Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Night of the Hunter

If you were to ask me what my favorite movie villains are, they would be Psycho's Norman Bates, Schindler's List's Amon Goeth and Sweet Smell of Success' J.J. Hunsecker. But after seeing The Night of the Hunter, I'd also throw in Rev. Harry Powell.

After being released from prison, Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) seeks out to find the $10,000 his cellmate had stolen and hidden. He marries his cellmate's widow Willa (Shelley Winters) to get closer to the money's location, but she doesn't know about the money. Her two children know where the money is, but they're not saying where it is.

Oh man, Mitchum is horrifying. He'll have people confess to their sins while he keeps his own hidden. It's yet another performance that failed to get any awards recognition when it should have. This was the only movie that Charles Laughton directed, which is a shame. He would've directed again had The Night of the Hunter not bombed upon its release (he wanted to direct an adaptation of The Naked and the Dead). Another thing I'd like to comment on: if Harry Powell is a real preacher, then Marilyn Monroe was a real blonde.

My Rating: *****

Near Dark

WARNING: Review contains vampire puns.

You know what makes vampires suck nowadays? They're overused. Ever since the frickin' Twilight books were published, they have become overrated. It bites. Bram Stoker must be rolling in his grave. Thankfully there are some vampire movies that don't suck or bite.

Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), after being bitten by the mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright), joins a group of vampires who roam around for blood. Caleb is reluctant on killing anyone, and he has to choose between his family and his new group of friends.

Near Dark goes through what I call "The Godfather Predicament", where a movie focuses on a certain subject yet it's not mentioned or shown (it is also proven with the lack of smoking in Thank You for Smoking). Anyway, moving on. Kathryn Bigelow, who's more well-known now thanks in part to The Hurt Locker, gives us a take on vampire movies when they were actually scary (suck it, Twilight). And if you've never heard of Near Dark, it makes sense; it was released the same year as The Lost Boys.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sling Blade

There's an interesting story behind Sling Blade. Legendary director Billy Wilder advised Billy Bob Thornton to write a screenplay where he could exploit his less than perfect features. Thornton did just that and earned Oscar nominations for both writing and acting in Sling Blade.

Karl Childers (Thornton) has recently been released from a mental hospital where he has been hospitalized since the age of twelve after murdering his mother and her lover. He becomes friends with Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) and is mother Linda (Natalie Canerday), but he encounters past demons upon meeting Linda's abusive boyfriend Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakam).

I liked Thornton's work, but I thought the movie itself was a tad boring. It was interesting for the first few couple of minutes, then I lost interest after a while. But that doesn't mean I'm not recommending Sling Blade. It's good but not great.

My Rating: ****

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Messenger

Movies about the war we're in or ones that revolve around it are a tricky matter.

With only a few months left in his enlistment, Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is assigned to the Casualty Notification Team in his area. Partnered with Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), he is to tell families of soldiers about their death. Will becomes curious about Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), the wife of a slain soldier.

Foster has me really interested with what else his career holds (I've also seen him in 3:10 to Yuma). I also loved Harrelson's performance. The Messenger is an interesting character study from first-time director Oren Moverman. It is also a good view on the effect of war.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Lovers

I consider Joaquin Phoenix an underrated actor. I'm saying this because a) his late brother River overshadows him from time to time, and b) his off-screen antics get more publicity than his movies. Remember when he appeared on Letterman?

Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix) has recently broken up with his fiancee and is now living with his parents. The breakup has left Leonard a suicidal man. He meets two women: Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of his father's business associate, and Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his self-destructive neighbor. Sandra wants to take care of Leonard, while Leonard wants to take care of Michelle.

Phoenix is known for acting in dark movies and this is no exception. He gives an emotionally devastating performance in Two Lovers. Paltrow, who has recently been doing a number of "whiny female" roles, gives an impressive performance. It may have been ignored upon its release, but it's not one you should miss.

My Rating: ****1/2


Mike Nichols has to be one of the most esteemed director in the entertainment industry. He is one of the few people to have Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy wins, a feat only nine other people have accomplished.

Alice Ayres (Natalie Portman) meets mediocre obituary journalist Dan Woolf (Jude Law) and they become a couple. He meets photographer Anna Cameron (Julia Roberts), then "introduces" her to dermatologist Larry Gray (Clive Owen). Larry and Anna marry, but she and Dan are having an affair, much to the dismay of Alice and Larry.

