Monday, December 31, 2012


Having been disappointed with Spike Jonze's 2 other films, I was a bit wary of watching "Adaptation". To my surprise, I ended up being incredibly fascinated by this film. This semi-autobiographical film tells the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who wrote this movie) who is struggling to adapt a real-life story called The Orchid Thief into a movie. He finds difficulty in making the script interesting and eventually has to turn to his twin brother Donald for help. The Orchid Thief is a true story based on journalist Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) and her investigation of a plant poacher named John Laroche (played by Chris Cooper).
In addition to keeping all these real persons and their names, the film also includes fictional elements (Donald Kaufman is completely made up) which mirrors Charlie's (the movie character played by Nicolas Cage) attempts to write an interesting script. Kaufman wants to write an unconventional story about flowers in an effort to set himself apart from the typical forced dramas, but finds his script lacking. The whole concept of Adaptation's plot seems so "navel-gazing", but somehow it manages to pull in the viewer. There wasn't a moment in this film where I wasn't intrigued by what was happening on screen. The screenplay is rich, coming across like Kaufman himself is giving us a look into his ponderous mind (much like "Being John Malkovich"). If you really probe the ideas of this film, you will get much to think about. The main thing however, is the notion of interest and fascination for something in your life. For Susan (played beautifully by Streep), she longs for the level of dedication that her writing subject Laroche has for plants. Meanwhile, Charlie is concerned about whether the eventual audience of the film will be intrigued by his work. There's an interesting scene in the film, where he reluctantly attends a screenwriting seminar as a desperate attempt for inspiration. As he explains his ideas for his rather mundane story, the lecturer vehemently rejects his notion that a film can sustain itself without conflict and passionate characters. Interestingly, this seems to be the point where the film engages in self-reflection and delves more into the wonderful characters. It's like the real-world Charlie Kaufman has come to the realization that his excellent cast should be the focal point of the film. We the audience have long understood this, but it's a fantastic "meta" scene that really propels the film further.
Without going into detail about each performance, all I will say is that all the key performers (i.e. Cage, Streep and Cooper) are truly doing some of their best work. As Cage's character learns during the seminar, it's the human drama that keeps audiences captivated. This really bears fruit as the film builds to a moving conclusion filled with genuine emotion. For me, this is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's best film to date. Even though Kaufman's script seems like it should be too personal to be engaging, somehow it works.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A ROTTEN TOMATO: Being John Malkovich

I suspect I might be alone on this one...I didn't care much for "Being John Malkovich". This strange (emphasis on "strange") film follows the lives of a bunch of people whose lives are changed by a mysterious portal. Said portal puts people into the John Malkovich's head and leads to some bizarre situations. From the outset, I couldn't get into the story and its characters. The actors were fine in their roles, but they just felt so far removed from reality that I felt no emotional attachment to them. This did improve towards the end, as the emotional stakes were raised considerably. Unfortunately, I had already switched off (mentally) by that point and was counting down the minutes to the end.
Despite the negative tone of this review, I actually wouldn't say I "hated" this film. It just left me cold.

Friday, December 28, 2012

#FF Great Remakes, reviews and more...

The current state of movie-watching culture unfortunately means that our theaters will be flooded with numerous remakes and sequels for years to come. It's sad to think about, but sometimes there's a silver lining. In a recent Top 10 list, Alex reminds us of some remakes that were actually better than the original films! Check out his post among other interesting reads from the past week:

For one of his recent Top 10 lists, Alex ranked the "Top 10 Remakes That Are Better Than The Original Films".

Film Forager's Alex reviewed one of my most cherished movies The Royal Tenenbaums.

Ryan brought up an interesting question in his Amour review. Can we call a film a masterpiece if we are unable to enjoy it? Go check out his thoughts on the matter.

John recently reviewed Sleepwalk With Me and like me, he was impressed with the offbeat style.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: The 39 Steps (1935)

Alfred Hitchcock made many great films in his lifetime and one of them is this week's Oldie Goldies selection - "The 39 Steps". This classic thriller features all of the trademark Hitchcockian plot elements we have come to love (scenes on a train, mistaken identities etc). It's filled with lots of twists and turns, resulting in a very entertaining film.

Monday, December 24, 2012

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Sleepwalk With Me

Mike Birbiglia signals a promising new talent in Hollywood with his new film "Sleepwalk With Me", which he co-wrote, co-directed and also played the leading role. This film tells the story of Matt Pandamiglio (played by Birbiglia), a struggling comedian who is also dealing with a failing relationship and a sleepwalking disorder. Although the plot touches on all these issues, it doesn't really delve too deeply into any of them, as the script wanders in all sorts of directions. The film is often presented in a unique conversational style, with Birbiglia breaking the 4th wall to explain his story. It's a method that mostly works, as the script isn't really sharp enough to pique your interest on its own. Despite being a comedian, his character isn't very charismatic and the dialogue isn't witty. However, there's some twisted amusement to be had from watching an uncharismatic comedian telling lame jokes. It's an interesting acting choice, as he gives a purposely self-deprecating performance that probably won't garner much praise. His character lacks the overt quirkiness or "joie de vivre" that is prevalent in similar indie comedies. In contrast, his supporting cast is quite engaging. Namely, Lauren Ambrose is just lovely as his girlfriend while Carol Kane and James Rebhorn are quite funny with their frank words of wisdom.

By now you're thinking this is one of those dry mumblecore movies. To me, it definitely starts out that way but eventually develops into something more meaningful. The film manages to portray a great sense of honesty and clarity about life. The main character undergoes a period of self-adjustment as he is forced to re-assess his life's ambitions when faced with the harsh reality of our world. Like many of us, he dreamed of success and happiness, but things didn't turn out exactly as he planned. His failures have turned him into somewhat of a loser, as he struggles to find his purpose. Rather than dwell on his pitiful life though, the film takes a nice turn as he takes some control of his destiny. He takes low-paying gigs, examines his relationship and attempts to fix his sleeping disorder. Consequently, he gradually improves his jokes, he sorts out his relationship and he is able to control his sleepwalking. To me, this really added some substance to the story and made him very endearing and relatable. I'm sure we can all see pieces of ourselves in this character.
It's not a perfect film by any means, but it has good intentions. Much like one of Pandamiglio's amateur comedy shows, some of it works and some it doesn't. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the good sense to keep the running time at a tight 80 minutes, so it never outstayed its welcome.

Friday, December 21, 2012

#FF Foreign Films, Elf and more...

As many cinephiles know, many of the best films each year come from filmmakers outside of the Hollywood system. One of the best resources for foreign films is Bonjour Tristesse, a site that is dedicated to highlighting foreign, indie and cult cinema. Check out Bonjour Tristesse's list of 2012's best foreign films, among other great reads from this week:

Just in time for the Oscar Foreign Film shortlist, check out the Best Foreign Films of 2012, according to Bonjour Tristesse. If you're interested in indie, foreign and cult cinema, this is a great blog to follow.

For his "Favourite Scene Friday", Robert highlights an adorable scene from Elf.

Dan reviews Margaret and finds many things to like in this messy film.

Nikhat is celebrating the 3rd year of her blog with many cool posts. Check out her Favourite Looking Films.

Nick has announced his first annual Golden Katz Awards. Head over to his site and give him some suggestions!

