Saturday, March 31, 2012


Ever since Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was released back in 1968, there have been a number of science fiction trying to capture the blend of humanity and outer space. Several of them have gotten to the psychological root of it all, especially Danny Boyle's Sunshine.

The film focuses on many topics, such as theology, atheism and the importance of life. Let's start off with the latter topic. The crew is sent off to drop a nuclear bomb into the dying sun. A previous mission tried and failed to do the task. It's up to the second crew to save the human race from extinction.

Many thoughts towards the importance of life could be put into perspective here, but let's focus on one of them. The reason for why there is life is to make an impact on the world. Without life, there is nothing to speak of.

But what about the theology and atheism perspectives? Ah, now that's an interesting one. One of the characters, whose identity I'll keep anonymous, loses grips with reality and feels if the mission is aborted, they will get closer to God. None of the other characters feel that way. Are they atheists or aren't they?

Sunshine is quite good. The music is unbelievably haunting as with the whole premise. Some people had problems with the third act, but not me. I liked it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, March 30, 2012

The King's Speech

Tom Hooper's The King's Speech by some standards appears to have everything that qualifies for an Oscar film (ie, lead character overcoming disability, based on real events, British royalty, etc.). Harvey Weinstein being a driving force for its awards campaign is another contributor. When you look past those small details, there is a very good film.

The film focuses on Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) and his troubled rise to the throne as King George VI. Troubled because he suffers from a stammer that makes it embarrassing for him to speak, and because his family expects much from him. With the aid of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and the support of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), he manages to control his stammer.

Okay, cliches all over, but just try to place yourself in Albert's shoes. Day in and day out, he listens to people of power while he remains a man of few words in fear of being looked down upon. In his own words, it's daunting "Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can't speak."

The subplot's interesting. It focuses for a while on Albert's brother Edward, Prince of Wales (Guy Pearce). Foe those unaware of what sort of firestorm he conjured up, he was involved with a married woman. (The story is told in greater detail in W.E..) You can tell Edward's undergoing a great deal of stress.

The King Speech is quite good though not as great as some might say. Firth is very good, though he still should have won for A Single Man instead. All in all, a good display of acting is shown here.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 29, 2012


In recent years, biopics have become more common. The problem, though, is that the quality has declined. Fortunately, there are a few whose quality has held up.

In regards with Taylor Hackford's Ray, it's one of those examples. The screen just comes alive when Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) performs. Not many films can boast a feat like that.

Foxx portrays Charles not as a man begging for sympathy for his many flaws but as someone who accepts his flaws for what they are. Charles went through the typical musician lifestyle of drugs and infidelity, but Hackford isn't interested on those. He's more interested in the music.

I myself had never heard any of Charles' music prior to watching Ray, though I was aware of his status in the music world. Like his music, Charles was a very lively person, and Foxx captures that liveliness. Charles also wasn't a stupid person. He may have been blind, but he knew what was going on around him.

Ray has everything most biopics strive to have: good performances from all of its actors, a captivating story and, most importantly, accuracy. Foxx is fantastic as Charles, so it's no surprise on how he won. In short, a must-see.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shakespeare in Love

Yeah, yeah, I know. This hasn't gotten the best of reputations because of several reasons. For instance, it continually causes a stink for it won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. For what it's worth, it has its good points.

For starters, there is the script by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Although historically inaccurate (several of the lines refer to events that would occur about two hundred years later), it's laced with witty remarks and passionate romance. (I couldn't help but laugh at an early scene where Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) describes his writer's block and it temporarily gets mistaken as troubles in the bedroom.) That's usually something I look for in a script.

The second thing is the acting. Loaded with a number of respectable names, they all play their parts well. Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush and Judi Dench may have gotten Oscar's attention (Paltrow and Dench proving themselves victorious), but my attention went to Fiennes. His sorrow, his desires, his guilt, all play across his face. That's what acting should be like. (I was also amused by Ben Affleck as an actor who thinks he's God's gift to theater.)

The smaller aspects of Shakespeare in Love work wonders. The costumes by Sandy Powell are just gorgeous. Same could be said for Stephen Warbeck's score, which, like the script, balances out humor and romance. You have to admire a film with good technical aspects and it's not a big budget production.

