Thursday, December 30, 2010

THE REEL BEST & WORST OF 2010: PART 2

If 2010 was a cloudy day for films, then the BEST list was the ray of sunshine that came out and stayed out; the back-half of the year was loaded with some special films that will go the distance. Unlike the WORST list, this rundown was a difficult one to put together. Some excellent films did not make the cut: GET LOW, THE TOWN, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT. 1, to name a few. This blogger agonized over this; but feels it has finally come together the right way.

Two excellent films based on heart, soul, and faith begin the list. THE FIGHTER deserves high marks due to excellent acting and a fresh take on the overdone underdog story. THE BOOK OF ELI was held together by remarkable photography and storyline that felt simple on the surface but then unfolded into a surprising finale.

A slice of our current generations’ history and state-of-mind was presented to us in the form of THE SOCIAL NETWORK; making what seemed to be a laughable plot (the history of Facebook) into a strong character drama of brother vs. brother. NETWORK is an important film that puts the state of our lives in today’s world up-front and center, and deserves multiple viewings.

Fun was the operative word for THE A-TEAM and TOY STORY 3. The former was the biggest blast to be had in the theatre while still maintaining intelligence, and the latter putting forth an emotional punch in a simple yet ingenious finale that only Pixar can deliver.

A trio of psychological mindfuckers occupy the top 5. Martin Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND was such a film that demanded to be watched a second and third time; once more to just to make sure of ourselves and the third to truly appreciate the genius of it all. Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN provided the most WTF moments than any film of the year; backed by excellent acting and mind-blowing sequences. Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION was the monster of the year, offering layers upon layers of plot that engaged the mind and banged the eyeballs into orgasm. Hands-down the most original film made in the past decade.

The Coen Bros. finally got around to making things happen in their TRUE GRIT remake. Jeff Bridges’ and his supporting cast gave an outstanding performance in a hardnosed tale of revenge that brought the old west back to life. It is a strong character drama/study backed by outstanding cinematography.

The biggest surprise of the year is also the most pleasant one.

The BEST spot goes to a little film that flew in under the radar and dropped a bomb. There are no A-list actors, no 3D, no larger-than-life egos present; just a strict, yet gentle focus on solid filmmaking backed by outstanding acting. It is a story about an obscure reference in world history that may have had world-changing implications, brought down to the level of personal relationships and struggles. The balance is perfect, and a lot can be learned from this movie. The BEST of 2010 belongs to THE KING’S SPEECH.

THE BEST:

10. The Fighter
9. The Book of Eli
8. The Social Network
7. The A-Team
6. Toy Story 3
5. Shutter Island
4. True Grit
3. Black Swan
2. Inception
1. The King’s Speech

What say you?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Reel Review: THE KING'S SPEECH



For any person who has felt that aching pang of anxiety before speaking in front of a group of people or has had an issue with stuttering, THE KING’S SPEECH may be a severely uncomfortable trip back down memory lane. The opening minutes of SPEECH brings all the pressure and anxiety of public speaking out front-and-center from the personal view of Royal Blood, slowly building up to an uncomfortable atmosphere that educes squirming from the audience. Even if said audience has never felt the anxiety of public speech, the pressures can and will still be felt. That is masterful filmmaking.

With a never-ending life in the public eye, the future King George VI, or Bertie (Colin Firth), is severely inhibited by a stuttering impairment that draws criticism from his royal family and ultimately holds him back as a man. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), an aspiring actor and professional speech therapist. While the future King progresses and regresses, a friendship is formed with Lionel, just as his playboy brother Edward (Guy Pearce), is made King and then booted, forcing the stuttering heir to rise above his problems.

Set in the backdrop of a looming war with Germany (the years before WWII), KING on the surface seems to be a story about Bertie’s personal mission to find his voice (physically and spiritually), and rally a country against insurmountable foes. While the pressures of Bertie’s situation build up, KING manages to sneak up on you. The film also becomes a story about the friendship between two men, and how their very different lives are very similar. With the balance of a nation in limbo, the movie manages to get into the personal side of things.