Since the movie revolves around sex, you would expect an overflow of it considering Nichols directed Carnal Knowledge thirty-three years earlier. But thankfully, we are spared that. Closer has one of the best ensemble cast I've seen. Owen and Portman give the strongest performances, though Law and Roberts are very good too. This is only the third movie by Mike Nichols I've seen (the others are The Graduate and Charlie Wilson's War), but I know enough that he is a very good director. One of Nichols' best.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Bell Jar

Fiction from time to time has an autobiographical influence on it. Some examples include Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, but the most prolific example is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

Esther Greenwood shows promise for her future. She won a scholarship to a prestigious college, she gets good grades and she has a skill for writing. But there's something inside Esther that may change all that...

Just from the summary you can tell it's a thinly veiled autobiography of Plath. Esther's slow descent into madness mirrors what happened to Plath. It's also one of the realistic and horrifying things I've read. Plath's dark descriptions throughout make The Bell Jar what it is: a haunting classic on the darkness of the human soul.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

From the foreign films I've seen, not many have affected me emotionally. The one that affected me the most was Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

After suffering a debilitating stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) becomes a victim of locked-in syndrome, leaving his left eye as his only functioning body part. He gets inspired to write a book on what he has endured.

This is the most heartbreaking foreign film I have seen. The first third of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is told from Bauby's point of view, so we get to see what he sees. Along with the devastating storyline, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly also contains breathtaking cinematography. This is not one you should miss.

My Rating: *****

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do the Right Thing

Racism in movies. Stanley Kramer introduced the subject matter; Spike Lee revolutionized it.

It's the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and tensions are growing there, with the only local businesses being a Korean grocery and Sal's (Danny Aiello) Pizzeria. Sal's delivery boy Mookie (Lee) manages to always be at the center of the action.

The summer heat is a metaphor for the tensions shown throughout Do the Right Thing. As the temperature escalates, so does the hate between the characters.

Do the Right Thing has issues of racism amplified to a new level. It's the best introduction to Spike Lee for those unfamiliar to his work. It shows themes that are common in Lee's movies. Aiello gives a good performance, as does Lee. One of the best movies I have seen.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Squid and the Whale

Recently I've been taking an interest in rising stars. I've come across with several just this year alone (Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Renner, Ben Foster, Andrew Garfield, Jesse Eisenberg), all of which had me wondering what their careers hold for them.

After their parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) announce their divorce, brothers Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt Berkman (Eisenberg) have different ways of coping with the sudden news.

I'm not sure where to place the main characters. On the one hand, they're pains in the neck; on the other hand, you kinda relate with them. I particularly liked Eisenberg's work in The Squid and the Whale the most (Daniels is a close second). It's a quirky semi-autobiographical tale from Noah Baumbach that is both funny and caring.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Metal illness in movies can equate to two things: 1) a really powerful movie and/or 2) some serious awards bait.

After her rise in Hollywood, Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange) suddenly takes a drastic turn for the worse as she gets into drinking and her mental health begins to crumble.

Boy, what Frances goes through isn't just a fall from grace; it's a crash and burn. Considering her main rival that year was Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice, it had to be a neck and neck race between Streep and Lange. Lange clearly gives the performance of her career as the mentally deteriorating Farmer. One minute she could be pleasant, the next minute she could be expressing an explosive anger. It's terrifying.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, October 22, 2010

Being John Malkovich

Originality in movies is starting to dwindle down to practically nothing. We're essentially having sequels, reboots and remakes crammed down out throats. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of it. Had it not been for the occasional quirky movie, I'd stop watching them.

Puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) has recently taken a job as a file clerk on Floor 7 1/2 of the Mertin Flemmer Building. There, he finds a portal that goes to the mind of John Malkovich (John Malkovich). Upon discovering this, he finds a way to earn money off it, much to the interest of wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) and co-worker Maxine Lund (Catherine Keener).

Man, this was refreshing after a string of unoriginal movies. It would've been fun had Malkovich gotten an Oscar nomination. Cusack and Diaz are both almost recognizable. Though I didn't like the bittersweet ending, I did love the rest of Being John Malkovich. Quirky characters, off-the-wall dialogue and originality by the boatload, Being John Malkovich is a very funny movie.

My Rating: *****


Still being a developing woman, I have to learn about things I need to know to get ahead in life. Thanks to Kinsey, I learned enough (perhaps too much) about major thing in life: sex.