If you think I'm softening up to a pariah among the Best Picture winners, think again. Yes, I did just sang my praises for it, but it doesn't mean I loved it. In short, did it deserve to win over Saving Private Ryan? Nope. (Damn it, Weinstein!)

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Terms of Endearment

The early scenes of James L. Brooks' Terms of Endearment shows the tension between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma Greenway (Debra Winger). They constantly bicker over Emma's life but like every mother and daughter, they love each other.

When Emma marries and moves away, Aurora finds herself without much to do. Enter Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a former astronaut and her new neighbor. She is at first a little disgusted by his habits but as time wears on (and she gets older), she manages to overlook them.

She doesn't let Emma get away so easily however. As Emma has kids and continually struggles with money, Aurora, being the mother that she is, gives her both a scorning and words of encouragement. Emma toughens up and deals with her mother's bickering, yet you can tell she still loves Aurora. (She is her mother after all.)

Brooks made his directing debut with Terms of Endearment, and that fact is a tad evident throughout. Indeed he can balance out humor and heartbreak, though the latter does tend to overwhelm the former. He does hit the right notes in the third act however.

Terms of Endearment, although melodramatic in parts, is very well done. MacLaine, Winger and Nicholson give great performances. Also, the final exchange between MacLaine and Winger is bound to reduce you to a blubbering mess.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, March 26, 2012

Finding Neverland

Marc Forster's Finding Neverland could be viewed as merely a biopic on J.M. Barrie. In some eyes, the film could be viewed as an allegory on dying youth.

Barrie (Johnny Depp) at the start of the film is a moderately successful playwright. However, he isn't happy. His newest play flops, his marriage is dwindling, and society expects him to be a decent member of it rather than an immature one.

Enter Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), a widow with four young sons. She is struggling with raising them by herself, her mother (Julie Christie) providing little to no help. Barrie provides for the boys a world they probably never encountered with their father.

However, Peter (Freddie Highmore) is beyond hesitant with accepting Barrie as a sort of substitute father. He doesn't want anyone to replace his father. He also isn't as won over by Barrie's imagination like his brothers are. But slowly he starts to accept Barrie.

Finding Neverland is very good. Depp, Winslet and Highmore deliver fine performances while Forster channels those performances to make something memorable. You never see movie magic like this anymore.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pieces of April

Admit it. You've done it before. You tried to impress someone by doing something you've never done before in your life.

Such is the case with April Burns (Katie Holmes) in Peter Hedges' Pieces of April. In order to impress her estranged family, she has invited them for Thanksgiving dinner. She has never made anything before, let alone a whole Thanksgiving spread, so she's hoping everything will pan out.

However, the worst thing happens: her oven doesn't work. After her brief moment of panic, she finds a solution. But even that might be a bigger problem.

April's family on the flip side are beyond reluctant to go to her place. Their trek to her New York apartment is laced with mostly unnecessary pit stops, a number of them pertaining to food. They just don't think April has changed.

Pieces of April is quite good. Along with Holmes, there's also some great work from Patricia Clarkson. There are a few moments that hit close to the heart that fortunately work. (Anywhere else they would've flopped.) All in all, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Woody Allen has a certain sense of humor that everyone knows about. It consists of a few sly jokes inserted into the compelling story.

Such is the case with his 1983 film Zelig. A mockumentary on human chameleon Leonard Zelig (Allen), it chronicles the bizarre life Zelig had as from media sensation to sideshow freak.

Years before Christopher Guest practically nailed it down to a science, Allen has a good idea of what a mockumentary should be like. The archival footage looks aged as though it was actually from the 1930's. A great feat for a film from the 1980's.

Allen also shows in Zelig the effects of celebrity on society. Zelig himself is catapulted into stardom upon the discovery of his condition. He doesn't mind it at first, but then it becomes too much to handle. Happens all the time in real life too.

Zelig is definitely one of Allen's best films. It has a great balance of satire and heart, a common theme among Allen's work. Allen is great, as with Mia Farrow. Just goes to show that Allen knows how to make a good film.

My Rating: *****

Friday, March 23, 2012


You don't find good adventure films nowadays. All the good ones are from the 1980's, and all of the new titles have too much CGI and not much else.

Thankfully Joe Johnston made Hidalgo, a nice blend of adventure and action. He doesn't depend on special effects or CGI to tell a tale. He relies on a good story, good actors and a lot of hands-on action for his film.