KING takes about two minutes to get connected with the main character, and even less for the supporting cast. The film is shot and put together in a very personal manner; not only focusing on the people, but on their surroundings as suttle allegories are sneaked in about the film. Also refreshing is the amount of humor that emerges from the story, which always has a feeling of desperation hanging about. The humor is intelligent and timed perfectly, and never uses Bertie’s stuttering as a punching bag. Idiots like Ben Stiller ought to take notice. Director Tom Hooper offers a gentle touch and remarkable eye that makes the overall experience incredibly enjoyable.

Personal performances are nothing short of outstanding. Firth is convincing to the max as he stutters and stammers his way through the film; almost to the point that one has to wonder if the poor man really does struggle with simple talk. Rush is superb as the very dynamic and unorthodox therapist, and provides a very good adversary to Firth. Nearly stealing the show is Bonham-Carter as the loving and supportive wife, who proves that she can do more than cartoonish Tim Burton films. Smaller roles, such as Guy Pearce’s asshole-older-brother character, Michael Gambon’s King George V, and Timothy (Wormtail) Spall’s Winston Churchill, are well cast and convincing.

The finale is a buildup of power and anxiety that can be felt right down in your bones, as Bertie addresses the empire over the (wireless) radio on the eve of war. Scored and edited beautifully, it is a rousing closure to a great and personal tale that every great leader, or lesser followers should be familiar with.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

THE REEL BEST & WORST OF 2010: PART 1

The Year in Film 2010 can easily be called a cloudy day with random rays of sunshine; the clouds were endless and left us cold, while the rays of sunshine cut through the darkness and kept us warm when they did peek out. Unfortunately for us all, there were a hell of a lot of clouds this year. For the BEST & WORST of 2010, it’s easy to start at the bottom for PART 1.

The summer “blockbuster” season took it on the chin the most. The year was loaded with supposed blockbusters that were devoid of any real density or thought. Last year, the WORST list done by this blogger did not make a total number of 10. This year, the list was overcrowded with stinkers.

Suprisingly making the list is Sylvester Stallone’s much heralded THE EXPENDABLES. Despite a top-heavy cast, the film was all style with no substance, and the action scenes nearly boring. The lack of substance in favor of style seemed to be contagious this year, as the same problem plagued the soulless CLASH OF THE TITANS, Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and the lifeless TRON: LEGACY.

Not making the WORST list (but not the BEST either) is IRON MAN 2, which was basically a long promo for the upcoming AVENGERS films. Nothing is more annoying than a film where nothing happens.

Some big-name fellas by the name of Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and M. Night Shyamalan make the WORST list this year; turning in some real turkeys far and removed from the talent they were once capable of. Smith’s COP OUT felt like a college production, and the Rodriguez-produced PREDATORS was little more than brain-dead boredom. We’ll get to M. Night Shymalama-dingdong in a bit.

Remakes and adaptations were aplenty this year; ranging from the lame THE WOLFMAN to the lamer NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. to the stupider-than-shit PRINCE OF PERSIA. The once heralded, and now laughing stock of Hollywood M. Night turned in a shockingly bad adaptation of THE LAST AIRBENDER; which was devoid of any of his once unique touch.

But nothing, nothing could prepare the world for the stinking pile of dung that came in the form of SAW 3D. The supposed “big wrap” to the neverending series failed to go out with a bang; offering a weak and predictable wrap that could have been done 6 movies ago. On top of it all, the 3D was a complete waste of time; offering no depth, trickery, or flash. Moviegoers were cheated both financially and artistically, and that is unforgivable. If this movie were Stink, even Shit would walk away from it.

