Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iron Man

Tony sees the post-it labeled “from Pepper” and removes it from the package to which it’s attached. Curious he rips off the brown paper and lifts up the glas display case to inspect the Mark I chest piece Pepper has had professionally displayed. A smile flashes across Tony’s face as he reads the inscription around the chest piece – “Proof That Tony Stark Has A Heart”.

This scene comes around the middle of Iron Man and if you’ve seen the film you’re familiar with it. As I view Jon Favreau’s film I love the story of Tony Stark more and more because he’s a character that not only develops a conscious, but he develops a heart – a heart for the people that are hurting and a world that he thinks he’s helped be the cause of. In several significant scenes, like the one I described above, Favreau and writers actually wrote this directly into the film and slowly but surely the chest piece becomes not the power generator helping to keep Tony alive, but symbolic of his heart.

I’ve probably lost a lot of people that didn’t enjoy breaking down literature in class, or didn’t go to film school. Bear with me, I can prove it I promise. Hades, if I was still in school I could write an entire paper on the symbology of the chest piece and get a few pages out of it but this blog will not be that long or detailed.

If you want more examples why I think the chest piece is the heart of Tony Stark I can point you right back to more scenes in Iron Man. We can start with early in the film when he’s being held captive by the Ten Rings. Yensin has made a primitive form of the chest piece, hooked up to a car battery; Tony is hopeless and his world is being shattered and Yensin is literally trying to pour into Tony some of his hope and beliefs, but it’s borrowed from Yensin and Tony isn’t grasping the possibility of hope as he drags around that clunky battery. However, when Yensin finally breaks through to Tony, finally convinces him that he has a chance and can fight, that’s the first time Tony sees a chance to change what these terrorists are doing in his name, and he responds by building the Mark I chest piece and replacing Yensin’s battery with something he has created – the sparks of a plan, the start of hope.

The only other scene I’ll bring up here is a scene near the end of the film, when Tony is attacked and his Mark III chest piece is stolen, literally ripped out of his chest. This sends Tony into a spiral because not only will this removal physically disable him, but he finally learns the identity and true nature of his enemy and this emotionally cripples him as well. In order to bounce back from this “broken heart” Tony has to push past it and remember his original mission to do more good than harm and protect the people, and he literally has to retrieve the Mark I chest piece in order to save the day.

One of the reasons I love Iron Man is that it’s a movie that’s not just a summber blockbuster, or a big budget popcorn flick. This is a film that tool the time to be well rounded in all areas, the most important of which is to make sure they had a good story and a character as dynamic and interesting as his existing fans know he is and new fans would want him to be.

Iron Man is one of my favorite films of the last decade and I again implore you to see it if you have been living in a bubble and missed it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Book of Eli

I know it’s only February, but The Book of Eli may become one of my favorite films of the year. I love this movie and I encourage all of you to see it.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen another film by the Hughes Brothers, but after The Book of Eli I just might be a new fan. I am going to have to watch a few of their films to see how the men that did Menace II Society, Dead Presidents & From Hell ended up in the post-apocalyptic, religious future.

Denzel Washington was never really an actor I considered myself a fan of, and thinking of that now I’m a bit confused as to why I don’t follow him more. Every movie I can think of that he has been a part of I’ve enjoyed – with the exception of Training Day, that’s one movie I detested but it had nothing to do with Washington. Not only is Washington a great actor that make movies that I enjoy watching, but his off-screen persona is almost that of the boy next door; he seems like a down to Earth guy anyone could know.

But enough of my Denzel love.

Go see The Book of Eli. I repeat what I said last time, if you want to see how a movie about God & faith can be relevant on the big screen this is the movie you should see.

Eli: People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn't. We through away things people kill each other now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island

What I love about Martin Scorsese is that he is a master of the vibrant and complex just as much as he is a master of the subtle; when he’s at his best you get this all in one movie. Shutter Island is one of those movies.

This time out Martin Scorsese weaves the tale of Teddy Daniels, a Federal Marshall who’s lost his wife in tragedy and volunteers for assignment investigating Shutter Island’s escape. Shutter Island is an institution for the criminally insane, and Daniels thinks there is more going on inside it’s fences than they broadcast to the world. Scorsese sets out to create a complex, taunt, psychological thriller that reminds on of Hitchcock in its dexterity and pace.