Hidalgo is about Frank Hopkins, played by Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen at the time was still in the supporting actor ranks, and Hidalgo was a major contributor into becoming a leading man. (Bear in mind the following year he was in A History of Violence, an even bigger contribution to his career.)

Mortensen plays Hopkins as someone with visible flaws. He knows he's not perfect, though he has a few redeeming qualities. He also possesses a few troubled demons as well. All in all, Hopkins is practically the definition of anti-hero.

In a way, Hidalgo is the kind of film Hollywood used to make on a regular basis. It has its flaws, sure, but the level of entertainment it's on makes up for them. Also, anyone who saw and liked Lawrence of Arabia or Gunga Din (or even better both) is bound to like Hidalgo.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, March 22, 2012


There's always something amusing about directors working outside of their comfort zone. Look at Steven Spielberg with Schindler's List. Look at James Cameron with Titanic. Look at Kenneth Branagh with Thor.

Branagh is known for his numerous Shakespeare adaptations, so it comes as no surprise that Thor would bear a few elements of the Bard's work. (Branagh himself viewed it as a comic book version of Henry V.) To those familiar with Shakespeare's work, one could view Thor not as a blemish among Branagh's previous work but as something similar to it.

A theme among Shakespeare's plays is a war within a family. Indeed the bonds between Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and sons Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are strained, and there are reasons. Odin wants peace when Thor wants war, and Loki feels betrayed when he learns his whole life was a lie.

The bond between Thor and Loki isn't exactly great either. It's clear that Loki envies the life Thor leads. He desires to have the love Odin gives Thor. He also believes he can rectify the many wrongs in his life by the lives of those around him.

Thor provides a good examination of the three men, especially from the Shakespearean light they were in. It's very possible that Branagh had the Shakespeare allusions put into the movie on purpose. Who knows what it would've been like without them?

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


One can't help but notice a few parallels between Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful and his earlier film Fatal Attraction. Both, after all, focus on the dangerous side of extramarital affairs. However, the differences are just as noticeable.

Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) has a respectable life. Her husband Edward (Richard Gere) loves her and she seems content with her status as a stay-at-home mom. Then she meets Paul (Oliver Martinez), which starts off friendly then quickly becomes something else.

Here's where the parallels with Fatal Attraction come in. Like Dan, Connie probably started the affair with Paul just to change things up. She probably got bored with being a wife and mother, and maybe Paul makes her feel younger.

And the differences come into play now. Unlike Dan, Connie can't bring herself to end the affair. In fact, she's more like Alex in regards with the affair. (She lashes out violently when she sees Paul with another woman.) And saying the two films vary violence-wise...well, it depends strictly on one's viewpoint.

Unfaithful has its flaws amongst the script and character structure but it makes up with the performances from Lane and Gere. Lyne, although he provides a better view with Fatal Attraction, gives his audience a look at how poisonous infidelity can become.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Michael Clayton

Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton opens with a manic rambling by Arthur Edens (Ton Wilkinson). At first, it sounds as though this man needs treatment. In reality, there's more to this story.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is hired to keep Arthur in line as a lawsuit is underway. (Arthur is the lead attorney in the case.) As Arthur starts to mentally unravel more, details behind the case start to bubble up to the surface.

Michael and Arthur are very interesting people to watch in the way of how their minds function, but it's next to impossible to take your eyes away when Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is present. Her mind works in very calculating ways yet her face remains frigid. It's a hell of a performance from Swinton. No surprise on how she won.

The star of Michael Clayton isn't Clooney, nor is it Wilkinson or Swinton. It is Gilroy's script, calculating like the principal characters. It's as cunning as anything this side of a John Frankenheimer or Sidney Lumet film. You don't find those very often nowadays.

Michael Clayton is damn good, there's no denying that. Everything just manages to blend together excellently. (Take note that "perfectly" wasn't used.) It definitely ranks up there as one of the best films of the last decade.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, March 19, 2012

Imaginary Heroes

When there's a death in the family, the ways of coping vary from person to person. This is the case with the Travis family following the suicide of son Matt (Kip Pardue) in Dan Harris' Imaginary Heroes.

Matt's death hits the hardest on father Ben (Jeff Daniels). He was so proud of his Matt's accomplishments, so he would be the one having the most difficulty accepting his death. In fact, it's even harder for him to connect with his other kids Tim (Emile Hirsch) and Penny (Michelle Williams).

