Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Muppet Christmas Carol

If I had to choose my favorite entertainer from my childhood I’d have a lot of trouble choosing between Dick van Dyke & The Muppets. Strictly speaking, I <3 Jim Henson and still miss him. So it should be no surprise that The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite holiday films. How could it not be? I mean, Michael Caine plays Scrooge and Gonzo is Charles Dickens.

What makes this movie so special, is the same thing that makes any Muppet movie so special – the Muppets. These characters are serious, quirky, grumpy, hysterical and perfect in the extremes each one represents and even though they are inanimate objects, they feel as though life has been breathed into them and they would exist on their own outside of the worlds they inhabit despite what logic would tell you. The Muppets have a humor and method of storytelling that is uniquely their own and I want desperately for it to be presented to a new generation who can treasure them the way my siblings and I do.

Director: Brian Henson

Rizzo the Rat: Boy, that's scary stuff! Should we be worried about the kids in the audience?
Gonzo: Nah, it's all right. This is culture!


Elf is rapidly becoming a holiday tradition, even for me. As Christmas season dawns I can’t seem to resist the urge to just pop Elf into the DVD player. Buddy and his antics make me smile and feel like a kid again.

It’s no secret that I’m trying to become a film director, and I greatly enjoyed watching Jon Favreau react on twitter as everyone shared their Elf love this holiday season. I can’t imagine that there could be much cooler things in the world for a director that realizing that your film is beloved, and fulfilled the purpose you had for it.

I’d like to have that feeling some day.

Buddy: I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.

Die Hard

Machine Gun Ho Ho Ho
Originally uploaded by Seven_Hundred
I worked at a video store for over three years. Working at a video store with people that love movies as much as you do, you learn plenty of stories about other people’s favorite (and least favorite) experiences with the movies. One of my favorite stories involves an old manager telling me about seeing Die Hard in the theatre.

I’ve grown up with Bruce Willis as an action star, but apparently, to my manager and everyone before me Bruce Willis pre-Die Hard was only known as the television star. My manager even talked about that when he and his friends went to see Die Hard they expected it to be dumb – that they couldn’t understand why Willis was cast. By the end of the movie, my manager, like the rest of the viewing audience was converted.

Now, I live in a world where I can’t imagine Bruce Willis not being an action star. It seems to go with him like peanut butter goes with jelly. And I am glad to live in that world. Where would action movies be without John McClaine?

Director: John McTiernan

Supervisor: Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.
John McClane: No fucking shit, lady. Does it sound like I'm ordering a pizza?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Dark Knight

It’s impossible to watch The Dark Knight and not miss Heath Ledger. The man was absolutely brilliant in this film and it makes me a bit sad that they won’t be able to continue his character’s storyline in the franchise. They may recast eventually, but whoever takes that role will be measured against his Oscar winning performance.

In this film Bruce Wayne begins to think that he wants to give up the bat and hand this job of saving Gotham over to someone else but he discovers that it’s a mantle he can’t shake. Batman & Bruce Wayne learn a great lesson in this film, one that comes at a price.

The theme of this film is stated by one of the characters – “It’s always darkest just before the dawn” – it’s a theme that I am hoping will influence the next installment as well. Perhaps, a glimmer of light will begin to break on Gotham again.

Batman Begins

So you know by now, that I think this is the movie that re-invented the hero movie. There’ just no way around it; Bryan Singer started to make the comic book film legit with X-Men but Christopher Nolan made the genre solid, and realistic in Batman Begins.

Even if I wasn’t a rabid fan, I don’t think many people could disagree with me that Christian Bale is the perfect choice to play Bruce Wayne. In the prior Batman film incarnations Bruce Wayne was played by good actors, but many had issues with the dual role; Michael Keaton played a great Batman, but didn’t look the part of Wayne, Val Kilmer looked great in the suit and as Wayne but just lacked a connection with either, and George Clooney Played a great Wayne but didn’t connect with Batman – not that the latter two were helped by the stories they were given. Bale however, connects with the entirety that is Bruce Wayne and Batman. He manages to pull of the two faces of Bruce Wayne – the batman, and the billionaire forced to live outside the batsuit. The difficulty with playing this character lies not in his dual identity, but the fact that if Wayne had his way, he’d never take off the suit; once he creates batman he becomes batman, and Bale captures that process in a very graceful way.

