Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: A Second Look (6/10)

*WARNING: Spoilers ahead*
So, Blue Like Jazz finally became a movie. I went into the theater the other night with blithe curiosity. I remember when I first read the book a little over a year ago. I had some reservations at first, because the evangelical community didn’t know what to do with Donald Miller. When I finally read it, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed Miller’s wit and romp through the evangelical culture I knew too well. However, the movie falls short in comparison to the book that inspired it.

While Miller’s book is faithful and wrestles with real issues in the Christian life, the movie seemed weird to me. There were times I was confused at why the movie did something it did (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years so maybe I missed out on some key screenwriting details).  

The whole movie give the impression of a caricature (maybe that was the point), with the scenes in Texas seemingly written by the New York Times’ religion correspondent and the scenes at Reed college looking like Focus on the Family’s worst nightmare. The whole mom/youth pastor pregnancy thing seemed like a weird addition.  The movie is rife with stereotypes (e.g. the social justice Christian, hypocritical pastor, etc.) and the characters mostly felt flat to me. I guess there just seemed to be unnecessary writing choices. Like Penny and Don’s campy climb up the Aqualike billboard. I just thought, “Why?”   

I don’t know, it just didn’t wow me. The film just felt kind of “meh.”

Here’s the thing though: The movie is conceived to be a more honest voice of evangelical Christianity (than, say, Fireproof). But in this attempt at frankness, Blue Like Jazz the movie ends up not really saying anything at all. I know that this isn’t necessarily a “Christian” movie, and I didn’t go in expecting to be presented the Gospel in a powerful, postmodern monologue about salvation. But I at least thought there might be some hints as to what Miller’s solution is for those burned by the church. The movie doesn't show cynics anything distinctive about following Jesus. Penny’s motivation for going to India could have just been replaced by secular philanthropy or a hipster-like altruism. There’s no hint at the inherent dignity that human beings possess by being made in the image of God, or Christ’s example, or working for the “common good” that Christianity teaches.

Unlike the memoir, where the confession booth scene is both humble and moving, the film ends with the impression that Christians need to apologize for their faith. In the book, the confession booth is an entryway into articulating what the Gospel is really about. The movie misses this point. People would do better to read the book.

21 Jump Street (8/10)

I will start off by saying that I am not a big fan of comedies. I think this stems from the fact that most of my life is pretty funny, and because of that I am more drawn to films that are of a darker nature. Or maybe I'm just pretentious. At this point I should also mention that I think Channing Tatum may be the worst actor of this generation (or any perhaps). This film did change my opinion a bit. Anyway, my wife wanted to see this movie on Saturday so I obliged.  Tatum and his co-star, Jonah Hill, were hilarious. Like freaking hilarious. Tatum and Hill star as cops tasked with going undercover as students in a local high school to infiltrate a growing drug ring. The film's primary source of humor lies in the inadequacy and immaturity of the film's stars as adults, let alone cops. I laughed regularly throughout the movie and sat among a sold out audience, over a month after the film's opening day. As Hollywood churns out more and more stale reboots and remakes of 80's and 90's TV shows and movies, 21 Jump Street stands out as a fresh take on an old favorite.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blue Like Jazz (8.8/10)

