Billy Soistmann

Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

What I Watched This Week (Jan. 31-Feb. 6)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on February 7, 2010 at 12:11 AM

I got to see a lot of movies this week. After kicking off my 1,000 films challenge with The Rules of the Game and getting distracted by all the Oscar nominations on Tuesday, I watched Julia on Netflix Instant Watching. Yesterday, we were hit with an enormous snowstorm, so I went out and got a few Redbox movies to watch while I was stuck in the house.

1/31 – The Rules of the Game: When I kicked off this blog at the beginning of the month, I declared my goal of seeing every film on They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?‘s list of the 1,000 Greatest Films of All Time. My first movie of the list was #3, The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir. It was an excellent film. I enjoyed the story and was surprised at how timeless the comedy was. After more than 70 years, the same things are still funny. Most Renoir’s criticisms of the social elite can still be applied today. It was also a great story of star-crossed lovers. I was surprised to find that the best performance in the film (Octave) was given by the director himself! Although I recognize the film’s significance in cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m not sure if it should be given such a high ranking. Only time will tell, though. I still have 906 movies to go!

2/3Julia: Kidnapping children is always a bad idea. In Julia, the main character (you guessed it – Julia), decides to help her friend steal her child back from her father-in-law. The plan doesn’t go well and Julia bonds with the child, despite her malicious intentions. This movie is held up entirely on Tilda Swinton’s magnificent performance. I don’t care about the technicalities, she was robbed of the Best Actress Oscar.

2/5Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: So, Pixar isn’t the only studio that can make good computer-animated films. “Cloudy,” produced by Sony Pictures Animation, is a thoroughly enjoyable family film. The story is formulaic, yet inventive and the visuals are great. I love how the movie knows that it is a cartoon, so the characters aren’t even trying to be real. James Caan’s character doesn’t even have eyes (kind of)! The lovable main character, Flint Lockwood, is an amateur mad scientist, who never gets anything right. Although most of the film is aimed at a young audience, I still enjoyed it. The tone is very tongue-in-cheek and you can tell a lot of fun was put into this movie.

2/5 – The Brothers Bloom: I absolutely loved this movie. See my full review.

2/6The Soloist: I almost don’t like this movie at all. Let me explain: As a general rule, I don’t like movies based on true stories, especially ones in which the main character is a journalist writing a story, which will then be turned into the film you are watching. I never like that writer character, except when he is Robert Downey Jr. Up until around the hour-and-a-half mark, I was on the fence about this movie. I liked the characters, but the story was not intriguing at all. And then the ending won me over. Overall, the plot was very uneven. The flashbacks did not feel complete, and the middle of the film felt rushed. However, Jamie Foxx and Downey Jr.’s performances save the movie from complete disaster. Foxx is incredible as the fast-talking, schizophrenic master cellist and Robert Downey Jr.’s character really grows as a person and those are the keys to the film.

What I Watched This Week (Jan. 24-Jan. 30)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on January 31, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Wow, what a crazy week. This week was Spirit Week at my school and stayed busy preparing for my class’ skit on Thursday. Our teachers attacked us for stealing ideas and we had to fight back. It was ugly, but our skit was amazing. Anyway, I haven’t had time to watch much this week. I can’t believe I only watched two films!

1/28 The DepartedMartin Scorsese is the man. Watching this movie, you can see how much fun it must have been making it. I’m not sure if it deserved Best Picture, but Scorsese definitely earned Best Director. Every shot in this film is awesome. Sometimes, it seems a little over-the-top, but something visually interesting is going on the entire time. The acting in this film is also superb, with Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga all giving great performances. This film solidifies DiCaprio as one of the greatest actors of his generation. The plot, although not entirely new (especially considering the film is a remake), keeps moving through quick, funny dialogue.

