Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ten Most Disappointing Movies of 2010

From a very young age I was taught a valuable lifelong lesson, "You take the good with the bad". This timeless adage applies to all facets of life. And although we typically enjoy acknowledging the greats, it's also imperative that we take a step back to address the not-so-great. 2010 had more than its fair share of cinematic duds, and I decided to sort through my list finding the ten most disappointing movies of the year.

Before reading on, it's important to understand my criteria. I'm not finding the ten WORST films of the year, I'm identifying the films that you and I wanted to see, and when we did, they left us perplexed. Whether it's an awesome trailer, an A-List cast, or a great premise, there's always a catch to a hyped film. However, more times than not, we end up being letdown by the final product. In 2010, the following films were no exception:

#10) Alice in Wonderland

Having grossed over $300 million domestically, I may not have much of an argument here. However, I went into the film completely objective. I had very little knowledge of the back story, and I had no recollection of any of the old movies. That being said, the film was strange, creepy, and borderline intolerable. Outside of the vivid visual effects, Alice in Wonderland had very little to offer. I see it as another dull remake added to Tim Burton's resume.

#9) Get Him to the Greek

Let's face it, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a hit. Not only was it a hit, the out-of-nowhere comedy was an instant classic. Therefore when I heard about the spin-off being made, I was as eager to see it as anyone else. Overly raunchy and vulgar, there were definitely some laugh out loud parts in Get Him to the Greek. But with nowhere near as much charm as its predecessor, this second installment of rocker Aldous Snow was too over the top for its own good.

#8) A Nightmare on Elm Street

Freddy Krueger is one of the scariest villains ever created. In 1984, Wes Craven crafted a horror masterpiece. And when I heard they were releasing a re-imagining of the classic film, I was skeptical, yet eager. 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street focuses intensely on the brutal back story of the child murderer Freddy Krueger. Far too disturbing and graphic, the film falls way short of the spine-chilling fear generated by the original. Unfortunately, the terrible trend of remaking 80s hits continues.

#7) The American

Somewhat quiet in its release, The American stars George Clooney, and it pairs him with up-and-coming director Anton Corbijn. In 2009 Clooney reached all new heights with his brilliant work in Jason Reitman's award winning film Up in the Air. How quickly they fall. The American is beautifully shot and the cinematography is excellent. However, the deep character study is far too slow and non-climactic to experience any sort of enjoyment. The characters are lifeless, and it inevitably makes The American a difficult watch.

#6) Date Night

Two of the most talked about sitcoms on television are The Office and 30 Rock. When the leads from both shows announced they were making a comedy together, all ears perked up. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the hottest names in Hollywood. Yet their stardom alone couldn't keep the laughs coming. Poor dialogue and plot ultimately made Date Night a disaster. Take away a few random laughs, this hyped comedy was easily one of 2010's biggest disappointments.

#5) Robin Hood

I'm still yet to find anyone who truly loved Ridley Scott's take on the classic tale Robin Hood. I know I'm a minority when I say that I wasn't particularly a big fan of Scott and Russell Crowe's big hit, Gladiator. But when word came out that the two would join forces once again, many people anxiously awaited Robin Hood's release. Much to our surprise, we were left baffled by its unoriginality and diluted story. I doubt it will be the last time we see the director and actor paired up again, but perhaps it should be.

#4) Dinner For Schmucks

Once again, Steve Carell happened to let us down in 2010. Dinner For Schmucks offered a hilarious trailer and an all-star cast including Carell, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis. Unfortunately, it didn't offer much more. Schmucks was incredibly over the top and the humor was all too forced. A jumbling of uncomfortable jokes and erratic plot, the film was certainly a letdown.

#3) Shutter Island

Hopefully by now everyone has seen legendary director Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. If not, spoiler alert, so stop reading. Teaming up Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since The Departed, there wasn't anyone on the planet more excited for this film than me. Since this top ten list centers on flops, obviously you can tell I was extremely disappointed in the movie. Shutter Island offers no more than the marginal thrillers we've been exposed to over the past decade. Following almost the exact same formula as The Number 23, the film drags and the twist is overdone (he was crazy all along, how clever). I was immensely displeased with Scorsese's lack of originality. I've come to expect more from a director of his stature. Also, DiCaprio was far from excellent in the movie. Almost impossible to differentiate from his William Costigan role in The Departed, Shutter Island is living proof that even Leo isn't perfect.

#2) Grown Ups

Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Kevin James, and David Spade, need I say more? Probably the most gifted comedic cast of the year, Grown Ups had everyone excited. Having reeled in over $160 million in the box office, people lined up to see this over-hyped comedy. Unfortunately for big time Sandler fans like myself, Grown Ups was a far too "family oriented" film. With recycled jokes and childish potty humor, this comedy fell extremely short of its expectations. If you haven't seen it, believe me, you aren't missing much.

#1) Hereafter

Acclaimed director Clint Eastwood proved to be out of his element when he decided to tackle the posthumous tale Hereafter. With recent hits like Gran Torino, Invictus, Million Dollar Baby, and Changeling, Eastwood's reputation helped build anticipation for the film. Couple that with one of Hollywood's finest, Matt Damon, as the lead, Hereafter was sure to be a hit. However, from beginning to end, the movie felt like a rainy day. It seemed as though it would never end. The 3 separate stories come together in an unsatisfying resolve that ultimately feels unsettling. Rumors circulating the film are that is was rushed. The script was unfinished and thrown together hastily by the director. Eastwood's rare flop has been ignored by everything this awards season, and it's not a surprise. Hereafter is definitely a thought provoking movie, but it's message isn't worth the drub you're required to sit through. And there you have it, 2010's biggest disappointment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Top Ten Films of 2010

Now that Christmas has come and gone, it's only fitting to get nostalgic and discuss the top movies that 2010 had to offer. As the season's first snow storm pummels the east coast, what better time than now to start the debate?

2010 has been a strange year for cinema. The early months started out slow and left us all crossing our fingers for a redeeming Summer. However, Summer came and passed with plenty to be desired. We sat around wondering if there was any light at the end of the tunnel. And then all of a sudden Christopher Nolan's much-hyped, psychological tale Inception kicked off a relieving stretch run. It turned out to be a fantastic Fall, and ultimately, 2010 was a really good year for cinema. Unfortunately though, it's beginning to appear as though this will be a template for the major studios to follow in the upcoming years. If so, it could be a while until we have a smorgasbord of fantastic features again.

When thinking back to this year's releases, the phrase "very satisfying" comes to mind. There weren't any unbelievable films, however there's at least a baker's dozen worthy of top ten status. Not only were there plenty of solid movies this year, there were a plethora of top-notch performances. Everything from newcomer Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, to Colin Firth's depiction of King Henry VI during World War II. When all is said and done, the following ten films were this year's best:

#10) Toy Story 3

Very iconic of my childhood, Toy Story 3 was a film I was very excited to see this year. And when it finally came out, I was thrilled to watch it restore the franchise to it's original heights. Another adventure following Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the crew, Toy Story 3 addresses sincere topics like adulthood, friendship, and the passing of the torch. It's truly a pleasure for any audience.

#9) Black Swan

If you were to tell me in January that one of 2010's top films would center around a ballerina in New York City, I would've called you crazy. However, Darren Aronofsky's intense thriller Black Swan was one of this year's most beautifully crafted pictures. Natalie Portman gives a glaring performance as Nina Sayers, a young ballerina consumed by the pressure to be the best dancer in her company. The ending will stick with you for a while.

#8) True Grit

Jeff Bridges, fresh off an Oscar gold for his role in Crazy Heart last year, heads a wonderful cast in this Coen Brothers' remake. True Grit couples clever dialogue with pristine imagery to deliver one of the best Westerns in years. A murdered man's daughter seeks vengeance on the killer, and she hires a U.S. Marshall to help bring the man to justice. True Grit is a must see.

