Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Remember my review of In Bruges where I commented its glorification of violence made me want to vomit? Not to mention its lovely uses of the f-bomb. Just recently, I saw its American counterpart.

After stumbling into an audition while evading the police, small-time criminal Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.) is cast in a movie and is flown off to Los Angeles. There, he meets up with private investigator "Gay" Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) to prepare for the role. But soon, Harry is swept up in solving a real murder.

In Bruges and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang have their similarities and differences. They're similar in the sense of f-bombs; different because Kiss Kiss Bang Bang spares us the blood-filled gore that In Bruges basks in.

Downey is essentially ideal casting as the bumbling Harry. It feels like Lethal Weapon, which seems fitting since the director wrote Lethal Weapon. I kinda got a little lost in the mix, but I managed to catch up almost as fast as I lost track of what was going on.

My Rating: ****

Friday, July 30, 2010


Christopher Nolan has recently become the savior from lousy movies. But what was the movie that started his directing career? That would be the 1998 movie Following.

A struggling writer (Jeremy Theobald) starts to follow complete strangers for no particular reason. He starts following Cobb (Alex Haw), a thief who asks him to join him. Problems arise when the writer meets a tempting blonde (Lucy Russell).

It may be only 70 minutes long (that's right, 70 minutes), but Following is an interesting movie. Its story is out of sequence (much like Nolan's next movie, Memento), which gives it its appeal. But I honestly wanted it to be just a little longer. Just a little, like another half hour.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I'm trying to catch up on the top movies from the last decade. So I've managed to have seen a handful of award winners, ranging from the Oscars to Cannes.

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), a divorced unpublished writer, takes his friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church), who is soon to be married, on a tour of California's wine country for one last escape.

Miles and Jack are complete opposites. Miles is depressed and very much to himself; Jack is optimistic and outgoing. The differences between them made me wonder how they became friends in the first place.

Sideways is a very original concept (yes, I'm aware it's based on a book). Miles is probably the most depressed character I've encountered, but Giamatti makes Miles sympathetic. The dialogue is sharp and the characters are enjoyable to watch.

My Rating: ****1/2

Bull Durham

I don't normally watch a lot of sports movies. And if I do, it's focusing on one of two sports: baseball (Fields of Dreams, The Natural, Bull Durham) or boxing (Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Raging Bull), neither of which I follow in real life.

"Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is a promising pitcher for the Durham Bulls that has "a million dollar arm but a five-cent head". Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a small-town groupie, starts a relationship with Nuke. But as time goes on, Annie finds herself more drawn to "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), the team's catcher.

Like I said in the intro, I'm not a baseball fan. But I managed to like Bull Durham. It has the right mix of comedy, sports and romance. This is the baseball movie that doesn't focus on baseball that much.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I give Sam Mends points. The man only has five movies to his name and he's become one of the more respected directors in Hollywood.

Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) enlists in the Marines in the late 1980's. He malingers during boot camp but makes it through as a sniper, paired with the usually-reliable Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). The Gulf War breaks out, and his unit goes to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield. After 175 days of boredom, adrenaline and heat, Desert Storm begins.

This had to be intersting for Gyllenhaal, considering this is his first post-Brokeback Mountain role. Mendes continues to expose the painful truths of reality, as also shown in American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. Unlike most war movies, Jarhead focuses on the memories of training rather than the actual battle.

My Rating: ****

Monday, July 26, 2010

American Beauty

You know how some movies depict life as perfect and you go, "Why can't my life be like that?" In the case of American Beauty, it's more along the lines of "Wow, thank God my life isn't like that."

Lester Burnam's (Kevin Spacey) life has hit a snag. His marriage to his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) has gone sour, his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) has alienated him from her life and he finds himself unsatisfied with his life. He finds himself attracted to Jane's friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) while Jane forms a friendship with Ricky Fitts (Wes Bently), a new neighbor who likes to videotape her.

Man, the Burnams are one messed up family. You honestly don't know who you feel more sorry for, but it's mostly aimed at Lester. The movie itself? It's about on the same level of messed up behavior as the Burnams themselves. But still, it's a good movie.

