Followers

This Movie Guy Headline Animator

Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Christian Bale!

Today we're celebrating the 38th birthday of Academy Award-winning actor Christian Bale. Bale, who got his acting start in the mid-1980s, landed his first appearances in a theatrically-released film in the 1987 films Mio in the Land of Faraway and Empire of the Sun. From there, he worked relatively consistently throughout the 1990s, appearing in high-profile films like 1994's Little Women, 1996's The Portrait of a Lady and 1999's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It wasn't until 2000 that he made his first big splash in the film American Psycho, which brought him to public attention. He nabbed roles in some smaller independent films before shooting to the A-list with his turn as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's 2005 film, Batman Begins. With his newfound star status, Bale has managed to nab a number of roles since then, including the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight as well as the final chapter in Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, which audiences will be able to see this summer. So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite of Bale's performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've found. Once again, happy birthday, Christian Bale!


5. Dan Evans
3:10 to Yuma (2007)


***

4. Alfred Borden
The Prestige (2006)


***

3. Jack / Pastor John
I'm Not There. (2007)


***

2. Dicky Eklund
The Fighter (2010)


***

1. Patrick Bateman
American Psycho (2000)

Happy Birthday, Gene Hackman!

Today we're celebrating two-time Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman's 82nd birthday. Although he has not appeared in a film since 2004's Welcome to Mooseport, Hackman has had quite the storied acting career. His first film appearance came in an uncredited role in the 1961 film Mad Dog Coll, and he continued to appear in television shows and movies throughout the early 1960s. He made his first credited appearance in a theatrically-released feature film in 1964's Lilith but didn't make a major splash until his role as Buck Barrow in 1967's Bonnie and Clyde, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. He nabbed his first win four years later for his performance in 1971's The French Connection. Hackman worked consistently throughout his career, appearing in such high-profile films as 1978's Superman, 1986's Hoosiers and 1992's Unforgiven (which gave him his second Oscar). So, to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite of Gene's performances. I hope you enjoy the videos I've found. Once again, happy birthday, Gene!


5. Lex Luthor
Superman (1978)


***

4. Harry Zimm
Get Shorty (1995)


***

3. Little Bill Daggett
Unforgiven (1992)


***

2. Blind Man
Young Frankenstein (1974)


***

1. Royal Tenenbaum
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Movie Review: THE IRON LADY

THE IRON LADY
2011
PG-13


"It used to be about trying to do something. Now it's about trying to be someone."
-- Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady is a 2011 drama directed by Phyllida Lloyd that centers around the story of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. As an elderly woman, Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is slowly losing her battle with dementia, and she starts to reminisce about the major events in her life. As a young woman (played by Alexandra Roach), Margaret was led by a series of ideals that propelled her to her start in politics. As time went by, she and her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) determined she should make a run for the office of Prime Minister, a bid that she ultimately won. The story then tells of the major events that took place while she was in office, ultimately leading to the story's present day.

After scoring two Academy Award nominations, I knew I had to give The Iron Lady a viewing. It had been on my radar for quite some time, since it has had quite a bit of buzz since its initial announcement. A lot of the buzz has been centered around Meryl Streep, and it's usually well-deserved when she appears in a film. Seeing as one of this film's Oscar nominations is for Streep's performance, then there must be some truth to the buzz, right?

I'll start with the acting, considering I've started to mention it already. Streep is great as our leading lady, but there never should've been any doubt with that. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, so it's probably safe to say she's one of the front-runners at this year's Academy Awards. Do I think she deserves to win? Perhaps not, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she's terrible. It's a fine role, and she plays it to a tee. The rest of the cast fills out nicely, with some good performances from the likes of Broadbent and Roach, who especially surprised me as the younger version of Streep's character. The rest of the cast is used rather fleetingly, but they're solid in their background roles. Overall, it's a good ensemble cast.

Sadly, I had quite a bit of issue with the film's screenplay, which ultimately mires the film in a bit of a humdrum tone. There's something a little off with the film's storytelling, and it was difficult to stay engaged with the movie as a whole. While the dialogue and the writing seems fine, there really isn't that great of a hook to the film, so from the outset, I just felt like I was on the outside-looking-in rather than having a feeling of being encompassed by the movie. The best films know how to draw their audience into the story and keep them there for the film's entirety, but The Iron Lady never actually sucks the viewer into its story, ultimately making it a bit of a bore to watch. If a film cannot keep its audience engaged, it's going to lose it and lose it quickly. It's just sad to see it happen here, especially when it's already happened with another recent film - the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring J. Edgar.

At the end of the day, The Iron Lady spoils a fine Streep performance by miring itself in a very lackadaisical attitude and tone. Despite tackling a new political figure, the film simply felt unoriginal. I feel as though it mixed a good blend of the aforementioned J. Edgar with films like The King's Speech and The Ides of March. Unfortunately, that particular blend does not play out well on the screen, and despite the cast's best efforts, there just isn't a strong enough screenplay to bring this movie out of the doldrums.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: C+
0.5 Thumbs Down

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Movie Review: THE TREE OF LIFE

THE TREE OF LIFE
2011
PG-13


"Tell us a story from before we can remember"
-- R.L.

The Tree of Life is a 2011 drama directed by Terrence Malick that attempts to offer the meaning of life. On the anniversary of his brother's death, an adult Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) reminisces on his coming-of-age as a young teenager in a Waco, Texas suburb. He remembers what his life was like living with his overbearing and sometimes violent father (Brad Pitt) and his reserved and graceful mother (Jessica Chastain). The young Jack (Hunter McCracken) sees his two very different parents and starts to wonder the kind of person he will ultimately become. The story offers a number of Jack's visions and memories as he recalls the time he lost his youthful innocence and started to become a young man. Interspersed with the story surrounding the O'Brien household are a number of images chronicling the creation of the universe and, more specifically, life on earth.

I first watched The Tree of Life about three weeks ago, and I was so taken aback by the film that I couldn't bring myself to write a review at that time. There were so many thoughts rushing through my mind that I simply could not organize them into a coherent post, so I told myself that I would temporarily forego the review and re-watch the film at a later date. That date was today, my friends, and I think I've pondered long enough about this film. I apologize if this post still proves to be a bit of a rambler, so please bear with me.

