Billy Soistmann

Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

Review: Iron Man 2

In 2010, Action, Comedy, Comic Books, Jon Favreau, Paramount, Reviews on May 6, 2010 at 3:30 PM

I’ll be honest. Iron Man 2 surprised me. After such a brilliant start, I was worried that the sequel would either fall flat or try too hard. However, the movie delivers exactly as a summer blockbuster should. Although I have always been adamant that a great film should have something deeper to say, the true purpose of a film is to tell a story, whether it is entertaining, sad, or scary.

Iron Man 2 has no proverb it is trying to get across. No insight into the human condition. What it is is pure entertainment. Now, I hesitate to say this because normally I would attack a film that attempts solely to entertain. But, there is a difference between mindless entertainment and an enjoyable movie such as this one.

This sequel to 2008’s Iron Man is an action-packed tale of how Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) attempts to deal with the ramifications of being Iron Man, as well as a life-threatening medical condition, a competing weapons contractor (Sam Rockwell), and a very bitter Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke).

The film opens in Russia as a very angry Mickey Rourke begins building some kind a weapon and continues into an amazing shot (which you can see embedded below) of Iron Man jumping from a plane into the grand opening of his Stark Expo. The kinetic energy in this sequence really sets the mood for the rest of the movie.

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As the film progresses, there are several great action set pieces as well as a lot comedy. Sam Rockwell delivers a hilarious performance as the wannabe Tony Stark. Overall, the acting was good. Downey Jr. is fantastic, as usual, and director Jon Favreau also has a sizable part. Mickey Rourke is a great villain, although sometimes that accent was just ridiculous. Paltrow is good as the straight-laced Pepper Potts, but Scarlett Johannson, on the other hand, delivers an cringe-worthy performance as Stark’s new secretary with a secret.

The main problem this movie has is its plot. At times, the film could have been paced much more smoothly. Especially in the second half, I felt as if the story became too rushed. However, these issues never reach the level of the atrocity that was Spider-Man 3. The film remains coherent, and interesting, throughout.

The bigger error, however, comes from the science. In Iron Man, if you believed that a device as powerful and tiny as Stark’s arc reactor was possible, the rest of the movie made sense, at least from a technical point-of-view. Unfortunately, the sequel throws this out the window. This isn’t a huge deal, but does detract from the believability of the story, which, frankly, matters little considering the movie’s superhero roots.

So, where exactly does this film succeed? It doesn’t have a fantastic story, but the plot is interesting, the characters are great, and it’s just so much fun. This movie is a blast and, although it wasn’t on par with the first film, Iron Man 2 is a great way to start off the summer movie season.

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What I Watched This Week (March 14-20)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on March 21, 2010 at 7:17 PM

This week, I filmed my school’s production of High School Musical (not my choice) and took the SAT, and both of those took up a lot of my movie-watching time. I was only able to catch one film, but it was a good one. I also got a writing gig over at Atomic Popcorn, which is awesome, so this week turned out well.

3/14 – Revolutionary Road (2008): This movie first entered my radar when it was nominated for several Oscars last year, but I never got around to see it. Last Sunday, I caught it on HBO and was impressed. It is very well-told story about struggling to break free of suburban hell. I’ve never liked this whole idea of the “nuclear family” and suburbia in general, so I can identify with the main characters. Through a bad series of events, both reveal their flaws and this eventually leads to their downfall. RR is a tragedy in the purest sense. The directing was, unsurprisingly, great, but the acting was superb. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio really own their characters. Overall, this was an excellent film.

3/15The Art of the Steal (2010): I traveled up to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to see this documentary with a discussion afterwards with the director Don Argott and producers. It also happened that some of the main interviewees in the film were also at the screening. It was an extremely well-made, albeit one-sided account of the struggle to “save” the Barnes Collection, an immeasurably valuable collection of modern impressionist art that currently resides in Lower Merion, PA. I loved the movie and you can see my full review over at Atomic Popcorn.

