Thursday, December 27, 2012

DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django Unchained

Directed & Written
by
Quentin Tarantino



     No other filmmaker working today is a genre to himself like Quentin Tarantino. When he has an upcoming film, if your are an intense fan and admirer like myself, you know what kind of film your going to get. The exciting part is that its going to be provocative, gruesome and full of stark humor, but how each one of these elements adhere to the story and how they play out brings about that excitement. Quentin Tarantino's latest feature Django Unchained is no exception at all. Tarantino has crafted a film that is rich in characters and gritty, and bloody, in its presentation.
     In Tarantino's 2009 World War II semi-action, brotherhood revenge flick Inglourious Basterds, the film was saturated with long set pieces and delicate dialogue, but in this viewers eyes felt too talky, which I usually like, and too cartoonish for me to fall full in love with. Its not that I didn't like parts of Inglourious Basterds, the opening scene was gorgeously shot, expertly written and a fascinating introduction to Christoph Waltz's sinister Nazi Hans Landa, but overall I just couldn't get past the boredom of the dialogue (card/bar scene) and annoyance of Brad Pitt and Eli Roth's horrible accents. It was self-indulgent, over talked nonsense. It didn't envelope me like all of Tarantino's past films, which I've seen multiple times and loved everyone of them. In Django Unchained, I feel Tarantino is back with the wit, discipline and charisma that makes him a filmmaker that defies justifiable definition. 
     The film follows bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and a slave he has freed Django (Jamie Foxx) two years before the onset of the Civil War. Schultz teaches Django the ways of being a bounty hunter and with his help, will lead Django to Mississippi to free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film contains boundless imagination and B-movie, spaghetti western references, but also intense and brutal violence during one of the darkest periods in the history of the United States of America.


     I knew I was in for a treat during the opening scene when Schultz's character runs into a group of slaves being led by two white men(James Remar and James Russo), on a cold night somewhere in Texas. Schultz appears driving a wagon with a large tooth springing around on the top of it and speaks in that perfected, Tarantino-world dialogue. The humor was there against disgust and brutality of these slaves, in shackles and with what looks like a potato sack for clothing in the frigid weather. Pure film magic with contrast of hate and despair, and the humor and preciseness of Schultz's high intellect and delivery of his lines.
     The first half of Django Unchained is some of the finest written and funniest filmmaking of Tarantino's career. Waltz is absolutely fantastic as the former dentist Schultz. He delivers Tarantino's lines has if he was born to act for him. The intellect shown through the performance by Waltz gives the film strength, comedy and, being that Schultz is against slavery, a character that can feel and bring support to the pain that Django goes through. He is a fine actor to begin with, but he just has the knack and humor to be perfect for the role of this bounty hunter and steals the movie. Foxx is good as Django, but doesn't have as many lines as Waltz. Its OK. He has a one track mind and all his intent is on doing whatever he can to get back and rescue his wife. His character is fleshed out as the movie goes on and the bloodbath he delivers on Calvin Candie's plantation "Candyland" is his retribution for the agony of his wife being mistreated and beaten, as well as himself being a slave. Django is that one out of ten thousand and he seeks out his revenge without any hesitation.
     The violence, hate and distaste that comes during the second half of the film brings the violent terror of slavery and how it affected these married individuals and African Americans in the Deep South to horrifying light. The hardest part of the film is the abuse and mistreatment of slaves and how they suffer. The scenes where Django, Broomhilda and other slaves are being beaten, forced to fight and ripped apart by dogs is truly appalling. I believe Tarantino shows the violence against African American slaves to not only exhibit what it was like for African Americans to live during slavery, but also to show the cruelty of white hate and supremacy. This all makes the final battle scene(s), where Django goes for his revenge and to rescue Broomhilda all the more satisfying. It also shows his love of the spaghetti western where the hero goes through hell and a journey to achieve his goal. 
     The minor problem with the film is that all the momentum going through the first half of the film slows down once we get to Candyland. I felt stuck on this plantation, knowing this is where the film would end, but he needed more movement and surroundings. The pace dampered while the hate and vitriol intensified. A scene where Django is captured and is going to be transferred to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company and put back into slavery felt like it dragged and needed to be swift and not as long. Although these minor pacing issues and too talky of moments on Candyland, the film is a blast and is a B-movie, spaghetti western, genre influenced joy of cartoonish, Quentin Tarantino cinema.


     The acting is in high form, as always with a Tarantino film. DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as the evil, twisted plantation owner Calvin Candie. He is sophisticated, being called Monsieur Candie and an avid francophile, but deep down he is a degenerative human being who is all about the appearance of being sincere, while honestly being inhumane and detestable. It was great to see DiCaprio show his range and travel into the depths of a truly villainous character. Another performance that is worth noting is Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson as the house slave Stephen. He is Candie's right hand man and Jackson brings to life a loud, foul mouthed, atrocious character of his own. He has excepted his place in this world and has turned to a distasteful human being himself. And without forgetting, Don Johnson gives a wonderful performance as another plantation owner Big Daddy. He is right on point with this character and is also in probably the funniest scene in the film, but I'll let everyone watch to find out which one it is. Hilarious.
     The production design is perfect from J. Michael Riva and the slick, beautiful lensing from cinematographer Robert Richardson is in usual lush perfection. There are gorgeous wide angle vista shots of the landscape and the fight scene is shot with an assured hand. And you can't talk about a Tarantino film without the appreciation of his use of music. With new songs from Rick Ross and John Legend, as well as spaghetti western legend Ennio Morricone's contributions, he knows when to use, when to place and when it should be used for humor and drama. Always the right place at the right time. The beginning of the film starts with the original title song from the spaghetti western that loosely influenced this film, Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966). We also get a cameo from that films lead actor Franco Nero in the film.
     I believe Tarantino has taken a turn for the better with his last two films. He has gone from the crime and gangster films of Los Angeles with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, to pure cinematic exploitation-action with the Kill Bill films and Death Proof (great car chase), to now going into terrible times in human history with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. He is showing he is not afraid to make films that shed a light on serious, traumatic times in history, but add a sense of humor and cinematic pleasure to them. I think all of these films revel in Tarantino's love of foreign, blaxploitation, spaghetti western, horror, samurai/martial arts and all things B-movie lore and history. He has brought life to these genres by creating works of great appreciation and full on crazed pieces of film. His films are pure cinematic joy and entertainment. They can be taken seriously, but I believe he is a master craftsmen and a filmmaker that truly loves and understands all ranges of film and film history.
     Quentin Tarantino writes and makes films that seek out unlawful justice for those cheated and abused. He is not afraid to test any boundaries and with this film, and Inglourious Basterds, he has gone into an almost revisionist style of storytelling revolving around terrible times in human history. All in all, its pure entertainment with revisionist historical twist that shines an unflinching light on a troubling period with sweet revenge. Tarantino is not adverse to showing the violent side of human nature, even if it is for pure cinematic expression and he doesn't hold back in Django Unchained. It is easy to laugh at scenes during this film and then feel uncomfortable and cringe at other scenes of torture, abuse and the complete vile treatment of African Americans during slavery. But, once again, this is Tarantino-world movie magic. The most sinister and detestable of characters and actions can be turned into cinematic pleasure when the good guys comes out on top, at least in Tarantino's vision. The movie boils down to a man trying to rescue and get back to his wife, and its great. Especially in the bloody, orchestrated madness of Tarantino's Django Unchained.

