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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ridley Scott!

Today, we're celebrating the 74th birthday of Academy Award-nominated director, Ridley Scott. He got his directing start in the mid-1960s working on short films and television programming but made his feature film debut with 1977's The Duellists. Two years later, he garnered universal acclaim for his sci-fi horror film, Alien. He followed that smash-hit with the thoughtful and thought-provoking 1982 film Blade Runner, and from there, a masterful career was created. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his direction of 1991's Thelma & Louise, and he nabbed two more nominations in the same category for 2000's Gladiator and 2001's Black Hawk Down. Audiences most recently saw his work in 2010's Robin Hood, which marked the fifth collaboration between he and Russell Crowe. You'll next be able to see a Ridley Scott film in 2012 when he releases Prometheus. So, for this birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Ridley Scott films, and I've supplied videos for each pick. Once again, happy birthday, Ridley!


5. Blade Runner
1982


*****

4. American Gangster
2007


*****

3. Gladiator
2000


*****

2. Black Hawk Down
2001


*****

1. Alien
1979

Happy Birthday, Ben Stiller!

Today, we're celebrating the 46th birthday of A-list comedic actor, Ben Stiller. The son of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Ben made his feature film debut in 1987's Hot Pursuit. He appeared in a number of films in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but he didn't really make any type of splash until his performance in 1995's Heavy Weights. His first smash hit came in 1998 with his leading role in There's Something About Mary, and from there, a star was born. He appeared in 1999's ensemble piece, Mystery Men and followed that with three big-time films: 2000's Meet the Parents (opposite Robert De Niro), 2001's Zoolander (opposite Owen Wilson) and 2001's ensemble piece, The Royal Tenenbaums. Stiller and Wilson have since appeared in a number of films together, including 2004's Starsky & Hutch and both Night at the Museum films. Most recently, audiences have seen Ben Stiller in 2011's Tower Heist, which is currently in theaters. You'll next be able to see him opposite Jesse Eisenberg in 2012's He's Way More Famous Than You. So, for his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Ben Stiller roles. I hope you enjoy the videos. Once again, happy birthday, Ben!


5. Arturo Mendes
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)


*****

4. Chas Tenenbaum
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

*****

3. Mr. Furious
Mystery Men (1999)


*****

2. White Goodman
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)


*****

1. Derek Zoolander
Zoolander (2001)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ed Harris!

Today, we're celebrating the 61st birthday of four-time Academy Award-nominee, Ed Harris. Harris nabbed his first feature-film appearance in the 1978 film, Coma, and followed that up with his first named character in 1980's Borderline. He started to make a splash in the 1982 film Creepshow and 1983 film The Right Stuff. From there, he appeared in a number of films; most notably, audiences saw him as the lead in 1989's The Abyss and in the 1992 ensemble piece, Glengarry Glen Ross. Harris received his first two Oscar nominations for his performances in 1995's Apollo 13 and 1998's The Truman Show, and followed those nominations with noms for his work in 2000's Pollock and 2002's The Hours. We last saw Harris in the 2011 film That's What I Am, and audiences can next see him in 2012's Man on a Ledge. So, for his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Harris performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I was able to supply. Once again, happy birthday, Ed Harris!


5. Remy Bressant
Gone Baby Gone (2007)


*****

4. Carl Fogarty
A History of Violence (2005)

*****

3. Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel
The Rock (1996)


*****

2. Parcher
A Beautiful Mind (2001)


*****

1. Richard Brown
The Hours (2002)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ten Movies I'm Most Thankful For: A Thanksgiving Special

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Today's holiday is a time to take pause and think about everything for which we are thankful. As we celebrate with family and friends, I thought I'd take a look and see what films I was most thankful for. While I'm sure I could come up with dozens of films that I love just as much as the ones in the following list, I think these are the ten films I'm most thankful have been made over the years. So while you sit back, eat turkey and watch football, give this list a view. Once again, happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

*****

The 400 Blows
1959
This French film (originally titled Les quatre cents coup) was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I think it's one of those films that everyone needs to see at least once in their lifetime, but it's only going to have an emotional impact if you watch it at just the right time in your life. Fortunately for me, I watched it at exactly the right moment in my life's journey. The story tells of a boy who's looking to find meaning in his own life, and after a series of trials and tribulations, he is able to break away from conformity only to find himself wondering where to turn next. I was in a similar situation when I watched this film, and the boy's inner turmoil reflected my own almost exactly. While it didn't offer any explanation or advice, just seeing my own conflict portrayed so beautifully was enough to leave me in tears.

