Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Thin Red Line

1998 had two big name World War II movies released. Those were Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. There has been debate on which is better, but I can't say which one is better just yet.

In 1943, the first major US offensive of World War II is drawing to a close on the South Pacific island of Guadalcanal. To put an end to this campaign, the United States Army arrives with a full division of troops and equipment, deployed to break the last resistance of the Japanese. The exploits of the division are seen from a number of perspectives amongst the soldiers to include war weary Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn); power hungry Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte); Pvt. Witt (James Caviezel), who has known only desertion and AWOL; and Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas), who is struggling with his abilities as a leader.

The cast for The Thin Red Line is star-studded. Along with Penn, Nolte and Caviezel, the cast includes Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson and John Cusack in supporting roles, and John Travolta, Tim Blake Nelson and George Clooney in bit parts. Most war movies are excellent character studies since they show what a certain character does in a situation where their life literally depends on it. And The Thin Red Line is just that. Terrence Malick's eye for beauty in every image just blew me away in this. War is hell, but there is also a beauty in it.

My Rating: *****


The Roman epic. A bunch were made throughout the 1950s and 60s. after the 1960s were through, so was the Roman epic. But Gladiator brought it back.

Victorious general Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) has been named keeper of Rome and its empire by dying emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), much to the dismay of Marcus' power-hungry son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Angered by the decision, Commodus murders Marcus and orders to have Maximus executed. Maximus escapes, but is sold into slavery and is forced to become a gladiator.

FUCK, it is good. Crowe is awesome, but I'm wondering if he really deserved the Oscar (IMO, he should have won for A Beautiful Mind). But honestly, the centerpiece performance of Gladiator is not Crowe's but Phoenix's. His performance as the twisted Commodus really gets under your skin. The scene where he tells Marcus his reaction to being overlooked as Rome's emperor is both haunting and devastating. I did like Benicio del Toro's work in Traffic, but I would've been beyond satisfied had Phoenix won that year. As I was watching Gladiator, I detected a few references to past "sword and sandal" movies, particularly Spartacus. Oh yeah, one more thing. The look on Commodus' face when Maximus reveals who he is: priceless.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hotel Rwanda

Remember the Best Actor race back for 2004? Every actor nominated but one portrayed a person that actually lived. Though I wondered about the nominees (no love for Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Sunshine Mind?) and the eventual winner (should have been Leo's year), it proved that a real-life portrayal is AMPAS' weakness.

Hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) becomes an unlikely hero by saving over a thousand Tutsi refugees from the Hutu militia.

I thought that a few scenes in Hotel Rwanda were a little overdramatic. Cheadle gives a really impressive performance as Rusesabagina. Nick Nolte also gave a really good performance. It's hard to believe an event that happened so recently and so violent (over a million people perished) was virtually ignored by the rest of the world. It ain't no Schindler's List, but it has the same impact.

My Rating: ****


Joel and Ethan Coen are known for the dark humor in their movies. Some notable examples include The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and Fargo.

Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is having difficulty making ends meet, therefore he plots a staged kidnapping of his wife so he can split the ransom money with the kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, the kidnappers leave a bloody trail that captures the attention of pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand).

I honestly wonder what went through the Coen brothers' minds as they wrote the screenplay, mainly the wood chipper scene. Probably stuff that shouldn't be mentioned in mixed company. I love McDormand's accent. exaggerated, yes, but freakin' awesome. I love her performance too, probably one of the few great female roles. I also love Macy's performance. He definitely captured his character's meekness. Despite a few scenes I turned away from (*cough* wood chipper *cough*), Fargo completely catches your attention. And, although bleak and messed-up, the humor throughout the movie just works.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Now and then an actor better known for their supporting roles has the opportunity to be the leading man or lady. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Artist Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris) tries to fend off personal demons and bad reviews with the help of wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden).

Although the performances from Harris and Harden are the reason to see Pollock, the movie is rather drawl. It feels flat through a majority of the movie. But like what I said, the performances are the main reason to see Pollock. Harris and Harden gave very good performances (even though I think Kate Hudson should have won that year instead of Harden). In my opinion, Pollock is worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Strange Days

Kathryn Bigelow is definitely different from other female directors working in Hollywood. How so? Simple, her filmography isn't flooded with chick flicks. Let's be honest, Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days and The Hurt Locker don't really sound like chick flicks. But what do you expect from the ex-wife of James Cameron?

