Friday, February 27, 2009

The Lost Weekend

The Lost Weekend is a tale of the power and destruction of alcoholism, as told through the powerful talents of director Billy Wilder. This film won Oscars for best picture, actor, director and screenplay in 1945, it won the grand prize at Cannes, and the Golden Globe – this is a film that was lauded and applauded by all when it came out and I have to say it was well deserved.

While The Lost Weekend is definitely alcoholism through the lens of 1945 it is nonetheless a biting and harrowing look at what people didn’t consider a disease, but something to hide, a family scandal. This was an era that still remembered prohibition so the last thing anyone wanted to admit was that they or a loved one was addicted to alcohol, and the best part is that Wilder and his actors refuse to shy away from this taboo. For 1945 this film is dark, deep, realistic and I am sure highly controversial – but it still holds power today.

I am highly in debt to the films of Billy Wilder as he serves as one of my chief sources of inspiration, and The Lost Weekend was new to me. Wilder is truly a genius in terms of finding the controversial subjects and making them into meaningful movies that transcend time; he excels at getting to the core of his characters situations and this makes his movies work in any decade not just the decade in which they were released.

Director: Billy Wilder
Writer: Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder
Don Birnam: Ray Milland
Helen St. James: Jane Wyman
Wick Birnam: Phillip Terry
Nat: Howard Da Silva
Bim: Frank Faylen

Don Birnam: Don't wipe it away, Nat. Let me have my little vicious circle. You know, the circle is the perfect geometric figure. No end, no beginning.

Star Wars: A New Hope

Everyone's Favorite
Originally uploaded by Kiel Bryant
The whim came over me yesterday to watch Star Wars, not just any Star Wars but the version of A New Hope from my childhood – you know the one where the blur at the bottom of Luke’s landspeeder was created by putting vaseline on the camera lens. As much as I appreciate Lucas’s desire to “complete” the things he did in the original trilogy, I must say that I don’t think they needed it. The original Star Wars movies have always been perfect in my opinion and to this day the special effect completely hold up with things being produced by effects studios that have almost 30 years on Lucas and his garage effects.

The first and foremost thing that is right with the original edition – Han shoots first! I’m sorry, Greedo doesn’t shoot at Han who then fires back, or they both shoot at the same time – Han is the badass that knows he has to shoot first or die first, and that is the PERFECT set up for his character versus the rest of the more sheltered main characters in the film. Luke is naive, Leia is powerless and Han gets the job done.

I must also say that the prequels must be ignored to truly enjoy the original trilogy. If you actually think about metichlorines, whiny little Anakin, the old republic, or the way Revenge of the Sith ended, you will sit puzzling at how nothing actually fits together. And I’m sorry, the force is so much cooler when you don’t know it’s little organisms in your blood and body that control it. I could have lived without that knowledge – all I needed to know was that it “surrounds us” and I was cool.

Star Wars is the corner stone of the entire franchise, and I have to say that in the filmography of George Lucas it is his best directorial effort. One major element of this is the cast he chose; Lucas put a great deal of emphasis on casting, and wanting to make sure that his main characters had chemistry – he actually did group auditions for the three leads and I have to say that paid off.

Director & Writer: George Lucas
Luke Skywaler: Mark Hamill
Han Solo: Harrison Ford
Princess Leia: Carrie Fisher
Obi-Wan: Alec Guinness
Darth Vader: James Earl Jones

Obi-Wan: Your father's light saber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times...before the Empire.

Only You

On a whim I ordered Only You from Netflix, I was pleasantly surprised. Faith is a little girl when she plays the Ouija board with her brother and asks it who her soul mate is, Faith gets the name “Damon Bradley”; as a teen she goes to a fortune teller and gets the same name which further enforces to Faith that a man named Damon Bradley is a powerful force in her future.

Now in her 20’s Faith is an English teacher who is engaged to be married, not to a man named Damon but to a podiatrist and the only ones that still know about Damon are her best friends including her sister in law Kate. 10 days before the wedding a friend of the groom calls Faith to cancel his RSVP because he has to go to Italy and it turns out his name is Damon Bradley. Faith decides to impulsively fly to Italy and track down Damon so she can at least get a look at him before she marries the podiatrist and Kate tags along. What follows is an impulsive journey that leads Kate to her real soul mate, but what she doesn’t know is that this man may not be Damon Bradley.

What is so enjoyable about Only You is that it feels like a classic Hollywood film from the 1950’s; the lovers are a perfect match, the conflict is complete and real, and the film is steeped in classic movie references. Just from my first viewing I recognized homages to Cinderella, Casablanca, Roman Holiday and a few others.

I must also say that as much as I really love Robert Downey Jr., I really rented this movie so I could see Bonnie Hunt. Ever since Jerry Maguire I have been in love with her sarcastic, no nonsense style of comedy and she is probably one of my favorite actresses. In Only You Bonnie does not disappoint and if I could choose a sister in law I would want one like her.

While this movie probably plays more to women than men I do have to say that this movie is a very fun watch, and an all around good, light-hearted film. Eventually, I see Only You being added to my DVD collection.

Director: Norman Jewison
Writer: Diane Drake
Faith: Marisa Tomei
Peter: Robert Downey Jr.
Kate: Bonnie Hunt
Giovanni: Joaquim de Almeida
Larry: Fisher Stevens
Damon Bradley/Harry: Billy Zane

Faith Corvatch: Why couldn't we just have arranged marriages in America?
Kate Corvatch: Yeah, at least you could spend the rest of your life blaming your parents instead of yourself.