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Is it possible to love someone too much? That seems to be the question that Michael Haneke attempts to answer in his latest film "Amour". As its title suggests, this film is an exploration of love in the purest sense of the word. However, this isn't the fiery lustful love of youth that thrives on the good times. The love that is portrayed in this film is the type that endures years after the superficial physical attraction has passed. It's the kind of love that we describe in marriage vows all the time - for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. We usually mean it when we utter these words in the dizzy heights of a wedding, but we never really anticipate the hard times. In this film, we see a revelation of true love as a couple is tested by illness.
The plot follows Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), who are retired music teachers in their eighties. One day, Anne suffers a stroke that causes a downward spiral in her health and leads to the events of this film. If you think you may have seen this story before, think again. This isn't your usual romantic tear-jerker. Haneke provides no cinematic comforts in this one. There's no beautiful music, flashy camerawork, riveting monologues or showboating performances. Basically, he locks us in a house with an old married couple and forces us to watch the wife die. That may sound reductive, but if you know Haneke's work then you'll understand that this cold tone is his "bread and butter". There are no fanciful flashbacks here, he boldly dives headfirst into Anne's deterioration.
On the surface it sounds like a torturous experience, but thankfully there are other aspects at play here. Haneke provides brief moments of relief, through visits from family (mainly their daughter), a former student and other well-wishers. These scenes serve as an interesting way to add depth to the 2 main characters, as their conversations reveal their history and personality. They also provide evidence (considering the confined setting of the film) that the lead characters are indeed fully-functioning members of society and not anti-social grumpy old people. In particular, the visit of a successful former student brings such obvious joy to Anne that it seems to bring her some added life.
Another vital aspect to the film is the effect of Anne's pain on her husband. Thanks to the extraordinary performances of Riva and Trintignant, we get a sense of their deep connection without the need for any grand declarations of this love. They show a unique type of chemistry that comes from the selfless comfort of a lifetime of experiences together. Individually, Emmanuelle Riva stands out in her role. She runs the gamut of emotions and feelings that come with such a predicament. The screenplay gives her a lot to work with as she not only has to convey the debilitating pain of her condition, but also the humiliation of being pitied and being a burden to your loved ones.
That being said, Trintignant is equally impressive and is the main reason why this movie is so engaging. His quiet performance reveals a fascinating interpretation of passion that you don't see very often. Upon learning that his wife has fallen on bad health, his solemn but steadfast care for her is achingly real. To him, caring for her at home is a "no-brainer", it's simply his duty. Now this is where my opening question comes into play. As expected, Anne is enduring excruciating pain that leaves her in agony and feeling helpless. It's a situation that seems to require special professional care, but Georges is unable to accept this. As a result, he indirectly prolongs her suffering due to his unwavering quest to preserve her life, no matter how destitute she becomes. It almost seems cruel, but as you look into Trintignant's eyes and his delicate interactions with her, you understand where he's coming from. Theirs is a bond that is so firm that it feels unfathomable to purposefully go on living without the other. It's depressing to think about, but the film makes you realize that you would likely do the same if you were in his shoes.
Overall, this is a remarkable effort from Michael Haneke. It's not an "enjoyable" film and you can't necessarily call it "entertaining". What it is though, is a masterful example of cinematic art that imitates life. It may be too "real" for some, but that's what makes this uncompromising film so brilliant.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

This week's Oldie Goldies choice is an iconic silent film - "The Passion of Joan of Arc". This chilling film really puts the "dark" in the Dark Ages! Mario Falconetti is devastating as the title character, giving one of the most accomplished acting performances of all time. She proves that silent acting can be equally as powerful and expressive as the modern spoken form.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

PLUG: Wallbangers

Some of you may have wondered where my blogging name (Squasher88) comes from. Well, it relates to a sport that I'm very passionate about called squash. I've been playing competitively since the age of 11 and it has been a major part of my life. It's a sport that not too many people know about and that's partly because we haven't been accepted into the Summer Olympics yet. Over the past 10 years or so, the squash fraternity has really stepped up its campaign to finally win the bid for inclusion. As an indirect part of this campaign, an Egyptian filmmaker has embarked on an documentary feature film project called "Wallbangers". The film will follow the lives of some of the top Egyptian players (that country currently dominates the sport) as they tour the world seeking success. It will be a fascinating look at their personal struggles in the sport while also relating to the contentious environment of Egypt's political upheavals. Check out some of the teasers below:

WALLBANGERS : "Now Filming" Teaser No. 1 from NileRoadFeatures on Vimeo.

WALLBANGERS : "Crowd Funding" Teaser No. 2 from NileRoadFeatures on Vimeo.

WALLBANGERS : "Crowd Funding" Teaser No. 3 from NileRoadFeatures on Vimeo.

They've already begun filming, but they still need funds to cover travel, accommodation, marketing expenses and post-production fine-tuning. Please contribute as much as you can, even if it's only $5. It will certainly help in our 2020 Olympic Bid.

For more information, click here:

Monday, December 17, 2012


While searching through Netflix, I stumbled upon a real gem of a film - "Swingers". This film dismissed all of my expectations, telling a surprisingly charming story. The plot follows a group of struggling actors as they navigate the Los Angeles nightlife, hoping to have an epic night. When I read the plot synopsis, I fully expected a wild, raunchy comedy in the vein of films like "The Hangover". I was completely fooled though, as this is a delicate film about love and friendship. It's all about the satisfaction of going out with your bros, even if the party sucks or you don't "get lucky". This film ditches all our modern cliches about "guy movies" as it is almost feminine in its construct. The narrative focuses on Mike (played by Jon Favreau), who is dealing with a tough breakup and is unable to move on. Even though 6 months have passed, he still can't make the plunge back into the usual dating world. As he bar-hops with his friends, their attempts to hook him up end in failure as he still clings on to his lost love. This is the kind of romantic sentimentality that you only see in chick flicks, no?
The other key character is Trent (played by Vince Vaughn), who plays your typical stud whose main objective is to score. Although his attitude fits into the expected character tropes, the script doesn't exaggerate his behaviour. There are no wild threesomes or unrealistic hookups with supermodels. In fact, there isn't much sex or nudity at all. If you look at the film's MPAA rating, it only recieved the "R" rating for explicit languange. To me, it could have easily been rated PG-13 (or maybe even PG). Even without any strong sexual content or nudity though, it displays a maturity that is more than equal to what we now expect from an R-rated comedy. At the heart of it, this film is simply a celebration of what is now known as "bromance". As I watched the film I was reminded of the Greek term "Philos", which I learned in one of my college classes while reading Homer's Iliad. As opposed to the passionate erotic love "Eros", "Philos" refers to a deep brotherly bond that is equally as powerful. In "Swingers", this was beautifully explored in this great screenplay. For instance, in the midst of a random hookup in Las Vegas, Trent pauses to check up on his buddy Mike to make sure he is having a good time with his own lady friend. In another scene, 2 members of the gang are seated with a hot chick, but they mostly ignore her when they notice that Mike has met someone and may possibly find love again. It's a perfect example of that phrase "bros before hoes"! There are some other subtle things too, mostly in the way the men embrace each other and communicate out of genuine concern. As I said before, there seems to be a "feminine" touch to the film, as it portrays a form of interaction that society has told us to expect only from women and gay men. Some people may find this trivial (there are certainly many guys who are very close to their best friends), but it seems quite bold when you see it in a film. I can't imagine a buddy film being made like this in today's world. Nowadays, "bromance" is decidedly goofy in nature, rather than the supportive, loving relationships found in this film.
Now that I've made the film sound sappy and treacly, it would be remiss of me to forget that this is indeed a comedy. As I mentioned earlier though, the tone of the film is quite subtle. Therefore, the humour is less about on-the-nose hilarity and more about the unexpected amusements that arise when you go out with your friends. It fits in well with the overall tone of the film, exploring true friendship through clarity and honesty. The fact that Favreau himself wrote the screenplay and cast his real-life friends makes it all the more personal and affecting. Along with Vaughn, they give winning performances that elevate the words on the page. Their realistic interpretations of "the promiscuous stud" and "the hopeless romantic" were a welcome change from the usual stereotypes. This is a fine film that will remind you of the value of your true friends. They are supportive and accommodating when you are wallowing in self-pity, but they are also able to give you a firm reality check when needed. I assume most people have seen this film before, but if you haven't, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


One of the most perplexing Oscar categories is certainly Best Original Song. The previous rules (voters were basically allowed to vote against a song) have resulted in some strange nominations in the past. For instance, last year we only ended up with 2 nominees. It's also very difficult to know which songs the Academy members will like. Back in 2008-2009 awards season, Bruce Springsteen's song for "The Wrestler" seemed like a shoo-in for Oscar glory after winning both the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards. In the end, it didn't even get an Oscar nomination. Thankfully, the rules have changed and we are now guaranteed a field of 5 nominees. Here are some of the songs that have already picked some buzz with precursor awards:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

CONTEST: Predict the Oscar nominations!