The Future of the X-Men Film Franchise

In 20th Century Fox, Bryan Singer, Comic Books, Comic Books & Superheroes, Coming Soon, Features, News, X-Men on March 18, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Today, in an interview with the LA Times, Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) talked about his return to the X-Men franchise. Before we get into the new stuff, let’s take a look back at the beginnings of the X-Men.

After receiving critical acclaim for The Usual Suspects in 1995, director Bryan Singer was approached by Fox to helm the upcoming X-Men film adaptation. Not being a big fan of comic books, he initially turned them down. However, he eventually came around and developed a story idea with his friend Tom DeSanto.

In 2000, the world saw a different kind of comic book film with X-Men. By grounding the film in the real world and just adding science-fiction elements, Singer elevated the genre into soaring new heights and kicked off the modern comic book film.

The director returned for the sequel, X2: X-Men United, which was met with even more critical acclaim. However, Singer then left to pursue a reboot of Superman, with the end result being the lackluster Superman Returns.

Meanwhile, Brett Ratner directed X-Men: The Last Stand, which suffered from being too much of an action picture without any real substance. Even after adapting The Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the greatest storylines in the X-Men mythos, the film was a disappointment.

The latest X-Men movie was even worse. In May, 2008, Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine proved to be wasted potential. The film failed on every level and, sadly, wasted one of the best characters in comics. However, the film did well at the box office and a sequel is already in the works.

Cut to December last year. Bryan Singer was returning to the X-Men. Atomic Popcorn reported that he had signed on to direct, X-Men: First Class, a prequel that would tell the story of how the team was started by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), who would later become Magneto. This was great news – the skilled director could definitely pull the franchise up out of its current state.

Although a lot of the interview focused on the original film, Singer and producer Shuler Donner, also talked about the future of the franchise. So what can we expect to see coming from the X-Men universe?

Wolverine 2: Due to the success of the first “origins” story, a sequel immediately started development. It is set in Japan and follows Wolverine on more of his adventures. Although Singer said he had lunch with Hugh Jackman (who really came to own the character after being a last-minute replacement Wolverine), but there is no evidence that he will be directing the sequel, especially due to his busy schedule (he already signed with Warner Bros. to direct Jack the Giant Killer). I really hope he doesn’t. His style does not mesh at all with the first “Wolverine” film.

First Class: As mentioned previously, First Class, is the story of how the X-Men came to be. It is based on a 2006 series written by Jeff Parker. The movie will not be just about seeing younger incarnations of the familiar mutants, however, with Singer saying, “Just doing younger mutants is not enough. The story needs to be more than that. I love the relationship between Magneto and Xavier, these two men who have diametrically opposite points of view but still manage to be friends — to a point. They are the ultimate frenemies.” This is extremely good news. That friendship is a lot of what made the first two films work so well. With two fantastic actors (hopefully Stewart and McKellen reprise their roles), this could prove to be a great film.

X-Men 4: This is the unknown at this point. After the disappointing “Last Stand,” Fox focused on origin stories, originally planning both Wolverine and Magneto origin stories. We saw what happened with Wolverine, but the Magneto film was cancelled. There is definitely a fourth movie in the works, but it is at the very early stages of development right now and Singer expressed his wish to hold off on it for right now.

The X-Men franchise is alive and well, and now, with Singer’s return, things are looking up for the series.

What I Watched This Week (Mar. 7-Mar. 13)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on March 14, 2010 at 3:23 PM

This week, I filmed my school’s production of High School Musical (not my choice) and took the SAT, and both of those took up a lot of my movie-watching time. I was only able to catch one film, but it was a good one. I also got a writing gig over at Atomic Popcorn, which is awesome, so this week turned out well.

3/7 – The Last Station (2009): This was the Oscar-nominated film I caught before the ceremony. It stars Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, and Paul Giammati and focuses on the final year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected too. It was an excellent story about life and love, that wasn’t sentimental at all. It was shot well, and featured excellent acting, especially from Mirren. Through the film, McAvoy’s character is caught in a debate between Tolstoy’s wife (Mirren) and an admirer (Giamatti) over who should receive the copyright for Tolstoy’s work. We go along with him as he learns a lesson about devotion and following your heart. Overall, it was a great movie.