Iron Man

Iron Man
Originally uploaded by anglekyra1
Iron Man 2 is about to begin principal photography…and so I watched Iron Man again. When I watch Iron Man I kind of get the same feeling about Iron Man 2 that I got when I would think about what the sequal to Batman Begins would be – that I don’t think there is any way the second part of the franchise can be bad.

Jon Favreau put together an incredibly tight, thought out movie in Iron Man and if he commits as much to Iron Man 2 as he did to the first part then I’ll probably have another favorite movie on my hands in 2010.

Agent Phil Coulson: I'm Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Virginia 'Pepper' Potts: That's quite a mouthful.
Agent Phil Coulson: I know. We're working on it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Out of the Past

Out of the Past (1947)
Originally uploaded by linfante
Out of the Past is one of the best film noir’s I have ever seen, one of the noir’s that definitely defined the genre.

Jeff Bailey is an owner of a gas station, or at least that’s what he would have you think. In classic noir style he is actually a former PI who is hiding out from an old boss, and a past that he doesn’t want to catch up with him which always means that it will catch up with him and when he really doesn’t want it to. Soon Jeff is dragged back into his past, when he was hired to find Whit Sterling’s missing girlfriend, but of course nothing is ever that simple and before too long Jeff is in too far over his head and he can’t see his way out of the trap.

What I love about Out of the Past is that it is noir all the way to its toes. The protagonist is deeply flawed, even fatally flawed. We have both representations of the noir woman – the angelic woman in the girl Jeff is in love with now, and the femme fatale in the woman Jeff was initially in love with, the one that he can’t stay away from but brings him nothing but misery. The big bad is all evil with no redemptive quality, and the world itself seems out to get Jeff. This is a world that is all gray. What I love about the core of film noir is in Out of the Past. This is a movie where all the characters must atone for their sins and they have no say in the matter

I have to say that I have seen far too few movies with Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchum. Not only are these men a phenomenal pair in this film, but on their own each actor is incredibly powerful and very fun to watch.

The camera work and photography are absolutely classic and beautiful in this film. I was actually in awe of several of the shots and the camera work and lighting. This is a beautiful film and I think the entire film is a testament to the kinds of images that could be created in film noir.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Daniel Mainwaring
Jeff Bailey: Robert Mitchum
Kathie Moffat: Jane Greer
Whit Sterling: Kirk Douglas
Meta Carson: Rhonda Fleming

Kathie Moffat: Oh, Jeff, I don't want to die!
Jeff Bailey: Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm gonna die last.


Charlie Chaplin was one of the most influential individuals in film history and even today comedians look to him for inspiration. Chaplin is the bio-pic that tells the tale of Chaplin from his early childhood through his acceptance of his lifetime achievement Oscar near the end of his life.

I must first give props to Richard Attenborough because through his wonderful handling of the wild and twisty life of Charles Chaplin the performers life becomes more than just a history lesson, or a example of filmmaking at the start of the industry; the story is one of a man who wanted people to laugh, and wanted to make sure his films had something to say – the story is one that is far reaching and epic, yet rather than feeling long and strenuous the film feels as light and airy as Chaplin’s films were. Attenborough has to capture a main character at many ages, and in many historical eras and it is never labored or satirical. From the choice of costumes to every single actor that passes in front of the lens this film smacks of a director that knew exactly what he was achieving and how he came about it.

No matter who you are you cannot come out of watching Chaplin without being in awe of what Robert Downey Jr. does in that role. It is no wonder that this role garnered Downey his first Academy Award nomination. Like so few actors are truly capable of when you watch Downey portray Chaplin you quickly forget that he is Robert Downey Jr, and all you see if Charlie Chaplin. I can only marvel at exactly how Downey is able to inhabit the shoes of Chaplin so well, from the way the Tramp walked to creating the real life personality there are no missteps in this role. I commend Richard Attenborough for casting Downey, the film could have been something entirely different if another actor were in role.

Director: Richard Attenborough
Writers: William Boyd, Bryan Forbes & William Goldman
Charles Chaplin: Robert Downey Jr.
Hannah Chaplin: Geraldine Chaplin
Sydney Chaplin: Paul Rhys
Oona O’Neill: Moira Kelly
George Hayden: Anthony Hopkins
Mack Sennett: Dan Aykroyd
Mabel Normand: Marisa Tomei
Douglas Fairbanks: Kevin Kline
Mary Pickford: Maria Pitillo
Mildred Harris: Milla Jovovich
J. Edgar Hoover: Kevin Dunn
Paulette Goddard: Diane Lane
Rollie: David Duchovny

Charlie Chaplin: If you want to understand me, watch my movies.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Steve Martine and John Candy are comedy geniuses; each has a very different style yet somehow in Planes, Trains & Automobiles they work together flawlessly.

Neal Page and Del Griffith have one thing in common, they are both trying to get to Chicago and their plane gets stranded states away because of a snowstorm. Neal reluctantly agrees to team up with Del to find another way home and together the men not only irritate each other to no end, but run into every trial you can imagine from being forced to ride in the back of a hillbillies pick up truck to being stolen from in a motel room. This movie is a traveler’s nightmare and that alone makes it one of the funniest films you’ll enjoy about something that might actually happen to you.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a John Hughes film and I have to say it is the first Hughes film I’ve seen that is an adult story. While the teen angst I’ve come to associate so much with Hughes was gone, the anal, goofy, uptight characters were still a perfect fit for Hughes mentality. Between his knack for comedy and the extreme talents of Martin and Candy no joke is misplaced and even the most surreal situations retain their comic power.

I was a child when John Candy died and I have to say that I don’t really remember many of his performances with clarity. Watching Planes, Trains & Automobiles reminded me that Candy was a powerful comic in his heyday and his films should still be watched.