1/30Julie and Julia: I’m on the fence about this movie, so let’s first talk about the good: Meryl Streep is excellent as Julia Child. She embodies her all the way down to her mannerisms and body language. The dual plot structure was interesting and worked well. Now for the bad: This movie doesn’t feel complete. By the end, Julie (Amy Adams) hasn’t learned anything. I mean, she got through the book, but that’s about it. She didn’t learn a lesson or become a better person, in fact, she probably just became more self-centered. So, this movie is enjoyable, but very unsatisfying. Thinking back on it, I just don’t see the point. The story was interesting, but, to reiterate, it was just incomplete.

My Best Picture Nominations

In Awards, Features, Lists, News on January 25, 2010 at 10:52 PM

On Friday, the polls closed for the nominations for the Academy Awards. Each of the 5,777 members of the Academy must have had their ballot in by eight o’clock for it to count.

I am not a member of the Academy, but I’m already excited for the Oscars. It’s not really the awards that I love, but the nominations. I love scrambling to see as many nominated films as I can in one month. This year, I got a little ahead of myself and tried preempting the nominations and seeing the films before they were announced. This got me thinking about all the movies I have seen this past year and I decided to create what my nominations would be.

Really, you can think of this as a My Favorite Films of ’09, but I had to think of a clever twist that explains my tardiness.

After pouring through the 274 eligible films, I found that I had seen 36 of them. Before I get to the list, just a few notes: 1:  I’m only considering movies I have actually seen, and there are many on the list that I am dying to see. 2: Foreign Language and Documentary films are included in my list, even though if I was actually a member of the Academy, these would be in their respective categories. 3: These are my favorites, not what I think the Academy at large would pick. And 4: Originally I planned on a quick blurb with each post, but I’m going to save that for closer to the awards ceremony.

On to the list!

#10: Il Divo

#9: District 9

#8: Capitalism: A Love Story

#7: Up

#6: The Hurt Locker

#5: Moon

#4: (500) Days of Summer

#3: Inglourious Basterds

#2: Tetro

#1: Up in the Air



What I Watched This Week (Jan. 17-Jan. 23)

In Features, What I Watched This Week on January 24, 2010 at 3:39 PM

Welcome to my new feature, What I Watched This Week. The idea is simple: Every Sunday, I list all of the movies (not TV shows) I’ve seen that week, whether it be in the theater or at home. With each movie will be either a short reaction, thought, etc. or a link to my full review. So, what did I watch this week?

1/19 Juno: I finally got around to seeing this on Blu-Ray and, wow, what a great movie! I was blown away with how touching this film is. Although I was put off by the over-the-top dialogue at the beginning of the film, I loved it by the end. I’m not sure how that works, but after ten minutes I was laughing out loud. And Ellen Page’s nomination for Best Actress was definitely not unwarranted. This film was moving and hilarious at the same time, with fantastic performances all around. (Literally everyone in the cast is great!)

1/22Bass Ackwards:This film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival yesterday, but, unfortunately I was stuck watching it on YouTube. It went better than I expected though, and I enjoyed the movie. See my full review.

1/22Duplicity: I was not very interested in this movie. I mean, the smart spy/thriller angle appeals to me, but the trailer pushed the romance angle between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. However, I really liked it. To start with, the opening credits were hilarious and beautiful at the same time. In fact, the entire movie was shot and edited masterfully. Another strong point was the banter between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, who had excellent on-screen chemistry. The plot wasn’t too original and the mystery didn’t pay off as well as it could have, but overall, Duplicity was a very enjoyable, well-crafted spy thriller with a good love story.

1/23Up In the Air: I saw this film last night after all the Oscar buzz it has been getting and it doesn’t disappoint. Easily one of the best films of the year. Watch for my full review later tonight in the near future.

Summer Movie Preview ’09

In Coming Soon, Features, The Forum on April 21, 2009 at 9:37 AM

As the end of the year approaches, one’s mind turns to only one thing – summer. Summer is a wonderful time: no school, warm weather, and movies. Summer is when Hollywood sends out the big guns, and this year is no exception. From familiar series (Harry Potter, Transformers, X-Men, Terminator, Star Trek) to new ideas (UpDistrict 9); from book adaptations (My Sister’s Keeper, Angels and Demons) to TV adaptations (Land of the Lost); from familiar directors (Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Tony Scott) to familiar stars (Jack Black, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Ben Stiller, Johnny Depp) – all in all, this summer’s movies should be great.