#7) The Town

As director Ben Affleck's successful follow up to Gone Baby Gone, The Town is highly entertaining. The film takes place in present day Boston, as a small community of crooks and thieves attempt a risky bank heist. Afterward, one of the robbers (Affleck) falls for the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) and it creates quite the controversy. The Town is more than just a typical cops and robbers movie, it offers a satisfying and deep look into redemption and change.

#6) Nowhere Boy

Despite the film's 2009 release in the United Kingdom, Nowhere Boy didn't reach the United States until this year. Starring Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) as a teenage John Lennon in 1950s England, the movie explains the internal and external factors that helped breed a musical genius. Nowhere Boy teaches us a truth that Lennon so perfectly turned into a popular song. Sometimes ... all you need is love.

#5) The King's Speech

This year's festival darling, The King's Speech is perhaps 2010's most well-acted film. With an all-star cast containing Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech is an epic tale of overcoming great odds. Firth plays King George VI as he attempts to conquer his speech impediment. Bonham Carter as his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and Rush as his vocal coach, the film creatively ties together an unconventional story during a trying time.

#4) 127 Hours

Danny Boyle is one of the most gifted directors in Hollywood. As versatile as anyone else, Boyle used his rare gift in 2010 to give us one of the greatest survival pictures of all time. 127 Hours is based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) and the adversity he faces while being trapped in a canyon in Utah. Franco gives one of the year's top performances and helps Boyle create an intense, epic journey in the mind of a man desperate to survive. Quite graphic during its resolution, 127 Hours is worth seeing if you can stomach it.

#3) The Social Network

Clever and fast-paced, The Social Network examines the real life story of Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergrad, creates the world's greatest social website on a college campus with the financial aid of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield). However, when a billion dollar idea is at stake, anyone and everyone will do their best to get their hands on the prize. A story about friendship and betrayal, The Social Network is a brilliant portrayal of intellectual conquest and the American dream.

#2) Inception

Inception was 2010's first big name release. It was released in July and afterward, moviegoers worldwide never looked back. Director Christopher Nolan's thriller centers around a futuristic world where shared dreaming is possible. When a group of thieves are hired to implant an idea into an heir's mind, keeping track of reality becomes a difficult task. An ending that had everyone talking for months, Inception is yet another great film by one of Hollywood's best living directors, Christopher Nolan.

#1) Get Low

2010's list of great films is headed by an unknown, Get Low. The story follows a local hermit in 1930s Tennessee named Felix Bush (played by Robert Duvall). When Mr. Bush has a strange idea to have a funeral for himself while he's still living, a struggling funeral director (played by Bill Murray) is happy to take on the task. Filled with fabulous acting and a perfectly constructed story, Get Low is absolutely charming. Duvall delivers a performance for the ages, and it's wonderful watching the sly old man's interior motive come to life. Get Low is a great film and one suitable for any audience. Be sure to check out the best film 2010 had to offer.

Have you seen most of these movies? Are there ones you think I've missed? Feel free to leave a response and let me know what you think. Have a great new year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Kings Speech - Official Trailer

The King's Speech: A Worthy Oscar Darling?

Film: The King's Speech

Starring: Colin Firth (A Single Man and Love Actually), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean and Munich), and Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club and Sweeney Todd)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Tom Hooper (The Damn United)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 118 minutes

Every year there's a movie that critics alike deem the awards season frontrunner. This year, it's The King's Speech. Director Tom Hooper's incredible depiction of the events leading up to the reign of King George VI garnered the most Golden Globe nominations, and many speculate it will head the Oscar nominations as well. The King's Speech was out in limited release as early as November 26th. In its first weekend, having only been released at 4 theatres nationwide, the film grossed about $350,000 (an astounding $88,000 per theatre). In addition to its financial recognition, The King's Speech was also an early festival favorite throughout the world. After winning numerous awards, it was clear that this film would be difficult to dethrone.

Prior to becoming King George VI (played by Colin Firth), he was known as the Duke of York. Being the second eldest son of King George V, the Duke was sure to never see the throne. His eldest brother David (played by Guy Pearce), was the next in line. Deep down, the Duke, also known as Bertie to his close friends and family, was quite conflicted. After the passing of his sick father, Bertie believed himself to be the most qualified to hold the throne. However, with the invention of wireless broadcasting, Bertie's speech impediment (he stammers) inhibited him from being a strong public speaker. Through a sequence of uncontrollable events, Bertie's wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and a local Speech expert, Lionel (played by Geoffrey Rush), helped him overcome incredible odds on his way to becoming King George VI during World War II.

The King's Speech is a well crafted, beautifully acted film. Tom Hooper constructs a witty masterpiece that's extremely easy to watch. Fresh off a difficult Oscars loss, it will be interesting to see if the hangover sways voters to cast their ballots for Colin Firth. His performance was brilliant, but he's up against some stiff competition this year. It's a similar story for supporting actor Geoffrey Rush. He's absolutely charming as the profound Speech coach, Lionel Logue. Yet, Rush finds himself as a suitable number two behind Christian Bale (The Fighter). Despite the fantastic performances by Firth and Rush, perhaps it's Helena Bonham Carter who delivers best. Queen Elizabeth is such a wonderful character, and Bonham Carter brings her to life. She's so convincing as the rock and backbone of the King during his ascension to the throne. Also filled with excellent, laugh out loud dialogue, The King's Speech is surely one of this year's finest films.

As it turns out, The King's Speech is a difficult movie to locate. Therefore, in order to see it, I expect many people will have to wait for DVD. But if you're really in touch with this year's awards season, then it's clearly a must see film.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Thursday, December 16, 2010

True Grit: Snub-worthy?

Film: True Grit

Starring: Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski and Crazyheart), Matt Damon (The Departed and Invictus), and Hailee Steinfeld

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo, No Country For Old Men, and The Big Lebowski)

Genre: Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

I have always enjoyed Westerns, but unfortunately I have never seen the original True Grit, starring the Hollywood legend, John Wayne. After seeing the latest Coen Brothers hit, I was told that this, however, is far from a remake. With its own imagining of a similar story, 2010's True Grit proves that the Western genre is far from dead.

Set in Arkansas some time ago, True Grit follows Mattie Ross (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld). The young, 14 year old miss Ross is set in her ways. She plans on finding a bounty hunter to aid her in avenging her father's murder. After demonstrating her successful bargaining skills, Mattie lands enough money to swindle a rugged and crude U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) into taking the job. There's a catch though. The wanted murderer, Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin), is quite the criminal, and a young Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) is already tracking him. Somewhat pitted against one another, miss Ross and Cogburn hope to catch Chaney before LaBoeuf, and give the outlaw the hanging he deserves.

Tuesday marked the much anticipated release of this years Golden Globe nominations. However, it turned out to be far from a joyous day for the Coen Brothers and their all star cast. True Grit, surprisingly, received an unimaginable zero nominations. Sure to hurt its buzz, the directors still expect the Oscars to properly reward them for their final product. With clever dialogue and beautiful cinematography, True Grit, is far from the snub-worthy film the Golden Globes indirectly labeled it to be. Jeff Bridges delivers a memorable performance as the despicably charming Rooster Cogburn. Very selfish and independent (just listen to his recollections of his ex wives), it's remarkable seeing Cogburn's opinion of the job mold into a life-defining mission. In her first big role, Hailee Steinfeld's Golden Globe snub is far from warranted. She was magnificent and dazzling as the mature, vengeful daughter of the slain Frank Ross.

