January 31, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Estranged Father Scorned!!

Now that my retrospectives for the past year, and my incessant bitching about the Oscar noms, have been completed, I can finally forge ahead with the real purpose of this blog; the reviews. So, how do I kick off the New Year, film wise? With Taken, or, as I prefer to think of it, Destroying Paris: How to Bring Down the Eiffel Tower, and Other Useful Skills.
Having just retired from his globe trotting, terrorist hunting job to spend more time with his family, Bryan Mills is off to a bit of a rocky start in the reconciliation department. His ex-wife, Lenore, and daughter, Kim, live a lavish life apart from him, and Bryan can't seem to fill the niche. He gets Kim a pretty stupid birthday present, while her new dad gets her... I think it's a pony, but it looks more like a thoroughbred. Anyway, he's having trouble. When Kim goes away for the summer with a friend to Paris, Bryan is less then thrilled, and with good reason. It takes Kim about five seconds to get herself kidnapped. Now, just in case it wasn't clear, Bryan really loves his daughter, so you can imagine how he takes the news of this. He goes into full revenge mode, hops on a charter plane to Paris, and proceeds to torture, shoot, cripple, maim, and kick the shit out of anyone that gets in his way. The idea of this retired geezer taking on what essentially amounts to a small army, is a bit absurd, but it's rooted in a very real and scary premise, giving this actioner a bit of legitimate weight rarely seen in films of this sort. 
Bryan is played by one of my all time favorite actors, Liam Neeson. This role is a bit of a far cry for him, given his resume. You wouldn't expect the person who played Oskar Schindler to torture a guy by stabbing him in the knees with metal nails, and then using said nails as electricity conductors. Cool scene. Any other actor would have balked at this material, and with good reason. It's a pretty shoddy script. But c'mon, it's Liam Neeson. The man can take a script, the quality of which resembles nuclear waste, and give it some sort of credibility, and he does. He's the best thing about this movie. It's a pleasure to see him in full badass mode, mowing down bad guys and what not. It's not something we get to see from him often, which makes it even more of a treat. The other major role falls to Maggie Grace as Kim. Fresh off her stint on Lost, she's pretty damn convincing as the damsel in distress. She has pretty shrill scream; I really think that's all that's needed. But no, really, she's passable. All the other roles are Eastern European slimeballs, just waiting for Neeson to give them a taste of his hot lead. Sorry, that just sounded wrong.
Director Pierre Morrel knows what he is doing when he films an action sequence. He showed us that much with the awesome District B13. This movie doesn't have Neeson performing flashy stunts and parkouring he way around Paris' buildings, though. It's much more down to earth, and, despite the PG-13 rating on the poster, much more brutal. That torture scene I made reference to earlier. That's just a taste. Rest assured, this is a tough movie to sit through if you have no tolerance for pain. Morrel sometimes gets a bit carried away with the action, pushing the limits believability in terms of what this guy can do. I find it very hard to believe that Bryan, who looks like he's pushing late 50s here, could pull off some of the stuff he does. But, I'm gonna let it slide, because Morrel knows how to craft characters we like, and characters we hate. Whenever Bryan gets a step closer to finding his daughter, usually by killing some slimy bad guy, you can't help but smile. The audience I was with even applauded at a few of the more juicy encounters. 
Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a movie to be taken seriously. Some of the stuff that happens is so absurd, you can't help rolling your eyes. The script is a little on the side of uncomfortable, and the actors, yes, even Neeson, can't really elevate above a certain level of cheese. But, when the movie reaches it's immensely satisfying, action packed final act, all sins are forgiven.
Taken is one of those movies where you must check your brain at the box office before buying the Coke and RedVines. Think too hard about it, and you will be disappointed. It's best to appreciate it on it's own merits, those being, bone crunching action, decent acting, and stylish direction. It's premise is very real world; all parents should take precautions if they let their child travel to other countries by themselves. But, if Liam Neeson is your dad, you'll be ok. Here's hoping he'll return for the sequel, Destroying Barcelona: How to Raze the Sagrada Familia, and Other Abilities Pertinent in an Action Movie! B

January 22, 2009

The Nominations, pt 2.

