Monday, December 31, 2012

Film Tally 2012

Boy, this has been a good year. I got acquainted with a variety of filmmakers and performers, both acclaimed and underrated. And many of the films I saw were amazing too. They are as followed:

A Handful of Awards

Well, this year's almost over, so what better way to (sort of) cap off the year than with a few blog awards? (My movie tally will be up later today.) Anyway, Michael gave me not one but two blog awards. And they couldn't be anymore different.

First up is the Blog of the Year Award. First off, I'm flattered. Secondly, the rules go:
  • Select the blog(s) you think deserve the "Blog of the Year 2012" Award.
  • Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen - there's no minimum or maximum number of blogs required - and "present" them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  • Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the "rules" with them You can now also join our Facebook group – click "like" on this page "Blog of the Year 2012" Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience 
  • As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars.
I'll get to all of that in a sec. I have to mention the other blog award Michael gave me.

Award #2 is The Versatile Blogger Award, one that I'm a bit familiar with. Anyway, rules:
  • Display the award certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and include a link to whoever presented your award.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Create a post linking to them and drop them a comment to tip them off.
  • Post 7 interesting facts about yourself.
Oy, again with the facts. Doesn't everyone know me by now? Okay, less whining, more typing. Um...
  1. I have over a hundred DVDs. (I don't know the exact number.)
  2. I also have way too books. (Again, I don't know the exact number.)
  3. I still don't have my driver's license.
  4. Or a significant other for that matter. (I anticipate that'll change in the following year.)
  5. As of late, I aspire to make a name for myself. (Why else do you think I'm working on that screenplay?)
  6. Speaking of said screenplay, I might be done with it before next month is over. (Keyword is "might".)
  7. When I finish it, I kind of want to see it actually be made into a film.
Okay, boring bit's over. Now onto choosing bloggers. I'm killing two birds with one stone here and combining both award rules. However, I'm not doing 15 bloggers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Cousin Vinny

When you think of courtroom films, you immediately think of films like 12 Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. You usually don't think of a courtroom-set film being a comedy. (Though George Cukor did make one in the form of Adam's Rib.)

Jonathan Lynn made My Cousin Vinny forty-three years after Adam's Rib was released. It's sort of a spiritual successor to Cukor's film but some elements are different. For starters, the characters in Lynn's film aren't as straight-laced as those in Cukor's film. But for now, that's all I'll say on the matter. (Though Adam's Rib and My Cousin Vinny would make for an interesting double feature.)

I think what makes My Cousin Vinny clever is that Lynn knows his subject matter. He actually has a degree in law, therefore he has an accurate depiction of courtroom activity. (He's been praised by lawyers for such a depiction.) Hey, it shows he's doing something right.

The cast is great. Far from his Oscar-winning role, Joe Pesci shows some brains within that wiseguy attitude of Vinny's. Marisa Tomei is definitely Pesci's equal here. (I can't really say if she earned that Oscar or not since I haven't seen all the nominees from that year. She is very good though.) I also have a soft spot for Fred Gwynne here. He's so good at being deadpan.

I can see myself re-watching My Cousin Vinny repeatedly in the near future. The reason? It's that good. You just don't see comedies like this very often (or at all), so be sure to give it a watch. You won't regret it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miserables

Tom Hooper is an interesting director. He first got recognized from the multi-award-winning mini-series John Adams. A few years down the line, The King's Speech is released, which again won many awards. (Though some were annoyed that he won Best Director instead of David Fincher.)

Now his new film Les Miserables may not get the same recognition as those two other projects (with the exception of perhaps a few categories), but it'll certainly be a crowd pleaser, especially to those who saw it on Broadway. (Trust me. The showing I went to was mobbed.) I myself never got to see it on Broadway nor did I read Victor Hugo's novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The one attribute of Les Miserables that's been promoted heavily is that the actors are actually singing on camera rather than lip-syncing the playback. And boy, does it leave an impact. Hugh Jackman completely obliterates his action star image here. Russell Crowe, although not the strongest of the actors, certainly holds his own. Anne Hathaway is definitely the most heartbreaking of them all. Young stars Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne (who has a very impressive set of pipes) and Samantha Barks are also very good. And Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter steal every scene they're in. (Pun intended.)