I have awaited the release of True Grit for months. I had the highest expectations imaginable for this film, and although it didn't reach them, it was still a very good movie. It's a nice, easy watch, but it lacks typical Coen Brothers flare. However, any fan of Westerns must see this film. Bridges will be remembered for his role for years to come. It's a great take on an underrepresented genre. I definitely recommend spending your Christmas holiday enjoying one of 2010's finest films, True Grit.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Rabbit Hole

Film: Rabbit Hole

Starring: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge and Australia), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight and Love Happens), and Dianne Wiest (Edward Scissorhands and I Am Sam)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG 13)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 91 minutes

My main motivation for trekking into the brisk, cold December air was to see Nicole Kidman's performance first hand. However, the dramatic Oscar hopeful, Rabbit Hole, offers far more than a one-trick pony.

Set in a present day suburb of New York, Rabbit Hole centers around a young, married couple with a rocky relationship. Nearly eight months have passed, but Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still trying to cope with the loss of their only son. After unsuccessful attempts at group meetings and talking with close relatives, the couple acknowledges that something has to change or else it may mean the demise of their marriage. Seeking any sort of comfort and resolution, Becca and Howie go to very different extremes to feel at peace with their son's accidental death.

Nicole Kidman, fresh of a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film, perfectly depicts a struggling mother. Both her and Eckhart feel responsible for their son's death, but playing the blame game gets them nowhere. Filled with numerous intense, dramatic scenes, Rabbit Hole provides the audience with an inspiring story and unquestionable raw, emotional acting. Dianne Wiest also gives a wonderful performance as Becca's mother. She too has lost a child, but almost desperate to differentiate herself from her mother, Kidman brilliantly demonstrates Becca's resentment towards any comparison.

I was aware of the premise prior to viewing the film, and my initial thought was "here comes another slow-paced, depressing drama". However, the young director, John Cameron Mitchell, graces us with a short, but sweet, outlook on the power of forgiveness. Rabbit Hole teaches us that every person grieves differently, but in that grievance, we must learn to accept life for what it is. Nothing is perfect, and nor should we expect it to be. Sometimes we experience trials and tribulations, but how we overcome these difficulties defines who we are. Based on a very popular play, Rabbit Hole also shows us to always look to the future and take initiative. When you're consumed in the past, you're no longer living. The characters Becca and Howie realize this, and they work together beautifully to get back some sort of semblance of a life.

Despite its depressing story, Rabbit Hole actually is an uplifting film. The audience finds itself emotionally invested in the main characters, and at the film's conclusion, you are content with the progress they make. If you are interested in an excellent character piece that flows well, I definitely recommend Rabbit Hole.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2011 Golden Globe Nominations: Good Calls and Snubs

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia, and today's (Tuesday Dec 14th) Golden Globe Nominations were inevitably overshadowed by the Philadelphia Phillies signing of Cliff Lee, and rightfully so. Once the excitement subsides, avid moviegoers will be dying to get the latest scoop on what films will be headlining this year's award season.

I finally had a chance to carefully sort through the 2011 nominees for each of the major motion picture categories, and the Golden Globes seem to have done an above average job with this year's nominations. But as we all know, nothing's perfect. So allow me to fill you in on the deserved nominees and the overlooked snubs at the year's inaugural ceremony.

For starters, let me point out that I haven't seen a few of this year's recognized films. Notably: The King's Speech, Blue Valentine, The Tourist, Frankie and Alice, and a few others. That being said, I still had the chance to view over 85 movies released this year and have plenty of insight to offer.

*** Best Picture (Drama)

The nominees are The King's Speech, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Social Network, and Inception.

Analysis: With all the buzz surrounding The King's Speech, I have to accept its place on this short list. Black Swan, The Social Network, and Inception all landed in my Top Ten films of the year, therefore, I can't question those choices. However, The Fighter was simply mediocre and I have to seriously question its place amongst these elite nominees. The film is rather non-climactic and too slow paced to garner such recognition. The Golden Globes simply have this one wrong.

Snubs: The Fighter should easily be replaced by another film that deserves serious consideration, such as Nowhere Boy, The Town, True Grit, or 127 Hours. All of which currently reside on my Top Ten list for 2010.

*** Best Picture (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, Burlesque, Red, and The Kids Are All Right.

Analysis: I don't know what the committee was thinking, but they got these nominations ALL WRONG. Alice in Wonderland isn't very good at all and Red consists of more "been there, done that" action sequences than it does laughs. The Kids Are All Right was an acceptable nominee although it is still slightly over-hyped.

Snubs: Get Low has remained my number one film of the year for a long time now, and I am baffled by its lack of recognition. It's a great story that's delivered to perfection. Also, Easy A, Kick Ass, and Due Date are three other top-notch comedies (all much better than the nominated list above) that were completely overlooked by the Golden Globes.

*** Best Actor (Drama)

The nominees are Colin Firth (The King's Speech), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), James Franco (127 Hours), Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), and Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)

Analysis: Colin Firth seems to be the frontrunner as we approach the ceremony and no one can dispute James Franco's unbelievable real life portrayal of outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston. Jesse Eisenberg was very good and deserving of a nomination, but Mark Wahlberg is puzzling. Marky Mark (he'll never lose that title in my eyes) gives the fourth best performance in The Fighter, and I don't understand these critics love fest for the film.

Snubs: A few other noteworthy performances this year come from well the known actors like Michael Douglas (Solitary Man), Leonardo Dicaprio (Inception), and especially Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the epic True Grit. Each of whom offers a more memorable role than Wahlberg.

*** Best Actor (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Johnny Depp (The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland), Paul Giamatti (Barney's Version), Jake Gyllenhall (Love and Other Drugs), and Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack)

Analysis: It looks as though there's a wicked man-crush going on here with Johnny Depp. Depp is good, but hardly award-worthy in Tim Burton's imagining of Alice in Wonderland. In addition, The Tourist looks like it's far from a masterpiece (pure speculation since I haven't seen it). Gyllenhall was decent and the other two (Giamatti and Spacey) are proven actors who garner the occasional nomination purely on reputation.

Snubs: Robert Duvall, Robert Duvall, Robert Duvall (Get Low). He gives, hands down, one of the top performances of the year for any movie, let alone a comedy. He's the ultimate snub, and I can't understand how his role has become completely forgotten. Get Low had a very early release date this year, but Duvall's delivery still reasonates with me.

*** Best Actress (Drama)

The nominees are Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), and Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice)

Analysis: I really don't have any complaints on this crop of nominees. I thoroughly enjoyed Kidman, Lawrence, and Portman in their roles. Based solely on hearsay, Williams and Berry also seem deserving of their nominations. No real complaints here.

Snubs: I believe and argument can be made for Hilary Swank (Conviction) and Naomi Watts (Fair Game). Both were very good in their respective roles this year, but ultimately, I think the Golden Globes got it right.

*** Best Actress (Comedy or Musical)

The nominees are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right), Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs), Angelina Jolie (The Tourist), and Emma Stone (Easy A)

Analysis: Once again, the committee does a solid job of acknowledging worthy performances by female leads. I can't dispute any of their nominees here.

Snubs: None

*** Best Director

The nominees are Christopher Nolan (Inception), David Fincher (The Social Network), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), and David O. Russell (The Fighter)

Analysis: Perhaps you're starting to see a recurring theme. Four of these directors are worthy of their nominations, yet I question only one of them. Obviously, David O. Russell is the odd man out. The Fighter is a terribly overrated and slow-moving film. I don't see anything above and beyond with the film's direction, and it seems as though he was just picked to be picked.

Snubs: On the other hand, there are many other directors worthy of recognition. Danny Boyle (127 Hours) paints a vivid picture of survival and redemption with his 2011 hit. Also, the Coen Brothers do an excellent job teleporting the audience into the wild west with their overly snubbed feature True Grit. Other notable direction came from Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer), and Ben Affleck (The Town), all of which deserve some serious consideration for their excellent work.