I received a copy of Blue Like Jazz when I was 21 from a friend who lived in Portland. I read the book at a time in my life when my faith had become something formulaic-a set of dos and don'ts. I was sort of disenchanted and jaded in a lot of ways. Donald Miller's writing acted as a catalyst for me to pursue a real, living God. The book itself is among a small handful of books that have helped shape and form the foundation of my faith. I have now purchased, and given away, more copies of this book than I can count.  I typically give the book to people who are tired of the church, cynical about Jesus and/or religion, or have been hurt by someone (or multiple "someones") who represented Jesus in a crappy way. I say all of this about the book because I had pretty high expectations, and a certain level of apprehension, before I saw the film tonight. When I heard about the movie's production and its amazing Kickstarter story, I was nervous. Christian films have a track record of being...well...horrendous at best. To be fair, I don't believe that Miller and the film's director, Steve Taylor, would even classify the film as a "Christian" one to begin with. The final result was a well shot, well acted, story with honest dialogue about Christianity featuring seemingly authentic people. It was refreshing, as weird as it sounds, to hear people swear, drink beer, and operate in a human fashion in the film (attributes that are distinctly absent from most christiany films). This was not a sanitized adaptation of the novel by any stretch. I feel that the beginning scenes (in Texas) were the film's weakest points, as the characters seemed forced and almost too stereotypical. Although I know youth pastors like the one featured in the film (Kenny), he felt almost to self-unaware. Perhaps it just made me uncomfortable? Also, some of the computer generated sequences may feel out of place for viewers who haven't read the book (even to some who have). I think the film was at its strongest, when Don was experiencing "conflict" at Reed college and throughout his interactions with Penny. Marshall Allman did a great job playing Don. I was also satisfied with the film's "resolution." From a writing standpoint, much of the standout dialogue was taken directly from Miller's memoir. I appreciate the way he weaves words together. Through his writings, I have become someone who appreciates people's stories more. One critique many Christians will have of the film is that it does not present a clear "Gospel" message. In other words, the film does not clearly articulate people's need for Christ for redemption from sin. While I agree that the film does not do this; I would also argue that this is not Miller and Taylor's purpose for making the movie. One of Miller's quotes states: "Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something, before you can love it yourself." I think that is one of the film's main tenets. It is clear that the filmmakers love Jesus and appreciate art. It would be hard for a viewer to walk away from the film and miss that. I am sure that countless conversations about the film will revolve around Jesus, life, and truth, and in that sense I feel that they have achieved their goal. Was the film perfect? No. Will it win any awards? Maybe in Portland. However, like the book, the movie will resonate with people who have grown tired of those who attempt to live religious lives on their own volition. Outside of Jesus, religion is nothing but a set of rules and rituals that lead to frustration, disenchantment, and alienation. I think the film (and book) show it even when they don't say it. While I don't necessarily agree with all of Miller's viewpoints, I look forward to the day (in heaven presumably) when we can sit down, have a beer (edgy, I know), and talk about life and truth. I would love to hear other people's takes in the comments section.
Blue Like what??? Tell us! The suspense is killing me. Stupid elipsis.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (7/10)

I saw Salmon Fishing In The Yemen on Monday with Justin Worley at The Vine. It was rather romantic in a completely heterosexual sort of way, as we were the only 2 people in the theater. The movie itself wasn't that bad or that great. How is that for insight? Ewan McGregor is one of my favorite actors and he was delightfully Scottish as always . The film was written by the guy who wrote Slumdog Millionaire and I expected something along those lines. The plot did have the same sort of redemptive storyline, but lacked the creativity, heart, and innovative Danny Boyle-ness of Slumdog. That's not to say the movie was bad-it just wasn't Slumdog. The movie is ultimately about pursuing your own happiness regardless of your circumstances or current limitations. In this case, Ewan's character's limitations included a failing marriage and a ho-hum government job in the Fish/Game department. He ends up parlaying his fish knowledge into a project commissioned by the Yemeni government. The project: create a river in Yemen where people can fish for salmon. Dam! The movie was pleasant enough and the comfort of The Vine definitely augmented the viewing experience. It's a rental or a Netflix film unless you can find a way to get a theater to yourself.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games (9/10) (Matt's Review)

Alyssa and I saw "The Hunger Games" opening night Friday night. I had read all three books and Alyssa hadn't read any of them (I use hadn't and not hasn't because she started and finished the first book this morning).
Inevitably, in reviewing a movie based on books that I've read, the tendency is to compare the movie to the books and nitpick the differences. I'm trying to keep that in mind and focus on the movie itself instead...I'm not sure how successful I'll be. Also, there will probably be some small spoilers for anyone who hasn't already read/seen the material.

As a movie, it was well paced, particularly for the amount of information they tried to squeeze into the nearly two and a half hours. The stark visual contrast between the opening scenes in dirty/dingy District 12 (light blues and greys and browns), compared to the spectacle of colorfully outrageous opulence in the Capitol and the lush forest greens in the games themselves helped demonstrate how vastly different the lives of those in the Districts can be. The shaky-camera action scenes could have been nausea-inducing, but considering the fact that they were trying not to linger on and relish the murder of children (a la Battle Royale) I think they did a decent job of conveying the danger without guaranteeing an "R" rating.

