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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has been the sleeper hit of the awards season and has generated a buzz that makes it the little film that could. Danny Boyle is a talented filmmaker, but I have never been a huge fan of his. His film are always a great idea with style but he always sabotages himself with bad writing and horrible endings. The Beach, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine are great movies for the first hour or so and then they go Bat-Shit crazy and the 3rd act ruins the entire feature. Slumdog Millionaire is no exception. The story follows the life of a game show contestant named Jamal. Every question has something to do with Jamal's past, and we see in flashbacks Jamal, his brother Salim, and a girl named Latika grow up orphaned in the Slums of Mumbai. I like the idea that every question on the game show opens a portal to his past, it's a great new way to tell someones life story. Boyle also made a great looking film with some beautiful shots of India and the gritty look of the Slums. The lead actor Dev Patel, who plays a adult Jamal, does a really good job and you do care about what happens to him. The first problem is how every flashback deals with a tragedy and every person in his life is a bad person. It's always his mom dies, blind homeless crippled children, his brother rapes his girlfriend and many more. I felt like I was watching a Lars Von Trier film where it's never subtleties it's always extremes. I also had a problem with the Game Show Host who turns out to be evil. He gives Jamal the wrong answer in private, and when Jamal doesn't trust him and goes against him on national TV, he pretty much tells him "Are you sure it's not B? You Should Answer B." That is straight up cheating on a national broadcast. Regis would be fired and brought up on charges if he did that to a contestant. Thats not all, after the Game Show Host tries to wain Jamal into the wrong answer he has Jamal tortured by the police, claims to the Media that Jamal cheated, and less than 24 hours later everything is smoothed over and he is back on the show. That is a major and ridicules plot hole. I know India isn't America, but it's not Stalinist Russia either. I also had a problem with the love story. They had chemistry, but I just didn't care and was waiting for her to be hit by a train. Slumdog Millionaire is similar to City Of God(2002) which is far superior in every way and didn't get the accolades that Slumdog is. I may be a little harsh on this film because it is a front runner for Best Picture of the Year. It's not a bad film, but there are about 15 films this year alot better than this one. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, January 24, 2009

See it again: Zodiac

We will all remember 2007 as one of the greatest years for film in our lifetime. Those of us who contribute to this blog have spent countless hours debating 'There will be Blood' against 'No Country for Old Men' and its what we live for. I've always believed that the best films ever made are ones that compel us to see them multiple times. Lately I've had the fortune of revisiting a film that should have been included on every one's 'best of' list not only for the year 2007, but for all of this decade. I remember seeing 'Zodiac' in the theater and liking it, but at the time I remember needing to see it again. Sadly that never happened and the film got lost in the shuffle of my memory banks until this month when I saw it again....and again....and again. Usually when we hear "David Fincher" images of 'Seven' and 'Fight Club' are what our movie brains show us, because they are movies which stand out on their own (Personally, 'Seven' is one of the best films I've ever seen). They both have a style and voice that distinguish themselves amongst the crowd and will always be remembered. In fact, he hasn't directed a movie that I would classify below the rating of OK, his last film falls into that category. For me, Zodiac winds up far on the other end of the scale because it is nothing short of a masterpiece. Zodiac is a brilliantly crafted film in every technical aspect and is delivered in a subtle, classic style. The real jewel of the movie, i believe, is the structure of the screenplay. Simply put, it's a chronological case study spanning 22 years put in the form of a flashbacks, no narration (These aren't BAD things, it's just nice to see a movie that can pull it off by giving the audience accountability). It's up to you, the viewer, to keep up with what's going on. Every scene....almost every shot gives you something, a small advancement to the story. It's amazing how a two second cut can make me put my hands up in the air as if to cheer on the attention to the smallest detail. In a way, it can make you obsessed with the story the way Robert Graysmith was with the case. Combine these elements with a beautifully lensed picture and you've got a real work of art. Acting: Every actor in this movie deserves to be mentioned. I've always been a fan of Mark Ruffalo, the guy can morph into any character you throw at him and he absolutely shines in this role. Also, John Carroll Lynch, who I most remember as Norm Sonofa-Gunderson from 'Fargo,' is outstanding in the precious few minutes he has on screen, which is also the best scene of the movie. Surely an achievement of this magnitude should attract attention from the Academy, right? Not so much. I won't go on a rant about the academy right now, because we would be here all day. For now, I'll just say this: If you go to the Academy's website (, in the lower left hand corner, you can search the academy's database. Type in 'Zodiac' and see what comes up. It's a fucking joke. If you've only seen this movie once, or not at all, and if you have the time (or The Movie Channel) please give it another view...or three. It will be well worth your time to reinvest in an instant classic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Film Review: Doubt