The WORST of 2010:

10. The Expendables
9. Predators
8. Clash of the Titans
7. Alice in Wonderland
6. Cop Out
5. A Nightmare on Elm St.
4. The Prince of Persia
3. The Wolfman
2. The Last Airbender
1. Saw 3D

What say you?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Reel Review: TRUE GRIT



The Coen brothers in the past have been praised and criticized for the same things in the past: films that border upon weird with not much happening from start to finish. In TRUE GRIT, they manage to shed most of their trademark quirkiness and sleepy pacing, while remaining true to their talent for fine cinematography and excellent characterizations.

After the murder of her father by outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14 year old Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) travels from home to seek revenge. The smart (too much for own good) teen enlists the help of Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges); a shoot-first and don’t-bother-to-ask-questions-later Marshal who likes to pull the cork too much. Rooster reluctantly takes the job, with Mattie as his annoying shadow. Also on the trail of Chaney is Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon), a very proud lawman looking to capture Cheney for another crime he had committed.

TRUE GRIT’s main plot is a simple one: capture Cheney. What keeps the simplicity afloat are the strong characters and their contrasting motivations. Rooster wants Cheney so he can get paid. Mattie wants Cheney so she can have revenge. La Boeuf wants him so he can uphold Texas law. Throw these various and very different characters together in the blender, and the result is a very fine character drama that never gets boring. GRIT is a very un-complex western; loaded with excellent dialogue that makes the entire ride succeed on banter rather than gunfights and mindless action.

Bridges is clearly the star of the film. His Rooster is an old man with little values, who somehow manages to stay upright in the saddle while the bottles drain empty. Seinfeld’s Mattie nearly steals the show from veteran Bridges, displaying the spitfire and intelligence that her character demands. Damon is excellent as the proud, yet arrogant Texas Ranger, and Brolin really shines as the vile, yet dumb-witted villain Chaney. Also a pleasant surprise is Barry Pepper’s turn as Ned Pepper (leader of the gang that Cheney falls into), and it’s a shame that he wasn’t in the picture more.

Speaking of being underutilized, one of GRIT’s few faults is the very limited screentime Brolin has as the main villain. He is the antagonist that we never see, and it wouldn’t be so annoying if Brolin wasn’t so damn good in the role. There are also early and strong references to “having grit”, a nice little theme that begins to travel under the current of the story, but is later left behind.

GRIT is beautifully shot and scored; it is a marvel to look at and is easy to get lost in. The old west might never have looked or sounded better. This is a gorgeous film, with unexpected humor and looming peril that makes gunslingers so endearing.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Reel Review: THE FIGHTER



THE FIGHTER is a film that never veers away from what it really is: an underdog sports story. But what keeps things fresh is the tremendous amount of real-world heart that is heavy throughout the film. It has a great spirit that sucker-punches you in the emotional gut and never once feels like an old and worn out story.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a pro boxer in his late 30’s trying to make a splash before his prime starts to fade. Trained by his crack-addict brother Dickie (Christian Bale), a former boxer himself still holding on to his past, Ward looks to revitalize his career by stepping away from Dickie and his overbearing family. Ward gets inspiration from his new gal Charlene (Amy Adams), as he looks to gently break the ties that have supported him for his entire career.

THE FIGHTER may be a film chock full of clich├ęs, but director David O’ Russell manages to rework things into a very engaging tale. FIGHTER centers around the two brothers, Micky and Dickie (the only thing that makes that more funny is that this is based on a true story), each with broken lives trying to get back up on top. Dickie sees Micky has his way back to the spotlight. Micky eventually learns that he must break ties with him and his run-ins with the law in order to succeed. It is a painful journey for both men, who have barely let each other out of their sights over the years. The wrangling for Micky’s soul by Dickie and the overbearing family is hard to watch, and always keeps the audience engaged. This is a strong character drama that should serve as a template for future underdog films, with strong focus on the people and less on the sport.