AtomicPopcorn.net

In Blog on March 14, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Good news, everyone! I finally got a gig writing about movies. You can now find me covering movie news at AtomicPopcorn.net, a great movie site based out of Baltimore, MD. I’ll still be writing here, but most of my film news will now be on AP. Features and more personal stuff will remain here. Also, I am keeping a list of every film I review, mainly for my own reference, which will also stay here.

So that’s what you can expect. Look for my first article on AP later today.

Oscar R&R (Recap and Reactions)

In Awards, Features, Television on March 9, 2010 at 4:43 PM

Well, I’m a day late, but here goes anyway. Here is a list of winners from the 82nd Academy Awards, with some thoughts afterwards:

Hurt Locker (6):

  • Best Original Screenplay: Mark Boal
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Editing
  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Best Picture

Avatar (3):

  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Visual Effects

Crazy Heart (2):

  • Best Original Song: The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart), music and lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett
  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges

Precious (2):

  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Goeffrey Fletcher
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique

Up (2):

  • Best Animated Feature Film
  • Best Original Score

The Blind Side(1):

  • Best Actress: Sandra Bullock

Inglourious Basterds (1):

  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz

Logorama (1):

  • Best Short Film (Animated)

Music By Prudence (1):

  • Best Documentary Short

The New Tenants (1):

  • Best Short Film (Live-Action)

El Secreto de Sus Ojos (1):

  • Best Foreign Film

Star Trek (1):

  • Best Makeup

The Young Victoria (1):

  • Best Costume Design

Just a few quick thoughts. First of all, I am very happy to see Avatar not get the big prize. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it, but it was most certainly not the best film of the year. The Hurt Locker was great film, and Bigelow is definitely deserving of the title of first woman to earn Best Director. My biggest problem was with the omission of Up in the Air, my pick for Best Picture. Also, Precious winning for screenplay over UITA? Really? The short categories were spot on. Finally, Michael Giacchino definitely earned the Oscar for his incredible score for Up.

As for the ceremony, I enjoyed it. I mean, it wasn’t anything special, but it could have been so much worse. Neil Patrick Harris was great, while Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were hit-or-miss. I liked introducing the Best Picture nominees throughout the night, and the extended clips for the acting categories were great. Tom Hanks definitely rushed the biggest award of the night, though. He says that’s the way they planned it, so apparently he just doesn’t know how to give an award with any suspense.

Finally, the greatest moment of the night. Watch below as Music by Prudence producer Elinor Burkett steals the microphone from director Roger Ross Williams:

So, those are the winners and some of my thoughts.

Tron Legacy Trailer Debuts Online

In 2010, Action, Coming Soon, Disney, Joseph Kosinski, News, Remakes & Sequels, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Trailers on March 8, 2010 at 10:19 PM

I’m not one to keep up with all the latest trailers, but this is different. After someone more clever than myself solved this crazy site, we were all treated to the trailer for Tron Legacy. Watch it below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To download, go here for standard or here for HD.

This movie looks awesome. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, “Legacy” is the follow-up to the 1982 classic Tron and stars Garrett Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, Olivia Wilde, and Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges.

The Hurt Locker Wins!

In 2009, Awards, Kathryn Bigelow, News on March 8, 2010 at 12:30 AM

Wow! The Hurt Locker cleaned up with six wins, including Best Picture and Best Director, which for the first time was awarded to a woman. I am very happy to see how well it did, and even more delighted by the fact that Avatar won in technical categories, not anything else, which it deserved. Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air got snubbed with one and zero wins, respectively. Anyway, I will have more complete reactions up tomorrow afternoon, after I get some sleep and can actually think straight.

