Friday, December 31, 2010

10 Films to Look for in 2011

10 Films to Look for in 2011

While reflecting on all the films I saw in 2010, I came across several good films that still have not received wide distribution in North America. Here are ten films that you should keep an eye out for in theatres, or on DVD, in the 2011.

10) Crikus Columbia – After fleeing his country many years earlier due to communist rule, a man returns home with his new girlfriend and a fancy new German car. Needless to say, this does not sit well the man’s wife or his son who have been waiting patiently for his return.

9) Machete Maidens Unleashed – This humorous documentary explores how the likes of Roger Corman and other B-Movie/exploitation genre directors made some of their most outrageous movies in the cheap, but politically turbulent, Philippines. (Full review coming soon)

8) I Saw the Devil - Sure revenge flicks are becoming all too common in Korean cinema. Still, that should not stop you from seeing this bloody good film…and I do mean bloody.

7) Even the Rain – Gael García Bernal stars as a director who is determined to finish his film despite the unstable political climate of Cochabana, Bolivia. (Full review coming soon)

6) The Mountain Thief – A fictionalized story that documents a way of life that is all too real in the Philippines.

5) The High Cost of Living – Picture the love story from The Town but done ten times better. Zach Braff plays a drug dealer who falls for the pregnant woman he knocks down in a hit and run accident. (Full review coming soon)

4) Super – Let the debate begin over which average Joe superhero tale is better! For the record, I enjoyed this one far more than I did Kick-Ass.

3) Balada Triste de Trompeta (The Last Circus) – What happens when you take Tim Burton’s aesthetics and mix them with Quentin Tarantino’s flair for violence? The answer is this entertaining, and extremely dark, comedy about two competing clowns in love with the same woman. (Full review coming soon)

2) Rubber – Easily the best, and most bizarre, festival going experience I had in 2010. Who would have thought that a story about a killer tire could be such a smart commentary on the state of Hollywood movies and their audiences?

1) Beautiful Boy – Michael Sheen and Maria Bello are outstanding as a couple who must come to terms with their son committing a mass school shooting, and then taking his own life. Look for both Sheen and Bello to be in the mix at next winter’s award race.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Which is Better?

Which is Better?

70's Al Pacino


70's Dustin Hoffman

Which one do you prefer?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TRON’s Legacy is a Forgettable One

TRON: Legacy

Despite my overall issues with the unoriginal plot, in my opinion Avatar has set the bar for 3D films. There have been very few 3D films; since Avatar’s release, that have managed to balance visual flair with a decent story. Most of the films have not even warranted the 3D treatment in the first place. Like several films released before it, Disney’s latest 3D adventure TRON: Legacy, boast impressive visuals but is ultimately undermined by the silly plot.

Set 20 years after the disappearance of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the innovative software engineer from the original film, Legacy focuses on how his son Sam (Garret Hedlund) struggles to cope with his father’s disappearance. Sam is now the head of his father’s company, but cares little about seeing it strive. One night Sam is informed about a message sent from his father’s abandoned arcade. In the arcade, Sam discovers a portal that sends him into a digital world known as The Grid. Formerly a place of endless possibilities, The Grid is now a cold world ruled by Clu (Jeff Bridges), a computerized clone of Flynn. Clu is determined to expand his empire into the real world but needs Flynn’s memory disk in order to succeed. Sam, along with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), must race to get his father out of The Grid before Clu can bring his plans into fruition.

As I mentioned earlier, TRON: Legacy is truly a visual treat especially in IMAX. However, there were times when the lighting from the suits would create a blurry effect on the IMAX screens. This was minor blip in an otherwise great job from a technical standpoint. The rendering of Clu is one of the most realistic computer generated characters I have seen in quite a while. Clu’s facial expressions and movements felt more natural than the ones featured in films such as Beowulf and The Polar Express. Another sight to behold is the world of The Grid. The set designs and costumes provided an innovative futuristic look while still acknowledging the original TRON film. I particularly liked the brief moment where Sam steals his father’s famous motorcycle from the first film. It should also be noted that the score by Daft Punk, who make a cameo in the film, also helps to bring The Grid to life. While not the feverish dance beats usually associated with Daft Punk’s work, their minimalist approach for the film works perfectly with TRON: Legacy. 