I have to start by saying that The Tree of Life is by no means for everyone. Much in the way that the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey is only for a select type of audience, The Tree of Life offers the same type of experience. It's going to cause you to think rather than enjoy, and that's going to turn a lot of viewers away from the film from the start. Instead of bringing an enjoyable piece of entertainment, Malick has offered a more subdued tale that's going to give pause to the audience and force them to think about the meaning of life within the constructs of the images the film is portraying. So, if you're simply looking for a movie to sit back and enjoy, you'll probably want to discontinue reading this review and find something drastically different, like The Adventures of Tintin. And now, for my thoughts about The Tree of Life.

I'd actually like to start with the film's acting because it should prove to be a little more straightforward than the film's screenplay. After watching this film twice, I have to say that I'm shocked that the acting ensemble has not received as much acclaim as it probably deserves. A few critical groups have applauded Chastain, and some have even mentioned Pitt's performance, but for the most part, the film is receiving its accolades as a result of its screenplay and cinematography. I am here to tell you that the acting is just as good, if not better, than the other facets of the film. Chastain, who had a very busy year in 2011, is simply stunning in this one, as are some of the child actors. However, the real cake belongs to Pitt, who turns in one of the finer performances of his career. I think the reason a lot of the acting has been pushed by the wayside is that it is so subtle and subdued that it's not really registering with viewers. And because the film is offering so much more on other levels, it's almost as though the acting in the film is being overshadowed by the film itself. Still, it must be mentioned that our acting ensemble is absolutely terrific.

And now, for the screenplay. I'm going to try to keep this as concise as possible, mostly because I don't want to give away either the events of the film or my own personal thoughts on what it might mean. Essentially, Malick is offering a tale of the meaning of life as told through the eyes of a man remembering his past. There are many potential entry points into the talk of the meaning of life, but The Tree of Life runs with the idea of "nature versus grace." To explain this a little more, I'd like to offer you some of the opening voice-over from the film, as told to us by Chastain's character:
The nuns taught us that there are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of grace. We have to choose which one we'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself - it accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked; it accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, and others to please it too. It likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it, when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who ever loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.
From the very start, we're being told the basis of Malick's idea of the meaning of life, and the rest of the film serves as a way for him to explain and expand on his idea further. By creating a family atmosphere as the film's centerpiece, he has given the audience a number of characters with which to relate and enjoy. Ultimately, this makes the process of understanding Malick's vision all the easier, but then he decides to throw in some existential pieces of beautifully-crafted cinematography that shows us the origins of the universe. I think this is where a lot of the audience will be lost, but if you're able to power through these sequences, I believe that you'll be better off in the long run in relation to understanding this movie.

As I said towards the beginning of this post, The Tree of Life is not a film that everyone should watch. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's going to take a few viewings to start to understand Malick's direction, and from there, you'll have plenty of time to speculate your own theories and ideas. There's no right answer as to what Malick is trying to convey as I think a lot of it is open to your own interpretation. I personally found a very religious tone throughout the movie, but the person next to me could have a completely different experience. The Tree of Life moves from being a motion picture to a true work of art. I'd even go so far as to say that it is cinematic poetry. As time passes, I'm sure I'll watch this one again and again, if only to further my appreciation for it. If you think you'd like to do the same, then give this one a watch.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
1.5 Thumbs Up

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reaction: 84th Academy Awards Nominations

And so, the Academy Award nominations have been announced for the this year's ceremony, which will honor the films released during 2011. As with every year, there were some surprises and some snubs, so I'd like to offer you my personal reaction to the announcement. I'll mostly focus on some of the bigger categories now, but as the actual ceremony approaches - it will be held on February 26, 2012 - I will do a full breakdown on my predictions. I'm going to take the categories one at a time, and I'm only going to talk about the ones that stood out glaringly. I hope you can forgive me for not going terribly in-depth at this point, but seeing as I still have yet to see many of the nominated films, I don't want to give my all-out predictions just yet. So without any further delay, here's my reaction to the 84th Annual Academy Awards nominations. (For a full list of nominees, be sure to check the Internet Movie Database, which has listed them rather nicely.)

-----

Let's start with a little bit of a breakdown. In total, forty-six feature-length films have received nominations for this year's Academy Awards, and fifteen short films have also been nominated. Hugo leads the way with eleven nominations but is followed close behind by The Artist, which nabbed ten of its own. From there, we have a bit of a drop to Moneyball and War Horse, both of which received six nominations.

-----

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
I want to start here for a very simple reason: this category offers the only nomination that Drive managed to receive for this year's awards. After being so brilliantly received, it hasn't managed to scare up much in terms of nominations, but the fact that it only received one is a bit of a shocker.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
This is the source of one of my biggest issues with this year's nominations, if only for the fact that only two songs were actually recognized. One - "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets - has been my favorite of the year since hearing it during the film, but the other - "Real in Rio" from Rio - seems an odd choice. Also, by only nominating two songs, this may be the sparsest selection from which the Academy has ever chosen. If anything, they could have nominated another song from The Muppets seeing as there were so many great ones from which to choose. Maybe the Academy hopes they can cut down on their show length by offering only a couple of live musical performances.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
While I don't have any massive issues with this category's nominees, I think it's worth mention that John Williams will be competing against himself, as his scores for both The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse have been nominated. What's even more interesting is that his scores will be battling the likes of the music from The Artist, Hugo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so there's a slight chance he won't even manage to win.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
For whatever reason, the Academy always seems to do something a little bit odd with this category, and this year is no exception. After winning the Golden Globe in this category, The Adventures of Tintin has not received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. In its stead are two foreign language films - A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita - to duke it out against Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots and Rango. Also missing is the beautifully-crafted Winnie the Pooh or Cars 2, which is still a Pixar film despite its lower-than-average critical response. I honestly don't know what the Academy was thinking here.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
While I don't have any massively overbearing issues with either of the screenplay categories, I honestly thought we might see something here for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Best Achievement in Directing
Terrence Malick nabs a nomination for The Tree of Life. While I somewhat agree with this, I think this nomination tells a lot about where the Academy's head might be right now.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
I almost missed this category as I scrolled down the list because its generally a tad bit humdrum, but something shocking managed to catch my eye: a nomination for Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids. As soon as my heart started to beat again, I had to ask myself why the Academy chose to throw her a bone. Yes, I admit she was rather hilarious in the film, but she is by no means to the level of the other actresses who received nominations. It's almost as though they're trying to make a joke out of it. Why not offer something to Carey Mulligan for Drive? Or Shailene Woodley for The Descendants? Or Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris? It just doesn't make any sense, my friends. If this is just a way to appease Judd Apatow for his comments about how the Academy doesn't really salute comedy, then I might have to give up on the awards.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
I have a couple of issues here. First, does Jonah Hill really deserve a nomination for his piece in Moneyball? Sure, he was good, but was he really 'Academy Award' good? Second, I'm glad to see Nick Nolte pull a nomination for Warrior. I thought he was absolutely brilliant. Third, where is Albert Brooks for his performance in Drive? He's been in the Oscar buzz for months, and now they leave him out? Another massive snub here, folks. Also, we didn't get the much-anticipated nomination for Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, although I personally knew it wasn't going to happen. Still, there'll be a lot of fans crying outrage here.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Rooney Mara gets a nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but the Academy manages to leave both Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet off the list despite their fantastic roles in Carnage. Also, a minor snub goes to Tilda Swinton, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Demián Bichir (A Better Life) are in, Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and Michael Fassbender (Shame) are out. Despite this, I'm not totally surprised by the Academy's decision. Because J. Edgar as a film was rather underwhelming, I can see them not throwing Leo a bone, even if he was very good. And although I've heard plenty of praise for Fassbender in Shame, the fact that the film scored an NC-17 rating didn't bode well for it at all. Still, the Academy should be able to look beyond those lines and give credit where credit is due.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Academy altered their roles concerning the category once again, meaning that we could receive anywhere from five to ten nominees. We ultimately get the following nine to duke it out for 2011 supremacy:

