April 2017


There were 20 first-time viewings this month and 7 re-watches. It was a very good month. Continue reading


April 2013- Best & Worst

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This month, for reasons that I’ve mentioned many a time here I only managed to watch 11 films for the first time and three rewatches. So, what did the month of April have awaiting me? Well, for one, a recent movie by one of the most divisive comedy directors that I ended up loving much much much than I expected, a mind puzzler that lived up to the hype, and my second Ernst Lubitsch film, which did not live up to Ninotchka, but was fun none the less. I also caught up with two of last year’s high profile HBO releases, and a really fun IMAX spectacle.

So, since I viewed so few films, I’m going to limit the list to the best five films I saw for the first time rather than 10. Continue reading

March 2013- Best & Worst

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This past March I decided that I wanted to watch some anime. However, since I know almost next to nothing about this particular form of animation, to get my fix I decided that I was going to catch up on the films from Studio Ghibli that I had not yet seen. I got through most of them, but I still have to watch My Neighbors the Yamadas and Only Yesterday. However, I got enough anime in a one-week stretch, so I think it will be a while before I get to them.

Besides that, I continued to catch up on the films of 2012 that I think I should see before I commit to wrapping up with year with my big article. Among these were Paul Thomas Anderson’s polarizing follow-up to There Will Be Blood, William Friedkin’s twisted but oh-so-fun second collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts, and the surprisingly awesome conclusion to one of the most hated franchises in recent memory. I also viewed my first three films from 2013.

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Review: Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole | John Cameron Mitchell, 2010

It seems that every year we get a movie about young parents either losing their children or being torn apart by the concept of family, and while some of them are great, the story is getting kind of old. But then along comes Nicole Kidman, who saw the stage version of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Rabbit Hole” (he also wrote the movie), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for Cynthia Nixon, and decided to produce a film version for her to star in.  Once she did, she got indie wunderkind John Cameron Mitchell to direct it despite the fact that he had only dwelled on extremely sexual films up to that point. She and the director then filled the rest of the cast with talented people, and the result is one of the best movies of the year.

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman plays Becca and Aaron Eckhart plays Howie. They are a relatively young couple who seem to live a comfortable life, but they don’t. Eight months ago, they lost their two-year-old child in a freak accident. Since then they have been going to group therapy, although she hates it. The film, from then on explores the relationship between Becca and her mom (Diane Wiest), who is still grieving after her 30-year-old son died 11 years ago, how she copes with her sister’s pregnancy, the possibility that her marriage might end, and what happens once she meets Jason (Miles Teller), the young man who accidentally killed her son’s death.

So you see, nothing ground breaking going on story-wise. However, the way the author takes on it is different from others. First off, it’s not a dreary drama that makes you want to slice your veins or anything. There is lightness about it. There are some funny moments and some hopeful ones, and they balance with the more dramatic ones. Also, this movie could have gone into melodrama territory, but it didn’t. The author only wrote two big fights, and it felt natural, like it is the kind of thing that would happen in these situations. And his dialogue is rich and engaging.

John Cameron Mitchell’s direction also helps wonderfully in making this refreshing script come to life. He can be quite stylish, even with his low budgets, and while he does make sure that this looks like part of his filmography, he holds back a bit and uses enough style so that the story and the performances shine even more. His decision to have DP Frank G. DeMarco shoot the movie with the RED ONE instead of 16mm film, which would have been the choice given the budget, helps with the lightness of the film by giving it a filmic, but not gritty or video look to it. In fact, some of the images are quite breathtaking. The editing is also quite great as it makes 90 minutes fly by. And Anton Sanko’s score is lovely, but it doesn’t interfere with what is going on and only plays in appropriate places.