My Oscar Picks

In Awards, Features, Opinion on March 7, 2010 at 6:25 PM
I should have had this prepared sooner, but here’s a quick run-down of what I would have voted for for this year’s Academy Awards. My predictions can be found over at The Oscars Game, but here are my picks.
BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
  • Avatar
  • The Blind Side
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Precious
  • A Serious Man
  • Up
  • Up In the Air
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
  • Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
  • Helen Mirren (The Last Station)
  • Carey Mulligan (An Education)
  • Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
  • Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
  • Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
  • George Clooney (Up In the Air)
  • Colin Firth (A Single Man)
  • Morgan Freeman (Invictus)
  • Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  • Matt Damon (Invictus)
  • Woody Harrellson (The Messenger)
  • Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)
  • Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
  • Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
  • Penelope Cruz (Nine)
  • Vera Farmiga (Up In the Air)
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
  • Anna Kendrick (Up In the Air)
  • Mo’Nique (Precious)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR
  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • The Secret of Kells
  • Up
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
  • China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
  • The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
  • The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”
  • Music by Prudence
  • Rabbit à la Berlin
BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
  • French Roast
  • Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
  • The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)
  • Logorama
  • A Matter of Loaf and Death
BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
  • The Door
  • Instead of Abracadabra
  • Kavi
  • Miracle Fish
  • The New Tenants
ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION
  • Avatar
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  • Nine
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • The Young Victoria
ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
  • Avatar, Mauro Fiore
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bruno Delbonnel
  • The Hurt Locker, Barry Ackroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds, Robert Richardson
  • The White Ribbon, Christian Berger
ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
  • Bright Star, Janet Patterson
  • Coco before Chanel, Catherine Leterrier
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Monique Prudhomme
  • Nine, Colleen Atwood
  • The Young Victoria, Sandy Powell
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
  • James Cameron (Avatar)
  • Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
  • Lee Daniels (Precious)
  • Jason Reitman (Up In the Air)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
  • Burma VJ
  • The Cove
  • Food, Inc.
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
  • Which Way Home
ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP
  • Il Divo, Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
  • Star Trek, Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
  • The Young Victoria, Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING

  • Avatar, Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
  • District 9, Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker, Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
  • Inglourious Basterds, Sally Menke
  • Precious, Joe Klotz
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
  • Ajami
  • El Secreto De Sus Ojos
  • The Milk of Sorrow
  • A Prophet
  • The White Ribbon

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES (ORIGINAL SCORE)

  • Avatar, James Horner
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Hurt Locker, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
  • Sherlock Holmes, Hans Zimmer
  • Up, Michael Giacchino

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES (ORIGINAL SONG)

  • “Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Down in New Orléans” from The Princess and the Frog Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Loin de Paname” from Paris 36 Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
  • “Take It All” from Nine Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
  • “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from Crazy Heart Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING
  • Avatar, Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
  • The Hurt Locker, Paul N.J. Ottosson
  • Inglourious Basterds, Wylie Stateman
  • Star Trek, Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
  • Up, Michael Silvers and Tom Myers
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
  • Avatar, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
  • The Hurt Locker, Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
  • Inglourious Basterds, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
  • Star Trek, Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Avatar, Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
  • District 9, Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken
  • Star Trek, Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (District 9)
  • Nick Hornby (An Education)
  • Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche (In the Loop)
  • Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)
  • Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up In the Air)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
  • Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman (The Messenger)
  • Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man)
  • Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy (Up)

What I Watched This Week (Feb. 28-Mar. 6)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on March 7, 2010 at 1:09 PM

This week, I caught up some more on some of the Oscar films that I had missed. Now, I’m ready for the ceremony tonight. I’ll have more thoughts on that shortly.

2/28 – The Messenger (2009): This movie had a great concept – The Casualty Notification Service of the US army has the painful task of informing families that their loved one has been killed in action. Will (Ben Foster) is assigned to the task force, lead by off-kilter Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), after being injured in Iraq. It was excellent film, and a great début for director Oren Moverman, but nothing extraordinary. Harrelson was fantastic. He came across as a stoic force, but revealed that there was more to his character beneath the surface. I did not enjoy the cinematography. The camera zoomed in way to much, and most of the time, for no apparent reason. In any case, the story was moving and the acting supported it excellently.

3/1 – Crazy Heart (2009): This film is about a character, not a story. There is a definite plot, but really Crazy Heart is a character study of Bad Blake, a washed-up country music star. Jeff Bridges carries this film through an impressive performance as the aging alcoholic loner. A Best Actor Oscar would not be undeserved. However, you can’t forget the supporting cast – Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall all give excellent performances. The film also captures a sense of wandering desperation through its cinematography. The points of focus always seem to linger toward the edges of the frame. The final great part about this film is the music. From beginning to end, the music brings the story to life as Jeff Bridges performing his songs himself. Overall, this was a great film about a lone man and his struggles, not only with career success, but also with love and alcoholism.

