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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Film Review:The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

If you haven't seen this film then don't read this yet. Benjamin Button was by far my most anticipated film of the year and I may have put it too high on a pedestal. This film was very good, but I wanted greatness and I didn't get that. I think David Fincher is one of the best directors working today and when you put Brad Pitt in his films it's usually gold. The problem I had was that Pitt's character doesn't ever seem to change. Benjamin is the same person from 7 years old to 25 to 50. He changes physically but not psychologically until the end. Cate Blanchett does go through this process which makes it even more apparent that Brad Pitt doesn't. I would have liked to see more struggles of having a child's mind in a old man's body and later the fear of looking and being treated like a child with a old man's mind. The film expresses that people come into this world a child and go out like a child. If a person lives long enough then that is true, but there is a difference between children and elderly people. I also thought the film cut from present day with Blanchett on her death bed in the wake of Katrina to Benjamin's story too often. It ends up being necessary for the ending, but it just does it way too many times and ruins the flow. Fincher could have cut at least 15 minutes of the modern scenes and added more to Benjamin's story and development. The film does look great and is groundbreaking in the use of CG and make-up on the characters aging process. I enjoyed the scenes between Benjamin and his real father(Jason Flemyng) and I would have liked to see that develop more. Tilda Swinton makes a brief appearance as Benjamin's first love and those scenes were very enjoyable and Pitt's best acting in the entire film. Where The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button really shines is the last half hour. As a viewer you begin to really fear for what faces Benjamin as he enters his teen and pre-teen years. You keep wondering what will he look like, how will he support himself, and will his health fail. I thought these issues were fascinating and wish the movie would have dedicated a little more time on this. Although I don't agree that Pitt leaving his wife and kid is really necessary or smart it doesn't hinder the film and even adds mystery to it. Overall a enjoyable film that could have been great if the screenwriter and director would have let Pitt's character progress more. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"I am Legend" Book cover

I Just saw this movie for the first time and this is what I felt I had seen.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Film Picture of the Week: Oliver Twist(1948)

This is a production still from LIFE magazine of David Lean on the set of Oliver Twist in 1947. Lean started off as a editor so I can't tell if this is a portable editing machine or the biggest camera in the world. It's probably a camera because of the magazine, but he looks like he's looking at a playback. Oliver Twist was released in 1948 and although there are many versions of this Dickens classic not one has even come close to Lean's masterpiece.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Film Still from It's A Wonderful Life(1946) starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. This is in my opinion the best Christmas film of all time and one of the best films ever made. Frank Capra's masterpiece was my gateway to classic films and therefore one of the most influential movies in my life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

R.I.P. Robert Mulligan

Robert Mulligan, director of the classic film     To Kill a Mockingbird has died at the age of 83. Although he never won a major award or ever had much success pleasing critics, he made many films that are held in the highest of regards.  Most notably 1978's Same Time, Next Year and 1965's Inside Daisy Clover.  

Mulligan got his start in the business as a messenger boy at CBS in the late 1940s.  Working his way up through the ranks he got his first  shot  at  directing in 1951 for the television series 
Goodyear Playhouse and later Suspense. After directing television for many years, he made the jump to features in 1957, directing the Alan J. Pakula produced Fear Strikes Out starring Anthony Perkins. Although never the flamboyant filmmaker, Mulligan remained one of the most prolific directors of the 1960's, cranking out nearly a film a year, the highlights being:  Love With a Proper Stranger, Up the Down Staircase and Baby the Rain Must Fall starring Steve McQueen.   

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Film Snob's Guide to Five Christmas Movies

People love Christmas movies.  It's a fact.  A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and Christmas Vacation are staples at most households during the Holiday Season. Although I revere all of these films, I thought I'd make a list for those of us who are getting sick and tired of crazy George Bailey hollering "Merry Christmas" to every dimwit in town, Natalie Wood tugging on some dude's beard and cousin Eddie with his fake turtle neck (actually scratch that last one, cousin Eddie is the shit).

Honorable Mention

The Ref (1994)
A very underrated film starring Denis Leary about a cat burglar who has no choice but to take an extremely dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.  Kind of like my family's home movies, with guns(and a drunk Irish Guy)!

5. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Sure, one would quickly omit this holiday favorite as just your average sex orgy male fantasy.  But, take a second look. Christmas lights fill most every background, as do an awful lot of Silver Firs.  Holiday cheer is all around. Sydney Pollock effing coked up whores at his annual X-Mas bash! Merry Christmas!

4. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Let's face it:  Shane Black love Christmas!  Or hates it. Three of his penned action films take place during the Holiday Season, but his first one is his best one. A suicidal widower is teamed up with a family man nearing his retirement.  Life lessons learned!