Despite all of the elements in the film’s favour, TRON: Legacy stumbles in its plot which often feels like a hybrid of Batman Begins and Star Wars. There are events that occur in the film at random moments with no real logic at all. For example, Kevin’s Jedi-like powers only appear when it is convenient to advance the plot. Which leads to audience to question if Kevin had this ability all along then why did he not use it sooner? The film is so bogged down with filling the gaps between the original TRON and the new version that it is practically devoid of action. Minus the sequences at the beginning and end of the film, TRON: Legacy is actually a rather boring film. In many ways TRON: Legacy would have worked better as a television series. It would allow for better development of all the various plot points that the film sloppily tries to cram into two hours. Worst of all, the dialogue in the film is both predictable and laughably bad. This is most evident in the forced romantic moments between Sam and Quorra.

Since TRON: Legacy’s plot and dialogue are so weak, the actors try their best with the material they are given. Jeff Bridges is at his best in the film when he is playing Clu. He offers a nice break from the same yet-again-recycled Lebowski character, last seen in The Men Who Stares at Goats, which he brings to the role of Kevin. While Bridges has his moments, the real highlight from an acting standpoint is Michael Sheen. He brings much need energy to the film in his role of the shady Castor. Sheen is the only one who actually seems to be having fun in the picture. Not only that but he makes a strong case for himself playing The Riddler in a future Batman film.

Unfortunately both Sheen’s work and the stellar visuals cannot save TRON: Legacy from its ridiculous plot. No matter how far the technology has advanced, at the end of the day it is the plot that will separate the good films from the average ones.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 CAST Awards Announced

The Cinema Appreciation Society of Toronto (CAST), of which I am a part of, has complied their list of Top 25 films of 2010. Created by James McNally of Toronto Screen Shots, the group is made up of Toronto movie bloggers and cinephiles. Each member submitted a list of the Top 25 films they saw on a theatre screen somewhere in Toronto in 2010. This included films screened at various film festivals that may still not have received wide distribution. 224 films were nominated and the final ballot was eventually was cut down to a 100 films. The Top 25 films for the inaugural CAST awards, as well as a full introduction to the CAST awards can be found on the Toronto Screen Shots website.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sharing the Blogging Love: Bereavement Leave Edition

I will be boarding a plane this weekend to attend my grandmother’s funeral so there will be no new post on this site for about a week or so. Upon my return I will unveil my own lists of the best and worst films of 2010. Until then, I have designed a reading list to meet all your film related needs. 

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Next Week:

Anomalous Material
Between the Seats
The Simon and Jo Film Show
Action Flick Chick
Unflinching Eye
Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile
Film Intel
Radiator Heaven
Work on you Natalie Portman submissions for The LAMB

Movie Moxie
Toronto Screen Shots
Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind
The Dark of the Matinee
Toronto J-film Pow Wow
Row Three
Toronto Film Scene
Black Sheep Reviews

The Final Girl Project
Scare Sarah
Silver Emulsion
The Movie 411
The Playlist
Film Forager
Barks on Film
Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews

You Talking to Me?
Encore’s World of Film & TV
Movies and Other Things...
Surrender to the Void
“Let’s Not Talk About Movies”
Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob
Movies Kick Ass Blog
A Life in Equinox: A Movie Lover’s Journal

Cut the Crap Movie Reviews
Bad Ronald
Cinema Viewfinder
Bonjour Tristesse
Ric’s Reviews
The List
Blog Cabins

Saturday (Christmas Day)
Spend time with your family.
Think of material for your next, or first ever, Pitch the LAMB submission.
Above the Line
The Angry Movie Lurker
His Eyes Were Watching Movies
Four of Them
Foolish Blatherings
Live For Films

Insight Into Entertainment
I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind
The King Bulletin
Movie Mobsters
Moon in the Gutter
Kid in the Front Row
Buzz Turning
Porkhead’s Horror Review Hole

Repeat list as often as needed until my return. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter’s Bone Chilling Code of Silence.

Winter’s Bone

Recently a co-worker and I were discussing the state of movies in 2010. My co-worker was commenting on what a poor year it has been for cinema. The summer box-office numbers were used as validation of this point. While I agree the summer movie season was less than desirable, I firmly believe that 2010 has been an excellent year for quality films. Far better than the last year’s crop of films. One of the films that really blew me away this year was Debra Granik’s latest film Winter’s Bone.