The actors all did a great job. Jennifer Lawrence was great as Katniss, Peeta wasn't given much to work with and Gale was barely even seen, but they both did decent jobs as well. In the books, I remembered Peeta's feelings for Katniss as being a bit more obvious in the lead up to the games even though she wasn't as trusting, in the movie the audience shares her uncertainty. The little girl that played Rue was great, Prim was fine in a limited role, and I really enjoyed seeing Trixie the whore (Paula Malcomson) from "Deadwood" as Katniss' mom.

Bottom line, it was great. Was it 100% faithful to the source material? No, but it attempted to convey most of the important themes in the book and was moderately successful. The mood was tense when it called for it, exotic when appropriate and the film always entertained. I highly recommend it for book lovers and noobs alike!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Carter (5/10)

I want you to imagine for a moment the first time you saw the new Star Wars movies. The ones with all the newfangled CGI, child actors, elementary school level script and Jar Jar Binks. Now, if you would, take that movie and remove all of the nostalgic Star Wars-ian mythology that you have grown so fond of. Still with me? The movie you have just created in your mind is also currently in theaters. It's called John Carter. JC (am I allowed to call it that?) isn't the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's not wonderful. Or great. Or good. In fact, going into the film I knew it wasn't going to be great but I was fascinated by the fact that Disney dropped over $250 million on the film. I also am a huge fan of JC's Taylor Kitsch because of his role as one of the lead characters (Tim Riggin) in one of my favorite shows of all time (Friday Night Lights), and was intrigued to see how he would transition to the big screen. I read that Disney has been developing the film since the early 1920's and that it was originally intended to be their first full-length animated feature (instead of Snow White). Fast forward 90 years and Disney sent Tim Riggins to space in 3D. To be fair, I did fall asleep at multiple points during them film and those instances could have been the ones filled will brilliant dialogue. I doubt it though. The movie had incredible effects, but it appears as though the script was an oversight. The actors weren't given a whole lot to work with in their CGI world, and as such the film suffered.
Look how happy I look. This was during the previews.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kevin's Oscar Predictions

Alright, full disclosure time, I haven't seen anywhere near all the movies and performances nominated. But when it comes to the Oscars, when has that mattered? Often times, in my opinion and the majority of society's opinion, the best nominee does not win. In fact I've heard that most of the Oscar voters don't even watch all the movies. With that said, here are my picks of who I think SHOULD win and who I think WILL win.

Best Picture: Should win - Midnight in Paris. Will win - The Artist.
Midnight in Paris because it was one of the best movies I saw all year and I really enjoyed it. (I don't enjoy all of the movies I think are "the best")

Best Director: Should win - Terrence Malick. Will win - Terrence Malick.
While the movie itself was not great, I think the directing was fantastic. Should also win for cinematography

Best Actor: Should win - Gary Oldman. Will win - Jean Dujardin
I love Gary Oldman.

Best Actress: Should win - Viola Davis. Will win - Meryl Streep
My wife loved The Help, and I've heard Viola Davis was amazing in it... but who am I kidding, Streep is due.

Best Supporting Actor: Should win - Jonah Hill. Win win - Christopher Plummer
I thought Jonah Hill should have been nominated for Cyrus. In Moneyball he portrays the same awkward nerd, just more accessible. Shows he can not only be a comedy lead, but can pull off a (semi-)serious role as well.

Best Supporting Actress: Should win - Melissa McCarthy. Will win - Melissa McCarthy.
Would love to see a comedy take home one of the top awards, and no one better than Mrs. McCarthy. The Acadamy has gotten a ton of flack for ignoring comedies, and Bridesmaids will allow then to change that perception. Props also to Octavia Spencer - can't wait to see more of her.