What I liked so much about Planes, Trains & Automobiles is again that it is film whose comedy doesn’t rely on the trends of its contemporary pop culture to be funny like Shrek or Murphy Brown, it finds its humor in the humanity of its characters and situations and that is what will make the film last and remain fresh for many years to come.

Director & Writer: John Hughes
Neal Page: Steve Martin
Del Griffith: John Candy
State Trooper: Michael McKean
Taxi Racer: Kevin Bacon
Car Rental Agent: Edie McClurg

Del: You know I had a feeling that when we parted ways. We would somehow wind up back together again. I've never seen a guy get picked up by his testicles before. Lucky thing for you that cop passed by when he did. Otherwise, you'd be lifting up your schnutz to tie you shoes. I'm sorry. That's terrible. Do you have any idea how glad I am I didn't kill you?
Neal: Do you have any idea how glad I'd be if you had?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Someone Like You

Someone Like You is the story of Jane Goodale. She gets her heart broken when she dates a coworker and becomes utterly depressed, depressed enough to become obsessed with figuring out why men leave women and invents a pseudonym that allows her to write about her theory – new cow. However, during Jane’s depression she becomes close to coworker and womanizer Eddie and doesn’t realize that perhaps, not every man is as bad as she makes him out to be.

I have to say that this movie is slow and doesn’t really do anything…really, it’s kind of meandering and boring. I love Ashley Judd but her character is not all that compelling, and the world of day time television they exist in is bland and far too normal. However, this movie lives and breathes on the shoulders of Hugh Jackman – he makes Someone Like You worth watching, and really is why I own this movie. Any scene with Jackman is a scene worth watching, and his charisma rockets off the screen. This is a film that was out long before Jackman was a household name for anything other than X-men and it proves why he has gone all the way to being voted the sexiest man alive.

Directir: Tony Goldwyn
Writer: Elizabeth Chandler
Jane Goodale: Ashley Judd
Ray Brown: Greg Kinnear
Eddie Alden: Hugh Jackman
Liz: Marisa Tomei
Diane Roberts: Ellen Barkin

Jane: What is on your neck?
Eddie: I bit myself shaving.

Frozen River

Originally uploaded by Alessandra Ogeda
Ray & Lila are an unlikely team; Ray is a working mom struggling to make ends meet after her husband robs them and disappears, and Lila is a young widow who has resorted to smuggling while she tries to get her infant son back from her mother-in-law. Together the women begin to smuggle immigrants across the border into Canada and soon get in over their heads.

I have to say the best part about Frozen River is that I didn’t know what to expect from it; I knew it had been nominated for many, many ISA’s and Melissa Leo was nominated for best actress so I netflixed it and was pleasantly surprised.

Frozen River is a raw, gritty film, and that only adds to the flavor and feel of the story. By the talents of the filmmakers and cast you feel the pain, cold, regret and desperation that Ray, Lila and their children are steeped in. This is a story where there are no good choices, only hard ones; these decisions become the right choices just because of the reasons these characters force themselves into them. Lila and Ray are women caught in hopeless situations, women who would never have interacted with one another, until fate (and Ray’s husband) forces them together and they discover they have more in common than they care to admit.

This film is writer/director Courtney Hunt’s first film and it blew me away. This movie gives me confidence that my first film can be just as phenomenal.

Director & Writer: Courtney Hunt
Ray Eddy: Melissa Leo
Lila Littlewolf: Misty Upham
T.J. Eddy: Charlie McDermott
Ricky Eddy: James Reilly


In New York Drs. Venkman, Stantz & Spengler have a sweet deal going at the local university, they get to continue their research into the paranormal (and Venkman gets to hit on young co-eds) without ever producing results and they continue to be funded and get paid – however, they same day they discover a genuine ghost in the New York library they get the boot from the university. Spurred by their new discovery the men decide to go into business for themselves as the Ghostbusters who will rid you of your otherworldly guests for a nominal fee.

Until last week I had never managed to see Ghostbusters; now that I have seen it I have to say that the exploits of these haphazard scientists are going to gain a permanent place on my DVD shelf. I have to say that I really did not expect the comedy in Ghostbusters to be subtle and intelligent, I kind of thought it was going to be all slime and in your face humor, or at least on par with something like Men In Black; instead, I was delighted to see that Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were left to their own devices and allowed to do the subtle, adult comedy both can be so dang good at.

While Aykroyd and Murray definitely carried the movie Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis & Ernie Hudson add to the comedy dynamic in a wonderful way that only truly good writing and direction can create. Each character manages to have a distinct personality and flavor and when everyone is woven together Ivan Reitman hit the homerun creating a work of comedy genius. It is no wonder that Ghostbusters is lauded and applauded by so many adoring fans, I have no doubt that Ghostbusters is a film that will be praised for decades to come and continue to be emulated by the ever-evolving voices in comedy.

Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis
Dr. Peter Venkman: Bill Murray
Dr. Raymond Stantz: Dan Akyroyd
Dr. Egon Spengler: Harold Ramis
Dana: Sigourney Weaver
Louis: Rick Moranis
Janine: Annie Potts
Walter Peck: William Atherton
Winston: Ernie Hudson

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Player

Robert Altman made phenomenal, biting, slice-of-life films in a way that no one else can make them; Altman drops you into his characters world, introduces a conflict and before the entire world makes too much sense he pulls you back out again, but Altman’s worlds change you forever.

In The Player Griffin Mill is a high powered executive at a movie studio, he is a man that hold the dreams of writers and directors in his hands as he has the power to give projects the go ahead; however, as most executives in the industry he doesn’t feel he has the time to “be nice” which sometimes means he leaves the people that pitch him hanging and never responds. This is all par for the course for Griffin until one writer won’t take it anymore and begins to stalk Griffin and threaten to kill him. As if this weren’t enough Griffin is also facing what he thinks is a premeditated murder of his career as the studio head brings in Larry Levy to be another Vice President.