Former cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a dealer of illegal memory-containing discs. He feels insecure after breaking up with his girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis), who has since moved on. He receives an anonymous disc featuring a horrific rape and murder of a prostitute he's acquainted with. Along with his friend Mace (Angela Bassett), he tries to uncover who would commit a crime this senseless.

Voyeurism on a much more disturbing scale. Some scenes felt like they were yanked from a Paul Verhoeven flick while others from a Michael Bay flick, but still there's hints of Bigelow's (ahem) "feminine" touch. A number of the scenes are like you don't want to watch but you can't help but watch. If you haven't heard of Strange Days, there's a good reason for why; it was released the same year as Braveheart, Dead Man Walking, Se7en and 12 Monkeys.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 26, 2010

La Dolce Vita

Ah, Fellini. One of the most prolific foreign directors that lived. An unique storyteller and a visionary genius, his works always make must-see lists.

Journalist and man-about-town Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) struggles to find his place in the world, torn between the allure of Rome's elite social scene and the stifling domesticity offered by his girlfriend, all while searching for a way to become a serious writer.

I very much liked La Dolce Vita. I consider it one of Fellini's best, though I believe that his absolute best is 8 1/2. The lifestyle of 1960s Italy is best represented in La Dolce Vita. Mastroianni gives his character a self-loathing nature to make us feel more sympathetic towards him. La Dolce Vita is one of the best foreign movies ever made.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

After John Hughes' death back in 2009, I felt like I should watch more of his movies because all I've seen was Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Fast forward a year later and I still hadn't seen anything else by Hughes. Until now.

All Neal Page (Steve Martin) wants is to get home in time for Thanksgiving. Instead, his flight gets cancelled and he's stuck travelling with loud shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy).

Like I said in the intro, Ferris Bueller's Day Off was the only other John Hughes movies I've seen. But through that I knew what to expect. Martin and Candy have some great scenes together. Priceless dialogue ("Those aren't pillows!"), perfect timing and a hilarious use of Murphy's law make Planes, Trains and Automobiles a must-see for the holidays.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snubbed! Part 2: 5 Actors Who Should Have Noms

This is a slightly different twist on yesterday's post. This will be on actors who have yet to get any Oscar nominations. Again, I'm limiting the list to actors still working.

Oh, I should mention this. Yesterday's post was on only actors who have been nominated but have yet to win. There was a bit of confusion within the comments.

The Actor: Peter Sarsgaard
Notable performances: Boys Don't Cry, Kinsey, Shattered Glass, Jarhead, An Education
Will Oscar come?: Judging by the depth of some of his performances, there's no doubt that'll happen. When, I can't say.

The Actor: Gary Oldman
Notable performances: Sid and Nancy, JFK, The Contender
Will Oscar come?: It better. Oldman's a hell of an actor and it's almost sickening that he doesn't have any Oscar nominations to his name.

The Actor: Christian Bale
Notable performances: American Psycho, Batman Begins, The Prestige
Will Oscar come?: Hopefully. He knows how to really get into a role (remember The Machinist?). Plus, buzz for The Fighter show good signs for Bale.

The Actor: Sam Rockwell
Notable performances: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon
Will Oscar come?: Considering he blew me away with Moon, I'm sensing Oscar will come. But like what I said for Sarsgaard, I can't say when. Maybe this year for Conviction?

The Actor: Mark Ruffalo
Notable performances: You Can Count on Me, Zodiac
Will Oscar come?: Much like Sarsgaard and Rockwell, Ruffalo is an actor better known for his supporting work. And much like Rockwell and Bale, Ruffalo has Oscar buzz building up for a role he did this year (in his case, The Kids Are All Right).

Other snubbies: Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Kevin Bacon (Mystic River)

So again, there's my list. Who's on yours?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snubbed! 5 Actors Who Should Have Oscars

The Academy Awards always seem to hit a nerve with a movie lover. Either they don't give an actor recognition for perhaps their best work or they don't give them any recognition at all. Either way, their decisions manage to piss a few people off. There are actors who were nominated many times but winning that golden statuette seemed to elude them (ie, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton). This list will focus on some of the more glaring examples (I'm limiting it to actors still working).

The Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
He is honestly one of the best actors working today. So how is it he doesn't have an Oscar to call his own?
Nominated for: What Eating Gilbert Grape (lost to Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive), The Aviator (lost to Jamie Foxx in Ray), Blood Diamond (lost to Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland)
Should have won for: The Aviator. His portrayal of Howard Hughes is one that'll stick in your mind long after you see it. His descent into madness is haunting as well as stunning.
Neglected by AMPAS: Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Revolutionary Road

The Actor: Ralph Fiennes
I've mentioned several times before that I admire Fiennes' work, so of course it offends me that he hasn't been fully recognized for it.
Nominated for: Schindler's List (lost to Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive), The English Patient (lost to Geoffrey Rush in Shine)
Should have won for: Schindler's List. His loss that year is considered one of AMPAS' biggest mistakes. He commands the film when he's on screen. He also scares the hell out of everyone with his twisted and sadistic portrayal of Amon Goeth.
Neglected by AMPAS: Quiz Show

The Actor: Julianne Moore
One of the best actresses working today and what does she have to show for it? Nothing.
Nominated for: Boogie Nights (lost to Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential), The End of the Affair (lost to Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry), Far from Heaven (lost to Nicole Kidman in The Hours), The Hours (lost to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago)
Should have won for: The Hours. I know some of you might say Far from Heaven, but bear in mind I haven't seen it yet. Her work in The Hours is delicate and gentle yet strong and powerful. Although Nicole Kidman won for her performance, it's Moore who gave the best one.
Neglected by AMPAS: Magnolia, A Single Man

The Actor: Edward Norton
Although he has two Oscar nominations, I still consider Norton an underrated actor. He knows how to grab one's attention with his acting.
Nominated for: Primal Fear (lost to Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry Maguire), American History X (lost to Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful)
Should have won for: Primal Fear. This was Norton's debut as an actor and it showed that he's here to stay. He appears normal, but soon you realize that he has a dark side. It's a horrifying and in-depth performance, not common for a film debut.
Neglected by AMPAS: 25th Hour

The Actor: Ed Harris
A prolific character actor, yes, but also a very good actor. He shows range in roles that most actors can only dream of.
Nominated for: Apollo 13 (lost to Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects), The Truman Show (lost to James Coburn in Affliction), Pollock (lost to Russell Crowe in Gladiator), The Hours (lost to Chris Cooper in Adaptation)
Should have won for: The Hours. Along with his equally unsuccessful co-star Julianne Moore, Harris gave the best performance in The Hours (forget Nicole). He's only in the movie for two scenes, but he left a hell of an impact.
Neglected by AMPAS: A Beautiful Mind

Other snubbies: Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey, Jr.

So there are mine. Who are some actors you would include?

Monday, November 22, 2010

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam has one weird mind. Has he made a movie that was, you know, normal? From what I've seen, not really.

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back to 1996 to gather information on the origin of a virus that wiped out 5 billion people that year. However, he gets sent to 1990, gets arrested and sent to a mental institution. There, he meets psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and mental patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).

Geez, Pitt is CRAZY in this. I love his crazy look, which is really just his eyes bugging out. He is clearly a scene stealer in 12 Monkeys. Not bad for someone who's going through nicotine withdrawal (I'm not lying, look it up). Willis kicks some serious ass. It has the Gilliam quirkiness, but alas it also falls victim to what usually happens halfway through a Gilliam pic: the story crumples. But still, it holds up for a good chunk of time.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Impressed but not blown away by Days of Heaven and The New World, I was nervous if I was going to like The Thin Red Line. But I was told by a fellow blogger that I should see Badlands before The Thin Red Line otherwise I wouldn't like it.

After murdering her father, Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) and Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) hit the road and go on a killing spree.