Side note: I've lately been drawn into more to the small screen rather than the big screen (hense the lack of reviews lately). While I won't review TV shows on here, I will tell you the top 5 shows I'm currently obsessed with: Justified (FX), Parks & Rec (NBC), Happy Endings (ABC) and the Ricky Gervais duo of Life's Too Short (HBO) and An Idiot Abroad (Science)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Grey (6/10)

I saw The Grey last night with my wife. This is important to note because I was very aware of how much she hated the film 10 minutes after it started. This may or may not have skewed my perspective. The story follows a group of Alaskan oil drillers whose plane crashes en route to Anchorage. The 7 survivors try to brave the elements and seek refuge in a nearby forest. Much of the story deals with physical survival, but the writers pose philosophical questions as well. What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? Where is God in suffering? In what appears to be a film about Liam Neeson wrestling wolves, turns out to have more of a philosophical bent than a typical action flick. That's not to say there aren't a lot of bloody, violent scenes-there are. It's just that the film is more about survival and accepting fate than battling a flock of canis lupus. I liked the film, but didn't love it. I was okay with the fact that the ending (and a bulk of the plot) was interpretive, but there was not a lot of redemption for the characters. I also read this article which ruined the way they depicted the wolves (the film's primary antagonist). My wife said it was her least favorite she has seen in a long time, and while I don't agree, I can see where she is coming from.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chronicle (8/10)

One of the things we decided when we started this blog is that all of the ratings are subjective and the scale is sort of arbitrary. For example, I saw Chronicle last night and I liked it a lot, but there is no way I can compare it to Before Sunrise on the same scale. I liked it for entirely different reasons. Chronicle had the potential to be a movie I loved or hated. It is a "found footage" movie) like Blair Witch and the Paranormal movies) where 3 high schoolers film their lives as they develop telekinetic powers, which gives them the ability to move objects with their minds and fly. We've all been in situations like that. The movie could have easily fallen into the same dry pit where other teen-based movies end up-but it didn't. It was fresh, creative and set a solid foundation for the 26 year old director's career. The story develops as one of the characters goes a mad with power (think Dark Vader) and his friends (think Rebel Alliance...ok that was a stretch) try to reel him in. The film felt like a superhero origin movie and I am certain that Fox would love to develop this thing into a franchise. The crazy thing is that the movie only cost $12 million to make and Fox did most of the marketing via Twitter and viral marketing. I would imagine a good chunk of the film's cost was also covered by product placement as companies like Pepsi, Pringles, Sony and Canon were featured prominently throughout the film. It turned a profit on its opening weekend. Like Super 8, this film chronicles (see what I did there?) the lives of teens as they record a series of extraordinary events and if you enjoyed that film you should like this one as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (8.8/10)

I watched these 2 movies over the last couple nights based on a recommendation from a student.  I sat down late Thursday night with a French beer (it just felt right) and dove headlong into the story of two serendipitous travelers. The first film (Sunrise) came out in 1995 and stars Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy. The film follows an early 20's American (Hawke) and Frenchwoman (Delpy) who meet on a Vienna-bound train. They get off the train in Vienna and spend several hours walking around the city discussing life; their hopes, fears, failures and passions. The film is dialogue heavy and seems almost voyeuristic in the way the viewer is able to be a part of the character's conversations. I was told to watch both films close together and I can agree that it's the best way to watch these movies. Sunset takes place nine years after the first film and has a similar story without feeling stale. The filmmaking is rather impressive as there are several shots lasting over seven minutes without a take. Considering the films are so dialogue-heavy, seven minutes is a long time for the actors to deliver-but they do. The dialogue is very natural and authentic, which is probably due in part to the fact that Hawke and Delpy helped to write the scripts and Before Sunset was essentially shot in real time. The films left an impression on me, but I am still trying to process what their impact exactly was. The story was unfamiliar yet relatable. It dealt with the idea that we often squander opportunities, especially those relating to love. The movie felt very raw and real, the acting was incredible, and the European backdrop made me long to travel. I have intentionally not given that much of the story away because I feel like I would be stealing from its beauty. It's not a happy story, but it's not sad either. It's about longing and restlessness with a dash of hope. See them.

They are working on the third (and final) movie as you read this. Check out an article here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Midnight In Paris (9.5/10)