I know that if you are familiar with film history I am about to beat a dead horse, but I cannot discuss The Player without discussing the first shot of the film – the shot that lasts eight minutes of the film. If you are a film newbie or have never made your own movie you really have no idea how hard setting up a shot is; you have to think about where to place your lights so that the camera won’t see them, where the actors are going to move, where sound can be – there are hundreds of minute details that need to be in place in order to capture a shot – and that is for a static shot. Altman did his first shot of The Player as a moving shot so he had to stage people, cars and bikes crossing the frame on queue, the camera, actors and props had to be in the right place at the same time all the while those not on camera had too keep moving and doing what they were doing because at any moment the camera would move back to where they are to continue the scene. The work and time Altman, cast and crew had to put into that one shot had to be absolutely insane.

I do love Altman’s take on the world and I am very glad that all of his films are incredibly diverse. I do have to say that The Player would probably be on my list of favorite Altman films.

Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Michael Tolkin
Griffin Mill: Tim Robbins
June Gudmundsdottir: Greta Scacchi
Det. Avery: Whoopi Goldberg
Larry Levy: Peter Gallagher
Bonnie Sherow: Cynthia Stevenson
David Kahane: Vincent D’Onofrio

Griffin Mill: It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.
June: What elements?
Griffin Mill: Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


So it’s Valentine’s Day and I managed to get through it without having to watch a romantic movie, instead I watched sat on my day bed with my best friend, we wrapped ourselves in throws and we watched Swingers. I adore this movie and she had never seen it and I have to tell you that it was a really fun movie to watch with someone else for the first time.

What was really fun in watching Swingers with someone who has never seen it is watching them react to the vocabulary in the movie: “money”, “babies”, metaphors about bunnies & bears, etc. I am so used to hearing Trent call Mike “money” that I don’t even think about it any more, but I remembered it does take some adjusting to…I still think the adjusting is worth it. The characters are just far too fun.

The thing is that I watched Swingers because I didn’t want to watch a cute romantic movie and in watching Swingers I realized that Mike (Jon Favreau) is absolutely adorable in Swingers. While Trent & Sue are boozing and trying to pick up anything with a skirt Mike is actually managing to deal with his emotional baggage and find a girl that wants to do a little more than deal with his baggage for one night. So in avoiding romanticism I found an adorable guy – and he’s fictional – go figure.

Mike: Look, we're gonna spend half the night driving around the Hills looking for this one party and you're going to say it sucks and we're all gonna leave and then we're gonna go look for this other party. But all the parties and all the bars, they all suck. I spend half the night talking to some girl who's looking around the room to see if there's somebody else who's more important she should be talking to. And it's like I'm supposed to be all happy 'cause she's wearing a backpack, you know? And half of them are just nasty skanks who wouldn't be nothing except they're surrounded by a bunch of drunken horny assholes. And I'm gonna tell you something T. Are you listening?
Trent: Yeah, I'm listening.
Mike: I'm not gonna be one of those assholes. Alright? It just makes me sick. It's like, some nasty skank who isn't half the woman my girlfriend is, is gonna front me? It makes me want to fuckin' puke!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I’ve read the first three Shopaholic books and I love them. So when I found out Becky Bloomwood was coming to the big screen I was excited. However, while I was disappointed that the take of Becky Bloomwood from Sophie Kinsella’s books was not on the big screen the version of Becky Bloomwood that did arrive was an enjoyable romp.

Central to Kinsella’s books and the Bruckheimer version of Confessions of a Shopaholic is the relationship between Becky and Luke Brandon an American, London-raised playboy who somehow develops eyes for Becky even with her flaws on display. While I enjoyed the chemistry and cuteness on screen between Luke and Becky I do have to say that like so many other romantic films Shopaholic committed the cardinal sin of putting the lead characters in a relationship without proper motivation – there was simply the motivation of the writers/director to move the story to the next plot point so the characters have one moment then they kiss and badda-bing – relationship!

I loved Isla Fisher as Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood. She was cute, fashionable, bubbly and clicked with the Americanized version of the story. Isla’s personality helped the jokes to flow and provided the emotional crux of the movie.

While I was disappointed that the film wasn’t what I read in the books I still think that the movie was absolutely adorable. Confessions of a Shopaholic is Shopaholic for a American audience that wants to see a bubbly version of Sex & the City.

Director: P.J. Hogan
Writers: Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth & Kayla Alpert
Rebecca Bloomwood: Isla Fisher
Luke Brandon: Hugh Dancy
Suze: Krysten Ritter
Jane Bloomwood: Joan Cusack
Graham Bloomwood: John Goodman
Edgar West: John Lithgow
Alicia: Leslie Bibb

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I do love Ron Howard, but for some reason I was not super excited about the prospect of seeing Frost/Nixon, but I still intended to see it because I know Ron Howard makes movies worth seeing. Well, I saw Frost/Nixon today and I can safely say that I was not at all disappointed in it, in fact I was enthralled by the film.

Frost/Nixon is the tale of David Frost who is a British television personality who decides it would be good TV, and exposure for himself to get an interview with Richard Nixon post his abdication of the presidency and the difficulties he faces when he succeeds in getting that interview. For me I think that this movie fell in the same category as The Queen and I was uninterested because I felt no need for another political history lesson. However, just as The Queen surprised me in its ability to entice me Frost/Nixon grabbed me and kept me rooted to my seat without ever feeling like I was watching a history channel dramatization; instead Ron Howard managed to make me feel like I was in the room with Frost and Nixon and their associates watching a game of tennis or a tug-of-war that neither personality could afford to lose.

