Sunday, January 30, 2011

THE GREEN HORNET (2011)

Written by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Directed by Michel Gondry

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 9, 2011 7:30PM


"The Green Hornet" was a masked vigilante that began as a radio serial program in the 1930's and after various incarnations in television and comic books over the years, the character has now been turned into a dumbed-down action-comedy film that has been made to apparently appeal to modern audiences.

Seth Rogen is the unlikely star in this re-vision and plays Britt Reid, the typical wealthy, Los Angeles party boy whose idea of a good time is excessive drinking, trashing hotel rooms and bedding as many hot young women as possible. He is the embarrassment to his father, James Reid (a wasted Tom Wilkinson) who runs the town's newspaper, The Daily Sentinel who expected more from his son.

After his father's untimely death, Britt is expected to rise to the occasion and run the newspaper although he has never even read one. The paper's managing editor (Edward James Olmos) is there to try and guide Britt in to a newspaper man.

Britt fired the entire staff of his father's mansion except for the maid but discovers that the person who made his perfect cup of coffee is now gone so he had him hired back. The man is named Kato (Taiwanese pop star, Jay Chou) who was his father's mechanic and created this special coffee maker. Kato is a skilled inventor and an expert in martial arts.

After bonding over their mutual dislike of Britt's father, the two get drunk and go out to decapitate a statue of James Reid (don't ask) when they stumble on a couple about to be robbed. The two spring in to action, or actually Kato takes down the gang of thugs but Britt tries to take all of the credit. The two are then mistaken for the robbers and are chased by the police.

Later, after they escape, Britt comes up with the idea that they should team up to fight crime in the city by posing as criminals to be able to get closer to them. Kato agrees and creates a car that is fully loaded with weapons and gadgets. The two don masks and costumes and hit the streets.

The duo tear through the city disturbing gangs and drug dealers to try to get to the kingpin of the drug trade in Los Angeles, Britt uses the newspaper to publicize the exploits of the Green Hornet and hires an overqualified blonde beauty named Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) as his personal assistant who also happens to have a degree in criminology. Britt and Kato fight, mentally and physically, each other over trying to be the first to seduce Lenore but neither one of these guys ever had a serious chance.

The news of The Green Hornet certainly gets back to the drug lord and his name is Benjamin Chudnofsky (Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz) who is probably the worst villain in the history of films based on comic book characters. He is just plain dull and lacking in any personality while we have to endure bad running jokes involving his last name.

Chudnofsky and The Green Hornet share in the same goal; to take the other one down but who will be the first to succeed? It didn't matter to me as long as it would happen soon.

This is the fifth feature from Mr. Gondry, who first came to fame as a popular music video director and still his best film to date is "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" (2004) which worked because it perfectly combined his whimsical visual style with a solid, witty screenplay, in this case by Charlie Kaufman, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this film. It appears that in order to bring out the best in his work, Mr. Gondry needs to really have a strong screenplay which was lacking in his previous films, most especially "The Green Hornet" which was co-written by star, Seth Rogen. I don't know who is more to blame for this mess, Mr Gondry or Mr. Rogen but it seems that they both had two completely different ideas on how to do this film and then tried to combine them which of course, didn't mesh well together at all. The action/comedy hybrid can certainly work, "Ocean's Eleven" and "Pulp Fiction" comes to mind, but if it's done by people who have a clear vision of the end results.

Mr. Rogen, who lost weight to be more convincing as a crime fighter, still has his one-note slacker routine firmly in place which is completely wrong for this character. This guy was so completely obnoxious and unlikeable that even all of the other characters in the film couldn't stand being around him, including his own father. I was wishing that they would give Mr. Chou more screen time because even if I had a little difficulty understanding him on occasion, he certainly had more charisma than Mr. Rogen.

"The Green Hornet" had the potential to be a fun and amusing action adventure but all that we end up with is an unfocused and misguided attempt at a super-hero franchise.

One last thing, I almost considered seeing "The Green Hornet" in 3D but I quickly came to my senses. After seeing the film. I'm even more glad I didn't waste my money because the only part of this film that would have been interesting in 3D would have been the end credits.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 OSCAR NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED


Yes, I was up this morning at 5:38 AM to hear Academy President, Tom Sherak and last year's winner for Best Supporting Actress, Mo'nique reveal to the world this year's selections up for Academy Awards.