If I saw this movie a month ago it would have undoubtably been in my top 10 movies of the year. In fact, I could make a strong case for it being in my top 3. Midnight in Paris was that good. The film revolves around a character named Gil (played by Owen Wilson) who is on vacation with his fiance in Paris. While walking the streets at midnight, Gil finds a portal (for lack of a better word) to the 1920's and is transported to a golden age of artists and parties. Gil has always been fascinated with 1920's Paris, and his dream of being a part of the city in its heyday becomes a reality when he encounters Hemingway, Picasso, and F. Scott Fitgerald among others. The film wrestles with the notion that the past is always more appealing than the present. Gil is fixated with the idea that the 20's is the ideal decade to live in, but when he gets there he finds that people from that era have a similar fixation with the generations that preceded them. Ultimately the film's director, Woody Allen, conveys the idea that it is not the present that makes life difficult; it is simply the condition of being human. Gil learns that he needs to be satisfied with his present situation in order to truly find contentment. I won't give away the ending but I will say that I loved how Woody Allen wrapped up his story. I reviewed my top 10 movies of the year and I think some adjustments now need to be made. Hugo, The Artist, and this film now fill out my top 3 (sorry Super 8). I have now seen 8 of the 9 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture and I would not be disappointed in the slightest if this film won. You should watch it tonight. Or now. Like right now.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (5.5/10)

In honor of the most meaningless sporting event in North America (and possibly the world), the Pro Bowl, Kevin thought we should review some football movies this weekend. I've had this film on my Netflix instant queue for the past couple of years and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to finally watch it. It is also available to watch in its entirety with limited commercial interruption on IMDB or Hulu.

The game took place in 1968, and marked the first time since 1909 that both Harvard and Yale had entered their rivalry game undefeated. Yale was a huge favorite heading into the game and dominated the game for the first 55 minutes or so. I don't want to spoil the ending for you but since the title already does, Harvard rallies back from 16 down with 3 minutes to play and ties the game up, converting a touchdown and two point conversion with no time left on the clock.

The movie is essentially an extended commentary of the game. It cuts back and forth from game footage and interviews of the different players involved prominently in the game. Tommy Lee Jones was a Harvard tackle at the time and he gets a good amount of face time relative to his role in the game itself. There is a significant amount of political discussion interspersed with the football due to the time period of the game itself, and it was hilarious to realize that Tommy Lee's personal politics were pretty much aligned with his character's from Under Siege.

While there are a lot of interesting moments in the interviews that keep the viewer somewhat engaged, ultimately it is a 100 minute breakdown of a pretty much meaningless college football game from almost 50 years ago.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 Academy Award Predictions
The 84th Academy Award nominations will be announced on January 24, 2012. I thought it would be fitting to post my predictions for the Oscars this year as we all appreicate and enjoy movies and the Academy Awards are the most prestigious movie awards each year (and really the only awards show that matters for movies). I have only chosen to make predictions for the major categories because let's be honest, no one wants to argue about who will make the cut for best costume design or best animated short. The categories I deem major are Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay.
One quick caveat before I make my predictions: the new voting rules only allow a movie to be nominated for Best Picture if it gets a certain percentage of first place votes. This rule change makes it much more difficult to predict the exact amount of movies that will be nominated since there is no set number. The last two years, the Academy reverted back to 10 nominees, a method that had not been employed since 1943. From 1944 to 2008, the Academy restricted nominations to five Best Picture nominees per year.
Now, instead of staying with the 10 nominees, "the new rule for Best Picture dictates that in order to get a nomination, a film must be listed in top position on at least 5 percent of the ballots." Here's the bottom line: "We could still see as many as 10 nominees for Best Picture, but we know there will be at least five. And the likelihood is the number will probably settle somewhere in the middle with seven or eight."
That being said, I have ranked the nominees by their odds of winning the award. The number one spot means that I believe that nominee will win and the number five spot indicates that nominee has the poorest chance of winning. Given the new Best Picture rules, the top seven are the ones I think will definitely get in. I have also included an "Other Contenders" section since some of the races are very close and I want to be sure to include the others who I think could still sneak in. The "Other Contenders" are also listed in order of their odds of being nominated.
One of the shames of the Academy Awards is that they do not allow an actor/actress to be nominated for multiple films. While I like this rule overall, it often leaves out deserving actors/actresses who gave several great performances in a year because their peformances end up splitting votes. Academy Award voters are forced to choose only one performance for a given actor/actress. Thus, their chances of being nominated for one performance are reduced.
For instance, Jessica Chastain has had one of the best years for an actress in recent memory. Not only did she appear in five films this year (The Tree of Life, The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter, and Coriolanus), she was great in all of them. The two movies she is most likely to get nominated for are The Help or The Tree of Life. Unfortunately, she was so good in both those films that I fear she ultimately will not get nominated for either. Some voters will select her for The Help, while others will nominate her for The Tree of Life (or even Take Shelter). Thus, the voting restriction can end up failing to honor some of the best performers (not performances) of the year, which also results in some of the best performances not being nominated.
Without further ado, here goes my picks for the 2012 Academy Awards in all the major categories:
Best Picture
1. The Artist
2. The Descendants
3. Hugo
4. The Help
5. Midnight in Paris
6. War Horse
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
8. Moneyball
9. The Tree of Life
10. Drive
Other Contenders:
Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Ides of March, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Best Director
1. Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
2. Martin Scorsese, Hugo
3. Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
4. Alexander Payne, The Descendants
5. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Other Contenders:
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Tate Taylor, The Help
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Best Actor
1. George Clooney, The Descendants
2. Jean Dujardin, The Artist
3. Brad Pitt, Moneyball
4. Michael Fassbender, Shame
5. Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Other Contenders:
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Best Actress
1. Viola Davis, The Help
2. Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
3. Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
4. Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
5. Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Other Contenders:
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Elizabeth Olson, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
Best Supporting Actor
1. Christopher Plummer, Beginners
2. Albert Brooks, Drive
3. Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
4. Jonah Hill, Moneyball
5. Nick Nolte, Warrior
Other Contenders:
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
Ben Kingsley, Hugo
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Best Supporting Actress
1. Berenice Bejo, The Artist
2. Octavia Spencer, The Help
3. Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
4. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
5. Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Other Contenders:
Jessica Chastain, The Help or The Tree of Life
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Carey Mulligan, Shame or Drive
Judi Dench, My Week with Marilyn
Best Original Screenplay
1. Midnight in Paris
2. The Artist
3. 50/50
4. Bridesmaids
5. Young Adult
Other Contenders:
The Tree of Life
Win Win
A Separation
Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Descendants
2. Moneyball
3. Hugo
4. The Help
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Other Contenders:
War Horse
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Ides of March
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