*** Best Supporting Actor in a Major Motion Picture

The nominees are Christian Bale (The Fighter), Michael Douglas (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Jeremy Renner (The Town), and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Analysis: I am very surprised to see Michael Douglas land this nomination. Part of me thinks it's the Golden Globes way of indirectly recognizing him for his lead work in Solitary Man. Jeremy Renner is a bit of a surprise as well, but he's well deserving of it. Garfield and Rush are also warranted nominees, but Christian Bale should win. Despite my lack of enthusiasm surrounding The Fighter, Bale stole the film and made it bearable to watch.

Snubs: There are numerous Supporting Actor performances worthy of a nomination this year. I expected to see Sam Rockwell (Conviction) and Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) amongst the nominees. A few others worth mentioning are Sean Penn (Fair Game) and Bill Murray (Get Low).

*** Best Supporting Actress in a Major Motion Picture

The nominees are Amy Adams and Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom), Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), and Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Analysis: I haven't seen or heard much about Animal Kingdom or Jacki Weaver's performance in the film, so I was shocked to see her nomination. The other four nominees were rather expected. Yet again, the committee gets it right with its female categories.

Snubs: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) is easily the biggest snub here. She is simply wonderful as little Mattie Ross, the vengeful daughter or a man murdered in cold blood. A few other supporting roles that could have been recognized without debate were offered by Carey Mulligan (Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps), Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy).

Well that about wraps up my take on the nominees for this year's Golden Globes. I was shocked to discover that True Grit and Get Low received zero nominations. Both films were amongst the best of the year, along with 127 Hours, which only received a single nomination. The Oscars will hopefully make the necessary corrections, and properly recognize these worthy films. On a side note, many of the movies mentioned above are available on DVD or are currently playing in theatres. Be sure to check them out before January's airing of the 2011 Golden Globes, so you can form an opinion of your own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fighter: Winner or Loser?

Film: The Fighter

Starring: Mark Wahlberg (The Lovely Bones and The Departed), Christian Bale (Public Enemies and The Prestige), and Amy Adams (Doubt)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 103 minutes

Mark Wahlberg is a tricky actor to diagnose. He's shown glimpses of brilliance in hits like The Perfect Storm and The Departed. Yet, he's been dreadful in other films like The Happening and The Lovely Bones. Every time Wahlberg has a new release, I consider it a crap shoot. You never really know which actor is going to show up. On the other hand, director David O. Russell must always see "brilliance" when he watches his favorite lead actor. With Russell's latest release The Fighter, he's turned to Wahlberg as a major role for the third time now. And unfortunately, the result is something beyond what I expected.

The Fighter is based on a true story and set in the mid 1980s in Lowell, Massachusetts. Dicky Eklund (played by Christian Bale) is a local hero who lost his title shot against Sugar Ray Leonard years prior. However, Dicky's legacy is built around the debatable notion that he actually knocked the champ down during their fight. But a lot has changed since Dicky's glory days as a boxer. Numerous bad choices have sent him in a downward spiral. His crack addiction and inability to live a normal, everyday life have begun affecting his family. Micky Ward (played by Wahlberg) is Dicky's younger half brother. As close as can be, you'd never know the siblings didn't share the same father. Micky is a stepping-stone fighter trying to get his shot at a title, but his unreliable brother and camera-hog mother, Alice (played by Melissa Leo) are holding him back. It takes a hard-nosed girl named Charlene Fleming (played by Amy Adams) to help Micky gain the courage to sever his ties with his family and take one last run at the title.

At first glance, the trailer for The Fighter is quite deceiving. The film is as much about Dicky (Bale) as it is about Micky (Wahlberg). Both of these characters are fighting for something. Micky, obviously, is fighting for a title, but Dicky is in a fight against his addiction. Furthermore, the trailer portrays a tale of boxing and overcoming obstacles, but the movie is more a character piece than a sports film. The Fighter tells the audience every tiny detail of a story. In doing so, the pacing of the film becomes borderline unbearable. What is merely an hour and 45 minutes on screen, ultimately feels like an eternity. By the time The Fighter finally reaches its conclusion, the movie has already lost the audience's emotional connection.

Despite its lack of flare, The Fighter does give you many wonderful performances. Wahlberg offers an adequate portrayal of the young Micky Ward, and Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are even better in their supporting roles. But from start to finish, it's Christian Bale who ends up stealing the show. His character is difficult to stomach at times, but that's the director's intention. As the film progresses, Bale's charismatic yet desperate nature becomes somewhat lovable. The audience finds itself more wrapped up in Dicky's story than Micky's, which feels strange as a viewer. And even though the acting is great from top to bottom, The Fighter, as a whole, is far inferior than the sum of its parts. It's unfortunate, but its true. You wait for a climactic resolve that never reaches the heights you anticipate. For that alone, the film is a let down.

If you want to see a movie for it's acting, then check out The Fighter. If you want to be thoroughly entertained, look elsewhere.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Black Swan: Over-hyped or the Real Deal?

Film: Black Swan

Starring: Natalie Portman (Brothers and V for Vendetta) and Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Book of Eli)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 103 minutes

Black Swan is easily one of the most talked about releases just prior to this year's awards season. After director Darren Aronofsky's award-winning picture The Wrestler, he has quickly found himself atop the mountain. And it's never easy being on top. With great praise comes huge expectations. Prior to my screening of Black Swan, I joined the ranks of many other critics and set the bar high for Aronofsky and his pair of female leads (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis).

Black Swan is set in present day New York City. Nina Sayers (played by Portman) is a member of NYC's ballet company. Very dedicated and precise, when the company's director Thomas Leroy (played by Vincent Cassel) informs everyone he is looking for a new lead in next season's Swan Lake, Nina begins to feel the pressure to perform. Then, Thomas explains to Nina that in the production, the lead must play two roles. The sweet and innocent White Swan, which Nina would be perfect for, and the dark and deceptive Black Swan, which the director believes is way out of her comfort zone. Ultimately, Nina is picked for the lead and everything seems to go according to plan. However, Lily (played by Kunis), the newcomer to the company has all the makings of an unforgettable Black Swan. Nina begins to suspect Lily's intentions of dethroning her for the lead part, and she must do whatever is necessary to find her inner Black Swan.

Very dark and disturbing, Black Swan has all the elements of a great film. However, something about it left me leaving the theatre feeling unfulfilled. The first hour of Black Swan has a noticeable drag, yet inevitably, the final 30 minutes of the film are filled with intense, suspenseful scenes. Aronofsky's intention is to show Nina's gradual transformation from the prototypical White Swan, to the unimaginable Black Swan. Unfortunately, in doing so, the acclaimed director slightly loses the audience. On the other hand, Aronofsky's Black Swan concludes with an absolutely unforgettable ending. Similar to The Wrestler, a slow build up leads to a climax that is filmed beautifully and delivered to perfection. The latter half of the film is definitely worth the price of admission.

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Barbara Hershey all gave stunning performances, and there's a good chance they'll be recognized for their excellent work. And despite its evident flaws, when all is said and done, Black Swan is a must see film. This dark thriller is slightly over-hyped, but it's still a very good movie. Not great, but very good. If you can withstand a few stomach-turning scenes, you're sure to be satisfied as the closing credits roll. So do yourself a favor, and don't spend this year's award season saying, "I wish I saw that movie." Definitely spend 2 hours over the holidays checking out an Oscar-worthy film like Black Swan.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 29, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Film: Love and Other Drugs

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko and Brothers) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married and The Princess Diaries)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 113 Minutes

Acclaimed director Edward Zwick seems to be returning to his roots. After spending the past decade depicting epic tales like Blood Diamond and Defiance (see what I had to say about Zwick in my January archived blog about directors in Hollywood), Zwick decided to once again tackle the romantic comedy genre with his latest work Love and Other Drugs. Teaming up for the first time since the Oscar winning film Brokeback Mountain, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are cast together as two young adults who unconventionally fall in love. After receiving glaring reviews from countless critics, Zwick may bring home some more hardware this upcoming awards season.