One of the differences that Badlands has and Days of Heaven and The New World don't is that Badlands has a faster pace, something which I like. It's actually based on the  case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who were responsible for nine murders back in 1958 (the producers had to change names to avoid a lawsuit from the soon-to-be paroled Fugate). The work from Sheen (whom I almost didn't recognize) and Spacek is very good. Malick has finally captured my interest for his movies. Now I'm really looking forward to The Thin Red Line as well as The Tree of Life, whenever the hell that gets released.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Knowing Oliver Stone, he never shies away from controversial subjects. Glorification of violence (Natural Born Killers), the lies of a disgraced President (Nixon), the Vietnam War (Platoon)...you name it, chances are he's covered it.

Three years after John F. Kennedy's assassination, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) starts an investigation of what really happened that November day in 1963. He uncovers facts that don't match with what the FBI said and a conspiracy that may go deeper than he could have ever imagined.

Oh God, where to start with this one? The opening credits make you feel as though you're watching a documentary, but you soon realize that JFK is a documentary-style movie. Costner gives a career best performance as Garrison (ironic considering that in Bull Durham Costner said, "I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone"). Gary Oldman's work as Lee Harvey Oswald continues to make me wonder how the hell he doesn't have any Oscar nominations to his name. Tommy Lee Jones was also good, though I wouldn't dub his performance worthy of an Oscar nod. Along with Costner, Oldman and Jones, JFK has a star-studded cast that's well-acted. Even though some of the facts have been altered for Stone's liking, most of the facts presented in JFK are true. JFK really has you wondering about the honesty of of the US government.

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 19, 2010


Otto Preminger was essentially the Golden Age equivalent of Oliver Stone. Every time he had a movie released, controversy would follow. He actually introduced touchy subjects to film, most notably rape in Anatomy of a Murder and drug abuse in The Man with the Golden Arm.

Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is investigating the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). He questions the two men that knew her best: journalist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who helped Laura with her career and in the process fell in love with her, and her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). To make matters bizarre, McPherson finds himself falling in love with Laura upon seeing her portrait. Then, the investigation takes a truly strange twist.

It's hard to talk about Laura without giving anything crucial away. But I'll try. Laura is well-acted, the cinematography and music are superb, and Preminger's direction is excellent. There are so many twists and turns throughout Laura, your head will be spinning. It has to be one of the best film noirs out there.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Most of the foreign films I've seen are depressing and downbeat (The Seventh Seal, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), so it's not that often that a foreign film I see is lighthearted. Then there was Amelie.

Amelie (Audrey Tatou) is a shy waitress in a Montmarte cafe. After returning a long-lost childhood treasure to a former occupant of her apartment and seeing the effect it has on him, she decides to set out on a mission to make others happy and in the meantime pursues a quirky guy who collects discarded photo booth pictures.

This is a refreshing break from the melancholiac foreign films I've seen beforehand. Tatou is enjoyable to watch. Again, most foreign films revolve around death (and occasionally sex). Not Amelie; it's about how to live life to the fullest.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gangs of New York

Ah, Scorsese. One of the few great directors still working today. First Robert De Niro was his muse, now it's Leonardo DiCaprio. Nice.

Sixteen years after witnessing his father's death, Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) starts to work for Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the man who killed his father. But as Amsterdam gets closer to having his revenge, tensions between rival gangs flare to which a war is ignited.

Oh man, Scorsese. You really like directing intense movies, don't you? It's a shame that Gangs of New York got nothing at the Oscars that year. Day-Lewis gives a really excellent performance (which is almost something you should watch before seeing There Will Be Blood), but if you were to ask me who deserved the Oscar that year I'd go with Adrien Brody in The Pianist. Cutting's lust for blood and power is terrifying. A couple of people were saying that DiCaprio was miscast, which I sort of agree on. I mean, he was good but he didn't keep that Irish accent for very long. But overlooking that, he gives an underrated performance (along with another performance from the same year Catch Me If You Can). The representation of violence throughout Gangs of New York shows that it is the only means of having anything resolved. Scorsese gives us an unflinching look of life in 19th century New York City.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Romance in film is usually dependent on how believable the chemistry is between the actors. If it works, one of two things will happen: either they become lovers on film several more times or they're lovers off-screen. It's usually the former.

Five years after their first encounter, corporate spies Ray Koval (Clive Owen) and Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) meet again. This time around, they plot to steal a formula that will make millions.