*****

2001: A Space Odyssey
1968
2001: A Space Odyssey is not a film to be enjoyed. It is a film to be watched and admired and thought about for ages. Every time I watch this film, I always get the urge to spend a month watching the movie over and over again. While I'm sure there's been countless interpretation of Stanley Kubrick's film, we may never know if any of them are actually correct. And I think that's what makes this film so brilliant. You can sit down and watch it a dozen times, and you could easily have a dozen different ideas and interpretations. It's definitely not a film for everyone; if you can't find a way to get into it, it's going to be a long, drawn-out experience for you. But for those of you who are able to see the beauty in the film, you'll realize that it isn't just a movie: it is an experience that should be taken by any true fan of film.

*****

Brokeback Mountain
2005
There's actually a fundamental and personal reason for me to be thankful for Brokeback Mountain, and I think the story will suffice as explanation. I was raised in a strict conservative household, and although I don't remember any overt concessions or statements against the homosexual community, I immediately opposed this film upon its release, claiming it was just a "gay cowboy" movie. I went so far as to cheer against it at that year's Academy Awards despite having not seen the film. It took me three more years to sit down and watch the film, and I found it to be one of the most beautiful romances I have ever seen on-screen. It may not have been the only driving force, but it completely changed my views on love and who should be allowed to love one another. In a way, I have this film to thank for my overall tolerance, and for that, I think we can all be thankful.

*****

The Cove
2009
Much in the way Brokeback Mountain opened my eyes to the world, The Cove did the same in terms of animal cruelty. I had not been much for documentaries until a few years ago, and when I heard about The Cove and its subject matter, I have to admit I was a little hesitant to give it a watch. I knew exactly what I was going to see, and that alone would be enough to keep a lot of people from watching this film. However, I will take the stance right now and say that every person - man, woman and (maybe) child - needs to see The Cove. It needs to be universally known exactly what's happening around the world in terms of animal cruelty, and even though this film only focuses on one specific happening, it talks about how prevalent such cruelty has become around the world. It made me want to rise to action, and the best way I know how to do that is to draw attention to this film's existence.

*****

Gone with the Wind
1939
This is the classic film to top all classic films, and it's also the first film to use "foul" language (although by today's standards, the use of the word "damn" isn't all that shocking). While it blazed that particular trail, it also set the standard in terms of romantic dramas, and I have yet to see a film that surpasses it in its magnitude and sheer force. It's a long film, so there may not be many people who have the patience to sit through it nowadays, but true film aficionados will know this to be one of the greatest films ever to grace the silver screen. Even seventy-two years later, it's still one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, and it ranks very highly among my favorites.

*****

Happiness
1998
One particular friend is going to scoff at the fact that I've included this film on this list. She claims it's one of the grossest movies she's ever seen, but I can see where she's coming from with her statement. However, the dark comedy and sarcasm in which the subject matter is portrayed is so brilliantly done that I can't begin to hate this film in any regards. The reason I'm thankful for Happiness, however, is it's the first film to show me that there really are no boundaries in the film medium. In a day and age where so much is controlled by the Motion Picture Assocation of America, it's refreshing to see a film that pushes the taboos aside and just lets it all go. (Disclaimer: this film definitely isn't for everyone; it deals with a lot of sexual content that shouldn't be viewed by younger audiences, so be forewarned.)

*****

Jaws
1975
How could I possibly leave my favorite film of all time off this list? You can read my post about the film itself linked above if you want to get all my insight about the film (it's a longer post, just so you know), but at a very basic level, I think everyone has to be thankful for their favorite movie. It's a film I can come back to any day and be able to sit down and watch it in its entirety and be thoroughly entertained. What makes this movie so great for me is that it is so thoroughly entertaining, and it always finds a way to make me re-fall in love with it. It's simple yet so perfectly brilliant in its methods of filmmaking that it's hard not to like. But most importantly, Jaws reminds me that film is supposed to be about entertainment. While I can go on for ages nit-picking films in my reviews, it really comes down to whether or not a movie is entertaining. Jaws will always find a way to keep me engaged, and for that, I am thankful.

*****

No Country for Old Men
2007
When No Country for Old Men was released in 2007, I was living in Santa Cruz, California, and it was playing at my favorite particular theater. I remember the experience vividly: the moment the film ended, I and the eight other people sitting in the theater sat silently through the final credits. The moment the lights returned in the theater, I ran out to buy the original novel in order to understand it. The reason I'm thankful for this film is the fact that it's the movie that made me want to start writing reviews. The amount of thought I put into No Country for Old Men and exactly what it meant spurred me towards this blog, which I ultimately started three years later after I had finished my undergraduate schooling. So, for all of you who enjoy my reviews and this blog in general, you should also thank No Country for Old Men for getting me started down that path.