My Rating: ****1/2


Stanley Kubrick is mostly noted for his troubled productions due to his domineering personality (The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange, etc.). But the outcome is always the same: a movie that stands the test of time.

Thracian slave Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) refuses to allow himself to become the animal the Roman civilization would have him be. His love for slave girl Varinia (Jean Simmons), coupled with his revulsion at the crushing treatment and callous murders of his fellow slaves, ignites a passion for freedom. They escape and are joined by more runaways, and swell to become a vast army. Contrasted with their impassioned plans for open rebellion are the calculating minds of their Roman adversaries Crassus (Laurence Olivier), Gracchus (Charles Laughton) and Batiatus (Peter Ustinov).

This is only the fourth Kubrick movie I've seen (the other three are Dr. Strangelove, The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey), and I've become an interested watcher. The steady flow of the movie makes it easy to watch. The battle scenes are absorbing and Kubrick's direction makes the movie stunning.

My Rating: ****

Friday, July 23, 2010


Have you ever seen a performance in a biopic that's so mindblowing you practically believed the actor was the real deal? I've encountered a few (Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List, Sean Penn in Milk), but one of the best is Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote.

In 1959, Truman Capote (Hoffman), a popular writer for The New Yorker, learns about the horrific and senseless murder of a family of four in Holcomb, Kansas. Inspired by the story material, Capote and his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) travel to the town to research for an article. However, as Capote digs deeper into the story, he is inspired to expand the project into what would be his greatest work, In Cold Blood.

I honestly did double takes when Hoffman first appeared on screen. As the movie progressed, I realized Hoffman isn't just portraying Capote; he is Capote. And having recently read In Cold Blood, this just drew me in.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Damn, Nolan. You have yet to disappoint me.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief who is an expert in stealing secrets from a person's subconscious. The job has put a strain on his personal life, but his final job -- where he plants an idea rather than steal it -- may be a redeeming moment.

I got two words to describe Inception: HOLY SHIT. This blew me away. Everything works together perfectly: the acting, the story, the visual effects, the music, EVERYTHING. This beat my expectations by a mile. And the fact I saw it in IMAX (which nearly made my head explode from the sheer epicness) made it more astonishing. The originality of the story saves us from a summer of sequels, remakes and just downright bad movies. And yes, I'm aware a majority of this review makes me sound like a fangirl.

My Rating: *****

Friday, July 16, 2010

Good Performances and the Academy Awards

I'm sure you've encountered this from time to time. You keep seeing lists involving performances that got (or should've gotten) Oscar recognition. And I'm throwing in three more lists.


Cate Blanchett in The Aviator
Although I was questionable since there wasn't much resemblence between them, Blanchett makes up in doing a dead-on portrayal of Katharine Hepburn. She got Hepburn's accent dead-on, which, in my opinion, is hard to do. Believe me, I've tried (and failed).

Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront
If there's one performance I just adore, it's Brando's role of the trouble minded Terry Malloy. Like I've said before, all you have to do is watch the famed taxi cab scene and it'll show how Brando got Oscar gold and immortality with the role.

Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull
That's right, two performances. Why, you ask? Because De Niro's THAT good of an actor. He really knows how to get into character. In The Godfather Part II, he embodies Brando so perfectly I thought he was Brando. In Raging Bull, he transforms himself into Jake LaMotta.

Faye Dunaway in Network
Dunaway's part of Diane Christenson is definitely one of the better female performances I've seen. She's power-hungry and demanding, yes, but she knows what she's doing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote is flawless. There, I said it. There were times in the movie I had to remind myself that this was an actor and not Capote himself. That's how brilliant Hoffman embodies the role.

Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
Leigh's performance of the fragile Blanche DuBois shows how vunerable a person can become. It's also a tragic part considering Leigh practically became Blanche towards the end of her life.

Sean Penn in Mystic River and Milk
Much like with what I said about De Niro, Penn really knows how to get into character. In Mystic River, his character of Jimmy Markum finds himself falling back into his criminal ways to find out who murdered his daughter. In Milk, the likeable personality and intelligence of his portrayal of Harvey Milk garners him friends (as well as the occasional enemy).