There were no real big surprises beyond Javier Bardem's nomination for "Biutiful" and "Blue Valentine"'s only nod was Michelle Williams for Best Actress but overall, it was a well-chosen and deserving group of nominees.

I am very happy about Jacki Weaver's nomination for "Animal Kingdom" plus I hope "Winter's Bone" nominations will get more people to see both of these great films.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be televised on February 27th with hosts Anne Hathaway and nominee, James Franco.

Here is the complete list of nominees in all categories:

Best Picture: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone"

Best Actress: Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"; Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"; Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"; Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

Best Actor: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"; Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"; Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"; Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"; James Franco, "127 Hours"

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "The Fighter"; Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"; Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"; Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"; Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"; John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"; Jeremy Renner, "The Town"; Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"; Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"; David O. Russell, "The Fighter"; Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"; David Fincher, "The Social Network"; Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, "True Grit"

Best Animated Feature: "How to Train Your Dragon," "The Illusionist," "Toy Story 3"

Best Screenplay: "Another Year," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech"

Best Adapted Screenplay: "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone"

Best Foreign Film: "Biutiful," "Dogtooth," "In a Better World," "Incendies," "Outside the Law"

Art Direction: "Alice in Wonderland," Robert Stromberg (Production Design), Karen O'Hara (Set Decoration); "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," Stuart Craig (Production Design), Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration); "Inception," Guy Hendrix Dyas (Production Design), Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (Set Decoration); "The King's Speech," Eve Stewart (Production Design), Judy Farr (Set Decoration); "True Grit," Jess Gonchor (Production Design), Nancy Haigh (Set Decoration)

Achievement in Cinematography: "Black Swan," Matthew Libatique; "Inception," Wally Pfister; "The King's Speech," Danny Cohen; "The Social Network," Jeff Cronenweth; "True Grit," Roger Deakins

Achievement in Costume Design: "Alice in Wonderland," Colleen Atwood; "I Am Love," Antonella Cannarozzi; "The King's Speech," Jenny Beavan; "The Tempest," Sandy Powell; "True Grit," Mary Zophres
Best Documentary Feature: "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Gasland," "Inside Job," "Restrepo," "Waste Land"

Best Documentary Short Subject: "Killing in the Name," "Poster Girl," "Strangers No More," "Sun Come Up," "The Warriors of Quigang"

Achievement in Film Editing: "Black Swan," Andrew Weisblum; "The Fighter," Pamela Martin; "The King's Speech," Tariq Anwar; "127 Hours," Jon Harris; "The Social Network," Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture (Original Score): "How to Train Your Dragon," John Powell; "Inception," Hans Zimmer; "The King's Speech," Alexandre Desplat; "127 Hours," A. R. Rahman; "The Social Network," Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture (Original Song): "Coming Home" from "Country Strong;" "I See the Light" from "Tangled;" "If I Rise" from "127 Hours;" "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3"

Best Animated Short Film: "Day and Night," Teddy Newton; "The Gruffalo," Jakob Schuh and Max Lang; "Let's Pollute," Feefwee Boedoe; "The Lost Thing," Shaun Tan and Andrwe Ruhemann; "Madagascar, A Journey Diary," Bastien Dubois

Best Live Action Short: "The Confession," Tanel Toom; "The Crush," Michael Creagh; "God of Love," Luke Matheny; "Na Wewe," Ivan Goldschmidt; "Wish 143," Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Achievement in Sound Editing: "Inception," Richard King; "Toy Story 3," Tom Myers and Michael Silvers; "Tron: Legacy" Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague; "True Grit," Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey; "Unstoppable," Mark P. Stoeckinger

Achievement in Sound Mixing: "Inception," Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick; "The King's Speech," Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley; "Salt," Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin; "The Social Network," Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten; "True Grit," Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Achievement in Visual Effects: "Alice in Wonderland," Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips; "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi; "Hereafter," Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell; "Inception," Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb; "Iron Man 2," Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Monday, January 24, 2011

"EBERT PRESENTS AT THE MOVIES": A REVIEW


Roger Ebert has premiered his new film review program, "Ebert Presents At The Movies" on your local PBS stations. The show is hosted by previously mentioned Christy Lemire from the Associated Press and replacing Elvis Mitchell is Ignatly Vishnevetsky from the blog, Mubi.com.

