Thursday, December 23, 2010

2 brief movie reviews: True Grit (2010); The Fighter (2010)

Directors - Ethan and Joel Coen
110 min; PG-13
Jeff Bridges - Rooster Cogburn
Hailee Steinfeld - Mattie Ross
Matt Damon - LaBoeuf
Josh Brolin - Tom Chaney
Barry Pepper - Ned Pepper

I've heard that True Grit (1969) starring John Wayne is a very good film, a true Western in the genre sense, yet I have never seen it, and I'm actually glad because I would not want comparisons to get in the way of my judgment of the new Coen brother's film of the same name. Just when you expected something out of the Coens you get the unexpected, a pretty straight forward western with little to no overly creative plot input. Thankfully this works incredibly well. This is a great film.

Hailee Steinfeld plays the role of 14 year old Mattie Ross, anything but your typical girl in the old west. Seeking to avenge her father's murder at the hands of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) she looks to hire the nearest tough guy she can find. In steps Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), an uncouth, broke, drunken son of a bitch of a Marshall who also happens to be tough as nails when it counts. Along with Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon), who has his own agenda in capturing Chaney, the three form an unlikely trio as they enter dangerous territory in the name of justice and money.

The film is full of laughable moments and you may even laugh out loud from time to time, but it is in no way a comedy and we are reminded of that each time a man's head is blown to pieces. Though Brolin is fine in a limited role and Damon provides some decent scenes, this film is all about Mattie and Rooster, a 14 year old girl with pigtails and a hardened drunk who has killed more men than he can remember. An incredible performance by both is only very very slightly let down by an unnecessary coda, but with little else to criticize I'll just say this is simply one of the best films of the year.

***** out of 5

(Note: Having already done my Best Of List I will simply say this film belongs somewhere in the top 10)

The Fighter (2010)
Director - David O. Russell
115 min; R
Mark Walberg - Micky Ward
Christian Bale - Dicky Eklund
Amy Adams - Charlene
Melissa Leo - Alice Ward

The Fighter, based on the true story of Miky Ward and his half brother Dicky Eklund, does two things which help it rise above a merely average film and into a better than average film, and without both of them I'm not sure this film would succeed as it does.

1: Mark Walberg is not really the star. He is not really the focus of the film. With that in mind, his speaking parts are actually quite limited, a good thing for Mark Walberg as a leading man. Letting his actions and mannerisms speak for themselves serve him much better than trying to read a two page scene.

2: The film does not try to overdo fight scenes, which usually leads to everyone questioning the realism of those scenes which ultimately detracts from the film. This film never really asks us to believe we are watching top quality boxing matches, it simply asks us to believe that the scenes we do watch are, well, believable.

The film is carried by the performance of Christian Bale, as the half brother Dickey to Mark Walberg's Micky Ward, the two siblings from lower class Lowell, MA are boxers. Well, Dickey was a boxer who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray and knocked him down, or perhaps he stumbled to the mat, no matter. Now he is a junkie and HBO is doing a documentary on him in his home town. He's so strung out he never even grasps the reality of the addiction show they are making it out to be. So what? Well, he is also training Micky, and along with his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) they hold total control over him. They are family, but we never really fully grasp the reasons for all the love from Micky. He simply states they are his family.

When Micky begins a relationship with tough talking Charlene (Amy Adams) things change. The film becomes a struggle for Micky to choose what is best for him, which may not include the family he has always relied on, for better or worse. Based on a true story the film is a very good one but falls a little short on the emotional connection you get from, say, Rocky, but I freely admit I went into this with some preconceived notions of what I was going to get from Walberg and Bale, so maybe I'm being a little harsh when I say that it was entertaining enough, but nothing about this film ever really made me think I was watching anything too special.

**** out of 5

Friday, December 17, 2010

2010 Best of Film

Had some time today and just felt like getting this done.