Here's a picture that I found on a blog that I regularly visit that pretty much sums up what I was just trying to say. 

The Nominations

Well, they're here, and we can't do anything about changing them. This years Oscar Nominations hit the mark in some areas, and completely missed it in others. So, let's break it down. 

Best Picture
Four out of five of these are the right choice. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and the sure winner, Slumdog Millionaire, are all worthy of recognition here. But, answer me this. What the fuck is The Reader doing on this list? Don't get me wrong, The Reader is a great movie, and it deserves at least some recognition. More on that later. But it does not even come close to Best Picture worthy. The fact that this film got nominated drives home the fact that Academy loves Holocaust pictures. What should have been nominated in place of The Reader? Simple, The Dark Knight. I know, it's a comic book movie, but come on. You can't honestly say that The Dark Knight is in the same league of any comic book movie that has come before it. It was the best movie of the year, in my opinion. I just think it's a shame that the Academy voters won't take a chance and start nominating summer blockbusters for the big categories again. Oh well.

Best Director
Again, with The fucking Reader. This category I am a little less biased towards, but I still think some choices were a bit off the mark. I don't think Stephen Daldry deserved to be nominated here. This is not his best endeavor to date, Billy Elliot takes that prize. I think either Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) or Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) should have taken his place. Nolan has consistently turned up great movies, and his vision of Gotham City was so inspired, it's a shame he has yet to be nominated. And Stanton stirred up more emotion with an animated robot then Daldry did with a flesh and blood Kate Winslet. That's gotta count for something. But, whatever. Danny Boyle is going to win this for Slumdog Millionaire. I can live with that. 

Best Actor
I have no major gripes here. I'm really glad Richard Jenkins got nominated for his fantastic performance in The Visitor. Here was a movie that kind of got lost in awards season shuffle. It's great to see it still had some steam. But, when it comes down to it, it's between Sean Penn for Milk, Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon, and, my favorite to win, Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. Sure, Brad Pitt gives a great performance, but his curious case doesn't hold a candle to those three heavy weights. 

Best Actress
This will be the last time I complain about The Reader, I promise. First off, Kate Winslet deserves to get nominated for her role in this movie; she is brilliant. But, here's the thing, that's a supporting performance. Her role as a suburban house wife in Revolutionary Road was so much more provocative and emotive. Oh well. I have no problem  with any of the other noms. If I had to guess, I would actually say that Winslet is going to win. She has been nominated a few times before, but has never heard her name called. Enough is enough. Get her up on that stage, damn it!

Best Supporting Actor
At least the Academy didn't flake out on this one. I think it's great that Michael Shannon snatches Revolutionary Road's sole major award, and I can't help but smile at the fact that the Robert Downey Jr. got nominated for his role in Tropic Thunder. But, it's pointless to talk about them, or anybody else for that matter. Heath Ledger will win this Oscar for two reasons. A) His rendition of The Joker is not only the best performance out of these five, but of the year. B) What better way to pay respects to a major talent who went before his time? The Academy is not stupid. They will give this one to him, or risk the consequences. 

Best Supporting Actress
With Winslet out of the way, the road is paved for any of the five nominees to take this one. I think the best performance is Viola Davis in Doubt, but her performance is too small to garner any a real advantage. If there is a sure bet, it's Penelope Cruz for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She has suffered from multiple snubs before, so I think this year is the year that the Academy will acknowledge her talent. 

Best Original Screenplay
THANK GOD! The Academy must have heeded my prayers, because In Bruges was nominated. I think In Bruges has a legitimate chance of stealing the gold on Feb. 22, but the fact that it hasn't grabbed a big audience casts a little doubt over that. I think that best is either WALL-E or Milk. If I had to choose one, I would say WALL-E. I mean, Milk isn't technically an original screenplay that was cooked up in the mind of the writer. Plus, WALL-E was just the better movie. 

Best Adapted Screenplay
Yeah, no gripes here either. I think Benjamin Button takes a few too many liberties with F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story to merit any real consideration. The Reader is a bit too controversial, and we all know Academy voters don't usually go for controversial, and Doubt just hasn't gained enough momentum to have a chance. It comes down to Frost/Nixon and Slumdog Millionaire. I would actually choose Frost/Nixon as the winner because, while it didn't have the better story, it had the better script. But, this could be a sweep year for Slumdog Millionaire, so anything could happen. 