*****

Psycho
1960
Much in the way I couldn't leave Jaws (my favorite film) off this list, there was no way I could leave Psycho (the best film I've ever seen) off this list either. (To get the whole story behind my viewing of Psycho, check out the link given above because it's a doozy of a story.) Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic film set the tone for the rest of cinematic history. Without this film, who knows where the evolution of movies would have taken us. There are so many movie "firsts" in Psycho that it's a little bit overwhelming. It broke through taboos that filmmakers had refused to break previously. I honestly believe that the face of the cinematic landscape would be drastically different had Hitchcock not released this film back in 1960. Solely based on that, I think there's enough reason to be thankful for this film. The fact that it's also brilliant is just one more plus.

*****

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
1937
There's two reasons I'm thankful for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. First, it was the first feature-length animated film ever created. Had the film proven to be terrible, there's a chance that animation might never had made much of an impact on the cinematic landscape. Fortunately, it was met by rave reviews, and only three years later, Pinocchio was released to similar reviews, forever stamping the presence of animated films The second reason I'm thankful for Snow White is that it stamped Walt Disney as a legitimate presence on the feature-film stage. While he'd had success with his short films, the success of Snow White put him at the forefront of animation - a place he, as well as the Disney company, have managed to stay until this day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review: THE WARD

THE WARD
2011
R


"If I were you, I'd watch out, new girl."
-- Sarah


The Ward is a 2011 horror film directed by John Carpenter that serves as his first directorial effort in nearly a decade. The story follows a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard) who is placed in a psychiatric hospital after burning down a farmhouse; however, she has no recollection of any events prior to her arrival at the hospital. As she tries to settle into her new environment, she meets the other girls in her ward: Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer) and Zoey (Laura-Leigh). She also meets Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who the girls say is trying an experimental method of therapy in their treatment. Although everything seems normal in the hospital, things start to go awry when Kristen starts to see an apparition haunting the halls. Fearful for her life and for the lives of the other girls, she attempts to break away from the ward.

While I'm not terribly well-versed on Carpenters directorial resumé, I have seen a handful of his films, and I have to say that he's been a tad hit-and-miss for me. I loved Halloween (1978), but I hated Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). I raved about 1982's The Thing, but I merely liked 1988's They Live. Because he's been so back-and-forth for me personally, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from The Ward. I thought it had the potential to be a great return to the horror genre for him, but sadly, the film just didn't really deliver.

I could probably break down the screenplay quite a bit and give you reasons as to why it isn't that good, but it would be too harsh to trash it all completely. There's a good story hidden somewhere inside this film, and were it not so painfully dull, I might have been captivated by the plot's twists and turns. To be honest, it all just felt a tad too predictable. I saw Carpenter's every move from a mile away, and I just thought he fell into horror convention a bit too much. For a man who broke ground in the horror genre so many years ago, it's sad to see him fall into conformity this way.

It's a shame he doesn't really get much help from his cast, either. While it's not the worst bit of acting you'll see, there's not really much good to say about our actors here. Amber Heard plays her character a tad bit over-the-top, and she turns into a whiny, broken record pretty quickly. We do get some okay performances from the likes of Harris and the other girls, but seeing as Heard is the star of the show, we have to suffer through her piece for the film's entirety. She may not bring down the film on her own, but she could have done a lot more to lift it from its current state.

Despite everything I've just said, the real issue with The Ward is that it just isn't scary. Whereas Carpenter has made a career on leaving his audiences in suspense, he instead chose the foray of cheap thrills for this particular film. Those of you who have been reading me for a while will know that I don't consider "cheap thrills" to be true horror. Sure, you might jump out of your seat, but you're not going to remember the scares a day or two later. Suspense will keep you awake at night, but cheap thrills will pass. Because of this, I just couldn't find the film all that terrifying, and considering the "jump" moments couldn't even cause a stir, I'd have to say that this was a rather failed experiment in the horror genre.

At the end of the day, The Ward is an interesting effort from a horror icon, but sadly, it fails on nearly every level. It breaks the first rule of the horror genre by not being scary in the slightest, and the rest of the issues with the film fall into place after that. It's not the worst film I've ever seen, but I can't in my right mind begin to recommend you watch it.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: D-
1.5 Thumbs Down

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Owen Wilson!

Today we're celebrating the birthday of Owen Wilson, who turns 43. Best known for his comedic stylings, Wilson got his acting start with the 1996 Wes Anderson film, Bottle Rocket. From there, he appeared in big-budget films like 1997's Anaconda and 1998's Armageddon. He started to nab roles in comedies in the early 2000s appearing opposite the likes of Jackie Chan (in 2000's Shanghai Noon) and Ben Stiller (in 2000's Meet the Parents and 2001's Zoolander). Wilson nabbed an Academy Award nomination with Anderson for writing the original screenplay for 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, a film in which he also played a supporting role. As his fame grew, he started to score some leading roles in films like 2004's Starsky & Hutch (opposite Stiller) and 2005's Wedding Crashers (opposite Vince Vaughn). Most recently, he could have been seen in 2011's Midnight in Paris or The Big Year, and you'll next be able to hear him in the 2012 animated comedy, Turkeys. So, to celebrate his 43rd birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Owen Wilson performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've provided. Once again, happy birthday, Owen!