Then there are the performances, the one thing that most people will want to watch it for. Nicole Kidman’s performance is further proof of the fact that she is the greatest actress of her generation. The role of Becca calls for a cold outer appearance, but who can also look like any moment she can just burst with emotion, and she does it perfectly. When she finally does, you can’t help but feel for her, to want to go and comfort her or something. Her accent does slip every once in a while, but you don’t really notice it because you are too engrossed with what is happening on the screen. I must also say that she hasn’t looked this beautiful and relaxed since Moulin Rouge! Aaron Eckhart gives his best performance so far. He plays the opposite of Kidman, as he can’t move on, and you can see, even when he has truly embraced the fact that life goes on. Diane Wiest is delightful as what could be called comedy relief, but only because her character is quite quirky, but she definitely has some problems deep inside. Miles Teller is given his first major role here, and he knocks it out of the park. At firt he looks like a regular teenager, but when he meets Becca, you can see how the accident changed his life and blames himself although it wasn’t really his fault.  And Sandra Oh reminded me that she can be quite good when she is not in crap medical dramas.

Rabbit Hole is a refreshing and affecting look into what happens when parents lose a child. The production could not be better, the performances are top-notch, as is the writing. Overall, it is a very powerful and fantastic movie that should not be missed.

Cinematic Heaven: Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! | Baz Luhrman, 2001

Moulin Rouge! is like sex. The first time you do it, you might find it rather painful or embarrassing and you just can’t do more than a few minutes. However, as you do it more times, you become used to it and may end up loving it. Hell, some even become addicts. Most people, when you talk to them about Moulin Rouge! say that they could not make it past the first 15 minutes or so. I felt the same way when I first attempted to watch this Baz Luhrmann-directed movie late one Saturday in broadcast television. It was at the part where Christian and his friends first go to the Moulin Rouge, and my head hurt from all the craziness that was going on. So, I decided to turn off the TV and go to sleep. However, I could not get the few minutes I saw out of my head. Sometime during the week that followed, I rented the movie to give it another try. And this time, I fell in love with it. And so, I joined a select few who gave the movie another try and discovered that there is much more than that deliciously chaotic intro, and now I’m kind of addicted to it.

The story is all too familiar, but remains one of my favorite stories of all time. We first meed Christian (Ewan McGregor), and English writer who hopes to join and be inspired by the bohemian revolution in Paris during the 1800s. Within moments of his arrival in Paris, he find himself  in writing a truly bohemian show called “Spectacular Spectacular” and preparing a pitch for Harry Zidler (Jim Broadbent), with a troupe of bohemians, among them John Leguizamo as Toulouse, a dwarf. There is one problem: Zidler doesn’t know anything about the new writer. So, they have to get to Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge, first so that he could convince him to stage the show.

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Review: The Golden Compass

Golden Compass | Chris Weitz, 2007

The “His Dark Materials” trilogy is among one of the best things ever. It is perfectly thrilling, filled with creativity, and has a very important message. When you are reading it, it feels as if you are watching a movie, so then you can’t actually help but wonder what it would actually look like on the big screen. After the success of The Lord of the Rings, New Line tried to continue to capitalize on the fantasy craze that those movies and Harry Potter created by bringing the first book of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy. There was so much great stuff in the source material that there was no way that it could fail. But guess what, it did.

The Golden Compass, like is the first “His Dark Materials” book. It concerns Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a girl who lives in a college in a world where the souls of people are outside their bodies and shaped like animals. One day her Lord Ariel (Daniel Craig) comes to the college to ask for funds for an expedition to be able to travel to other worlds and study Dust (they don’t tell you what it is here). The Magisterium, the group that controls the world, does not want that to happen. But he is given the money. Then Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) comes in the picture and she takes Lyra for an expedition to the north. But she is evil and kidnaps children for evil experiments. So Lyra runs away, joins the Gyptians, hires a bear, and goes to save the children.

In that paragraph I have just given you what the movie is all about and it is as short. That is one of the biggest problems with the movie. I understand that no adaptation will be exactly like the book, but there is so much in the source material that you can’t tell the story without sacrificing some important plot points. And here is where the script failed. It feels like a “For Dummies” version of the story. They take you somewhere, some dialogue is exchanged to explain the situation and that’s that. And the dialogue is not even that good.