After a number of his students ask him for advice about sexual concerns and problems, biology professor Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) becomes a prolific name in sexual behavior research.

Wow, I saw and heard stuff I don't think I should've at my age. Moving on though. I loved the performances from Neeson, Laura Linney (how do they not have Oscars yet?) and Peter Sarsgaard (how does he not have a nomination yet?). Kinsey gave me insight on things they barely mentioned in high school health class. Honestly, this has everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to sex.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Most movies set in high schools usually follow the angst of the lead character or characters. Not that often do they show that angst affecting an entire family.

Tracy Freeland (Evan Rachel Wood) is a well-behaved thirteen-year-old who has a strong bond with her mother Melanie (Holly Hunter). That is, until Tracy meets Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), who introduces Tracy to a world of sex, drugs and stealing.

To think Thirteen was made by the same person who did Twilight. It shows the lifestyle teenagers might go through that parents so dread. If you're wondering, no, I didn't behave like Tracy when I was thirteen (I did, and still do, act rebellious). Wood and Hunter give spectacular performances. If you're a parent of a teenager, the sibling of a teenager or a teenager yourself, Thirteen may look familiar to you.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eastern Promises

Videodrome. The Fly. Crash. A History of Violence. These are just a few of David Cronenberg's movies. Another to throw in would be his most recent: Eastern Promises.

After a Russian teenager dies during childbirth, midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) decides to investigate her past. While searching for answers, her quest brings her to members of the Russian Mafia and has her curious on the mysterious Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), the family's driver.

For the ladies, there are three words I have to convince you to see Eastern Promises: Viggo gets naked. Holy smokes, it's a sight for sore eyes. And before this become a X-rated review, I shall move on.

Eastern Promises is Cronenberg's take on the gangster genre. Mortensen gives a performance that is sensual, charming and badass. This was my intro to Cronenberg, so I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a movie that blew my mind and kicked some serious ass.

My Rating: ****1/2

28 Days Later

Zombies or vampires: which one is cooler? Had Stephenie Meyer not made them lame, I so would've gone with vampires. But after seeing 28 Days Later, I'm going with zombies.

Upon waking from a coma, Jim (Cillian Murphy) discovers that London is completely deserted. He is told by Selena (Naomie Harris) that a virus has spread throughout England and almost everyone has been infected. They are joined by Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns) to find sanctuary from the infected.

Eat your heart out, Romero (no pun intended). You got competition. Actually, 28 Days Later is like a Romero movie on steroids. The only other Danny Boyle I've seen was Trainspotting, so I knew how intense he could get with his directing. It is, by far, the most kick-ass movie I have seen.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thank You for Smoking

Directors withe small filmographies (about 3-5 movies) are easier to keep track of (ie, Malick, Jonze, Mendes).

Tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) has a seemingly impossible task: promoting cigarette smoking when the health hazards of the activity have become too hard to ignore. It's an even harder job since Nick is a father.

Geez, Eckhart's a charming son of a bitch. You want to hate Nick, but his charm prevents you from doing that. But moving on, Thank You for Smoking is a very funny movie. Impressive for a directorial debut (since they usually, you know, suck). Jason Reitman, whose work after this was Juno and Up in the Air, has directed a very enjoyable satire which shouldn't be ignored.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boogie Nights

Movies about movies are pretty common. Whether they're set in present day (The Player), the 1920's (Shadow of the Vampire) or the 1970's (Boogie Nights), they're always fun.

Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) has it made. One minute he's a dishwasher at a San Fernando Valley nightclub, the next minute he's the biggest name in the porn industry under the pseudonym "Dirk Diggler". But fame has a price.

Even though Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore got all the awards recognition, it's Wahlberg who delivers the best performance. His downfall from porn legend to complete nobody is just devastating. As well as Reynolds and Moore, the rest of the supporting cast is excellent. I may be jumping the gun (considering the only other movie by him I've seen was Magnolia), but Boogie Nights has to be Paul Thomas Anderson's best movie.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The most prolific staple in film noirs has to be the femme fatale. One look and you're done for.

After casino owner Bailln Mundson (George Macready) saves gambler Johnny Farrell's (Glenn Ford) life, he hires him as his right-hand man. But Mundson returns from a trip with new wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth), things become complicated.