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse
While I can't really argue with most of the nominees, the addition of Extremely Loud does seem a bit more political than the rest, especially considering it hasn't had much momentum coming into today's announcement. The biggest snub here probably has to go to The Ides of March, while scored a Golden Globe nomination in this category.

-----

Having gone through all that, I'd like to list out the biggest winners and biggest losers from the Academy's announcement this morning.

Biggest Winners
The Artist: ten nominations and a Best Picture bid, where it looks to be the front-runner

Bridesmaids: two nominations in major categories for a comedy has to be a success

Demián Bichir: steals a Best Actor nomination

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
: three nominations after securing none at the Golden Globes

Hugo
: eleven nominations, including a Best Picture bid, leads the field

John Williams: nominated twice for Best Original Score

Melissa McCarthy: steals a Best Supporting Actress nomination

The Tree of Life
: three nominations is more than I thought it would get

War Horse
: six nominations including a Best Picture bid is better than most experts were predicting

Biggest Losers
The Adventures of Tintin: one nomination and wasn't recognized for Best Animated Feature

Best Original Song: only two nominees were recognized

Carnage: did not receive any nominations

The Descendants: the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama receives half the nominations of The Artist; this doesn't bode well for its ultimate success

Drive: only one nomination, in a minor category

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: only five nominations, and it wasn't included in the Best Picture short-list

The Ides of March: only one nomination, and it wasn't included in the Best Picture short-list

Leonardo DiCaprio: snubbed for his performance in J. Edgar

Super 8: did not receive any nominations

Winnie the Pooh: did not receive any nominations

-----

And so ends my initial reaction to the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. As the ceremony approaches, I'll make my final Oscar predictions. That should give me enough time to catch up on everything I still haven't seen!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Movie Review: THE DESCENDANTS

THE DESCENDANTS
2011
R


"What is it that makes the women in my life destroy themselves?"
-- Matt King


The Descendants is a 2011 dramatic comedy directed by Alexander Payne that focuses on one man's attempt to bring his life together just as his wife is slowly losing hers. When his wife Elizabeth is seriously injured in a boating accident, lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) finds it his responsibility to inform family and close friends of her imminent death. Always having considered himself to be the "back-up" parent, Matt brings his daughters - Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) - together in order to help him through the process. While all this is happening, Matt is trying to sell a massive portion of land on Kauai that was entrusted to him by his ancestors. To make matters worse, it comes to light that, before the accident, Matt's wife was cheating on him with a local real estate agent named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). In the hopes of coming to terms with all of his emotions, Matt takes his daughters on a statewide search for Speer, all the while handling the constant friction between each member of his family.

When I first heard about this film, I probably thought what a lot of people might have been thinking: it looks to be like a dramatic comedy in the vein of 2002's About Schmidt or 2004's Sideways, both of which Alexander Payne also directed. The film's trailer, which you can view at the end of this post, offers a light-hearted and almost comical preview of the film's events, so it's easy to see where I could've gotten this idea. Suffice it to say, The Descendants actually proves to be a moderately heavy-handed drama, although it does offer a few moments worthy of smiles and chuckles. However, the subject material is just a little too intense to allow this film to be a comedy in any real regard, but to be fair, I think that only aids this film in the long run. Now, after the film snagged two wins at the Golden Globe Awards, there's definitely a lot of buzz around this one.

To start, I'll talk about the film's screenplay. While it offers a rather straight-forward approach, there's something about it that makes it stand above the rest. The characters are fleshed out very well, and there was actually a moment where, with one simple line of dialogue, one of the minor characters was given an entirely new dimension. If a screenplay can do that to a minor character, you can imagine how well-written the leading characters must be. The story itself is one that's going to keep you intrigued and engaged, and while it's not like your typical blockbuster that's going to throw you a slew of twists and turns, there's something rather beautiful about the simplicity of its storytelling. The screenwriters did a fantastic job of adapting their screenplay from Kaui Hart Hemmings's novel of the same name.

I think a lot also has to be said about the acting in the film, which is top-notch, as should be expected. George Clooney is fantastic in the leading role, and he continues a trend that I've noticed in the past few years. Before 2009, most of Clooney's film appearances relied on that oh-so-famous "Clooney swagger," where he always seemed like that larger-than-life individual who could rule the world with just the flick of a wrist. All that started to change in 2009, however, with his Academy Award-nominated performance in Up in the Air. He followed that role with a similar performance in 2010's The American. In both of those films, Clooney allowed a more vulnerable side to come to the forefront, offering a different picture of a man who's bravado has gotten him so far on the Hollywood spectrum. He continues this streak of vulnerability with his performance in The Descendants, and it may just be his best yet. It's soft and (mostly) subtle, and it's truly a treasure to behold.