Leonardo DiCaprio has long since replaced Robert DeNiro as Scorsese’s muse and I have to say his talent truly gets better with every film. Teddy Daniels is a character that cannot have been easy to understand or play. He’s a former soldier who helped liberate the death camps in WWII, he’s a husband who lost his wife, he’s a man fighting the very nature that’s inside of him because of the atrocities he’s seen in his life – DiCaprio becomes the man. DiCaprio has slowly progressed to this point, like all truly great actors he now ceases being any part of himself on screen and replaces himself with the character. As you watch DiCaprio you almost think you can hear the thoughts racing through Teddy Daniels head and see the motives for his actions just under the surface.

What makes Shutter Island a film that truly deserves being a Scorsese film is the interplay of stunning visuals, extreme situations and strong character. Shutter Island is tricky, because in a very beautiful way it is about the obvious and the subtle all at once. This is a film that isn’t really about the ending, or the last act as one might think. Shutter Island is a film about the last line of dialogue that DiCaprio delivers; if you don’t understand what he tells you, then you won’t understand the film.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis
Teddy Daniels: Leonardo DiCaprio
Chuck Aule: Mark Ruffalo
Dr. Crawley: Ben Kingsley
Dr. Naehring: Max Von Sydow
Dolores: Michelle Williams
George Noyce: Jackie Earle Haley

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Blind Side

Sandra Bullock
Originally uploaded by djtomdog
Michael Oher is a teen who through the kindness of a friend ends up in a private high school; he doesn’t have a family, a home or anyone to care about until one day Leigh Anne Tuohy spots him walking home from school in freezing weather with nothing more than a polo shirt and shorts. Leigh Anne gets Michael to come home with her for the night and soon one night turns into an extended stay as Michael works his way into the heart of her entire family. An unofficial Tuohy Michael finally becomes stable enough to try out for football and soon begins lighting up the field, the top recruit for college football programs around the country. The adversity doesn’t stop there as both Leigh Anne, Michael and the entire Tuohy family are criticized for their relationship by friends and the city at large.

The Blind Side really surprised me, I only saw it because it managed a best picture nomination. Yet somehow, I really liked it. This is a movie that’s sentimental, emotional and cliché but it all works. The story of Michael Oher and the Tuohy’s is one that’s worth telling. It’s a story about love and compassion that very few people have ever been able to experience, it’s a story about a woman and a family that cared so much about a stranger that they didn’t care about what society expected of them and they changed each other’s lives.

This is not to say there weren’t some issues with the film. I for one would have loved to see more of Michael’s back story but I know that’s not what the film was about – it was about his future – and it’s a complicated thing to decide what to tell and what not to tell seeing as everyone in the film is real and Michael now plays for the NFL. His life is not fictional and you can’t mess around with it.

The one exceptional thing about The Blind Side is the performance of Sandra Bullock. Leigh Anne Tuohy is smart, sharp tongued, self-assured & more than anything a woman who doesn’t care what others think about her and Bullock brings her to life. This is the best performance I’ve ever seen out of Sandra Bullock and it’s definitely Oscar worthy; I don’t know if she will win come March, but she’s quite a contender.

Director & Writer: John Lee Hancock
Leigh Anne Tuohy: Sandra Bullock
Sean Tuohy: Tim McGraw
Michael Oher: Quinton Aaron
S.J. Tuohy: Jae Head
Collins Tuohy: Lily Collins
Miss Sue: Kathy Bates

Sean Tuohy: Who would've thought we'd have a black son before we met a Democrat?

Weird Science

Weird Science
Originally uploaded by MacQ
High school is hell, especially for geeks Gary & Wyatt. Tired of being bullied and not being able to get a girl Gary & Wyatt decide to do the most outlandish thing they can think of – make a girlfriend ala Frankenstein, using Wyatt’s computer. Enter Lisa, their creation; she’s everything the boys want and makes them the envy of their high school and their bullies, but there’s on problem – Lisa isn’t content to be their dream girl, she wants to pop them out of their shell and make them the boys she wants them to be.

John Hughes has made a lot of movies and to my experience so far Weird Science is the strangest. I’ve never seen Hughes dabble in science fiction before but I have to say his take on Frankenstein was entertaining.