Best Animated Screenplay
Come on. Do I have to say anything? The nominees are WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda, and Bolt. Hmmm, I wonder who's gonna win that one.

So, there you go. My take on this years Oscar nominations. Expect more coverage as the date of the Awards draws closer. For now, that is all. 

Oh, wait, I'm not done yet. How the hell did Bruce Springsteen not get nominated for his amazing track for The Wrestler? That is the biggest screw up of the academy this year. Springsteen's track was far and away the best track featured at the Golden Globes, and it is far superior to the three songs nominated here. But, whatever. Here's to the cast of Slumdog Millionaire performing the dance to "Jai Ho" at the ceremonies. That would be sweet!

January 20, 2009

"For Emma, Forever Ago" by Bon Iver

Okay people it’s been a while since my last review. I procrastinate; get over it. But I needed to review this album before it slips through anybody’s fingers. Before I jump into the review, let’s set the mood. I am sitting in a giant lodge in Sugar Bowl (snowboarding spot for you fools who don’t live in California) right now; I am supposedly in the “quiet” room. Kids are running around and adults are talking really, really loud. Somehow, I am at complete peace. That is because I am listening to “For Emma, Forever Ago” by Bon Iver. Right now I would give you a backstory to Justin Vernon who goes by “Bon Iver” (pronounced Bon Eever) but this place has no internet…sigh. Anyways, this is a purely amazing album. From start to finish, this CD will mellow you out and just make you feel flat-out happy about life. The only song that takes a little while to grow on you is “The Wolves (Act I and III)”. It has grown on me but it took a while. The song is not really put together but at the end, the voices and melodies come together for a nice conclusion. For Emma, Forever Ago is an acoustic album with a very mellowed out drum and percussion set. In all the songs, the ranging vocals of Justin Vernon and slow acoustic pickings are the main focus while the background percussion set a differing beat through each song. I do have three songs that absolutely make me smile. These songs are “Flume”, “Skinny Love”, and “Creature Fear”. I am only going to examine these songs but PLEASE take my word that every song on here is worth your complete, undivided attention. Okay, so “Flume” is the very first song on For Emma, Forever Ago and it really shows you what this album is going to be. In this song, you have some truly spine chilling lyrics as his first words are “I am my mother’s only one; it’s enough”. Then you have the constant beat of a shallow acoustic guitar and tapping of a drumstick and the rim of a drum. Then near the end of the song a women jumps into to accompany Vernon’s great vocals. Then we get to “Skinny Love”. This song is only guitar but Justin Vernon puts two different guitars on top of each other and the song gets a much fuller feeling. The two guitar are mostly playing the same thing for the duration for the song but at times one guitar will drop into a short bass line or strum a little melody. For such a simple song, it feels so complete and the vocals evoke a sense that you need to tell somebody how you truly feel about them or make you think about something that you lost. Then we approach my favorite song on the entire CD: “Creature Fear”. It starts off like a Fleet Foxes song where it sounds like the recording took place in a church. Then it changes to a very slow guitar pattern as Bon Iver stretches his voice. I like to think of this part as the calm before the storm. After a miniscule pause we hit the chorus and what a chorus it is. Speedy, short, and to the point but something about it just hits me and makes me love it; I really can’t put into words. You’ll have to listen to the song to get my point. Then after a longer quiet section we have a much longer chorus and the song really shows its organs. You have Bon Iver sining into the microphone with a sense of urgency but still a resilient sweetness. Then, once the chorus ends you are left with a stranded bass line, a consistent beat drum, some lonely guitar picking, and the returning echoed chants. So, here’s the final verdict; For Emma, Forever Ago is an amazing album that you absolutely must get. It is not the perfect album but any album that makes one feel happy inside is a must-get. I have recommended it to everyone I know and no one has been disappointed. If you don’t pick this up you will be missing one of the best albums of 2008 and one of the most subtly beautiful albums I have ever heard.