3. Die Hard (1988) 
This Bruce Willis crime saga is hardly your average action film. It's tragic to it's core.  All John McClane wants to do is reunite with his estranged family for Christmas. That is until Hans freaking Gruber shows up with his Eastern European terrorists and threaten John's happiness. This flawed New York City cop takes matters in own hands to personally save Christmas!

2. Gremlins (1984)
A funny, scary monster movie or a cautionary tale about getting last-minute trendy gifts for your little brats? You decide.  After a father buys his son an oddly unique present (an adorable little Mogwai), their quiet little town is ripped to shreds because some people can't follow 3 simple rules!

1. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
What a terrific Christmas Story!  Two children, Pearl and John, orphaned after Harry Powell murders their mother, escape the evil clutches of their crazy stepfather, wind up with a kind, elderly woman, Rachel.  Rachel gives them one hell of a Christmas, saving them from Powell.  John gives her an apple wrapped in a doily. Rachel then goes on to give one hell of a monologue.  Movie magic ensues! 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Movie Picture of the Week: Escape From New York

The Duke, The Brain, and The Boobs. A still from John Carpenters 1981 classic Escape From New York.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns(1990)

In the Fall of 1990 I was blown away by the 9 episode and 11 hour documentary The Civil War. PBS aired 2 episodes every night for a week, and every night I would plant myself in front of the television and watched with wonder and amazement. I was just starting my Junior year in High School and only a year or two before I was beginning to appreciate classic, foreign, and independent films. The Civil War was my gateway to the documentary genre. I believe Ken Burns is one of the best and most influential film makers of all-time and this film is his greatest achievement. Every historic documentary made since has copied his style and Apple even has a editing effect named after him. It has great narration by David McCullough, Morgan Freeman, Jason Robards, and many others. The star of the documentary is the historian Shelby Foote who adds great anecdotes and has the insight of a person who lived it. The music is haunting and beautiful and so memorable that you will never forget it. The research and work that went into this is incredible and should be required viewing in schools, which if it is can save the teacher 3 to 4 weeks of Civil War teachings. Ken Burns went on to do many other great Scale Documentaries such as Baseball(1994), Jazz(2001) and last years The War(2007) and they are also extremely entertaining. Burns has also directed many shorter Docs that are just as fascinating(Empire Of The Air1991, Thomas Jefferson1997, Unforgivable Blackness 2004). I just watched the entire series again recently, which could be my fifth or sixth time, and every viewing is like the first. I anticipate a Ken Burns film like I anticipated a Kubrick, Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson film. If you have never seen The Civil War rent it now and watch it over the next few weeks. You will see documentary film making at its zenith and learn so much that you will never be confused by Civil War talk at a party again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Music in Film: Solaris (2002)

Hard to believe, Steven Soderbergh's coldly received, overlooked tour de force Solaris was released more than five years ago. 

Lukewarm reviews from critics and audiences, all expecting a special effects bonanza akin to the latest version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Soderbergh's film diluted a three-hour film into 90 minutes, using George Clooney's expert charm and the near-perfect chemistry between Clooney and Natasha McElhone to move things along. 

Simply put, it's one of my favorite films. But the reason it stands out—the haunting, pulsing score by Cliff Martinez. 

One of the best shots in the film is Clooney on the train sitting in front of McElhone as she twiddles with a doorknob and tries to garner the eyes of Clooney's character to look at her. The shot's beauty is magnified by ten because of the percussive blips and bleeps, which moves into a pounding bass line and rousing strings. 

It sounds like love. At first, we're all giddy, our senses are tingling, then we calm down a bit and perhaps smile, but there's still that giddiness, that frailty that if we make one wrong step—it's over. 

It's no wonder the song is titled "Don't Blow It." Martinez's score is one of the few soundtracks I sought out after seeing the film. It's not something I'd regularly put on, but during a rainy winter day, it's a blissful soundtrack. 

It can make the rainiest of afternoons sound hopeful. 