Luckily, the rest of the cast fills out nicely as well. I can't say enough about the beautiful Shailene Woodley, who holds her own against the acting legend in Clooney. She turns in a fantastic performance as well. Also worth mention is Nick Krause, who offers a lot of the film's more comedic aspects. His character is one who's simply brought along for the ride, but at the end of the day, he actually starts to contribute something to the overall plot. It was a little strange seeing Matthew Lillard in a more dramatic role, even if it's only for a few moments. When I think Matthew Lillard, I think either the 1996 horror-comedy Scream or his role as Shaggy in the live-action Scooby-Doo films, so this was quite a different change of pace. Still, it somehow manages to work. Also be on the lookout for a bit role from Beau Bridges as well as a great, albeit limited, performance from Judy Greer.

Normally with everything I've just said, we could be fairly certain that this film would be worthy of at least a 'B' grade or perhaps even a 'B+.' However, there's something about this film that manages to help put it over the top and onto the next level. It manages its emotions so well, and it's so perfectly intriguing that it's hard not to deny its emotional power. The Descendants simply seems to have that "it" factor going for it, and it's no wonder why it's probably near the top of the Academy's short list when it comes to what films will be nominated for Best Picture this year. Sure, it's meddling with some rather intense subject matter, but the realness of the characters and the story is sure to make a lasting impression on any audience.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Friday, January 20, 2012

Movie Review: THE ARTIST

THE ARTIST
2011
PG-13


"If that's the future, you can have it!"
-- George Valentin

The Artist is a 2011 comedy directed by Michel Hazanavicius that pays homage to the days when "talkies" started to replace the silent films of yesteryear. Silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has enjoyed rampant success as one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s, but as the film studios begin to transition towards talking pictures, he merely sees it as a passing fad and holds steadfast to his silent fame. Around the same time, he meets a young up-and-comer named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), to whom he has an instant attraction. The studio finally decides to scrap all silent films, making Peppy one of their biggest stars in the new talkies; in response, George decides to make his own silent film, which proves to be a dud, sending his career spiraling out of control. As the years start to pass by, George falls further and further into obscurity, where he can only watch as Peppy replaces him as the talk of the town.

Considering this movie is currently receiving all the buzz around Hollywood, I figured I should give it a view at some point or another. It just recently won three of its six nominations at the Golden Globes and can now be considered one of the front-runners for the Academy Award for Best Picture, for which it will most likely earn a nomination. With all of its accolades streaming in at high speed, it was only a matter of time until I almost had to give this one a go. And boy am I glad I did.

I've always been a bit of a sucker for movies about movies. The meta-theatrical aspect to such films has always been quite a draw, and even if they're not well-constructed, I find myself loving them regardless. Take 2011's Hugo, for example. It delves into the very start of the motion picture industry, telling a story of Georges Méliès, who many consider to be the grandfather of film. I fell in love with that movie almost instantly. And now, with The Artist, I have to say that I've been a tad bit won over. We've seen movies about actors and their transition from silent films to talking pictures - here's looking at you, Singin' in the Rain - and The Artist manages to hit that chord and fire on all cylinders.

Where this film distances itself from other films like it is in its screenplay. Whereas other films that deal with this subject generally give the audience something to listen to, The Artist chooses to remain virtually silent for nearly the film's entire duration. We're essentially seeing and feeling the transition through George Valentin's eyes and ears, and because he so adamantly wants to remain in the past and live in his silent world, that's exactly what the audience must do as well. We see the signs of the changing tide, but like the silent films of old, we mostly have to deduce the words and sounds that would be associated with them. I think this was the perfect aesthetic choice for this particular film as it helped accentuate the struggle that the George Valentin character has throughout the story.

At the same time, we're getting a fantastic story to complement that aesthetic choice. We see a man who has reached the peak of his fame. Everyone loves and adores him, and the audiences flock to the theaters to see his each and every film. As the talkies start to make their presence known, however, we get an in-depth look at the pain and suffering that George Valentin feels as he is gradually replaced by Hollywood's new starlet. We want to root for the man, but at the same time, we want to hit him upside the head and tell him to let go of his pride. The film manages to come full circle and offers a fantastic finale that is sure to bring a smile to your face.

I also can't say enough about the acting in the film. Dujardin is simply a marvel throughout the film, offering a near-perfect silent film role. Back in the days of silent films, actors needed to be able to express their actions and emotions in a rather over-the-top manner so that the audience was able to keep up with the character. Without the aid of verbal dialogue, it would have been nearly impossible for an audience to remain engaged with a subdued performance, so the showy actors were always the ones to attain fame. Dujardin successfully achieves this over-the-top persona, and he's able to maintain it throughout the film's entirety, regardless of his character's current mood. We're always certain of what he's thinking and feeling simply by the way Dujardin carries himself on-screen. It's a fabulous performance, to be sure.

Luckily, the rest of the cast fills out nicely as well. Bérénice Bejo is great as the film's key female role and Dujardin's love interest. Also be on the lookout for some rather big-name stars in smaller roles, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Ken Davitian and a cameo from Malcolm McDowell. And I couldn't possibly forget Uggie, the dog who's by George Valentin's side for nearly the entire film. Although I can't classify it as "acting," his presence needs to be noted both for his comedic and caring aspects.

I also thought that the film's musical score, which was composed by Ludovic Bource, helped to set the mood perfectly. It hearkens back to the orchestral compositions of the 1920s silent films, and I found it to be key in crafting and holding the tone of the film.

Overall, I honestly cannot give enough praise to The Artist. It's one of those films that only comes around every once in a while, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for quite some time. It's sure to be an Oscar contender come that time next month, and I have to say that it will probably be vying for the top spot on my own "Best of 2011" awards contenders. If you haven't had a chance to see it just yet, buy into the hype, do yourself a favor and make your way to the closest movie theater. I'm almost positive that you won't be disappointed.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Movie Review: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
2011
R


"The fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain."
-- Martin Vanger

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a 2011 film directed by David Fincher that serves as a remake of the 2010 Swedish film Män som hatar kvinnor, which in turn was an adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's 2005 novel of the same name. After he is sued for allegedly offering incorrect information about a high-level businessman, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is offered the chance to retaliate if he can aid aging patriarch Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) in discovering the details surrounding his niece's disappearance nearly forty years earlier. Mikael has luck in the early stages of his investigation, but as time goes by and fewer and fewer clues surface, he enlists the help of a young hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who happens to be the person who exposed the miscues that led to his being sued. As the two dig deeper into the secrets that lie within the Vanger family history, they find a very convoluted plot that slowly begins to unfold, leading them to a strange and dangerous ending.