Movie Trailers: KILL BILL

    Damn. With all the Christmas festivities I believe I forgot to post my last film trailer for the month and year. In concluding with the films of this month's theme Quentin Tarantino, I have to present one, well two, of my favorite films:  Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. A combination of Tarantino's love of martial arts and samurai pictures, and spaghetti westerns. These films are pure cinematic joy. The films are broken down into ten chapters about the revenge and "badassness" of The Bride (Uma Thurman). These films flow brilliantly, violently and contain some of the best use of music ever. Tarantino is a man who is in love with film and shows it with his appreciation of lesser glorified genres and actors. I love these two films and show a filmmaker expressing his talent and knowledge. Enjoy the trailers!

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 2

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Most Anticipated Films of 2013

     2012 has been a really good year for film. I still have a few films to see, mainly Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Amour and a few more, but have to wait for them to be released. I will get to a place where I can get to advanced screenings of upcoming films. Ambition runs deep. I'm already looking forward to next year. I'm patiently waiting and excited to see Alfonso Cuaron's new film Gravity, being an avid fan of his previous films, especially Children of Men. Also can't wait to see the Coen Brothers new picture Inside Llewyn Davis and Darren Aronofsky's new visual feast Noah, but that will get released in March of 2014. There will be new films coming out the Sundance, Berlin and Cannes film festivals so I've compiled a tentative list of films I'm anticipating for next year. Here it is.
  1. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
  4. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
  5. The Grandmaster (Kar-wai Wong)
  6. The World's End (Edgar Wright)
  7. The Monuments Men (George Clooney)
  8. I'm So Excited (Pedro Almodovar)
  9. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
  10. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
  11. Twelve Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
  12. The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance)
  13. Stoker (Chan-wook Park)
  14. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
  15. Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass)
  16. Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
  17. Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro)
  18. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)
  19. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
  20. Her (Spike Jonze)
  21. To The Wonder (Terrence Malick)
  22. Trance (Danny Boyle)
  23. The Counselor (Ridley Scott)
  24. No (Pablo Larrain)
  25. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

AUSTIN FILM CRITICS AWARDS

     It's the end of the year and it seems like every group, association and city has a film awards for this year. I've mentioned, in earlier posts, some critics group winners from New York, Los Angeles, NBR and Boston. I have to mention one more. My own city of Austin, Texas, great film town, and there list of winners and top ten films. More love for what appears to be the critics darling Zero Dark Thirty. I can't wait to see that film, especially with how much I admired Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's The Hurt Locker. Great storytelling, suspense and the feel of a real life news type film. And Holy Motors for Best Foreign Language Film, well deserved! Here is a list of the Austin Film Critics best of 2012.

BEST FILM:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  Paul Thomas Anderson, THE MASTER
BEST ACTOR:  Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER
BEST ACTRESS:  Jennifer Lawrence, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Christoph Waltz, DJANGO UNCHAINED
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Rian Johnson, LOOPER
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Chris Terrio, ARGO
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Mihai Malaimare, Jr., THE MASTER
BEST SCORE:  Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, & Tom Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  HOLY MOTORS !!!!!!!
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  THE IMPOSTER
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  WRECK-IT RALPH
BEST FIRST FILM:  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST:  Quvenzhane Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
BEST AUSTIN FILM:  BERNIE !!!!!!!
SPECIAL HONORARY AWARD:  Matthew McConaughey 

TOP TEN FILMS:
  1. ZERO DARK THIRTY
  2. ARGO
  3. MOONRISE KINGDOM
  4. DJANGO UNCHAINED
  5. CLOUD ATLAS 
  6. HOLY MOTORS
  7. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
  8. THE MASTER
  9. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
  10. LOOPER

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Movie Trailer: JACKIE BROWN

In the third Quentin Tarantino trailer this month, I've got the man's third film, Jackie Brown. A good film that was based on the novel "Rum Punch" by Elmore Leonard. The best part about the film is these two outstanding performances by Pam Grier and Robert Forster. They are throwbacks from the 70s and represent the cult films that Tarantino loves and are knockouts in this film. It's an adaptation, so the film isn't as outstanding as the rest of Tarantino's films, probably because his original stuff just feels like a filmmaker that would die for his work and this one is good, but not great like the rest of his filmography. That's not to say I don't love it. Here is the trailer.


Movie Trailer: Terrence Malick's TO THE WONDER

Terrence Malick is a very inspirational and philosophical filmmaker. I've been a fan of all five of his feature length films. His movies are spiritual and assuredly show the importance of nature and our place in it. He is also a reclusive director who edits his films extensively. His films are moving and mysterious. I look forward to his upcoming film To The Wonder and here is a trailer for the film.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

HOLY MOTORS

Holy Motors

Directed & Written 
by 
Leos Carax



     There are films that challenge us, make us laugh and make us say what the fuck. That is Leos Carax's Holy Motors. This film is exciting, bewildering, innovative and emotional. Oh yeah, and its bat shit crazy in a wonderful, confusing, electrifying way. There are films that are shot with subtle brilliance, performances that give you an intense appreciation of how talented actors are and the raw satisfaction that there are filmmakers that have a vivid, insanely creative imagination and ability to craft a story. This is one of those films. Maybe its part David Lynch and maybe its part Luis Bunuel, but it is definitely all Leos Carax. Holy Motors is an experience. A pure graphic joy of what cinema is and what cinema can be. Not to mention, another realization of how foreign and European cinema is still leaps and bounds ahead of American cinema.
     Leos Carax's film follows Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is chauffeured around Paris over the course of one night by Celine (Edith Scob) for a series "appointments." That is pretty much the easiest thing there is to understand and explain about the film. Monsieur Oscar is a chameleon. He is romantic, graphic, a physical beast and an aroused green suited individual, if one can say that. He defines a person that is everything and nothing at all. He can act out and become anybody through his travels, but at the same time always comes back to look at himself with sorrow and lust. Lust for the characters he embodies throughout the film and the toll it puts him through. Holy Motors is a film that contains so many different genre references and so little answers. Its a romantic comedy, dirty musical, crime thriller and family drama. That is one of its pleasures. It does not explain to you what is going on and leaves the answers to the viewers own interpretations. I like that in movies. I like that in this movie.
     The film opens with a man (the director himself) in a Paris hotel room looking for a way out. As he searches the walls for a possible doorway, he finds a knob like structure and his index finger turns into what appears to be a key that allows the man to break through a section of the door. He enters a balcony at a movie theater where the audience is staring at the screen with no movement, complete stillness. We see a baby walking down one aisle and a large dog on the other. What does it mean? It is an overture of some design and I believe lets the audience know they are in for a cinematic experience. It explains, possibly, what an audience should be like in the cinema as well. The film should have the audiences undivided attention and respect. Pure cinema, in its rawest, most creative form. I don't believe Jean-Luc Godard would say cinema is dead after Leos Carax's effort. There are no boundaries in this film and with this opening selection, we set out on a dreamlike, crazy journey with Monsieur Oscar.