Mother Sandy (Sigourney Weaver) also takes the news hard, though not as much as Ben. She clearly has a lot else on her mind, but it isn't specified until much later. Her means of coping are different than most. What does she do? Marijuana.

Tim, although he found the body, takes the news with ease. Yet he appears troubled. Like most teenagers, he tries to escape reality with drugs and alcohol, but even those don't help. He feels out of place in the world he inhabits, trying to find where he belongs.

Imaginary Heroes is a good film, but it's not without its flaws. Harris makes Ben too much of a melodramatic figure. The film should have strictly focused on Sandy and Tim. Also, it feels as though Harris tried to cram every cliche about coping in his film. On the plus side, Weaver and Hirsch do wonders with what little their parts offer. And the third act definitely makes up for the lagging first two. In short, Imaginary Heroes isn't bad but it could have been greatly improved.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Y Tu Mama Tambien

The introduction to protagonists Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) has them doing the very thing they constantly crave: sex. (They're teenagers. What do you expect?)  The rest of Alfonso Cuaron's enticing film shows the two trying to find themselves.

Tenoch and Julio, both temporarily free from their girlfriends for the summer, strive to do something memorable. But what exactly? Drugs? They do those on occasion already. Parties? Same. A trip? There's a thought.

Enter Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the wife of Tenoch's cousin. Think of her as a much sadder Mrs. Robinson. She is an independent woman but she doesn't (or doesn't want to) grasp it. She feels more comfortable when in the presence of a man. The reverse could be applied to both Tenoch and Julio.

Throughout their trek, secrets are revealed, those one would take to their grave. Cuaron's script ensures that the reactions to these revelations are honest, not overdone. Same could be said for the sex scenes. Cuaron makes sure that those scenes have a sense of meaning rather than being pornographic or mechanical.

Y Tu Mama Tambien is a very captivating film, much in the same sense as Almodovar's Talk to Her and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. All three films focus on the characters' burning desires for others and how they use it to escape reality. It may be in Spanish, but nothing gets lost in translation here.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nobody's Fool

Honest question: who doesn't like Paul Newman? Seriously, how could one not love those dazzling blue eyes, that gorgeous smile and that charming personality?

In Robert Benton's Nobody's Fool, he is Donald "Sully" Sullivan, the local delinquent of a small New York town. Everyone in town knows how much of a troublemaker Sully is. Well, everyone except his visiting son Peter (Dylan Walsh).

Newman early in his career starred in a number of movies where he was a rebel or an anti-hero, such as Hud, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sully is no exception. Sure, he cares about a few of the local residents, but he mainly cares about his own well-being.

Like Ted in Benton's more famous work Kramer vs. Kramer, Sully is trying to reconnect with Peter as well as his grandson. It's an unsuccessful feat at first, but eventually he manages to form a sort of bond with them.

Nobody's Fool contains one of Newman's best later career performances. There's also some great work from Bruce Willis. Benton weaves a tale of forgiveness and hopeful understanding. In short, a film everyone needs to see at least once.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, March 16, 2012

Training Day

From the first interaction between Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) and Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), one can tell of the clear differences between them. Hoyt follows the rules he was taught by the police while Harris follows his own rules with a vengeance. It's still detectable throughout the rest of the film.

Harris is clearly someone who let the power of the badge go straight to his head. He feels because he's the law, he can act above it. It isn't the first time a dirty cop has been the primary focus in a film, but Washington breathes new life into the role. Gotta love the sight of the devil in his eyes.

Hoyt however doesn't let such a thing happen to him. In fact, it's very possible he never saw such behavior before. He may let Harris be a bad influence for a while, but at least he knows when he's gone too far. Good trying to overcome evil, a battle persistent throughout the film.

Antoine Fuqua paints a portrait of Los Angeles life, full of bullets and blood. It isn't as stylized as what Michael Mann presented with Heat or Collateral though one could view Training Day as the city's true nature. Either way, it's the kind of world you don't want to get near.