I'm pleased to announce my first ever contest here at Film Actually. In anticipation of the upcoming Oscar nominations announcement, I got the idea to challenge my fellow bloggers to see who is the real expert on this Oscar game. For this Oscar Contest, the task is simply to predict as many of the individual nominees as you can. I've had lots of fun twitter debates about the Oscars and it would be interesting to see how our Oscar nomination predictions stack up.
For the first time ever (I think), the Oscar nominations will come before any of the usual televised precursors (Critics Choice and Golden Globes) have handed out their awards. Predicting the Oscar noms will therefore be a tougher challenge this time around.
I've been fortunate to receive lots of cool free stuff since I started blogging, so I thought it would be nice to return the favour and offer a prize for the winner of the contest. The person who predicts the most nominations accurately will receive a late Christmas present from me - an online gift card of $25 (USD or the equivalent in another currency) for their relevant Amazon store (US, UK, Canada etc).
There's a catch though! I'm a competitive person, so you'll have to also beat my predictions to win the prize. My predictions, along with all of yours, will be posted here on a Google spreadsheet on January 9th.
I'm hoping for lots of participation so I can make this an annual event. Read below for further details:

Friday, December 14, 2012

#FF Oscar hopefuls, reviews and more...

What a hectic week it has been in this year's road to the Oscars. The BFCA, SAG and HFPA have announced their nominees and the Oscar nominating ballots go out on Monday! As a result, a lot of contenders have found themselves in good positions, while others are hoping for a minor miracle. One of those fringe contenders is Anne Dowd, who joined the guys from The Awards Circuit for a special live podcast. Find that link below, among other interesting articles from this week:

The Awards Circuit recorded a special live podcast with potential Oscar nominee Ann Dowd!

Andrew shares his thoughts on a highly discussed issue lately, ruminating on the tendency of some people to root for a film's failure.

Brian reviewed Silver Linings Playbook and is especially impressed by the acting performances.

Stevee makes the case for Oscar consideration for The Dark Knight Rises as part of her recent blogathon. Go check out her reasoning along with the other great entries.

Dan reviewed Beasts of the Southern Wild and agrees that it lives up to the hype.

Alex champions the underrated film Young Adult in her review.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, December 13, 2012

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Nominations

The Golden Globes always hit us with some head-scratchers and they didn't disappoint this year. "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" picked up a whopping 3 nominations in the Comedy categories! The other big stories today were Nicole Kidman and Django Unchained. Both got a significant boost, with Django Unchained especially making a huge statement, earning 5 major nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and 2 nods for Best Supporting Actor). Next stop - the Oscar nominations on January 10th, 2013! Here is the full list of Golden Globe nominees:

Best Picture (Drama)
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Moonrise Kingdom
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor (Drama)
Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Ewan McGregor, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson

Best Actress (Drama)
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Rachel Weisz, Deep Blue Sea

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy)
Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Judi Dench, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Maggie Smith, Quartet
Meryl Streep, Hope Springs

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

This week's Oldie Goldies selection is the classic Cary Grant film "Arsenic and Old Lace". This wickedly funny comedy really shows the authentic movie star quality of Cary Grant in his prime. The film really shines when he is on screen.

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Nominations

For the 2nd straight day, the nominations for a major awards were leaked beforehand! I hate that it's taking away from some of the excitement of the live announcement. I know I could just ignore them, but who am I kidding. I'm just as obsessed (well, almost) as those crazy awards junkies. The biggest snubs were Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour). After getting a Critics Choice nomination yesterday, Javier Bardem is looking like a serious contender! This was a big surprise, but it pales in comparison to the mention of Nicole Kidman for Best Supporting Actress! The field of contenders really seems to be expanding. Here are the nominees for the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards:

Best Ensemble (equivalent to the Best Picture Award)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations

This is the first in a very important trifecta of nominations announcements (BFCA-SAG-HFPA) this week. If you don't show up in any of these 3 groups, then you probably won't be nominated for the Oscar. Here are the nominees for the 18th Annual Critics Choice Awards:

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington – “Flight”

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Judi Dench, Skyfall
Ann Dowd, Compliance
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Monday, December 10, 2012


Often when we watch a film, we tend to differentiate between those intended for intellectual stimulation vs those merely serving to entertain (the notion of the "popcorn" movie). With "Lincoln", Steven Spielberg shows that an educational film can be equally entertaining if its done right. It's certainly done well here, as we are treated to a work of exquisite filmmaking. "Lincoln" is set during the closing days of the American Civil War, as President Abraham Lincoln fights to pass the 13th Amendment to end slavery. Now, despite these terms "war" and "fight" there really isn't much physical action in this film. This film is more of a historical drama where the battle is won through words and ideals. The plot hinges on those words "all men are created equal" (made famous by the Declaration of Independence) and the ideals that reject slavery as a curse against humanity.
Based on his recent reputation, it's understandable that some may be wary that Spielberg might drown this story in sappy melodrama. Well, what Spielberg eventually produced completely thrashes this perception. This film is an example of confident directing, as Spielberg tells the story straight and true. Spielberg has tackled the plight of African-Americans before (The Color Purple and Amistad), coming under criticism for the heightened drama that has become his trademark. On this occassion though, he takes a big risk and it really pays off. I was so impressed by the respect that he paid the audience. He never reaches for cheap sentiment or thrills. From the first scene, he establishes a tone and commits for the remainder of the film.
Of course, a low-key film like this depends highly on strong writing to carry it through. Thankfully, Spielberg was able to reunite with Tony Kushner, bringing to life undoubtedly one of the finest scripts of 2012. For better or worse, this film is very talky. Although I was fully engaged throughout, I will admit there are times when it does lose some energy as it focuses on the preparations for the all-important vote. When the plot goes into the courtroom scenes however, the script really sings. This is where you really get the message of the film, as it reveals all the exciting politics that surrounds the decision to free the slaves. The passion showed in these scenes is a prime showcase for the phenomenal cast that was assembled for this film. Among the supporting players, you have no doubt heard much about Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field. Much like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" last year, this seems to ignore the stellar work of the rest of the ensemble though. Namely, I must single out Lee Pace, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and John Hawkes (superb acting from the sidelines) who are equally as riveting. It's Jones who gets the most to work with though, playing the heroic and admirable Thaddeus Stevens. To be honest, he's really just playing another version of that gruff persona we've come to love, but heck, it works. In his big showy scenes, he had me grinning from ear to ear.
The most impressive acting achievements come from Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field though. As Mary Todd Lincoln, she takes her character's craziness quite literally, giving a theatrical performance that stands out from the rest of the cast. Some may not like it, but I admired her commitment.
Finally, I must sing the praises of the main attraction - Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. For a man known for his fiery intensity, I wasn't expecting a performance of such finely-tuned restraint. We all know about his famous "method acting" technique and he certainly employed it to good use here. It's quite amazing how he completely disappears into this role. It's really unlike any other performance I've ever seen from him. He brings a fully developed interpretation of this iconic figure. His acting is so consistently strong that his "Oscar clips" aren't even the most compelling scenes. Through his speech, posture and facial expressions, you can sense the weariness that came with his tumultuous presidency. At the same time, his eyes exude such life and passion. He makes it clear that his burden is heavy, but he's determined to do the right thing for the people.
Overall, watching Daniel Day-Lewis and his supporting cast deliver this story was a tremendously rewarding experience. I came out of "Lincoln" with my spirits lifted as it reminded me of humanity's capability for doing good. The great Steven Spielberg is back!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

