2007's What Would Jesus Buy? - the commercial aspect of the Christmas holiday is starting to overshadow the holiday itself. Because of this, it's nice to see a long-running television special that still reminds its audience of the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.

I'd also like to make a quick mention of this special's soundtrack, which was performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The soundtrack takes the classic Peanuts music and meshes it with holiday classics, and although we've heard all these songs before, there's something rather perfect about the way the Trio performs them. They fit seamlessly into this film, and the soundtrack easily proves to be one of my personal favorite holiday soundtracks.

All that being said, I honestly think you should take the time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm sure it'll be playing a few more times before Christmas reaches us, so tune into your local TV stations and find out when it'll be playing near you. It's a holiday classic for the ages, and everyone in the family should give it a watch.

Thursday, December 15, 2011



"If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt."
-- Kris Kringle

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1994 film directed by Les Mayfield that serves as a remake of the 1947 film of the same name. As the film opens, we see Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) trying to organize the Cole's Thanksgiving Day Parade. After finding that her current Santa Claus, a man named Tony Falacchi (Jack McGee), is inebriated, she finds a man off the street named Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough) to step into the role. It soon becomes evident that Kris believes himself to be the one and true Santa Claus, much to the disbelief of most of the people around him. However, after a rival store company sets Kris into a plot to have him committed to a mental institution, all the Christmas hope that Kris may have brought to his friends may be a little bit lost. When he's brought to trial for his assault charges, the hearing soon turns into a debate over whether or not Kris is actually the real Santa as he claims himself to be.

Because there are so many Christmas stories that have seen multiple cinematic interpretations, it was only a matter of time that I would attempt a type of compare-and-contrast. While I could have easily gone with a couple of different versions of A Christmas Carol, considering there are so many adaptations, but I chose to use the two most famous versions of Miracle on 34th Street instead. As with any remake, there are bound to be similarities and differences galore, so this review may very well work best if you read it in connection with my review of the 1947 film as well.

The first thing I noticed about this particular adaptation is that it's definitely crafted on a grander scale, as is often the case with remakes. The film is longer than the original, and it just feels a little bit bigger. While I can understand the reasoning for making the film a little bit larger, I was rather fond of the minimalist approach taken by the 1947 film. Still, the largeness of this film isn't all that off-putting, and we actually get to see a grander side of New York in the late 20th-century. Everything is a little bit bigger and a little more colorful, and the Christmas season is alive and flourishing in the bustling streets. It does well to set the tone of the film.

As you can probably gather from the above synopsis of the film, we're basically getting the same storyline as the original movie. That being said, the screenplay is drastically different from the original. There are a few twists and turns that play out a little bit differently, and there are certain characters who receive more or less importance than before. One of the most glaring additions is the fact that we're seeing a legitimate love story between Dorey and her beau Bryan Bedford (Dylan McDermott). A lot of time is spent on their relationship this time around, while in the first film, it served as more of a footnote. In a way, it takes away from the film's core story, so I can't really say I was a fan of this particular subplot. We're also seeing more of an in-depth look at the opposing companies' attempts to sidetrack Cole's in this film. They even go as far as to spur Kris towards his ultimate legal issues, whereas Kris brought them on himself in the original picture. Most disappointing, however, is the fact that little Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) takes a complete back seat to the goings-on this time around. I thought the connection between Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood in the first film was one of the most successful bits, but Attenborough and Wilson is almost non-existent. These are just a few examples of the changes made for this remake. You're more than welcome to watch the two and compare them yourself.

The level of the performances is relatively solid, but it's nowhere near the greatness exhibited in this film's predecessor. Attenborough does good job, but he brings a little too me uch anger to ththe role of Kris Kringle. He plays right into the antagonists' claims that he could fly off the handle at any moment. There's just a little bit too much menace in this particular Kris Kringle. Perkins and McDermott do well, but their roles seem a little too forced, despite the fact that they're entirely likable in their own way. The film's best performance probably goes to Robert Prosky, who plays Judge Henry Harper, as you can see that he's actively having fun with his role. Like I said: the acting isn't bad; it's just a little too commonplace to be considered all that great.

Ultimately, Miracle on 34th Street falls down the wayside just like so many other remakes have before and since. It's so difficult to remake a classic and have it live up to the original, and in a way, it's a little unfair to compare the two. At the end of the day, this film is great holiday fare, even if it's a little ridiculous. There are a couple fantastic scenes - be on the lookout for Kris's conversation with a deaf girl in sign language and for the shots of the citizens showing their support for Santa - that really pull at your heartstrings, so this film is by no means a travesty. However, if you do need to choose between the two, I personally believe you should go with the original 1947 film.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C+
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