Training Day is good, but it glorifies gang life too much. Washington is great as with Hawke. Fuqua presents a tale of right and wrong within the law, one that is all too hard to avoid.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, March 15, 2012

7x7 Link Award

Boy, it's been a while since I got one of these things. Let's see if I remember what to say. *ahem* Meredith, the sweetheart that she is, gave me this award a few days ago. Rules are as followed:

  •  Tell everyone something that no one else knows about.
Umm, this is hard considering I have a Twitter account. Let's see...oh! I much prefer the city over the country. Not exciting but what the hell, it's all I got.
  • Link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-Worthy Piece.
Oh, this should be fun.

Most Beautiful Piece That honor goes to this one. You didn't mean literally beautiful, right?

Most Helpful Piece Not generally a single post, but more so the whole BOOK VS. MOVIE series. After all, I've heard a few people they might read the book as well. See? Helpful.

Most Popular Piece According to Blogger, it's my list of favorite actors. (Mostly for photo searches.) According to the comments, it varies. I'm settling with my 100 favorite things about movies.

Most Controversial Piece It's a toss-up. It's either my perspective on performances and the Academy Awards or how Hollywood is a male-dominated business. Either way, they both managed to caused a stink.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece No contest. That goes to my list of Oscar-less actors. (Too bad its follow-up didn't get as much love.)

Most Underrated Piece Well, this was something I did in the early stages of this blog (when it was still called 'Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile').

Most Pride-Worthy Piece I feel that my piece on fellow bloggers and who they love get this honor. (Hey, you'd be amazed at what one learns on Twitter.)
  • Pass this award on to seven other bloggers.
Not sure who got it already, but I'm giving them to:
  1. Diana @ Aziza's Picks
  2. Tyler @ Southern Vision
  3. Sam @ Duke and the Movies
  4. Andrew @ Andy Buckle's Film Emporium
  5. Stevee @ Cinematic Paradox
  6. Brandie @ True Classics
  7. Lesya @ Eternity of Dream
Okay, I'm done. Now go bother the other blogs. Go on, go!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


When one watches Michel (Martin LaSalle) sneaking his fingers into a woman's purse or a man's pocket, there's that feeling of suspense you normally find in a Hitchcock film. You know what he's doing isn't right yet you can't help but hope he'll get away with it.

Michel is really something. A gaunt figure in a size too big suit, he appears devoid of any emotion, his face blank of expression. Yet it's his eyes that show what his face cannot, all the fear and joy from the robberies he has committed.

There's no clear reason as to why Michel is a pickpocket. He views it as the easiest way to get money. Sure, getting a steady job is the best (and legal) way but you have to admit, you'd probably do the same thing if you were desperate.

Director Robert Bresson doesn't make Michel a sympathetic or unsympathetic figure. Feelings towards him are neutral at most, however that is not entirely a bad thing. It gives the viewer more of a chance to watch the film and Michel's actions.

Pickpocket is a really great film. It captures the inner workings of a criminal, something that many lated films strived to capture as well. In short, a must for true cinephiles.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Barry Levinson's Sleepers is one of those films that may be hard to watch, depending on the person. Still, Levinson makes sure that the film sticks in the viewer's mind.

Sleepers opens with the introduction of Lorenzo "Shakes" Carcaterra (Joe Perrino), Michael Sullivan (Brad Renfro), Tommy Marcano (Jonathan Tucker) and John Reilly (Geoffrey Wigdor), our four protagonists from Hell's Kitchen. After a prank goes horribly wrong, they're sent off to a juvenile facility where it's a living hell.

Years pass. Shakes (Jason Patric) works for a newspaper. Michael (Brad Pitt) is a lawyer assigned to prosecute Tommy (Billy Crudup) and John (Ron Eldard), both on trial for murder. (Not their first time in the courtroom either.) It's a battle of morals for them and those watching the case.

As with most criminology cases, understanding the motives behind the crime is key. One crucial reason for why criminals do what they do is what happened in their childhoods. The more abuse they endured, the more severe their crimes will become. This can most definitely be applied to Tommy and John.

As mentioned above, Sleepers really stick in your mind once the credits start to roll. The performances are great, especially a very menacing turn from Kevin Bacon. (How he still doesn't have an Oscar nomination is anyone's guess.) Also, I love the look in Patric, Pitt, Crudup and Eldard's eyes expressing the damaged souls within them.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, March 12, 2012

Alpha Dog

With his father being the pioneer of independent film, one would imagine that Nick Cassavetes possesses the same skill as John. In a way, he does in regards with focus on certain characters. Yet his films don't have the same edge as his father's.