OSCAR WATCH: Silver Linings Playbook

After a well-received premiere at the Toronto Film Festival where it won the People's Choice award, "Silver Linings Playbook" finally hits general audiences, where I hope it will come to be equally lauded by critics and audiences alike. In David O. Russell's latest film, Bradley Cooper plays the bipolar Pat, who is readjusting to normal life after a stint in a mental institution. As he moves back in with his parents, we follow his road to recovery as he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife while dealing with an equally troubled and flirtatious young woman named Tiffany(played by Jennifer Lawrence). The events that transpire in the film are as crazy as Pat and Tiffany. We see them develop a very complicated relationship, as their romance is impeded by Pat's lingering attachment to his ex-wife. Throw in a dance competition and superstitions about sports (specifically the Philadelphia Eagles) and hilarity ensues.

The movie gets off to a shaky start as we see Pat's first days back at home. We get an early sense of his unstable personality, as he displays some erratic behaviour during his initial re-adjustment to normal life. It quickly becomes apparent that the film is a true comedy, as the jokes come hard and fast. Comedy is about rhythmn and timing though and the manic beginnings of the film made me quite suspect. I found it difficult to process what was happening and it made it hard to get into the film. However, as soon as Tiffany enters the picture, the film tones down its hyperactive energy and slowly but surely finds its groove.

As with "The Fighter", the mood of the environment is an important element to the film. While "The Fighter" captured the intense familial loyalty of Bostonians, "Silver Linings Playbooks" captures the slightly more individualistic pride of Philadelphia people. I'm fairly well acquainted with this society and to me, this film really nails the city's attitude. At first I was disappointed that the ensemble wasn't "gelling", when compared to the brilliant jazzy cohesiveness of the cast in "The Fighter". Somewhere towards the middle though, it dawned on me that the style of this ensemble acting was aptly different from that Boston clan. From my experience, Philadelphia natives carry a more self-absorbed, irreverent sense of humour. As a result, there is an antagonistic way of conversing that may be unappealing to some viewers, but is pretty accurate. In addition to the unique personalities, the film also expresses the city's culture through food, landmarks and most importantly sports (namely their beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team). In fact, this obsession with the Eagles is an integral part of the plot, as it relates to a lot of the social interactions in the film. It creates some hilarious moments for the cast, lead by a genius comedic turn by Bradley Cooper. "Silver Linings Playbook" is really his movie. Despite his pitiful delusions and lack of social graces, he crafts a character that is incredibly endearing. He nails the idiosyncratic humour, which works especially well when he is sparring with Lawrence as his screen partner. Their chemistry is magic, eliciting the most genuine laughs in the constantly funny script. Despite their age difference, the pairing is completely believable as she herself contributes an outstanding performance. On the surface, it seems like a simple "slutty" character. However, she brings to it a sense of depth and an impressive range of emotions. It's easy to see why she has garnered so much praise.

As they work towards the climactic dance competition, the film really grows on you as you become increasingly attached to all the characters. Playing Pat's parents, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver really add a nice counterbalance to the craziness of the central couple. Weaver's eyes evoke an honest motherly concern, while De Niro reminds us of his talents, digging into a great role as an OCD, superstitious Eagles fanatic. Unfortunately, the film is defiantly lite and doesn't probe the dark side of Pat Sr.'s own imperfections. Likewise with the serious implications of Pat and Tiffany's mental health history. It all leads to a somewhat cliché romcom ending that somewhat lessens the film's thematic resonance. This seems to be the complaint of the film's naysayers but in my opinion, the film is a success. It's an amiable ode to the people and culture of Philadelphia, shining on its performances and excellent comedic dialogue.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

AWARDS SEASON: The State of the Race

It's interesting how much our early instincts usually bear fruit when it comes to the Oscar race. Particularly in the Best Picture category, receptions from early screenings can usually give a good idea of which films will be legitimate contenders. This is the 3rd time I've done this preseason assessment of the Best Picture race and each year I've only missed 1 of the eventual nominees. Of course, some may say the season has already started, but for me the most important precursors are the televised awards shows. For any Oscar hopeful, a good televised acceptance speech can be hugely beneficial for building momentum in the long awards season. Based on current buzz, here's your current Top 10 for Best Picture contention:

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Les Misérables
5. Argo
6. Life of Pi
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
8. Flight
9. The Master
10. Moonrise Kingdom

At the moment, it seems like Zero Dark Thirty is the one to beat but the race is far from over. I've been fortunate to have already seen most of these contenders and to me, Lincoln also looks to be in very good shape for the win. It's very likely that it will have the most nominations (along with Les Misérables) and will garner a lot of attention from it's box office success. That being said, I still need to see some of the heavyweights (Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables) and it's very possible that each of those will have enough support to share the wealth throughout all the various precursor awards. The week ahead will surely confirm a lot of our expectations, with BFCA (Critics Choice), SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and HFPA (Golden Globes) all set to announce their nominees (on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday respectively).

Friday, December 7, 2012

#FF Positive Cinephilia, Failed feminism and more...

This was really a bumper week for blog reading, as I found so many amazing posts around the blogosphere. Chief among those was the engaging discussion about the nature of film criticism in the digital age. Building from a twitter discussion, Jessica and Ryan did some great posts about challenging the cynicism that seems amplified by the various outlets for judgement of movie quality. Check below for these discussions among other truly fascinating posts from the past week:

Jessica wonders where all this negativity is coming from, with a post titled "Where are all the film fans gone? And where did those miserable flaw spotters come from?".

In a very encouraging post, Ryan implores us to celebrate the things we love in films, rather than dwelling on the flaws in films we don't like.

Candice was disappointed with Rust and Bone, addressing its failed attempt at feminism in her review.

The Vern did an amusing analysis of one of this year's most avant-garde films, explaining Holy Motors to a 7 year old.

The gang over at French Toast Sunday did a great podcast on "Films Based on Tv Shows". They had me geeking out from the early mention of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Dan explains why Anchorman is a movie that everyone should see, with a hilarious post that inspired equally hilarious comments.

John analyzed Oscar's shortlist for Best Documentary Feature and gives his predictions for the eventual nominee lineup.

Over at Anomalous Material, Nick is intrigued by the spiritual story of Life of Pi, calling it "A Modern Day Biblical Parable".

Alex finally got around to seeing and reviewing End of Watch and was mighty impressed.

Shawna and I went to see Lincoln this week and we both came out of it very impressed. Go read her thoughts on the film.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: Rashômon (1950)

This week on Oldie Goldies I bring you another impressive Kurosawa film - "Rashômon". This mesmerizing film tells a fascinating story that deeply explores the complex nature of human psychology. Centered around the aftermath of a disturbing murder, it brings up a plethora of issues such as guilt, pride and jealousy. All of this is probed in a brisk 88 minutes, reeling you in from start to finish. This extraordinary film earned an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction, in addition to its Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film.

