Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The NY Film Critics Circle Choose The Artist

In hopes of gaining some influence, the New York Film Critics Circle became the first major film group to announce their winners for Best Picture and the best performances of the year. Moving their selections up from mid-December to late November, the group has officially kicked off the run to the Oscars.

The black and white silent film The Artist walked away victorious in the Best Picture category. The film has generated some early buzz prior to its nationwide release, and critics alike are raving about the movie. The backbone of The Artist, Michael Hazanavicius, also took home the film group's award for Best Director.

Some other notable winners were Meryl Streep for Best Actress of the year (for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady) and Brad Pitt for Best Actor. Pitt's recognition came for his pair of roles in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and Bennett Miller's Moneyball. The Best Supporting Actor winner went to a familiar face. Albert Brooks took home the win for his villainous work in Drive. Also, Jessica Chastain claimed the victory for Best Supporting Actress of the year for a body of work including the blockbuster hit The Help, Tree of Life, and Take Shelter. Despite all of these excellent performances and films, we're still a long ways from the Academy Awards.

And They're Off ...

This year's movie awards season has officially kicked off. The 2012 Independent Spirit Awards released their nominations via stars Kate Beckinsale and Anthony Mackie. Recognizing the best independent films of the year, Take Shelter and The Artist topped the competition with 5 nominations each. For a complete list of nominees you can click the link below (courtesy of Buzzsugar.com).


Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets (2011) Official Trailer [HD]

The Muppets (2011)

Film: The Muppets (2011)

Starring: Jason Segel (I Love You, Man), Amy Adams (The Fighter), and Chris Cooper (The Town)

Director: James Bobin

U.S. Release: November 23rd, 2011 (Rated PG)

Genre: Comedy/Family

Runtime: 98 Minutes

To understand how the rebirth of The Muppets came about, you need to travel back in time to 2008. The seed was planted when Jason Segel's character in the comedy hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall decides to make a puppet rock opera about Dracula. Shortly after the film's release, Segel began pitching the idea around Hollywood and so began the reincarnation of Kermit, Fozzy, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang. It's been a long awaited 12 years since a theatrical release (1999's Muppets from Space), and Segel wanted desperately to reintroduce a big part of his childhood to a new generation of children. Without question, the comeback is a success.

The Muppets follows a pair of siblings named Gary (played by Segel) and Walter. Along with Gary's girlfriend Mary (played by Adams), the trio sets out on a trip to Muppet Studios. When they arrive at the run down building, Walter overhears Tex Richman's (played by Cooper) plan to tear down the studio and drill for oil. Desperate to stop Richman's evil intentions, the three fans find Kermit the Frog and convince him to round up the old gang in order to save Muppet Studios from destruction.

After waiting over a decade for their triumphant return, Kermit and company once again hit the big screen in a winning fashion. In The Muppets, these lovable characters from our childhood ease their way back into our hearts as if time stood still. The film serves as a refreshing reminder to the youthful love we had for the entire gang. Each muppet offering a unique vision and distinct personality, the collection of characters effortlessly recapture your heart. Jason Segel perfectly aids the comeback, and his little brother Walter (a new muppet character) makes for a welcome addition to the gang.

The film succeeds as a whole because of its convincing storyline and its genuine tone. The Muppets is a simple movie with a lot of heart, and as generic as that may sound, it's a recipe for success. Keeping true to its predecessors, the latest installment generally uses its musical numbers very well. With 6 new songs and reusing 3 original numbers (including "The Muppet Show Theme", "Rainbow Connection", and "Mah Na Mah Na"), The Muppets dial up another winning effort. Hence, the film is undeniably a welcome addition to the franchise.

Despite the film's wonderful sense of nostalgia, there are a few detracting factors. For starters, Mary's character (played by Amy Adams) is necessary to the story, but poorly utilized. Even her song "Me Party" (along with Miss Piggy) is a low point of the movie. On the other hand, Chris Cooper's character, Tex Richman, is a satisfying villain. Yet his main song "Let's Talk About Me" fails to fit in with the rest of the film. The feature tends to flow very well, but these obvious flaws cannot go unrecognized.