Score: 9.2 – “Only love is all maroon”

The Worst of 2008

Well, with all great things, there must follow the crap. For every great movie that came out in 2008, it seemed like there was an atrocity to go with it. There were some serious cases of sequel fatigue, bad adaptations, and less then average remakes being thrown at audiences this year. So, without further ado, allow me to bury the stake into the hearts of these abominations. Send flowers, if you wish. 

Top 5 Worst Films


4. The Spirit: On paper, it's flawless. Technically dead cop runs around city, beating the crap out of bad guys, and seducing every woman he meets. Too bad director Frank Millar screwed up so monumentally. All the actors, with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson, are all so monotone that, if it weren't for the cool style of the movie, you would be in danger of falling asleep. With the additions of a lackluster plot and anticlimactic ending, The Spirit is the one blemish on a near flawless year for comic book adaptations. 

3. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Jesus Christ, George Lucas! What the hell have you done to Star Wars? What is this unholy mess that you have delivered on to us? Why do the characters look like and behave as they were carved out of wood? Why is the plot a throwaway? Why must you continue to attempt to squeeze every last ounce of credibility from this franchise? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Mr. Lucas, apologize! Seriously, get on your knees, and apologize. NOW!

2. Twilight: Fine! Cheap shot, but I don't care. Regardless whether you bought into the hype like pretty much everyone I know, or remained skeptical like me, you cannot deny that Twilight did not meet expectations. Wooden performances from both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, bad special effects, and an incredibly depressing color palette all add up to make this one uninspired piece of vampire fiction. Everyone plays this on one horrendously annoying note of teenage angst, that I half expected them to start singing something for Spring Awakening. Here's to New Moon changing my perception of this franchise, but I wouldn't bet on it. 

1. Max Payne: Here's a movie that actually offended me with it's laziness. Yes, I know it's based off a video game, and yes, I am aware of the curse that usually brings on movies of this genre, but, come on. Max Payne had the potential to be a legitimately great movie; the source material certainly would allow that. The game on which the movie is based told a great story, and had some really awesome action set pieces. The movie told a bland story loosely adapted from the game, and had some incredibly boring action scenes. It doesn't help that Mark Whalberg gives quite possibly the worst performance of his career. This is a terrible movie. Avoid it, aggressively!

Worst Directors

5. Catherine Hardwike for Twilight: It comes as no surprise that Catherine Hardwike has been fired by the studio to direct New Moon. She did not do a good job with Twilight. The wooden acting, cliche ridden script, and bad special effects can all be attributed to Mrs. Hardwike. She should return to making mature, adult movies, like Lords of Dogtown

4. John Moore for Max Payne: Moore doesn't get completely shafted here for one reason. Normally directing the worst film of the year would merit you the top spot on this countdown, but, he doesn't get it. Boo hoo, right? No, Moore is not the worst director of the year because he managed to make a bad film, but make it look really pretty. Sure, the performances sucked, that action was boring, the story was terrible, but the movie looked great. So, congrats Mr. Moore. You have shown us that you can make a beautiful piece of shit. But don't let it go to your head.

3. Steven Speildberg for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: I got a lot of crap from the masses when I recommended Indy 4 a few months ago. Looking back, I'm beginning to realize that it was well deserved. Yes, masses, you were right. Indy 4 was incredibly sub par compared to it's three older siblings; it was just a case of blissful nostalgia that made me tell you to go out and see it. Speildberg loads the screen with his usual, supremely good special effects, but it doesn't have the same effect of awe as it did in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Speildberg doesn't do a terrible job here. Just the fact that he managed to essentially ruin the fantastic franchise nets him the third spot. 

2. DJ Caruso for Eagle Eye: Sure, he knows how to film an action scene, but he does so in a way that gives me the impression that he is trying to emulate a certain someone a little too much. I'm all for someone be inspired by a director, but blatantly copying them? I have no sympathy. 

1. Rob Cohen for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: This movie was came so close to making the list above, but it's director is number 1. Why? Because all of the other directors on this list had some redeeming qualities that they brought to their movies. Rob Cohen has no such qualities. Right off the bat, you realize you are in for one hellish trip. All the performances suck, the special effects are terrible, and the violence is monotonous and stupid. If Cohen had brought something new to this franchise, then I may have felt a bit more sympathetic. As it stands, he successfully killed all the good will I had towards Brendan Fraser and ruined what was a pretty cool series. Well done, Mr. Cohen. Well done indeed. 