Christopher Nolan is living proof that creativity and studio blockbusters can go hand in hand.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa is a master at his craft and Seven Samurai is a definite masterpiece. I can’t imagine what it would be like to watch a three and a half hour tale about a group of samurai and a small farming village if it weren’t handled by Kurosawa. If this film were made today, I can guarantee you the amount of action would be increased from about the hour it takes up in the original to a large portion of the film; yet the reason Seven Samurai has endured is not the epic samurai battles, it’s the heart behind the film.

Seven Samurai is not a small story by any scope. A small farming village uncovers that they’re going to be raided and rather than lay down and die, they decide to see if they can enlist the help of samurai – the only problem is they only payment they have is food. Due to this they can only seek out samurai of the more desperate kind instead of what they view as the cream of the crop. They end up with seven of the most noble, forthright samurai they can find, who return to the village to attempt not only to protect the village itself but attempt to teach the villagers how to protect themselves.

What makes Kurosawa’s film so significant in my opinion, is the closing lines of the film. The battle has been fought, the samurai have won, and as they prepare to leave samurai reflect on the battle and the victory that was “won”. It’s poignant, and a moment that both the characters and the audience must think about.

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Kambei Shimada: Go to the north. The decisive battle will be fought there.
Gorobei Katayama: Why didn't you build a fence there?
Kambei Shimada: A good fort needs a gap. The enemy must be lured in. So we can attack them. If we only defend, we lose the war.

Monday, December 27, 2010

When Harry Met Sally

One of the first film papers I ever wrote was about When Harry Met Sally. I remember distinctly that I wrote about the fact that Harry and Sally were the ying and yang of each othere, perfect opposites that fit together perfectly – their names even show it. Harry Burns is dark and brooding, and Sally Albright is bright and chipper – together they complete each other’s outlook on life.

When Harry Met Sally is a perfect commentary on male/female relationships and as I grow older this becomes ever more true. Women are from Venus, men are from Mars and Ephron & Reiner figured out how to capture this long before the mass population put it into pop culture. Harry & Sally are the perfect couple, the only problem is that like as in the case with more perfect couples – they’re the last ones to realize it.

I consider this a New Year’s movie because several of the key scenes take place on New Year’s Ever, so if you get the chance please check this out this New Year.

Harry Burns: And was it worth it? The sacrifice for a friend you don't even keep in touch with?
Sally Albright: Harry, you might not believe this, but I never considered not sleeping with you a sacrifice.

The Holiday

Somewhere between holiday movie and guilty pleasure lies The Holiday. The tale of two women from opposite continents who escape to each other’s homes & lives to escape their own at Christmas is much more fun and touching that you might think.

What I like most about The Holiday is that this is the film that made Jack Black more than a crazy comic to me; here he plays Miles, a nice guy and a film composer who gets cheated on but ends up rescued by Kate Winslet. And who would have ever thought Winslet and Black would be a cute couple? Nancy Meyers scores points for that one.

Perhaps what makes the LA portion of the story all the more enjoyable is the addition of Arthur Abbott – a writer from the golden age of Hollywood afraid to venture back out into the world. He manages to reset Iris’s world view and in the process resets his own.

This might be a chick-flick, but I do enjoy this film.

Iris: Well, I just wanted to get away from all the people I see all the time!... Well, not all the people... one person. I wanted to get away from one... guy. An ex-boyfriend who just got engaged and forgot to tell me.
Arthur Abbott: So, he's a schmuck.
Iris: As a matter of fact, he is... a huge schmuck. How did you know?
Arthur Abbott: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.


Memento is not Christopher Nolan’s debut film, but it is the film that rocketed him into the consciousness of the film world at large – and for good reason. Memento might be a simple detective tale, a man avenging his wife’s death, but what makes Memento incredibly unique is the way it’s told, and the way it’s told is uniquely Christopher Nolan.