Doubt is another Broadway play I didn't see, but really wanted too. When I heard they were making it into a movie I was a little skeptical. New characters and new story lines usually accompany a film adaptation and the heart of a story can be lost. That is not the case in this film adaptation. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. The steller cast delivers and John Patrick Shanley's direction is key to the success of this film. The play and the film was his through and through and I am glad the studio didn't try to get a more commercial director to direct this sensitive subject. Shanley is a experienced writer with a very few directed films on his plate. I am sure he primarily worked with the actors and let the great Roger Deakins set up and photograph this beautiful looking film. The three main actors in this film Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams are all amazing and worth the price of admission. Hoffman is Father Flynn who is suspected of molesting a alienated boy named Donald Muller at their school. Hoffman is very likable and you find yourself rooting for his character throughout. Amy Adams is the naive Sister James who has suspicions of Father Flynn but is not sure if it's true or just a witch hunt. Adam's Sister James is the audiences conscience. She expresses what the viewer feels, and like the viewer caught in the middle. Streep gives one of the best performances of her career as Sister Beauvier, the head Nun and principal of the school, who attacks the problem directly without any doubt of his guilt. She is a mean spirited disciplinary who is feared by everyone and you get the feeling that her ways are outdated and she is threatened by the changes of the church.The writing is amazing and keeps the audience guessing the Fathers guilt until the very end. At the beginning I was on the Father's side as it seemed that Sister Beauivier was wanting to expose him because he was a young man who wanted change. It seems like a Witch Hunt from the beginning as Streep's character puts doubts in people's heads because of one of Father Flynn's unorthodox sermons about doubt. Sister James adds to the fire when she tells Sister Beauvier that Donald was in a private conference with Father Flynn, smelled of alcohol and acted strangely. As the story progresses you find out the church is a Boys Club that never punishes their own and that she has dealt with this situation before to no avail. The film plants seeds that shows that Sister Beauivier is doing this for all the right reasons, and not personal gain or self preservation. Sister Beauivier and James confront Father Flynn and his excuse is a believable one. You still doubt his guilt until the very end when Hoffman and Streep have a heated confrontation that is the best scene in the film. He is confused at why she finds it so easy to believe he is a child molester and her reason is because of the reaction she saw on a different boys face,William London, when he grabbed him sometime back. Flynn is shocked by this flimsy reason, but she also says she knows his past because she talked to a nun at his previous parish. Flynn is outraged because she didn't follow procedure and talk to a priest. At this point is when the viewer begins to see his guilt. Sister Beauivier went against the Boys Club Code and this causes him to call the Bishop and quit. You are still not 100% sure of his guilt until his goodbye sermon and you see William London with a smile on his face. The last scene is between Adams and Streep, and Streep tells her she lied about the nun because she knew this would confirm his guilt. Also she has discovered Father Flynn was at another school and in fact promoted and that the Monsignor did not believe her and the cycle continues. Sister Beauivier breaks down and says she now has doubts. Although she doesn't say what she doubts, it's obvious it's her faith in a religion that would allow a crime like molestation continue. Powerful one of the years best. 4 out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Film Review: Frost Nixon

I have never seen the Frost/Nixon interviews and have always been fascinated by Richard Nixon. I was excited about this movie and was upset I never got around to seeing the Broadway play. The film was entertaining and I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away by it. I know it's hard to make a film with the majority of the audience knows how it ends. It's hard to build suspense, but this was the same task that Ron Howard was faced with Apollo 13 and he hit that one out of the park. I do let it slide with Frost Nixon because there is no action and it's about a interview, not explosions in space. I think the process of getting the money together, planning and research for the interview wasn't that interesting. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are great and anytime they are on screen together it is gold. I felt the supporting cast were cardboard cut-outs boring their way through the story. With the exception of Kevin Bacon everyone gives a average performance and are emotionless cookie cutter characters. Sam Rockwell should have been great in this, but his character is typical and does nothing memorable.
The film trailer also gives away many of the best parts and moments that should have been funny or shocking were ruined. I think Oliver Stone's Nixon is a great film and it had some influence on this movie and possibly the play. Stone's film introduces a Richard Nixon who drinks too much and sabotages himself because secretly he wants to be caught. Frost Nixon is based on fact and Stone just exploited something that already existed,but the scene where a drunk Nixon calls Frost to challenge him had a Stone Nixon feel. Ron Howard makes a good film with great performances from it's lead actors, but the interview portion writes itself. The back story should have greater importance and be more interesting, if you can't do it then shortened it and give more time to the interview and the relationship between Frost and Nixon. 3.5 out of 5