Set in a rural community where the local industry is brewing Crystal Meth, Winter’s Bone looks at the lengths to which a young girl will go to in order to keep her family together. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17 year-old who must take care of her two younger siblings as well as her mother who is ill. Cash is tight, and food is slim, but somehow Ree manages to maintain a resemblance of a somewhat stable home. Unfortunately Ree’s hard work is about to go up in smoke when she learns that her father has put the house up as collateral for his bail. If he does not show up for his court hearing, the entire family will be homeless. Despite stern warnings from her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), and others in the community Ree is determined to track down her father at all cost. Yet the more Ree inquires about her father’s whereabouts, the more danger she puts herself and her family in.

Winter’s Bone is not a flashy movie but its simplicity is what makes it so captivating. Setting the film in the confines of a small community allows the film to evoke an eerie tone that only amplifies the gripping script. The one thing that is immediately noticeable is how the area in which Ree lives has its own set of unwritten laws and hierarchy. These rules supersede anything that the government institutes. Even local officers, such as Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahun), know that they are mere pawns in the grand scheme of things.

This is a region where the men set the standards and the women are meant to follow obediently. Those who go against the code, regardless of age or sex, will be dealt with in a cruel manner. This is why Ree is such a fascinating character. Despite her youth, she carries the determination and wisdom of a woman far beyond her years. The independence that she has gained from having to raise her family has opened her eyes to the follies of the area in which she lives. Unlike most, Ree believes that family is more important than any code. This is a lesson that Teardrop and others in her family have forgotten.

Although the town in which Winter’s Bone takes place is run by men, it is women who make this film such a success. Whether it is Granik’s subtle nuances with her use of colour, or the way she interjects moments of calm (such as the musical birthday celebration) amongst all the grim tension. Granik is clearly a director who I am looking forward to seeing more from in the future. I also cannot forget the phenomenal performances from both Jennifer Lawrence and Dale Dickey. Jennifer Lawrence gives one of the best performances of the year in this film. She conveys a maturity and understanding of her craft few actresses show so earlier in their careers. Winter’s Bone lives and dies on the believability of Ree’s character, and Lawrence successfully rises to the challenge. While Dale Dickey only has a small role in the film, she manages to bring a complex mix of menacing anger and compassion to the role of Merab. Bounded by the code, Merab does not initially want to inflict pain on Ree, yet she will not hesitate for a minute if she is called to do so. Is Merab a villain or merely a victim of circumstance? This is the question that the audience will be wrestling with long after the screening is over.

Winter’s Bone is garnering a lot of notice on the award circuit and rightfully so. It is one of the best films you will see this year. While it may not have the flashiness of The Social Network, or the star power of Inception, it is a film that should not be missed. Go out and rent this film as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Town is Like Any Other Town

The Town

Can anyone name a member of the National Board of Review? Who are they? And why do so many film lovers, myself included, go into hysterics once they release their annual best of the year list? Despite not knowing who actually comprises the NBR, their annual best of list marks the official start of the three month long award season. Though I normally agree with their selections, there have been times when the NBR has unjustly raised my hopes for a film. Such was the case with the cops and robbers caper, The Town. As The Town made NBR’s top ten list this year, I was expecting the film to have something truly magical. That special moment which made The Town standout above the other 250 films that the NBR screened this year. Instead, The Town ended up being a standard crime film with a few well shot action sequences.

Set in the Charlestown section of Boston, notoriously known for the high percentage of criminals it produces, The Town follows a group of friends as they try to elude the FBI while going after one final score. Ring leader Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is starting to tire of the criminal lifestyle. Although good at what he does, he knows that if he stays in Charlestown he will end up behind bars like his father, Stephen (Chris Cooper). Doug envisions a better life for himself after meeting Claire (Rebecca Hall), who happens to be the manager of a bank MacRay’s team has robbed. While Doug longs for a life outside of Charlestown, his best friend James (Jeremy Renner) wants the team to continue their streak of bank robberies. With FBI Agent Frawley (John Hamm) closing in on the gang, Doug must decide where is loyalties truly lie.