Monday, December 15, 2008


The old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," has become the motto of most of the Hollywood studios. In this modern era of cinema, nothing has become more formulaic than the bio film. This is a sad state considering that the lives covered in these films (and even some of the performances captured within them) are so diverse and compelling that they could never be described as by the book. Yet the new standards of the bio film provided by monetary success of their predecessors has provided us with come dull results.
    The formula for the modern day bio flick is simple. The journey begins at the end. Just before a monumental point in their life (maybe even their death), the audience is preview to the subject as everything that they remembered. If the subject is a president, than the audience sees that president as the portrait staring back at them from the history books. Once introduced to an image the audience is comfortable with, the subject then remembers back to how this whole crazy ride of a life started. There are the basic hardships which the subjects endure that are proposed in a variety of ways. Maybe the president's father was a preacher and thought to himself, "Well, if my daddy can use Hell to scare the money out of these people, then maybe I could use control of the entire free world and one hell of an army to do the same,". Cue president at White House listening to an old gospel record until his grandson enters and then he gets to rememberin'. For the entire rest of the film, while voice overs (usually by the subject themselves or people who were very close to them), the viewer bounces back and forth through time, dissecting the subject's life into tiny fragments of easily swallowable tablets of dramatic and funny bits that make up their life.
    Certain filmmakers have used this formula to their advantage (Raging BullReds) allowing the audience to find and shape their own opinions of the lives that are unfolding before them. The formula is not the problem, per se, but once falling into the wrong hands (Le Vie En Rose) it makes for a predictable and frustrating experience. For all the calls of praise for how "different" and "groundbreaking" these new versions of biographies get, one has to wonder what a life that starts with a character's actual birth and ends with the character's actual death would look like. Though our fleeting attention spans and need to break the laws of that dreaded word narrative have caused the audience to sum up life by it's parts and only the most provocative ones at that. 
    The popularity of this formula has taken the life out of the bio flick. A life of true perseverance through legitimate struggle reduced to confusing snippets of sensualized versions of lives that no member of any audience could relate. Or maybe it's the audience, who would rather escape than relate. To escape would mean that the subjects' lives would only be remembered by the times that fits with the agenda of the filmmaker who created their version of someone else's life. The audience can only hope the filmmaker's version is one that even the subject can be happy with.  

Today in Movie History: Gone With The Wind

Today in 1939 MGM released one of the best and most beloved films of all-time. Gone With The Wind premiered at Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia after a three day Gala. G.W.T.W. went on to win 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture(David O Selznick) and Actress(Vivien Leigh) in one of the best years in film history. The film was re-released theatrically in 1947, 54, 61, 67, 71, 89, and 1998 and is the highest grossing film of all time. It has made 1.4 billion dollars with adjusted growth, 200 million ahead of Star Wars and 500 million more than Titanic. I was lucky enough to see the remastered re-release in 1998 and if you haven't seen it, then I recommend you see it now. GO!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Come on Vince, don't be the next Tim Allen!

I think Vince Vaughn is a funny guy with great screen presence. He has done some great films (Swingers,Old School,Wedding Crashers) and a few slip ups(Psycho,The Break Up) but has a overall good track record. I have no problem with Vince doing a paycheck film now and again, but his last two films have been Christmas films. Christmas films are Tim Allen and Diane Keaton territory. Last year when Fred Claus came out I was like "Oh, Vince must need a bigger house."This year I saw the trailer for Four Christmases I was like "What the hell is this shit!?! This is 2 years in a row!" That's all fine and dandy for washed up movie actresses and one trick pony TV stars, but Vince has talent with a nice career. His talent is being a asshole, not PG rated nice guy. Sadly these films make money because people will go see anything about Christmas during the holidays. I looked on IMDB and so far we won't be seeing a Christmas film from Vince next year, but thats two strikes, one more and your out Vinny.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Movie Picture of the Week: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Kier Dullea & Gary Lockwood. Publicity photo from LIFE magazine taken in 1968.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 :Film Review

Great new Documentary by Kevin Rafferty(Atomic Cafe 1982) that follows a single football game in 1968. Even if you are not a football, or sports fan for that matter, you should find this film highly entertaining. The film takes place during the final game of the season and both teams are facing each undefeated for the first time since 1909. Yale is a nationally ranked team with two future NFL players (QB Brian Dowling and RB Calvin Hill) and are highly favored. The film shows interviews with both Harvard and Yale players,including offensive guard Tommy Lee Jones, while cutting to film footage and play by play commentary of the actual game. The players don't only talk about the game, but also about the chaotic times they lived in. The effect of Vietnam on the campus, the players who were protesters vs the players who were Vietnam Vets, and the Pill and sexual revolution on a school that did not allow women. The game footage is fantastic with great slow motion replays and wonderful sound design. The title gives away the ending, but it doesn't matter the entire audience was laughing, gasping, and on the edge of their seats at the ridiculous last 42 seconds of the preposterous game. The title comes from a Harvard newspaper headline from the following day, and even though its a tie you feel it's defiantly a Harvard win. I had the same feeling I got from last years King Of Kong, not as great as that film(probably because it's not good vs evil), but a real crowd pleaser. I'm not sure if this film will get much of a release, but if it shows in you city it's a must see. 4 out of 5 stars.