     The film goes on in a continuous set of vignettes, that see Oscar turn himself into a murderer, a dancer, a father, a husband, a dying man and the aforementioned green suited, leprechaun like figure, amongst other impersonations. In one scene, Eva Mendes plays a model, named Kay M, who is being photographed in the cemetery, while this figure approaches her, eating flowers off tombstones with website addresses on them. He is a gnarled man, with long yellowish, dark fingernails, a blind right eye and thinning red hair. He walks with speed and frightens the sightseers. The photographer sees him and wants to photograph him and sees the correlation of a beauty and the beast type symbolism between the green suited man and the emotionless model. It views our appreciation of beauty and ugly with a grotesque honesty and calls into question what defines these classifications. As an assistant approaches him he bites her fingers off and kidnaps the model, dragging her into the Paris sewers. He dresses her differently and unclothes himself. He lays down beside her, covering himself in flower petals while having a large erection. Wild!
      The audience laughed during most of this scene and that is the madness of this picture. Oscar is so invested in these impersonations he crafts, and the scenes or edited and filmed with such ease that where something as gross and heinous as woman getting her fingers bitten off, is laughed at. It really is about how the brilliant Denis Lavant takes the role of Oscar and all his different characters and brings vibrancy, heart, soul and an unfiltered edge to these characters. He is completely fearless in his portrayal of these persona's. I really enjoyed Daniel Day-Lewis' reserved, honest acting in Lincoln and loved Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, but this is the best performance I have seen all year. Lavant is a revelation. In a film that blurries these lines between funny and serious drama, his performance carries the film jaggedly along. As well is the great Edith Scob. She is passionate and drives Oscar through the streets of Paris giving support, advice and a level of discipline. She is magnificent.


     The film is an interpretation, indictment and declaration of life and all its miseries. Its about love, loss, marriage, disappointment and the beauty of life. Its a riot and contains an intermission with an ecstatic, rousing street musical scene that is led by Oscar, with other musicians playing accordions, drums and guitars, through Paris, that is an enjoyable break from the madness. I did not find myself bored or uninterested one bit. It is confusing. Is there a God-like figure controlling Oscar and the other characters in the movie that do inherit and act out as other characters the same way Oscar does. The end of the film we see a long line of limos that go to a plant that has HOLY MOTORS in neon green lights. Why is this Oscar's job? What is the meaning of all these random acts, some of which made me more confused then possible. That's OK. You can come up with your own conclusions.
     All I can say is allow yourself to fall into this film. Immerse yourself in the experience of watching something wild and intoxicating. It's a pure expression of cinema and, in this viewers opinion, never falters and falls off. It knows what it is, whatever that may be, and you need to just give into it and enjoy the ride. Holy Motors is an experience, a cinematic indulgence. The images are sharp, the themes encapsulate the mind with vast aromas and the beauty of cinema. You will leave the theatre with more questions than answers but it is a nuthouse, wild ride. It's a movie that you will talk about when your done seeing it and you will either like it or not. I liked it, a lot. Do you yourself a favor and watch it. It is one of the best films of 2012 and comes highly recommended by this film viewer. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie trailer: Pablo Larrain's NO

Here is a film I've been exciting and waiting to see since I read the positive reviews that came out of its screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and subsequent screenings in Toronto and Telluride. The story takes place in 1988 and revolves around the political marketing campaign to rid Chile of the oppressive dictator Augusto Pinochet. The film is also Chile's official selection for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Oscars. The film is directed by Pablo Larrain and stars Gael Garcia Bernal. It will be in limited release starting in February 15, 2013. Thanks to Brad Brevet at ropeofsilicon.com for posting the trailer. 




Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Trailer: Almodovar's new comedy

I'm a huge admirer and fan of the great Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar. Every time he has a film coming out, it goes right up on my must-see list. His films are a must. He can be extremely funny, deeply psychological, daring, controversial and, along with Roman Polanski, great at the Hitchcockian thriller. Here is a teaser trailer for his new film I'm So Exicted. It looks like after a series of more darker, thriller style films, he has gone back to straight on comedy. Enjoy.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sadness in the aftermath

   It's unbearably devastating and terrifying of what occurred yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. How could this happen? How does this happen? Why does this happen? The innocence and beautiful life these young children had to look forward to was abruptly taken away from them, their families and their community. It is unacceptable and breaks my heart that these poor children, who just went to school, are gone. Just went to learn. These adults, teachers, who were trying to educate, motivate and help grow these young children, their lives were taken away. Its unacceptable that anyone can buy a gun, weapon, craft a bomb and for whatever reason, go and take an innocent life away. That's not right. Restrictions need to be tightened. Laws need to be added. Our intolerable gun culture is out of control and needs to be rectified. This is not the right time to discuss this, but at the same time, when is the right time. This is too much. What is going on in this country when children can't even be safe at elementary school.
     While I was attending college, my friends and I would occasionally have conversations about how easy it would be for someone to walk on campus and place a bomb or that a mass shooting could happen. It's terrifying. When you think of it out loud it is shocking to think of how easy that could of happened. It's more shocking when it actually does happen and even more terrifying when it happens to little children. They are our future. It's painful. I'm heartbroken and saddened by these events. This is a dark day in our history and even worse for the families of the victims. Words cannot express how horrible this is. We have to stick together and help each other at all costs. We need to support and listen to each other and there is no excuse for not trying and being there. Take the time to look at your loved ones, your friends, and tell them you love them and how much they mean to you. My sympathy goes out to all the families of this horrific tragedy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Film Comment Top 50 Films

Here is a list of Film Comment's 50 top films of 2012. A fascinating list including some greats, such as Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie and The Master, along with plenty unseen, such as Zero Dark Thirty, Tabu and Amour. You can see the list here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

LOVE FILM

     I love film. I love watching films. I love reading about film and film history. I love following the awards season and seeing which movies people are watching and why. I love getting excited about a favorite director and his or her upcoming projects and learning about what films some of my favorite directors, actors, historians and critics enjoy watching. It is a passion, a hobby, a commitment. It is what I truly love doing. I like expanding my visual literacy. I love films from every period and decade. Everything from the magnificent Swedish film The Phantom Carriage and the brilliant films of Charles Chaplin to the mind expanding and exciting films of Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodovar. I started this blog in September of this year and I love everything about it. If its writing an essay on film culture, expressing my opinions through a review, or presenting trailers of interesting upcoming releases and classic motion pictures, I love it. I want people to expand their horizons when watching films and reach out for stuff that is more than just the traditional Joe Popcorn picture. Go to movies. Talk about movies. Educate yourself on movies. Its a great medium, maybe the greatest. It's a passion, a love, a career, a drive, and that's all I can ask for.

GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS

Today the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced there nominees for film and TV for the year of 2012. The organization consists of journalists who cover the United States entertainment industry from Europe, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. It's wildly known that the group and its awards ceremony is usually a big celebrity party and they want to nominate big stars, example, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie being nominated for acting awards in the weak The Tourist from 2010. Last year Best Motion Picture Drama was Alexander Payne's The Descendants and Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the eventual Oscar winner, Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist. You can check out the full list of film and TV nominees here. The Golden Globes winners will be announced on January 13, 2013. For now, here is a list of all the film nominees and my reactions after the jump.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

MOVIE TRAILERS: PULP FICTION

PULP FICTION. Enough said. This movie was just an amazing experience the first time I saw it. It opened my eyes to Tarantino's great storytelling textures, his non-linear narrative and editing and, since I was just graduating from high school in a small town, a wide array of just flat out cool music. And speaking of cool. This film is simply that, cool! I've seen this film multiple times and never once has been boring or out-of-date to me. Funny, violent and violent in a way that is not what Tarantino is now. Yea, Marvin got shot in the face, picking up pieces of skull and brain and Uma got an adrenaline shot to the heart, but it was done with some reserve. Now its just blood, guts, pulling eyeballs, etc. And yeah, that's entertaining in that Tarantino since, but this movie was did it right. It was paced exceptionally well, had smooth, not too talky dialogue (and that dialogue was fantastic), acted brilliantly with a wonderful comeback for John Travolta, being picked for this role supposedly because of Tarantino's admiration for Brian DePalma's great paranoia thriller Blow Out (great fucking movie). This movie is badass, cool and an essential American film. Here is the trailer.


SAG NOMINATIONS

     Today, the Screen Actors Guild announced its nominations for films from this year. The big surprise is no Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) in the Best Actor field. He is really eccentric and wild so maybe that was a turn off to the SAG members. Really happy for Silver Linings Playbook cast. Great stuff. Check out the SAG TV and film nominees here; sag nominees. Here is a list of the film acting nominees after the jump:

Monday, December 10, 2012

KILLING THEM SOFTLY

Killing Them Softly

Directed & Written
by 
Andrew Dominik



    I like gangster films. Maybe its because, if they are done correctly, they should contain a combination of grand, entertaining cinema, with an honest almost surreal sense of realism. I admire and search out films of this genre that contain that mixture. I want them to be entertaining with a narrative and filmmaking, almost to the cusp of outlandish, but grounded in reality and shear intensity. Films like Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Goodfellas, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge are just a few examples. I mean, how can you think the gangster genre and how its evolved without evoking the name of Martin Scorsese. His use of music, tracking shots and pure raw filmmaking is what I'm getting at when I say an entertaining, well-made gangster, well any genre, film. Andrew Dominik's new film Killing Them Softly is a decent, if not flawed example of a gangster grounded in the reality and honesty of the times we live in and at the same time mildly entertaining, if not a struggle to watch.
    The film, directed by New Zealand born Andrew Dominik, tells the story of two low level thieves, Frankie and Russell (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) and their so called leader Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola), who rob a mob protected poker game. The game, being conducted by mobster Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), has had a previous poker game robbed but he was the one that had it robbed. Mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in to find the dumb thieves and restore balance to the local gangland economy. The film is blunt about how the current economy recession and bailout under the Bush administration and impending election of Obama have affected the United States financially and philosophically. The world, and the for that matter, the mob world, is in turmoil when people are not making money. Especially when that money is being straight up stolen.
     Killing Them Softly, based on the book "Cogan's Trade" by the professional and gritty crime novelist George V. Higgins, is a down and dirty methodical piece of filmmaking. Its not perfumed with much action, minor a highly impressive slow motion shot of Cogan killing another character. I mean, this scene is insanely interesting to watch and probably much of the production budget went into filming this scene with super slow motion cameras. You can see every rain drop, splatter of blood and the intricate firing of the gun. It's really amazing stuff. The film is dialogue heavy and does not shy away from producing a bleak outlook for the economic future, much less any future of prosperity at all in the United States.


     Brad Pitt continues to show his value, charisma and wise acting choices with Killing Them Softly. Pitt shows a level of thought and zen-like intensity with his role as enforcer Jackie Cogan. He is cunning, cold and blunt about his attitude toward the task of searching out these idiotic, mouth running thieves. Richard Jenkins, who plays a mob middle man, is brilliant as always, and actually, the scenes between him and Pitt's Cogan are moments of dialogue that are somewhat stimualting and thought provoking. The real stand outs are the two lowlifes, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. McNairy,with this and his role in Ben Affleck's Argo, shows an actor on the rise. He and Mendelsohn have some of the funniest moments in the film, but at the same time you can't imagine how stupid these two can be at times. I think they are symbolic of the strung out and desperate in America, but also represent what happens when you let desire and desperation take hold of all logical thought. Well, that and a little drug use and dependency. I mean, shut up and move on. Don't dwell and talk about your recent stealing endeavors.
     One thing that kept me a little annoyed was the constant background TV and talk radio shows constantly showing or talking about the economic situation. There is no way these gangsters would be constantly watching or listening to this. I just did not believe it. Also, there are major pacing issues with this film. I really enjoy watching James Gandolfini and I believe his character, a down on his luck, drunk, mob enforcer named Mickey, was a metaphor for how some people have given up and let there emotions and vices take control of their life, but his scenes could have been cut down dramatically. I felt the film, when had momentum going, just halted at these two heavy, almost sappy scenes. The performances are right, but the writing and editing is lacking. These issues hurt this film and keep it from being as brilliant as my expectations had it be.


     Dominik's film, which is nowhere near as good as his previous two films, the insane, in your face Chopper, and the hypnotic, visual splendor that is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward the Robert Ford. He does show sophisticated style choices with the heroin scene and the grittiness that affiliates with grimy crime and gangster films, especially ones from 70s. In comparison to another Higgins book that was turned into a film, the utterly magnificent Peter Yates directed The Friends of Eddie Coyle, this film lacks in flavor, narrative flow and the total experience of a well balanced picture. This gangster film has moments of perfection, especially with the final scene, which sums up an uncomfortable truth of where we are as a country, but as a whole is not a complete success.
    I cannot say I completely disliked Killing Them Softly. I liked the performances immensely and some of the music choices, especially The Velvet Underground, made me extremely happy. The film is flawed and probably could have been cut down to about 70 minutes. I like talk heavy films, but they need to be conversing with interest and strength. I found myself being bored, which was disappointing with the expectations I had going in. Even though, I still want to see it again. It's visually satisfying with Greig Fraiser's lensing and I can't help but give gangster films a second chance. It's no Scorsese or Melville, but it is still an interesting take on a cherished genre in cinema and an indicting commentary on the state of the United States. Your on your own baby.