Monday, December 3, 2012

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Ghostbusters

If there's somethin' strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! When the first lines of that iconic theme song come on, that wave of nostalgia hits you and you know you're in good hands. Of course, I'm referring to the 1984 comedy "Ghostbusters", a film I had seen ages ago but had mostly forgotten. In case you didn't know, "Ghostbusters" tells the story of a trio of parapsychology professors who band together to eliminate the threat of paranormal activity in New York City. If you don't recognize the term "parapsychology", don't worry. It's part of the film's off-kilter sense of humour. Basically, a bunch of Joe Schmoes (albeit self-professed "scientists") have dedicated their lives to studying ghosts and get a dream opportunity when the city comes under attack. To remedy the situation, they provide a ghost removal service, calling themselves "The Ghostbusters". On the page it sounds like a dark, terrifying situation, but the film is defiantly not a horror movie. Despite the discomfiting design of the ghosts, their presence is never truly threatening for the viewer. While the film portrays these villains with a comedic tone, it somehow never truly risks becoming a B-movie. That's the beauty of the film and the reason why it has become so well-regarded over time.
There are many facets to this film that make it so entertaining and respectable. Primarily, the film makes use of a committed cast that fully respects their characters. Even in the most absurd situations, they are all acting from a place of honesty and truth. As the leader of The Ghostbusters, Bill Murray is in fine form, delivering endless wit with his deadpan style. The screenplay is filled with clever puns and situational humour and he just eats it up. Also delightful in a smaller role is Rick Moranis, stealing scenes as the diminutive geek. His conversations with the female lead (played by Sigourney Weaver) are especially amusing as he employs his trademark endearing charisma. Weaver is outstanding herself as she easily takes on a double character of sorts. She clearly had a lot of fun in the role and it really rubs off on the audience. In addition to these outstanding performances, the rest of the ensemble is also immensely enjoyable.
Of course, the film features some other characters in the form of various supernatural beings. With the use of special effects, the film easily integrates them into the environment. Although the techniques seem outdated now (particular scenes seemed derivative of "The Exorcist"), the unrefined quality in itself adds a bit of humour to the proceedings. As I mentioned earlier, these monsters aren't really intended to scare, with much of their aggression relating to harmless explosions of slime or marshmallows! As a result, the effects-heavy scenes may come across a bit too camp for newer audiences (admittedly, even I found my self rolling my eyes at times), but they are certainly not dull.
In the end, "Ghostbusters" is all about having a good time at the movies. Even more importantly, it leaves a lasting impression on the viewer with the iconic uniform, vehicle (the Ecto-1), monster (Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) and a bona fide hit song. I am confident that "Ghostbusters" will stand the test of time and will delight audiences for years to come.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

OSCAR WATCH: The Documentary Features

A busy day of awards news continues with the Academy's announcement of the Documentary Feature shortlist. From what I've heard, the field was exceptionally strong this year. As a result, there was bound to be some snubs. I'm personally pleased to see "The Imposter" make the cut(it's the only one I've seen and I quite enjoyed it). Here are the 15 eligible films hoping to make the final cut of 5 nominees:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Chasing Ice
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
The House I Live In
How to Survive a Plague
The Imposter
The Invisible War
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Searching for Sugar Man
This Is Not a Film
The Waiting Room

Sunday, December 2, 2012


It's about that time again, time for the good movies! The Venice and Telluride film festivals are underway and we will soon get an idea of who are this year's hotshots. As usual I will give you a preview of the films you can expect to be in the race. I haven't missed a nominee yet (see 2011 and 2012), but this year I have this gut feeling that something is gonna break through at the last minute. Barring any surprises, you can trust this list as a reliable source for your Best Picture contenders. As usual, there are a few titles from spring/summer that will certainly be in contention. This year, we already have strong Best Picture contenders in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom. I've seen Moonrise Kingdom (as of December 2, I've also seen other contenders like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Flight, Life of Pi, The Master and Argo) and it looks more like a screenplay contender to me, but I've been proven wrong before and it has its passionate fans. Also, The Hunger Games, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises seem to be fighting for that "genre" slot in the lineup, but their chances look increasingly unlikely and they may cancel each other out. Anyway, that's enough talk from me. Let's get down to the trailers:

Friday, November 30, 2012

#FF Awards Talk, reviews and more...

Awards season is moving along full steam ahead, with Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables shaking up the Oscar race after very positive first screenings. Listen to the latest podcast The Awards Circuit podcast for their latest Oscar race assessment, along with other great posts from this week:

With Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables getting a great reception in their first screenings, Clayton and the gang had lots to discuss for their latest Power Hour.

Jessica gives us "Five reasons to go to the theatre alone".

Nick reviews one of my favourite Tim Burton films - Big Fish.

Tom gives Spielberg's masterpiece Schindler's List a rave review.

Finally, I must make special mention of Stevee Taylor who is making us proud over in New Zealand. She was recently featured in the Manawatu Standard newspaper and was also a guest on Radio New Zealand!

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Awards season is definitely upon us with the Academy announcing its various shortlists. This week saw the unveiling of the finalists for the Live Action Oscar, adding to the already announced shortlists for the other short film categories. I haven't seen any of these yet and have no clue which ones are the strongest contenders. If you are into the predicting game, these are the hardest categories to predict, so start doing your research now! Here are all your finalists:

Adam and Dog
The Eagleman Stag
The Fall of the House of Usher
Fresh Guacamole
Head over Heels
Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"

The Education of Mohammad Hussein
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
The Perfect Fit

Live Action
A Fábrica (The Factory)
Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
The Night Shift Belongs to the Stars
when you find me


One of the greatest cinematic experiences you'll have this year is Ang Lee's gorgeous new film "Life of Pi". The film tells the story of a young Indian boy Pi Patel who finds himself stranded on a boat with a tiger, following a disastrous shipwreck. With the loss of his entire family (they were heading for Canada along with zoo animals for sale), he must find the courage to survive both his ocean environment and the potential danger from his animal companion.
As the film starts, it is clear that it will explore the power of religion and faith. As a very young boy, Pi is inquisitive about all forms of religion, choosing to follow Christianity, Hinduism and Islam all at once. As the adult Pi recalls this childhood, we look at the world through his eyes. This first part of the film is all exposition and it feels quite slow. As he constantly relates all his experiences to its religious significance, it can also get a little preachy. As you get into the meaty part of the film though, it's clear that all of this setup had a purpose. The meaty part of course is the shipwreck and Pi's subsequent adventure. Ang Lee takes us on a spiritual journey as Pi must use all his strength, wit and faith to overcome hunger, dehydration or simply being eaten by his tiger named Richard Parker. As expected, this proves to be quite a harrowing experience as he faces all forms of adversity. As in his childhood days, he calls on God for guidance and hope during his predicament. Pi's story is quite amazing but somehow, it lacks the strong emotional power as suggested by the film's advertising. There just seems to be something missing in the finer details of the script. When compared with other survival films, there really isn't that pervading sense of destitution during his adventure at sea. Again, I blame the heavy religious sentiment for lessening the story's impact. For example, as adult Pi begins to tell his story in the beginning of the film, he already forecasts that "this story will make you believe in God". As a result, the viewer is given a sense of comfort that prevents you from fully feeling Pi's struggle.
What it lacks in writing quality, it more than makes up for in visual splendour. The entire journey is a feast for the eyes, as Ang Lee incorporates 3D for a truly artful effect. It really immerses you into Pi's world as you get a fuller sense of distance, scale and movement. Visually, it rivals anything that James Cameron has done. If this is the way 3D is heading, then I really can't complain.
While the middle portion of the film isn't as stirring as it could have been, the ending really hits home. Irrfan Khan (Adult Pi) and Suraj Sharma (Young Pi), really showcase the depth of their acting abilities with a finale that touches the heart and wraps up the story quite nicely. Their sense of loss and heartache is very affecting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

This week on Oldie Goldies I bring you the 1955 classic - "The Night of the Hunter". This film tells the gripping story of a religious fanatic (played superbly by Robert Mitchum) who relentlessly hounds 2 children for $10,000 that their deceased father had stolen. It's quite a remarkable film from every aspect (cinematography, acting, screenplay) and I was shocked to find out that it never got any Oscar love.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

PLUG: The Fitzroy

This is a special post to plug an exciting upcoming independent film called "The Fitzroy". The film is a black-comedy set in a post-apocalyptic version of the 1950’s, on board The Fitzroy hotel. This hotel is a leaky submarine beached just off Margate, which is the last refuge for a traditional summer holiday after the world has been covered in a poisonous gas. Sounds interesting right?
Don't just take my word for it, check out this video guide by the film's writer/director Andrew Harmer:

Please support their Kickstarter campaign and receive some great rewards!