Tim Robbins in Mystic River
Robbins' role of abuse victim Dave Boyle is absorbing and painfully real. The memories of abuse haunt him to no end. You don't really know what the extend of the abuse was, but it managed to leave Dave as a hollow shell of his former self.

Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby
Swank's part of aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald is edgy and raw, something not that common for a female part. The final scenes of the movie are rather uncomfortable to watch, but Swank's performance is what keeps you watching it until the very end.

Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway
Wiest's role of actress Helen Sinclair, like I stated on the review, is somewhat of a homage to Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond: self-centered, arrogant and flamboyant. She steals every scene she's in as well, from her poetic thoughts to her explosive anger.


Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity
Lost to:
William Holden in Stalag 17
Although I liked Holden's work, Clift delivers his best work as Pvt. Prewitt. You feel sorry for him when his commanding officers push him to the limit, and yet he keeps his vigil steady.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator
Lost to:
Jamie Foxx in Ray
I've said before and I'll say it again: this is my favorite performance from DiCaprio. His portrayal of Howard Hughes is perfect, and his descent into madness is both stunning and heartbreaking.

Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List
Lost to:
Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive
This one bugs me the most and for good reasons too. For starters, Fiennes delivers the most chilling performance I've ever seen. And yet, he gets nothing for his best work. His role as the sadistic Amon Goeth just solidifies his status as an actor. To sum it up, Fiennes is fucking brilliant.

Colin Firth in A Single Man
Lost to:
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
Although I did like Bridges' performance, but I prefer Firth's performance as the greiving George Falconer even more. The scene where he learns of his lover's death made my heart ache.

Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
Lost to:
Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker
When you think of a self-centered person who's hellbent on controlling everyone around them, you don't see a woman being that kind of person. But Lansbury's Mrs. Iselin is just that.

Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment
Lost to:
Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8
There's some debate about Taylor's win for Butterfield 8. Many say that it's a sympathy win because she kept getting sick. If they went with the best performance for that year, it would've gone to MacLaine. Her character of Fran Kubelik manages to keep the movie uplifting because if she wasn't in it, The Apartment would be pretty darn depressing.

Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People
Lost to:
Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter
Moore's performance of grieving mother Beth Jarrett is unique. She's an actress better known for her comedy and here she's playing a woman who practically shut off her emotions in response to her son's death. That's dedication right there.

Paul Newman in The Verdict
Lost to:
Ben Kingsley in Gandhi
I was tempted to go with Cool Hand Luke, but I thought, What's Paul's best role? And that would be as alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin from The Verdict. He's pretty much hit rock bottom, but he doesn't consider his life and career over yet.

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity
Lost to:
Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight
Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson is the classic femme fatale: beautiful but manipulative, stunning but dangerous. One look, and you're done for.

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
Lost to:
Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday
Apparently, Mr. Wilder knew how to write for the women. Swanson got a career revival from portraying washed-up Hollywood star Norma Desmond. And it's the final line of the movie that earned her newfound respect: "All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my close-up."


Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
I think this is one of the biggest Oscar omissions ever. How could Bergman's performance of Ilsa Lund not get recognized? I mean, I'm aware that same year she was recognized for For Whom the Bell Tolls, but Casablanca is one of her most recognizable movies.

Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Comedians doing drama is pretty common now, and one of the best examples is Carrey's role of Joel Barish in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He takes a huge step away from the comedies he did back in the '90s.

Tom Cruise in Collateral
As I've mentioned on the review for Collateral, I have a thing for charming yet chilling characters. Cruise's role of Vincent managed to become appealling to me, regardless of the fact that he's a cold-hearted hitman.

Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success
Usually when an actor is cast against type, it's pretty much make or break. Thankfully for Curtis, his role of sly and sleazy press agent Sidney Falco managed to put him on Hollywood's A-list.

Johnny Depp in Ed Wood
I've stated time and time again that I just love Depp's optimism throughout. If he's told that his current movie is doing very poorly at the box office, he'll say cheerfully that his next one will do better (which it doesn't). And he doesn't look that bad in an angora sweater, skirt, heels and blonde wig.