AFI TOP TEN FILMS OF THE YEAR

The American Film Institute announced its top ten films of the year. Hey, why not another top ten list or announcement of the best films of the year from critics. We don't have enough already. Big question is where is Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master...??? Here is their list in alphabetical order:

  • ARGO
  • BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
  • THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
  • DJANGO UNCHAINED
  • LES MISERABLES
  • LIFE OF PI 
  • LINCOLN
  • MOONRISE KINGDOM
  • SILVER LININGS KINGDOM
  • ZERO DARK THIRTY

Sunday, December 9, 2012

LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION

And, a third critics awards that are being announced today. I think we need one more... The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, founded in 1975, consists of film critics in Los Angeles, California. I'm liking the love for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (review coming soon) and for Silver Linings Playbook and Jennifer Lawrence. It's a nice change of pace from all the wins and appreciation for Zero Dark Thirty. I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty and am very excited to see it soon, but there have been a lot of finely made films this year and some change in the falling-in-line feeling I get from ZDTs wins creates some excitement in predicting this awards season. And Michael Haneke's Amour. I've admired ever since I saw Cache and then went deeper in to his impressive filmography. Congrats and I can't wait to see that film. Here is a list of their winners, announced today on, yea, you know the date:

BEST FILM:  AMOUR
     Runner-up:  THE MASTER
BEST DIRECTOR:  Paul Thomas Anderson, THE MASTER
     Runner-up:  Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER
     Runner-up:  Denis Lavant, HOLY MOTORS
BEST ACTRESS (TIE):  Jennifer Lawrence, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Emmanuelle Riva, AMOUR
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Dwight Henry, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
     Runner-up:  Christoph Waltz, DJANGO UNCHAINED
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Amy Adams, THE MASTER
     Runner-up:  Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES
BEST SCREENPLAY:  Chris Terrio, ARGO
     Runner-up:  David O. Russell, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  THE GATEKEEPERS
     Runner-up:  SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  FRANKENWEENIE
     Runner-up:  IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY
BEST SCORE:  Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
     Runner-up:  Johnny Greenwood, THE MASTER
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Roger Deakins, SKYFALL
     Runner-up:  Mihai Maliamare, Jr., THE MASTER
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:  David Crank & Jack Fisk, THE MASTER
     Runner-up:  Adam Stockhausen, MOONRISE KINGDOM
BEST EDITING:  William Goldenberg & Dylan Tichenor, ZERO DARK THIRTY
     Runner-up:  William Goldenberg, ARGO
DOUGLAS EDWARDS EXPERIMENTAL/INDEPENDENT FILM AWARD:  LEVIATHAN

BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS

Not only did Boston's online film critics announce their winners, the society of film critics are announcing their winners today. Multiple offerings, from two different groups, like New York City. Formed in 1981, the Boston Society of Film Critics is an organization of Boston, Massachusetts film reviewers. A continuation of wins for Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. Here is a list of their winners from today, December 9, 2012:

BEST FILM:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
BEST ACTRESS:  Emmanuelle Riva, AMOUR
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Ezra Miller, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Sally Field, LINCOLN
BEST SCREENPLAY:  Tony Kushner, LINCOLN
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Mihai Malaimare, Jr.THE MASTER
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  AMOUR
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  FRANKENWEENIE
BEST FILM EDITING:  William Goldenberg & Dylan Tichenor, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST NEW FILMMAKER:  David France, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:  SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
BEST USE OF MUSIC IN A FILM:  MOONRISE KINGDOM

NEW YORK FILM CRITICS ONLINE

New York City, along with Boston, is another city with multiple ways of announcing and giving film awards out for this year. The New York Film Critics Online was founded in 2000 and is composed of New York City internet film critics. A lot of love for Zero Dark Thirty, it seems to be falling in line. Here is a list of their 2012 film awards, announced today, December 9, 2012:

BEST FILM:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
BEST ACTRESS:  Emmanuelle Riva, AMOUR
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Tommy Lee Jones, LINCOLN
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES
BEST SCREENPLAY:  Mark Boal, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  AMOUR
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  CHICO AND RITA
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Claudio Miranda, LIFE OF PI
BEST DEBUT DIRECTOR:  Benh Zeitlin, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:  ARGO
BEST USE OF MUSIC:  DJANGO UNCHAINED
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE:  Quvenzhane Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

BOSTON ONLINE FILM CRITICS AWARDS

On December 8, 2012, the Boston Online Film Critics Association announced their winners for the 2012 year. It appears the admiration and love for Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln continues. Fantastic that Roger Deakins wins for cinematographer in Skyfall. Here are the results and check their site www.bofca.com

BEST PICTURE:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
BEST ACTRESS:  Jessica Chastain, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Tommy Lee Jones, LINCOLN
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES
BEST SCREENPLAY:  Tony Kushner, LINCOLN
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  OSLO, AUGUST 31ST
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  PARANORMAN
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Roger Deakins, SKYFALL
BEST EDITING:  William Goldenberg & Dyaln Tichenor, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:  Johnny Greenwood, THE MASTER
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:  MOONRISE KINGDOM

TEN BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR:

  1. ZERO DARK THIRTY
  2. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
  3. LINCOLN
  4. MOONRISE KINGDOM
  5. DJANGO UNCHAINED
  6. OSLO, AUGUST 31ST
  7. HOLY MOTORS
  8. THE MASTER
  9. ARGO
  10. CLOUD ATLAS

Friday, December 7, 2012

LINCOLN

Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner



     Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, the long awaited biopic has been well worth the wait. Spielberg has crafted a film that avoids all the schmaltzy, over-sentimentality that usually shrouds his films and with this viewer, typically creates a depressing sigh of disappointment. The film focuses on Abraham Lincoln's attempts and political means of getting the 13th amendment passed, the abolishment of slavery. Lincoln is a strong return to form. A form that was relevant in his film Munich (2005), but really had not been seen since his true masterpiece Schindler's List (1993).  It is exciting and enjoyable to see an experienced filmmaker produce and direct a film about one of, if not the most studied and loved Presidents of all time. The film delivers and is well worth the time to see it and see it again.
     The film, partly based on the book "Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, puts all of its drive and focus on Lincoln's desire to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude with the passage of the 13th amendment, as well as the political maneuvering of balancing that with ending the Civil War. I think the genius of film revolves around two main and significant parts. One, Spielberg and screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner do not delve into Lincoln's whole life. They focus the majority of the film on this period after his reelection and before his second term inauguration. There are no flashbacks to his childhood that gives the audience some event that molded Lincoln's life and moral decision making. I loved that this film focused solely on his ambition and political stylings for the abolishment of slavery and his passion to end the Civil War. It kept me completely engrossed in Lincoln's political abilities and struggles, and is definitely a parallel and metaphor for the difficulties we are faced with today, and how politics can take away from what should and can be done. The second part is the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis.
     When he was cast as Abraham Lincoln, I felt this picture had a little more credibility to it then some of the recent Spielberg films. When I saw the first trailer for the film, I was mildly skeptical over the somewhat whiny, almost nasal-driven voice, but it is not at all deceptive or agitating once I watched the film. He, as always, has done his research and it pays off as usual. He is compelling, respectful and always in control of his performance. His control not only shows his gracefulness and intensity as an actor, but his complete command of playing Lincoln. Never once did I not believe he was our 16th President. Day-Lewis is, with some argument, but not much, our greatest living actor. All the way from Stephen Frears My Beautiful Launderette (1985) to his fantastic, incredible work in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007), he is an undeniably prolific force in film and with his performance in Lincoln, he has proven that few actors can compete with his class and sophistication.
     This is not at all to say the rest of the cast is not magnificent as well, and massive also. Sally Field, as Mary Todd, shows with great experience, a woman in the midst of mental strain and exhaustion. She has lost one son, has another one Tad, (Gulliver McGrath) growing up in a world of war and disillusionment, and her eldest Robert, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who she desperately does not want lose since he has desires to join the Union and fight after leaving college. Field and Day-Lewis show the heartaches of marriage and one that is tired and completely mentally and physically strained from the life they live. A family that is and has grown in the midst of constant politics, war and the exhausting pressure of being the presidential family. That, attributed to Tony Kushner's educated writing, of not just the politics of Lincoln, but of how the whole of being a President and having a family, and being scrutinized and presented to the public constantly, is presented with honesty and agonizing pain.