Worst Performances

5. The Entire Cast The Spirit: Yeah, that's right. I can't pick out one wrong doer from the insipid pile of tripe that was The Spirit. For the record, I'm excluding Samuel L. Jackson from this list, because he was actually damn entertaining as the villain. I can't say the same for the rest. Gabriel Macht is bland as the title character. Sarah Paulson just comes off as stupid. Scarlett Johansson gave one her worst performances ever. And all Eva Mendes contributed to the project was disrobing for a few seconds of PG-13 nudity. I hate the MPAA.

4. Robert Pattinson for Twilight: Jesus Christ, shut up. I hated Twilight; get over it. Everything about the movie sucked, except Kristen Stewart, and that's why she's not on this list. Robert Pattinson is a talented fellow, he showed us that much in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and this is not a good example of it. Like I said, you know you have problems when all you can think about the male lead is how white his skin is. A word of advice Robert; when you see a one note role, ADD NOTES!

3. Mark Whalberg for Max Payne: Mark Whalberg plays a cop on the edge in this video game adaptation. How does he go about this? By not smiling for an hour and a half. Oscar level work, this is not. Whalberg had a career low year with this, and The Happening, but he was actually OK in that M. Night Shamaylan crap fest. In Max Payne? No such luck. I'm not gonna reiterate my rant on this movie again; I don't have the energy. Just know that Whalberg hit an all time low, and that's saying something. This is the man, after all, who headlined the awful Truth About Charlie remake.

2. Brendan Fraser for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: He was the one bright spot in Mummy 3, but that's like saying the one ripe piece of flesh on the completely rotten apple is an edible piece of fruit. Don't think to much about that simile; I certainly didn't. Fraser repeats the same shtick he used in the last two entries into the series. You can't help but feeling a lingering sense of fatigue and boredom about the whole thing. His sarcastic remarks and snarky comments were pretty witty in the first Mummy. Now, they're just stupid. Look, he gets outstaged by a group of CGI yetis. Probably time to call it a day.

1. Maria Bello for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: If there was performance that was sinfully bad, where it is obvious that it was only done for the money, it's Maria Bello in Mummy 3. Not only does she deliver one of the worst British accents ever heard, she manages to destroy all the pent love I had for her from her performances in The Cooler, A History of Violence, and World Trade Center. When you think about it, that is a monumental achievement, seeing as how spectacular she was in those movies. She has probably since learned her lesson and will never sell out on us like that again, but it won't matter. The damage is done. 

January 11, 2009

The Best of 2008

Well, 2008 is history. A lot of crazy shit happened over the course of the year. America finally saw fit to elect a black man to President; the fist bump became a terrorist symbol; gas finally dropped below three bucks, and Batman is officially the richest super hero in world. A lot of great movies came out this year, from a fairy tale about aging backward, to a story of an interview. From animated to live-action; from musical to spoken word, 2008 was a great year for film. If I had to name it, I would say 2008 is The Year of The Comic Book Super Hero. There were just so many fantastic comic book adaptations this year that bestowing any other name on it just feels criminal. So with that in mind, let's get rolling. 

Best of 2008

Top 5 Films.

5. Tropic Thunder: Robert Downey Jr. plays a white guy playing a black guy, and never breaks character. Jack Black undergoes sever bodily harm. And Tom Cruise dances. No other movie made me laugh as hard and as frequently in 2008 as Tropic Thunder. This bold send up to all things Hollywood hits all the right marks and refuses to quit. It's out on DVD now. Check it out.

4. Slumdog Millionaire: Here it is, the premier, feel good movie of the year. It's uplifting story did more then just make you feel good about yourself and the people you know. It made you believe in miracles, true love, redemption, all that good stuff. Sublime performances from Dev Patel and Freida Pinto lay down the foundation for director Danny Boyle to work his magic. This is a great movie. 