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby
You know how most horror movies have the women just screaming their lungs out and yelling nonsense? Well, yes, Farrow does that here, but her role of Rosemary Woodhouse is different compared to, say, Shelley Duvall in The Shining. Rosemary's accusations of bearing Satan's child may make you think she's insane, when in reality she isn't.

Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild
Hirsch's portrayal of adventurer Christopher McCandless is astonishing and hypnotic. You're drawn to him the minute he appears on screen. I honestly can't think of who else could do the part other than Hirsch.

Grace Kelly in Rear Window
Kelly's part of Lisa Carol Fremont has the elegance of Audrey Hepburn but she has her own unique style of wit. She has ideas of her own, but she puts them aside to help those who need help.

Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot
Monroe's character of depressed singer Sugar Kane is definitely different from her previous roles. Kane has a background of failed relationships, which is what brought on her depression and drinking. When she finds love, she's on top of the world; when she gets dumped, she falls back to earth. That said, Monroe deserved some recognition for this groundbreaking work.

Kim Novak in Vertigo
Novak's performance as Madeleine Ester is a fine example of the classic Hitchcock femme fatale. Before she becomes a victim, she takes matters into her own hands.

Well, that's thirty-two performances for you right there. I found it harder when I was thinking of female performances. Then again, I haven't seen that many Meryl Streep or Katharine Hepburn movies.

So what about you? What are some performances you like that got, should've got or didn't get the Oscar recognition they deserved?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

All My Sons

Along with Tennessee Willaims, I admire the plays of Arthur Miller. Having read three of his best-known works (The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, All My Sons), I know that he's a rather good playwright.

Joe Keller had manufactured defective airplane parts during the war, which resulted in the deaths of twenty-one men. His business partner Herbert Deever was blamed for the faulty parts and was sent to jail. Herbert's son George returns home from the war and his reaction to what has happened is stunning.

I'm starting to think that Miller had some father issues because the strained realtionship between father and son is evident in this (as well as Death of a Salesman). The dialogue is powerful and affecting, while the characters are fully developed.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Seventh Seal

I'm trying to expand my movie watching to more than just English language films. Since last year, I've expanded to French (the 400 Blows), Italian (Life is Beautiful, 8 1/2), Swedish (The Seventh Seal) and Japanese (Seven Samurai) language films.

As he is returning home from the Crusade, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) challenges Death (Bengt Ekerot) to a game of chess. As long as he's winning, Antonius can live to see his family.

I can honestly say that The Seventh Seal is a very thought-provoking movie. It makes you think about life and religion when it's over. And it's really dark and bleak. But at the same time it's brilliant.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I usually don't watch action movies since they seem "guy-centered". You know, no plot, loads of action, that sort of thing. But if there's a good action flick, I check it out. Case in point, I'm reviewing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones (Harrison Ford) has been informed that there's an expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant. But he also learns that the Nazis are after it as well, making it a race against time.

You gotta love a good ol' action movie. The plot isn't as ridiculous as the action movies of today. Spielberg manages to grab your attention from the opening to the credits. And you gotta love the opening scene. Truly epic.

My Rating: *****

Monday, July 12, 2010


I really like Nick Hornby's writing style. It's mainly the lead character's point of view on the events going on around him as he voices his opinion of what's going on. Hey, it works.

Sam Jones is normal British teen who likes to skateboard. Well, apart from the fact his mother had him when she was a teenager herself. And history is repeating itself when Sam's girlfriend Alicia Burns finds herself pregnant.

Sam reminded me of High Fidelity's Rob since both are slightly clueless when it comes to women. But apart from that, Sam is a very original character. You really sympathize for him when he's going through hell. Being the same age as Sam and Alicia, I can pretty much see how a situation like that can cause so much stress. So of course I liked the book.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I was telling my cousin Caroline's boyfriend Martin (who is a movie nerd like me) last night that Paul Newman got the parts James Dean was originally signed on for before his death. He then pondered what Cool Hand Luke would've been like had Dean been alive for the part.