     Tony Kushner's script is moving, engaging and completely brilliant in how he makes the actual politics, and these discussions, engaging and entertaining. The conversations that go on between Lincoln and his cabinet, create a sense of despair and a strong urge, and need, to achieve a goal at all costs. The script focuses on the inner workings, presented in the film, of how Lincoln pressed all around him, including his cabinet, the Radical Republicans that thoroughly advocated abolishment and the Republicans who wanted the war to end, but cared little for slavery to end. It shows the complications and perpetuations it took to get the amendment passed. The playwright in Kushner was able to create a balance between Lincoln's mingling and pushing of his agenda, and his ability to work with all sides to achieve his goal in dark rooms and conferences. Kushner's skills express and are expressed in his ability to create humor, with Lincoln always telling of stories to express a point or connect, or disconnect with people, and the intense negotiations of how politics can be vitriolic and successful in an attempt for accomplishment.
     In speaking of his collaborators and opposition, they are perfectly cast in this film. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a vehement proponent of abolishing slavery, is played with such humor, exhaustion and sarcasm that its hard to think of anyone being in the role except for Jones. He is man that has spent his whole political career to abolish slavery and does not hide his emotions. Lincoln's loud and boastful antagonist in the Senate, the Democrat Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), accuses him of being a dictator and a tyrant. Pace plays the role in a loud, heated way and recalls of the hatred of our current Republican parties disdain and hate for President Obama. Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn), is in constant communication with the President and at odds with him when he secretly sends for a delegation to ensure the end of the war, when that might ruin the chance of getting the 13th amendment passed. Strathairn is great as always, and plays the part with grand confidence and grace. Another great part of Lincoln is that tension created by Lincoln in wanting to assure the end of the war but at same time wanting to get the amendment passed before there is a declaration of the end of the war. The film is brilliant at creating drama and tension in making these events come to life and show the genius and gamesmanship of politics, as well as how effulgent Lincoln was at the game itself.
   The production value is, as always with a Spielberg period piece, at the highest of levels. The costumes and design from Costume Designer Joanna Johnston and Production Designer Rick Carter is fabulous and moody. And yes, there is so much facial hair in this movie. It's insane. Another thing that was a pleasant surprise was the music and score from longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams. In unusual Spielberg fashion, and maybe he can't help himself being the sentimental fillmmaker he usual is, the music doesn't force you into a feeling or sentiment. It plays as trusted, casual background that enhances the scenes instead of forcing an emotion, for the most part. The cinematography, from another of Spielberg's collaborators, Janusz Kaminski, is moody and fits the the dark political undertones and unease over the Civil War and slavery, but also is a little too whitewashed that takes away from the mood. More natural sunlight would have sufficed.
     I can't finish this commentary on Spielberg's Lincoln without writing about the best performances in film, with the exception of Daniel Day-Lewis. Tim Blake Nelson as Richard Schell, John Hawkes as Robert Latham and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo. These three great actors play lobbyists that go out into the field to persuade democratic opposition to vote for the amendment to abolish slavery. The Republicans needed votes from the democratic side to get the amendment passed and these three actors bring such great comedic relief to this drama. Spader is flat-out extraordinary in his heavy, bloated performance and was a revelation in the film. His enthusiasm is exemplified in the character he plays and is perfected by this underrated actor. Great to see him in a role like this.


     Lincoln is a film everyone should see. It's focus is honest and its depiction is relevant to the dismal political climate we live in today. It's relevant in the way it presents and examines Lincoln's political value and his abilities at playing the political game. Even though we know which way and how the story will end, Spielberg has crafted a film that is engaging and entertaining. I was so surprised that a film that appeared to be solely about political maneuvering and dictation could be so profound and enjoyable to watch. Lincoln is a film that shows that Spielberg still has it and that Daniel Day-Lewis continues to impress, and adds a wonderful film to his already impressive filmography.
    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

MOVIE TRAILERS: RESERVOIR DOGS

   In the month of December, I will be presenting trailers from one of my favorite directors, Quentin Tarantino, with his new film Django Unchained being released on Christmas Day. Its brilliant we get a violent and darkly funny film on Christmas. One of the reasons I have become obsessed with cinema and film history is because of the films of Tarntino and also Wes Anderson. These are the directors of my generation and without my admiration and appreciation for there films, I would have never learned or been exposed to the great directors and films from the United States and from around the world. These directors may not be the best of all time, but I truly have loved there films and Quentin Tarantino was one of the first independent directors I became enamoured with.
     Tarantino's films have detailed, nuanced dialogue and exceptional acting. His films are not afraid of anything and you can tell he is well versed in film knowledge and history. Everything from spaghetti westerns to the French New Wave, he has tastes and references to them all. His breakout film Reservoir Dogs (1992) was a hit in the face to American cinema and helped bring forward the new American Independent Cinema movement of the 1990s. The film, as all of his films, are written and directed by Tarantino and contain great moments of humor and graphic violence with the use of classic and flat out brilliant songs from numerous periods in music history. Tarantino is a special filmmaker because he makes the films he wants to. And with that, he makes films with such wild enthusiasm and fun that its hard not to appreciate them and be taken away by his true love of cinema. A great film, with a great opening scene. You know the one. Here is the trailer.

Reservoir Dogs

NBR AWARDS

    The NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW named Zero Dark Thirty as the best film of the year. The non-profit organization, founded in 1909 in New York City, that promotes film and film education really does not have any potency in the awards season but its nice to see them go with a film that will be highly evocative and suspenseful. Also, a surprise that the well-deserved Bradley Cooper, in the excellent Silver Linings Playbook, beat out Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor. Here is a list of the winners that were announced today:

BEST FILM:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  Bradley Cooper, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
BEST ACTRESS:  Jessica Chastain, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Leonardo DiCaprio, DJANGO UNCHAINED
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Ann Dowd, COMPLIANCE
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Rian Johnson, LOOPER
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  David O. Russell, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:  WRECK-IT RALPH
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  AMOUR
BEST DOCUMENTARY:  SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN FILMMAKING:  Ben Affleck, ARGO
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR:  Tom Holland, THE IMPOSSIBLE
BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS:  Quvenzhane Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT:  Benh Zeitlin, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
WILLIAM K. EMERSON FILM HISTORY AWARD:  50 Years of Bond Films
BEST ENSEMBLE:  LES MISERABLES
SPOTLIGHT AWARD:  John Goodman, ARGO, FLIGHT, PARANORMAN, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
NBR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AWARD:  THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
NBR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AWARD:  PROMISED LAND

TOP FILMS:

  • ARGO 
  • BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
  • DJANGO UNCHAINED
  • LES MISERABLES
  • LINCOLN
  • LOOPER
  • THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
  • PROMISED LAND
  • SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
TOP 5 FOREIGN FILMS:

  • BARBARA
  • THE INTOUCHABLES
  • THE KID WITH A BIKE
  • NO
  • WAR WITCH
TOP 5 DOCUMENTARIES:

  • AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY
  • DETROPIA
  • THE GATEKEEPERS
  • THE INVISIBLE WAR
  • ONLY THE YOUNG
TOP 10 INDEPENDENT FILMS:

  • ARBITRAGE
  • BERNIE
  • COMPLIANCE
  • END OF WATCH
  • HELLO I MUST BE GOING
  • LITTLE BIRDS
  • MOONRISE KINGDOM
  • ON THE ROAD
  • QUARTET
  • SLEEPWALK WITH ME



Monday, December 3, 2012

NYFCC AWARDS

     Today, the oldest critics organization in the United States gave out there annual awards for films from this year. The group was founded in 1935 and consists of 35 members from online publications, newspapers and magazines in the New York City area. The group seemed to hold in high esteem Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty and Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, awarding both films with three awards each. Here is a list of the winners:

BEST FILM:  ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST DIRECTOR:  KATHRYN BIGELOW, ZERO DARK THIRTY
BEST ACTOR:  DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, LINCOLN
BEST ACTRESS:  RACHEL WEISZ, THE DEEP BLUE SEA
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, BERNIE & MAGIC MIKE
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  SALLY FIELD, LINCOLN
BEST SCREENPLAY:  TONY KUSHNER, LINCOLN
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  AMOUR (MICHAEL HANEKE)
BEST ANIMATED FILM:  FRANKENWEENIE (TIM BURTON)
BEST NON-FICTION/DOCUMENTARY FILM:  THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (KEN BURNS,      
SARAH BURNS & DAVID MCMAHON)
BEST FIRST FILM:  HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (DAVID FRANCE)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  GREIG FRASER, ZERO DARK THIRTY



Sunday, December 2, 2012

TRAILER: ZERO DARK THIRTY

     After being head over heels excited and satisfied with Kathryn Bigelow's 2008 The Hurt Locker, I can't wait to see her new film Zero Dark Thirty. We can expect to see a film that is tightly constructed, effectively acted and full of intense, excellent suspense. She is such a talented and gifted director and I can't wait to see this film, which follows the account of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Check out the trailer and Jessica Chastain is definitely an actress that is on the rise, big time. Film to be limited released on December 19 and wide on January 11.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Silver Linings Playbook

Directed & Written
by
David O. Russell



     It is so good to know that there are intelligent, gifted filmmakers out there like David O. Russell. He is a director that knows how to make a comedy that does not infuse itself with schmaltz and keeps honest laughs blended with heartwarming truth. Enough with the crappy, tell the audience how to feel romantic comedies and over-acted dramas that usually get released from the major Hollywood studios. Mr. Russell has directed an sincerely funny, heartfelt romantic comedy about real people, dealing with real issues. We can relate to these characters, there situations and the setting the film takes place in. This is why Silver Linings Playbook is such a joy to watch and is absolutely one of the best films to be released this year. 
     The film drops us into the world of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has recently been released from a mental institute after a stint for bi-polar disorder. Pat moves back in with his parents Dolores and Pat Sr. (Jackie Weaver and Robert DeNiro) in Philadelphia and his main goal is to reunite with his estranged wife and live life with a constant, positive outlook. These plans go awry when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has lost her husband and has not been mentally stable either, as of late. The film is based on Matthew Quick's novel of the same name but this film is all David O. Russell's. He is complete control of this film and so honest with the story, acting and not force feeding the audience cookie cutter bullshit. He gets it. He knows exactly what he is doing and the blend of humor and drama are flat out brilliant. It is an astutely paced, beautifully and harmonically acted, and has a touch of sadness in its honest portrayal of two confused souls in a challenging world. The film is so perfect. So good.
     The real beauty and greatness of Silver Linings Playbook is the juxtaposition of these two mentally unstable and frantic individuals and there ability to find solace and peace in each others problems and desires. The film does not shy away from the instability of Pat and Tiffany or there use, or past usage of prescription drugs, and there inherent choice to attempt life's beauty and happiness without them. And it is not just these two people who have problems of there own. Pat Sr. is a bookie and an overtly obsessed Philadelphia Eagles fan. He is banned from going to any Eagles game since he was involved in a fight in a past home game. There is an odd connection between Pat Sr and his devilish Eagles fanaticism and his son's constant desire to find love again with his wife. Pat Sr. wants to patch his relationship up with his son, but Eagles obsession diverts him from that goal, as well as Pat Jr's desire to reconnect with his estranged wife, which diverts him from a chance to reconnect with his father. Will they find that relationship they each want or will they come together? Well, I don't want to give the answer away, but when I say this is a romantic comedy that defies all cliches, even when they are there, I think you can figure it out.
     The acting is perfect throughout the whole film. Bradley Cooper, after a series of big budget fare shows his depth, at not just serious humor, but drama as well. He showcases an honest and heartfelt portrayal of a man in the midst of transition and a chance to change his life. Jennifer Lawrence, with her previous Oscar nominated role in the brilliant, dark Ozark noir Winter's Bone (2010), has turned in a frenetic, energized role that not only shows her undeniable beauty and charm, but the flat out fact she gets it. She is wonderfully in control of this role and her face and eyes show a sense of understanding and intelligence that adds to her wide range of emotional changes and challenges in the role of Tiffany. And Robert DeNiro. This is without a doubt the best role he has had, and that he has delivered in I don't know how many years. He is funny, charming, eccentric and intense. He is that loving father and obsessed fan that expresses grave disapproval and also beautiful understanding and experience. He possesses his own bi-polar ways that not only shows his penchant for the good luck charm he believes his son to be for the Eagles to win, but also for the pure outlook and happiness he hopes his son can find in life. DeNiro is just outstanding in this film.
     The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic as well. Jackie Weaver is whole-hearted and tender has Pat's mother Dolores. Chris Tucker plays Danny, a fellow patient at the mental hospital with Pat who attempts numerous times to leave the facility with varying successful attempts. Tucker is relaxed and neurotic in his role as not just a patient, but a friend to Pat. Such a good role for someone who is usually considered just a comedic actor, but here he shows knowledgeable depth and courage in portraying an honest and caring friend. John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, Shea Whigham and Paul Herman round out an impressive cast that aids in the fantastic wit this film contains.
     David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is that heartwarming, romantic comedy I've been waiting for. A movie that is honest and in control of itself. His direction is swift and the humor is so natural and right on point. It doesn't consists of long drawn out jokes or corny one-liners, but of sincere honest reactions and sentiment, or at times lack there of. He is not interested in forcing you to feel good, but he let his actors and the story lend itself to that. Silver Linings Playbook is movie any and everyone can enjoy and root for. All I can say is see this movie and we should be very thankful that we have a director like David O. Russell that just gets it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

THR DIRECTORS ROUNDTABLE


A great hour of six fascinating talents and there insights on filmmaking. Gus Van Sant, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Tom Hooper, Ben Affleck & David O. Russell. Give it a look and listen. It is very informative to hear these great auteurs talk about the business, their craft and film in general.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