War Horse (6.8/10)

I saw War Horse last night and it wasn't what I was expecting. It has received a lot of critical accolades, is a Spielberg film, is based off a famous play, and could end up being a Best Picture nominee. Needless to say, I was expecting something epic. What I ended up with was the film equivalent of a shiny pop song. Each shot was perfect, the lighting was spot on, the acting was flawless in a theatrical sense, and the scope of the film was grandiose. However, like an over-produced pop song, it was missing soul. It almost felt too perfect. There were no rough edges and like Warrior, everything seemed a bit too serendipitous. It did help knowing that the film was based off a Broadway play (and children's book), because the film felt like something that was taken straight from the stage. The melodramatic shots, extended soliloquies, and complete lack of internal monologue, was reminiscent of an epic stage production. It wasn't that the film was bad; it was just that it was a little too perfect. I think a flaw or two (a shaky shot, a stumbled line, etc.) might have made the movie seem more real. In the end, for me human stories are more powerful and I went in to this film hoping it was less about horses and more about people. Silly me, it had horse in the title.

WRITER'S NOTE: If you want to see a shiny film on a similar scale, see Hugo. It had the same sheen as War Horse, but Hugo had the heart that the Spielberg film lacked.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo-Opening Credit Sequence

I haven't seen the movie yet but this definitely makes me want to. Crazy, creepy, love the Led Zeppelin cover. The first 2.5 minutes of the movie score a solid 10/10 for me!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Tree of Life

So movies are (or at least used to be) a bunch of photographs shown in rapid succession. No movie has reminded more of this fact, than The Tree of Life. Half the movie is basically the story of creation/evolution... and the other half is the story of a boy growing up in the 50's. If that seems pretty random to you, it was to me as well. If you go a bit deeper there is definitely an overarching theme of God and his role in the world and people's lives. However, I'm still trying to figure it all out. As you might be able to tell, I'm not sure what to think of this movie.

I made it about 2 hours through this movie before I fell asleep (gives you an idea of how much it kept my attention). It was directed by Terrence Malick and stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. And while Brad Pitt was great as the strict father, Sean Penn was barely in the film (at least the portion I saw). The real star of this film was Malick's direction of the creation/evolution portion. Truly a work of art.