If you haven’t seen Memento before, stop reading this review now and go find the film and watch it – just make sure you’re alert and pay attention or you’ll be lost within the first twenty minutes.

Now, those of you that have seen the film, I’m sure you can agree with me that what makes the murder/revenge tale of Memento so engaging is that it’s told backwards. Normally, if watching this kind of tale, we wouldn’t care that Shelby Leonard can’t remember more that five minutes at a time and keeps notes on what happens as the people around him double cross him. However, instead of letting us watch Shelby’s lement stage by stage as it progresses to it’s ultimate end, Nolan puts the viewer into Shelby’s confusion by telling the story backwards – starting at the end and progressing to the beginning. Doing this makes the significance of what would have otherwise been at the end of the film (but is instead at the beginning) so much more potent – Shelby doesn’t understand the true meaning, and neither do we until we reach the beginning and see the event that led us there.

Memento also has something else that is the hallmark of a Nolan film – three incredible performances. Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss & Joe Pantoliano each give amazing performances in this film, which is an astounding thing. Guy Pearce has to master the art of approaching each scene as though he doesn’t know why his character is there, Carrie-Anne Moss is deceptively innocent until she briefly reveals her true nature, and Joe Pantoliano manages to play the line between smarmy and trust-worthy as though it were second nature.

While Memento isn’t a perfect movie, it excels because of it’s handling. A simple story told well, is always better than a complex story told poorly. Memento is proof of that.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Leonard Shelby: I always thought the joy of reading a book is not knowing what happens next.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Wedding Planner

I think I’ve stated it before, but The Wedding Planner is seriously one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies – I just think that with a little tweaking you could take out Matthew McConaughey & Jennifer Lopez and drop in Rock Hudson & Doris Day – it’s that kind of movie.  I think if you combine this with Never Been Kissed and perhaps He’s Just Not That Into You a group of girls could have a nice, man-free Valentine’s Day.

So watch this movie, preferably with a glass of your favorite girly drink and some chocolate and just think about the career Jennifer Lopez could have had if she hadn’t decided to sing.

Mary: Y'know, "those who can't do, teach"? Well those who can't wed, plan. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tron Legacy

I’ve been seeing pieces of Tron Legacy for three years – I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally see the pieces put together in finished form. I remember all the milesetones for this films production – most of them happened at Comic-Con: when they did test shots to show to see if the audience even had interest in a sequel to Tron, when they changed the name from Tr2n to Tron Legacy, when Daft Punk was announced as doing the score, and when the cast was revealed to include Bruce Boxleitner and a 35 year old Jeff Bridges. The point is, Tron Legacy had big shoes to fill for me, and I am happy to say that it succeeded.

This is a pretty similar to the original but adds to the mythos nicely. This time it’s Kevin Flynn’s son Sam that gets beamed onto the grid, after spending a lifetime wondering why his father disappeared. What he finds is that the world his father once told him bedtime stories about is real, and that his father’s creations have gone haywire – revolting against the users they once adored.

What I love most about the Tron films is that they are richly layered with a subtext that enhances what’s happening about the story – and in the case of these films that is a religious subtext about God and his creation. In the case of Tron, Kevin Flynn is an accidental God, but he attempts to step up to his duties nonetheless. This is why I love science fiction, the power of metaphor exists in this genre in a very unique way.

Jeff Bridges returns to Tron Legacy in two roles – Kevin Flynn and CLU, the villain of the piece. CLU is a much lauded visual effect as they managed to make him look like a 35 year old version of Jeff Bridges. While this was much needed for the story to work, and a rather cool gimmick, the effect didn’t thrill me. CGI is still not at the place where we can replicate the natural, involuntary things that human skin or eyes do; CLU’s skin doesn’t wrinkle correctly by the eyes, or pull quite right over his cheek bones and his skin is just a tad too cgi-looking. However, CLU is a fine villain and works perfectly as the opposite of Kevin Flynn.