The latest installment of The Muppets proves to be a fun film that's suitable for audiences of all ages. The whole gang appropriately returns to form and the laughs are never ending. Whether it's to bring children of your own or to just see for yourself, you can't go wrong here. Due in large part to the efforts of its star Jason Segel, The Muppets will undoubtedly make you feel like a kid again. And for that Mr. Segel, we thank you.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade B

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Week With Marilyn - Official Trailer [HD]

My Week with Marilyn

Film: My Week with Marilyn

Starring: Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Eddie Redmayne (The Other Boleyn Girl), and Kenneth Branagh (Pirate Radio)

Director: Simon Curtis

U.S. Release: November 23rd, 2011 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 99 Minutes

The Weinstein Company has spent most of 2011 on cloud 9. To open the new year, the production company's 2010 release The King's Speech left the 83rd annual Academy Awards as the undisputed winner. Fast forward a few months and The Weinstein Company used the early parts of Fall to test screen a new Oscar hopeful to select audiences. Much to their surprise, the results for My Week with Marilyn were through the roof. The production company quickly pushed back the film's release date, hoping to once again steal another abundance of golden statues. As for me, I had the distinct pleasure of viewing the piece during my venture to the Philadelphia Film Festival in late October. And without question, My Week with Marilyn was one of the best pictures there.

Colin Clark (played by Redmayne) is a young man desperate to break into the world of film making. When he goes against family tradition and travels to London to interview for a position with famed director Laurence Olivier (played by Branagh), Colin's persistence lands him a job as an assistant director on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. As the star of the film, Marilyn Monroe (played by Williams) arrives in town to begin production on the movie. Colin could never have imagined the unforgettable moments he'd end up sharing with one of the biggest stars the world has ever known.

My Week with Marilyn is the first major motion picture release for its director Simon Curtis. Maybe it's beginners luck, or perhaps Curtis is just that talented behind the scenes. Either way, the result is a fantastic film that offers a unique blend of charm and wit. The script is excellent and the dialogue acts beautifully as the glue to the film. It effortlessly connects the characters together in such a way that you feel as if you're living the experience yourself. This is by and large the most remarkable aspect of the film, its natural ability to capture the attention of the audience with ease.

In addition to its wonderful direction, perhaps the biggest strength of the film resides in its cast. In what can only be described as one of the year's best ensembles, My Week with Marilyn is saturated with brilliant performances. First and foremost is Michelle Williams. No actress in Hollywood is better suited to play Marilyn Monroe, therefore it's no surprise that her portrayal is masterful. It goes without question that Williams will be finalist for Best Actress at the Oscars this winter, and deservedly so. Although Williams is a shoe in for some awards season recognition, she won't be the only member of this cast garnering attention. Kenneth Branagh returns to form and delivers the role of a lifetime as the actor/director Laurence Olivier. Simply stated, Branagh is unforgettable in one the year's best supporting roles. It's also worth noting the onscreen work of newcomer Eddie Redmayne, the often overlooked Dominic Cooper, and the always wonderful Judi Dench. All of which make for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Despite its praiseworthy cast and script, there is one glaring hole in My Week with Marilyn. The film offers no real sense of conflict. Of course there is obvious tension between Olivier and Monroe's characters, but nothing ever really feels like it's at stake. In doing so, the audience becomes incapable of a deep emotional connection to the story. It's a big flaw, and perhaps the only thing keeping the film from reaching the heights of a movie such as The King's Speech.

My Week with Marilyn is a fantastic biopic and a captivating look at the inner workings of Hollywood and its biggest stars. Its acting brings the characters to life and its perfectly timed laughs make it an easy watch. There will be no yawning or glancing at the clock here. I highly recommend spending part of your holiday weekend seated in a theater checking out one of the year's finest films.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Descendants Movie Trailer Official (HD)

The Descendants

Film: The Descendants

Starring: George Clooney (The Ides of March) and Shailene Woodley

Director: Alexander Payne (Sideways)

U.S. Release: November 16th, 2011 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 115 minutes

As the Closing Night feature at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, The Descendants was easily the most anticipated film throughout the two week affair. Director Alexander Payne, most remembered for his Academy Award Nominee Sideways, is never quick to commit to a film. It's been a long awaited 7 years since his previous work, and genuine fans of cinema can't wait to feast their eyes on his latest project. Payne has put all his eggs in the basket of George Clooney. As the film's only big name star, you wonder if Clooney can handle the pressure.