Like Mr. Ebert's previous show, the hosts discuss and offer their opinions on currently released films in theaters. "At The Movies" will also feature special correspondents, like Kim Morgan, who is an expert on classic Hollywood movies, who discussed the Orson Welles film, "The Third Man" on this show plus Roger Ebert, with the help of guest voices since he is unable to speak, reviewed "My Dog Skip" a little seen film that was released in theaters last year and is now on home video that he recommends that you check out.

On this first episode, these new hosts review five wildly different films; "No Strings Attached", "The Green Hornet", "The Company Men", "The Way Back" and "The Dilemma" and while Mr.Vishnevetsky praised each film and gave them all a thumbs up, Ms Lemire disliked and pointed her thumb to the ground on every single film.

I was completely stunned by this and really find it hard to believe. Not only does this make me question the taste level on both of these critics, it also makes me wonder if they are truly qualified to give an honest opinion because I never felt completely convinced on either side of the argument each were trying to make on these films.

While they did acknowledge and made light of the fact of their solid split critiques at the end of the program, that is the least of the problems.The show feels stiff, sterile and dated plus these hosts have zero chemistry and watching two complete strangers sitting next to each other and trying to force conversation and offer lackluster discussion is not entertaining.

I know this was the first episode and I'm sure they will need time to find it's groove but if the show remains this dull and predictable, I don't think it will have a long life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

Written by Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne & Joey Curtis

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  January 10, 2011 2:30PM


When most people choose to get married, they have selected someone that they expect to be with for the rest of their lives but sometimes things simply just do not go according to plans.

"Blue Valentine" is a terrific film that focuses on the contrast of the sweet, budding romance of a young couple and the painful, torturous demise of their crumbling marriage.

We first meet Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) after six years of marriage. There is an immediate sense that this relationship is slowly deteriorating under the weight of unrealized dreams and most likely, unrealistic expectations. Cindy is stressed out and overworked, first at her job as a nurse, then at home, caring for her adorable five year old daughter and her other "big" kid; her husband. Dean helps out by working occasionally as a house painter but it's clear that his wife is the adult putting the food on the table.

One morning, their daughter is desperately searching for her missing dog. Unfortunately, Cindy later finds the dog on the side of the road, a victim of an automobile accident. They decide to have her stay with Cindy's father for a day while they handle the burial.

After their pet is laid to rest, Dean comes up with an idea for the couple to go to a cheesy honeymoon hotel, that they have been meaning to go to after their wedding. He hopes that this will help rekindle the fading flame of their romance but Cindy doesn't seem particularly interested in doing this. She eventually decides to go, perhaps also quietly hoping that this trip might help repair what is currently absent in their relationship.

Intercut throughout the film, we are shown how Dean and Cindy first came together six years ago and fell in love. Cindy was a high school student, working on becoming a doctor and dating a handsome wrestler (Mike Vogel). Dean, while working for a moving company, was helping move in a new resident in to a nursing home when he spots Cindy, who was returning her grandmother to the same home. He is immediately smitten with this attractive young girl and tries to ask her out. She resists his charms but he is determined and gives her his number, seriously counting on her to call him.  She doesn't call but circumstances brings the two together anyway which starts a tender, intense and free-wheeling love affair.

Cindy later discovers that she is pregnant and unsure of who the father might be, struggles with her options on whether to keep the baby and how this news will effect her new boyfriend.

Back to the present, the honeymoon trip doesn't go as well as planned, in fact it does nothing more than bring up long festering issues that may fracture the relationship irreparably.

Mr.Cianfrance had worked on this script for ten years and has said that becoming a father himself helped him find the right voice for the screenplay. During filming, he had no rehearsals and rarely shot more than one take plus his work in documentaries clearly helped ground "Blue Valentine" and gave it a wonderful spontaneous feel.