The Oscars Game

In Awards, Geek/Tech, News on March 5, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Introducing a wonderful new way to make your Oscar picks! Go to TheOscarsGame.com to make your picks before the ceremony on Sunday. It’s a brand-new site that my father threw together to let everyone compete in predicting the Oscars. It makes competing with your friends easy.

Be aware – the site is new and isn’t completely polished yet. Hopefully it will look great next year to complement its great backbone.

Did I mention that you could win an Apple iPad for your picks?

What I Watched This Week (Feb. 21-Feb. 27)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on February 28, 2010 at 2:20 PM

Wow, another slow movie-watching week. I really have been running short on time these past few weeks. This week, my Mock Trial competition got in the way, and I spent most of my time prepping for that. I had hoped to get a review of each Best Picture Nominee out each day leading up to the awards, but I’m going to have to post two-a-day starting March 1st. Anyway, I’ll be busy working on those ten reviews, so this coming week will probably be another movie-scarce week.

2/18 – An Education (1971): This was the final Best Picture nominee that I hadn’t seen. Overall, this was an excellent film. The characters are real, and the journey that the main character goes through is enlightening, albeit a tad disappointing in the end. This movie was shot beautifully and features terrific acting from the entire cast. Look for my full review next week during my Best Picture Countdown.

March 2010 Preview

In Coming Soon, Features on February 28, 2010 at 7:23 AM

After a slow start to the beginning of the year, movies finally are starting to pick up. Although not too many big films are being released in the coming month, we can all look forward to Alice in Wonderland, Green Zone, and Hot Tub Time Machine. Here’s what you can expect this month:

3/5:

Alice in Wonderland

Brooklyn’s Finest

The Secret of Kells (NY)

3/12:

Green Zone

Our Family Wedding

She’s Out of My League

3/19:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Hubble 3D

Repo Men

The Bounty Hunter

The Runaways

3/26:

Chloe (Limited)

Hot Tub Time Machine

How to Train Your Dragon

I Love You, Phillip Morris

Waking Sleeping Beauty (Limited)

3/31:

The Last Song

The Oscar Race(s) for Best Screenplay

In Awards on February 26, 2010 at 9:28 AM

The writing categories at the Oscars have always interested me. In years past, I have simply judged the screenplays by the films that were born out of them, but this year I’ve decided to hunt down the actual scripts for each movie. I haven’t gotten to reading them yet, but I’m certainly looking forward to it. Below are links to the 10 nominees for Best Screenplay, both Adapted and Original. Enjoy!

Original:

  • The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man – Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Up – Bob PetersonPete Docter (screenplay and story) and Tom McCarthy (story)

Adapted:

  • District 9 – Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell from the short film Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp
  • An Education – Nick Hornby from the book by Lynn Barber
  • In the Loop – Jesse ArmstrongSimon BlackwellArmando Iannucci and Tony Roche from the television series The Thick of It
  • Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – Geoffrey Fletcher from the novel Push by Sapphire
  • Up in the Air – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner from the novel by Walter Kirn

Note: When I could, I linked to officially released screenplays, but as far as I know, The MessengerUp in the Air, and District 9 were not released by their studio. I have linked to an unofficial scan of Up in the Air, but could not find the other two. I will update this post if I find them.

The Oscar-Nominated Short Films

In 2009, Awards, Magnolia, Reviews, Shorts on February 25, 2010 at 11:42 AM

This year I was fortunate enough, once again, to be able to the see the Oscar-nominated short films on the big screen. I live in Delaware, so I’m not stuck in the middle-of-nowhere, but it is still difficult to find any non-mainstream films in my are. Lucky for me, the only independent cinema in my area, Theatre N in Wilmington, decided to show the Oscar-nominated shorts again this year.