He tries to with Alpha Dog, but doesn't even get close to the minimum level. John captured an emotional intensity in his work while Nick unsuccessfully tries to get that intensity within the profanity-laced dialogue. Just goes to show that some things are better left unchanged.

Alpha Dog is based on the actions of Jesse James Hollywood. (Names were changed for the film.) Hollywood by all accounts was the kind of guy you don't mess with. You mess with him, he will get his gang to go after you.

The cast is star-studded and they manage to work with what little material they have. Of them, the best work in my opinion came from Anton Yelchin as Zack Mazursky, the unfortunate target of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch). An uncorrputed figure among the characters, it's heartbreaking to see him in his final moments. Extra kudos to Ben Foster for portraying someone neck deep in drug addiction.

Apart from a few redeeming moments, Alpha Dog just completely falls to pieces throughout. What should have been a gripping view into a notorious crime instead becomes a poor re-enactment. Then again, what does one expect from the same man who directed The Notebook?

My Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Razor's Edge

In the opening scene of Edmund Goulding's The Razor's Edge, a serene, cheerful gathering is shown. Among the guests are couple Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power) and Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney). Yet later in that same scene, it is revealed that Larry is a very conflicted person.

What made him this way? A veteran of World War I, he realizes upon his return home how precious life is. Unfortunately for him, Isabel doesn't share the same feelings as him on the subject. In fact, they don't really express many similar beliefs. (No surprise they eventually broke up.)

One such instance is in regards to Sophie MacDonald (Anne Baxter), an old friend to both of them. She becomes a broken woman (and an alcoholic) when her husband dies, and Larry can't help but feel sorry for her. Both have shattered views on life, something Isabel can't fully grasp.

Isabel is really something. She seems unable to understand any emotions except her own. She is the one who ends the relationship with Larry, not him. And yet the feelings she had for him bubble back to the surface when he becomes supportive to Sophie, whom she abhors deeply. In short, Isabel is an ice queen.

The Razor's Edge really has the viewer thinking about the meaning of life, something all too common in some of today's films but completely new to 1946 audiences. Power, Tierney, Baxter and Clifton Webb (gotta love his pithy commentary) give great performances in a film that raises many questions on existence.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, March 10, 2012

American Splendor

What American Splendor offers is a portrait of a man who first is unaffected by society then eventually offended by it.

The man is Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), the famous comic book writer who passed away back in 2010. Harvey at first didn't particularly mind that his life was the definition of mundane. It wasn't until he became a recognizable name that he realized it.

Harvey marries Joyce (Hope Davis), a fellow comic book lover who's just as messed up as him. Harvey doesn't mind; all he really wanted was some companionship. (Joyce also provides some inspiration for Harvey, even if it puts an awkward dent int their relationship.)

American Splendor is different from most biopics in that it doesn't glamorize (or in some cases de-glamorize) its subject. Instead, it treats Harvey as a normal person who just got lucky. In all honesty, that was Harvey to begin with.

All in all, American Splendor is very good. Giamatti and Davis give top notch performances. However, it felt a little dry in some scenes. Still, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini know how to make a good film.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Prairie Home Companion

Films focusing on one or two characters are good but even better when films have ensemble casts. There's just something so engaging about watching at least a dozen different characters in one film.

Not many directors can work with ensemble casts. Robert Altman was a master with them. He would have some of the biggest names in his films, ranging from Oscar winners to character actors. Let's face it: was there anyone who didn't work for Altman?

The cast for his swan song A Prairie Home Companion is a hell of an ensemble. The names include Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor (host of the real A Prairie Home Companion), Virginia Madsen and Maya Rudolph. They play their parts extremely well, but my favorite's Kline for his deadpan deliveries. (He honestly needs to be in more movies.)

Even with the film's focus on a radio show's final broadcast, Altman doesn't dwell on that fact. He instead treats the broadcast as an average one rather than the last. In fact, the characters don't even (or want to) treat it as the last either. They just view it as another broadcast among friends.

A Prairie Home Companion is one of those films that has the viewer forget their worries. It's just so lighthearted and fun to watch. And to think this is from the same man responsible for much darker films like MASH, The Player and Gosford Park. (Also, the life and death metaphor throughout the film is pretty good.)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Black Dahlia. Johnny Stompanato. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The blend of crime and Hollywood has captivated people for decades. The more unanswered questions there are, the more compelling the crime becomes.