What I did find delightful was Frank Langella’s portrayal of Richard Nixon. I’ve had the experience of visiting the Nixon library several times as it is remarkable close to my house and have therefore seen way more of Nixon than I ever wanted to; I believe due to this when I watched Langella in the Frost/Nixon trailer I couldn’t help but feel like he was a Nixon imposter, and it bothered me. However, between the talents of Langella and Howard when I was actually watching the film in its entirety Langella became Nixon for me. I am not sure that Langella deserves an Oscar for the performance, but he definitely deserves the nomination as he somehow captures the essence of Nixon’s stubborn ruthlessness and still manages to make him empathetic and slightly likeable.

So far out of all the films that actually scored a best picture nomination this year I’d have to say that Frost/Nixon would get my vote, but I do think they Oscar’s are a forgone conclusion this year and Slumdog Millionaire will be taking home the gold.

Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Richard Nixon: Frank Langella
David Frost: Michael Sheen
James Reston, Jr: Sam Rockwell
Jack Brennan: Kevin Bacon
John Birt: Matthew Macfadyen
Bob Zelnick: Oliver Platt
Caroline Cushing: Rebecca Hall
Pat Nixon: Patty McCormack

James Reston, Jr.: You know the first and greatest sin of the deception of television is that it simplifies; it diminishes great, complex ideas, trenches of time; whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot.

Gran Torino

Originally uploaded by Alessandra Ogeda
Walt Kowalski is a war veteran who feels like society around him has changed utterly and completely; his children think he is a burden, his priest doesn’t understand him and his old neighborhood has been populated by the Asian races he learned to despise when he fought overseas. However, while Walt will not be defeated in his personal mission to remain the same man he becomes shocked as events are set in motion that allow him to get to know his Hmong neighbors and the teenage children change his outlook on race and life.

Gran Torino is a movie that took me by surprise. I expected to like it, I did not expect to still be thinking about it a day after I first saw it. The film is haunting me in a very good way. I must say that my favorite visual item in the film is the American flag hung on Walt’s porch; this flag is not only used beautifully in the setting, but it is a subtle queue that sets Walt off from the rest of the neighborhood and clues the audience off as to Walt’s true character. Walt is a good old American man through and through and wants everyone around him to bleed American as well.

What Eastwood does as a director and actor in this film is absolutely amazing. Walt is man that for all intents and purposes you shouldn’t like; he is a cantankerous, racist, rigid man who does not want anyone to say or do anything that he thinks is out of the norm. By the end of the film Walt has transitioned and it feels completely natural because of the director and actor – Walt has finally come completely into himself and how he can matter in the present day amongst a world that he didn’t think he could understand or could understand him. My favorite scene is actually a simple one between Thao and Walt near the end of the film when Walt truly confesses to Thao and admits that Thao is his friend; the moment is both visually stunning and beautifully acted.

In the end I think that it is a true travesty that Gran Torino was utterly ignored by the academy voters. Every member of that cast and crew deserves some kind of recognition for the prolific piece of cinema that they created, one that will be remembered much longer than a film like Benjamin Button. I now have another film to add with The Dark Knight to my list of films that should have been up for best picture this year.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Nick Schenk
Walt Kowalski: Clint Eastwood
Father Janovich: Christopher Carley
Thao Vang Lor: Bee Vang
Sue Lor: Ahney Her:
Mitch Kowalski: Brian Haley
Karen Kowalski: Geraldine Hughes
Ashley Kowalski: Dreama Walker
Steve Kowalski: Brian Howe
Martin: John Carroll Lynch

Sue Lor: There's a ton of food.
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, well just keep your hands off my dog.
Sue Lor: No worries, we only eat cats.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Visitor

I wanted to see The Visitor when I first saw the trailer but it was early in the year and I forgot about it…until Oscar nominations came out and Richard Jenkins was nominated for best actor. I promptly added the film to my Netflix and watched it last night.

The Visitor is the tale of Walter Vale, a professor of economics who has effectively checked out of life. Walter teaches one class, co-authored a paper he had nothing to do with, has gone through 5 piano teachers, and basically avoids any and all personal contact above and beyond the bare minimum. However, Walter’s whole life changes when he is forced to present the paper he co-authored in New York; when Walter returns to the apartment he and his wife shared before her death he finds it occupied by a young immigrant couple – Tarek & Zainab who were leased the apartment illegally. Unable to bear the thought of leaving the couple on the street Walter allows them to stay with him until they make other arrangements and forms a friendship with Tarek that changes his life. Unfortunately for Tarek his illegal status is soon found out and he is taken into custody.

I think that Richard Jenkins gave a fabulous performance in this movie, I am not sure that it is the best male performance of the year but it is definitely a wonderful, moving performance in a very compelling film. Walter is a character that goes from being a shell of a person to one with passion and vibrancy and Jenkins really brings this to life. I am not sad that Jenkins was nominated for an Oscar.

I loved The Visitor, I felt that it is a great character study but it also brings to light the unfortunate side of the immigration issue. I’ve never really had feelings one way or another on illegal immigration but watching Tarek appeal to Walter from inside detention did break my heart a little bit. Thomas McCarthy did a great job presenting The Visitor as both an engaging and entertaining character piece without forgetting that it is a movie with something to say.

Director & Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Walter Vale: Richard Jenkins
Tarek Khalil: Haaz Sleiman
Zainab: Danai Gurira
Mouna Khalil: Hiam Abbass
Jacob: Richard Kind

Prof. Walter Vale: You can't just take people away like that. Do you hear me? He was a good man, a good person. It's not fair! We are not just helpless children! He had a life! Do you hear me? I mean, do you hear me? What's the matter with you?