There are two programs – one for animated and one for live-action – which are put together by Shorts International and distributed by Magnolia Pictures. It’s a great experience to be able to see so many films in the theater in one day. I had a great time watching these wonderful little films. So, what did I think?

Animation

French Roast (France, 8 min):

This was my least favorite of the bunch. The animation was good and the story was humorous, but I didn’t find it really entertaining. It wasn’t that funny and didn’t fit together very well. The camera movement was great, though. The movie consists of one shot that shifts based on what is going on at that moment. It is a nice touch made possible by the computer animation and the short format. Although not bad, I wasn’t impressed.

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (Ireland, 6 min):

This was a hilarious short. Granny O’Grimm loses the plot as she tries to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty to her granddaughter. Her version of the beloved fairy-tale was great, and the granddaughter’s reaction was terrific. The mix between CG and traditional animation worked very well, although the CG was a bit lacking. Overall, this was an extremely funny short.

The Lady and the Reaper (Spain, 8 min):

I loved this one. The story was a bit macabre, but charming at the same time. The character design was excellent with all three main characters being awesome. I especially admired the reaper character, with his square features. The adventure was fun, with a surprisingly funny ending.

Logorama (France, 16 min):

Now this is a crazy movie. Composed almost entirely with logos, I originally thought this was a statement about consumerism in America, and it basically was, but with violence and language. In the movie, Michelin Man cops are on the hunt for the psychopathic Ronald Macdonald. The innovative use of hundreds and hundreds of logos was astounding and I have no idea how they got permission to use all of them. This was a very enjoyable, albeit strange, movie experience.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (UK, 30 min):

Wallace and Gromit are back. This time, someone is murdering bakers one by one. I love the comedy in this series. The slapstick and Rube Goldberg-esque antics in the movie are great. Also, this serves as a fun whodunit, although the answer isn’t too hard to figure out. The animation and set-design in this movie are fantastic. This is definitely the best-looking film of the bunch.

Live-Action

The Door (Ireland, 17 min):

This is a deep movie about loss and perseverance after a tragedy. It centers on a family forced to evacuate Pripyat after the Chernobyl disaster in ’86. This is definitely the most emotional film of the group and is very somber in tone. I thought the movie was terrific, but not my favorite.

Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden, 22 min):

This was by-far the funniest short film nominated. It focuses on Tomas, an aspiring magician who still lives with his parents. The entire movie is filled with hilarious moments and the cast if great, especially Jacob Nordenson, who plays Bengt, Tomas’ ashamed father. The film is also an insightful character study of a man plagued by desolation. You really care for this lovable loser by the end of the movie, and you even become embarrassed for him when he fails.

Kavi (USA/India, 19 min):

This was a good story that was never fleshed out. Sure, the plot continued to a conclusion, but I felt that this movie could be expanded into a feature with not much effort. It was a good story, shot well, that leaves only a little impact on the viewer. Overall, I’m on the fence with this one.

Miracle Fish (Australia, 17 min):

This is another weird little movie. What starts out as a day-in-the-life of an ordinary kid quickly turns. I don’t want to give anything away, but this movie definitely caught me off guard about half-way through this film. The movie is about the boy’s encounter one day, and I’m not sure that its theme comes across very well, but in general the movie was excellent.

The New Tenants (Denmark/USA, 20 min):

This movie starts with an elegant monologue about the failures of humanity and then goes on to show the two main characters a more sinister side of life. They have just moved into a new apartment and quickly find out just how bad of a choice they have made. Vincent D’Onofrio kicks things off as a vengeful husband and things only get worse. This movie was funny and touching, and had a very poetic ending.

Once again, I really enjoyed all the short films. My favorites were The Lady and the Reaper and The New Tenants, but I predict Logorama and The Door will win come Oscar night.

What I Watched This Week (Feb. 14-Feb. 20)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on February 21, 2010 at 2:21 PM

This was a slow week for my movie viewing. I’m not sure what happened, but all-of-a-sudden the week flew by. In any case, I was treated to two very special theater-going experiences this week: Seeing Shutter Island at midnight and catching all 10 of the Oscar-nominated short films on the big screen.