When I first heard about the proposed remake of the Swedish adaptations of Larsson's Millennium trilogy, I have to say I was a tad bit worried for a few reasons. First, I wondered whether initiating a remake so quickly after the success of the Swedish films was a good idea. The first of those films was released in Sweden in 2009 and hit the United States in 2010, so U.S. audiences only had to wait another year for an English-language version. While some quick remakes have found success (i.e., 2010's Let Me In, which was a remake of the 2008 Swedish Låt den rätte komma in, or Let the Right One In), I was still a little concerned about the prospects for this particular franchise. Secondly, because of the way the storyline is crafted, I could only think of a few possible directors that could have handled the remake. When it was announced that David Fincher would be taking the helm, some of my worries were silenced, but I still held a little bit of doubt. Ultimately, there wasn't any way I was going to be able to watch this film without comparing it to its Swedish predecessor, so I hope you'll forgive me if this turns into more of a compare-and-contrast piece than a straight-forward review.

There isn't much to say in terms of the film's screenplay that I didn't already say in my review of the Swedish version, which you can read here. I found Steven Zaillian's script to be tightly-written and intriguing, but I did have a few issues that probably serve as nitpicking more than anything else. One of my biggest issues was the fact that, while the film takes place in Sweden, every character happens to speak in English. Normally this wouldn't be much of an issue, but the fact that the filmmakers chose to leave all of the visually-written objects - including signs, posters and car decals - in Swedish threw me a little off. While I'm hearing English being spoken, I'm seeing words in Swedish, and it just took me a little out of the movie. That's not necessarily a good thing for any film, much less one that's throwing you so much information on a consistent basis that you need to be able to keep up.

We are getting a rather good ensemble cast, although I'm not sure it quite measures up to the one from the film it's following. Mara and Craig are fine as our leads, and Mara is getting quite a bit of praise for her performance, but I personally didn't think she came close to being as effective as Noomi Rapace was in her role. I was pleasantly surprised to see Christopher Plummer's turn in this one, even if his role didn't consist of much screen-time. Also be on the lookout for fine performances from the likes of Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård and Joely Richardson, who help fill out the cast list nicely.

At the end of the day, I thought that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did enough to keep me engaged, but I couldn't help but think that it just wasn't quite as good as the original 2010 film. Although it hasn't garnered much success at the box office, both of the series' sequels have received the green-light for production, so be on the watch for Mara and Craig to team up twice more in the next few years. Still, if you are looking to watch this film, I honestly think you should at least give the Swedish adaptation a chance. This one is good, but it's just a half-step behind its predecessor.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: THE DEVIL INSIDE

THE DEVIL INSIDE
2012
R


"Three people are dead. I... killed... them."
-- Maria Rossi

The Devil Inside is a 2012 horror film directed by William Brent Bell that deals with the topic of exorcism. In 1989, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) committed a multiple murder on three members of the clergy as they attempted to perform an exorcism on her. After being committed as criminally insane, she was sent to a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Rome, Italy. Nearly twenty years later, Maria's daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), having only recently learned the details of her mother's arrest, travels to Rome in order to determine whether her mother is mentally ill or is actually possessed. She enlists the help of independent documentary filmmaker Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama) to capture her entire trek. After meeting with her mother, Isabella receives help and guidance from two young exorcists, Father David Keane (Evan Helmuth) and Father Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman). Together, the four try to piece together the issues behind Maria's alleged possession and work towards ridding her of her longtime pain and suffering once and for all.

The exorcism theme in cinema has been prevalent throughout my entire lifetime, but it's only in the past decade or so that it has managed to become a box office staple. As anyone would argue, the 1973 film The Exorcist is the grandfather of the modern-day exorcism films, and it set the standard for what films in the genre should hope to achieve. While The Exorcist spawned a few sequels of its own, other filmmakers have since attempted to take the genre above and beyond what that 1973 movie hoped to reach. It wasn't until the 2000s, however, that audiences became bombarded by a seemingly endless stream of movies in this genre. It has almost reached the point where expecting an film about exorcism has become an annual event (I cite 2010's The Last Exorcism and 2011's The Rite as my evidence). Each subsequent film tries to outdo its predecessor, and The Devil Inside is no different.

Like the aforementioned The Last Exorcism, this film was crafted in the faux documentary format. It proposes itself to be a story of actual events, and the audience is merely watching the found footage that is only now being released to the public. While some films have made this format work in the past - the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project stands out most prominently - I feel as though this particular subgenre has started to wear a little bit thin. For example, online encyclopedia Wikipedia.org tentatively lists that fifteen "found footage" films were released in 2011 alone, whereas only eight were released before the year 2000. Sure, it was once a great way to suck the audiences into a story, but personally, I'm getting a tad bit tired of it all.

To step aside for a moment, I'd like to talk about the acting in The Devil Inside. I personally believe that "found footage" films generally tend to succeed on one particular level, and that's in creating believable characters that seem genuinely real. If you're going to purport that you just happened to land your hands on some juicy old videotapes or allegedly true and real events, you better make sure that your actors don't act like cardboard cut-outs and mannequins. Fortunately, this film does well with its cast, and although there were a couple issues here and there, everyone generally plays their part to a tee. Fernanda Andrade is decent as our lead, but I thought she was a little overshadowed by our two central priests. Helmuth and Quarterman play off one another well and add an interesting interpretation of two young exorcists trying to change the game. The real acting award, however, has to go to Crowley, who manages to steal the show with her portrait of the possessed. This is usually the case in films like this: the actors who play the possessed characters are given the chance to let it all hang out and have no reservations, ultimately crafting the most realistic fits of insanity within a respective film. So I tip my hat to Suzan Crowley for doing just that.