For more information, click here:

Monday, November 26, 2012

MOVIE OF THE WEEK/OSCAR WATCH: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Throughout this year, people have been writing articles about the death of the cinema, but when I watch independent films like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" I know this can't be true. This poetic debut feature by young director Benh Zeitlin proves that there are still creative, unique stories to be told by filmmakers willing to tell them. In "Beasts of the Southern Wild" the plot tells the story of Hushpuppy (played by Quevenzhane Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) as they persevere through an impending flood and Wink's fading health. They live in a decaying bayou community called The Bathtub, which is obviously molded off the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims.
Watching this film is a true visceral experience. You really feel the earthiness of the setting, with animals, insects, plants and humans all coexisting seamlessly. Now, this description may sound like some glorious nature documentary, but it is far from that. This place is muddy, dirty and greasy with unsafe housing and generally unsanitary conditions. You can practically smell the filth. In the hands of other filmmakers, this would come across as "poverty porn", but Zeitlin incredibly manages to find a balance between romanticizing the situation while still portraying the hardship.
As we all know, there were a lot of people who refused to leave despite the threat of destruction. This forms the basis of the film's many themes. For me, the most powerful ideas were those of home and fear. Looking back on the disastrous effects of Katrina, we pity those who made the illogical decision to stay put. However, the film beautifully illustrates the philosophies of these people, especially through the mind of Wink. The true meaning of "home" is a place where you are most comfortable and find a sense of community. In The Bathtub, comfort comes from culture and tradition. These aspects defy our typical measures of "standard of living", as it ignores our aspirations for the big house, fancy car, nice clothes and gourmet food. For these people, home represents eating and drinking(often heavily) what's available, their neighbours and basically their general way of living. As frustrating as it is to watch them stand firm in such precarious living situations, the film makes you understand their decision.
One of the most striking things for me was the concept of fear. Their refusal to evacuate is not only due to a feeling of contentment and security, but also largely attributed to fear of the unknown. Leaving The Bathtub means that they will have to fit in with "the others", the people who live in a society that seems alien to their own. When you look at Wink's simple life and attitude, it's becomes clear that there is an underlying fear of the loss of identity and sense of place. As a result, Wink is determined to teach his young daughter how to survive when he is gone. He uses tough love, communicating with her as if she were a strapping young lad. This precocious little girl can handle it though, exuding immense courage and aptitude. Her personal adventure is the heart and soul of the story and Quvenzhané Wallis carries it well.
Even while you may feel sorry for these people, it's impossible to deny their considerable bravery through their struggles. There is a line in the film that best describes their spirit - "it wasn't no time to sit around crying like a bunch of pussies". Usually in films like these, there is a considerable period of misery and sadness following a catastrophe. However, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" admirably ditches this cliché and celebrates the strength of the human spirit. As the plot unfolds, this proves to be a powerful notion that reminds you of the value of simply being alive.

Friday, November 23, 2012

BLOGATHON: My Movie Alphabet

A few weeks ago Mettel Ray wrote a celebration for her 400th blog post that spawned an unexpected blogathon - My Movie Alphabet. After seeing so many bloggers participating, I just had to join in on the fun. Read below for my entry:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Best of 2000

This will be my last "Best of the Year" list until I post my "Best of 2012" and boy, this took a while! For some reason I struggled to find 10 films that I genuinely love. After many weeks of searching, here are my Top 10 films of 2000. They are listed in order, starting with my #1 - Traffic.

Remember The Titans
Love and Basketball
Erin Brockovich
Almost Famous
Cast Away
Before Night Falls
Pay It Forward

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: Stalag 17 (1953)

William Holden with his Best Actor Oscar

Every time I watch a Billy Wilder I'm always amazed by his story-telling and that was certainly the case with this week's Oldie Goldies film "Stalag 17". This is a great tale of courage and the power of community in a time of great duress. Even though it's a World War II film, it's also quite hilarious with its great ensemble cast. The film won an Oscar for Best Actor, along with 2 other well-deserved nominations for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.

Monday, November 19, 2012


This week I watched 1989's "Batman" for the first time. That may come as a surprise, but somehow I missed both of Tim Burton's entries into the franchise (nope, I haven't seen "Batman Returns" either). While watching the film, I was obviously forced to compare it to Nolan's interpretation of the story. By sharing the same central villian (The Joker), the film is perhaps best matched up with "The Dark Knight".

In this 1989 version, it's amazing to see the early development of an auteur's signature style. "Batman" was only Burton's 3rd film, but it showed a visual panache more associated with a confident, seasoned veteran. This is a true Burton film, dark and quirky. These qualities really come through in the art direction, a trademark that we have now come to expect from his films. The architecture seems to be a character itself, with tall doors and high ceilings creating an intimidating atmosphere, while the grey colour palette suggests the underlying evil always threatening to surface. It's really a fascinating work of set design, seamlessly blending different styles of architecture. This Gotham looks very gothic with its arches, spires and statues but the tall angular structures also recall the art deco style seen in films like "Metropolis". It all comes together for a very unique artistic vision, while still managing to tip its hat to its cinematic influences.

Of course, no Burton film is complete without a touch of whimsy. In the true Burton way, the darkest elements are often the most colorful (in both a literal sense and in personality). In this film, the Joker brings this whimsy, with a dynamite performance by Jack Nicholson. When I watched "The Dark Knight", I obviously had no idea of the high standard that Nicholson had set for Heath Ledger to emulate. Now that I've seen Nicholson's performance, it's easy to see why people had their doubts. While Ledger certainly rose to the occasion, this interpretation was quite impressive in its own way. Even though Nicholson was much older when he played the character, he brought an amusing childlike quality to the role. This was clearly a combination of the actor's instincts and the director's vision, as it's a common trait throughout Burton's filmography. Thinking especially of Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands, Burton plays up the creepy nature of immaturity. Nicholson definitely understood this concept and works it thoroughly with his multicoloured outfits and eccentric behaviour.

Given the film's title, you also need to have a good Batman for the film to work and Michael Keaton is more than adequate. He is less "emo" than Christian's Bale understanding of Bruce Wayne, but it fits within the tone of this story. The rest of the cast is decent too, but it definitely showed up a weakness when compared to Nolan's work. Nolan really knew how to manage his ensemble cast in his films, with Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman et al. proving incredibly valuable to the success of those films. Burton's supporting players however take a real backseat to Nicholson's larger-than-life performance. As a result, these characters are completely forgettable. From a story perspective, the script also falls short of the deeper philosophical gravitas of Nolan's films. "Batman" is more of a routine "kill the bad guy" superhero movie, but that's fine. The film is still well-crafted and a lot of fun.