As always Hughes has incredible characters. Gary and Wyatt are fun, entertaining teens to watch that never leave you wondering why they are the center of the film. They have a bond that is second only to the ladies in Sex & the City; they finish each others sentences, spend all their time together and admire the opposite sex as their greatest hobby. However, Hughes does what he does best and somehow infuses these crazy, hair-brained teen boys with a human heart and soul.

What I honestly forgot about Weird Science is that Robert Downey Jr. plays one of the bullies. Man was he young, but even then he commanded the screen. Also sharing the screen was Bill Paxton as Wyatt’s older brother and what was funny to see was that he has looked exactly the same for his entire career – even then you can see the influences that will later make great characters like Hudson in Aliens.

Weird Science is a quintessential teen movie that has to be seen by a Hughes fan or anyone that still remembers the horrors of being a teenager. So pop in the DVD, get loaded up on sugar and remember what it was like to be in high school.

Director & Writer: John Hughes
Gary Wallace: Anthony Michael Hall
Lisa: Kelly LeBrock
Wyatt Donnelly: IIan Michael-Smith
Chet Donnelly: Bill Paxton
Ian: Robert Downey Jr.

Wyatt: Gary?... By the way, why are we wearing bras on our heads?
Garry: Ceremonial.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

My mother and I have a tradition. Every Super Bowl Sunday she and I do what we can to avoid the big game and that usually involves a movie. This year that movie was Sherlock Holmes; even though I’ve already seen it I put up no protest – a Robert Downey Jr. film that I love? Don’t you think it must be so hard to get me to that.

On second viewing I still love Sherlock Holmes. The fact that Guy Ritchie and crew could take the great detective, keep his essence and world intact and somehow make it exciting and vibrant on screen is astounding. Sherlock Holmes has been a lot of things, but he’s rarely been exciting when put on the silver screen. Holmes himself is a character that is always in his head, thinking steps ahead of the other players, and when put on screen in everything I can think of prior that makes for a film that is intellectual with a good mystery, but suspense, excitement and the threat in Holmes world never makes it to screen.

I have to give props to Rachel McAdams as well. This is an actress that I adore and isn’t in nearly enough movies; however, since she is so selective she tends to make really damn good movies and Sherlock Holmes is no exception. What becomes truly astounding about her character in Holmes is that of everyone on screen (from the books) her character is one that had the least source material to work with. Irene Adler is only in one short story, very briefly and somehow the writers and McAdams formed Adler into a fully formed, well rounded character that belonged in the majority of the film second only to Watson.

I’ve heard plenty of people say they are unwilling to see Sherlock Holmes because it looks like all action and no story. To those people I say to not just a film by it’s trailer and go and make a judgment from the actual film. You might be surprised by what you find.

Inspector Lestrade: In another life, Mr. Holmes, you would have made a excellent criminal.
Sherlock Holmes: Yes, and you an excellent policeman.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On A Clear Day

Frank and Joan are a long married couple, but like any couple they have secrets from each other. Marred by the scars of their long dead son’s tragic death Frank & Joan are trying to make ends meet and keep a relationship with their surviving son Rob; however, when Frank looses his job building the ships for England’s Navy he feels even more adrift than he did before and his separation from Rob is even more pronounced. Then Frank finds a new goal – he decides to swim the English Channel. With the help of his former co-workers Frank sets out to train and regain a bit of the self-worth that he began to loose when he lost his son.

Going into On A Clear Day I expected to find a quirky comedy; instead I found a dramatic character piece but I was not disappointed. Frank is a man who has always tried to provide for his family and when he lost his son he didn’t know how to deal, shutting out Rob his remaining son, and throwing everything into providing for his family through work. When that is taken away from him as well Frank realizes that he’s no longer connected to his wife or Rob; when his friends enable him to start training to swim the channel it’s clear that Frank wants to reconnect with his family but has no idea how and in the end they find a way to reconnect with him.

This film is definitely a cousin of kitchen sink realism, but with a decidedly more upbeat attitude. On A Clear Day displays an England that still has good, hard-working people but a people that are fighting for normalcy, work and to matter. It’s a people and a country that still wraps their national self-worth in their jobs and Queen. This isn’t much different from the American view point, but sometimes you need a little distance to gain perspective.