5. Ken Hutchinson
Starsky & Hutch (2004)


-----

4. Jedediah
Night at the Museum (2006)

-----

3. John Beckwith
Wedding Crashers (2005)


-----

2. Dignan
Bottle Rocket (1996)


-----

1. Hansel
Zoolander (2001)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Movie Review: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
1988
R


"God loves me. I know He loves me. I want him to stop."
-- Jesus


The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 drama directed by Martin Scorsese that's based off Nikos Kazantzakis's novel of the same name. It paints a very different portrait of Jesus (Willem Dafoe) than has been depicted in other films relating to the Gospel story. The film starts with Jesus trying to deal with God's voice in his head as he tries to live his life as an ordinary man. As time continues to pass, however, he begins to accept the path that God has laid before him. He joins with a man named Judas (Harvey Keitel) and begins to recruit his disciples and apostles. The group makes their way into the desert where Jesus meets John the Baptist (Andre Gregory), who sends him into the desert to wait for God's direction. While there, Jesus is tempted by Satan a number of times, but Jesus is able to deny him time and again, returning from the desert with a renewed fervor as he starts his ministry. As more time passes, however, Jesus realizes what his true fate will entail, and he and his apostles begin to prepare for his imminent crucifixion.

While I've known about this film for quite some time, I figured today (being Martin Scorsese's birthday) would be as good a day as any to finally take the time to give it a view. I had heard a little of the film's controversy, but I didn't know just how controversial it had been upon its initial release. A lot of the issues with the film stemmed from Christians' belief that it strayed too far from the four Gospels represented in the Bible; however, the film does offer the following disclaimer at the opening:
"The dual substance of Christ - the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain God... has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principle anguish and source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh... and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met." - Nikos Kazantzakis from the book "The Last Temptation of Christ"

This film is not based upon the Gospels but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict.
So, if you are able to take that into account, you can see that the filmmakers have at least given themselves an "out" in terms of Christian concerns with sticking to the letter of the Bible.

As a Catholic, watching this film was a rather interesting experience. While I wasn't taken aback by some of the "controversial" subject matter, it did come off as a little bit strange considering how I was raised. Because I know the Gospels' story so well, I was able to follow along with the basic storyline while focusing on the changes they were trying to emphasize. I do admit that seeing some of the sexual aspects of the film was a tad bit off-putting considering my upbringing, I have to applaud Scorsese and Dafoe for making Jesus a very human character. I think I've always had a slightly different image of Christ than is often placed before us. I think he's been conveyed as more feminine than the real Jesus would have been. I mean, the man was a carpenter - at the very least, he must have been an impressive physical specimen. I think that The Last Temptation of Christ found that masculinity and exploited it, bringing a very different image of Jesus than contemporary audiences had ever seen. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert stated that the filmmakers have "paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning..." I think that's what I loved most about this film. Most other films about Christ emphasize the divinity of Christ, but we have to remember that he was also a man and must have struggled just as much as other men have for all of human history.

To talk more structurally about the screenplay, I thought they did well in making it come full circle. While I did think there were a couple "Hollywood" moments that seemed a little out of place, the fact that the film delivers on the basic premise alluded to in its title is a huge plus for me. My only real issue with the screenplay was that of dialogue. As my readers will know, I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to a film's screenplay. For a screenplay to be good, it has to have a legitimate storyline and plot while balancing it with great dialogue. The issue with the dialogue in The Last Temptation of Christ isn't so much what they're saying but how they're saying it. It sounds a little too contemporary, and while this is a more modern retelling of the Gospel story, it was so colloquially American that it started to take me out of the film after a while. It made the characters (including Jesus) just a tad too unbelievable. Now, I don't think they should've gone The Passion of the Christ with it and have spoken in Aramaic, but something a little more period-friendly might have been more effective.

I did have a little bit of issue with the acting in the film, however. While I have no real qualms with Dafoe's performance (it's typical Dafoe, although it's definitely one of his better roles), there were a few acting decisions that left me scratching my head. First and foremost was Keitel's casting as Judas. I don't know about anyone else who's seen this film, but I just couldn't place him in this film at all. I kept seeing him in Reservoir Dogs, and he proved to be a bit of a distraction as a result. His dialogue was the most prevalently colloquial, and I don't think that really helped his character. We do get a few good performances from supporting characters. For example, Barbara Hershey does well as Mary Magdalene, and David Bowie made a fantastic cameo appearance as Pontius Pilate. We even get a decent, albeit minor, performance from Harry Dean Stanton as Saul. However, this is truly Dafoe's vehicle, and it should be treated as such. While it's not the most brilliant performance I've ever seen, it's still strong enough to warrant your attention.