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I don’t understand why Sylvester Stallone is revisiting his greatest hits, first he did another Rocky and then back to the ultimate guy series - Rambo.

John Rambo has been living in Thailand off the grid when a group of missionaries pays him to take them into war torn Burma, reluctantly he agrees to take them. When they disappear he is paid to take a group of mercenaries back into Burma to rescue the missionaries. Thus concludes the dialogue in the film and begins the mindless blowing up and carcasses piling up.

I seriously think that Quentin Tarantino had a hand in creating this installment of Rambo. There is so much carnage, gore and destruction in this film that it is a wonder that they proceeded with a script at all. I have officially seen Rambo rip someone’s throat out with his fingernails (because apparently snapping a neck is just so passé) and give so many “I can kill you with my bear hands” stares that I almost feel like if there were ten minutes more to Rambo I might be on my way to manhood myself.

I can’t help wondering what inspired Rambo. I have nothing against Sylvester Stallone working or even directing, but I really didn’t enjoy Rambo. Perhaps it’s just far too much of a guy movie for me.

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writers: Sylvester Stallone & Art Monterastelli
John Rambo: Sylvester Stallone
Sarah: Julie Benz
School Boy: Matthew Marsden

John Rambo: Any of you boys want to shoot, now's the time. There isn't one of us that doesn't want to be someplace else. But this is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something. Your call.

The Wedding Singer

Robbie Hart is the best wedding singer around…until his fiancée Linda doesn’t show up to their wedding. This sends Robbie into a downward spiral that his friends Julia, Sammy & Holly to pull him out of it. Even though Robbie can no longer stand to perform at a wedding he agrees to help Julia plan hers when her fiancée Glen is less than amenable to helping Julia. The problem becomes that somewhere along the way Robbie and Julia begin to develop feelings for one another and Robbie begins to learn that Glenn has less that honorable intentions towards Julia.

The Wedding Singer is a movie that came out when I was in high school and I have to say that my love for this movie has stuck with me since the first time I watched it. While this movie is no Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore I think that it is dang funny, the humor is a bit more subtle and pop culture oriented than Sandler’s pervious films. The Wedding Singer is set in 1985 and makes fun of everything from Miami Vice & Michael Jackson to Delorian’s & Madonna. The Wedding Singer still has angry outbursts that are part of Sandler’s comedy but in the end those actually add into the arch of Robbie’s character and not just add to the chuckle factor inherent in the film.

This movie is a romantic comedy, but it is a romantic comedy with a genuine sense of humor and that makes it a very memorable one in my book. I implore you to watch this film and not find something to laugh at – especially if you are a child of the 80’s or early 90’s.

Director: Frank Coraci
Writer: Tim Herlihy
Robbie: Adam Sandler
Julia: Drew Barrymore
Holly: Christine Taylor
Sammy: Allen Covery
Glenn: Matthew Glave
Rosie: Ellen Albertini Dow
Linda: Angela Featherstone
George: Alexis Arquette
David: Steve Buscemi

Linda: The point is, I woke up this morning and realized I'm about to get married to a wedding singer? I am never gonna leave Richfield!
Robbie: Why do you need to leave Richfield? We grew up here. All our friends are here; it's the perfect place to raise a family.
Linda: Oh, yeah - sure! Living in your sister's basement with five kids while you're off every weekends doing wedding gigs at a whoppin' sixty bucks a pop?
Robbie: Once again, things that could've been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Scanner Darkly

I think that Philip K. Dick wrote stories that simply resonate with me in ways no other stories are capable of; I do not know why it is his stories that fascinate me so much but he is definitely one of the reasons that science fiction is one of my favorite genres. Dick was paranoid about the government and society and his themes often dealt with personal freedom among many other things, but his works are phenomenal and the films that are based on them can usually be just as phenomenal. A Scanner Darkly is no exception to this rule and is a fabulous addition to the movies made based on Dick’s works.

A Scanner Darkly takes place in the undefined near future, a time where the war on drugs is predominant and the government is invading peoples lives in order to stop it. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent who is so covert that he and he co-workers don’t even know what each other look like, much less their real names. Bob is trying to shut down distribution of substance D, the current drug of choice but to do so he lives undercover and has become addicted to the drug himself. As he lives his daily life with his girl Donna and friends Luckman, Barris & Freck he begins to question his sanity and if D has gotten the better of him.

What I love about this movie is that one of the main themes is paranoia. When does paranoia became a justified fear? When is paranoia a byproduct of your lifestyle? How do you live knowing that paranoia is a part of the world around you? Dick does not use his characters to answer any of these questions, but instead just uses each character to show the audience a different aspect of this paranoia steeped life and Linklater lets the actors inhabit the roles in a way that makes them utterly real and would make Dick proud.

When you talk about A Scanner Darkly you must address the visual style in which the film was made. A Scanner Darkly is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. To create the stylized visuals of A Scanner Darkly Linklater shot the film with the actors, sets, etc. and then has the image animated over. The end results are absolutely stunning and bring an otherworldly resonance to the story helping to put A Scanner Darkly into a timeline of it’s own instead of setting it firmly in the here and now.

As a resident of Orange County I loved the fact that the story is set in Anaheim and Arctor is a sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It was a treat for me to see and hear places I frequent in the movie, right down to the ugly plastic flower art on the freeways. This is my home, except I don’t live in a drug den – at least I won’t until Dick’s version of the future sets in.

I must commend Richard Linklater for creating a masterpiece of a film in A Scanner Darkly; this film is going to be a staple in my DVD collection and I must admit that as I have been working on this review it has made me want to put the DVD in all over again and watch one more time.

