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.