2/18Macbeth (1971): I watched this in my high school English class over the past two weeks. What a horrible way to view a film. I cannot really make an accurate judgement after watching this film in several parts. (And the VHS was pan-and-scan, which bugs me to no end!) Overall, I didn’t like this movie. I guess it’s the language, but the acting seemed so unnatural and the overall feeling of the movie was silly. However, the ending of the movie was excellent. Starting with the shot of Macbeth looking into the distance at the approaching army, I don’t know how, but the movie was actually very good. That is the only reason I’m giving this 3 stars.

2/19 – Shutter Island: I saw this at midnight and I’m certainly glad I did. What an amazing film. (And it my first Scorsese picture on the big screen.) I loved this movie, see my full review.

2/20The 10 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Once again, Theatre N, my local independent theater came through and showed all 10 of the Oscar shorts in one day. What a delightful experience. Read about my thoughts on each one specifically here.

Review: Shutter Island

In 2010, Horror, Martin Scorsese, Mystery, Paramount, Reviews, Thrillers & Mystery/Suspense on February 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Sometimes, it’s not what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and that is definitely the case in Shutter Island. Martin Scorsese delivers an incredible film from good, but flawed source material.

Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy, a US Marshal who, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a psychotic patient from the mental institution on the titular island. Dr. John Cowley (Ben Kingsley), along with Dr. Jeremiah Naering (Max von Sydow) and the warden (Ted Levine), run the facility with an iron fist. The fantastic supporting cast is rounded off with Jackie Earle Haley and Michelle Williams. As the mystery unfolds, Teddy learns that the island is definitely more intimidating than he first suspected.

From the opening shot of this film, you know you are in for something special. The opening sequence is clearly the work of a master filmmaker. Scorsese lets his shots run their course, rather than cutting away. We watch as the boat slowly emerges from the fog heading toward the island. After some dialog, we see the island for the first time in a shot that says a lot about the character of this wretched place – the jagged rocks, the rocking boat, the imposing cliffs. As the on-edge police force escorts the marshals into the institution, Scorsese utilizes his signature sweeping camera moves which give the film a constant kinetic energy.

Shutter Island is visually stunning. The composition is absolutely perfect. The movie is also partly surrealist. The dream sequences play out through unique visuals and give a glimpse into DiCaprio’s mental collapse. Overall, the pacing and editing make for an incredible thriller. Scorsese channels his inner Hitchcock and continually builds suspense. Rather than rely on simple jump scares, this film is psychological. The score also contributes immensely to the overall feeling of the movie. Incredibly, a score wasn’t even written for the movie. Instead, Scorsese and singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson created an ensemble of already-recorded music. The haunting music and, even more so, the lack of sound during certain scenes also adds to the unnerving atmosphere.

The plot of the film plays like a classic thriller. The movie uses several horror clichés, such as the telephone lines being knocked out by a storm, but I didn’t mind them. As for the sotry, it started out well, but then fell short a little around 2/3rds of the way through. Towards the end, I did not like the direction the story was going, but the ending was amazingly ambiguous. (I’ll definitely have to write more in-depth about this in a later, spoiler-filled post.) In the end, the craftsmanship of the film outweighs any shortcomings in the script.

Apart from the technical aspects, which were virtually perfect, Shutter Island provides several levels of enjoyment. There is suspense throughout – the film is an excellent thriller. On a deeper level, the movie examines the nature of human sanity. Overall, Shutter Island is an engrossing thriller told through excellent visuals that only Scorsese can create. The fantastic directing, acting, and technical aspects of the movie take a typical horror film and make it into a thought-provoking, beautiful film.

My List of Shame

In Blog, Features on February 15, 2010 at 1:37 PM

You know that movie – the one that everyone has seen except you? We all have several of those movies. I’ve even bluffed my way through a conversation to hide the fact that I hadn’t seen the movie up for discussion. It’s really hard, too, when you start to earn the reputation of a movie buff among your friends.

There are two criteria for this list: Either the film must be one where the majority of people have seen it OR the film is regarded as a classic and is well-known in film circles. Anyway, here is my list of shame, in no particular order.