Boy, no wonder this is Hayworth's most prolific role. Her character of Gilda is prone to make men melt. Along with Hayworth's work, Gilda is an excellent film noir. The black-and-white photography, the smoky and exotic setting, and the score make Gilda what it is: a classic.

My Rating: ****1/2

Death of a Salesman

When the name of Arthur Miller is mentioned, two of his plays are thought of. Those plays are The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, the latter I'll be reviewing.

Death of a Salesman focuses on aging salesman Willy Loman. He has become distant from his family and he escapes to memories of his past.

The dialogue throughout Death of a Salesman is very natural, fitting the American lifestyle. The most pivotal scene in the play is one of the best I've read. Willy is one of the more believable fictional characters that has been created. Death of a Salesman gives a view of American society slowly crumbling under tension.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Player

Satires are always funny. As long as you know what they're poking fun at, they're always fun.

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a studio executive who is responsible for accepting or rejecting pitches for potential feature films. With his career on the line and the impending possibility that he might be replaced by a rival upstart, Grffin now finds his life threatened by an anonymous screenwriter whose pitch he rejected long ago. Drawn into a web of blackmail and murder, Griffin must evade the police investigation that he caused.

I was a little nervous if Robbins could carry a movie by himself considering the other movies I've seen him in has him acting alongside other big name actors (Mystic River, The Shawshank Redemption, High Fidelity, Bull Durham). He does, but only for a majority of the movie. The numerous celebrity cameos were hilarious. The Player was a reprieve for Robert Altman's career, and trust me he needed this.

My Rating: ****1/2

The Iceman Cometh

Common themes in works by Eugene O'Neill are melancholia, alcoholism and death. Cheerful guy, isn't he?

The patrons of Harry Hope's bar anticipate the annual arrival of Hickey. But this year, Hickey tries to liven up the pipe-dreaming drunks which causes tensions to flare.

Damn, O'Neill, you're really a pessimistic person, aren't you? My point is also proven in Long Day's Journey into Night. I found the scenes between Parritt and Larry contain some of the most emotional dialogue I've read. Hickey teeters on the line of insulting and friendly. His statements are derogatory, but he saves his dignity and pride with his charming comments. This is the best O'Neill play I've read.

My Rating: ****1/2

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Now and then, if you know the lifestyle of some authors it becomes evident in their writing.

Dorian Gray is a handsome and dashing yet vain and morally corrupt man in late-19th century England. A recent portrait of him has extended his vanity, but he notices something odd about the painting...

Man, Dorian's a pompous jerk. Even his charm didn't win me over, I'll admit it. But apart from that, I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray. It took a while for the book to become interesting, but once it did I was hooked. Honest to God, The Picture of Dorian Gray creeped me out to no end.

My Rating: ****

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Sixth Sense

It's a shame that M. Night Shyamalan's career is essentially in the toilet. He showed a lot of promise with The Sixth Sense, then his next bunch of movies essentially re-marketed The Sixth Sense with the twist ending being different (and lamer).

A few months after an altercation with a troubled ex-patient, child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is assigned to analyze Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims he can "see dead people".

I already knew what the twist was coming in, so it kinda spoiled it. But like what I said about Shutter Island (where I figured out the twist halfway through), it's how the twist is executed that makes it shocking. This is a far cry from Willis' earlier work of action movies. This is one of the creepier movies I've seen.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 14, 2010


A number of real-life crimes manage to become the inspiration for movies. For example, the actions of serial killer Ed Gein were the inspiration for the villains of Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. Only a few times are the real killers brought onto the silver screen (The Boston Strangler, Dahmer, Monster).

Aileen Wurnos (Charlize Theron) has spent a majority of her life working as a prostitute. She starts a realtionship with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) and that's when the killings begin.

Wow, Theron got really ugly for this. But apart from that, she gives a hell of a performance. The scene where Aileen confesses to Selby about her first murder has to be one of the most affecting scenes I've watched. Although the facts aren't entirely right, Monster shows us that an ordinary person can become infamous from one single act.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. Not bad for a guy with six movies to his name.

After witnessing his diving partner getting eaten by a leopard shark, oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) sets out to exact revenge on it. But a lack of money and a mutinying crew may prevent him from doing that.