As with all musicals, there's the matter of choosing a favorite musical number or two. For me, they were Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" (that song alone should earn her an Oscar) and Redmayne's rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". You can just hear their pain as they sing.

Not a lot of people might agree with me, but I loved it. Yes, Hooper's direction is all over the place (his affinity for Dutch angles is evident), but he does succeed in providing a grand tale for mass audiences. Hey, I may be in the minority of thinking this, but this is an excellent film.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 28, 2012


When a scandal emerges, the media often pounces on the unsuspecting parties like what a lion does to its prey. They'll consume as much as they can before leaving the carcass to rot out in the sun. The unfortunate victims never knew what hit them.

Of course the biggest scandals are the ones targeting political figures, especially if the topic in hand (no pun intended) is sex. Let's be honest. Have the political careers of Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer really recovered after their little mishaps? (Well, Clinton has, but Spitzer's still got a long way to go.) But no political scandal will ever top the frenzy that was Watergate.

Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon is set in the few years following Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). British television personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) sees an opportunity to further his career by interviewing the disgraced former President. But will it actually destroy not only his reputation but also Nixon's?

The performances from Langella and Sheen are great. (Smart decision on Howard's part to cast actors who originated their roles on stage.) Langella doesn't resemble Nixon facially or vocally, but he definitely makes up with his performance. Sheen in turn is a great counterpoint to Langella. (How he wasn't equally nominated is beyond me.)

The film itself? Just as great. It's thoroughly compelling in every scene, regardless of what's being shown. I know some people aren't as enamored by this film as I was, but no matter. Everyone's entitled to an opinion.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Full Metal Jacket

War is hell. Everyone knows that. When Hollywood depicts it, they only seem to capture the carnage. It's only once in a blue moon where they explore the madness soldiers endure during battle (and even afterwards).

It seemed inevitable that Stanley Kubrick, who often capture insanity within humanity, would make a war film. He did with Paths of Glory in 1957 and thirty years later, he re-visited the war genre with his penultimate film Full Metal Jacket. The wars depicted are very different (Paths of Glory focused on World War I, Full Metal Jacket Vietnam), but the themes are very similar.

One complaint some people have with Full Metal Jacket is that the two halves bear no resemblance to each other. I think the differing factors is a nice touch. Seeing reality go from the controlled nature of boot camp to the pure chaos of combat is pretty damn staggering.

And knowing Kubrick, he keeps that insanity motif running throughout the film. And boy, does he know how to use it to the fullest. Just pay attention to that first half of the film. The outcome makes what Jack Torrance becomes in The Shining (and what Alex DeLarge is at the start of A Clockwork Orange) pale in comparison.

I'll admit Full Metal Jacket isn't Apocalypse Now but it definitely holds its own in regards to war being hell. (Fairly certain that this and Paths of Glory would be an awesome double feature.) Oh, Kubrick, you mad genius. You've made me love another work of yours.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Running on Empty

The baby boomers had James Dean, the poster boy for teenage angst. Even decades after his untimely death, he still remains the pinnacle of adolescent misunderstanding. (Not bad for a guy with only three films to his name.)

A generation later, teenage angst had a new poster boy: River Phoenix. Like Dean, he portrayed the many troubles one faces as they grow up. (Just look at Stand by Me as an example.) And like Dean, Phoenix's life ended way too soon. (He met his fate by the way of an accidental multi-drug overdose.)

Phoenix's career wasn't for naught. He earned an Oscar nomination for his work in Sidney Lumet's Running on Empty. Interestingly, Phoenix's Danny Pope is similar to Dean's Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause. Both are the new kids in town, both quarrel with their parents (their father in particular) and both want acceptance.

Running on Empty doesn't rely solely on Phoenix's performance. (Although it is one of the main focal points.) The film also focuses on family dynamics (or, more accurately, the lack of them). The Popes aren't as dysfunctional as the Tyrones from Long Day's Journey into Night (another film of Lumet's), but the lack of communication within the Pope family makes them look like the Tyrones.

Running on Empty isn't one of the best Lumet films but it's one of the strongest if strictly for Phoenix's performance. There's also good work from Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch. But again, this show belongs to Phoenix.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Since it's the holiday season, I'm giving Defiant Success a short hiatus. I'll be back on Wednesday but in the meantime, enjoy the time with your family.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

During the opening moments of Bharat Nalluri's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, we get a clear idea that Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) doesn't exactly have the most ideal life. Almost immediately the viewer sympathizes with her. Fortunately she goes down a better route, thanks mainly to Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams).