Both Mr. Gosling and Ms Williams give blistering raw emotional performances. Considering the material, it would have been very easy for these actors to appear overwrought and melodramatic but there is not one moment that doesn't feel genuine and natural. I have stated this previously about him in a review and I'm going to reiterate that Ryan Gosling is one of the most dynamic actors working right now and it's good to see him in a film worthy of his talents. That constant smirk on his face would come across extremely obnoxious on most other people but with Mr. Gosling, it can have alot of different meanings and it is all part of his charm.

I have to be honest and say I've been less enamored of Ms Williams in the past, although most everything I have seen her in, I have liked her performances, most especially her brilliant work in the 2008 independent film, "Wendy and Lucy" and she is quite impressive in this film.

"Blue Valentine" is a brilliantly honest and powerful film that is most impressive in the way that it truthfully shows all of the sides of a relationship; from the breathtakingly tender and passionate moments to the times when things may become complicatedly hostile and destructive but the film does it in a way that is vibrant and innovative.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

ALL GOOD THINGS (2010)

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Written by Marcus Hinchey & Marc Smeling

Directed by Andrew Jarecki

Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. December 27, 2010  3:00PM


"All Good Things" is the first narrative feature by documentary film maker, Andrew Jarecki, whose most notable work is the 2003 Oscar-nominated, "Capturing The Friedmans". This film is closely based on the life of Robert Durst, the son of New York real estate mogul, Seymour Durst, who many feel was somehow responsible for the mysterious disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack, the unsolved murder of his friend, Susan Berman. and would actually be accused of the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black.

In this film, the character is named David Marks, a seemingly, mild-mannered young man, played by Ryan Gosling, who meets his future wife, Katie (Kirsten Dunst) who at the time was a college student, while being forced to go and repair the plumbing in her apartment, which happens to owned by his icy and imposing father, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella).

David is unable to fix Katie's pipes but a romance blossoms, much to his father's disapproval. David marries Katie anyway and the couple move to Vermont to open a health store called, "All Good Things". Life is idyllic for the newlyweds for a short while until David's father pays them a visit. He informs David that it is now time for him to come back to the city and take his place in the family business or else he will no longer financially support him.

Begrudgingly, David does as he is told but soon Katie begins to notice a change in her husband. He begins muttering to himself and his mood becomes much darker, which leads to angry rages and violent outbursts that he takes out on his wife. Katie soon realizes she doesn't really know anything about David as she is surprised to learn from David's old friend, Deborah (Lily Rabe) that as a young boy, he witnessed his mother commit suicide by jumping off the roof of their home as well as getting a clear picture of what exactly the work is that he does for his father.

Soon, Katie has had enough and informs her husband that she wants out of the marriage and not long after, she disappears without a trace.

Then, things take on a very bizarre turn when years later, David moves to Texas and begins living life dressed as a woman. He manages to befriend his neighbor in the apartment building, Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall), a disagreeable elderly man, who may or may not be actually aware of David's true gender, also happens to be very adept with a gun.

Deborah begins frantically calling David asking him to send her more money or else she will release some information to the police that he certainly wouldn't want to get out. Shortly after that threat, Deborah is murdered, execution-style. Not long after that murder, trash bags are found floating in the Galveston Bay, filled with body parts. They happen to belong to Malvern Bump. David is arrested for the crime and goes to trial were he claims that he killed Malvern in self-defense and only disposed of the body in fear that nobody would believe him. A jury finds David Marks not guilty of murder but is sentenced to five years for bond jumping and evidence tampering.

The film uses these fictional characters to fill in the blanks and draw possible scenarios on what could have possibly happened in the real life case of Robert Durst. Mr. Durst, who has since been released from prison and has seen and actually likes this film, surely knows much more than he is willing to say but since he seems mentally unstable and very likely a sociopath, the truth will probably never come out.

"All Good Things" is an admirable first attempt by Mr. Jarecki but while it starts off engrossing, it soon becomes frustratingly vague and lacking any emotional impact. The film does imply that David Marks is more likely guilty than not but we still never get a clear understanding of who he really is and what would have motivated him to have committed any of these crimes. This weakens Mr. Gosling's riveting performance somewhat because his sudden erratic behaviour seems to come out of nowhere but Mr. Gosling gives his all in this role and proves that he is one of the most exciting and intriguing young actors working today.

