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Monthly Report: January + February 2014

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
A movie about the last days of Hitler’s life, as well as the people around him at the time, is a good idea, and this one is blessed by some strong performances, particularly from Bruno Ganz and Ulrich Matthes (playing Hitler and Goebbels respectively.) Unfortunately, this movie is still very much a drag to sit through, despite a couple of effective scenes towards the end. Not the best way to start the movie year of 2014.
2/5

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (Sebastián Silva, 2013)
It’s nice to see Michael Cera show off his range and break away from his old “awkward teen” schtick, even if it takes playing an insufferable jackass to do so. This turned out to be a peculiar film, featuring elements of road movies and drug trips, filtered through an indie sensibility. I may have dozed off a bit towards the end, but weirdly enough, I honestly believe that made the movie better. Not in a snarky “because I didn’t have to watch it” kind of way, but like it actually enhanced it somehow. I don’t know. I liked this film. It had some charm.
3/5

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The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
A harrowing story that isn’t afraid to ask hard questions. Mads Mikkelsen is excellent in the lead as a man accused of child molesting, but the rest of the cast provide ample support. Even better than Vinterberg’s great 90s effort The Celebration, and the first outstanding movie I’ve seen this year.
5/5

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
With a peculiar premise like this – a guy falls in love with his computer operating system – it really is to the film’s credit how deftly it makes me buy it all. It’s an earnest film that touches on great thoughts and ideas, and it’s presented remarkably well; everything from the cinematography to the intriguing near-future production design to the acting is impressive. Something is nagging at me and keeping me from giving it the top score, though. I’m not sure what it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it might disappear with time. I get the feeling this movie is going to stick with me for a while.
4/5

Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)
Dark thriller that reminded me of both The Silence of the Lambs and Seven as I watched it. Strong performances, beautifully shot, and with a totally engrossing story.
4/5

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Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)
The story is just kind of there, doing enough to keep the movie going but not being anything particularly noteworthy. This is a film where the acting is the highlight. Cate Blanchett puts in a wonderfully realized turn as a woman in breakdown mode. It’s a real powerhouse performance. Supporting players Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay and others are also memorable. Fun characters, but Woody Allen can do better than this.
3/5

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
Excellent performances that serve the heartfelt – if familiar – story perfectly well. There’s also quite a bit of cool soundwork going on here, and the final scene probably ranks among the year’s finest. 12 Years a Slave is not quite the kind of spellbinding film that McQueen’s previous movie Shame was, as here he settles for more conventional storytelling, but perhaps proving himself as a highly competent storyteller is the right way for him to go at this point.
4/5

Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
Plays kind of like a Pi by way of Christopher Guest, only neither interesting nor funny. This is a movie about nothing.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 8
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the months: The Hunt
Worst film of the months: Computer Chess

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Posted by on 28 February, 2014 in Monthly Report

 

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Disliking actors

It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.

Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.

"No no no no no no no!"

But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.

I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.

All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.

Anna Faris. Not one of my favorites.

As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.

That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.

What actor(s) do you dislike?

 
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Posted by on 22 March, 2012 in Discussions

 

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Gazing into the crystal ball for 2012

Now that I’ve done my required looking back at the year that has been, it’s time to look forward to 2012 and make some predictions. Some of these will be bold, while some while fall more into the “well, duh” category. I suspect a lot of these will not come true, but that will solely be blamed on the crystal ball being flawed rather than any perceived incompetence of the fortune teller. These are not thing I necessarily want to see happen, I should add.

The Dark Knight Rises will of course be a juggernaught at the box office and will receive plenty of praise from both critics and movie-goers alike. There will be no massive love for any particular performance a la Heath Ledger, however. General consensus will be that Anne Hathaway‘s Catwoman is vastly inferior to Michelle Pfeiffer‘s in Batman Returns.

The Artist will not win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Despite a strong marketing push, Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus will underperform business-wise. Noomi Rapace‘s Hollywood career will be off to a rocky start, and she’ll return to Sweden before the year is done.