With all of the movies coming out soon, it will be virtually impossible to see all of them. Film-going teens must narrow down which movies to see and which ones to skip, especially with ever-increasing ticket prices (’08 ticket costs were, on average, 30 cents more than ’07). High-schoolers have to take this much more into account than ever before because they will have a much harder time finding work due to the shaky economy.

This list is an overview which includes most of the major films (with some hidden gems), a short synopsis, and whether or not they will be worth the cost.

Lights, camera. Action!


May:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1) is Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) backstory and takes place before he becomes a key member of the X-Men. Don’t expect a Dark Knight. This should be a good action movie, but go into the theater expecting anything more, and you’ll be in for a disappointment.

Star Trek (May 8) is the reboot of the familiar franchise. The movie goes back to the beginning and reexamines the origins of the main cast of characters of the original TV series, and stars Chris Pine (Just My Luck) as James Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Spock. This is a must-see for any fan of science fiction, but may also appeal to the uninitiated because it reintroduces the characters and doesn’t require any foreknowledge of the series.

Angels and Demons (May 15), the follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon who investigates the Illuminati’s scheme to gain revenge against the Vatican. The story should be excellent considering it is an adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. Just like The Da Vinci Code, the movie has met with some resistance from Christian groups, most significantly the Catholic Church. These people claim that the novel and movie are represented as fact, not fiction, which even the author denies himself. He says that the book is based on historical fact, but ultimately is fiction. Just because an idea is represented in a movie doesn’t mean it is being endorsed as fact by the creators. In any case, fans of adventure or mystery should definitely see this.

Terminator Salvation (May 21), the fourth installment in the Terminator series, is sure to be one of this summer’s box-office hits. Set in 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale), encounters a resistance soldier (Sam Worthington) who has only vague memories of his past life, which leads to a shocking discovery. When it was first announced, this new Terminator movie was not met with optimism by all, but the trailers have been getting better and better, causing confidence and excitement to rise.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (May 22), the sequel to Night at the Museum (2006), has the Museum of Natural History closed for renovation, which causes the pieces to be moved into storage in Washington. While the first was funny, and this one is sure to have its moments, there is absolutely no reason for a second film. The first movie was an original, self-contained story that doesn’t need to be expanded upon. The biggest advantage the sequel has, however, is that even more historical figures come to life such as Einstein (Eugene Levy) and Amelia Earheart (Amy Adams). Also, most of the original cast is back, including Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, and Dick Van Dyke. In any case, “Smithsonian” should be a very fun comedy, but may not live up to the original.

Up (May 29), Pixar’s tenth feature film, is the story of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a retired balloon salesman, who sets out to fulfill his dream by using balloons to lift his house. His plan is to fly to South America, but he is interrupted when he realizes that an eight-year-old has lifted up with him. Considering that most of Pixar’s films have been fantastic, expectations are high and Up should meet the challenge.

June:

Land of the Lost (June 5) is the first film adaptation of the 1970’s TV series of the same name about a family trapped in a prehistoric world of dinosaurs and other fearsome creatures. Will Ferrell stars as Dr. Rick Marshall in what is looking to be a great family comedy.

Tetro (June 11), set in Argentina, is about “the rivalries born out of creative differences passed down through generations of an artistic Italian immigrant family.” This sounds insignificant, but it is writer/director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather) first original screen play since The Conversation. Although the premise seems bland, movie fans should not miss this one.