Anderson is probably one fo the few directors who can make his movies really quirky without getting on the level of really weird (sorry, Tim Burton). Murray acts with a hell of a supporting cast. The dialogue is really funny and offbeat. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a delightful underrated gem from Anderson.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Broken Flowers

Bill Murray is probably one of the few actors who can be funny and serious at the same time. Whether it's one of his collaborations with Wes Anderson or an independent film, he's a hell of an actor. Probably something no one would've imagined during his Saturday Night Live days.

Don Johnston (Murray), having just broken up with his latest girlfriend, receives a letter from an old flame explaining that he has a son who is looking for his father. Hesitant to go on a journey, he is urged by his neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) to investigate who is the mother of his child.

Along with Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers contains some of Murray's best work. Jim Jarmusch's direction is excellent (for those curious, Broken Flowers was my introduction to Jarmusch). Murray plays probably one of the more sympathetic movie characters in recent memory. You root for him when he's looking for son's mother and you feel sorry when doesn't get any closer to finding out. Broken Flowers is one of the best movies of the last decade.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Savages

The best way to distinguish an independent movie from a major studio movie is that an independent movie always tends to focus on family issues. You know what I mean, a death in the family, pregnancy, stuff that happens every day.

Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) find themselves taking care of their aging father, whom they haven't seen in years.

Hoffman and Linney both give great performances and have great chemistry. Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed The Savages, which I give her kudos for. The Savages is funny and sad in the right places. It's an appropriate movie for those who are going through the same thing.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, October 9, 2010

North Country

I'm trying not to sound like a feminist (like I've been for a while), but most hard-hitting dramas are directed by men. When one does get directed by a woman, the impact is just as powerful.

Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) is a struggling mother of two who has recently taken a job at the iron mines in Minnesota. But she becomes a victim of sexual harassment and she has to endure it, no matter how many times she tells someone about it.

Theron acts alongside a superb supporting cast, including Frances McDormand, Jeremy Renner, Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson. The subject matter is very heavy. This is loosely based on real events, giving it a more impressive yet stunning feel. Underrated, yes, and not one to ignore.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blood Diamond

Leonardo DiCaprio has recently become one of my favorite working actors. I've seen him work with Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can) and Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, Shutter Island). Now I get to see him work with Edward Zwick.

Blood Diamond follows the lives of Danny Archer (DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a Mende fisherman. Danny overhears Solomon talking about a large diamond he had hidden after discovering it. Both go on a quest to retrieve the diamond.

DiCaprio and Hounsou give riveting performances in Blood Diamond. The direction of Zwick is excellent. He gives us a startling view of the outburst of violence in war-torn Sierra Leone, a theme that's common in his movies (particularly Glory and The Last Samurai).

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The New World

Terrence Malick is an interesting director. He has been in the business for decades, yet he only has four movies to his name.

When 17th century explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and a few men go up the river to trade with the Indians, he befriends the princess Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) and they fall in love. Their love gets in the way of the duties. When Smith is ordered to leave Jamestown by the King, wealthy tobacco planter John Rolfe (Christian Bale) arrives at the fort. Pocahontas falls apart deciding who she is dedicated to, Smith or Rolfe.

Although visually stunning, I found The New World a little slow for me to really like. I'm not saying I didn't like it. I really liked Farrell and Bale's performances, as well as the cinematography. It's just the pacing made me a little bored. If you're a Malick fan, this is for you.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Little Miss Sunshine

Dysfunctional families are pretty common in movies, more so in comedies. They definitely make you rethink how awkward your family is.

Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) has become a finalist for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest and has to go to California for the contest. For the journey, she is joined by her family: motivational speaker dad Richard (Greg Kinnear); mom Sheryl (Toni Collette); grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin); uncle Frank (Steve Carell), who recently attempted suicide; and brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence.

Geez, and I thought my family was awkward. Of all the characters in Little Miss Sunshine, I'm probably best represented by Dwayne. Basically because I'm a brooding teenager that doesn't talk much and when I do, I'm pissed off. Anyway, back to what I was saying. The writing for Little Miss Sunshine is funny and original. Along with Dano, I liked Carell's work (take note he did this before becoming famous with The Office). If you think your family's weird, look at the Hoovers.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I have seen all but one of Christopher Nolan's movies and I have yet to be disappointed.

Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator who is trying to find his wife's killer. The problem, though, is that Leonard suffers from short term memory loss, which he got from trying to prevent his wife's assault.