As I write this I'm still trying to decide if it was fantastic or a dis-jointed, pretentious mess. In looking at, it seems that people either loved it or hated it (a lot of 1 or 2 stare reviews and just as many reviews awarding 9 or 10 stars). What (I think) it comes down to for me is that the movie made me think; think about life, think about God and my relationship with him. That, paired with the beauty of the film, definitely brings up the score a little bit. I give it a 6.5/10.

Definitely watch this film and let me know what you think... because I'm still trying to figure it out.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dan's Top Films from 2011

Here is my (Dan) top 10 list of movies that came out in 2011. Let me know what you think in the replies.

10 . I saw Drive shortly after it came out. I am a big fan of Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl is in my top 5 all-time films) and will pretty much see whatever he is in. Drive is an odd cross between an 80’s John Hughes film and a slasher movie. Ok, slasher may be a bit hyperbolic but there is a ton of blood. The movie makes my list do to its unique character development (or lack there of) and the overall tone of the film. Also, Bryan Cranston (the brilliant actor from Breaking Bad-my favorite show on TV right now) is in it. That helped too.

9. This spot was a toss up for me. I really liked 50-50 and Win Win, but I felt like I could only put 1 of them on the list since they had a similar feel (in my opinion). I opted to go with 50-50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the leading role rather well and Seth Rogen was a nice addition to the cast as well. The film was written by Rogen as sort of an auto-biographical take on a similar situation he had been in with a friend in Canada. The authenticity of their friendship and the bittersweet take on an emotional topic (cancer) impacted me. I liked this movie a lot.

8. I recently watched The Help and I loved it. Emma Stone, whom I have only seen in a couple films, was a very strong lead actress and played off her co-stars very well. Stone’s co-star, Viola Davis, was even more impressive as she handled the emotional nature of her role impeccably. The film’s subject matter (Southern racism in the 60’s) was portrayed honestly (and uncomfortably). This is the type of film that makes you angry, but leaves you hopeful. My wife read the book and the said it was even better.

7. I talked about this film before so I won’t go in to it too much. I’ll just say that in an era of reboots, remakes and sequels, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol felt fresh and original. I look forward to the next film especially if Brad Bird and Jeremy Renner are back.

6. This spot was another tough one for me as there are 2 films that I felt similarly about (Source Code and Limitless) and rented around the same time. However, Source Code gets the distinction of being my #6 pick. The movie was like Groundhog Day mixed with Minority Report. There was a certain level of suspension of disbelief required of the viewer, but it was well worth it. I am even ok with the open-ended conclusion to the film. You should see it.

5. Being the huge A’s fan that I am, you would think that Moneyball would have been my #1 film of the year by default. Although I did enjoy it quite a bit, it sits comfortable at #5. For me this film had a documentary feel to it, as I worked for the A’s during the time period that the film depicts and was rather close to some of the people portrayed in the film. This was sort of the gift and the curse of the film. I was unable to fully engross myself in the film since I was constantly cross-referencing it with my perception of what happened during that era. It was a great movie, don’t get me wrong. It just was a little too close to home.
4. The Descendants’ placement on this likely can likely be attributed to the fact that Mel and I went to The Vine to see it. That’s right-a real date. I ordered beer and pizza (from my seat mind you) and watched Alexander Payne’s take on family, love and Hawaii. The film had a great feel to it and is the closest thing to an indie film as there is on this list.

3. When I initially saw the trailer for Hugo I didn’t necessarily want to see the film. It looked like a kid’s movie that I would eventually see at home when Tate and Lyla (my offspring) got around to seeing it. However, after talking to some people who saw it and reading the countless positive reviews, I decided to give it a go. I was not disappointed. The film is referred to as Martin Scorcese’s love letter to film itself and it definitely felt that way. The film is based off a children’s book and even references historical figures. Much of the film is non-fiction. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, you should. It was well worth the extra money.

2. I posted my review for The Artist so I won’t write about it too much. In short, I loved its throwback Hollywood feel, the acting, and the whole aesthetic.
1. I had a tough time picking my favorite movie of the year. I still am not sure that I even agree with this pick, but I will do my best to justify it. I chose Super 8 because, among other things, I could really identify with aspects of the film (aside from the deadbeat dad and aliens). As a middle schooler, I constantly borrowed my dad’s video camera to make videos with friends. This trend continued in to high school and let’s be honest, today as well. The film was well acted and fairly original, but it was the fact that I saw glimpses of my childhood in it that made me love it all the more. The film felt like something from the 80’s and it depicted kids that were a lot like me. I loved it.