The Devil Inside does offer a slightly interesting plot-line, even if it doesn't offer anything all that different. Like last year's The Rite, this film takes its epicenter to the Vatican, bringing us into the lion's den of exorcism, so to speak. Also somewhat like that film, we're following a couple of young hotshot priests who want to shake up the establishment and perform exorcisms on their own time, no matter how the Church is going to react. There are a few moments where the screenplay seems like its working well, but then you actually get into the thick of the exorcisms themselves, and you see where the filmmakers true intentions lie. Rather than offering a clever or original story, the real appeal of exorcism films in the twenty-first century is their ability to out-shock their predecessors. In the horror genre today, it's all about making your audience gasp and cover their eyes rather than have them settled into a suspense-filled story. It's about making them cringe and jump out of their seats rather than have a movie gnaw at them for days and weeks afterward. In that sense, The Devil Inside does relatively well, offering a couple of cringe-worthy moments, but it's still relatively tame compared to some other exorcism films from the past. I just wish we could've gotten a little more in terms of story to aid the rest of the film.

As a result of the shoddy screenplay, The Devil Inside manages to fail just a bit solely based on the fact that it proved to be just a little too boring. The humdrum nature doesn't allow the audience to remain engaged with the story, and although there are a few moments where you'll want to be hooked, you're ultimately going to forget about this one relatively quickly after the end credits roll. One of the reasons The Exorcist has become such an iconic film is the lasting power of some of the images from the film. The Devil Inside doesn't begin to come close.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: D-
1 Thumb Down

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jim Carrey!

Today we're celebrating the 50th birthday of A-list funnyman Jim Carrey. Carrey has enjoyed a successful comedic career that has included by film and television. He first came to prominent national attention after appearing on the TV show "In Living Color" for over ten years, but it was his film career that truly elevated him to superstar status. His first smash hit came with his two Ace Ventura films in 1994 (Pet Detective) and 1995 (When Nature Calls), and audiences were hooked. He appeared in a slew of comedy and dramatic comedy films throughout the 1990s, including such big-time fare as 1994's Dumb & Dumber, 1997's Liar Liar and 1998's The Truman Show. He has worked consistently throughout his career, and although he made a name for himself in comedy, he has tried out some more dramatic roles as well. For example, take a look at his performances in 2001's The Majestic, 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 2007's The Number 23. While he hasn't received as rave of reviews for his dramatic portrayals, I personally have found them to be nearly as good as his comedic counterparts. Most recently, audiences have seen Mr. Carrey in the 2011 comedy Mr. Popper's Penguins, and it won't be until 2013 until we see him again in the comedy Burt Wonderstone. So to celebrate his birthday, I've listed my five favorite of Carrey's performances. I hope you enjoy the videos. Once again, happy birthday Jim Carrey!


5. Bruce Nolan
Bruce Almighty (2003)


*****

4. Truman Burbank
The Truman Show (1998)


*****

3. Grinch
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)


*****

2. Joel Barish
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)


*****

1. Ace Ventura
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) / Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)

Movie Review: THE SITTER

THE SITTER
2011
R


"Keep it in control, baby. Tears, no fears, man."
-- Noah Griffith


The Sitter is a 2011 comedy directed by David Gordon Green that offers a story of an inexperienced babysitter as he attempts to make it through one night with three upper-class kids. When his mom's friend desperately needs a babysitter, Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill) reluctantly agrees to watch the family's three children: the fearful Slater (Max Records), the wannabe celebrity Blithe (Landry Bender), and the adopted Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez). Hoping for an easy night in, Noah is soon contacted by his alleged girlfriend Marisa (Ari Graynor), who is hoping that he can score her some drugs then find her at a party in New York City. Propelled by the hope for physical relations, Noah decides to take the kids on his trek to drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell). As one can imagine, everything happens to go wrong, and Noah soon finds himself fighting not only for his life but for the lives of the three kids he's vowed to keep safe.

If you feel like you've heard this story before, don't worry - you'd probably be right. The Sitter almost feels like a mash-up of a babysitting movie and 2007's Superbad, but it doesn't necessarily offer the same level of comedy. From the moment the film started, it all seemed a little bit cheap. The humor was a little bit off, and although there were a few chuckles here and there, I never actually laughed during any point of the film.

The biggest issue with The Sitter has to be its screenplay. Sure, we get quite a few twists and turns throughout the storyline, but there really isn't anything all that new. It's almost as though the screenwriters chose to go with as rote a story as possible, hoping that the actors themselves would be able to give the film a little bit of life. Unfortunately, most of the leading adult characters - Hill's, Graynor's and Rockwell's, to be specific - are not that well-written, and I was left scratching my head at how they could have possibly decided to give this movie a go. And so, with a predictable storyline and so-so dialogue between the characters, we're just not getting a strong written component to this film.

That's not to say that the cast doesn't do its best to try and make ends meet. Jonah Hill brings his standard performance, all the way down to his near-trademark shake of the head followed by the wide-eyed stare. I feel like I've seen this character so many times since Hill made his big splash in the aforementioned Superbad that I've grown just a tad bit weary of it. Directors continue to come back to him, but until he can prove to me that he has a little bit of range (which he ever-so-slightly showed in 2011's Moneyball), I'm going to be a little bit wary of his performances. Graynor and Rockwell start out well, but their characters ultimately prove annoying about halfway through the film; however, I blame this on the screenplay rather than the acting. There's only so much that an actor can do when a screenplay is this poor. I did think that our child actors did a decent job. Max Records, who some of you may remember from 2009's Where the Wild Things Are, gives a strong performance as a young teen coming to terms with his personality, and Landry Bender offers most of the films stronger bits of comedy. That being said, however, there's still not a lot going on in terms of the acting performances.

Overall, The Sitter is probably a movie that you should avoid unless you can somehow watch it for free. If you're a fan of Jonah Hill, this'll be right up your alley, but even then, it's by no means one of his better films. As I said before, The Sitter offered me a couple of chuckles here and there, but there was no point where I actually felt the need to laugh. That's not a good sign for a film attempting to be a comedy.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: D-
1.5 Thumbs Down

Friday, January 13, 2012

Movie Review: CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS
2011
G


"It is as if the modern human soul awakened here."
-- Werner Herzog

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 2011 documentary directed and narrated by Werner Herzog that literally explores the Chauvet Cave located in France. The cave is thought to house the oldest known human cave paintings, and as a result, it has essentially become a sealed-off tomb that is only explored once a year for a period of only a few weeks. Herzog and his production team were given special access to film inside the cave, both with and without the scientists studying inside. The final result is a film that shows spectacular beauty from inside the cave and that offers a slew of information regarding a series of hypotheses as to the creation of these drawings.