Although they had good chemistry in Duplicity, I believe that Owen and Roberts have better (and more believable) chemistry in Closer. Tony Gilroy, who's better known for his directorial debut Michael Clayton, gives us a light caper that provides entertainment but not much else. Duplicity is worth at least a look.

My Rating: ****

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Boston Strangler

The recent passing of Tony Curtis had saddened me, knowing that Hollywood has lost a great actor. I've seen his work range from comedy (Some Like It Hot) to film noir (Sweet Smell of Success) to epic (Spartacus) to social drama (The Defiant Ones). And with The Boston Strangler, I've added crime to the genres.

The city of Boston is in a state of panic. A murderer is on the loose. John Bottomly (Henry Fonda) is assigned to lead the investigation. Suspects are brought in, but none bring the police any closer to finding the killer. Meanwhile, culprit Albert DeSalvo (Curtis) continues his murderous spree.

Curtis shows a new level to his acting. There is one scene at the end where DeSalvo tells Bottomly a word for word description of what he said to one of his victims before attacking and killing her, as well as body language showing what he did to his victim. That scene alone shows the caliber of Curtis' acting.

Along with Curtis, Fonda also gives a very good performance. If you know me enough you know that I'm a criminology freak, so of course I liked The Boston Strangler. It was good most of the time, but it felt a little much in some scenes. Oh, and if you're curious of DeSalvo's fate (considering the movie was released just a few years after he confessed to the murders) I'll tell you: he was murdered in 1973, his killer never identified. A fitting end for a professed murderer? That I'll leave up to you.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Most directors are associated with a certain movie genre. John Ford has the western, Alfred Hitchcock has the thriller and David Lean has the epic.

British prisoners of war are ordered to build a bridge to connect the Burma-Siam railway. Against the idea at first, they are persuaded by Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) to build the bridge as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity. Nicholson endures amounts of torture under the order of Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). As the bridge nears completion, Nicholson becomes more obsessed. Unknown to him, the Allies have sent a mission to destroy the bridge.

I thought The Bridge on the River Kwai was very good, though I believe that Lean's other Oscar-winning epic Lawrence of Arabia is better. I also thought that William Holden gave a performance that was slightly better than Guinness'. But apart from those factors, The Bridge on the River Kwai is one movie where I agree with its Oscar wins.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Black Hawk Down

Ridley Scott is one helluva director. Action, sci-fi, war, crime...you name it, he has directed it.

On October 3, 1993, nearly 100 US Army Rangers, commanded by Capt. Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), were dropped by helicopter deep into the capital city of Mogadishu to capture the two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord. This lead to a large and drawn-out firefight between the Rangers and hundreds of Somali gunmen, leading to the destruction of two US Black Hawk helicopters.

Geez, that was intense. But still, Black Hawk Down is an interesting character study. The intensity of the violence is a little much for me (I'm a wimp, so sue me). Scott still has me interested in his other work (I've only seen Matchstick Men). Black Hawk Down wasn't as notable as other entries from 2001 (A Beautiful Mind, Mulholland Drive, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, etc.), but it's as good as the others.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rachel Getting Married

Don't you love it when an actor does a role outside of their normal work? Take for example Anne Hathaway. She started out with light movies such as The Princess Diaries, but after her supporting work in Brokeback Mountain she has been doing more serious work.

Kym Buchman (Hathaway) has left rehab to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Bu tensions between Kym and the rest of her family reignite upon her arrival.

Last year I was lucky enough to see Sidney Lumet and his daughter Jenny (who wrote Rachel Getting Married) speak at Lincoln Center. Jenny said she wrote one scene of Rachel Getting Married after a real-life event. The scene in question is the dishwasher scene. She said she based it off something similar that happened between her father and Bob Fosse.

Hathaway shows good promise for her career with her work in Rachel Getting Married. The rest of the cast is also very good. Johnathan Demme, who also directed The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, gives us a view of a dysfunctional family that slowly gets back together after a wrench gets thrown at it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Half Nelson

Now and then there are some actors that you wouldn't imagine as Oscar nominees, particularly from their line of work. But once you see the performance that got them an Oscar nod, you view them differently.