Director & Writer: Richard Linklater
Bob Arctor: Keanu Reeves
Barris: Robert Downey Jr.
Donna: Winona Ryder
Luckman: Woody Harrelson
Freck: Rory Cochrane

Bob Arctor: What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can't any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone's sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I'm cursed and cursed again. I'll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.


I adore Luc Besson and the fact that he no longer directs does make me a bit sad; luckily he still chooses to write and because of that I have movies like Taken. Taken really is Luc Besson without Besson at the helm.

What is nice about Taken is that it is an amazing action movie, but before the action sets in it manages to set up our characters and our plot so that we actually manage to connect with the main characters before the bone crushing sets in. Taken is everything it promises in its trailer to be.

Bryan is a recently retired government operative who is now living in LA so that he can make up for lost time with his teenage daughter Kim. She is invited to spend time in Paris with a friend; as she is a minor she needs the permission of mother and father to leave the country, reluctantly, pinned into a corner by his ex-wife Lenore, Bryan signs the papers to let Kim go to Paris. He gets Kim on the phone once she arrives to her apartment in Paris and men promptly break in and take Kim and her friend captive. Bryan records the call and has it analyzed by his friends still in the government quickly learning that Kim has been taken by a group that deals in human trading and he has 96 hours before Kim will disappear so far in the inner workings of the sex trade that she can never be found. Like any vengeful father with a set of amazing skills Bryan sets out to Paris to find his daughter and hurt the men responsible.

I feel like Taken is a movie I shouldn’t have enjoyed, but I really did love it. This is a vigilante movie ala Death Wish and Liam Neeson and Pierre Morel create a fantastic action film that really is one of the most enjoyable action films that I’ve seen in recent years.

Director: Pierre Morel
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Amanda: Katie Cassidy
Kim: Maggie Grace
Lenore: Famke Janssen
Bryan: Liam Neeson
Sam: Leland Orser

Bryan: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
Marko: Good luck.

Friday, February 6, 2009


As the Hollywood lore goes Hugh Jackman was an actor in Australia and performed in a version of Oklahoma! which was filmed. While Wolverine was being cast for Bryan Singer's X-men someone caught a performance (or perhaps the recording), noticed Jackman and sent it to those in charge of casting for the film. They were intrigued by Jackman and decided to have him audition - the rest is history.

I have never seen Oklahoma! before and when I saw Jackman's version avaialble on Netflix I decided to give it a try. To me, Oklahoma! is a strange musical - it's a prarie love story with a dark underbelly about a perverted farm hand that covets Laurey who falls in love with Curly, so while you have this cute, flirty thing going on between Laurie and Curly you have the creepy farmhand trying to take Curly out and force himself on Laurey. Strange.

What is remarkable about this version of Oklahoma! is the man that broke out of it - Hugh Jackman. Even in a play Jackman's charisma bursts from the stage and you notice him above everyone else. Let me tell you - Hugh Jackman can sing! I was already looking forward to Jackman being the Oscar host this year, but seeing Oklahoma! has made me even more excited.

Director: Trevor Nunn
Curly: Hugh Jackman
Laurey: Josefina Gebrielle
Aunt Eller: Maureen Lipman

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Youth Without Youth

Let me start by saying that I adore Francis Ford Coppola; the man is a visionary and iconic filmmaker that will make prolific films until he decides to stop and his career will be remembered for years after it ends. That being said, there are times I question Coppola’s filmmaking decisions…while I can’t say that I question why he made Youth Without Youth, I really can’t say that I understand the movie at all.

In the early stages of Hitler’s Germany Dominic is a 70 year old professor who is tired of life, and goes away on a trip where he is immediately struck by lightning. Dominic should be dead, but instead after weeks of medical care he heals and reveals that he now has an approximately 40 year old body; he allows himself to be studied by the doctor that oversaw him until Hitler’s scientists discover his existence and try to take him into custody. Dominic then lives the life of a fugitive as he continues his research on the origin of language.

This is a strange film, not a bad one, but a strange one. Along his journey Dominic discovers that he is gaining “super powers” including the ability to absorb information from objects, manipulate objects, and he uncovers that the lightning strike has created multiple personalities within him. Dominic does not age but if he spends too long around a loved one they age at a rapid rate. The film is a study of language, history and the possibility of past lives, but does not settle on one topic for very long as it studies the life that Dominic now leads.

One of my favorite things about Coppola is that he is not afraid to take risks. One of my favorite visual hints in Youth Without Youth is Coppola’s use of the upside down image; I won’t say what Coppola is indicating by using this but the images that he chooses to invert are striking and aid in his ultimate goal which is to make the audience think about what they are watching and why.

Youth Without Youth shares some of the same ideas as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; the ideas of love, youth, life and experience. However, while I cannot say I am a huge fan of Benjamin Button or Youth Without Youth I do have to say that I enjoyed the journey a bit more in the case of Youth Without Youth.

Director & Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Dominic: Tim Roth
Veronica/Laura: Alexandra Maria Lara

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Since I was a little girl I have been fascinated with Cinderella; the Disney version has been my favorite classic Disney animated film from my childhood. Everyone knows the tale of Cinderella, whether that is because of the Disney film or one of the many versions of this fairy tale that exists.

I can say from many years of being fascinated with fairy tales that Cinderella in the Disney form is very different from the original tale. Sure in all versions Cinderella is an oppressed step child who meets and falls for the prince, but especially in the Grimm tale the ending alone is much more dark and disturbing. However, I am not one of those people that believe in following fairy tales to the letter so this change doesn’t bother me; to me fairy tales are the one type of story that I accept in many different forms, it all adds to the fairy tale mystique.

In his version of Cinderella Disney created a beautiful tale of a rags-to-riches princess that has enchanted girls since 1950 and will enchant generations of girls for many more years.