The Descendants tells the story of Matt King (played by Clooney), a backup parent who is forced to take the reigns of his family after a boating accident has left his wife in a coma. After receiving news that she will never regain consciousness, doctors inform Matt that they'll be honoring her last will and testament and remove her from life support. Upon gathering his two daughters Alexandra (played by Woodley) and Scottie, Matt struggles to bond with his children over this tragic event.

The Descendants proves to be another successful piece of work for its director Alexander Payne. Despite its lone star George Clooney, the film is brilliantly acted by its entire cast. The movie serves as a constant reminder of the old adage "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Once again Clooney gives an Oscar worthy performance, but perhaps it's his co-star, Shailene Woodley, who proves to be most memorable. With a resume including almost nothing more than the television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Woodley's remarkable on screen effort makes her a dark horse for a Best Supporting Actress nod. Along with Woodley and Clooney, the entire cast feeds off of each other very well and it translates into a pleasant viewing experience.

Although the film offers terrific acting, The Descendants does have its fair share of faults. Its pacing is tolerable, but occasionally it delivers a scene that doesn't seem to fit. These brief, but noticeable, moments will leave you scratching your head. Furthermore, for being a director who is widely known for interweaving drama with comedy, Payne hardly masters this difficult balance. Rather than having them complement one another, the movie manages to separate these two qualities. As a result, The Descendants succeeds as a comedy, but struggles to do the same as a drama. Its laughable moments will certainly resonate and capture the true essence of the film. On the other hand, its prolonged stretches of dramatic scenes allow for the feature to lose its flare.

As a whole, The Descendants is a solid motion picture. It proves to be a strong script and a moving story. Therefore, if you're looking for a modest, yet enjoyable, film, The Descendants fits the bill. But if you're expecting the world's next masterpiece, then expect to be let down.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brad Pitt to Call it Quits in 3 Years

It seems as though the Oscars may have to put an end to their "Lifetime Achievement" award. Brad Pitt is the latest star to claim an early retirement, and the actor/producer has even put a time frame on the issue. While speaking with Australia's version of 60 Minutes, Pitt made startling remarks that he plans on getting out of acting in three years, when he turns 50. It wasn't so long ago that we heard similar remarks from fellow star Ryan Gosling, yet Pitt's responses seem far more genuine. For a more in depth look at the interview, visit Collider.com by clicking below:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

J. Edgar Movie Trailer

J. Edgar

Film: J. Edgar

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) and Armie Hammer (The Social Network)

Director: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)

U.S. Release: November 11th, 2011 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 137 minutes

It must be something Leonardo DiCaprio thinks about. Any great superstar feels the need to attain his profession's highest honor. Whether it's DiCaprio and his zero Oscar wins, or Dan Marino and his ring-less hands, it's all the same. For the immensely talented actor, however, 2011 was supposed to be the year, and famed director Clint Eastwood was supposed to change everything. What began being sold to the masses as "the role of a lifetime", it's an understatement to call J. Edgar "over-hyped". Months prior to its release, the biopic of the controversial former head of the FBI started generating some serious buzz. And now, just days before its release, critics alike are urging viewers to temper their expectations. I urge the same.

Clint Eastwood's J.Edgar explains the rise to power and unlawfullness career of J. Edgar Hoover, the former head of the FBI. Hoover's reign spanned eight presidents and lasted nearly five decades. The film is a non-chronological look at the controversial figure and his loyal secretary Helen Gandy (played by Naomi Watts), as well as his trustworthy assistant Clyde Tolson (played by Hammer).

J. Edgar is a well constructed examination of a notorious figure in United States history. Director Clint Eastwood offers a nicely progressing, well paced film that also manages to be extremely gentle and elegant. Instead of having J. Edgar unravel in a linear fashion, Eastwood jumps back and forth from his early life to his latter years. Such an approach helps strengthen the character development of Hoover by forcing the audience to see the similarities he continually exhibits throughout his life. The leaping back and forth isn't hard to follow, but something about it feels unnatural. Therefore, I'm still left debating whether or not it was the right decision. Either way, Eastwood uses the camera very well and the cinematography is excellent. It's a solid directorial effort and a welcome addition to his portfolio.