Is "Batman" better than Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy? Perhaps not. However, it is an essential component to the Batman film canon, entertaining us in its own way. Tim Burton takes the idea of the comic and accurately lightens up on the seriousness. After all, Batman is at its core, a very wealthy man playing dress up.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Back in May, French filmmaker Leos Carax unleashed a rather unique film when he premiered "Holy Motors" at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The film follows a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar (played by Denis Lavant), a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. This is taken straight from the IMDb description because to be honest, I have no idea how to describe the plot of this film. "Holy Motors" is so determinedly obtuse that it seems to take pride in creating a difficult viewing experience. Although its abstract nature put me into a negative mood at the end, I was initially quite taken with certain elements of the film. Particularly in the early part of the film, there are some great scenes involving Oscar and his various shenanigans. Lavant undoubtedly gives an impressive performance as his character pretends to be a wide range of different people. He is able to completely transform himself and simultaneously gives us a crash course on hair and makeup!
Unfortunately, there seems to be something missing in the character development of Oscar himself as a human being. This is the main gripe I have with this film, as all the characters just seemed so hollow. The script refuses to answer the essential questions of "who", "why" and "what". I never really got a sense of who Oscar was and how he was thinking or feeling (the scarcity of dialogue didn't help either). Furthermore, there wasn't any explanation (or maybe I missed it?) of the purpose of his daily routine. Considering the bizarre nature of his actions, it felt like a disservice to the audience for the filmmakers to not hint at his motivations. As a result, I became increasingly disinterested in this character. The film itself seemed to lose its grip on the material, as the latter stages of the film seemed to lose all the energy of the beginning. It's a shame, because I really was willing to go along for the ride. By the halfway point of the film though, I started checking my watch to see how much longer I had left. "Holy Motors" is a film that had a lot of potential, but it just falls flat when all is said and done.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#FF James Bond, Leo DiCaprio and more...

We've all seen Skyfall by now, right? If not, what are you waiting for? Heck, I even saw it twice in one weekend! If you have seen it(or even if you haven't), check out some of my favourite Skyfall reviews among other interesting stuff this week:

Sam shares his thoughts on Skyfall.

Over at Anomalous Material, Nick gives his analysis of Skyfall.

Alex also enjoyed Skyfall, serving up a great review of the film.

Ryan reminds us why Casino Royale is the best in the 007 franchise, inducting the film into his "pantheon".

Stevee recently listed her 10 Favourite Leonardo DiCaprio Performances.

Shala recently celebrated the 1st year of her blog and wrote a post featuring some wonderful articles from the past year.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, November 15, 2012


During the lead up to the 2011 Academy Awards (for films released in 2010), The Weinstein Company famously snatched away the seemingly destined Best Picture award from "The Social Network" with their popular underdog "The King's Speech". During their Oscar campaign, they used the slogan "some movies you feel" and as we all know, it payed off handsomely. I bring this up because in the context of this year's Oscar race, some films will once again be kicked to the curb for their lack of heart. One of those films is the subject of this review - "The Master".
In the latest addition to an outstanding filmography, Paul Thomas Anderson brings his unique auteur's vision to this fascinating examination of the human conscience. The film tells the story of a man who has lost his way in life and is recruited by a charismatic cult leader who aims to give him guidance. "The Master" is a film that I wouldn't normally like, as it eschews sentimentality for a more cerebral experience. As someone who is a sucker for broad emotional films, this doesn't fit my usual taste. However, I was quite surprised by how engrossing this film was. For a film that is almost 2 1/2 hours long, it really flew by as I couldn't take my eyes off the film for even a second.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: The Big Sleep (1946)

This week's "Oldie Goldies" selection serves up a dense film-noir - "The Big Sleep". This film features an intricate plot that can be quite a challenge to follow. Heck, I can barely explain what happens! Despite this, it still manages to be entertaining due to its wit and magnetic performances.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Back in 1962, "Dr. No" opened to strong box office and critical acclaim, spawning one of the most beloved film franchises ever. 50 years and 23 films later we have the latest addition to the series - "Skyfall". The film follows James Bond as he struggles to prove the modern day relevance of the MI6 intelligence agency after a serious security breach. As he tracks down the infiltrator, Bond and agency head M are forced to re-assess their value to the agency. After 2 viewings over 3 days, my initial impressions of the film were solidified. "Skyfall" is a polished technical marvel that is just slightly overlong. The highlight is Roger Deakins' cinematography, which really delivers a masterclass in lighting, colour and framing. It's a constant stream of stunning imagery that indicates the work of a truly gifted cinematographer.
The film opens with a thrilling sequence including some awe-inspiring setpieces. It definitely gets you pumped up and climaxes with Adele's fantastic theme song over the opening credits. Following this, the film seems to momentarily get bogged down in its serious tone. Apart from some further excitingly choreographed action scenes, the film tends to drag until we meet Javier Bardem's villain character. This introduction brings some much needed energy and the film is completely captivating from that point onward. Bardem's Silva is the epitome of a scene stealer. In fact, his demented playfulness recalls that of Heath Ledger's iconic Joker. For my money, he's the most memorable Bond villain of them all. While Bardem definitely steals the show, the rest of the cast are no slouches themselves. Daniel Craig once again adds a unique vulnerability to the character's suave machismo, making for another fascinating interpretation. Judi Dench also nails it as M. Unfortunately, the film doesn't know how to properly use its alluring pair of Bond girls. Naomie Harris gets some really cheesy lines and Bérénice Marlohe serves merely as a facilitator for Bond's introduction to Silva.
As I said earlier, the film has an accomplished team behind the scenes, resulting in an outstanding showcase of cinematic craft. It's no surprise though, as the film has an abundance of Oscar-nominated artists, including its acclaimed director Sam Mendes. Thomas Newman did a great job scoring his first big action movie, though he's limited by the requirement to use existing Bond themes. The overall aural quality is top notch work, left in the capable hands of experienced sound mixer Greg P. Russell. Many of the film's thrills are reliant on the film's purposeful art direction too, with moving trains and dilapidated houses leaving a lasting impression.
As it is 50th anniversary of Bond, the film pays nice homage to its vintage roots. There are some amusing references to vintage Bond films with shaken martinis, the original Aston Martin and a mention of exploding pens. Everything comes together for an enjoyable experience for the audience and would especially tickle the fanboys. As someone who is less attached the franchise, I only wish the screenplay was a bit more thought-provoking and emotionally affecting. In my opinion, "Skyfall" doesn't achieve the storytelling excellence of "Casino Royale" but damn, it's so beautiful to look at.

Friday, November 9, 2012

#FF Flight, Don Cheadle and more...

Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis made a welcome return to serious "Oscar movies" with the recent release of Flight. The positive critical and audience response has put the film firmly in contention for this awards season, with many praising Denzel's fearless performance. Some persons weren't as high on the film as I was, but the film has inspired some great reviews. Check out 2 of those reviews below, along with other great posts from the past week:

Andrew and Sarah give a good analysis of Flight in their review.

Brian struggled with the dark nature of Flight, but praises the crash sequence in his thoughtful review.

Max recently lead an interesting discussion about whether we should make an effort to watch bad movies. His feelings on the matter match up quite closely with mine.

With Flight making its mark in theaters, Alex looks back on Don Cheadle's great career for his latest "In Character" post.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, November 8, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Walter Huston and John Huston with their Oscars

This week's Oldie Goldies selection is the Humphy Bogart starrer "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". This film is a great example of classic story-telling from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It serves up a fun adventure and digs into humanity's compromised morality when faced with potential profit. The film picked up a trio of Oscars (Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor) but missed out on the big one - Best Picture.