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a history teacher who has a serious drug addiction. Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of his students, finds out about it. The two form an unlikely friendship.

Gosling gives an outstanding performance (a far cry from The Notebook, don't you think?), but apart from that there isn't really much else. It felt bland to me. It wasn't enough for me to really like, I can tell you that. But it's still worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Departed

Martin Scorsese is best known for directing one type of movie: crime movies with bursts of violence, f-bombs and testosterone.

Two recent graduates of Massachusetts State Police Academy follow opposite sides of the law: Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to work undercover with Irish mobster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) to get evidence to arrest him. His true identity is only known by his superiors Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) and Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen). Costello protegee Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is promoted in the Massachusetts State Police and is the informer of Costello. Each police officer gives his best effort trying to disclose the identity of the other "rat".

Now where to start with The Departed...oh yeah, now I know. Did Scorsese deserve the Oscar for The Departed? Well, yes and no. Yes because The Departed is very good; no because Scorsese had done movies that were better (Raging Bull and Goodfellas come to mind). DiCaprio and Damon break free of the images they were branded with back in the 90s. Sheen and Nicholson give the movie an experienced feel to it. As for Wahlberg, he gives The Departed its badass attitude.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

25th Hour

Spike Lee is known for directing movies that emphasize life in urban neighborhoods, stuff you can relate to. Not things that couldn't happen in real life. Lee is one of the few directors who gets the right dose of realism in their movies.

Drug dealer Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) has only one day of freedom before heading off to prison for seven years. Prowling New York City until dawn with friends Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Slaughtery (Barry Pepper) and girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), Monty re-examines his life and how he got into his predicament.

Oh man, where to start? I love the shots during the opening credits of the lights signifying where the World Trade Center once stood. There is also a really great shot from Slaughtery's apartment of the remains of the Twin Towers. Those images show how affected Lee was with 9/11. The score by Terence Blanchard is excellent, as with Norton's performance. Norton's best scene is where he gives a f-bomb filled rant (has to be one of the most explicit pieces of dialogue I've heard in a movie). 25th Hour is an underrated from Lee that shouldn't be ignored. At all.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Constant Gardener

Last year, I was introduced to a well-known British actor: Ralph Fiennes. His sharp blue eyes, his urbane accent and his range in roles from creepy (Schindler's List, In Bruges) to charming (Quiz Show) has made him one of my favorite actors.

After the murder of his activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), diplomat Justin Quayle (Fiennes) seeks out to find what the motive was. As he gets more into the investigation, he discovers a cover-up by a drug company, something Tessa was trying to expose at the time of her death.

Fiennes and Weisz give string performances in The Constant Gardener, especially Weisz for the limited amount of time she's on screen. Fernando Meirelles, who may be more familiar with City of God, shows us poverty-ridden Africa in an unflinching light. The Constant Gardener may be overlooked from time to time, but it's a very good political thriller.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 8, 2010

Le Samourai

Of the number of foreign films I've seen, the one language that is the most popular is French with three films. Those three are The 400 Blows, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Le Samourai.

Jef Costello (Alain Delon) is a contract killer who knows how to get away with the perfect crime. But his most recent hit left him with several witnesses, a police officer determined to arrest him and a vengeful boss.

Yowza, Delon is sexy in this. Talk about killer looks. Le Samourai is sleek and chic. Jean-Pierre Melville shows 1960s France in both a flattering and unflattering light. Flattering for the lifestyle of the time; unflattering for its depiction of law, showing police officers straining to get their man. But still, Le Samourai is a diverse entry of the French New Wave.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paper Moon

Along with casting real-life couples as lovers, another casting idea is to have real-life family members cast as family members in movies. There are a number of famous Hollywood families (the Coppolas, the Hustons, the Fondas), some of them still working today.

Con man Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) reluctantly agrees to bring recently orphaned Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal) to Missouri. He isn't fond of her at the start, but she manages to rake in more money. Problems arise when dancer Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn) enters the picture.

