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Monthly Report: August + September 2013

August was a busy month with work, so there was little time for movies, hence the lack of an August report. Here’s another double-monther to compensate.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013)
Cool and twisty thriller, presented with all the flash and flair we’ve come to expect from Mr. Boyle. In fact, this might be my favorite film of his since Trainspotting. Maybe. Okay, probably not. But it’s up there with Sunshine.
4/5

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (Julien Nitzberg, 2009)
A freak show kind of documentary with little intent other than to show off one train wreck of a redneck family. It’s lazy, mean, and a bit too long for its own good, but I won’t deny that it’s reasonably amusing for the most part.
3/5

World_War_Z

World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013)
Started out as a War of the Worlds-ish family survival action movie, only to settle into more familiar zombie flick territory as it went along. Most of it works just fine; there’s nothing extraordinary about anything going on, but nothing offensively bad either. I’m not sure the film needed both the Korea and Israel sections, as it felt like they were just trying to cram as much of the world into the film as possible. The characters just went along from one location to the next without much flow to the story. Overall though, I was fairly entertained.
3/5

Butter (Jim Field Smith, 2011)
Clunky story that tries to meld feel-good comedy with an underscore of political satire to limited success. Hugh Jackman earns a few snickers, but other than that, there’s not a whole lot of laughter on offer in this one.
2/5

Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, 1996)
The rare comedy where all the characters are funny in their own ways. Plenty of laughs to be had here.
4/5

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, 2007)
So restrained it becomes nothing at all. The ending was handled nicely, but for the most part, this was quite the yawner, and very much a disappointment when compared to Take Shelter.
2/5

Lifes-What-Ifs

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
To say that I have been looking forward to this one would be an understatement. My initial reaction is that it’s a very good film, but the shift in tone from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset threw me for a loop, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, the new more bitter taste feels like a realistic evolution of the relationship between Jesse and Celine. On the other hand, I’m not sure that’s what I would have really wanted to see – though since when has “it should be more feel-good” been valid criticism? A film is what it is, and should probably be judged as such. I could see myself coming around to this one after some more time to process it. It does have the same qualities as the two previous films in the series, in that the fine writing and the wonderful acting from Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke makes it a joy to listen to these characters talk for 100-ish minutes.
4/5

Nick of Time (John Badham, 1995)
Sometimes, you look at the cast list of a film and are immediately intrigued. Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken is one such combination of actors that easily sparks my interest. Unfortunately, Sleepy Hollow this ain’t. As great actors as the two are, they can’t lift this one above the level of run-of-the-mill thriller.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 8
Average score: 3.0 / 5
Best film of the months: Trance
Worst film of the months: Shotgun Stories

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Posted by on 3 October, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

I made a list on Letterboxd recently where I picked my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars each year, as well as ranked the other nominees. Obviously, I skipped years where I haven’t seen at least two of the nominated movies. As I’m still a relative newbie to the world of film, there’s a lot that I haven’t seen, but I still ended up with 27 years where I had seen multiple Best Picture nominees, which is more than I had expected. Since it was a fun exercise, I went ahead and did the same for Best Actor. 22 years for that one. Not too shabby.

Then on to Best Actress, and a disappointing 14 years where I’ve seen at least two Oscar nominees. For 8 of those 14 years, I’ve only seen the bare minimum of two.

What does this mean, then? That what the Academy finds appealing when it comes to movies about women is not the same as what I’m drawn toward? Maybe. Or it could be a symptom of the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate toward movies about women in general.

Is this bad?

I seem to be stumbling upon a lot of writing and works on subjects of gender inequality and feminism lately, whether it’s a gaming website explaining why they won’t back down on the subject of misogyny in video gaming or a tumblr dedicated to showcasing bizarre examples of female anatomy in comic books (somewhat NSFW). I won’t pretend to be fully immersed in these issues, but I do feel they are a problem – a big one at that – and something worth devoting time to at least read about every now and then. The same goes for any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or what have you.