Set in the late 1990s, Love and Other Drugs centers around the crafty, womanizing Jamie Randall (played by Gyllenhaal). After his sex-crazed escapades land him on unemployment, Jamie turns to the up-and-coming Pharmaceutical industry to find some work. He lands a job at Pfizer as a drug representative and begins a life of sales. While attempting to win over a big time doctor in the Ohio valley, Jamie meets the beautiful and outgoing Maggie Murdock (played by Hathaway). Almost immediately, the two begin an ongoing "friends with benefits" relationship. Ultimately, the two fall for each other, but their "baggage" may be too difficult to overcome.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway show their remarkable chemistry on the big screen. Having previously worked together, their comfort with one another is very evident. However, Zwick spends a larger portion of the film illustrating their sexual connection rather than their emotional one. Another slight downfall to the the film was it's acting. Gyllenhaal was hardly serviceable, and it's supporting cast (Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria), historically speaking, usually give much better performances. On the other hand, Hathaway was convincing as the high strung, emotionally unbalanced Maggie Murdock. Hathaway's character builds walls around herself and takes a leap of faith when she allows Gyllenhaal to enter her sheltered world. Still somewhat unsure of her decision to do so, at the first sign of trouble Hathaway brilliantly portrays Maggie's uncertainty towards Jamie. In fact, she was so convincing that I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her nominated for Best Lead Actress at this year's Oscars.

Despite its flaws as a drama, Love and Other Drugs is a success as a comedy. Josh Gad (playing Gyllenhaal's brother in the film) is a great side character. The dialogue between siblings is laugh out loud funny, but on a few occasion's, Gad's character seems somewhat forced. However, he circumvents his way around these situations by delivering his comedic lines with excellent precision. It's not too far fetched to say that Josh Gad actually steals the film.

Love and Other Drugs is a difficult film to truly grasp. The lead character's have intentional quirks that are meant to drive the audience crazy. However, if you are a fan of Jake Gyllenhall or if you can look past his mediocrity on screen, there are plenty of laughs and heartfelt moments to enjoy.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Next Three Days

Film: The Next Three Days

Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator and American Gangster) and Elizabeth Banks (W. and Role Models)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Paul Haggis (Crash and In the Valley of Elah)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Writer-Director Paul Haggis may need a bigger room for all of his hardware. Haggis has written the screenplay for back to back Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Crash (2005). And not only did Haggis write the Oscar winning Crash, he also directed the film. With his latest movie, The Next Three Days, having a delayed release date, Haggis and the picture's studio are sure to have their finger's crossed, in hopes of some recognition during this year's award season. If by chance everything falls into place, perhaps stars Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks can make that happen.

Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Next Three Days centers around a college professor, John Brennan (Russell Crowe), and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks). Their lives are turned upside down when Lara is arrested for the murder of her boss. Fully convinced of his wife's innocence, John can't seem to accept this unjust reality as he's left with only one choice. He has to break Lara out of prison.

Never dull, The Next Three Days flows very well. John (Crowe) is a proper, well-educated man who slowly evolves right before your eyes. Desperate to reconnect with his wife, you get to witness the transformation of a neat and structured professor into a meticulous criminal mastermind. Crowe gives a solid performance as a husband driven by faith and love. However, it's hard to fully empathize with his character. As a member of the audience, you find yourself far more objective than John. He undoubtedly proclaims her innocence, but you become more open minded as you learn the facts surrounding Lara's murder case. It's unbelievable, but Elizabeth Banks is hardly recognizable at times. Even so, she still gives a convincing performance as John's wife, Lara, who can't cope with life in prison. All in all, as a whole, the acting was strong.

Despite its great cast, there are a few things unappealing about The Next Three Days. Haggis creates such a precise situation that it becomes difficult to believe it's possible. He does an excellent job developing the characters and story, but as you watch the events unfold, you can't help but feel let down. I have a lot of issues with the ending of the film. Haggis unconvincingly ties together all loose ends of the movie. In doing so, he creates a very polarizing finale. I just happen to lean toward the "dissatisfied" extreme.

If you need to get out and do something one of these weekends, The Next Three Days is one of the best options in theatres. It will keep you entertained, but if you're like me, you could be let down at its conclusion. Be warned.

Watch The Next Three Days if you enjoyed: Inside Man. The Next Three Days has a similar feel to Spike Lee's clever bank robbery tale, but it, unfortunately, outsmarts itself in the end.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Film: Unstoppable

Starring: Denzel Washington (Training Day and Remember the Titans), Chris pine (Star Trek), and Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Tony Scott (Crimson Tide and Taking of Pelham 1 2 3)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 98 minutes

It was a packed house at the advanced screening of Unstoppable I attended last week. In fact, due to some traffic, I almost didn't get a seat. All of this reiterated the fact that the general public loves a good Action movie. And if you want a good action movie, Tony Scott seems to be the go-to director these days. Now I'll be the first to admit that special effects and heart-pounding scenes don't usually draw me to a film, but if it's done correctly, I can thoroughly enjoy a solid action movie. So if you're a HUGE action buff, take my review with a grain of salt.

Unstoppable is based on true events that actually occurred in my home state of Pennsylvania. I was pretty shocked that I couldn't remember ever hearing about the story. On a typical week day, a clumsy railroad employee mishandles a situation and the result is an unmanned, heavy duty train traveling around 65 mph. Unstoppable focuses on all of the problems the railroad company experienced while having to somehow stop this moving missile. To fuel the fire, let me also mention that this out of control vessel is carrying tons of hazardous and flammable materials. Frank (played by Washington) drives trains for the railroad company, and when he hears of the situation he convinces rookie conductor Will (played by Pine) to help him do something about it.

There are plenty of memorable scenes in Unstoppable. In fact, it's intensity is a sure fire adrenaline rush for the entire audience. Also, the director does a great job of circumventing the main characters' back story's. The viewers are there for the thrill ride, not the drama surrounding Will or Frank. Furthermore, the dialogue was tasteful and the acting was solid. But, as I must warn you, Unstoppable has its fair share of criticisms too. It's recycled feeling of here's a problem, here's a solution, and here's a new problem ... becomes exhausting. The plot rarely progresses, and we're left facing similar dilemmas over and over again. By the end of the movie you catch yourself wondering "when will they stop this train already"?

Despite its slight overkill, the action sequences are great and there are plenty of enjoyable aspects to Tony Scott's latest film. Unstoppable is a roller coaster ride that ultimately leaves you satisfied at its conclusion. What it lacks in substance and plot it makes up with its humor and visuals. That being said, if you're a sucker for an action film, definitely check it out. If not, wait for dvd.

Watch Unstoppable if you enjoyed: Speed. There's not as much fluff in Unstoppable, and you get an ever larger rush from this film.

Stars: 2 out of 4

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Due Date

Film: Due Date

Starring: Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), and Jamie Foxx (Ray and The Soloist)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Todd Phillips (The Hangover and Road Trip)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 100 Minutes

Over the past decade Todd Phillips has made quite the name for himself. Directing instant comedy classics like Old school and The Hangover will do that to a person. With his latest work, Due Date, Phillips certainly keeps his hot streak going. The film is a hybrid mix of The Hangover meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, therefore once again, the director's sure to have a winner on his hands.

Peter Highman (Downey Jr ... and yes, that is his character's last name) is on the other side of the United States while his pregnant wife patiently awaits his return home. Mrs. Highman has a C Section scheduled in a few days, and Peter must make it back in time to see the birth of his first child. While an unfortunate series of events occur at the hands of Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), Peter's only chance of making it to Los Angeles in time for the procedure is by taking a good old fashion road trip. Ethan and Peter embark on a journey that neither one of them could have ever imagined.