2010 never really felt like a good year for film, but after going through the 50 films I have seen I am pleasantly surprised to find 20 of them that I think are very good to great. I'm going to use Roger Ebert's format for this year and list my top 10 films of the year, then my second tier 10 films in alphabetical order, plus one 'Special Jury Prize'... I am also including all other films I have seen in alphabetical order as well as a few I have not yet seen.

10. The American

Fish Tank

Winter's Bone

The Kids Are All Right

The Social Network


Black Swan

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) (This was a 2009 award winner, but released in the USA in 2010)

The King's Speech

Special Jury Prize for a film that does not fit anywhere else but deserves recognition

The Tillman Story

10 other great films in alphabetical order

Animal Kingdom
Cell 211 (Celda 211)
Get Low
Let Me In (The original Let The Right One In is even better)
Never Let Me Go
Solitary Man
The Ghost Writer
The Town

29 other films I have seen in 2010 (alphabetical)

Alice in Wonderland
Easy A
Fair Game
Green Zone
Harry Brown
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel
Iron Man 2
Morning Glory
Repo Men

Scott Pilgrim VS The World
The A Team
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Killer Inside Me
The Last Exorcism
The Losers
The Runaways
The Warrior's Way
Unstoppable Harry Potter 7 part 1 Shutter Island
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps

(Upcoming films I have not seen but intend to: The Fighter, True Grit, Blue Valentine)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A movie review: Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)
Director - Darren Aronofsky
108 Min; R
Natalie Portman - Nina Sayers
Mila Kunis - Lily
Vincent Cassel - Thomas Leroy
Barbara Hershey - Erica Sayers
Winona Ryder - Beth

At a certain point about halfway through the film Black Swan I started to question my full understanding and expectations of what I was watching, then, thankfully, I re-directed my focus on the beautiful and violent second half in time to come away with a deep appreciation for this Darren Aronofsky film. 108 minutes about ballet may not sound, on the surface, as the type of film you'd choose to spend your money on, but come on, this is Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis locked in a psychological battle that encompasses both the mental and the physical (plus it's got some sweet lesbian action, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.)

The film starts us off in a dream sequence and it never relents nor apologizes for the juxtaposition between the real world and fantasy. If you are looking for a film that connects the dots and at the end you can comfortably say you understood it all, this is not for you. My initial inclination is to compare the feeling I had throughout to that of Mulholland Dr. (2001), a David Lynch film that leaves you with a vague understanding of everything that is happening and just when you sort of think you understand it fully, you realize there is more to discover.

Nina (Portman) is a sheltered young dancer who has spent several years perfecting her craft - she wants to be perfect in her technique - yet she has neglected every other aspect of her life. She lives with her domineering and slightly creepy mother, played with incredible zeal by Barbara Hershey, who was once herself a dancer who never quite made it and now spends all of her time managing Nina and working on her painting in their small Manhattan apartment. When the theater director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) announces that there will be a change in the lead dancer (The famous Beth played by Winona Ryder) and that the new season will feature a production of Swan Lake, Nina plunges her soul into obtaining the part that requires the lead to portray both the good white and bad black swan. A transplant dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) arrives around this time and is immediately perceived as a threat by Nina, something that is seemingly confirmed as Thomas and Lily appear to be getting along on a carnal level that Nina cannot understand, given her limited life and, more to the point, sexual experience.

Where the film goes from here is for you to discover, as it takes a psychological path through the mind of Nina that leaves us with a beautiful final scene that cements Portman's inevitable Oscar nomination. For my money I would also like to see Kunis nominated for Best Supporting Actress, as her role is pivotal to our understanding of Nina's journey. In the same breath I would like to note that Barbara Hershey could very well end up with a nod as well, though in a lesser role she is no less important to our overall emotional involvement in the film.

Followers of Aronofsky will undoubtedly find similarities to some of his other films, but I don't think that detracts from the overall effect. Shaky, hand-held camera angles work very well in many scenes and the tedious scenes of an artist preparing for his or her craft are well done and in no way gratuitous. A voracious score that begs you to see this in a large theater is always present and a willingness by the director to allow the cast to discover their character's inner beings is what makes this a truly special film, and though I found myself wavering on a final verdict I have decided to go with my instinct and say this is one of the best films of the year, though I'm more than willing to admit that some may find it a bit too much of an art house feel to be considered among the best of the year.