A film premiering at Sundance will be showered with critical acclaim, and by the end of the year, it will be considered one of the leading contenders for the Best Picture Oscar.

The Hunger Games will do respectable numbers at the box office but will not become a mega-hit, because the main character is a girl and it’s not Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence will start heading towards mediocre romcom hell, following in the footsteps of Kate Hudson. Winter’s Bone will seem a lifetime ago.

Ryan Gosling will be able to maintain his fame and prominence from 2011 better than both Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain.

The Avengers will be torn to shreds by critics. Words like “bloated” and “overblown” will be thrown around. American cinema audiences will flock to it regardless, but international reception will be lukewarm.

Daniel Day-Lewis‘ performance in Lincoln will be hailed as one of his best ever. The film in general won’t fare as well.

Pixar will bounce back from the critical failure of Cars 2. Brave will be a major hit and restore everyone’s faith in the studio. The Best Animated Feature Oscar will seem imminent.

The surprise hit of the summer: Rock of Ages. “The musical is back!” review quotes will proclaim in ads.

Michael Cera will do nothing to show versatility and make himself more respected in the world of film. He’ll still rake in money doing his usual schtick, though.

Norway will emerge as a major player in the field of international cinema. Swedes will groan and moan.

Mel Gibson will go a full year without any PR catastrophes.

Lars von Trier won’t, despite his self-imposed vow of silence.

The Amazing Spider-Man will do about as well as Superman Returns did, in all fields.

The ratings for the Oscars broadcast will be up a bit from previous years. Billy Crystal will be announced as returning to host the 2013 ceremony as well. Bloggers will cry out about how the Academy are a bunch of old phogeys scared of change. Then AMPAS will change the rules of Best Picture nominations again.

News will emerge that Jason Statham has signed on for a family comedy in which he will play some form of child caretaker. When questioned about this, Statham will debunk the rumor with harsh words not fit for print. To drive home the point, he will then announce plans for seven new action films to be released in 2013, including a third Crank movie and his directorial debut.

Speaking of third films in a series, a sequel to Before Sunset will be formally announced.

Last but not least: lots of great films will be released. Some expected, some not. 2012 will be a good year.

Have a great New Year’s Eve, everyone! See you in 2012!

 
12 Comments

Posted by on 30 December, 2011 in Misc.

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2007

Ah, 2007. Here’s a strong candidate for my favorite film year of the 00s. A ridiculously large amount of great films arrived this year, leading to a really wonderful selection on this list. The #10 on this list could beat the crap out of most other #10s of the decade.

I normally don’t do honorable mentions, but I really do need to give a shout-out to Persepolis, a lovely animated autobiographical film about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It was originally on this list, and I had its entry written up and everything. But just last week, I discovered the film that ended up on #9 here, and thus Persepolis got bumped off. Very sad. If you haven’t seen it, you really ought to.

As usual, this is 2007 strictly as listed by IMDB. Also, this is a list of my favorite films of the year, and nothing more.

10 – NOTHING IS PRIVATE (TOWELHEAD, Alan Ball)

“See, the mark of intelligence, Gail, is having the capacity of holding two conflicting ideas in your head at one time.”

This is a film I found great, yet I have little desire to revisit it anytime soon. It’s a rough watch likely to make you squirm, about a young teenage girl who has lived her whole life with her American mother in New York but is now sent to Texas to stay with her Lebanese dad. The culture clash mixes with her sexual awakening to create an uncomfortable (in a good way) story, and director Alan Ball (who wrote American Beauty) wisely sprinkles it with some black humor to make it go down easier. Summer Bishil is effective in the lead, but it’s the supporting turns by Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi and Toni Collette that leave real lasting impressions.

9 – TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (Alex Gibney)

“If you weren’t a terrorist when you came here, you sure would be when you leave.”

A horrifying documentary on the torture and interrogation techniques used by the US during the War on Terror. But it goes beyond mere shock effects and investigates what made people carry them out and why and how they were put in place. Not a pleasant watch, but an important film. Michael Moore wishes he could make me dislike the Bush administration as much as this movie did.

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Posted by on 25 October, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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