Ms Dunst, who has not appeared on the big screen since 2008, makes a welcome return although it's in a role that is underwritten since we don't have a clear idea of what type of woman she truly is to marry a wealthy young man without having much knowledge about him or his past. Mr.Langella is perfect as David's cold and manipulative father and there is a fun cameo by SNL's Kristen Wiig.

"All Good Things" poses many questions and possibilities in what could have happened in these still unsolved crime cases but since the film is so unfocused and misguided that it doesn't offer any clear answers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

MY LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2010

I've been struggling with whether to put "Inception" and "Black Swan" on my list of least favorite films. While I definitely had problems with both films, neither film is truly bad, as far as what my definition of what a bad film is. While I truly appreciate that these two Hollywood films were fresh ideas that feature innovative film making, challenging stories and terrific performances but both were also convoluted, pretentious and self-indulgent. I certainly don't think neither film deserves all this overblown praise and award recognition that they have been receiving during award season but they are still worth seeing. I still don't know what to make of those films but here is a list of films from last year that I had no such dilemma over:

"CHLOE"

This is a Hollywood remake of an French film whose plot would only seem logical. . . in France. A long married woman hires a hooker to try and seduce her husband to see if he will be faithful. Not only are Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore wasted in this pointless film but so is the time of the audience.

"CLASH OF THE TITANS"

Another unnecessary remake of the cheesy toga and sandals flick that has managed to make the original seem like a masterpiece but the worst offense this film made is that it was a 3D film that had barely any visible 3D effects. After this rip-off, I refuse to see anymore live-action 3D films.

"SEX & THE CITY 2"

I really hate to put this film on the list because I am such a huge fan of the television show but "Sex 2" is so overblown and over-the-top that it completely lost track of the simple pleasures of the show that made it so much fun.

"CITY ISLAND"

I disliked everything about this film starting from the performances, to the script and the direction but most especially Julianna Margulies' hairdo.

"LIFE DURING WARTIME"

This is the very disappointing, sort of sequel to a great art-house dark comedy, "Happiness" (1998) that not only came out over ten years too late but is unstructured, unfocused and unfunny.

"THE AMERICAN"

Could it be possible to have a thriller about an assassin for hire on his last job plus have George Clooney in the lead be such a deadly bore? I am afraid so, as "The American" is the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2010

In the past year, I saw roughly about 104 films in a theater and while sitting in the dark, I have witnessed the following: a tough bisexual chick with a mohawk and a very large tattoo, an anti-social computer nerd, imaginary worlds inside imaginary worlds, remakes of international films, remakes of Hollywood films, film versions of television programs, films inspired by a true story, films set in Boston, lesbian mothers, gritty cowboys, unbalanced ballerinas, animated animals seemingly jumping off of the screen and of course, lots of sequels. 

Hollywood, as it has always done, has stuck with the tried and true with the least amount of risk as possible but fresh and creative managed to sneak in from time to time. This was certainly a wild and weird but fascinating mix of cinema which I enjoyed very much (except for those 3D cartoon animals flying at my face which is a fairly disturbing trend).

There are still a few films that I haven't seen yet, such as "The King's Speech", "Another Year" "127 Hours" and "Blue Valentine" that could have possibly made this list but I think this is still a fairly complete and accurate review of the movies that have made me laugh, made me cry and made me simply very happy over the past year:

"THE FIGHTER"

It took over five years for actor Mark Wahlberg to bring to the screen "The Fighter", the true life story of boxer Micky "Irish" Ward but it was very well worth the wait. David O. Russell brilliantly directs this story of Ward who boxes to help support his family but he wants to do it on his terms despite living in the shadow of his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund who had a promising boxing career but lost it all due to his addiction to crack and trouble with the law. Christian Bale gives an amazing performance as Eklund plus very nice turns by Amy Adams as Micky's salty but sweet girlfriend and Melissa Leo as the tough mama of the brothers who is more interested in arranging Micky's fights than being his mother.