Overall, The Last Temptation of Christ is a strong, albeit slightly strange, film that's probably not for everyone. If you have strong Christian convictions, I can be reasonably sure that you've going to find issue with some of the film's scenes. However, if you can look past that, then you'll find there's a very strong film with a very strong message to be learned. Is this film going to change my personal view of Christ or religion? Of course not. At the end of the day, it's one individual's personal opinion, and it happened to make it to the screen. If you want something straight from the Bible, watch the aforementioned Passion of the Christ. However, if you want something a little bit different, give this one a chance. You just might be surprised.



Movie Review SummaryGrade: A-
1.5 Thumbs Up

Happy Birthday, Martin Scorsese!

Today we're celebrating the birthday of Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, who turns 69. Scorsese's name has become quite the legend on the Hollywood scene, and his directorial career dates back to 1959. His first feature film (Who's That Knocking at My Door) debuted in 1967, and from there a massively successful career began. In the 1970s, Scorsese crafted films like Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976). The 1980s saw the creation of Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). However, some of his most popular and most memorable films came in the 1990s, and they've given him the reputation for having a knack with gangster flicks. In 1990, he gave the world Goodfellas and followed it with another gangster film in 1995 (Casino). In the 2000s, he brought us 2002's Gangs of New York and 2004's The Aviator. Through all that time, Scorsese managed to nab seven Academy Award nominations (six for Best Director), but he didn't win an Oscar until winning the Best Director award for 2006's The Departed. Most recently, he's directed 2010's Shutter Island, and you'll next see his work with 2011's Hugo, which is due in theaters this holiday season. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite Scorsese flicks. I hope you enjoy the accompanying videos. Once again, happy birthday, Martin Scorsese!


5. The Aviator
2004


-----

4. Casino
1995


-----

3. Goodfellas
1990


-----

2. The Departed
2006


-----

1. Taxi Driver
1976

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Maggie Gyllenhaal!

Today we're celebrating the birthday of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who turns 34 today. The older sister of Academy Award-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie got her acting start in the 1992 feature film Waterland. From there, she appeared in bit parts until making a name opposite her brother in the 2001 cult favorite, Donnie Darko. However, she truly hit her big break in 2006's SherryBaby, for which she received rave reviews for her performance. Since then, she's starred in major films like 2006's Stranger Than Fiction, 2008's The Dark Knight and 2009's Crazy Heart, for which she earned her lone Academy Award nomination. She'll next appear in the 2012 films Learning to Fly and Voice from the Stone. So, to celebrate her birthday, I've listed my five favorite of Maggie's roles. Please help me in celebrating and wishing her a happy birthday!


5. Elizabeth Darko
Donnie Darko (2001)


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4. Jean Craddock
Crazy Heart (2009)

-----

3. Rachel Dawes
The Dark Knight (2008)


-----

2. LN Fisher-Herrin
Away We Go (2009)


-----

1. Ana Pascal
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gerard Butler!

Today we're celebrating the birthday of Gerard Butler, who turns 42 today. Butler got his acting start in 1997 when he appeared in the Academy Award-nominated film, Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown. He landed the titular role in Dracula 2000 and made some larger appearances in films like 2003's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and as the lead in 2004's The Phantom of the Opera. But it wasn't until 2007 until Butler had his true star-making turn as King Leonidas in the smash-hit film, 300. From there, Butler became a household name, and he's gone on to appear in romance-based films like 2007's P.S. I Love You and 2009's The Ugly Truth. Most recently, he appeared in the 2011 film Machine Gun Preacher, and you'll next be able to see him in 2012's Playing the Field opposite Jessica Biel. So for his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've provided (I apologize in advance for the quality one or two of them). Once again, happy birthday, Gerard!


5. Terry Sheridan
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)


-----

4. The Phantom
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)


-----

3. One Two
RocknRolla (2008)


-----

2. Mike
The Ugly Truth (2009)


-----

1. King Leonidas
300 (2007)

Movie Review: 13 ASSASSINS

13 ASSASSINS
(Jûsan-nin no shikaku)
2011
R


"Ruling is convenient, but only for the rulers. The people must live to serve."
-- Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira


13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku) is a 2011 Japanese action film directed by Takashi Miike that serves as a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. After Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Gorô Inagaki) makes his way across the Japanese countryside, murdering servants along the way, a group of samurai led by Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) starts to plan a counter-attack that would take Naritsugu's life. As the time of their attack draws nearer, Shinzaemon learns that Naritsugu's top guard Hanbei Kitou (Masachika Ichimura) has discovered the plot to bring his lord down, so he and the other samurai have to use their cunning in order to take down the guard of over two hundred warriors protecting the evil leader.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film earlier this year, but if it ever made it to a theater near me, it only lasted for a week or two because I never had the opportunity to see it. Fortunately, it hit NetFlix Instant Watch earlier this summer, and I finally had the chance to give it a view. It had received spectacular critical reviews (it currently holds a 95% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com), so that alone would have been enough to draw me to the film. Having only just realized that the film is a remake, I may have to go back and give the original film a gander as well.