Then there is the god-awful direction. Chris Weitz has made one good movie, but that didn’t qualify him for this. The story required someone who would have no trouble with an epic; that understood how to make the things that seem ridiculous work within the context of the story. It needed someone that could actually direct.

Here are some of his bad decitions:

1. The armoured bear fight: In the book, this scene takes just about an entire chapter. It is thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. And what Iørek does to end the fight actually made say “HOLY SHIT!” out loud during quiet reading time at school. In the movie, it just happens. Iørek goes to the king bear, fights him, knocked off his jaw, and that’s about it. In fact, it was kind of funny.

2. Mrs. Coulter’s job: In the movie we learn right away that she is evil. But in the book, it takes a while for us to learn that and therefore it is even more shocking when we learn that she works for the Magisterium and is the head of the Gobblers.

3. The ending: I cannot tell you how pissed I am about the ending. In the movie we get a cliffhanger, but a happy one. It tells us that things are going to be all right but that is not the way it was supposed to end. The last few chapters in the book are the best part because not only does it have one of the most shocking moments in the entire trilogy, but also it sets up what it is truly about. The scenes were actually shot, but fucking Christ Weitz wanted to leave it in a happy not so that the next movie would start with a bang. Yes, let’s start the movie by killing the kid that that Lyra worked so hard to rescue. Maybe the movie flopped because it ended in a way that it didn’t leave people craving for more.

And along with the awful direction comes an awful production. First off, the editing is horrible. Supposedly it went through many directors because the studio and the director were not happy with a variety of cuts, so they just stuck things together, and it shows. The score is also rather bad. I love Alexandre Desplat, hell he might be the next John Williams. But his score feels out of place and is too soft for this kind of movie. And then there is the art direction. There are times when it is fitting, but it all feels so slick, when it is actually supposed to take place in a world not so different from our own. The cinematography is also bad. Looks too clear and fake, like an Adam Sandler comedy. I mean, Trucker and Once had better cinematography, and the only cost a tiny fraction of what this cost. What the fuck? The same goes for Visual Effects. At least they got the costumes right.

The one thing they got right was the cast, but even then they actors had pretty much nothing to work with and are given very little screen time and bad editing mars their appearances. As for Dakota Blue Richards, she is good and she would have grown into the role, but since this is the only movie she will likely ever be in, I must say that I wasn’t convince by her. When she is interacting with other people she is quite good, but when she is talking to a CGI thing she tends to overact, but again, the crappy editing and shitty visual effects didn’t help. Nicole Kidman is easily the stand out.

And now, the biggest crime of them all: Neither the studio or the writer/director had the balls to make the movie about the story’s true meaning. The trilogy is a story about trying to stop religion and more or less destroying God. Now, I’m not saying that believing in God is wrong, I do believe in him, but religion is pretty much tearing the world apart. The “His Dark Materials” trilogy is as anti-religious as any book could be, and it actually puts up quite a good argument. But since controversy would follow, no one involved with the production wanted to touch the meaning of the story.

It took me about three viewings but now I realize that this movie is a piece of shit. Hopefully in some years someone will be brave enough to tell the story as it should be told in movies of epic lengths or in mini-series format.

Should Be “Spectacular, Spectacular”

On October 19, the best movie of the last decade will finally be released on Blu-ray (and just in time for the movie’s 10th anniversary).

Here are the special features, according to The Digital Bits:

Moulin Rouge! will include an exclusive Spectacular, Spectacular Picture-in-Picture viewing mode with audio commentary (by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald M. McAlpine and Craig Pearce, and featuring behind-the-scenes footage and stills), the A Creative Adventure featurette, an Introduction by Baz Luhrmann, uncut and unreleased footage (including the Father & Son alternate opening and Nicole Kidman’s first vocal test), 6 production featurettes (The Stars, The Writers, The Design, The Dance, The Music and The Cutting Room), The Making of Moulin Rouge documentary, BD-Live: Live Lookup and more.