Friday, January 16, 2009

Film Picture of the Week: The Apartment(1960)

Billy Wilder's classic is one of the few films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture that was a comedy. Great movie that flows because of the genius of Jack Lemmon. This picture is from Life Magazine with Lemmon looking at his occupied apartment.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Film Picture of the Week: Playtime (1967)

I had a chance to see a 70mm print of Jacques Tati's masterpiece at the Walter Reed theater this week in NY and it was a great experience. The production took 3 years and the whole set was built from scratch. Playtime is pretty much a silent film with brilliant sound and amazing visuals. The detail that Tati put into this film is phenomenal and I have never seen it's equal. Never watch this film on a small screen! The whole idea is lost unless it's watched on a screen bigger than 40 inches.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What gives with the dogs?

I love dogs just like any other human being. Heck, I even had one. Her name was Maggie. She was a cockerspaniel who liked to chew bones and chase raccoons during the middle of the night to my father's chagrin.  
But that's as far as I go with dogs. I hardly like them in my cinema. Sure, there's Turner and Hooch, but that's it. You gonna tell me K-9 was good? Top Dog? Sister Act
Well, the country sure loves it dogs right now. Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Marley and Me, Bolt, and—coming soon—Hotel for Dogs
So far, three out of those four films have been in the top 5 of the box office for weeks on end. Marley and Me has passed Four Christmases as the Christmas film, garnering more than $100 million, staying atop the box office. 
Look, I'll give Bolt a slight pass—it's animated. But the rest of these films? At what point was it so low executives said, "Hey, we should get George Lopez to do the voice of a live action dog! That ought to be hilarious!" On top of that, "let's have the lead dog act like Paris Hilton." 
"That's entertainment," the other exec blares from another office down the hall.  
But can we blame them? Hell no, the film was on top of the box office for weeks. Yes, weeks. Letting the director of such masterpieces as Scooby-Doo 2 get another shot at a career. 
As for Marley and Me: it was a given. The moment this book hit the shelves, it was going to become a film. SPOILER ALERT: The fucking dog dies at the end! Whoops, did I ruin it for you? Get a large, smart clue. If you market a book with a cute dog on the front, that dog is either going to die or suddenly start talking like George Lopez. And no smart writer will give a dog the voice of George Lopez. 
But, thing is, this movie was done long before the book came out: My Dog Skip. Now, there's a film that did the whole dog genre sincerely and with tact. Sure, it's about a dog, but it doesn't make you gag like Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston do. 
Marley and Me should be called Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston's Calling Card. I can see there agents now, trying to market them.
Wilson's: "Look, Bobby, I know he's done some shit. Drillbit Taylor, all that dramatic shit. I know, Bobby! But, he did that dog movie! It was a hit. Bobby...Bobby, c'mon!"
Aniston's: "This Aniston chick. Boom, I know. I know. The Break-Up. Friends with Money, thinkin she's Oscar-caliber or somethin', but she did the dog movie. Bobby...Bobby, c'mon!"
Thing is, Wilson and Aniston can act when given the chance. Check The Darjeeling LimitedThe Good Girl
And because America saw all these movies, we get a fourth, stale helping with Hotel for Dogs. In this (yet again) Disney-produced pick, the dogs don't even talk. They just sit there, while kid-actors scheme around them. 
Prediction: box-office gold, terrible reviews. But is it the final nail in the coffin? Hardly, it's the new horror film. Just as Saw is getting staler than a four-month-old box of Saltines in grandfather's cabinet, the dog movies will replace the horror films. 
I had a dog once, but the difference between me and Hollywood: I'm not going to write a sentimental crock entitled Maggie and Me
But, alas, to some people, "That's entertainment."  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Film Review: The Wrestler

I have never been a big fan of Darren Aronofsky. He doesn't make bad films, he just doesn't make great films that always seem to have something missing. Aronofsky has always been good with actors and always gets great performances from them. His films are always too stylized with weak stories. The Wrestler is the first film that I think Aronofsky got great acting and a strong story. I was not expecting much from The Wrestler and was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The movie is shot on super 16 with a documentary type style. This is probably why this is the best film he has ever made, he had to concentrate on the actors and the plot. The subject matter is something I am interested in, because I loved pro wrestling when I was a kid. The phenomenal Mickey Rourke plays a wrestler who is way past his prime and must deal with the fact that his body failing. Rourke is amazing as Randy"the Ram"Robinson and his performance is genuine. The acting and wrestling scenes are so real that at times it makes your stomach turn and you want to take a shower. The behind the scenes at the wrestling matches is fascinating and my favorite part of the film. Rourke's preparation for a match and his interaction with the other wrestlers is so realistic that you think you are watching a documentary. I enjoyed the scenes with his estranged daughter(Evan Rachel Wood), and even though they were typical the performances were so strong that you didn't mind. Marisa Tomei gives a good performance as a stripper who's life is parallel with Rourke's. That is the one problem I had with the film, Tomei is supposed to be a stripper way past her prime and she obviously isn't. She is too good looking and her body still looks like a twenty year old. She wouldn't be slumming with someone who looks like or is as poor as Rourke. Overall very enjoyable with the best performance of Mickey Rourke's career. 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gran Tarino: WTF?