The screenplay is sufficient for this type of film, and it even has touches of brilliance here and there. It's a longer film, and it takes a little while for it to build up, but once we get to the actual point of attack, it's a non-stop battle for nearly and hour. Everything beforehand is politics, and it just moves a little slowly. However, the slow build-up works very well in juxtaposition to the frenzy that occurs in the second half of the film. Also, I personally found the film's last scene to be truly spectacular. Hopefully you'll be able to see it in the same light in which I saw it.

The acting is also top-notch considering the genre we're being given. Yakusho and Ichimura give fine performances as the film's main adversaries, and a lot of credit has to be given to Inagaki, who plays a perfectly disgusting villain. We also get some great performances from the likes of Tsuyoshi Ihara and Yûsuke Iseya, who provides the comic relief in the second half of the film. While there's not enough brilliance in the acting to leave much of a lasting impression, everyone plays their part to a tee, and it fits well with the film.

Overall, it might not be a film for everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised with 13 Assassins. It's a top-notch action film, and it's definitely a quality foreign film. If you've got a couple hours to kill, you could definitely do worse than this one.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Anne Hathaway!

Today we're celebrating the 29th birthday of Academy Award-nominee Anne Hathaway. She got her start in 2001 with Disney's The Princess Diaries, and she's been working pretty steadily since. In the early stages of her career, she appeared in family-oriented films, like the Princess Diaries sequel and 2004's Ella Enchanted. Hathaway started to delve into more dramatic roles in 2005, making appearances in Havoc and Brokeback Mountain. Her stardom skyrocketed after starring in 2006's The Devil Wears Prada opposite Meryl Streep. Since then, she's balanced her resumé between comedy and drama, and she earned her first - and to date, only - Academy Award nomination for her leading role in 2008's Rachel Getting Married. You'll next be able to see Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, which is slated for release in the summer of 2012. So, to celebrate her birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Hathaway performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've found as you help me celebrate her birthday!


5. Agent 99
Get Smart (2008)


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4. Lureen Newsome
Brokeback Mountain (2005)


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3. Mia Thermopolis
The Princess Diaries (2001)


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2. White Queen
Alice in Wonderland (2010)


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1. Kym
Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Happy Birthday, Ryan Gosling!

Today we're celebrating the 31st birthday of Ryan Gosling. He got his start in television in the mid- to late-1990s, appearing most extensively in shows like "Breaker High" and "Young Hercules." He nabbed his first role in feature film in 1997's Frankenstein and Me and provided his first truly memorable appearance in 2000's Remember the Titans. From there, he held roles in some smaller independent films, but he burst onto the national scene as the male lead in 2004's The Notebook opposite Rachel McAdams. Since then, he's gained critical acclaim for his performances in 2006's Half Nelson, 2007's Lars and the Real Girl and 2010's Blue Valentine. He's most recently been seen in 2011's Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love., and you can currently see him in The Ides of March. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Gosling roles. Help me celebrate and wish Mr. Gosling a happy 31st birthday!


5. Leland P. Fitzgerald
The United State of Leland (2003)


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4. Dean
Blue Valentine (2010)


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3. Dan Dunne
Half Nelson (2006)


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2. Driver
Drive (2011)


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1. Jacob Palmer
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Leonardo DiCaprio!

Today we're celebrating the 37th birthday of three-time Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio got his acting start on a number of television shows, but he made his feature film debut in the 1991 film, Critters 3. He made his first splash in 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape, which scored him his first Oscar nomination. From there DiCaprio landed lead roles in films like 1995's The Basketball Diaries and 1996's Romeo + Juliet, but it was James Cameron's Titanic in 1997 that truly put him on the map, making him a Hollywood heartthrob overnight. He rode that success until appearing in two films in 2002: Catch Me If You Can and Gangs of New York. He's continued to be one of Hollywood's go-to dramatic actors, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn't agree that he has talent. You'll next be able to see DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, which is being released today. So, for his birthday, I've listed my ten favorite of DiCaprio's roles from over the years. I hope you enjoy the videos I've supplied. Once again, happy birthday, Mr. DiCaprio!