Honorable Mention
I enjoyed these films as well but they didn’t make the cut:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The Adjustment Bureau
Tree of Life
Win Win

Films I didn’t see and therefore cannot rate...
War Horse
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Midnight in Paris

Least favorite movie of the year...
Country Strong (words cannot describe the awful, putrid, absurdity of this film. Knowing that most of their songs are likely about Gwyneth Paltrow kills Coldplay for me).

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Artist (9/10)

Each year I try to see most of the films that will potentially get nominated for Best Picture. Last year I saw 8 out of 10 before the Academy Awards aired and this year I plan to see all of them prior to the awards show. Having said that, there are already predictions as to which movies may be nominated for Best Picture in 2012 and among them is The Artist.  My wife and I saw The Artist just before Christmas. I had read a lot of buzz about the film since Jean Dujardin's (lead actor) won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival and the film itself had since received many awards and nominations. Much of the attention the film is receiving is due to the fact that it is silent (except for music). The movie reminded me a lot of Singin' in the Rain  as it dealt with the advent of talkies (movies with dialogue and sound) and the twilight of the silent film star. Dujardin's character, George Valentin, is a famous silent film actor who falls on hard times as talkies become increasingly popular. The film is incredibly funny and well executed. I felt like I was transported back in time. The movie was even shot in a 4:3 ratio (the image was square and had black bars on the sides of the screen as oppose to rectangular). The film is easily one of my favorites of 2011 (my top 10 list should be on here soon) and it will likely be one I show in my Lit through Film class in the future. I recommend this film to anyone who appreciates the history of film and the "innocence" of old time Hollywood. My rating is 9/10.

Getting to Know Matt, Getting to Know All About Matt!

Matt - Looking as pretentious as possible

I'm (one of) the other contributor(s) D-Bo mentioned in the initial post. Let me join Kevin in cheering him on for taking the initiative with a common movie device we all know and love, the slow clap. Mentally anyway, it's hard to type a slow clap without completely losing your audience.

I'd list my top 5s here as well but I have two of the same movies as Kevin, The Godfather & Usual Suspects, and probably three of the same TV shows, at least those (somewhat) currently airing, Justified, Community and Boardwalk Empire.

One of the reasons I was interested in joining Dan and Kevin on this blog was my wife Alyssa and I started to make our way through AFI's 2007 list of the best 100 American movies of the previous 100 years and I thought this would be a great place to share my thoughts on the movies as we go through the list. Expect a review of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? coming just as soon as I get around to it. You can see my reviews for most of the movies 100-68 over on my old blog - Pending Sobriety which I last posted to in June of 2011.

Hopefully, this blog will afford me the opportunity to really start blowing through that initial list as well as post my thoughts on all the other movies we see. Happy New Year!

Hi. I'm Kevin.

Hey. How's it going? So I am one of the friends that D-Bo mentioned in the first post on this new amazing blog. Let's give Dan a round of applause, for coming up with such a great name after much deliberation. I actually really like the name, its quick, simple and to the point. Great job Dan.

So about me - I am a big movie fan and probably an even bigger TV fan, so don't be shocked to see a few small screen reviews pop up on here from time to time. I also enjoy drinking whiskey, cooking, playing poker and stand up comedy (listening not performing). I have another blog called Eat. Drink. Smoke. Where I occasionally (and by occasionally I mean once, in the past year) blog about food, beverage and cigars.

Here is a few top 5's (at this moment) so you get to know my tastes:

Top 5 Movies: Hot Rod, Seven, Usual Suspects, The Hangover, The Godfather

Top 5 TV Shows: Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Arrested Development, Community, Boardwalk Empire

Top 5 Whiskeys: Pappy Van Winkle 15yr, Van Winkle Family Reserve 12yr, William LaRue Weller, Thomas H. Handy, Stranahan's Paladise Cask

Top 5 weird/delicious things I've eaten: Bone Marrow, Beef Cheeks, Rabbit, Pork trotters/terrine, raw octopus.

Feel free to comment on my reviews, especially if you disagree with me because I like to debate...

Ok. Bye now.