Kevin Flynn is much matured in this film, something that makes sense as he’s been trapped inside the grid for twenty years. While Flynn is still free-wheeling and gifted he’s finally learned the price of being a creator, and what the price of perfection truly is. Bridges is in fine form and obviously enjoys playing the character he originated at another stage in life. Despite re-embodying Flynn, what stands out to me every time post-Lebowski that I see Bridges is how much Jeff Bridges truly is the Dude and Tron is no exception – Flynn has pieces of the Dude in him. He’s a great actor, and his own person, but I see the Dude come out somehow in every performance.

While I think that Tron Legacy is much more accessible than the original, I do think it may end up suffering the same fate as the original and in the long run, confuse the masses. However, I don’t think that a cult following, and geek worship is a bad thing…

Director:: Joe Kosinski

Kevin Flynn: The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they traveled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see. And then, one day... I got in.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Swan

Trying to describe an Aronofsky film can be almost as difficult as explaining a Pollack painting to someone who’s expecting a Monet – artists that think outside the box have a way of affecting their viewer more than any description can accurately portray. Black Swan is definitely one of those films, a story that might be as simply described as the tale of a ballerina who is pushing herself so hard towards perfection that she loses her grip on reality around her, and yet Aronofsky artfully layers the film to the extent that no simple description can capture the true beauty of this film.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, the lead role in Black Swan and though she’s been amazing me with her performances since Leon, she reaches new depths in this role; it’s one of the most devastating and brutal performances I’ve seen on screen – but that’s something Aronofsky seems to excel at fostering in his films. Portman literally breaks the boundaries of sanity before the audiences eyes as she transforms from shy core member, to dual-hearted lead.

Mila Kunis also stars as Lily, the free-spirited dancer who Nina envies as she outwardly embodies everything that Nina wishes to become. Over the past few years I’ve gained great respect for Kunis as an actor, as she seems to have grown with every role I’ve seen her in. In Black Swan she manages to be both daring, brash and domineering and yet she holds your attention on screen just as thoroughly as Portman.

Black Swan owes something very specific to Hitchcock – the ability to lie to the audience. Perhaps what makes Black Swan so tense and thrilling is that as the film progresses you are never sure if what is happening on screen is real, or if it is happening in Nina’s mind; it’s a powerful tribute to the director that we stay intrigued by this, because it brings us into Nina’s plight, we can’t trust what’s going on any more than Nina can. However, when the credits finally roll all that matters is that you’ve been pinned to your seat for the better part of two hours, anxious to see what will happen to Nina.

What I love about an Aronofsky film, including Black Swan is that you can tell every inch of every frame matters to Aronofsky. The smallest details are added together to be the most important, from the textures of fabric in wardrobe, to small visual effects that may go unnoticed by most of the audience. Aronofsky has as way of melding fantasy and reality in a way that makes the fantasy look absolutely real, and when necessary makes the reality look like the dream. Aronofsky has never done a film that hasn’t been powerful and dynamic – he’s a director with a clear voice and style, one that firmly belongs in cinema and I am sure his films will be some of the many that film scholars discuss for years to come.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Nina: I had the craziest dream last night about a girl who has turned into a swan, but her prince falls for the wrong girl and she kills herself.

Home for the Holidays

I think it’s not becoming a yearly tradition for me to watch Home for the Holidays. Seeing as this movie isn’t as cheery or bubbly as White Christmas or A Charlie Brown Christmas, it may seem odd that I look forward to watching this movie during the holiday season. However, I think part of what I like so much is that this is a very realistic look at a normal, though slightly exaggerated family and how most people view the stress around the holidays.

Claudia: Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom. You know that. That's what the day's supposed to be all about, right? Torture.

Friday, December 17, 2010

While You Were Sleeping

I’ve no idea why I love While You Were Sleeping so much except for the fact that it almost feels like a twist on Cinderella. The big difference in this story is that while the princess is pining over the sleeping prince, she realizes she’s in love with the prince’s brother. So maybe it’s a fairy tale that’s the product of the women’s lib movement…think about that one for awhile.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve blogged on this one a few times, so I’ll leave you with that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

White Christmas

White Christmas has been one of my favorite Christmas films since I discovered it a few years ago. It doesn’t matter to me that the musical number Wallace 7 Davis are rehearsing makes no sense, or that these couples fall in love in only a few days time, I just love this film. It has a magic about it that can only be attributed to the scope given it because of the era in which it was made.