You really can't go wrong since McDormand and Adams. McDormand captures Pettigrew's quiet nature flawlessly. (Amusingly, Billie Burke was considered for this role when this was a realized project back in the 1930's.) Adams in turn displays Delysia's bubbly attitude is reminiscent of Carole Lombard. Again, they're perfectly cast.

The three supporting actors are also very good in their own ways. Ciaran Hinds is a lovely foil to McDormand. Mark Strong effortlessly displays the snake-like nature of his character. (Then again, he's usually good in that role.) But my favorite (and I'm not just saying this for Margaret) is Lee Pace. Come on, he's charming, he wears nice suits and he speaks with a gorgeous British accent. (Translation: he's too much for me to handle.)

Being familiar with the era the film is set in, I can tell that Nalluri is providing a nice homage to the films from that time in Hollywood. You can sense auras of Lubitsch amid the various locales visited, wisps of Edith Head in Delysia's gowns, and touches of Cukor in the scenes between Pettigrew and Delysia.

Long story short, I was charmed endlessly by this film. I was thoroughly entertained by it. I know I'll be watching it again in the near future simply because it's that good. (Hell, I'm smiling right now just thinking about it.)

My Rating: *****

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Christmas List

With Christmas getting even so closer, Diana came up with a clever little concept. She wants to give her fellow bloggers a gift for the holidays. Granted, I'm not the best when it comes to gifts. (I give either books or clothes. I'm like the boring relative.) I'll try my best though.
  • For Stevee and Nikhat, tickets to go to New York City. They're dying to see the rest of the world, so why not start with the Big Apple?
  • For Andrew, something similar. Tickets to a Broadway (or perhaps West End) show of his choosing. (Maybe the biggest theater geek I know.)
  • For Margaret, either an adorable little sweater for her dog Gustav (even though he'd probably chew it up) or something to fuel her many little obsessions. Perhaps a poster of her beloved Idris? (Preferably this pic blown up.)
  • For Alex and Tyler, a Criterion DVD of their choice. (Knowing them, they'll probably choose a film that very few people have heard of, let alone seen.)
  • And for Adam, something for his admiration of dark films. Maybe a von Trier film or two.
Hey, I said I wasn't good with gifts. I do have a feeling I hit a few right notes, but I can't be too certain.

Friday, December 21, 2012


There's something electrifying when witnessing actors of a high caliber performing. It doesn't matter whether it's on screen or on stage. It's still fascinating to watch them perform.

Take John Patrick Shanley's Doubt as an example. Based on his own play, the film stars Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two of the finest actors working today. Seeing them verbally duel is simply something that must be seen.

Also among the small roster is Amy Adams, who is ideally cast here. She's the wide-eyed idealist to Streep's bitter enforcer. When a possible scandal breaks out, you can see how troubled she is just by looking at her. It's taking a toll on her.

I must talk about Viola Davis' work here. She only has one scene, and she completely steals it from Oscar winner Streep. (I assume it's not an easy task.) How Davis didn't win for this is anyone's guess.

Some may be put off by the themes, but I absolutely loved the film in its entirety. (And to think it's written by the same man who wrote Moonstruck.) As well as the great work from Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Davis, there is of course the always great cinematography from Roger Deakins. Honestly, go see it if you haven't already.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 20, 2012

About Schmidt

When you've reached your peak years, you're left wondering what's left to do. You've had a steady career, raised a family and a generally good life. So what's missing?

That's what's running through Warren Schmidt's (Jack Nicholson) mind early on in Alexander Payne's About Schmidt. Recently retired (and eventually widowed), he finds his life at a standstill. But with his daughter's wedding approaching, he tries to get some firm ground in his life.

Payne apparently has a tendency to depict men experiencing a personal crisis. (Other examples include Miles Raymond from Sideways and Matt King from The Descendants.) Then again, Payne does have a good reason for why he likes this particular role: "When I'm shooting I don't care who the star is. I have an actor playing a part, and I'm serving the script, not serving anyone's career. My hope is that, after twenty minutes, perhaps the audience forgets it's George Clooney or Jack Nicholson and just sees the character."