On A Clear Day has a fantastic family message that can be appreciated by anyone looking for a more meaningful way to spend two hours.

Director: Gabby Dellal
Writer: Alex Rose
Frank: Peter Mullan
Joan: Brenda Blethyn
Rob: Jamie Sives
Danny: Billy Boyd

Frank: Things aren't meant to be fixed now a days. Not by you any way.

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.0

I really can’t say too much about Battlestar Galactica 4.0 except WOW.

I know this series has to end but I am almost dreading watching season 4.5 because I am afraid the ending can’t be as great as I want it to be. Though, I think these writers may just be able to pull off a spectacular finish that really brings everything together.

What makes season 4.0 so spectacular is that the Cylons have finally come full circle. There’s a Cylon civil war afoot and the humans have to decide if they can trust the dissenters enough to team up with them. Then there’s the final five Cylon models – only four of which have been revealed and when they come out to their friends and families it sends ripples through the masses.

I honestly mean that I can’t say much. I really don’t want to spoil this series for anyone like me that wanted to see it and hasn’t had a chance yet. I look forward to this series enduring for years to come.

Roslin: What is your guilt about?
Baltar: I have no guilt.
Roslin: What was your guilt about?
Baltar: I gave the access codes to the Cylons. They wiped out most of humanity. Of course I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. And when I realized what I had done, the magnitude, in that moment I was saved. I was loved, by God. Looking back, I think I was rewarded.
Roslin: Rewarded?
Baltar: Pythia talks about a flood. Wiped out most of humanity. Nobody blames the flood. Flood is a force of Nature. Through Flood mankind is rejuvenated, born again. I was another Flood. You see, I blamed myself. I blamed myself. But God made the man that made that choice. God made us all perfect. And in that thought, all my guilt flies away. Flies away like a bird.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Education

Originally uploaded by Alessandra Ogeda
Jenny is a young woman in post-war England doing what a proper young lady should do: going to school and working hard to get into university. The only problem is it’s her parent’s plan and not hers. So when dashing a dashing older gentleman takes an interest in Jenny she is swept off her feet into a world of fantasy and fun. The only problem is that Jenny’s parents too get caught up in the idea of her older fellow and abandon their plans for Jenny with a new plan – allowing her to drop university and get married.

There is nothing alarmingly original about An Education and yet even without a best picture nomination I would have still walked out of this film with the same feeling – that this is one of the best done movies of 2009. Every single thing about this film was perfectly crafted and enjoyable to watch, even once the inevitable conclusion dropped into the mix.

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out as far as it does is the cast. No matter what any person critical of actors may tell you, having a cast that delivers great performances is absolutely critical to the end result of your film; you can have a fantasticly written, directed and shot film but if your actors and their performances are off then none of the rest matters. In An Education director Lone Sherfig has cast the right actors, gotten them to give moving performances and managed to infuse each character with a unique quality that allows the viewer to feel empathy for each one of them, no matter how despicable, aggravating or sad they may become in the course of the tale.

Carey Mulligan is also a joy to watch as Jenny. The actress is young but she is strong and the intense naivety and vulnerability she is able to infuse into Jenny makes the entire film worth watching. I will look for Mulligan in more roles.

I don’t think that An Education will win the best picture Oscar this year, but I am very glad it was nominated.

Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Nick Hornby
Jenny: Carey Mulligan
Miss Stubbs: Olivia Williams
Jack: Alfred Molina
David: Peter Sarsgaard
Danny: Dominic Cooper
Helen: Rosamund Pike

Miss Stubbs: You seem to be old and wise.
Jenny: I feel old. But not very wise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Supernatural: Season 2

One of the things that I love about watching television shows on DVD is that I can be pulled into the world of the characters much longer than I can be pulled into the world of a film – 22 episodes instead of 2-3 hours. Maybe my subconscious has needed the extended escapism, but lately I’ve been watching a lot of TV on DVD – I’ve been burning through BSG and somehow managed to slowly get through another season of Supernatural.

I really think I’ve been using Supernatural as my radio. What I mean is that I plug it on in the background while I am doing something else. I’ve already seen it, so I have context and know the world and characters, and all I have to do is select “play all” and I don’t have to change a disc for quite awhile. And it totally beats just turning the TV on and having to deal with commercials.