MOVIE TRAILERS: HITCHCOCK CONCLUSION

     To conclude the movie trailer theme this month, I will present two of Hitchcock's late color masterpieces:  Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959). Hitchcock was truly a director that was good from start to finish, well, maybe some of the films after Psycho (1960) were definitely not has good as the previous films, but the man had truly a great film after great film through the entirety of his career which lasted through five decades. Vertigo, where Sight & Sound magazine, which conducts a top ten film list of all-time every ten years with critics, directors and film historians, ranked it number one over the much studied and admired Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane (1945). The story revolves around a an acrophobic retired police officer, James Stewart, hired by an old friend to follow his wife who he believes has been possessed by a dead woman. As he begins to follow her, he becomes overwhelming obsessed with her and this leads him and the viewer down a road of obsession, romance, psychological intrigue and suspense. This is without a doubt a masterpiece on the highest order and shows a true master at the heights of his powers. In North by Northwest, we get the wrongly accused, innocent man thriller, in the vein of Hitchcock's early film The 39 Steps (1935). Cary Grant is mistaken for a government agent and is led down a path of foreign intrigue, lost identity and suspense. The film is not has serious or as personal as Vertigo but contains some of the most memorable scenes in film history, most certainly the shot atop the United Nations, the crop dusting chase and the conclusion at Mt. Rushmore. Both films are pure, honest and mesmerizing works from the Master of Suspense and undeniably masterpieces from the great Alfred Hitchcock.

Vertigo

North by Northwest

Sunday, November 25, 2012

SKYFALL

Skyfall

Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan



    In a film franchise that has been around for fifty years, new films can at times be redundant, boring or just complete misfires, but that is not the case with the new installment into the Bond lexicon, Skyfall. The James Bond franchise is legendary in its mass appeal, but not always significant in the quality of its product. Sure, film now, with the massive onslaught of corporate propaganda and product placement has aided in growing this franchise and others, like Batman, Superman, etc. into huge markets and conglomerates of there own, but these films have a history that goes beyond that and Skyfall has achieved an successful status in not just big budget filmmaking, but being a film that is made with quality, perseverance and respect for the history of the James Bond name. Sean Connery first four films as Bond and the one film, from the under appreciated George Lazenby On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), are the best films with the suave, sophisticated spy from the United Kingdom and with Skyfall, we can finally add another film to that list.
    Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty and Road to Perdition) revolves around the believed to be killed-in-action Bond (Daniel Craig) and an attack on the British MI-6. Once Bond returns to headquarters in London, he is rushed through reintegration and cleared for duty after being on the lamb, mainly drinking. M (Dame Judi Dench) believes the attack on MI-6 is directed at her by a former agent. Then we go on a typical Bond-like journey of world travel, ladies, lies, and one sinister evil ex-MI-6 spy agent Silva (Javier Bardem), an agent that comes back to track and kill M after a previous mission had gone awry leaving him close to his death but with a desire for revenge. Skyfall is a film that accepts the new, with cyber warfare being targeted towards M and England, as well as appreciating the old, with glimpses of classics Bond cars, the exquisite Aston Martin and acknowledging that Bond has aged and the world is growing at a fast pace around him.
     The qualities of this Bond film that set it apart from the previous ones is simple, quaility in the filmmaking and acting that is not full god awful oneliners and joe popcorn obsessed CGI action setpieces. Pierce Brosnan was a debonair, smooth Bond put never in his four films had a good script at all. Goldeneye (1995) was decent reintroduction for Bond after the weak efforts in Timothy Dalton's two film run. Daniel Craig's two previous films, the decent if at times overacted and too staged Casino Royale (2006) and the truly awful and muddled Quantum of Solace (2008) were overall not exciting and rehashes. Even though personally, as a lover of the Bond franchise, I've seen all twenty-three films and even the great ones, such as Dr. No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963) and the terrible misfires like most, if not all of Roger Moore's films, although they still are guilty pleasure to watch, it was so pleasing to watch Skyfall turn out so well and feel like a classic Bond film.
    Director Sam Mendes avoided the corny lines of dialogue, the ridiculous stunts, not to say that the opening scene was not completely over the top, but the whole film was grounded in a good story and not one stupid stunt after another like the last two films of Pierce Brosnan The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002). He brought some balance and quality to this legendary screen icon and filmography. And most importantly he brought his cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins, who also works repeatedly with the Coen Brothers, brought forth a chilly, silky smooth palette to his visuals and him and Mendes continued this series of cold, action thrillers, in the vein of Christopher Nolan's Batman films, that resemble a culture and world that has seen the effects of mindless sadness through economic downfall and misguided wars. Also, the lensing is just breathtaking. It is so graceful and smooth that the movie was a joy to watch just for Deakins unbelievable talent.
     Skyfall also brought back some classic characters that were not introduced in the Daniel Craig reboot /continuation of the franchise. Ben Whishaw plays Q and brings forth is off beat quirkiness to the role of a tech wizard who knows the value and knowledge of an ever changing cyber world. Judi Dench is great as the steely strong head of MI-6 M and Ralph Fiennes is introduced as Gareth Mallory, a politician in the British government. As with all Bond films there must be beautiful woman. Skyfall leaves us no exemption in that category with agent, and assumed killer of Bond Eve (Naomie Harris) and the ex-sex slave Severine (Berenice Lim Marlohe), who leads Bond to his target, the blonde haired, effeminate and presumably homosexual Silva, played with fun and that classic want to take over the world kind of villain Silva (Javier Bardem). He may not be as evil as in the Coen's No Country for Old Men but he is just as demented and sinister, but with a bit more playfulness. It was a pleasure to see a villain being played by someone with the talent of Javier Bardem, but that seemed to be having so much fun with bringing to life a cruel and vengeful character. That casting was perfect. The aesthetics were there as well with a dark, bloody opening sequence alluding to death and chaos, and a wonderful, classic Bond theme song performed and written by Adele. Classic in the sense it was smooth and sweeping with a hint of demise and pleasure that correlate with any Bond film.
     The true joy is seeing the growth and maturity, not just in the character but in the actor Daniel Craig. He shows how Bond is growing older and how the past is not to be forgotten. The final scene is pure cinematic satisfaction, in that Bond leads Silva to his childhood home in Scotland where he means to kill his enemy and protect M. It is also where we meet the groundskeeper of his families estate Kincade (Albert Finney). We get a battle, but Bond shows his intelligence with not the use of technology, but of brute strength and history. Silva comes with a helicopter, machine guns and numerous men, but Bond sets booby traps in the house, uses propane tanks as bombs, and sawed off shot guns to fight off the enemy. This new Bond shows the growth and acceptance of Daniel Craig coming into his own as the character and taking complete control over being Bond. He has presented Bond with full force and grace, as well as an appreciation of the classic Bond mythos and action No more philandering and grandiose playfulness.
     The Bond franchise and name appears to be in good hands, especially if Sam Mendes returns to direct Bond 24 and the continuation and growth of a scruffy and physical Daniel Craig. Skyfall exemplifies that there is life in James Bond and as I've said before, it accepts the new and appreciates the old. That key fact is what will aid in extending this franchise, one that actually is fun to watch, and sees that the current Bond, Mr. Craig, is an actor with talent and finesse. Sure, Craig's Bond is not as suave as all of his predecessors but we live in an age of economic uncertainty and a cyber world that has taken over everything we think and do. In my opinion, Bond is finally back and I hope he will continue to express it in the upcoming films.