Wahlberg does a great job with his role that is when he’s not being overshadowed by his co-stars. The show is nearly stolen by Bale, who radically altered his body for the role. Dropping a TON of weight, his character is a thin skeleton of a man with sunken eyes and cheeks. Dickie has a deep-fried brain from all the drugs, and his odd behavior, while mostly fun-loving and mostly harmless, is pulled off tremendously by Bale. By far the strongest work he has done so far. Also up front and center is Amy Adams’ Charlene character. Adams adds to the real-worldness of the picture with her tough chops and gentle, loving inspiration.

The finale is a blast and actually had people cheering in this blogger’s theatre. The fight scenes are shown as if watched on TV, and while the technique may seem obtrusive to the viewer at first, it makes things incredibly familiar and adds to the elation and drama. THE FIGHTER holds up to its promises of sneaking up and flooring you; it engages you hard and never lets go.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Reel Review: TRON: LEGACY



There is an age-old rule in filmmaking that can make or break your film: The higher your concept, the simpler your story must be. If you are going to create a film with dense surroundings, you have to bring the audience in with a simplistic story that they can relate to. Such a strategy has worked in past films such as AVATAR, CARS and THE WIZARD OF OZ. Despite the clarity of the rule, it is not always easy to achieve. There is a balance to be found; the story can’t be made TOO simple, and must have enough dressings around it to keep it afloat. With TRON: LEGACY, the nearly-direct follow-up to TRON (1982), the balance of this rule is exactly what must be found.

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer wizard and head of an empire-like computer company. Sam is looking into the disappearance of this father 20 years before, when he gets zapped into the same computerized world that his father had created. Father and son reunite to find their way home with the assistance of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), all while keeping the big-baddie Clu (played by CGI-young Jeff Bridges) from realizing his plans.

LEGACY’s main storyline is a very simple one: find dad, get home. To beef things up, Sam is given the main stage with his issues. In the beginning, he is a rebel who wants nothing to do with his dad’s old company, other than to annoy the suits who now run it. His personal journey becomes obvious nearly right away, as the audience can easily figure out that by the end of the film he will have resolved his issues and embraced his responsibility within his dad’s legacy. While that’s not a horrible thing, and it usually can work, LEGACY just doesn’t have enough stuffing to keep the turkey from collapsing. The film is loaded with a lot of exposition speeches, some of which run consecutively. Things are broken up by some breathtaking action, but the overall feel is very shallow with not much underneath the surface. The main villain Clu, while unique, isn’t really that despicable for a baddie, nor are his ultimate plans. There just isn’t anything to care about here.

Still, there is a lot to like in LEGACY. The visuals are awesome, and the chases with the light-cycles and light-planes are good fun. The opening half-hour (or so ) of the film is a neat trip back in time full with nostalgia, and the actual sets that were built for the CGI-heavy environments are neat to look at.

Visual effects are really good. The overall world and characters’ outfits are eye-popping and convincing. The real achievement is the CGI work done to make Jeff Bridges 20 years young. The Benjamin-Button treatment works really well. However the real disappointment is the (mis) usage of 3D. The third dimension adds very little depth and throws nothing at you to make you duck for cover. What’s even more heartbreaking is that the dimness of the picture, along with the dark glasses, tends to dull the awesome effect of the ever-present neon glow that is all over the film.

The score by Daft Punk is awesome. End of analysis.

Jeff Bridges really shines in the role, although his newly-found Zen-master mannerisms may annoy some fans of the original film. Hedlund gives a very wooden performance, and most of his dialogue consists of lines that support the trailers. Olivia Wilde is not given much to do other than walk around looking sexy, so no complaints there.