Then I was listening to a podcast that I like on the ride back home earlier today. One of the hosts brought up what Dr. Strangelove would've been like had John Wayne been cast in Slim Pickens' role.

Which makes me ask this question: what recasting would you like to see, regardless if the actor is dead or alive?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Charlie Wilson's War

Politics and movies don't usually mix, as with the case with some certain actors. But if it's politics in movies, that's different.
In the early 1980's, Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a womanizing US congressional representative from Texas who seems to be in minor leagues, except for the fact that he is a member of two major foreign policy and covert-op committees. However, prodded by his major conservative supporter Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), Wilson learns about the plight of the people suffering in the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With the help of the maverick CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Wilson dedicates his canny political efforts to supply the Afghan mujahideen with the weapons and support to defeat the Soviet Union.
I think I would've liked the movie a bit more had I been more aware of the events depicted in it. The performances were good, more so from Hanks and Hoffman. I wasn't expecting much from Mike Nichols' direction (mind you, the only other movie I've seen by him was The Graduate), but it was good.
My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adam's Rib

Movies set in a courtroom are mainly dramas. Not all that often are they comedies, which makes Adam's Rib somewhat unique.
Adam (Spencer Tracy) and Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) are a happily married couple who are also lawyers. They are informed of the case of Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday), who tried to murder her cheating husband. Adam is the state attorney, while Amanda defends Doris. The case causes Adam to re-think his views on equal rights, and the Bonners' marriage to strain.
I'm more accustomed to courtroom dramas (12 Angry Men, The Verdict, etc.), but courtroom comedies? That's completely different. Tracy and Hepburn's chemistry is strong (much like in real life). The concept is original enough for me to like, and the movie had its moments.
My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Biopics: what I consider Oscar gold to actors. There are apparently more biopics being produced more than before.

Which is why I ask this: who do you want to see a biopic made of and who would you cast as them?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Last Samurai

It's always interesting to revisit an actor's career. Earlier movies they did tend to make people wonder, "You got a career after that?" But their later movies after they get a reputation are pretty good.
In Japan, Civil War veteran Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) trains the Emperor's troops to use modern weapons as they prepare to defeat the last of the country's samurais. But Algren's passion is swayed when he is captured by the samurai and learns about their traditions and code of honor.
The Last Samurai has it all: good acting, beautiful cinematography, thrilling action sequences and an interesting premise. Cruise gives a strong performance, as with Ken Watanabe. Edward Zwick brings homges of Glory into The Last Samurai, which definitely works.
My Rating: ****

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wonder Boys

Two Oscar winners, two actors who would later become famous for portraying superheroes, and the future wife of a Hollywood superstar. Sounds weird, bu that's the main cast of Wonder Boys.

Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is at a low point in his life. His wife has left him, his mistress Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand) is pregnant and he can't seem to finish his latest novel. And to add to his building stress, he finds himself looking after talented yet troubled student James Leer (Tobey Maguire). Grady must find a way to keep his anxious editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey, Jr.) at bay, keep James safe, and solve his romantic issues.

Wonder Boys is unique because the premise makes it sounds like it's a screwbal comedy but it's not. Douglas gives one of his most sincere roles while Maguire delivers a rather earnest performance. Downey steals every scene he's in. Curtis Hanson, whose work before Wonder Boys was L.A. Confidential, earns high praise from me for directing a very entertaining and fun movie.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, July 1, 2010

BOOK VS MOVIE: In Cold Blood

I've recently taken an interest in criminology. I don't know why, but I find it very fascinating.

On November 15, 1959, the peace of Holcomb, Kansas was shattered by the brutal murder of the Clutter family. The killers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, manage to evade the law for several months after the crime is committed. The crime would've remained unsolved had Floyd Wells, a prisoner who once celled with Dick, hadn't reported who the killers were.

Truman Capote successfully manages to create a whole level of creepy just with his writing. Richard Brooks' movie was also creepy, but not on the same level with Capote's book. There's one line uttered by Perry that scared the hell out of me:

"I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat."

(shudder) Scary.

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