"THE SOCIAL NETWORK"

The well-deserved accolades keep piling up for "The Social Network". This masterful film by David Fincher in this story about whether it was college student, Mark Zuckerberg's (Jesse Eisenberg) own idea to create a website for fellow students to communicate with each other which later evolved in to this very lucrative global sensation or did he actually steal the idea from other individuals and cheated them out of their rightful part of the Facebook revolution? With a solid script by Aaron Sorkin, this film has also brought to Hollywood's attention such talented new young actors as Rooney Mara, Arnie Hammer, Andrew Garfield, Max Mingella and Justin Timberlake (!) that I'm very sure we will be seeing much more of them in the future.

"THE GHOST WRITER"

Despite whatever you may think about director, Roman Polanski personally, as a film maker, he is still at the top of his game. His latest film, "The Ghost Writer" is a tense political thriller about a writer (Ewan McGregor) assigned to complete the memoirs of a former Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the previous writer has died under mysterious circumstances. A terrific film full of suspense and intrigue with great performances by Mr. Brosnan and Olivia Williams as the puzzling wife of the Prime Minister.




"THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT"

In "The Kids Are All Right", Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play the lesbian parents of their two children who decide to seek out their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo) which only complicates and disturbs this family. Lisa Cholodenko co-wrote and directed this warm, funny and very moving film which features a sensational performance from Ms Bening who should finally get that Oscar that she has been previously robbed.

"WHITE MATERIAL"

Iconic French director, Claire Denis and legendary French actress, Isabelle Huppert have teamed up to make "White Material". This beautifully poetic film about a coffee plantation owner in an unnamed country in Africa who refuses to leave even though the country is in the middle of a civil war with the rebel soldiers quickly approaching. Ms Huppert, as usual, is electrifying and you cannot take your eyes off of her.    



"WINTER'S BONE"

In a breakthrough performance, Jennifer Lawrence plays a poor seventeen year old, living in the Ozarks, caring for her incapacitated mother and two younger siblings. She is in a desperate search to find her meth dealing father who put their home up as his bail bond or else the family will end up losing it. We are taken into a world that is bleak, dangerous and terrifying but is powerfully moving movie. "Winter's Bone" is a quiet and very natural feeling film that you should definitely check out.




"ANIMAL KINGDOM"

I didn't know what to expect from this little Australian film but I was completely blown away by "Animal Kingdom". This story of a family of criminals that is loosely based on the 1988 Pettingill case in Melbourne. This confident debut film from David Michod is filled with unexpected twists, shocking turns and superb performances, most notably by Jacki Weaver who plays the mother with a sunny exterior but a very dark interior.



"THE TOWN"

Ben Affleck returns to the director's chair for the second time with "The Town",  a taunt, well-crafted crime thriller. It certainly proves that Mr. Affleck's 2007 first first, "Gone Baby Gone" was no fluke. Set in Boston, the story of four life-long friends who also happen to be bank robbers make the mistake of taking a hostage (Rebecca Hall) and one of the robbers (Affleck) winds up falling in love with her. This brings the gang some unwanted attention from the F.B.I. A great cast that include Chris Cooper, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner.


"EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP", "JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK" and "BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD"

The only thing these documentaries have in common is that I loved them all. "Exit" is a fascinating (but questionable) film about photographer, Thierry Guetta who documents his life and becomes obsessed with street art, "A Piece Of Work" follows veteran comedian, Joan Rivers as she struggles to remind people that she is still funny and "The Radiant Child" features filmmaker, Tamara Davis's lost interview with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that she builds a touching remembrance around on his life and work.



"THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY"

The three Swedish-language films, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" are based on the best-selling books by the late Stieg Larsson. Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander, a troubled computer hacker who teams up with magazine reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to solve a mystery involving a corrupt industrialist that include sex, drugs and murder. The strongest film of the group is "Dragon Tattoo" but they are all well done and entertaining and although these films are currently getting the Hollywood treatment, I highly recommend you see these original films first.