The Town is a decent, if not predictable, crime movie. What makes the film work for the most part are the performances from the cast. Not to mention the skilled direction of Ben Affleck. Affleck proved with his directorial debut, and vastly superior film, Gone Baby Gone, that he knows how to get strong performances out of his cast. I especially enjoyed the work of Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper in their very brief cameos. I also like how Affleck orchestrates his action sequences. The heist scenes, particularly the one that evolves into a brilliant car chase scene with the gang evading the cops in a minivan. These are easily the most tenses moments in the entire film.

So why did this film not “wow” me the way it did the NBR? I just could not get past its predictability. Not to mention that The Town has too many loose ends which are never fully realized. The two most interesting aspects of the story are Doug’s relationship with his father, and the father’s past with Fergus (Postlethwaite). Unfortunately we only get a small snippet of the father/son arc. The audience must rely on Fergus to shed further light into Stephen’s defeated state. Yet Fergus is introduced far too late in the picture. The Town spends so much time building up both the love story and the Doug/Agent Frawley angle that the sudden appearance of Fergus towards the end seems rather out of place. Either introduce Fergus sooner, and cut down on the pointless Krista (Blake Lively) plotline, or leave both him and Stephan out of the picture completely.

As heist films go, The Town is enjoyable as it often feels like a lighter version of Michael Mann’s Heat. The film works best if you temper your expectations. If you go in expecting anything more you will be greatly disappointed. Many are calling The Town one of the year’s best films, but it is ultimately nothing more than a competent crime film that may keep you entertained for a few hours. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Light Blows Out

I recently received news that my grandmother has passed away. While she lived a full life, her death is another reminder of how important family is in our lives. So instead of dissecting the latest blockbuster, or debating the latest award nominations, I think I am just going to take time to reflect today. I might pop in Old School, Dr. Strangelove, or Amelie as they always bring a smile to my face when I am feeling down. So my question for you this week is:

Which films do you watch when you need a feel good pick me up?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

Kill the Irishman

Ray Stevenson as the Irishman who just will not die! This mafia flick looks to be influenced more by seventies exploitation films than it is by the Godfather, Goodfellas, etc. Kill the Irishman gets bonus points in my books for the hilarious moustache that Stevenson is rocking in this film.


So after two films this year featured talking owls, Hollywood has moved on to macaws. Sadly pigeons continue to get the shaft. Keep the hope alive Goodfeathers, your day will come.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: Episode 193 of Row Three’s Cinecast show is now up.

11 am: Trevor explores the evolution of the Tron franchise .

12 pm: Rick takes a second helping of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and comes away with a different outlook on the film.

1 pm: Branden managed to find a flick that is comparable to Chinese water torture

2 pm: Technically Catherine’s post on the top 20 movie posters of 2010 was released last week, but somehow I forgot to include in the previous edition of this column.

3 pm: Emma reviews Screamers as part of a Philip K. Dick blogathon.

4 pm: Dylan highlights the top five wordless gags from The Big Lebowski.

5 pm: Scare Sarah looks at what lurks behind The Quatermass Experiment.

6 pm: Aiden feels that I Love You Phillip Morris is one of the funniest films of the year.

Thursday, December 09, 2010



I had an awful case of insomnia last night, hence the shorter than usual post today. Normally, when I have problems sleeping, there is usually some cheesy flick on television that helps me get back to sleep (e.g. House of Wax, 12 Rounds, etc). Unfortunately there was no such movie last night. Still, this got me wondering:

Which movies have put you to sleep in recent years?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Free Japanese Film Screenings at the Bloor Cinema, December 9 – 12

“Free” and “Screening” are the two sweetest words to a film lovers ears. For all the folks in Toronto, here is a wonderful chance to experience a little Japanese cinema absolutely free! The fun starts tomorrow night.

The Japan Foundation’s annual free film festival at the Bloor Cinema gives Canadians the opportunity to see critically-acclaimed, contemporary Japanese films that have not received a wide release in North America.

Ranging from The Battery, a youth baseball drama from Academy Award-winner Yojiro Takita (winner, Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 for Departures) to courtroom drama I Just Didn’t Do It, the heartwarming smash hit Always-Sunset on 3rd Street, and the surreal, darkly comic Memories of Matsuko, this festival offers a diverse sampling of Japanese popular cinema.