Hollywoodland focuses on the life, career and sudden death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck). The latter aspect has been raising questions for years. His death was ultimately ruled a suicide, but much of the evidence rules something else? Who killed Superman? Himself or someone else?

The murder theory catches the eye of private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody). Simo could in the same field as Robert Graysmith from Zodiac. Both are willing to go to great lengths to uncover more facts. Unlike Graysmith, Simo doesn't let the case go straight to his head. And unlike Simo, Graysmith knows when to stop when he's going too far.

The film shows that Reeves could have been murdered. After all, he was in a relationship with a married woman (Diane Lane) who helped him get acting gigs. Once he got famous, he broke off the relationship, even though she was still in love with him. But the film also supports the theory that Reeves killed himself. After all, he craved a long-lasting career in Hollywood but fate didn't deal him that card.

Hollywoodland is a really interesting film. The acting is great, particularly Brody and especially Affleck. It feels as though the viewer is transported to 1959 Los Angeles. In fact, a double feature of this and Zodiac would be grand, exploring two of the biggest mysteries in California history.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


In recent years, it seems that Clint Eastwood is becoming a shadow of his former self in regards with his directing. Yeah, so some of his recent entries are lacking, but it doesn't generally mean he's thrown in the towel.

His 2008 film Changeling shows that he still has it in him. He captures a very similar mood Curtis Hanson got with L.A. Confidential. In fact, all of the elements in Changeling work fantastically by themselves as they do together.

Angelina Jolie isn't exactly someone I'm crazy about. (I blame the media overexposure.) I usually only view her as a movie star, but Changeling made me realize that she can act. We witness the hardships she endures throughout the film. You simply can't (or don't want to) believe the things she goes through.

The supporting actors of Changeling are great as well. John Malkovich and Michael Kelly are the lone saviors of the film. Jeffrey Donovan makes the cops in L.A. Confidential look honest. Amy Ryan exposes the dark side of the L.A.P.D., which could make one doubt their trust towards the law. Jason Butler Harner is the embodiment of a demented mind and it's bloody brilliant.

If I wasn't clear enough, I loved Changeling. Nothing about it feels off-key. Everything is pitch perfect. The acting, the direction, the mood...everything. Just goes to show that Eastwood still has it in him.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Working Girl

I've always liked Mike Nichols. He knows how to get good if not great performances out of his actors (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Closer). Then again, what else do you expect from someone who started out on Broadway?

His 1988 film Working Girl is another showcase of actors. To think the daughter of one of Hitchcock's blondes and two outer space badasses would be responsible for starring in this smart satire of sex and the workplace.

The two leading ladies are Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver. Both are on completely different ends of the business world. Griffith is a novice but she knows what she's doing. Weaver is a professional but she doesn't have a clue as to what she's doing. It's fun to see these two on screen.

The leading man is Harrison Ford, who is actually really great here. Bear in mind that he did a number of action movies throughout the 1980's (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner), so it's nice to see him in a lighter role.

All in all, Working Girl is a really good movie. The one major put-off is the 1980's fashion. (Seriously, they thought huge hair and shoulder pads looked good?) Still, a comedy that's smart and focuses on a woman that's not a sexpot is a rarity these days.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, March 5, 2012

American Gangster

Ridley Scott's American Gangster depicts the two sides of one world.  White and black. Right and wrong. Good and evil.

The film focuses on the rise of drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington). He was the gangster of the Harlem criminal underworld during the Vietnam era. That is, until Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) seeks to bring him down.

Washington portrays Lucas as someone who's low key and calculating. He never flaunts his wealth and success in public. He is careful with the distribution of the heroin. In short, he knows what he's doing.

Crowe portrays Roberts as a man trying rectify many wrongs. A pariah among his department, he's looking for a way to be respected by his fellow officers again. (It's not as easy as it sounds.) Once Lucas catches his eye, he knows what to do to get the respect back.

American Gangster definitely captures the true crime aspect. (After all, Lucas and Roberts themselves were creative consultants.) Not exactly much else apart from good work from Washington and Crowe, but at least Scott makes an effort here. Still, a look wouldn't hurt.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Dreamers

Billy Wilder once said, "What critics call dirty in our movies, they call lusty in foreign films." Indeed Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers does cross that very fine line between the two terms frequently, but there is so much more than sex.