Dead Snow (June 12) is the thrilling story of a group of students who stumble across Nazi zombies during their vacation. This Norwegian flick should be a welcome addition to the zombie genre and also provide some fun action.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (June 12) is director Tony Scott’s (Top GunEnemy of the State) remake of Morton Freedgood’s 1973 novel of the same name. The film features Denzel Washington as Zachary Garber, a subway dispatcher negotiating with a group of hijackers, led by Bernard Ryder (John Travolta), who is holding a subway train and its passengers hostage. While John Travolta’s 70’s era mustache is a little worrisome, hopefully “Pelham” will be a good hostage film.

Whatever Works (June 19) marks Woody Allen’s first film set in his hometown, New York, since Melinda and Melinda (2005). It stars Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) as an eccentric man who “abandons his upper class New York lifestyle to live a more bohemian existence.” Hopefully Woody Allen gets out of his recent slump with this quirky comedy.

Year One (June 19) stars Jack Black (Nacho LibreSchool of Rock) and Michael Cera (Superbad) as lazy hunter-gatherers who, when exiled from their village, encounter numerous biblical figures including Adam and Eve and Abraham. I was very unenthusiastic when I saw the first commercial (during the Superbowl), but my interest was sparked when Black compared the style of the movie to Monty Python, specifically Life of Brian. If Year One is anywhere as funny as Monty Python, then it will surely be the best comedy of the summer.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24) is the second live-action installment in the “Transformers” series. While plot details are scarce, all one needs to know is that the Decepticons are, yet again, at war with the Autobots and that both Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are back. With the success of the original, a sequel was inevitable, so all we can hope for is another exciting, action-packed robot slam-down.

My Sister’s Keeper (June 26) is the story of Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin), who was conceived only to be a match for her sister, Kate, who is suffering from leukemia. For her entire life, she has been used as an organ donor for her sister, but when she is thirteen, she sues her parents for the right to choose whether to give her sister a kidney or not. The movie looks very intriguing as it contains challenging moral questions, most importantly the parents’ choice to bring a child into the world simply to harvest her organs for another.

July:

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1) is the third installment of the franchise. After “the meltdown,” dinosaurs start to appear, leading to more looney adventures with Manny (Ray Ramano), Sid (John Leguizamo), Ellie (Queen Latifah), Eddie (Josh Peck), and Crash (Seann William Scott). Of course, Scrat (Chris Wedge) continues his seeming never-ending quest for acorns. As one of the few kid’s movies this summer, “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” should perform well at the box office.

Public Enemies (July 1) is the story of an FBI agent’s (Christian Bale) quest to apprehend John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and other Depression-era gangsters. “Enemies” has the potential to be fantastic considering the all-star cast and its director, Michael Mann.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 17) is the sixth movie in the Harry Potter realm and once again stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson. Set during Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts, Voldemort is becoming more and more powerful, so Dumbledore is intent on preparing Harry for the coming battle. Meanwhile, Harry also learns more about Voldemort’s dark past. Originally set for release on November 21, 2008, the movie was delayed until the summer, sparking a huge uproar among the fans. In any case, a new Harry Potter film is something worth anticipating.

In the Loop (July 17) is a British satire that focuses behind-the-scenes when the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom want to declare war (a thin guise of the War on Terror). The movie shows the battle between those who support the war and those who oppose it and should have a interesting comedic view on a current event.

The Cove (July 31) is a documentary that shows a cave in Taiji, Japan, in which over 2,000 dolphins are killed annually. The meat is then sold throughout Japan even though it is toxic. During filming, the crew had to secretly infiltrate the cove to avoid being arrested or possibly killed. As one of few documentaries being released this summer, this should be enlightening. In January, it won the documentary Audience Award at Sundance.

Funny People (July 31), writer/producer/director Judd Apatow’s latest project, stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen as stand-up comedians. The film is interesting because it includes more dramatic elements than seen in Apatow’s previous comedies. Surprisingly, the movie has encountered extremely positive reactions from test screenings, even leading to some very early Oscar buzz. Can it live up to the hype?

August:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (August 7) is the long-awaited live-action adaptation of the extremely popular toy franchise. As the title implies, the movie portrays the origin of Cobra, the G.I. Joe team’s nemesis, and the entry of two new members, Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). The film also stars Dennis Quaid as General Hawk and Ray Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1) as Snake Eyes. Other than long-term fans, there is little anticipation for this action flick, but kids should boost it to at least moderate box-office success.