All films are screened in Japanese with English subtitles.

Thursday, December 9, 6:30 pm

I Just Didn’t Do It (Soredemo boku wa yattenai)
Dir. Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance) 2006, 143 min, 14A
Starring: Ryo Kase, Asaka Seto, Kôji Yakusho
11 Japanese Academy Award nominations, 3 wins
Entry for Foreign Film Oscar

A young man, Teppei Kaneko, has been accused of groping a woman on a crowded train in Tokyo. He is arrested and forced to sign a false confession. If he chooses to fight the charges, he will be held for three weeks just for the investigation. If he is prosecuted, the case will take up to a year in court. An indictment of Japan’s troublingly labyrinthine legal system, in which defendants are often coerced into signing confessions and criminal cases go on for years, this film was Japan’s official 2007 submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards

Friday, December 10, 6:30 pm

Memories of Matsuko (Kiraware Matsuko no issho)
Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls) 2006, 130 min, 14A
Starring: Miki Nakatani , Eita, Yûsuke Iseya, Mikako Ichikawa
9 Japanese Academy Award nominations, 3 wins (Best Actress, Editing, Score)

While cleaning up the apartment of his deceased aunt Matsuko, Sho Kawajiri encounters many people and things that make him think about her strange, sad and, according to his father, meaningless life. Director Nakashima has created a visually stunning and colorful world filled with music and dance. However, this is not the utopia that musicals usually promise. Instead, Nakashima pursues the themes that he has often explored in his earlier films: the need, in a tragic and disappointing world, to dream, and the problems that such dreams can create

Saturday, December 11, 6:30 pm

Always- Sunset on Third St. (Always san-chome no yuhi)
Dir. Takashi Yamazaki, 2005, 133 min, PG
Starring: Hidetaka Yoshioka, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Koyuki
14 JAA nominations, 12 wins

The year is 1958. The government had declared in 1955 that the “postwar” period is over and Japan is starting a period of tremendous growth. Tokyo Tower is being built as a symbol of a recovered Japan, and not far from it, in the working-class area called shitamachi, people are trying their best to improve their lives. Based on a comic by Saigan Ryohei that began publication in 1974, Always rode the wave of a nostalgia boom for 1950s Japan and became a box-office hit.

Sunday, December 12, 4:00 pm

The Battery (Batteri)
Dir. Yojiro Takita (Departures) 2007, 118 min, PG
Starring: Kento Hayashi, Misako Renbutsu, Kenta Yamada, Akihiro Yarita

Takumi is a star pitcher of a junior baseball team, but his younger brother Seiha’s illness forces the family to go live with their grandfather. His grandfather, a legendary coach, refuses to teach Takumi how to pitch a curve ball, so Takumi trains by himself at a local shrine, where he is befriended by other baseball players. However, Takumi’s arrogance threatens his relationships with friends and family, as well as his promising baseball career. Director Yojiro Takita was the first Japanese director to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, for 2008’s Departures.

All screenings are at the Bloor Cinema , 506 Bloor St. W., Toronto (Nearest TTC Station: Bathurst)
Free admission
No reservations required
Inquiries: or (416) 966-1600 x230

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

In Tyler We Trust?

In Tyler We Trust?

Over the weekend, after watching I Can Do Bad All by Myself, my sister-in-law remarked that “Tyler Perry is always one step away from making a really good movie” to which I countered that it is more like two or three steps…and that is being generous. Still I could see what she was trying to get at. Every one of his films has the potential to be great, yet Perry’s knack for over stating the obvious does him in every single time. Truth be told, I have yet to see a Tyler Perry directed movie that I have liked. Despite this I think Hollywood needs more directors like Perry.

Now you may be wondering why would I want more Tyler Perry’s in the film industry when I cannot stand the one we current have? This is a question I have struggled with myself on several occasions. Unfortunately the answer is not that simple. On one hand I am constantly annoyed by the same formula that occurs in the majority of his films. There is always a woman who is in relationship with a man that the entire world can see is bad. How bad is he? Well Perry usually makes him an adulterer, wife beater, rapist, drunk, or some combination of these traits. The woman is often the victim until she realizes her self-worth and fights back. Usually this realization is achieved through the aide of a good looking blue collar guy who the woman cannot stand at first but eventually falls in love with. Also, let’s not forget there is always the influence of a few spiritual gurus.