In particular, what I find worrying is the notion that male is the standard. The norm. The default. This is prevalent in movies too. On the viewer side of things, we have the thing where films about females are often automatically dismissed as “chick flicks”, whereas films with a clearly male perspective are somehow thought of as “for everyone.” Production-wise, there’s the notable lack of female directors and screenwriters compared to males, not to mention the short shelf-life of female actors – once you’re not young and hot any more, it will be harder to get good roles. Compare this to the guys: Brad Pitt is 49 years old, Johnny Depp is 49, George Clooney is 51, and Tom Cruise is 50. Are there any women in Hollywood of that age with as much fame and star power as them? Sandra Bullock (48) perhaps, but after that it’s slim pickings. That’s not even getting into an issue I myself keep wrestling with all the time: the word “actress” itself. Is it okay to use the word? If we have a specific word to refer to female actors, doesn’t that imply that male actors – generally referred to as just “actors” – are indeed the norm? So is using the word “actress” just perpetuating the problem? I feel like maybe it is, and that using “female actor” and “male actor” is no problem, so I tend to opt for the latter myself.

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

 

I want to make an effort toward being a more well-rounded movie watcher. I’m not always doing everything I can towards that goal – I still watch way more contemporary films than old ones, for instance – but this recently uncovered Oscars-related gender difference is bothering me in particular. Not because the Academy is to be trusted with recognizing greatness – because that’s not really their thing anyway – but perhaps because even when they turn their eyes toward female actors, they’re still not exactly concerned with rewarding strong female characters, or movies about them, as such. A portion of the performances they nominate for Best Actress can be more accurately described as major supporting roles for male leads. And even then I’m lagging behind in my watching of them.

I’m planning on filling in the blanks as far as Best Actress nominees go anyway. I need to do more, though. Especially for my sanity. After some brief examination of AMPAS’ Best Actress nominated movies stretching back to 1990 (see, I told you I lean contemporary), it’s predominantly important-sounding period biopics. Not saying that these can’t be great films, but diversity is good.

This is where you can help out. I’m open for suggestions of great female lead performances that were not nominated at the Oscars. Preferably undisputed lead roles. If the movie itself is great too, that’s even better. The films don’t have to be new, or American, or anything, really; what matters is that the central performance is a great one.

What are some of your favorite female lead performances NOT nominated at the Oscars?

 
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Posted by on 9 April, 2013 in Misc., Oscars

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1998

You know the drill by now. These are my 10 favorite movies of 1998, going by release year listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Dark City, The Interview, Rushmore, Run Lola Run, There’s Something About Mary

10 – FOLLOWING (Christopher Nolan)

“You take it away to show them what they had.”

Before there were the multi-million dollar blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Inception, there was Following. Nolan’s first film was made on a budget of $6000, shot in black & white and with no bells and whistles. The story thus becomes the focal point, and it’s a good one indeed. Telling the non-chronological tale of a writer (Jeremy Theobald) who after following people on the streets eventually finds himself led into a world of crime, this neo-noir is filled with twists, turns and intrigue. Not quite a masterpiece or anything, but definitely well worth checking out to see where the seeds for Memento were planted.

9 – THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN, Thomas Vinterberg)

“Here’s to the man who killed my sister. To a murderer.”

The Celebration is perhaps most significant for being the first (and, alongside Lars Von Trier‘s The Idiots, arguably the most well-known) movie of the Dogme 95 movement, a philosophy that emphasises realism throughout the whole film production and was started in reaction to big costly Hollywood fare. However, it’s also a captivating film in its own right, showing the dark secrets hidden away beneath the facades of a wealthy family. It’s a fitting subject matter for the style, which all leads to some chillingly stark scenes and moments. A powerful film.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 29 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Which films of the 2000s will be remembered?

Which films of the last eleven years or so are the ones people will still talk about 20-30 years from now? I don’t just mean hardcore film buffs, because hardcore film buffs will take any excuse to talk about any movie. No, I mean the public at large. Which movies will be remembered and pop up in conversations even in the 2030s? Which films will be referenced? Which films will be the ones people know of even when they haven’t seen them?