Julie & Julia (August 7) features two true stories. The first is Julie Powell’s (Amy Adams) quest to cook all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and is based on her book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. The second shows Child’s time in Paris during the 40’s and 50’s and is based on her memoir, My Life in France.

District 9 (August 14) is the interesting story of a group of aliens who land in Africa, only to be forced into labor by MNU (Multi National United). Told in a documentary style, 9 explores the relationship between the humans and aliens in the region and is a social commentary on the racial prejudices in many parts of South Africa. It is director Neill Blomkamp’s first feature and is based on his fantastic short film, Alive in Joburg9 is one of the most original movies of the summer and a must-see.

Taking Woodstock (August 14) is the true story of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) who volunteered his parents’ motel and a music festival permit to the organizers of the now-infamous Woodstock Festival. This is director Ang Lee’s first movie since 2007’s Lust, Caution.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (August 14) stars Eric Bana (MunichTroy) as a librarian who, due to a genetic disorder, involuntarily time travels. This obviously causes some serious problems and especially disturbs his marriage. The concept is a new take on time travel because it is uncontrollable, rather than a time machine that the creator can use whenever he chooses. Like District 9, TTTW should give a unique spin on a familiar sci-fi element.

This summer has a bit of everything: Comedy (Year One), Sci-Fi (Star TrekTerminator Salvation), Action (X-Men Origins: WolverineTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen), Family (Land of the Lost), Horror (Dead Snow), even Documentary (The Cove) plus many more too numerous to note here. Clearly, the summer of ’09 is bound to be a time of great films. See you at the movies!

10 Theaters to 2,890: The Story of Slumdog Millionaire

In Awards, Box Office, Danny Boyle, Distribution, Features, Foreign Language, Fox Searchlight, Independent, News, Reviews, The Forum, Warner Brothers on February 23, 2009 at 8:12 AM
(This is an article I wrote earlier in the year for another publication. I have estimated a date and added it here late so please excuse any time discrepancies.)

Three months ago, a relatively small film opened in only ten theaters. As of March 9, it has earned 222 million dollars worldwide and is playing on 2,890 screens in the US. How did a movie with such humble beginnings go on to become such a smash?

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik, who grew up in the slums of Dharavi, India with his brother Salim. He is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? when he is arrested under suspicion of cheating.

The movie debuted at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30. On September 7, it played at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the People’s Choice Award.

After playing at several other festivals, “Slumdog” opened on November 12 and earned 33 thousand dollars on opening day. As positive word-of-mouth spread, the film was expanded and, by Christmas, “Slumdog” was playing in 614 theaters and had grossed 15 million dollars. Positive reviews and many awards, including four Golden Globes, generated even more buzz and it continued to perform well throughout January, even though theaters had begun to drop off. On January 22, it was still playing on 582 screens. Then it was nominated for the 81st Annual Academy Awards – ten times. The very next day, “Slumdog” expanded to 1,411 screens and grossed almost 3 million dollars. So what was the key to its success?

Let’s get one thing straight. Slumdog Millionaire is a fantastic movie. Beyond the intriguing story, the editing and score really make this film stand out. However, there are many great movies that did terribly at the box office. What made “Slumdog” different?

First of all, there are four major groups of people that saw this movie. First are the committed independent film fans who try to see any good movie outside of the mainstream. This group would have seen “Slumdog” either at a film festival or early in its theatrical run. The second group contains the movie buffs. This group just loves movies and probably started to hear about SM in November or December. The third group are the more casual movie fans who went to see the movie as award season really picked up. The fourth group is composed of the “normal” people who heard about “Slumdog” on the news or the internet and were intrigued enough to see the movie. This group is most interesting due to the fact that they usually don’t see anything outside of the mainstream. What special qualities caused so many people to go see this at the theater?