While I have always been familiar with the Herzog name, I'm not sure I've ever seen one of his films, much less one of his documentaries. When the term "Herzog documentary" ever came to mind, I would always immediately recall his 2005 venture, Grizzly Man. However, after learning that Cave of Forgotten Dreams had started to garner some critical success - it currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com - I figured I should give it a view as it was readily accessible.

What transpired was a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I was fascinated by the images being portrayed on-screen and the story of what may or may not have happened inside the cave, I was a little put-off by the film's overall tone. There was an aura of unrelenting authority and a bit of a pompous nature in Herzog's narration, and that alone kept me from being able to maintain any real interest in the film's "storyline." Even though the quality of information brought forth by the interviewees was relevant and interesting, I was always a little disappointed to hear Herzog start his narration once again. Rather than letting the experts convey the information, he often felt the need to offer his own insight; while this is normally fine, his insights either made little to no sense or simply reiterated what someone else had already said. It got to be a little bit annoying after a while, and it took me out of the film.

Despite my reservations about the film, however, there is still some beautiful cinematography to behold. Considering most people will never have the opportunity to enter this cave, this is our one chance to take a look inside and see what the origins of human existence, as well as the human soul, may have held. That in an of itself makes this an interesting film to watch, but I only caution that you beware the film's overall narration, which muddied it all a little too much for my liking.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: C
Thumbs Sideways

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie Review: BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY

BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY
2011
PG


"When I was nine years old, it was just a dream that I had: 'Wow, I wish that I could work with the Muppets.'"
-- Kevin Clash


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is a 2011 documentary directed by Constance Marks and Philip Shane and is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. It tells the story of Kevin Clash, who is most famous for bringing the Sesame Street character Elmo to life. The film follows Clash's life story, telling of how he grew up wanting to work with puppetry similar to the Muppet style. From a small-time television show to hitting the big-time with Henson Studios in New York City, the documentary chronicles Clash's journey from a young man with a desire to bring a smile to a child's face to a grown man who has never lost that initial ideal.

I first heard about this film after a dear friend mentioned it to me, and since then, I've been trying to find a way to watch it. I grew up watching Sesame Street, and although I don't necessarily remember having a huge draw towards Elmo - my favorite character was always Grover - the nostalgia of the character was enough to draw me to this film. I was curious to see the story of the man that helped make Elmo into an international icon, and boy does this film do just that.

The storyline tells of a Kevin Clash who was born into a slightly impoverished area of Baltimore, Maryland who, as a child, was immediately drawn to some of the older puppet-oriented television shows. Always a fan of Jim Henson, whom he considered his idol, Kevin strived to work for him one day. As his local celebrity grew, his name began to reach the farthest corners of the puppeteering world, and he eventually found work with Kermit Love, Henson's chief Muppet designer. From there, the rest is history. Part of the film's overall effectiveness is Kevin's journey itself. From his childhood, he knew how he wanted to spend his life, and he did everything that he possibly could to assure that his lifelong goal would be achieved. The screenplay offers the full range of emotional spectrum, as we can laugh and smile along with Kevin's triumphs but also cry and feel his pain when his over-the-top work ethic impinges on his personal life. In a way, it's the story of any great artist who is seemingly married to his work: his personal relationships may fall by the wayside a little bit, and in a sense, their success is a double-edged sword. At the same time, we're also getting a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Muppets, which is sure to appease some sections of this film's audience.

The quality of interviewees is fantastic, and it's all centered around Clash himself. He's an incredibly charismatic man, but his real-life persona about as opposite from Elmo as you can get. That doesn't mean, however, that his efforts to bring smiles to children is any different, and you can tell that there's a huge part of Kevin inside Elmo. It's refreshing to see a documentary centered around such an undeniably good human being. While you can be on the lookout for big-time celebrity cameos (in archive footage) as well as plenty of footage of the late Henson and Love, this is truly Clash's vehicle, and it should be treated as such.

Ultimately, Being Elmo is a feel-good movie that you'd be hard-pressed not to enjoy. Because Sesame Street is such an encompassing television show, I'm sure most - if not all - of you have seen it or grew up watching it just like I did. To get a behind-the-scenes look at arguably the most prominent and famous of today's Sesame Street characters is fantastic, but to get the story of the man behind that character is all the more amazing. Truly a feel good film that should be enjoyed by one and all.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movie Review: WAR HORSE

WAR HORSE
2011
PG-13


"Can you imagine flying over a war, and you know that you can never look down? You have to look forward, or you'll never get home."
-- Grandfather


War Horse is a 2011 dramatic war film directed by Steven Spielberg that serves as an adaptation of the 2007 stage play of the same name, which in turn was adapted from a 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo. When his father drunkenly purchases a beautiful thoroughbred horse in the hopes that it will plow his fields, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) defies expectations and trains the horse, which he names Joey, to do just that. Despite his success, a spot of bad luck forces Albert's father to sell Joey to the army when England goes to war against Germany. The horse is placed into the care of Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who takes Joey into the very front of the war against the Germans. From this moment, an incredible adventure begins, with Joey first fighting with the English then with the Germans. At the same time, however, Albert has made it his solemn vow to find Joey and bring him home, no matter the lengths it may take.

(Note: While the above plot synopsis is a tad bit sparse, I think I've conveyed the basic story outline of the film without giving away too many of the plot details. I'd rather not engage in spoilers more than I must in order to craft this review successfully.)

The first thing you're going to notice about War Horse is the beauty of its cinematography. In the film's opening scenes, we're placed in a beautiful English countryside as we (slightly) witness the birth of Joey and the start of Albert's fascination with him. From there, we're gradually taken into the depths of wartime efforts, an area in which we know Spielberg is well-versed (see: 1998's Saving Private Ryan). As the film trudges onward, the cinematography and set pieces become gloomier and gloomier, and the visual aspect of the film helps to create and enhance the mood that the audience should be feeling. It's rare that the visual aspect of a film will affect me so deeply, but with Spielberg at the helm, I should have known we'd be in for such a spectacle.