***** out of 5

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A movie review: The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech (2010)
Director - Tom Hooper
118 min; R
Colin Firth - King George VI
Geoffrey Rush - Lionel Logue
Helena Bonham Carter - Queen Elizabeth

Oscar season is officially open for business.

The King's Speech is a remarkable movie in that it perfectly executes the tying together of everything you want in a film: strong acting from every character; a well defined plot based on an interesting premise; a wonderful score; emotionally satisfying.

With WWII looming ever closer and his brother having just abdicated his seat on the throne so that he could marry a twice divorced American woman, Albert (Colin Firth) is thrust into a position he never anticipated. Taking the name King George VI he is to rule the monarchy as it enters war and he knows he must emote a strong and confident demeanor. There is one problem - he has a severe and persistent stutter. The film opens with an emotionally charged scene of Albert in 1925 as he addresses a crowd at the closing ceremonies of the British Empire Exposition at Wembley Stadium. Stepping to the microphone all goes wrong as he completely freezes. With his wife's (Helena Bonham Carter - the future Queen Elizabeth) ongoing support Bertie (his nickname to only his closest family and friends) goes through a multitude of speech therapists in pursuit of solving his problem. It is the eventual meeting with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) that will forever change his life. Working together closely and running the gauntlet of highs and lows, Logue works feverishly to help the, first future king, and later king as the film leads up to its most pivotal scene - the 9 minute war time declaration speech to broadcast around the world.

At the heart of the film is the relationship between Bertie and Lionel. It is such an unlikely friendship between two very big personalities that it effortlessly leads to high emotional points but surprisingly also lends itself to some very funny scenes and comments, something you may not see coming in this type of film. Firth, Rush and Bonham Carter are all excellent in their roles and it would be no surprise to me to see any of them nominated for multiple awards (though the queen's role may be too limited to be considered.)

If you enjoyed Frost/Nixon (2008) then this film is definitely for you. How can you make something that is known suspenseful? This film uses a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat who has a long list of credits to his name int he film industry. The film never drags because it does such a wonderful job at weaving different story lines together yet never forgetting that this is the story of a unique friendship. If you enjoy this film like I did you may also find yourself looking up more information about the true history of this story - something I am finding to be very interesting.

***** out of 5

Friday, December 3, 2010

A brief movie review: Fair Game (2010)

Fair Game (2010)
Director - Doug Liman
PG 13; 108 Min
Naomi Watts - Valerie Plame
Sean Penn - Joe Wilson

Not to be confused for one second with the terrible film of the same name starring Cindy Crawford many years ago (the movie may have blown, but it was so worth the $ to slow mo Crawford) the 2010 film called Fair Game is a very good film filled with very good performances based on the actual events surrounding the outing of a covert CIA agent Valerie Plame by members of the White House in retaliation to her husband Joe Wilson calling out the President for lying about an Iraq/Africa terrorist link in President Bush's State of the Union speech that all but sealed the fate of the war.

Sean Penn is his usual self as a confident and cocky actor and he once again chooses a role that fits his style well. It is Naomi Watts who stands out in this one though as she is able to strongly convey the range of emotions this woman must have gone through during this ordeal.

I simply know what I read during the time of this, some 7 years ago, and so I can't speak too much to the validity of all the movie facts, but as a story it is quite compelling and I strongly suggest you see it.

**** out of 5

A movie review: The Warrior's Way (2010)

Director - Sngmoo Lee
R; 100 Min
Don-Gung Jang - Yang
Kate Bosworth - Lynne
Geoffrey Rush - Ron

I am completely baffled that the current ratings for the new film The Warrior's Way sit at 40% on yet 70% on How it crept over 30% on either site seems silly as this is nothing more than a film that takes a wild and creative thought and completely butchers the execution. Not only does the 70% rating blow my mind, but it makes me wonder if anyone anywhere at anytime can ever trust an imdb rating ever again (And yes, I too love The Shawshank Redemption.)