Honorable Mention: "TRUE GRIT", "EYES WIDE OPEN", "UNDERTOW", "FAIR GAME", "NOWHERE BOY", "CONVICTION", "GREENBERG", "SOLITARY MAN", "HEREAFTER", "PLEASE GIVE" and "I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS"





Sunday, January 2, 2011

BLACK SWAN (2010)

Written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin


Directed by Darren Aronofsky


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas  Hollywood, CA. December 19, 2010 1:40PM


We admire the seemingly effortless graceful moves and the strong beautiful bodies of the ballet dancer but what we don't witness is what is required of these performers to get to this point. All of the years of painful, bleeding feet, broken bones, the lack of sleep and food and the mental anguish that must be endured (and ignored ) so that they are able to do what they love for a very brief period of time. "Black Swan" is set behind the scenes in that world of dance but instead of the usual way we see it as soft and fluid, this film presents ballet as dark and edgy.

Nina (Natalie Portman), is a ballet dancer for a New York City company who is very focused but is timid and keeps to herself. She has dreamed of performing the lead of "Swan Lake"and has learned that the opportunity might just happen after it's announced that the aging prima ballerina (Winona Ryder) has been encouraged to go into retirement. The ballet's director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) has the company's dancers audition for the part.

After Nina's audition fails to impress Thomas, she goes to him later to ask for another chance. He explains that she has the skills to perform the White Swan but lack the passion to play the Black Swan. Thomas makes a sexual advance on Nina and she reacts violently. Thinking that her chance is now over. Nina is very surprised to learn that she has won the role.

The first person Nina calls with the news is her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who gave up her own dreams of being a ballet dancer to have her daughter. The two share a tiny apartment in the city and Nina's room has remained exactly the same since she was a little girl. Filled with stuffed animals and a music box that is played when she's upset, Nina hasn't been allowed to grow-up as her mother wants to continue to control her career. Although Nina didn't seem to mind before but now, with the growing demands of her challenging role, wants to manage her own life.

During rehearsals, Thomas keeps pushing Nina to let herself go in order to properly portray the Black Swan but as a result of her drive for perfection, she is having great difficulty releasing her darker side. Lily (Mila Kunis), another dancer in the company, is not technically as strong as Nina but she's a wild spirit who dances with powerful passion. Lily tries to befriend Nina but she's not interested.. Eventually breaking the ice one night, Lily gets Nina to let loose with the help of drugs, booze and boys. After Lily manages to become Nina's alternate, this makes her extremely paranoid. Is she trying to steal her role or is Lily simply trying to help? With the pressure becoming too much, Nina begins to slowly lose a grip on reality. She begins hallucinating, convinced that her body is morphing into something dark and sinister. As opening night approaches, Nina is now completely unhinged,  unable to tell what is real, who to believe or who she can trust.

"Black Swan" has been heavily praised by many critics and has been nominated for plenty of awards but I really don't get what all of the fuss is all about. Perhaps it's just me but I was not so enthralled by Mr. Aronofsky's particularly hyper-melodramatic vision of watching a dancer suffer for her art and succumb to madness, no matter how technically superior the work may be. Mr. Aronofsky certainly has made some intense and thrilling films like "Requiem For A Dream" and the 2008 film, "The Wrestler" but he is also capable of middling and confusing work such as "The Fountain" (2006) which "Black Swan" falls somewhere in between.

"Black Swan" feels very similar to Roman Polanski's 1965 film, "Repulsion" which starred Catherine Denueve as a disturbed young woman who slowly starts to withdraw from society and begins to hallucinate disturbing things happening to her but I feel the same way about this film as I do about "Black Swan" where after a while all of these dream sequences just feel overdone and grow tiresome.

You can see all of the hard work Ms Portman put in to look believable as a dancer and she is quite good as the mentally fragile Nina although the life of a dancer who doesn't eat properly and pushes her body to the extreme limit might make anyone a little nutty. Mr. Cassel makes a great impression as the sleazy director and it was very nice to see two veteran actresses who we haven't seen much on the big screen of late; Although she doesn't look like she has ever been on a ballet stage, Ms Ryder delivers a perfectly high pitch performance as the tossed aside diva while Ms Hershey is terrific in the small but vital role as Nina's clingy mother.

"Black Swan" is filled with impressive acting, strong direction and stunning visuals but the film as a whole is just too bogged down with too much mega-manic excess to be able to soar.