Due Date is filled with countless laugh out loud scenes. The chemistry between Downey Jr and Galifianakis is great and they play their roles well. The film is sure to draw a ton of comparisons to The Hangover, mainly because Galifianakis plays a very similar role. However, in Due Date, there's a lot more of him to see. And Downey Jr, who has a history of being a successful comedic actor, does a great job complementing Galifianakis. In one scene, Downey Jr's character sternly proclaims to officers at the border, "I have never done a drug in my entire life". How could you not see the humor in that?

Despite the constant laughs, Due Date is nowhere near a flawless movie. Occasionally throughout the film, as a viewer you get the feeling that some of these jokes have been recycled. Also, there are numerous instances where what transpires is completely out of the realm of possibility. Due Date may ultimately end up a very polarizing movie. I'd recommend the movie to anyone who fits two criteria. First, are you a fan of Galifianakis (especially his role in last summer's The Hangover)? And second, are you able to suspend your belief and accept the movie for what it is, a screwball comedy? If you answered yes to both, then don't waste any time getting to the theatres this opening weekend to see it. Otherwise, proceed with caution.

Stars: 2.5 out of 4.

Monday, November 1, 2010

127 Hours: Franco Among the Elite

Film: 127 Hours

Starring: James Franco (Milk and Pineapple Express)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: Approximately 90 minutes

While at the Philadelphia Film Festival in late October, I was able to view an advanced screening of 127 Hours on the event's closing night. The acclaimed director, Danny Boyle, was the overwhelming winner at the 2008 Oscars with his beautiful love story, Slumdog Millionaire. In his first release since 2008, Boyle hopes to strike gold at this year's awards ceremony with his real-life interpretation of Aron Ralston's story. Ralston (played by James Franco) is an outdoor enthusiast who was trapped for nearly 6 days in a canyon in Utah. His arm was lodged between a fallen boulder and the canyon itself. After running out of food and water, Ralston went to outrageous lengths in order to survive the ordeal.

It's difficult to base an entire film around a stationary main character. Boyle recognizes the lack of interest an audience has in seeing the same setting over and over again. In order to keep the film progressing, Boyle does a fantastic job using flashbacks to humanize Ralston's (Franco) character. During the course of the movie, we slowly begin to understand the man behind the predicament. There's countless aspects of irony we see throughout 127 Hours. The adventurous and always on-the-go Ralston finds himself incapable of moving. Also, Aron has spent his entire life independent and distant from his family and other intimate relationships. Yet, he ultimately ends up desperate for the help and aid of others.

Throughout his physical struggles and limitations, what Boyle does so beautifully is introduce the viewer to Aron's emotional turmoil. Has Ralston's actions inevitably led him to this horrific fate? And if so, how can he change for the better? James Franco is unforgettable as Ralston. He's so believable and charismatic, that you can't help but get emotionally invested in the film. Franco has us relive his mistakes and regrets alongside him. Yet more importantly, we get to see his transformation and rebirth. Although the credits role shortly after his escape from the canyon, we are relieved knowing that this time around Aron's going to lead a much more fulfilling life.

Rumors have flooded the Internet about the official 127 Hours premier on Halloween night. Reports have been saying that a few people had to exit the theatre and someone even vomited in the aisle. I won't exaggerate it, the culminating scene where Aron Ralston frees himself from the boulder is extremely graphic, but essential. You can see the insanity in Franco's eyes. The "now or never" realization that he's forced to accept. It's quite prolific.

There are countless guarantees you should expect from a Danny Boyle film. You're sure to experience vivid imagery, colorful scenery, a memorable score, and raw emotion from his characters. Franco certainly delivers, and he's currently my front runner for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year. Such a performance will undoubtedly propel Franco among the elite in Hollywood. Do yourself a favor and get to theatres this
weekend to see a fantastic film and an even greater portrayal of survival.

Watch 127 Hours if you enjoyed: Into The Wild. Both films portray excellent tales of survival, yet 127 Hours is much more memorable.

Stars: 3.5 stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hereafter Review and a "Movies in Theatres" Update

Film: Hereafter

Starring: Matt Damon (Invictus and Goodwill Hunting) and Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 129 minutes

It sounds like a strange punchline. But what do you get when you cross two academy award winners, a has-been comedian, and a story about the afterlife? Well apparently you get Hereafter, renowned actor-gone-director Clint Eastwood's latest look at the taboo topic of life after death. Throughout his career, Eastwood's been as close to a sure-thing as anyone else in the history of cinema. However, with his outside the box look at life and death, he's sure to draw some harsh criticisms with Hereafter.

Set in present day, Hereafter follows three people who, for different reasons, struggle with their own mortality. First, there's a French Journalist Marie LeLay who survives a near death experience and can't come to terms with what happened. Next, there's George Lonegan (played by Damon), a middle-aged psychic who can actually communicate with those who have passed on to the next life. And finally, there's Marcus, a young boy from London who loses someone close to him and is searching for resolution. The stories surrounding these three lead character's ultimately come together for a thought provoking ending.

There's plenty to discuss about Eastwood's freshest work. Hereafter is a puzzle, as is life. We learn throughout the movie the obvious, no one knows what happens when we die. Even George's character, who has remarkable abilities to communicate with the dead, knows very little about what lies ahead. However, one thing is certain. Becoming consumed by death and all of its mysteries takes away from living. In there lies the beauty of Hereafter. It's poignant, yet simple, message reminds us all to appreciate what we have. There are so many things to be grateful for and so many emotions to experience. Taking them for granted is a tragedy and a waste of the greatest gift we've ever been given, the gift of life.

Despite it's strong message, Hereafter is undoubtedly filled with flaws. It's middle of the pack dialogue, acting, and pacing do it no justice. It feels like an eternity waiting for all three stories to culminate to a nice and sweet, yet unfulfilled, final scene. Eastwood lets us down with a slow, gradual build up to a minimal resolve. I've come to expect more out of Clint Eastwood, and perhaps that is the reason I was so let down by the film. Hereafter is truly mediocre for the typical director, but well below average for an Eastwood picture. If you have to see it, hold off until its DVD release.

Stars: 1.5 out of 4 stars

Here's a gradebook outlook of films currently in theatres:

Movie Grade

Hereafter C-
Nowhere Boy A-
The Social Network A-
Conviction C+
My Soul to Keep D
Secretariat C-
Red C-
The Town A-
It's Kind of a Funny Story C-

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Film: Conviction

Starring: Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby) and Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nixon and Iron Man 2)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Tony Goldwyn

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 107 minutes

The Philadelphia Film Festival doesn't carry the same clout as Tribecca or Sundance, but its impeccable timing allows for countless Oscar buzz-worthy movies to be previewed. The 11 day affair brought many hyped films such as Black Swan, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, and Conviction to the city of Brotherly Love. I had the privilege of catching the Conviction premier on Tuesday night, just a few days before its nationwide release this Friday (October 22nd). Sporting an all star cast including Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, and Melissa Leo, Conviction, and its intriguing trailer, had me eager for the premier.

Based on the real life story of Kenny Waters (played by Rockwell), Conviction follows his sister Betty Anne's (played by Swank) remarkable 18 year struggle to overturn Kenny's murder conviction. In 1980s Massachusetts, Kenny is the town screw up. Plagued by bar fights and a troubled childhood, whenever something goes wrong in his small town, everyone's eyes turn Kenny. Everyone except his loyal sister, Betty Anne. A shocking murder takes place, and the local law enforcement arrests Kenny and charge him with 1st Degree Murder. Betty Anne is so convinced of her brother's innocence that she'll do anything to clear his name, including risking her relationships with her husband and children. She goes back to school and gets her GED, college diploma, and then passes the Bar Exam, all on her way to becoming her sibling's lawyer.

Swank and Rockwell are known for delivering glaring performances, and with Conviction they didn't disappoint. However, there's more to a film then it's cast. The premise is extremely captivating, but the final product is definitely unsatisfying. It seems as though first-time director Tony Goldwyn focuses too much on insignificant aspects of the story. Conviction feels very bland and overly systematic. All of the movie's conflicts and resolutions unfold in a similar fashion, to the point where the film begins to feel redundant. Furthermore, Conviction helps reiterate the notion that great acting doesn't necessarily make a great film.