Another strength to the film is its well constructed cast. I'm uncertain if this is the role that will finally push Leo over the top, but he does deliver an effective performance. By J. Edgar's conclusion, DiCaprio's hard-nosed portrayal allows the viewer to feel empathetic for the title character. And to be honest, what more can you ask for? Similarly, supporting cast like Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, and Judi Dench are all memorable on screen. Often underutilized, Watts and Dench still manage to leave a lasting impression with the audience. Throughout the occasionally flawed J. Edgar, the strength of its cast enables the viewer to look past these glaring mistakes.

One big problem with the film is it's inability to choose a direction. Acting almost as an informative piece, J. Edgar fails to deliver a noticeable purpose to the audience. As the credits roll, you're left confused about its intent, as a a result, the movie is somewhat unsatisfying. In addition to it's lack of approach, the makeup in the film is awful. To the point of being distracting, it's shocking how bothering the appearance of an aged DiCaprio can be.

Simply stated, J. Edgar is good, not great. Although the film is definitely entertaining, it's a ways off from masterful. If you temper your expectations, there's much to be gained from watching J. Edgar. However, if you're expecting some amazing, you'll certainly be let down. If there's nothing else happening, take a chance on J. Edgar.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival Review 2011

My first ever Philadelphia Film Festival concluded over the Halloween weekend. I had the pleasure of viewing 13 movies all together and I'm already excited for next year's festivities. Here's a quick overview of my ratings for each film, as well as my own personal awards for the 6 major categories (Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress).

This black and white silent film depicts the rise and fall of a 1920's silent actor named George Valentin. George struggles to find his place in the entertainment world when "talkies" (movies with sound) become the newest craze.

Ratings (all out of 4 stars):

1) The Artist: 3 and a half stars / A-

2) Perfect Sense: 3.5 stars / A-

3) My Week with Marilyn: 3 stars / B+

4) Butter: 3 stars / B

5) The Descendants: 2 and a half stars / B

6) Goon: 2 and a half stars / B

7) Jeff, Who Lives at Home: 2 and a half stars / B

8) The Good Doctor: 2 and a half stars / B-

9) Anonymous: 2 and a half stars / B-

10) Martha Marcy May Marlene: 2 and a half stars / B-

11) Shame: 2 stars / C+

12) Like Crazy: 2 stars / C+

13) Melancholia: 1 and a half stars / C-

Best Director: David Mackenzie (Perfect Sense)
Mackenzie's Perfect Sense is beautifully artistic and unbelievably original. His strange, yet profound, blend of apocalyptic thriller and romance tells the story of a man and woman who fall in love during the outbreak of an unknown disease. This disease unexpectedly causes people to lose a different sense one at a time. It's remarkable seeing Mackenzie's interpretation of how the world manages to go on without senses like taste, smell, and hearing.

Honorable Mention: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn)

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
It's quite difficult to capture the attention of an entire audience over the span of nearly two hours, especially when there's no talking. Dujardin is mesmerizing as George Valentin in this year's homage to historic cinema, The Artist. By far, Dujardin offers one of the best portrayals I've seen all year.

Honorable Mention: George Clooney (The Descendants) and Michael Fassbender (Shame)

Best Actress: Michelle Williams (My Week w/ Marilyn)
Michelle Williams is wonderful as Marilyn Monroe in Simon Clark's My Week with Marilyn. Through the eyes of a young Colin Clark, the film follows the on set artistic struggles between Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Honorable Mention: Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)

Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
Branagh gives a simply terrific performance as Sir Laurence Olivier. He expresses a wide range of emotions as he battles with Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.

Honorable Mention: John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Dominic Cooper (My Week with Marilyn)

Best Supporting Actress: Carey Mulligan (Shame)
In Steve McQueen's Shame, Mulligan gives a brutally honest portrayal of an emotionally broken down young woman who has suffered abuse in her younger years. It's Mulligan like you've never seen before, as she demonstrates her fantastic ability to delivery in any role.

Honorable Mention: Judi Dench (My Week with Marilyn) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia)

Now that the 20th annual Philadelphia Film Festival has come and gone, we can look forward to a strong end of the cinematic year. Keep an eye on some of these films, directors, actors, and actresses as we count down the weeks until the Academy Awards.