Fortunately, the rest of the film corrals around this beautiful central aspect and complements it rather well. In terms of creating the mood, I'd have to say that composer John Williams did a stunning job with the movie's score. This is the second Williams-scored film I've reviewed in the past few days - the first was the also-Spielberg-directed The Adventures of Tintin - and of the two, I'd have to say that this one feels more like a Williams score. It's sweeping and truly interpretive of the grandness of this film, and it aids the cinematography in creating the film's overall atmosphere. Here's a little snippet of the opening title sequence, for your listening pleasure:



While it is those two cinematic devices that work most effectively throughout the film, there's still quite a bit to say about the most pressing issues: the screenplay and the acting. Let's start with our storyline, shall we? In a sense, it's a very straightforward story. The audience is essentially following Joey from one locale to the next, seeing his plight as he traverses the European countryside in the midst of the horrors of war. In a way, the film is split into a series of vignettes. As Joey makes his way from one caretaker to the next, the tone of the film shifts as well. As a story, it's a little bit complacent and sappy at times, but I can see where an individual could find an emotional connection. There were moments where I was truly terrified for Joey and his well-being, so in that, I have to say that the film succeeded in crafting an emotional bridge. At the end of the day, however, the sentimental nature of the film was just a tad too much for my personal liking. It just seemed a little too over-the-top and gentle. Then again, knowing that this was based off a children's story might add a little bit of perspective to that insight.

The acting in the film is solid, if not all that spectacular. Jeremy Irvine does well as our film's lead, and his bonding with the horse that played Joey seems terribly genuine, and they work well together on-screen. There are some rather recognizable faces hidden in the swarming ensemble here, and yet, there isn't one particular character who stands above the rest, save for perhaps the Grandfather (played by Niels Arestrup) whom I quoted at the start of this review. Be on the watch for the following appearances in the film:

Peter Mullan as Ted Narracott, Albert's father
David Thewlis as Lyons, the landlord
Benedict Cumberbatch as Major Jamie Stewart, Captain Nicholls's commanding officer
Celine Buckens as Emilie, the Grandfather's granddaughter
David Kross as Gunther, a German soldier
Eddie Marsan as Sgt. Fry, an English soldier


At the end of the day, however, War Horse didn't particularly land that emotional punch that I so expected it to give. Nearly all the positive reviews I've read on the film have mentioned that the film pulls at the heartstrings, but aside from a few fleeting moments, there just didn't seem to be that much depth to the film. That doesn't mean that I found it to be terrible; on the contrary, I thought it was a well-constructed and beautifully-shot cinematic adventure. I only fear that the memory of the film will be as fleeting as the moments of emotion I was able to enjoy during my watching of this movie.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Movie Review: PROJECT NIM

PROJECT NIM
2011
PG-13


"The fact that we could share language with an animal seemed very radical at that time."
-- Stephanie LaFarge


Project Nim is a 2011 documentary directed by James Marsh that centers around the life of a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky. After he was taken from his mother's arms only weeks after his birth, Nim was placed into a prolonged experiment called "Project Nim" that was headed by a Columbia University linguistics professor named Herbert 'Herb' Terrace. Herb asked Stephanie LaFarge, one of his graduate students, to take Nim into her family's home in order to raise him as though he were a human. She agreed, and she and her family started to raise Nim and teach him to communicate through sign language. After a while, however, Herb believed that Nim's learning should not take place in such a chaotic environment, so he enlisted the help of several of his students to teach Nim at a solitary mansion that Herb was able to rent. As Nim grew older and larger, his attacks against the teachers became more and more frequent, forcing Herb to end his experiment. He returned Nim to a chimp sanctuary in Oklahoma, but he was soon to a medical testing lab in New York before being rescued by a Texas farm that harbors abused and abandoned animals.

To be brutally honest, I had not heard of this film before doing some in-depth research into the 2011 movies I had happened to miss over the past year. I learned that Project Nim was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year, earning a 98% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, where it received the following critical synopsis:
Equal parts hilarious, poignant, and heartbreaking, Project Nim not only tells a compelling story masterfully, but also raises the flag on the darker side of human nature.
While I can see where most critics would have gotten this idea, I personally can't quite attest to the film's power.

Although the story the film tells is one that is truly heartbreaking, it would prove to be equally powerful no matter the medium. If you read this story in a newspaper article, it just might have the same impact as this particular film. Sure, the images and videos of Nim himself are enough to make you want to fall in love with him, but the way the story is told doesn't really offer a one-sided, "let's-all-love-Nim" bit of storytelling. It tells of his good times: how he learns to sign, how he bonds with his teachers, how he loves to hold cats, etc. But it also tells of his bad times: how he dislikes the men around him, how he "begs" rather than communicates, how he attacks his teachers, etc. While the film goes out of its way to show the loving and cute side of Nim, it works just as well to instill a little bit of fear around this wild animal that the students at Columbia University tried to teach. I'm not sure that's really the image the filmmakers wanted to get across, but it's part of the image that's lasting in my head as I write this review.

One of the biggest make-or-breaks for a documentary is the effectiveness of the people who are interviewed for the film. Most of the interviewees in Project Nim proved to be at least moderately entertaining, and I don't just mean "fun" or "likable," although most of them surely fit that bill as well. When I look at an interviewee in a documentary, I'm looking to see how well they can convey their side of the story and whether they are able to grab and hold my attention. In the past, there have been some movies that just weren't able to do that (see: 2007's What Would Jesus Buy? or 2010's Kimjongilia), but for the most part, these guys did well. Be on the watch for the segments with Bob Ingersoll, a man who seemingly had the most passion and love for Nim during his lifetime.

Overall, Project Nim is a solid, straightforward documentary that tells its story and lets its audience experience it as it moves along. An individual's personal viewpoint towards animals - especially chimpanzees in particular - is going to determine how much they are affected emotionally by this piece. I for one thought that the film inadvertently showed a side of Nim that they may not have wanted to show, and as a result, it lost a little bit of its emotional power. That being said, this is still a great film that's worth giving a watch if you have the time to do so.



Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1 Thumb Up