Before we continue, I just want to say, the previous two were a bit hard for me to pick. I had to rule out a lot of good movies, like Frost/Nixon, Iron Man, Milk, Were The World Mine, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The next three, however, were easy for me to pick. Just thought you should know. Ok, moving on. 

3. In Bruges: At the time I am writing this, Colin Farrell has just won a Golden Globe for his brilliant performance in this dark and hilarious opus by Martin McDonagh. Well, good. Here's to it getting some Oscar recognition because this fucker deserves it. From the fast paced, Tarantino-esque dialogue, to the bloody finale, to the simple beauty of the most boring town in the world, no other movie captured my attention like In Bruges. The fact that it came out all the way in February is a testament to how good it is. If the next two movies had never been created, this would be my favorite of the year, bar none.

2. WALL-E: Well, what can I say. WALL-E is a great movie. It's animated, sure, and it's meant for kids, but that did not stop this from being the most touching and beautiful animated movies I have ever seen. The love story between WALL-E and EVE is irresistible, if at times unbearably corny. Throw in some of the funniest moments of the year, and one of the quirkiest main characters in recent memory, and you have a surefire classic. Which only leaves...

1. The Dark Knight: Yep, that's right. The big-budget, summer season, financial juggernaut, blockbuster beats out all the art house films and sweeping epics to claim it's rightful place at the top of the pile. There was not one other movie, not one, that made me think, made me laugh, gave me nightmares, and entertained me to the level that Christopher Nolan and Batman did. The thing that holds it down however is Heath Ledger. The Joker will never, ever, be produced in cinema or television ever again, because no one will be able to top what Ledger accomplished. If you have not seen The Dark Knight, climb out from under your rock, go buy it on Blu-ray, and enjoy the fastest, most exciting, two and half hours of your life.  

Top 5 Performances.

5. Tanner Cohen in Were The World Mine: Well, I had to recognize this movie somehow. What better way then to recognize it's star, who does a fantastic job. Cohen is sublime as Timothy, a teenager who has the genius idea to turn his town gay. Since he is fairly unknown, it is easy to accept him as this character, but even he was as big as Tom Cruise, he would still impress. Speaking of which...

4. Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder: This is the role that single handedly redeemed Tom Cruise in the eyes of the public. He plays a foul-mouthed, bald, fat, Jewish, studio head with an affinity for hip-hop dance and for being able to break a rib laughing. It was the funniest performance of the year. 

3. Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: If Forrest Gump was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, then Benjamin Button is an extraordinary man who lives and ordinary life. The restraint and innocence that Pitt displays is nothing short of masterful, especially we had just seen him previously chewing up the scenery in Burn After Reading. He delivers unto us one of those rare performances that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. What can be said, it's amazing.

2. Sean Penn in Milk: Let's be honest. No one was surprised at how amazing Penn's performance as Harvey Milk was. We've come to expect nothing less from him. Even so, this sublime cannot go unrecognized by me. Like Pitt, here is a performance that will you laugh and cry, but the fact that Milk was actually a real person who influenced thousands of people, and whose message is still relevant today, and the fact that Penn didn't exploit it or glorify it elevates it to a level above Pitt's. Only one left a better impression on me. I think you know who it is. 

1. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight: Where to begin. It's the only performance of the year that gave me nightmares. It's the only performance of the year that made me go back to the theaters, just to see it again. What Ledger did as The Joker in, in one word, otherworldly. He created the quintessential movie villain, the epitome of evil. You will be saddened by watching him in The Dark Knight. He went before his time. At least he managed to bestow unto us the best performance of 2008 before he went.  

Best Director

5: Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard brings a heightened sense of realism to this thrilling political drama. While drawing fantastic performances out of both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, he masterfully adapts the smallness of Peter Morgans stage play to the screen. I don't think there was a movie this year quite as interesting with less then ten main characters. It's Howard's finest project to date. 

4. David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: I'll admit, I had my doubts. David Fincher has made his name making mature, uncomfortably, darkly funny, incredibly violent movies, like Se7en or Fight Club. They were all dashed when I finished with Benjamin Button. In his third outing with Brad Pitt, Fincher brings his trademark visual flair to this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story. It's not quite as good as his other endeavors, but the fact that he made a love story this good on his first try easily nets him the 4th place spot. 