Gran Torino is a D+ film with an A+ performance by Clint Eastwood.  Believe the hype:  Clint, in what is being said to be his acting swan song, gives one of the best performances of his carrer (William Munny in Unforgiven is still his greatest).  But that's all this film has going for it. Gran Torino plays out like a student film starring a geriatric Dirty Harry.

Bottom line:  this film is terrible for two reasons:  the script and the supporting cast.

Eastwood plays Walt, a racist, recently widowed Korean War vet who seems to do nothing all day but sit on his porch, drink beer, and grumble about how Asians have taken over his neighborhood. I'm not sure if screenwriter Nick Schenk intended to write such a
hilarious and contrived script, but he did.  Every plot point is telegraphed from a mile away. Character motivations serve the story not the characters.  Oh, and the dialogue is nothing less than atrocious.  The most absurd aspect of the script is when Walt insults everyone he speaks to most of the characters react to him as though they can't hear him, or as if they're amused by him.  I've dated a few Asian girls in my time, and trust me, the epithet 'gook' is not considered humorous or flattering.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines acting simply as:  the art or practice of representing a character.  
Now, if I were a young, aspiring asian actor and saw this film, I would find Bee Vang and Ahney Her and ask if either 
one of them knew this definition.  Or I'd beat the living crap out of their untalented asses.  This is the worst acting I have ever seen in a major studio film.  They make Sophia Coppola's performance in Godfather III look like iconic in comparison .  What in the hell was Eastwood thinking when he was casting/directing/acting in/editing this film? Was he too wrapped up in what he was doing to bother directing these two amateurs?  Casting director Ellen Chenoweth should be embarrassed.

An icon like Clint Eastwood deserves his final performance to be in a better film than this.  It deserves The Shootist or Road to Perdition.  Not this.  

Gran Torino is either a terrible drama or one of the most subtle comedies of the decade. Perhaps both.
1 out of 5

Film Review: Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road is Sam Mendes fourth film based on Richard Yates 1961 novel of the same name. Mendes delivers again a poignant drama with great performances and along with DP Roger Deakins one of the best looking films of the year. Revolutionary Road is the story of of two people who think they are special but begin to realize that they are mediocre. They decide to break out of this mediocrity by packing up the family and start anew in Paris. They are both re energized by this idea at first, but life gets in the way and the plan begins to fail. Once the plan fails the Marriage and their life falls apart. Leonardo DiCaprio is good as Frank Wheeler, a man bored with his life and job. Frank is bored, but he is a responsible adult who loves his kids and seems content with being like everyone else. He has a job with a good future, takes pride that he can support his family, and is beginning to see that his father wasn't a failure just because he wasn't "special". Kate Winslet's April is a different story.

April Wheeler is a failed actress who feels forced to live life as a mother and housewife. She has never traveled like Frank, he was in the Army and works in the city, and the move to Paris is her idea. Her life is claustrophobic with routine visits from neighbors and housekeeping and never gets to escape her suburban cage. Kate Winslet is magnificent and the second half of the film belongs to her. You slowly begin to see that change is 100% her idea and she just uses her husbands situation as a chance to be free. Frank has made almost every decision that has led them down this path and probably only married him because of early promises of greatness. She's a empty void when her dreams are taken away and becomes a tragic figure. Even though they feel mediocre their neighbors think of them as extraordinary and at times jealous of their originality. The supporting cast is fantastic and they keep the film afloat and give you a break from the Wheelers self loathing. David Harbour is really good as the neighbor who is in love with April and envious of the Wheelers life. The standout of the entire picture is Michael Shannon who plays Kathy Bates son who has just got out of a psychiatric ward. He is brutally honest and seems to be the one person who understands what the Wheels are going through. One problem I had with the film is how conveniently the children are absent. They always seem to be out when their is fighting and the Wheelers always have time to hang out with friends whenever they want. It's a reverse Charlie Brown Syndrome and after awhile it begins to bother you that they are never around for anything. This film would have had more of a impact on me when I was 18-20 years old and I thought I was destined for greatness. 3.5 out of 5 stars.