No one will argue that Conviction isn't an amazing story about determination, faith, family, and sacrifice. However, in the film, for every pro there is a con. And despite it's unbelievable real-life story, you should hold off on venturing to the theatre to see Conviction. The film could have been so much better, and it's a shame that the result is a middle of the line interpretation of a great story.

Watch Conviction if you enjoyed: Pursuit of Happyness. Both tell incredible tales of perseverance, but neither end up captivating you.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nowhere Boy Dazzles!

Film: Nowhere Boy

Starring: Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient and Gosford Park)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 98 minutes

A great movie is a great movie, no matter if it's filmed in the U.K. or the United States. So the fact that Nowhere Boy sat around for a year after its 2009 European release, absolutely baffles me. Actually, it must have baffled The Weinstein Company even more. They worked hard over the past 12 months to put the story of John Lennon's youth on screens all across America. Well The Weinstein Company succeeded, and because they took that chance, they'll reap the benefits.
Nowhere Boy is set in 1950s England, and a youthful John Lennon (played by Johnson) is a bit of a troublemaker. While being raised by his aunt and uncle for over a decade, the mystery behind his mother's abandonment really begins to take a toll on a young Lennon. Soon after the loss of his uncle, John and his aunt Mimi (played by Thomas) really start to clash, thus prompting Lennon to seek out his biological mother, Julia. She introduces John to the world of Rock and Roll, and inevitably changes the course of history. Despite their obvious connection, John still has difficulty accepting the fact that Julia walked out on him many years ago. Nowhere Boy details the struggles Lennon faced balancing the two most important women in his life, his mother and his aunt Mimi.

As a big fan of Rock and Roll, and more specifically, The Beatles, I was very intrigued by Nowhere Boy's theatrical trailer. John Lennon will forever be linked to the origins of Rock and Roll, but the film isn't about his music career. Nowhere Boy is about a troubled teenager who's seen the darker side of life. What makes it such a wonderful film is its ability to demonstrate the common belief that any truly amazing artist has to be somewhat insane. And believe me, John Lennon was far from "normal". Aaron Johnson is phenomenal in the lead role. He does a fantastic job portraying the emotional roller coaster that was Lennon's youth. Furthermore, Johnson brilliantly illustrates how the young artist balanced such emotions with the contemporary art form that was Rock and Roll. Lennon's character and the movie's plot begin to develop side by side. As an audience, you see them both evolve simultaneously, and the result is one of 2010's best films.

You don't have to be a huge Beatles fan to get something out of this movie. Nowhere Boy is a coming of age tale about the harsh realities of life. It just so happened that Lennon used music in order to cope with his struggles. It's hard growing up no matter who you are, but how you make it work, now that defines you. As Nowhere Boy shows us, it certainly defined the life of John Lennon. I strongly suggest making an effort to see this movie. There's a charismatic aura to Lennon that Johnson demonstrates to perfection. You don't want to miss one of 2010's best performances, and moreover, one of its best films.

Watch Nowhere Boy if you enjoyed: Almost Famous. They aren't spitting images of one another, but both revolve around Rock and Roll and a teenager who's figuring life out.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two For One: Easy A and It's Kind of a Funny Story

Film: Easy A

Starring: Emma Stone (Superbad and Zombieland), Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 92 minutes

Where do I begin? The trailer for Will Gluck's charming comedy, Easy A, left me feeling as though I had "been there, done that". However, as I was leaving the theatre, I realized that the film is anything but your typical teen comedy. Emma Stone (Superbad) stars as Olive, a bright and mature high school student, who starts a rumor that spirals out of control. Olive's tale about losing her virginity prompts a fellow homosexual student, Brandon, to ask her for a huge favor. He knows that if he can convince everyone in school that he slept with Olive, the rumors about his homosexuality will subside. But once you open a door like that, you have to be sure of the consequences.

Easy A is clever and witty to say the least. It's large appeal resides in the beauty of its characters. Sure, Emma Stone does a wonderful job portraying the modern day Hester Prynne (from The Scarlet Letter), but the entire cast lends more than a helping hand. The true beauty of Easy A lies in the fact that the collaboration of its characters far exceeds the sum of its parts. Amanda Bynes also gives a noteworthy performance as Marianne, the ultra-conservative religious nut, who tries to impose her beliefs on Olive. However, despite being a teen comedy, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson (playing Olive's parents) truly steal the film. Throughout Easy A, it's evident that every character is lovable, and, more importantly, dependent upon one another. The chemistry of the cast is unmatched by any teen comedy film I've ever seen.

Easy A has been in theatres for almost a month now, and I'm sure that it is on its way out. That being said, if you can't make the effort to see it on the big screen, make note of the movie, and be sure to check it out on DVD. It'll be worth it in the end.

Watch Easy A if you enjoyed: American Pie. Will Gluck's film doesn't quite keep up with the comedic masterpiece, but it's a fun tale of sex and the teenage mind. It also has a good message or two.

Stars: 3 out of 4

Film: It's Kind of a Funny Story

Starring: Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover and Dinner For Schmucks)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Anna Boden (Sugar) and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 91 minutes

Director's Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden are known for their interpretations of serious, real life matters. It's evident in their prior works such as Sugar and Half Nelson. Both of which follow main characters struggling deeply in their everyday lives. It's Kind of a Funny Story is no exception. Fitting right into Fleck and Boden's template, we are introduced to Craig (played by Gilchrist). Craig's a 16 year old adolescent who can't seem to cope with the stress of finding a girlfriend and getting into the right college. Having been deeply depressed for some time now, the movie begins with Craig's latest dream about jumping off of a bridge ending quite differently then usual. Distressed by his nightmare, the teenager drives to the emergency room and begs his doctor to help him out immediately. Such demands land Craig in an in-patient psych ward, which proves to be more than he bargained for.

It's Kind of a Funny Story blends its own sort of naive elegance with stylistic situational comedy. However, the laughs aren't as memorable as the awkwardness surrounding the main character, Craig. I'm roughly ten years out of high school, and yet I still found it difficult to relate to the severity of Craig's problems. The irony reiterated throughout the film is Craig sees a distinction between himself and most of the other patients at the ward, but as an outsider looking in, we see many similarities. Through his interactions with fellow lunatic Bobby (played by Galifianakis), Craig learns to differentiate between things he can and can't control. Which ultimately turns out to be a great moral for a teenage-depression story.

There are plenty of aspects to appreciate in It's Kind of a Funny Story. It's raw, emotional delivery and positive message are all praiseworthy components of the film. On the other hand, the movie lacked in dialogue and storyline. There are moments during the picture where the scene is meant to evoke a certain feeling from the audience, and you're left unconvinced. As a comedy, it underachieved. As a drama, it was mediocre.

Watch It's Kind of a Funny Story if you enjoyed: Garden State. There are countless similarities in the main characters.

Stars: 1.5 out of 4.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

Film: The Social Network

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland and Zombieland), Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Dr Paranassus), and Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog and Black Snake Moan)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: David Fincher (Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Fight Club)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 120 minutes

It hits us every year with a vengeance, and Oscar season is always sure to create a public stir. Without missing a beat, David Fincher's latest picture, The Social Network, has raced out of the gates and generated quite the buzz since its weekend release. Fincher, historically known for his darker taste with films like Seven and Fight Club, has tackled an emotional drama for the second consecutive time. Except now, he gives us a dose of reality with his interpretation of the back story behind the biggest social website on the planet, Facebook.