The original TRON was made because the Disney dudes discovered a new way to make movies and needed a film to show it off. It was a visual effects show-and-tell in search of a story. LEGACY is much of the same. The balance fell short here, with too much going into style and not enough into substance. Fun? Yes. Interesting? No.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: A slew of sneak-previews were unleashed upon the internets this week, including official trailers for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, and Terrence Malick's TREE OF LIFE. Not to mention the first official pic of John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe in the upcoming THE RAVEN:



OPINION: The PIRATES 4 trailer looks like a rip-roarin' time, and you gotta love the out-of-the-box thinking by having Sparrow speaking to the audience; very much in tune with the character. Hopefully they'll keep the established look and feel, along with the excellent score. As for the others, this blogger is still scratching his head on how THOR is going to blend into the new down-to-earth Marvel-verse, and will also be goddamned if he actually goes to see another Terrence Malick snorefest again. But ya'll should do yourselves a favor: Google a pic of the real-life Poe and compare it to the above pic. Shiver.

FACT: Speaking of Marvel, it seems Jon Favaeru will not be directing IRON MAN 3.

OPINION: So much for continuity.

FACT: The Golden Globes announced their nominations this week. A lot of sci-fi geeks are tickled pink over INCEPTION getting a Best Picture nod. A lot of other movie-goers are scratching their heads over the shunning of the upcoming TRUE GRIT.

OPINION: INCEPTION certainly deserves the credit; this blogger believes it deserves Best Pic on account of it's originality alone. As for TRUE GRIT, a lot of the world hasn't seen it yet, but don't the Globes voters get early screeners like the Oscar dudes do? If they do, then perhaps the Coen Bros. have put together another much-ado-about-nothing film. This blogger certainly hopes not.

What say you?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Reel Review: BLACK SWAN



Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN is the perfect follow-up to his Oscar-nominated THE WRESTLER from a year ago. Where THE WRESTLER explored the fragility of the human body, BLACK SWAN explores the fragile human mind. Backed by unique direction, great acting and some of the tightest intensity ever put to film, SWAN is possibly Aronofsky’s finest work in the form of a psychological horror trip.

Ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), having been raised by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), struggles to land the lead role in a major ballet directed by Thomas (Vincent Cassell). The role requires Nina to play the part of the White and Black Swan, with the latter requiring raw passion and unleashed emotion that Nina struggles to capture. Nina sort-of befriends rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), a party girl who inspires Nina’s darker side to emerge.

SWAN is Nina’s story as she delves into her darker half; a half that she experiences in hallucinations and fantasies. Aronofosky plays with the viewers mind throughout; as he constantly blurs the lines between reality and illusion. The film is a trip through Nina’s mind and psychosis, and not much should be taken literally; but that’s not clear until the very end. This is a mindfuck of a film that is not for the weak-minded.

Aronofsky’s direction and artistic choices match the story perfectly. Clever use of mirrors and shaky-cam add an unnerving feel throughout. There is also an air of tight intensity that may have never been seen on film before. Simple acts such as a bath and clipping fingernails are given a treatment that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. A hotass love scene between Nina and Lily is not only shot and cut beautifully, but makes a splash due to its importance in the grand scheme of things.

Portman really brings it in what is probably her most powerful performance of her career. She goes deep here, and Aronofsky really brings out the best and worst of her. Kunis is perfectly cast as the rebel-without-a-cause party girl, and the show is nearly stolen by Hershey’s performance of psycho-mom.

The finale is an onslaught of even more mindfucking, as the audience will be asking themselves “did that just happen?” leading up to the final moments. BLACK SWAN is loaded with twists and turns ranging from incredible to oh-my-god-cover-your-eyes moments. It is powerful and never dull.

BOTTOM LINE: See it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Reel apology

This blogger would like to apologize for being absent for the last few weeks. Life intervened; as it tends to do.

Thanks to those who have stayed loyal. Good stuff is coming soon! Reviews for BLACK SWAN and NARNIA 3 are on the way, along with the BEST AND WORST OF 2010. And let us not forget the fact that Oscar season is upon us now.

Life intervening can and will remind us of why we love the movies in the first place. When all else fails, FILM can bring us back to the life that we can and will love.