This question is trickier than what it might seem at first glance. Any of us can rattle of a bunch of great films that have received critical approval and made good money at the box office. But consider movies of the 70s and 80s. How many are still talked about or remembered today? Not just by you and your circle of friends and acquintances, but the films that you could mention the title of to any random person on the street and they’d be able to tell you something about them. It’s probably not that many. I can think of a few. Jaws. Star Wars. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Karate Kid. Carrie. The Godfather. Back to the Future. The Terminator. The Exorcist. Nightmare on Elm Street. Rocky, though more the sequels than the original, probably. These are movies that have in one way or another entered the public consciousness.

Everyone knows what this is.

This question occurred to me during the last awards season, when I was looking up nominees for the acting Oscars through the years. What struck me was that while the name of the actors and actresses were familiar, the films they were nominated for didn’t ring any bells. And this wasn’t movies from ancient times or anything; just looking through the Best Actress nominations of the 1990s was enough to leave me confused. The End of the Affair? One True Thing? Afterglow? Marvin’s Room? Lorenzo’s Oil? What were all these films I’ve never heard of? In their respective years, there must have been lots of talk about and critical acclaim for them. But they haven’t stuck in people’s minds to any real degree. This caused me to realize that a similar fate would befall lots of the movies everyone was buzzing about at the time. As great as they are, who’s going to remember Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours or The Fighter 20 years from now?

So the question I ask is this: What films from 2000 to today do you think people at large will still mention or know of 25 years from now?

To me, the most obvious pick would be The Lord of the Rings. A massive undertaking that gave use three epic movies that will live on for a long time in people’s memories. Being based on well-known novels doesn’t hurt either as the films are far removed from them and doesn’t fall under their shadow. Compare this to Harry Potter. The films will live on, yes, but they arrived so close to the books that they won’t be standing on their own. The fact that the films haven’t had universal acclaim hurts their chances too.

But scoring big at the box office always helps. If the film made tons of money, it means lots of people went to see it. Avatar won’t be soon forgotten. It bested Titanic‘s money record (even if that’s likely to be toppled again as inflation continues) and also brought on the latest trend of 3D movies. We’re still feeling the effect that movie has had on the cinematic landscape. The Dark Knight is another big success story, though I think the love for it will morph into more of general adoration for Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy as a whole once The Dark Knight Rises arrives. And probably Pirates of the Caribbean too, largely thanks to Johnny Depp‘s memorable Captain Jack Sparrow. Characters like that don’t come around too often.

Pixar’s animated films will of course all be remembered. The kids who see them today will keep them with them and probably show them to their own kids in the future. Which ones will be the stand-outs? Hard to say, but I think Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 will be the big ones. Will any animated films from other studios stick with us? I can’t see any that really will. Maybe How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, but even those seem iffy. How many non-Disney animated films from the 70s and 80s do people talk about today?

Comedies can have an easier time then other genres. As long as they manage one or two gags that become really memetic, they can be set for eternity. More than any other from this past decade, Borat will probably live on for a long time. Everyone was quoting it for a long time, it’s an unforgettable character and the film’s semi-documentary approach also helps to make it stand out. The films Judd Apatow has been involved in have dominated mainstream comedy during the brunt of the past years, and of these, I see Superbad being the one to stand the test of time. If mostly for McLovin.

Love it or hate it, the Saw franchise will live on too. A high concentration of movies (seven in as many years) that kicked off the whole “torture porn” genre, and yet they still have managed to remain uneclipsed and even unequalled by any of its followers in terms of mass appeal. And just because there wasn’t a new movie this year doesn’t mean there won’t be any attempted revivals somewhere down the line. Teens of the 00s will hold on to Saw the way teens of years past did to Friday the 13th and other slasher films.

What about Best Picture winners at the Oscars? They all enter the history books, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be remembered for anything other than their victories. Mention some of the 80s winners like Ordinary People or Out of Africa to someone today and you might well be met with a blank stare. Of the winners during the aughts, it’s slim pickings. Gladiator seems the most likely one since it was such a big box office hit and spawned a short-lived resurgence of historical epics (Alexander, Troy et all). Apart from that and the aforementioned Return of the King, none of the others seem like they will really stick. Maybe The Departed? One non-winning nominee definitely will, though: Brokeback Mountain. People will always remember “that gay cowboy movie”.

Now it’s your turn. Which films from the 2000s (so far) do you think will be remembered?

 
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Posted by on 28 November, 2011 in Discussions

 

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