One of the main issues with Tatum's Oscar win is that it's misleading; she won for Supporting Actress even though she's in almost the entire movie. My theory is she got placed in Supporting because she hadn't been in any other movies before Paper Moon. Anyway, moving on. The rest of Paper Moon is fun and light. But considering it was released the same year as The Sting (both movies focus on con artists from the Great Depression era), it feels like it has been done already.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Real-life couples usually get cast to play lovers in movies (ie, Humphrey  Bogart and Lauren Bacall). So what happens when a couple who's very much in love have to go at each other's throats? You get Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) are an aging couple who have spent their marriage drinking and fighting. They invite young couple Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis) for drinks, but Nick and Honey will see George and Martha's crumbling marriage.

An adaptation of an acclaimed play? Who else but a veteran of directing Broadway to make it? The performances from Burton, Taylor, Segal and Dennis are top notch. George and Martha are a match made in hell. I'm not sure what they saw in each other when they first met, but there's a good chance that they were drunk. Honestly, this is one of the few directorial debuts that doesn't get overlooked by the director's later movies. In fact, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is Nichols' most famous movie, which I definitely have to agree on.

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 5, 2010

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Sam Rockwell is becoming one of my favorite character actors. He's been in a lot of supporting roles, but he has had the opportunity to be the lead. The two main ones are Moon (one of the best sci-fi movies in recent years) and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

At the height of his television career, Chuck Barris (Rockwell) is recruited by the CIA and trained to become a covert operative.

I really hope that through this and Moon Rockwell will get more lead roles, but recently he has been doing mostly supporting work. Another reason for why Confessions of a Dangerous Mind didn't rocket Rockwell to leading man status is because he got overshadowed by his bigger name co-stars George Clooney (this marks his directorial debut), Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts. Keep your eyes peeled for blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as contestants on The Dating Game. The screenplay by Charlie Kaufman (who also wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) honestly makes you wonder if the actions in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind actually happened or they're a figment of Kaufman's imagination.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Exorcist

William Friedkin is one of the few directors to have had back-to-back hits. Those were The French Connection, for which he won an Oscar, and The Exorcist, where he scared the hell out everyone back in 1973.

Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) starts to notice some unusual changes in her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). She seeks help from Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is losing his faith. The top priest who can deal with an exorcism is the aging Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), who is called in to rid of the demon inside Regan.

I'll admit The Exorcist didn't scare me as much as it should have but damn, it's really fucked up. It'll screw up your mind, I can tell you that. Blair gives one of the best child performances in film history. I also admire the work from Burstyn and Miller. Friedkin is responsible for directing the most messed up horror movie in existence.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A role her father did was as one of the most infamous serial killers that ever lived. Her mother's most famous role was as the victim of Hollywood's most prolific murder scene. So wouldn't it be appropriate that their daughter's film debut was as the prey of a deranged killer?

Fifteen years after murdering his older sister, Michael Myers escapes from the mental institution, much to the dismay and horror of his psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael returns to his hometown of Haddonfield and starts stalking Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she makes plans for Halloween. But Loomis isn't going to have Michael claim another victim.

Over thirty years old and it's still scary. The fact that this could actually happen makes it really unnerving. There are actually a few references to Psycho in Halloween, particularly the name of Sam Loomis (in Halloween, he is Michael's psychiatrist; in Psycho, he is Marion's lover). Pretty ballsy stuff for a horror movie with a shoestring budget. One of the best horror movies ever made.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Birdman of Alcatraz

The best known movie of director John Frankenheimer is the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate. He had another movie released the same year.

As an inmate at Leavenworth prison, Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster) has a series of confrontations with the guards and other convicts. After Stroud kills a guard, he is sentenced to life in solitary confinement. He develops an  deep interest in caring for birds after finding one in the exercise yard, which gives him a new purpose in life.

Although very good, Birdman of Alcatraz got some of the facts wrong. For example, the real Robert Stroud was the complete opposite of Lancaster's portrayal. The facts get mixed with Hollywood fabrication even more towards the last hour of Birdman of Alcatraz. But moving away from the inaccuracies, Birdman of Alcatraz, like I said before, is very good. Lancaster gives one of his best performances (though I consider his overall best performance is in Sweet Smell of Success). Frankenheimer directs a tale of redemption and human nature.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm not doing a BOOK VS MOVIE post this month. I need to catch up on the subject matter, soo...yeah. There'll be one next month.