Season two is definitely pivotal to the show. While I will be waiting to see how the series ends, I am slowly coming to the idea that while the show is about the brothers Winchester, I think the slightly more central focus of the character is Dean. Sam is incredibly important but almost everything having to do with the show comes back to Dean and how he responds to Sam, his father, the apocalypse, etc. Dean from the very first episode of the series is the one to get things rolling between the brothers.

I really don’t want this show to end after only five seasons, but if they do choose to end the show this year I sure hope it goes out with a bang. Too many series have finales that make you feel the time you’ve invested into the show wasn’t worth it, and I really don’t want Supernatural to do the same, but with the direction the show has always been headed I really don’t think I have to worry.

Sam: At least I'm not afraid of flying.
Dean: Planes crash, Sam!
Sam: And apparently clowns kill!
~Everybody Loves A Clown~

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oedipus Rex

When I found out Julie Taymor had directed a version of Oedipus Rex and it was on DVD there was no doubt that I needed to find it. Enter the hero of the piece – Netflix. Thank God for Netflix, helping geeks like me find the most obscure things possible.

I had to see this because Julie Taymor has only made three feature films and has captivated me with them. The way she integrates genres, art, color and space is fascinating and astoundingly beautiful to me and knowing she’s primarily a stage director I had to see her stage work. If you’re not familiar with Titus, Frida or Across the Universe I can almost guarantee you’ve heard of the most popular thing she adapted for the stage – The Lion King.

What I didn’t realize about this version of Oedipus Rex was that it was in Japanese, done for a play festival in Japan but that makes it even more interesting. Taymor melded together Japanese dance, fashion, make-up and tradition with Greek masks, and her signature puppets and use of color and created a visually riveting production. This was a special taping, done for the camera not the audience so the recordnign is not static, but I can only imagine how beautiful this must have been to see in person.

I recommend any of Julie Taymor’s work to anyone that appreciated different and beautiful film. She’s captivating and I can only hope that another movie will come her way before too long.

Battlestar Galactica 3.0

I love television shows that consistently try to top themselves. Battlestar Galactica is one of those shows. If possible, season three is even better than the seasons before it.

Season three starts after the Cylon occupation; the humans have again formed a resistance and Adama is fighting to get back to the people he was forced to abandon. Once the humans break free of New Caprica a whole other can of worms is unveiled: Starbuck pursues her destiny, Apollo struggles with his military career, Baltar goes on trial and four of the final five Cylons are revealed. This season is a roller coaster from start to finish.

Perhaps one of the more fascinating things that happens in season three is how the time jump is handled. In a poorly crafted show the loss of time would be felt, our characters growth wouldn’t make sense and more than anything we as an audience would be confused. BSG is not a poorly crafted show. The writers are able to use the time lapse to our advantage, showing us the crucial moments for each character, and making sure that the movement in each character is still grounded in who that person was before we flashed a year into the future. They make sure that despite the change of circumstance the human heart of the show is intact.

It’s also fascinating that in season three time is finally spent with the Cylons. The writers once again help to evolve the Cylons from a faceless enemy to a complex race that only appears deceptively simple. They are in essence flawed children trying to grow up and unfold the mystery of the human parents, account for their past sins and find the meaning of their lives. This does not make them innocent, but as time moves on it makes them more human than their programming would ever care to admit.

My favorite character, Sharon, goes through what I think is the best single character arch in this season of the show as well. Grace Park is a phenomenal actor and I applaud her performance in every season of this show.

I can’t give too much away about the show in general as while I’m not afraid people won’t enjoy the show if they know what happens, but I want anyone who hasn’t seen BSG to enjoy sitting on the edge of their seat, fretting over the fate of characters and cheering in victory just like everyone else does who comes at it with fresh eyes. This is one show that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Adama: This is the Admiral. You've heard the news, you know the mission. You should also know there is only one way that this mission ends: and that's with the successful rescue of our people, off of New Caprica. Look around you. Take a good look at the men and women that stand next to you. Remember their faces, for one day you will tell your children and your grandchildren that you served with such men and women as the universe has never seen. And together, you'll accomplish the feat that will be told and retold down through the ages, and find immortality as only the gods once knew. I'm proud to serve with you. Good hunting.