Is there one movie Nolan has directed where when it's over, you don't go "WTF?" (other entries include The Prestige and Inception) Along with Mulholland Drive, Memento has to be one of the most confusing movies I've seen. Yet at the same time it's brilliant. It's an effective thriller, I can tell you that. But honestly, it's a confusing-as-hell one.

My Rating: *****

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dead Man Walking

Capital punishment is a vastly debated subject. Some are for it, while others are against it. My opinion? I'm uncertain on the subject. A good movie that focuses on the topic is Dead Man Walking.

Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) is asked by death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) to be his spiritual advisor. As she tries to redeem his soul, she must also reconcile his needs with the heinousness of the crime and the grief of the victims' parents.

It's ironic once you think of it. The lead actors and director are well-known for not only their acting but for their activism and they're making a movie on one of the most debated subjects in existence. But it's not mentioned whether Dead Man Walking is pro-death penalty or anti-death penalty.

The performances from Penn and Sarandon are spectacular. Tim Robbins' direction is also excellent (not bad for his second time as director). It may be fifteen years old (at the time of Dean Man Walking's release, the death penalty debate was at its peak), but it still packs a wallop.

My Rating: ****1/2

Touch of Evil

Throughout the 1940's and the 1950's, film noirs were among the most the most popular movie genres. The dark nature of them appealed audiences, though their popularity declined once the 1950's were over. Touch of Evil is considered the last great film noir.

On their honeymoon, police officer Miguel "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife Susan (Janet Leigh) witness a car exploding. Mike is joined by Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) to investigate, but Mike discovers that Hank isn't the respected officer everyone claims he is.

Boy, this is edgier than most film noirs I've seen. Yes, the casting of Heston as a Mexican is laughable but you gotta admit he gave a good performance. Welles and Leigh also gave good performances. This contains material not normally found in film noirs at the time: corruption, drugs and sex. I can see why it's considered one of the last great film noirs.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Children of Men

The unnerving thing about dystopian futures depicted in fiction is that it might become true.

Set in 2027, when no child has been born for 18 years and science is at loss to explain the reason, African and East European societies collapse and their dwindling populations migrate to England and other wealthy nations. In a climate of nationalistic violence, a London peace activist turned bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) joins forces with his revolutionary ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) in order to save mankind by protecting Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a woman who has mysteriously become pregnant.

Damn, this is a bleak movie. And yet, it continues to show optimism throughout. In some ways, it's a re-telling of the Nativity story (pay attention to people's reactions towards Kee). Owen and Moore give excellent performances, as does Michael Caine (who is almost unrecognizable). I'd be more pleased had Owen gotten more noticed awards-wise for his performance. The cinematography is breathtaking and Alfonso Cuaron's direction is outstanding. One of the best movies of its kind.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network

I gotta admit, David Fincher sure knows how to direct a good movie. Whether it's scaring the hell out of you (Se7en), bringing back a piece of the past (Zodiac) or giving us a shot of testosterone (Fight Club), he knows how to get audiences.

In the fall of 2003, Harvard undergrad Mark Zukerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with an idea for a new form of communication, now known as Facebook. It's a success after only a few years, but grievances between co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and between himself and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) lead to numerous complications.

Eisenberg and Garfield continue to show great promise for their careers. I found it ironic that Timberlake was cast as the founder of Napster, but he pulled it off. Hammer is also equally impressive in a dual role. Aaron Sorkin's writing is wickedly funny and sharp (pay attention to the scene where Eduardo is accused of animal cruelty). The only other movies by Fincher I've seen are Se7en and Zodiac, so it was almost a relief that I didn't get scared. Trent Reznor's score managed to fit the mood. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that The Social Network will be mentioned a lot come awards season.

My Rating: *****

Friday, October 1, 2010

BOOK VS MOVIE: Into the Wild

I really like book where the events mentioned in them actually took place. They're either inspiring or tragic. Or once in a while both. A good example of that is Into the Wild.

Christopher McCandless has recently graduated from college. But instead of achieving the goals his parents want him to do, he donates his life savings to charity, adopts the psuedonym "Alexander Supertramp", and takes off for Alaska. He spends three months on the road before arriving at Alaska.

Jon Krakauer's novel is very detailed and gripping, while Sean Penn's movie is enthralling. I can honestly say I don't know which one I love more. But I just want to add something else about the movie: Emile Hirsch was AMAZING as McCandless and should've been recognized more for his work.

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with both.