The unique storyline is definitely the prime contribution to this “X-Factor.” The use of flashbacks is particularly well-designed in the film, unlike many flashback sequences. Usually, flashbacks break continuity or appear too corny. On the other hand, a well-implemented flashback is hard to come by. Citizen Kane, Forrest Gump, and The Godfather Part II all use the tecnique to great effect.
Further, the blend of a mainstream, English movie with the novelty of a foreign film makes “Slumdog” much more accessible to a mainstream American audience. Finally, a much more Hollywood-esque story [a classic romance], while still a good one, separated Slumdog Millionaire from many other independent films that focus on more complex subject matter.

These factors not only led to fantastic box office performance, but to a stunning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Slumdog Millionaire is a unique movie that blends independent filmmaking with a captivating storyline, foreign elements, Hollywood-style romance, and one Bollywood-style musical. It is also an example of a relatively small movie which blossomed into both a critical and box office hit.

44

In Features, Politics on January 26, 2009 at 1:20 PM

(This is an article I wrote earlier in the year for another publication. I have estimated a date and added it here late so please excuse any time discrepancies.)

“The National Guard had been called in and were standing post (armed) on almost every street corner. A number of the streets were shut down and throngs of people were literally strolling down the middle of what normally would be a busy street filled with cars and buses. Although I have never been in a country during a military coup, I would imagine it would look something like this,” says Rachel Cook [Mrs.’ Gumienny’s niece, who currently resides in Washington, D.C.], painting a very interesting picture of a most historic Inauguration Day, 2009.

On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in front of a record crowd. Two million people gathered at the nation’s capital, nearly 38 million viewers watched at home, and as many as 51 million tuned in online. Though merely rough estimates, it is clear that this was the most-watched inauguration in American history.

Rachel’s sister, Elizabeth Gumienny says, “Walking through the streets was crazy… people were everywhere… the amount of people in the streets around the capital was so intense, I’ve never experieced anything like it. It was overwhelming and a little scary. There were times that it felt like I would never get out of the crowd.”

After hours of waiting in the cold, the crowd of millions was given what they had been waiting for. The moment had arrived. Barack Obama rose and faced Chief Justice John Roberts to be sworn in. Roberts then proceeded to butcher the oath by pausing after “I, Barack Hussein Obama,” saying “President to the United States” instead of “of the United States,” and misplacing the word “faithfully.” Ironically, the oath is written in Article 2 of the Constitution, the document on which Roberts is supposed to rule.

Traditionally, the new President delivers an address after being sworn in and President Obama was no exception. In his speech, the President began by recognizing that the U.S. is indeed facing tough times, saying “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened… Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

President Obama then reflected on the strength of the American people saying, “Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.”

Further, Obama called for Americans to recognize their responsibilities to themselves, America, and the world. In this “new era of responsibility,” what is required is a return to the values which have been the “quiet force of progress throughout our history –  hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.”

President Obama then made a statement not only to the American people, but to every nation, including a warning, “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” Along with a promise that, “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” He went on to say, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

On January 25th, President Obama commissioned George Mitchell as a special envoy to the Middle East and held his first interview with a Muslim television station, Al Arabiya. He said, “What we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.” The President also vowed to follow up on his promise to speak in an Arab capital within the first 100 days of his presidency.

In regards to the economy, the President promised swift action to help the economy and more jobs for the unemployed. [President Obama’s economic stimulus package recently passed through Congress, with 60 votes in the Senate, the minimum to pass, and 246 to 183 in the House.] Another key economic statement was that, “a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” To back this up, the President  has created a Middle Class Task Force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to help middle-class working families during the economic crisis.

Another major issue mentioned was energy as the President promised cleaner, healthier energy, which is important to the economy as it will reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and is also a key to protecting the planet. The President has promised to double the production of alternative energy during the next three years.

A key issue among Obama’s supporters was health care costs. The President  pledged to “raise its quality and lower its cost.” Many believe it is going to be very tough to fix the nation’s health care system without sacrificing the freedom of the people. Raja Abou-Rahme says, “I have no problem with health care, but sometimes the government handles things badly.”