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Cinderella: Oh, that clock! Old killjoy. I hear you. "Come on, get up," you say, "Time to start another day." Even he orders me around. Well, there's one thing. They can't order me to stop dreaming.

The Singing Detective

Dan Dark is a novelist trapped in a clinic treating his severe case of psoriasis which leave shim unable to move almost any part of his body without severe pain. The disease has made Dan true to his name; he is mad at the world, thinks his wife is cheating on him and trying to take him for his money, and suffers from intense paranoia. In an effort to escape the prison of his body Dan’s imagination has taken over and he see’s the fantasy of what he thinks is going on in his life with his wife and doctors, and in his imagination he is the fictional persona from his book, the singing detective.

One of my favorite things about The Singing Detective is the visual style of the film. There are three separate worlds in the movie and Keith Gordon creates a distinct style for each yet somehow manages to stitch them all into one cohesive whole. The colors and lighting in The Singing Detective are a thing of beauty.

I must also complement Robert Downey Jr. Keith Gordon came to my class in college and spoke about working with Downey in this movie; The Singing Detective was Downey’s first starring role in a film since his jail sentence and producer Mel Gibson and Gordon had to fight to get Downey cast as the lead. However, their insistence paid off and Downey gives a memorable and moving performance as the paranoid Dan Dark.

The Singing Detective is a multi-layered movie, and is very different. Keith Gordon made a quirky film about a man trying to figure himself out and it is quite the experience to watch.

Director: Keith Gordon
Writer: Dennis Potter
Dan Dark: Robert Downey Jr.
Nicola: Robin Wright Penn
Dr. Gibbon: Mel Gibson
Mark Binney: Jeremy Northam
Nurse Mills: Katie Holmes
First Hood: Adrien Brody
Second Hood: Jon Polito
Betty Dark: Carla Gugino

Dan Dark: Are you pretending to be an oddball or are you actually nuts?

She's All That

I was in high school when I bought my first DVD player (at the time DVD’s were brand spankin’ new) and I still remember the first DVD’s I bought, these two DVD’s are probably the perfect example of the diversity in my movie vocabulary, these DVD’s are The Silence of the Lambs and She’s All That.

I adored She’s All That in high school and it still amuses me greatly. The movie really is My Fair Lady set in high school. Class president Zack, the most popular guy in school has come back from spring break senior year and been promptly dumped by his girlfriend Taylor – the most popular girl in school. Zack proposes a bet that he can make any girl in school prom queen, that most of Taylor’s appeal comes from her attitude, clothing and her social circle. Wanting to bring Zack down Dean chooses a girl for the bet – Laney Boggs – one of the most unpopular and awkward girls in school. After Zack convinces Laney that he wants to be friends with her he of course falls for the girl but can’t quite make him believe that he is on the level.

I love both Freddie Prinze Jr and Rachael Leigh Cook in this movie, but I have to say that I can’t name a single big thing they’ve done since She’s All That. I think that this movie and its stars remain mostly in my high school experience and not in contemporary pop culture. But I still find this movie fun.

Director: Robert Iscove
Writer: R. Lee Fleming Jr.
Zack Siler: Freddie Prinze Jr.
Laney Boggs: Rachael Leigh Cook
Brock Hudson: Matthew Lillard
Dean Sampson: Paul Walker
Taylor Vaughan: Jodi Lyn O’Keefe
Wayne Boggs: Kevin Pollak
Mackenzie Siler: Anna Paquin
Simon Boggs: Kieran Culkin
Katie: Gabrielle Union
Misty: Clea DuVall

Zach Siler: She kinda blew me off.
Mackenzie Siler: I like her already.

Bride Wars

bride wars
Originally uploaded by Cine Fanatico
Bride Wars is just what the name would imply. Emma & Liv are best friends since childhood and have dreamed of having June weddings at the Plaza hotel, when both their boyfriends propose they think all their wedding dreams are going to come true…until their wedding planners assistant makes the mistake of booking their weddings on the same day and time instead of two separate days. When neither Emma or Liv will move their wedding date old rivalries begin to bubble to the surface and an all out war between the friends starts.

What I really liked about Bride Wars is the pairing of Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. Together these two women are a dynamic duo that are each capable of making the audience laugh and then bringing an emotional moment to the forefront.

I was surprised by this movie because the name Bride Wars would imply that it is about the wedding more than anything else, not about the couple or the marriage. However, this move proved to be about not just the friendship between the women, but the relationship they had with their fiancées and how each couple is weathering problems and the characters take into account how this might affect their marriage.

There is a trend in film and television now to use a still image but change the perspective or pring “life” to the image by making the background continue moving, zooming in, etc. It drives me nuts. I hate it. It looks flattened, no longer dynamic and typically sticks out like a sore thumb. Bride Wars uses this freeze framed image technique for it’s exposition sequences and that’s just far too much use of that device – this is by far my biggest bone to pick with the film.

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy with just the right amount of cheese, but with some fun chemistry in it’s cast I do think Bride Wars is a cute film. However, it’s really not my cup of tea, but I am sure plenty of girls will watch this over and over again.

Director: Gary Winick
Writer: Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael
Liv: Kate Hudson
Emma: Anne Hathaway
Nate: Bryan Greenberg
Fletcher: Chris Pratt
Daniel: Steve Howey
Marion St. Claire: Candice Bergen
Deb: Kristen Johnston

Marion St. Claire: Sometimes in life there really are bonds formed that can never be broken. Sometimes you really can find that one person who will stand by you no matter what. Maybe you'll find it in a spouse and celebrate it with your dream wedding, but theres also the chance that the one person you can count on for a lifetime, the one person who knows you sometimes better than you know yourself is the same person who's been standing beside you all along.