10. Cobb
Inception (2010)


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9. Jack Dawson
Titanic (1997)


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8. Teddy Daniels
Shutter Island (2010)


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7. Frank Wheeler
Revolutionary Road (2008)


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6. Romeo
Romeo + Juliet (1996)


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5. Frank Abagnale Jr.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)


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4. Danny Archer
Blood Diamond (2006)


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3. Billy
The Departed (2006)


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2. Jim Carroll
The Basketball Diaries (1995)


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1. Howard Hughes
The Aviator (2004)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

2011
R


Paranormal Activity 3 is a 2011 horror film directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost that serves as a prequel to 2010's Paranormal Activity 2 despite being the franchise's third installment. The home video footage takes us back to 1988 where we see a young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) dealing with the arrival of our favorite demonic presence. Kristi starts to talk about her imaginary friend "Toby," but her mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) starts to think she's letting her imagination go a little too far. Julie's boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), however, has his curiosity piqued when unexplainable events start to occur around the house. He sets up a number of his video cameras in order to record and document the phenomena, but as time goes by, the demon becomes more and more violent with its presence, and Dennis starts to realize that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

I think I have to start by saying that if you weren't a fan of the first two films, there's really no need for you to see this third one. I've run into a lot of people who hated these movies, but I've found just as many who've loved them as much as I do. I should probably tell you that as well - I instantly fell in love with the original 2009 film when I saw it in theaters, and as you can see in my review of the second installment (linked in the first paragraph), you'll know that I was rather fond of that one as well (although my views have changed slightly). Still, when the third film was announced, I had mixed feelings about whether it could succeed. I was hoping they would continue where the second film had left off, but instead, they chose to take us back in time and show the start of the girls' issues with this demon. The prequel idea was an interesting one to me (those of you who read my trailer breakdown for the film will already know this), but it still wasn't a guaranteed success. However, this film did garner more positive reviews than its immediate predecessor, so the filmmakers must have done something right.

Speaking of the filmmakers, this film was brought to us by the two directors who brought us the faux (?) documentary Catfish last year. While I found that to be a rather effective film, even if I don't think it's a true documentary, I thought they were an interesting choice to carry on the Paranormal Activity franchise. However, their direction is definitely noticeable, and they did a very good job with the hand-held camerawork once again. The deftness of their cinematography as well as their direction helped create a very spooky atmosphere, and while there were a few more "jump-out-of-your-seat" moments than the original film, I thought there was a lot more suspense than the second film. Those of my readers who have been following me for a while know that I'm a strong proponent of suspense over cheap thrills, so the fact that Joost and Schulman went in that direction is a huge plus for this film. I was definitely left on the edge of my seat, so kudos to them.

There isn't a ton to say about the acting in the film. Everyone plays their parts very well, but it's not as though we were expecting anything truly brilliant in terms of acting performances. We get our obligatory Katie Featherston appearance, but aside from that, we're not really seeing anybody I've ever seen in a movie before. Still, the cast rounds out nicely and performs exactly what you'd expect to see in a film like this.

While it's not quite as good as the original film, I'd have to say it's just about on par with the second film save for a strange ending that will hopefully be explained in subsequent sequels. After making a massive amount of money over its opening weekend, I think it's only a matter of time until a fourth installment is announced. Seeing as there are some holes left to fill, I'll be eagerly expecting next October.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: PUSS IN BOOTS

PUSS IN BOOTS
PG
2011


"That's a lot of heel for a guy, don't you think?"
-- Kitty Softpaws

Puss in Boots is a 2011 animated film directed by Chris Miller that serves as a spinoff for the titular character who gained fame in the Shrek franchise. The film begins with Puss (Antonio Banderas) learning of the existence of magic beans that will lead to an enchanted castle in the sky which houses a Golden Goose that lays golden eggs. Puss has spent his whole life looking for these beans, but after years of fruitless searching, he had given up the quest. Now, however, he is told that two ruffians named Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) are in possession of the beans. When Puss goes to steal them away, he runs into another cat attempting to do the same. After a brief scuffle, he learns that this cat is named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and she is working with an egg named Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), with whom Puss has a storied past. He reluctantly agrees to help them find Jack and Jill, and the trio sets out to find their fame and fortune.

The talk for a Puss in Boots spinoff film has been going pretty steadily since his first appearance in 2004's Shrek 2, so it was only a matter of time until Dreamworks actually took the time to make the film. By waiting until after finishing the Shrek franchise (supposedly), they had the opportunity to distance themselves from the Shrek character while still bringing the nostalgia of having one of that franchise's funnier characters grace the screen in his own light. I was a strong proponent of the idea of a spinoff for Puss, but when I first saw teaser trailers for the film, I started to wonder whether Dreamworks could pull it off. Having bled the Shrek franchise for all it was worth (the first two films both scored 89% approval ratings on Rottentomatoes.com, but the third and fourth scored 41% and 58%, respectively), I was just a tad bit concerned that they'd be able to renew that energy with this film.