As for our common defense, President Obama said, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Thomas Jefferson said, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another…” To back up his statement, the President signed an executive order on January 22 closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay within one year, and another that established standards for lawful interrogations and created a special task force to review interrogation and transfer-of-prisoner policies.

Finally, the President reaffirmed his intentions for a responsible transition of power in Iraq. This was another key point in his campaign and one in which Obama differs greatly from President Bush.

At the end of his address, President Obama quoted from Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

One characteristic of the speech was that it was very practical, particularly in the phrase, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” Another key was creating a feeling of change, as this was his primary campaign point. This is what many wanted – something new.

To close the ceremony, Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery delivered a unique benediction. He began with, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears….” quoting from the Negro National Anthem (James Weldon Johnsons’ song, Lift Every Voice and Sing). The prayer focused on equality and unity, and says, “Help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.” It also included references to Isaiah 2:4, Amos 5:24, He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” After asking for God’s blessing upon Barack Obama and his family, Dr. Lowery concluded by rewording an old, rascist ryhme into, “We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

Regardless of political beliefs, this historic Inauguration seemed to bring the country together for a short time. Even though sophomore Austin Barrington doesn’t agree with the new President on some political issues, he seemed to sum up the thoughts of many when saying, “It’s a major step for America that we have a black President. It shows just how far we’ve come since slavery and, also, that we can learn from past mistakes.”

Now that the festivities are over, it is time for President Barack Obama to get down to business. There are many challenges facing our nation today and America will be watching with very high hopes.

The Best Summer Movies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

In Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Documentary, Features, Garth Jennings, Independent, Paramount Vantage, The Forum, ThinkFilm, Werner Herzog on September 12, 2008 at 2:24 AM

(This is an article I wrote earlier in the year for another publication. I have estimated a date and added it here late so please excuse any time discrepancies.)

summermovies08

In addition to the box office hits featured above, this summer featured some excellent “indies,” films not funded by the Hollywood studio system, which weren’t as widely viewed. Among my personal favorites were Encounters at the End of the World and Son of Rambow.

Encounters At the End of the World:
On June 11, Encounters at the End of the World opened in select theaters. It was directed by Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of GodFitzcarraldoGrizzly Man), who was inspired to travel to Antarctica after seeing footage from beneath the ice taken by his friend, a diver in Antarctica. After joining the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, he and his cameraman were flown to Antarctica. The movie consists of Herzog’s narration, interviews, and breathtaking cinematography of Antarctica.

“Encounters” is an unusual documentary because it has very little plot to tie it together. It’s amazing how a skilled director such as Herzog can skillfully pull together interviews from a variety of people and still get his message across to his audience. Among the interviewees are a philosopher/fork-lift driver, a linguist on a continent with no languages, and a reclusive scientist studying penguins. In addition to the amazing images of the continent and interviews with the people that live and work there, Herzog’s comments are intriguing. I would highly suggest that you see this movie on DVD November 18.

Son of Rambow:

On May 2, Iron Man debuted to kick off the summer movie season. What you probably don’t know is that, on the same day, Son of Rambow, an indie-comedy written and directed by Garth Jennings (The Hitchiker’s Guide To the Galaxy), also opened in limited release. The movie focuses on two boys, Will, whose parents don’t allow him to watch TV or movies, and Lee, the school bully. They are inspired by Rambo: First Blood, and decide to make a movie. As word of their movie gets out, more and more kids want to help, and eventually their project gets out of hand.

Son of Rambow is a heartwarming tale about friendship and how two very different friends can help each other, despite disagreements. It is currently available on DVD.

While this summer was full of big-budget, box office hits, there was also a fantastic selection of films that, unfortunately, missed their proper respect at the ceneplex. In addition to “Encounters” and “Rambow”, check out these other indie films of note: American TeenBagheadThe Promotion, and Mongol.