This was a time where movie stars were truly stars, bigger than life and flawless. You watch White Christmas and you think of the decade it portrays, and how uncomplicated life must have been for our parents and grandparents; a time when the movies were grand, girls got dolled up every day, and men opened doors. It’s a film that’s big, bright and above all else – happy.

So this holiday I recommend pouring a cup of hot chocolate, starting a fire, and snuggling up with White Christmas.

Phil Davis: How can a guy *that* ugly have the nerve to have sisters?
Bob Wallace: Very brave parents.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pride & Prejudice

I used to think that I wouldn’t like any version of Pride & Prejudice more than the BBC version. But Joe Wright is amazing. I think I’ve read Pride & Prejudice at least once a year since high school and passages from that book are burned into my brain. When watching the images alone in Wright’s Pride & Prejudice I can almost hear Jane Austen’s prose describing the scenes – the way the house is situated, how the characters move, even the way the Bennet’s are viewed; it’s an accomplishment on the part of Wright – he’s let Austen seep into the core of this film and it shows.

I would be remiss not to mention Keira Knightly’s performance in this film. I think she embodied Lizzie and brought an era to life. If I had been born in the era of Austen I have a feeling I would have been very much like the Lizzie Knightly portrays in this film.

Joe Wright is an amazing director and he’s proven it even with his short filmography. I can’t wait to see where he goes in the years to come.

Mrs. Bennet: Have you no consideration for my poor nerves?
Mr. Bennet: You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They've been my constant companion these twenty years.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I will admit that I went into Manic only because I’m trying to fill in the gaps I have in the filmography of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Lyle, a misfit teen who is sent to a junivile mental health institution after he beats another teen with a baseball bat. It is there that he meets a group of other angry, abused teens who have the same issues he does and is faced with a choice – learn to deal with your past or let it control your future. Despite the obvious Cuckoo’s Nest overtones, and general bleakness of the subject matter I quite enjoyed Manic, this is due in large part to the caliber of the acting talent in this film.

Manic was made before Zooey Deschanel or Joseph Gordon-Levitt were stars, so the big name in this movie at the time was Don Cheedle and rightly so – this is a performance that Cheedle hits out of the park. Cheedle plays shrink to the teenagers at the facility and his constant battle with himself at the teens mental state and attitude is captivating; at points I forgot I was watching Cheedle and began to think of him as Dr. Moore. This role could not have been an easy one, as the character is placed in the difficult position of having a natural state of pity for the events that caused these teens to become who they are, and facing the reality that they are still dangerous, damaged individuals.

Gordon-Levitt plays the main character in this piece, and watching him do his thing is pretty fascinating as well as Lyle expresses himself and his anger at life in largely non-verbal ways. While Lyle may scream, hit things, and do other attention getting stunts, more often than not Lyle speaks few words and says volumes with his actions. Gordon-Levitt seems to be acting right down to his very bones.

I have to give props to director Jordan Melamed. To get performances like these out of actors, even the great actors he has here, takes a talented hand. Without the guidance of a good director these performaces could stand alone as the only memorable points of this tale, but instead they blend beautifully into a larger picture and create a cohesive character piece. I’d love to see Melamed direct again.

Director: Jordan Melamed

Friday, December 3, 2010

Iron Man 2

While the original is still my favorite, I love that this expand the universe so much more. I can't wait to see what Marvel is going to do. It's unprecedented.

Agent Coulson: Good luck! We need you!
Tony Stark: More than you know.
Agent Coulson: Not that much!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Iron Man

A brilliant hero film. A brilliant character piece. The movie my Superman movie will have to live up to one day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


This is a visually stunning film with fine acting, another worthy effort from Danny Boyle. However, you have to be fully prepared to just go with what happens in the third act.

Director: Danny Boyle

Pinbacker: At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here... but stardust.