Thankfully, Dreamworks was able to deliver a well-made film that's sure to satisfy audiences. To reference Rottentomatoes.com once again, their critical consensus for the film reads the following:
It isn't deep or groundbreaking, but what it lacks in profundity, Puss in Boots more than makes up for with an abundance of wit, visual sparkle, and effervescent charm.
I'd have to say those were my thoughts exactly. It wasn't bringing anything terribly new to the table, but it was intelligent enough to keep me interested throughout its entire run-time. One reason the Shrek franchise proved to be so successful was the fact that it catered to both children and adults, offering a wide range of humor types in order to keep all audiences involved with the story. Puss in Boots follows that same vein, bringing enough slapstick comedy to keep the kiddies occupied while the parents can lean back and enjoy the wit and clever wordplay.

The cast rounds out relatively nicely as well. Banderas brings the same A-game he brought to the character in his first three go-arounds, but it's the supporting cast that helps bring this film to a higher level than the last couple of Shrek flicks. Hayek and Galifianakis share a great rapport with Banderas throughout the film, and the inclusion of Thornton is a pleasant surprise. Oh, and for those of you paying very close attention, we actually get a small vocal performance from Guillermo del Toro. So keep those listening ears on high alert.

Overall, Puss in Boots is a fun film that's good for a chunk of laughs. It's not breaking any barriers or bringing anything terribly new, and at the end of the day, the story is still a tad predictable and easy to figure out. Still, the animation is top-notch and the laughs are plentiful, so just sit back, relax and enjoy this one. Don't try to out-think it; you'll find yourself hating it. Just enjoy it for what it is, and I'd bet you'll have yourself a good time.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Movie Review: CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP

CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP
2011
R


"I'm like Tinkerbell - without applause, I die."
-- Conan O'Brien



Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is a 2011 documentary directed by Rodman Flender that centers around Conan O'Brien's 2010 comedy tour, "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour." The idea came to O'Brien after his highly-publicized departure from NBC after Jay Leno decided he wanted to continue appearing on television as a talk show host. NBC severed ties with O'Brien, prohibiting him from appearing on television for a period of six months. The documentary shows the creation of the tour's show as well as the ups and downs it put Conan through during the 45-show schedule.

I first heard about this film after it hit film festivals and was generally well-received. I didn't have the opportunity to give it a view when it hit theaters earlier this year, but you can now find it on NetFlix Instant Watch. Being a fan of O'Brien, I knew that I had to give this one a gander at one point or another, so it was just a matter of time until I sat down and did just that.

I honestly have some rather mixed feelings about the film. While it's an interesting, in-depth look at the creation of Conan's tour, it just felt a little bit empty and a little bit flat. There didn't seem to be anything truly redeeming about the film. Yes, we get to see a very personal side of a highly-publicized figure in today's society, but there are times where I wasn't quite sure I liked the Conan we got to see. At certain moments, he seems like a man who lets his celebrity and fame get to his head, but he immediately comes back and says that because he's so hard on himself, he has to be hard on the people that work for and with him.

(On a side note, be on the lookout for cameos from the likes of Jack Black, Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Jon Hamm and Jack McBrayer.)

In his review for the Arizona Republic, Billy Goodykoontz wrote the following about the film:
It's hard to feel sorry for a guy who banked millions for not hosting "The Tonight Show" anymore, but it's also fascinating to see a man this compulsively driven to get back in front of people and tell jokes, to hear the laughter, to soak in the applause.
In that sense, I suppose there's something rather interesting to see in Conan O'Brien Can't Stop. We see the sheer determination and will that he drives into his comedy tour. After his nasty NBC break-up, the fan support was overwhelming, and it's nice to see that a man in his position took the time to give back to that support, even if it took a physical and emotional toll on himself. Even if he has his moments where you want to hate him, you can't deny that Conan O'Brien is driven and dedicated. If that's all you get from this documentary, then I'd have to say it's a success. If you're a fan of Conan, this is a must-watch.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

Happy Birthday, Sam Rockwell!

Today we're celebrating the birthday of Sam Rockwell, who turns 43 today. Rockwell made his feature film debut in the 1989 horror film, Clownhouse. He also had a small role in 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Rockwell didn't land larger roles until 1999, however, appearing in both The Green Mile and Galaxy Quest. From there, he's gone on to star in films like Charlie's Angels (2000), Matchstick Men (2003), and Choke (2008). He garnered a lot of strong publicity for his performance in the 2009 sci-fi drama, Moon, and he was most recently seen in 2011's Cowboys & Aliens. You'll next be able to see Rockwell on the big screen in the upcoming comedy, The Sitter, slated for release this December. So, in tribute of his birthday, I've created a list of my five favorite Rockwell performances. I hope you enjoy the videos! Once again, I'd like to wish Sam Rockwell a happy 43rd birthday!


5. Justin Hammer
Iron Man 2 (2010)


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4. Victor Mancini
Choke (2008)


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3. Guy Fleegman
Galaxy Quest (1999)


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2. James Reston, Jr.
Frost/Nixon (2008)


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1. Sam Bell
Moon (2009)