The Dreamers focuses on Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American studying in Paris at the peak of the 1968 student riots. He meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), and instantly forms a bond with them because of their shared interest in film. It's not long before Matthew realizes Isabelle and Theo have their own way of having fun.

Many moments in The Dreamers focus heavily on the bond between the three. Jealously seeps in rather quickly. Theo feels threatened when Matthew falls in love with Isabelle, who gets crushed when she overhears Theo in bed with another woman. Indeed Matthew feels uncomfortable by Theo's constant presence but never threatened.

There's no real explanation as to why Isabelle and Theo act this way. Apart from going to the movies, maybe it's their way of escaping reality. But no one knows except for them.

In a way, The Dreamers is what Bertolucci's other sexed-up film Last Tango in Paris would've been like had there not been so many restrictions back then. Though one could view The Dreamers and Last Tango in Paris as one in the same. After all, both are about individuals not wanting to face reality.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Last Emperor

It's not easy giving a history lesson within a film. Many times they're only for those who have long enough attention spans. Those rare exceptions still marvel and teach their audiences.

In the opening moments of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, a Chinese prisoner is being bowed to by other prisoners. Mere moments later, he locks himself in a washroom and slits his wrists. Who is this man? Why does he want to kill himself, apart from being a prisoner? All of the answers and much more are to be revealed.

The man is Puyi (John Lone). Just years earlier, he was ruling China. He wasn't a popular ruler however. Because of the views of his tutor Reginald Johnston (Peter O'Toole) his own views of the country he ruled were changed drastically, much to the dismay of other leaders.

The technical aspects of The Last Emperor are gorgeous, mainly the Oscar-winning score, cinematography and costumes. But the color scheme is something that has to be mentioned. Early in Puyi's life, there are vibrant colors everywhere. It's when he gets older that life's true colors emerge, all bleak and dull.

The Last Emperor doesn't feel like a history lesson at all. It's more of a tale of a collapsing society and the man caught between it all. Bertolucci shows his audience what he can do, and it is fantastic.

My Rating: *****

Friday, March 2, 2012


There aren't too many ways to interpret Joe Wright's Atonement. The more common one is that it's about an undying love torn apart by a lie. I personally view it as a tale of a woman and the weight of the guilt she carries.

The woman is Briony Tallis, played in different stages of her life by Saoirse Ronan, Romala Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. When she was a girl, she witnessed a number of events that would change the course of everything she knows, all related somewhat to her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), the gardener.

Is there a motive to what Briony did at an age when she was just learning about the world around her? At some point in the film, she admits she once had a crush on Robbie. Could jealousy be the motive? After all, she did catch Cecilia and Robbie in a compromising position. Perhaps she thought if she couldn't have Robbie, no one could.

But the way she acts implies she never understood the feelings between Cecilia and Robbie. She also admits she was never in love. Yet does she understand it? Maybe it's one of those things she comprehended better as she got older, but no one knows except for her.

Atonement is a very well-crafted film, but it focuses too much on Cecilia and Robbie. There isn't enough on Briony, whom I clearly found the more compelling of the three. The cinematography and score are gorgeous, picking up for the dull spots. All in all, a very good film.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 1, 2012


When visions collide, one of two things can happen. Either it can become poetry or it can become a mess, especially if it's on a touchy subject.

In regards with Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov and Stanley Kubrick are complete opposites. Nabokov is poetic with his words while Kubrick is blunt with his vision. Despite their very distinct differences, they both manage to weave together a tale of a consuming obsession.

The way Nabokov writes this story is with lyrical musings by its narrator. Indeed the words are beautiful, but I have a notion Nabokov tended to get a little carried away with his writing.

And when Kubrick had the right mind to turn Lolita into a film, he faced a number of obstacles. Re-working the heavily obscene material into something the censors would approve of was next to impossible. And yet he manages to succeed somewhat.

Indeed there are the expected tweaks found too commonly in among Kubrick's adaptations, but it still captures how demented the human mind can become. Both the novel and the film have their own charms but since they are on different spectrums, it's hard to say which is better. The film is easier to understand yet the novel has more atmosphere to it. See? Hard to choose.

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