I can’t wait to see the opening, “El Tango De Roxanne”, and the finale in glorious HD. *drools*

Update: Here’s the trailer for the UK release of the BD.

Review: Nine

Nine | Rob Marshall, 2009

When I sat down to watch this, I decided that I was going to judge this movie on it’s own merits despite the fact that it is a musical version of 8 1/2, one of my favorite movies of all time. Yet, as I sat there, I could not help but do it. So many shots are so similar despite that they are from different directors, and it overall takes a different approach to the story. So, in the end I was left with an entertaining movie that lacked the emotional depth of the original source.

Like 8 1/2, Nine follows Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a famous director who has hit a creative slump. There are high expectation for his latest film, Italia, but he doesn’t even have a script, and he’s supposed to start shooting it in 10 days. In addition to this, he is having problems with his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), he has a mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz), he is having problems getting his muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman) to make the film because he doesn’t have a script yet, there is an American reporter (Kate Hudson) after him, and he is seeing his dead mother (Sophia Loren). Then there is his costume designer Lilli, who is his confident, and he is having flashbacks to when he was a child and got reprimanded for messing with a prostitute.

The biggest difference between Nine and 8 1/2 is that the former takes the latter’s subtleties and urinates on them. No longer do we have to wonder what Guido is feeling about these women because his feelings are told through elaborate  and flashy musical numbers. Then there is how cold it feels. It seems like Rob Marshall was too focused on getting the choreography right, and forgot that this story has to have heart. I guess that also roots from the fact that he is an inexperienced director, and that he has not gone through half of what Fellini had gone through when he made 8 1/2.

With that said, now let’s focus on the positive. First off, the cast. Every part here, no matter how unnecessary, was perfectly cast. If there was one person that is good enough to step into Marcello Mastroianni’s shoes, it is Daniel Day-Lewis. Sure, he doesn’t have a great voice, but it is adequate for the lyrics, and he knocks out the non-singing parts. Marion Cotillard gives the best performance in the movie as the alienated wife. Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz do wonders with their alloted screen time (although Cruz did not deserve to be nominated for an Oscar). And Denched seemed to have a lot of fun. Fergie, Kate Hudson, and Sophia Loren were just standing there, although I must say that Fergie’s rendition of “Be Italian” gave me chills. Then there is the production. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, etc, are all great. If there is one thing that Rob Marshall is good at is at making things look pretty.

Nine is an entertaining movie, and that’s about it. Maybe it would have been more acclaimed if they had changed the character names and had dropped the whole “inspired by 8 1/2” angle. Totally unnecessary, but fun.

The Decade in Review: The Top 10 Actors of the Decade

I guess it goes without saying that without actors, there would be no movies, unless it is a silent animated movie or a documentary. The overall quality of a movie can be decided by the quality of an actor’s work. Sometimes a good performance saves the movie from being average or from being a complete failure. At the same time they can also bring down a movie with great production values,  a great script, and mostly good performances from the entire cast.

Today I’m going to focus on the actors that showed their excellence throughout this decade. It may have been one project that made them stand head and shoulders above others, or their entire filmography, but all these actors have done something very special that blew me away.

I have picked five men and five women and ranked them within their respective gender. However, I do point out who I think is the most outstanding of their profession for this decade.

(FYI, the picture represents their best performance of the decade)

Without further ado, here are my picks for the top 10 actors of the decade.

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Short Reviews: Land of the Lost, The Great Buck Howard, The Others

Land of the Lost | Brad Silberling, 2009

I understand why this movie got so many bad reviews, but I liked it. Yes, it does feel slow for a movie that is less than two hours, and yes, some of the scenes are rather horrible, but I found my self having fun, laughing at some of the lines and situations.

Will Ferrell is just doing his usual schtick; Danny McBride is pretty funny; and Anna Friel is lovely in a severely lacking role. The visual effects and set are intentionally cheesy, and I liked that. The movie captures the feeling of the original show, and just adds some modern humor to it. I had fun, and that was enough for me.

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