With that said, this isn't the worst movie I have seen this year. There is some decent action, but most of the good stuff happens way after the half way point, which means 50minutes of set up for a film that needs no more than 15. The problem is that it all just feels like the crew picked apart every single aspect they liked about Westerns and Ninja genres from all of time and tried to splice them together to create a super-movie about westerns and ninjas. It doesn't work well.

At the heart of the failure is Kate Bosworth (my ex-wife from the Blue Crush days) who absolutely mutilates her role as the only good looking young woman in a town of gunslingers and whores. Someone gave her the idea (the director? perhaps?) that she should play an 'aww-shucks' and 'woe is me' type of character, when in reality her character is seething with an inner want for revenge against the man who killed her family. Her training sessions with Yang (played by Korean star Don-Gung Jang) are comical at best as she goes from poor stuttering can't hit a barn wall with a rock girl to amazingly skilled ninja warrior to let me give him a kiss and giggle like a school girl. How can this possibly work? It can't.

Can someone explain to me how Geoffrey Rush got in this film? I can only assume he stumbled onto the set drunk one day and nobody had the heart to tell him to leave. The guy has an Oscar yet here he is about as useful as Josh Brolin's Jonah Hex, scarred face and all.

The movie is rated R which is good because it crosses the line in a lot of spots for a film that doesn't feel like it should be R. Pedophile rape possibilities abound as ninja warriors and western cowboys shed more blood than a Tarantino film and somewhere in the middle of it all is a plot about a baby that Yang wouldn't kill...or something like that.

* and 1/2 out of 5

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A recap post of my favorite reviewed films

There should be some pretty decent films coming out this month as everyone vies for a shot at Oscar. I figured I'd put together a list of all my 4/5 and higher ranked reviewed films over the past few years so that if you are looking to fill some nights with Netflix or Redbox you'd have something to go off, instead of blindly choosing something and hoping that Vantage Point will be a solid flick (it isn't.) You can search for the actual review of a film if you would like to read it or just ask and I'll post.

In order by date of my review, starting with the most recent, with bolded films being my personal favorites:

Unstoppable 4/5
Harry Potter 7 part 1 4/5
Cell 211/Celda 211 4/5
Never Let Me Go 4/5
The Social Network 5/5
Let Me In 4/5
A Single Man 4.5/5
Me and Orson Welles 4.5/5
Solitary Man 4/5
The American 4/5
Animal Kingdom 4/5
Get Low 4/5
The Tillman Story 4.5/5
The Kids Are All Right 4.5/5
An Education 4/5
Winter's Bone 4.5/5
Inception 5/5
The Secret In Their Eyes/El secreto de sus ojos 5/5
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 5/5
Primer I gave it 3.5/5 but it is a great sci-fi/realism flick shot for pennies
Who the %&*# is Jackson Pollack? 4/5
The King of Kong 4/5
Man On Wire 5/5
Fish Tank 5/5
Crazy Heart 5/5
Disgrace 5/5
Up In The Air 5/5
Antichrist 4.5/5 (warning - read up on this one before you decide if it is for you - very graphic)
A Serious Man 5/5
Zombieland 5/5
Cold Souls 3.5/5 - another 3.5/5 that I really like
Inglourious Basterds 4.5/5
District 9 4/5
The Hurt Locker 5/5
Hunger 5/5
Tyson 4/5
The Great Buck Howard
Watchmen 4/5
Let The Right One In/Lat den ratte komma in 5/5
In Bruges 4.5/5
Wendy and Lucy 4/5
Vicky Cristina Barcelona 4/5
Revolutionary Road 4.5/5
Milk 4/5
The Wrestler 5/5
Synecdoche, NY 5/5
Slumdog Millionaire 4/5
Frost/Nixon 5/5
Pride and Glory 4/5
Iron Man 4/5
The Dark Knight 4/5
Juno 4/5
Zodiac 4/5