As overdone as this formula is, Tyler Perry’s films consistently make a huge profit at the box-office. Perry continues to taps into a market that Hollywood routinely, and foolishly, neglects…the African-American female demographic. Tyler Perry is one of the few, I would even argue, the only, commercial male director working today who places African-American women at the forefront of his film. If you look at the current crop of actors and actresses headlining movies nowadays, how many lead black actresses can you name besides Halle Berry? Angela Bassett? She has not headlined a major film in years. How about Kerry Washington? Zoe Saldana? Taraji P. Henson? Thandie Newton? All of whom are talented actresses but can you name a major non-animated film that they were the lead in? It is far easier to list off the numerous films that featured the likes of Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, and even newcomers like Carey Mulligan in the lead. Most of, if not all of, there films play to large audiences worldwide.

African-American actresses, heck actresses in general, have gotten the short end of the stick for years in the film industry. This is why we need more guys like Tyler Perry in Hollywood. Directors who are interested in telling stories that not only feature African-American actresses in prominent roles; but are accessible to all demographics. Preferably ones who are far better filmmakers than Perry, but you get the point. This is by no means a plea for affirmative action in film, it is merely an observation as to why Tyler Perry is able to turn out films faster than Woody Allen these days.

When watching a Tyler Perry film, I am constantly reminded about how the first Sex and the City movie was underestimated by the Hollywood pundits. Once that film made a huge splash at the box-office, Hollywood was more than happy to fast track films and television shows that appealed to the modern single woman. The same can be said for the whole Twilight phenomenon. Now studios are itching to find the next big thing that teenage girls will go crazy for. Yet the large number of women who are pouring billions into Tyler Perry’s pockets are still being underserved by Hollywood. Why is this? Love him or hate him, Tyler Perry is the only one who has tapped into a lucrative market that few directors have even considered to touch.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Movie Marketing Monday

The Beaver

Try to put aside Mel’s personal issues for a moment. In any other year, a film starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and Anton Yelchin would be one that most people would be itching to see.

Frankie and Alice

Halle Berry is one of those actresses that need the right director to help them maximize their full potential. So far it looks like she might have found one with Frankie and Alice.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sharing the Blogging Love

Lebron James returned to Cleveland last night, but that was not the only thing bloggers have been chatting about this week...

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: Since the first one was such a huge success, Castor has decided to start up another round of the Hollywood Fantasy Draft. Be sure to sign up today.

11 am: James reviews Landscape No. 2, which he recently saw at the European Film Festival.

12 pm: Simon & Jo are divided over Biutiful. They explain why in their podcast.

1 pm: Jose takes a look at Winter Bone, a film high on my “to see” list.

2 pm: Matte Havoc highlights the Live Action Short Film Candidates for the 2011 Oscars.

3 pm: Bob sees an odd commonality between the films ”Antichrist” and “Heartbeats”.

4 pm: Andrew looks at who may be fighting for the best supporting actor award at the upcoming Oscars.

5 pm: Tony reviews Black Swan.

6 pm: Kai has an interesting article on why going to the movies suck.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World An Unfair Fight

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Hyped by diehard fans of the comics, heralded by critics, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film that many expected to be a huge box-office hit. Yet upon release Pilgrim was considered a “bomb” by Hollywood analyst as the film barely cracked the top five. Many critics, marketing insiders, and blogger are still scratching their heads wondering where it all went wrong! The answer is actually clear if you really look at the film objectively. Scott Pilgrim, in its current incarnation, is too much of a niche film. It does not have, nor will it ever have the crossover appeal to hit it big with mainstream audiences.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a musician in his twenties that has had a rather large “love them and leave them” track record with ladies. Scott is dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a girl who is still in high school. Things between Scott and Knives seemingly go well until Scott meets a delivery girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstad), who takes his breath away. Convinced that Ramona is his soul mate, Scott sets out to win her over while trying to figure out how to break it off with Knives. Scott’s life is further complicated when he discovers that he will need to defeat her seven evil exes (including Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Keita Saito, and Shota Saito) in order to have a normal life with Ramona.