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Billy Madison
  • Happy Gilmore
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Scarface
  • Spaceballs
  • Tron
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Metropolis
  • The Big Sleep
  • 8 1/2
  • Elephant Man
  • Dune
  • American Beauty
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Goodfellas
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Annie Hall
  • Robocop
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • North by Northwest
  • Kill Bill
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Titanic
  • Ben Hur
  • The Untouchables
  • Blade Runner
  • La Dolce Vita
  • The Last Temptation of Christ
  • Nosferatu
  • Alien
  • Dirty Harry
  • The Exorcist
  • Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior
  • Tokyo Story
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Se7en
  • Braveheart
  • Empire of the Sun
  • The Day of the Dead

Whew! That was good to get off my chest. I’ve added these all to my Netflix queue, so hopefully I’ll be able to see them all before the end of the year.

I was inspired to write this list after listening to an episode of my favorite movie podcast, the /Filmcast. I believe “List of Shame” was coined by Dan Trachtenberg of the Totally Rad Show.

So, what are some of the movies from your list of shame?

What I Watched This Week (Feb. 7-Feb. 13)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on February 14, 2010 at 2:48 PM

This week, I focused on Oscar-nominated films that I didn’t have a chance to see earlier. I also had a lot of time to work on more writing for the near future while I was snowed in.

2/7The Cove: What an amazing documentary. This film combines traditional fact-based doc reporting and a thrilling narrative to great effect. See my full review.

2/8The Blind Side: I was surprised to see that this film was nominated for Best Picture, as were many film buffs, but I decided to see it before I passed judgement. In short, it was a good film, but definitely not one of the best of the year. Look for a full review next week when I will be reviewing all the Best Picture nominees.

2/10Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire: This movie has gained heavy buzz since it won both the Grand Jury Prize for drama and the Audience Award  at Sundance last year. I finally was able to see it, and it met my high expectations. The film has such an emotional affect – it is nothing short of amazing. Again, look for my full review leading up to the Oscars.

2/11A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers do it again. This film is another genre-bender that combines comedy and drama. In addition, the questions that this film asks about the meaning of life and suffering are very intriguing. I loved this film; look for a full review the week before the Oscars.

2/13Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief: I had no idea I was going to see this film, so I enjoyed going into it with virtually no knowledge beforehand. This movie had potential to be an awesome romp through Greek mythology, but was betrayed by a terrible script. Despite its shortcomings, I did enjoy the film. See my full review.

Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

In 2010, 20th Century Fox, Action, Chris Columbus, Family, Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on February 13, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is not the next Harry Potter. That’s exactly what 20th Century Fox was going for – based on the series by Rick Riordan, it stars Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson, a young man who discovers that Greek legends are real, and is directed by Chris Columbus.

Although based on an intriguing premise, “The Lightning Thief” falls flat. It’s a real shame, too. It could have been a fun adventure through Greek mythology. Instead, it falls into a simple movie formula that we’ve all seen many times over.

The film begins with Zeus (Sean Bean) confronting Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) over the theft of his lightning bolt. The scene plays off well as tongue-in-cheek comedy, although I don’t think that’s what they were aiming for. The dialogue is ridiculous, but if the entire film just stuck with this not-too-serious feel, I would have liked it much more.

The first major flaw is the lack of an introduction. We see Percy and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), but we never really get to know them before the plot quickens and the action begins. The writers hit the points they need to, but the characters never come alive.

The plot of the movie is terrible. This film takes a good premise and ruins it by making it so formulaic and predictable, there’s almost no point in watching it. The only redeeming factor is that the movie is actually pretty fun most of the time.

The acting is atrocious all-around. Even the excellent supporting cast, including Uma Thurman, Catherine Keener, Joe Pantoliano, Pierce Brosnan, and Sean Bean, are humiliated through silly dialogue with no real characters beneath. As for the stars, this film goes to show you that very few teens can actually act.

However, these shortcomings don’t diminish the movie as much as they should. Somehow, this mess of a screenplay plays out as a surprisingly fun family adventure. Although not a good film by any stretch, “Percy Jackson” provides a fun adventure suitable for the whole family, and is better than most films aimed at the same audience.