Monday, November 5, 2012


As the fall/winter season chugs along, the hits keep rolling in. Adding to the already sizable list of outstanding films this year is "Flight". In Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking, we get a fascinating investigation of a deeply flawed man. The film tells the story of an alcoholic/drug addict pilot(Whip Whitaker) who successfully crash lands a faulty plane, saving almost all of its passengers.
Following this early incident, the film follows the aftermath of his heroic accomplishment, juxtaposed with the negative consequences of his toxicology report. From the first scene, you know this will be a bruising character portrayal. We meet Whitaker waking up from a booze and drug-filled night with a flight attendant. As if to prevent any initial sympathy, Whitaker rolls over, finishes his beer and snorts another line. It's a perfect setup for the rest of the film, firmly establishing that this man has a serious problem. Whitaker heads to work hungover and high, unprepared for the life-changing event that is about to happen. This plane crash is one of the best parts of the film, as it's a visceral sight to behold. It really captures the terror of impending doom. Many films would struggle to thrive after such an exhilarating opening, but this film has a lot more to say.
As we follow the aftermath, the film proves to be a penetrating exploration of various themes. It addresses issues of faith, morality and most of all, addiction. All of these are filtered through a remarkable character study of Whip Whitaker. The film features a fantastic ensemble (notably John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Don Cheadle), all of whom are quite outstanding during their individual moments. In the end though, Denzel is the only one you really remember (and maybe John Goodman). His is a meaty role and he slips into it like a glove. He calls on all the tools in his acting arsenal to craft the unbalanced persona of this damaged individual. It's quite a challenge, as this isn't a rosy process of rehabilitation. Despite the extreme trauma of the plane crash, Whitaker doesn't immediately turn around his life. It's quite a risky move, as it can be quite jarring for the audience. Whitaker is abrasive and unapologetic about his addictions. For a director who is known for making pleasant films with likable lead characters, I was quite impressed by this uncompromising decision. You keep wanting the script to clean up this man, but there's no hand holding here. With Washington's honest interpretation though, the viewer is completely drawn in, keenly anticipating his character's resolution. Although his actions are despicable, you completely understand his inner turmoil and coping methods. Once you accept the severity of his problems, the performance just washes over you. It’s the Denzel Washington show and you either go with it or you don't.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: Ikiru (1952)

This week I watched my first Akira Kurosawa film and it will be this week's Oldie Goldies pick - Ikiru. This tragic, thought-provoking film is grounded by a devastating performance by Takashi Shimura. I could barely even look at his face.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

TOP 10: Spotlight on Horror

In honor of October as the month of Halloween, I decided to venture into a genre that I don't normally gravitate towards - Horror. After enduring some frights, I've come up with another "Top 10" (check out my previous "Spotlight on Bollywood" post for your reading pleasure). A lot of fellow bloggers have been making similar lists and it made me realize I am still lacking in my knowledge of the genre. I admit, I still haven't seen classics like "Halloween" and "Carrie", but I enjoy my selected films enough to make this list.

Monday, October 29, 2012


"Looper" is a bold, daring piece of work by Rian Johnson. Prior to this film, he worked on films of a much smaller scale (namely Brick and The Brothers Bloom). This time however, he was shooting for the stars as he wrote and directed this mind-blowing action/sci-fi/thriller about time travel. If you thought "Inception" was complex, then wait till you see this! This film is so meta that it would fail miserably without the narration to guide you along. As Bruce Willis’ character rightly says in the film, "this time travel crap…just fries your brain like an egg". Creating a story around time travel and altering the course of history is always tricky, but it is handled pretty well here (assuming you’re able to follow the timeline of events). Johnson finds very smart ways of conveying the relationship between the past and the future. I particularly liked the ending, as it satisfyingly wraps up the prior events of the film. As with any futuristic film, "Looper" required much attention to detail with respect to the look and feel of our future world. This aspect was one of the strong points for me, as it is tastefully done. This version of the future features a believable cityscape, without outlandish technology and clothing. I loved several of the embellishments, such as the solar panels on the cars and homes. It's a job well done by the art director and visual effects team.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

BLOGATHON: 6° of Separation

Shala from Life Between Films recently came up with a fun idea for a blogathon. It's called "6° of Separation" and requires participants to connect a pair of actors through films. From the 3 options given, I chose to link Andrew Garfield and Claire Danes. Check out my entry below, with clips showing the connections between the actors:

Friday, October 26, 2012

#FF Rating Films, reviews and more...

There will always be an ongoing debate over how we judge the art of film. I even did a post earlier this week on the subject of the awful concept of the "0-star" rating. Check out Ryan's take on the idea of rating films, among other great reads from the past week:

Ryan recently sparked much debate about the merits of rating films.

Nikhat gushes over Ruby Sparks in her review.

Josh recently listed his Top 10 Favourite Horror Films. Look for my list next week!

Stevee recently did a unique musical review of Prometheus

Shawna remembers Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange as one of her "Unforgettable Performances". She's a new LAMB member, so follow her site and make her feel welcome!

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

OLDIE GOLDIES: Frankenstein (1931)

This week's choice is perfectly timed for the Halloween season, it's none other than 1931's "Frankenstein". This film checks all the boxes required to create a creepy film experience. It's got it all - great lighting, sinister voices, jolting sound effects, awkward body language and some striking shot compositions by the cinematographer and art director.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DISCUSSION: The "0-Star" Rating

In the past couple of weeks I've twice come across instances where persons have felt inclined to give a film the "0 star" rating. Every time I see this, it immediately triggers something in my mind that this person is exaggerating their disdain. I fully admit I am perhaps too lenient with my ratings (I never hesitate to give a 4 1/2 or 5 star rating, while rarely ever giving a movie 1 star or less). I usually only watch movies that appeal to me, so perhaps I'm really missing a lot of dreck. At the same time though, I find myself always taking something positive from my worst movie-watching experiences. Sometimes it's a standout acting performance, or maybe it's just some brilliant costume design. Perhaps I take the term "0" too literally, but for me there's always something there to give it a rating of substance. Even if it's just a 1/2 star.
When discussing this with a fellow blogger, he brought up the benefits of letter grades over numbered ratings systems. While I do use the 5-star rating system myself, I often find it more meaningful to give a really bad movie an "F", rather than a "0". It implores me to wonder if maybe the letter grade system is better suited to movie criticism.

What's your stance on the "0 star" rating? Please feel free to discuss in the comments section. I'm very interested to hear your thoughts.

Monday, October 22, 2012


"Ruby Sparks" charmed my socks off. Among the plethora of indie comedies, this film stands out as it seems to poke fun at certain staples of the genre itself. On IMDb, someone called this film "Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The Movie" and I think it’s an astute observation. The plot tells the story of a writer struggling with declining fame, a breakup and writer’s block. While going through his misery, Calvin (Paul Dano) one day finds inspiration in the concept of writing about the beautiful girl that he dreams of at night. To his surprise and bewilderment, he somehow possesses the power to manifest his fantasy into reality. He wakes to find her in his home and like a true manic pixie dream girl, she changes him for the better. They fall in love and she re-introduces him to the joys of life. As the story progresses, the film finds some brilliant moments to comment on our unrealistic ideals of the magical female. Prior to the real-world appearance of this girl named Ruby Sparks (played by Zoe Kazan), Calvin gives an early draft of his novel to his brother. After reading it he says "quirky, messy women whose problems only make them endearing are not real". It’s a real harbinger for the type of character that Calvin envisions Ruby to be. She represents all those excessively quirky (but lovable) female characters we see in movies, that we know couldn't function in real society. As Harry goes on to say, "You haven’t written a person". As Calvin tries to let Ruby live without forcing her actions, he comes to realize the truth behind his brother’s statements. The film makes Calvin and the viewer realize the folly of the manic pixie dream girl character. It’s a situation of "you can’t have your cake and eat it too". Specifically, it’s unrealistic for a woman to be so infinitely carefree and yet so willing to become wholeheartedly smitten with a single person. As a woman, Zoe Kazan understands this issue first-hand and I love how she addresses it in her script. It ultimately makes for a more satisfying viewing experience than the typical indie romcom in this vein.
Aside from the interesting screenplay, the film really appealed to me due to the performances of Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. They are so charming and have such great chemistry together. It’s no surprise that they are dating in real life. They really do sell the romance and the humour. Chris Messina also amuses with his flabbergasted reactions to this perplexing situation. Overall, the film may be too decidedly pleasant for some. For me, the subject matter is thought-provoking enough to make me accept the extra servings of sugar.