3. Guillermo Del Toro for Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: I know, this was not even close to one of the best movies of the year, but it was easily the best looking of all them, even The Dark Knight. Del Toro is a master of fantasy; his mind can come up with some screwy things. All the things he threw at us in his latest action romp are all so original and creative, from the troll market that looks ripped from the Star Wars cantina to the mechanical army of the villain, that it feels wrong to not notice his talent. 

2. Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight: Yeah, he was gonna be on the list somewhere. Nolan took everything that was great about Batman Begins and turned it into overdrive. The use of IMAX cameras was near perfect; the opening shot in particular will take your breath away. His action scenes are frenetic and brutal. His use of CGI is deft and subtle; he relies more on traditional stunt work. The overarching sense of menace that is felt throughout the entire film is chilling. Nolan could not have done a better job. Now, let's get him back for the third.

1. Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire: Yes, Danny Boyle takes the top prize. While it's nit quite his best movie to date, that's 28 Days Later..., he does a fantastic job handling this lovely story about miracles. The movie looks breathtaking, for one. The cinematography is second to none. Boyle has always been a master at making his characters seem human in ridiculous situations. While Slumdog Millionaire is more plausible then, say, Sunshine, his ability to believe that these characters is something to be envious of. No other director this year pulled that off quite as well as Boyle. It's not surprising, now that I think about it. 

January 1, 2009

Raking In Cash

Jeez, what the hell was I missing? Slumdog Millionaire came out about a month and a half ago, received unanimous critical praise, and numerous awards. And I just got around to seeing it. Yeah, what's wrong with me. Well, it was worth the wait.
Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik, a impoverished boy living in India. One day, he is granted a spot to play on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." No expects him to get very far, he's a slumdog after all. But, to everyone's surprise, he goes farther then anyone has ever gone, raking in the cash. Unfortunately, the authorities don't believe that someone like Jamal could be that smart, and they arrest him. During his interrogation, his life story is revealed as he explains how he answered each question. 
All the actors, especially Dev Patel as Jamal, and Freida Pinto as his love, Latika. Both are very compelling and convincing as these two people, down on their luck, and their love story irresistible. The other main character falls to Madhur Mittal as Jamal's brother, Salim. He's also incredibly good as this ambitious and apparently evil guy. You will despise him throughout the entire movie until he performs the necessary act of redemption. All the performances are fantastic, but, since everyone involved is unknown, they probably won't hear their names being called on Oscar night. 
At first glance, you may think that this is just some Bollywood movie, directed by some guy no one in America has ever heard of. Not so. It is actually directed by Danny Boyle, who, in my opinion, is the most diverse director ever. That may seem like a bold statement, but let's review. Mr. Boyle has tackled the stomach churning drug story (Trainspotting), psychological horror (The Beach), the zombie apocalypse (28 Days Later...), the feel good family flick (Millions), and sci-fi thriller (Sunshine). Yeah, quite a resume. The thing is, he has never really failed at putting his own spin on a well known genre, and Millionaire is no exception. Every scene has that certain flair, that certain look that is custom of Bollywood. All those bright, neon lights of the city, mixed with the brown of the surrounding desert makes this one good looking film. Boyle has always been exceptional at bringing out compelling and interesting characters amid a somewhat ludicrous premise. The premise of Millionaire is a bit more plausible then a group of astronauts creating new sun with a nuke, and this makes the characters seems so much more real. He can't however avoid a cliche ridden third act. As the movie careens towards it's uplifting ending, it throws all those heartwarming cliches, like the girl running answering the phone on the last question to profess her love.  Oh, damn, sorry about that. Even so, it brings a smile to your face. Boyle even throws in a dance sequence in the end credits, as if to remind everyone that this is a Bollywood movie, through and through. Boyle is a masterful director. It's high time he got some recognition.
Slumdog Millionaire is truly a fantastic, moving, visually stunning love story. It's already been placed on many "Best of the Year," lists, and it's definitely going on mine. It's not really groundbreaking, but it is great, certainly Boyle's best. See it. Not only will you see a good movie, but you'll learn some trivia too. A