As I mentioned earlier, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is really made for fans of the comic. Though this does not mean you have to run out and get the books before seeing the movie. I was thoroughly entertained by the film despite having not read the series. Its fast paced energy and hilarious pop culture references made this film one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. However, it must be noted that the kinetic pacing of the film will not appeal to everyone.

The film intentionally plays out like a video game on crack. At times the film is almost too self-aware for its own good. There are jokes in the film that require multiple viewings before you catch all the references. For example, Broken Social Scene’s bittersweet song “Anthem for a Seventeen Year-old Girl” plays in the background while a broken-hearted Knives plots revenge; or when Scott enters his apartment, ala Kramer from Seinfeld, to a brief sound of an audience laugh track.

While the film features a plethora of talented young actors in supporting role (including Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill and Mark Webber), and some inspired cameos (Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr.), the real star of the film is director Edgar Wright. Through Scott Pilgrim Wright succeeds in doing what the Wachowski siblings failed to with Speed Racer, and that is to make a truly engaging live action Manga style film. Pilgrim, at times, is an overload to the senses. There are so many visual treats that you will spend half of the film figuring out how Wright achieved all the different nuances.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film that will please fans of the source material and, in my case, cause a whole new group of folks to seek out the comics. Sure the film will not appeal to the masses, but that is fine. Those who “get” the film will be treated to an immensely entertaining ride that you will want to take multiple times. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Expendables Always Fired First

The Expendables

There was a time back in the 1980s when action movies where mainly about the action. There was very little social commentary; there were no “scrawny” everyman thrusted into a tough situation, etc. The action starts of the 80’s were buff men, and women, who would shoot first and ask questions later. Sure many of the films where packed with mindless violence, but they still provided a level of escapist fare that audience craved. It was a time when things were clear cut, the good guys were good and the bad guy ended up dead. It is this testosterone filled era that Sylvester Stallone wants to recapture in his film The Expendables.

Directed by Stallone, The Expendables (Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews) are a group of elite mercenaries who are hired to assassinate a corrupt military General, Gaza (David Zayas). While doing recon for the mission Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) happen upon the general’s daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itié), who is involved in the rebel movement to overthrow her father. At first, Barney and Lee do not want to get involved with the political issues of the South American country. Yet when the American, James Munroe (Eric Roberts), funding General Gaza’s coup abducts Sandra, Barney and the rest of The Expendables attempt a rescue mission that they might just cost them their lives. 

Featuring an abundance of new and former action starts, The Expendables is a film that delivers on the testosterone. The picture features enough explosions and fight scenes to entertain even the most casual of action fans. This is thanks in part to two well choreographed fight sequences. The first is the David versus Goliath battle between Li and Lundgren. While the other is the all out brawl between Stallone and Steve Austin’s aptly named character Paine. Still, even with these action-packed moments it is tough not to leave the film a bit disappointed.

The primary reason for this is that the overall balance of power is uneven. All of the “big name” action stars are all on one team. The only villains capable of matching them, from a physical standpoint, are Steve Austin and, to a lesser extent, Gary Daniels. Eric Roberts and David Zayas are merely there to bring a little credibility to the film’s acting credentials. While it is widely known that Jean Claude Van Damme turned down a role in the film, there are still a slew of other action starts that could have filled out the villain side nicely. Guys like Billy Blanks, Sammo Hung, and Steven Segal, etc. Frankly they could have made Mickey Rouke a villain as his character really does not do much in the film.

The increased muscle on the villain side would have saved the film, and audiences, from having to endure the Austin/Couture fight scene. Randy Couture has no scene presence in his battle with Steve Austin. It is not only dull, but it also takes the shine off of the fun Stallone/Austin encounter that happens ten minutes earlier. It is not even like this type of film can be redeemed by its acting. The performances are subpar, but what else would you expect from this type of film? The only character that really stood out was Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner Jensen. Lundgren brings the right mix of testosterone and over-the-top acting to keep the first half of the film moving. Although The Expendables barely achieves its goal of being a mindless action flick, I am hoping Stallone makes a sequel to this film. The Expendables really need fight villains their own size in order for the film to truly be the action extravaganza Stallone wants it to be.