The Social Network is pieced together by the perspective's of the site's creator Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), former CFO Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), and a few of their fellow Harvard students. While engaged in two civil lawsuits, Zuckerberg and company recount all sides of the story. We follow the journey of Facebook from it's origins, and Fincher shows us the transformation of an idea into a billion-dollar company. As you can imagine, behind every billion-dollar company lies a tale of betrayal. The story behind The Social Network is no different.

Director David Fincher's depiction of the aura around Facebook seems somewhat embellished throughout the film. However, the story is so intriguing and current that you can't help but get sucked in. We all have a profile on Facebook (and even if you don't, you certainly know what it is) and understand just how popular of a product we're talking about here. It's arguably the biggest creation of our generation. Couple together a large brand name with a tale of let down and betrayal, and you're sure to have a hit. Which is exactly what Fincher has here.

The Social Network's trio of young actors all have bright futures ahead. Eisenberg did a fantastic job as the brain behind Facebook, even though his character has limited likability. Garfield and Timberlake were also stellar in supporting, but noteworthy, roles. With a tasteful combination of charm and sophisticated wit, the film will keep you hooked. But no movie is perfect, and Fincher's latest work has its fair share of flaws. The Social Network will smother you with sarcasm and fast paced dialogue that can be difficult to keep up with at times. There are moments in the film where countless smug remarks by the lead characters cause feelings of nausea, but they are few and far between. Certainly not enough to deter from the enjoyment of the movie.

As the first buzz-worthy film of this prime time Oscar season, Fincher has set the bar relatively high. The director and some of his cast are sure to earn nominations for their roles in this epic tale of entrepreneurism. So do yourself a favor and listen to all of your "friends" out there. Get to the theatre soon and check out The Social Network.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two Reviews in One: Devil and The American

It's becoming a trend of mine lately, but perhaps I shouldn't be too proud of it. For the second time in consecutive weeks I decided to catch a pair of movies at the Regal in Edgmont. I won't go into the details about the art of sneaking into a second film (maybe I'll blog on that later), but you can't be too picky when pulling off "The Double Feature". I had a partner in crime this time out, so I let him choose the first one. He decided to go with the M Night Shyamalan (producer) film Devil. Being somewhat restricted, I wasn't upset at all by the thought of doubling down with the latest George Clooney picture, The American. With pretzel bites and candy in hand, we set off on the adventure. Here's what I had to say about the films:

Film: Devil

Starring: Chris Messina (Julie and Julia) and Geoffrey Arend (500 Days of Summer and Super Troopers)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 80 minutes

I had no real expectations going into the film. I've always been a big horror fan, so I guess you could say I was somewhat intrigued. Devil offers a solid story, excellent pacing, and just enough suspense to keep your interest. Though I must offer a warning to die hard fans of the Horror genre. Devil shies away from showing you too much during the intense scenes. If your looking for gore and brutality, you definitely won't find it here.

Devil follows a group of strangers on an elevator ride inside of a Philadelphia building. When the elevator breaks down, the situation begins to go haywire. Police are baffled by the crazy turn of events that begin to take place in the enclosed space. However, one security guard has his own theory for detectives at the scene. He believes that the Devil is present in the elevator.

Despite it's mediocre attempt at a twist, Devil will keep you entertained and interested in how this 80 minute thrill ride resolves itself. The acting was certainly above average for a Horror film and props to Devil for its constant usage of the Philadelphia skyline. And even though there's nothing groundbreaking about the film, the story is sure to keep you guessing until the end. I wouldn't recommend rushing out to see it before it exits theatres, but it's worth seeing if you stumble upon it down the road.

Watch Devil if you enjoyed: The Orphan. Very different stories, but the feel of the movies were similar. Intriguing and entertaining, but nothing more.

Stars: 2 out of 4 stars.

Film: The American

Starring: George Clooney (Up in the Air and Burn After Reading)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Anton Corbijn

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 105 minutes

George Clooney is a polarizing actor. Generally speaking, most people either love him or hate him. I was in a discussion recently about Clooney, and someone suggested he was one of the most overrated actors alive. Personally, I find him to be a wonderful character actor. More times than not, I find myself getting emotionally invested in Clooney's roles, and it often leaves me satisfied with his performance. But I like to objective, so I can sort of see the other side of this argument. His resume isn't overwhelming, but somehow he's certainly one of the biggest superstars on the planet. Hence, I went into seeing The American expecting a knockout performance from Clooney. Unfortunately, he didn't deliver.

The American follows Jack (Clooney), an aging hitman who's become a target himself. And when you're a hitman, where do you start when compiling a list of anyone who could be out to get you? Jack takes the advice of his employer and decides to hide out in a little Italian town. While in Italy, he falls for a local call girl and wants nothing more than to run off together and live a normal life. As the days pass, he finds it difficult to trust anyone and begins to realize that his fantasy is all too unlikely.

This film was certainly a poor choice for Clooney. Despite it's decent cinematography, the story is dry and the main character, Jack, is all too emotionless. As the film drags on, you find yourself uninterested in Jack's fate, good or bad. I understand the director's attempt, but he failed at creating a wonderful character piece in the likes of Gran Torino or Crazy Heart. Instead, Anton Corbijn leaves the audience bored and detached. When a film lacks depth and a fluent storyline, much like The American, a brilliant performance by the lead actor or actress becomes a necessity. And believe me, Clooney didn't give such a performance. I would be very reluctant to see the film unless you're a sucker for a very slow, character-driven drama.

Watch The American if you enjoyed: The Wrestler. Be warned though, Clooney is no Rourke and the story is less intense than the Darren Aronofsky hit.

Stars: 1 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Raise Those Thumbs for The Town

Film: The Town

Starring: Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 123 minutes

One thing was certain, Warner Bro's dished out beaucoup bucks in order to promote the latest Ben Affleck project, The Town. You couldn't escape it's trailer on commercial spots all over television. Unlike Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, The Town has high expectations and even bigger shoes to fill. Let it be known that I was a huge fan of Affleck's first film. Great acting, an intriguing story, and even a twist or two made Gone Baby Gone an instant classic. It even landed in the #12 spot on my "Top 20 Movies of the Decade" post. That being said, if Affleck's second big release is being critiqued under a microscope, it's definitely being done by me.

Present day Charlestown is the "bank robbery capital of America", so says The Town's tagline. Located in the slums of Boston, this corrupt town is a breeding ground for delinquents. The handbook on "how to be a criminal and (sometimes) not get caught" is passed down from generation to generation, leaving most growing children with no way out. Doug MacRay (Affleck) and James Coughlin (Renner) are no exceptions to the rule. With bank robbing in their blood, there's no other way for these two childhood friends to make ends meet. While pulling off a job at a local bank, MacRay and Coughlin's plan gets foiled, and they are forced to kidnap a bank manager (played by Claire Keesey) as collateral. Lucky enough, the duo get away scot-free and release their hostage. But when they come to find out she also lives in Charlestown, they need to pay even closer attention to her cooperation with the Feds.

There are plenty of great moments in The Town to discuss. Jeremy Renner, fresh off an Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker, was superb. He's an up and coming actor who will definitely be on everyone's radar after this performance. He stole the movie. On the other hand, Affleck wasn't as brilliant. In fact, I found his character often lacking emotion. His unconvincing delivery took a little bit away from the film. Perhaps Affleck should stick to directing, and leave the acting to professionals.

The crime-drama craze has been out of hand lately. Many people are beginning to feel like the genre is overplayed, but The Town still has something to offer. The film is surely filled with cliches, and to add insult to injury, the whole Boston love-fest gets annoying. But when all is said and done, Affleck really knows how to depict a story. The action sequences are tasteful and by no means overdone. Also, the movie has a nice flow and the ending can only be described as "gratifying". The Town is definitely worth checking out in theatres, despite all of its imperfections.

Watch The Town if you enjoyed: Inside Man. Affleck's picture isn't as "cat and mouse" oriented as Spike Lee's clever film, but it's more humane and character driven.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4