Speaking of Nicholson, he's great here. (But he usually is in most of the films he's in.) It's later career roles like that of Warren Schmidt that give me some hope for actors as they reach their twilight years.

All in all, I really liked About Schmidt. I didn't love it as much as Sideways or The Descendants, but I did admire Payne's writing and Nicholson's acting. It's worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nothing But the Truth

There are two sides of the world of journalism that Hollywood likes to depict. There's the investigating side, featuring journalists who are willing to risk their careers (and possibly their lives) to get their story. This one is the more commonly depicted.

But what about the other side of journalism? That side shows the aftermath of the investigating. The story's written and published, so now what happens? Either life carries on as normal or the story causes a whole whirlwind of controversy. Take a stab in the dark as to which one Hollywood prefers.

Rod Lurie's Nothing But the Truth depicts the latter side to the fullest. Think of it as a modern day equivalent of All the President's Men, though the suspense isn't as great here as it is in Alan J. Pakula's film.

Like Lurie's earlier film The Contender, the cast is quite remarkable. The names attached include Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett and David Schwimmer. They're all quite good but this show belongs to Farmiga hands down.

Of course the film has its flaws. Beckinsale makes her role too preachy in scenes. The suspense usually found in films like this is lacking. And the ending, though initially clever, left me feeling underwhelmed. Still, Lurie presented a compelling story, so I can't entirely dislike it.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Certified Copy

There's something magical about two people meeting for the first time. As they spend more time with each other, they may realize that they were meant to be.

Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy depicts such an occurrence beautifully. Not being familiar with Kiarostami, I wasn't aware of what he was capable of. What I got is perhaps one of the best films of the last five years.

I also didn't really know the premise of the film until I started watching it. And it's a very lovely premise. I'll try not to give it away to those who haven't seen it yet. It is something better appreciated with little knowledge.

The stars of Certified Copy are Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, whom seem like odd choices. A French Oscar winner and a British opera singer in an Iranian director's film? Sounds strange, but Binoche and Shimell are actually perfect in their roles.

Certified Copy is one of those films that's practically impossible to get out of your mind once the credits start to roll. It's also one of those films that, in my eyes, proves that cinema is re-inventing itself rather than dying. It also got me intrigued as to what else Kiarostami has made. Hmm, A Taste of Cherry sounds good...

My Rating: *****

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Grey

When one sees the trailer for Joe Carnahan's The Grey, they think it's just another unnecessary action film starring Liam Neeson. The film itself, however, suggests something else. What is The Grey truly about? Read on to find out.

This was released back in January, the month where most new releases die at the box office. Apparently Universal didn't have much faith in its outcome. (Then again, they usually aren't with most of their titles.) If they did, then I can only presume the outcome would have been more positive.

That doesn't mean The Grey was poorly marketed. Of course that trailer is probably one of the most misleading things I've seen this year. So what is it even about? It's a tale of trying to survive in the elements with dashes of horror here and there. You bet your ass it works.

For some reason as of late, Neeson has been doing a number of action movies. (This is the same man who played Oskar Schindler after all.) Surprisingly, The Grey contains one of his best performances. And yes, he kicks ass and takes names.

The Grey is definitely one of the more surprising films I've seen this year. Along with Neeson's performance, there's also some very stunning cinematography from Masanobu Takayanagi. It's also (pun sort of intended) very chilling. See it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jules and Jim

If and should I see a foreign film, there's a strong likelihood that it'll be French. It's mostly because of the French New Wave, but I think it's also because the more prominent foreign directors are French. (But that's just my theory.)

Within the last year or so, I've gotten acquainted with several notable names of French cinema. Godard, Melville, Bresson, Malle...I saw their work. And I must say, they know what they're doing.

Another French director I like and am starting to watch is Francois Truffaut. I loved The 400 Blows and Day for Night, so I was curious as to what else he made. I opted for Jules and Jim, which apparently provided some influence for Martin Scorsese when he made Goodfellas. (The technical aspects, mind you.)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the way the film was shot. It was almost as if Truffaut let Raoul Coutard go crazy with the camera. That's of course not a bad thing, but you can tell that manic camerawork alone provided an influence for future films.

Although not my favorite of the Truffaut works I saw (that's probably Day for Night), Jules and Jim is still an amusing watch. I might appreciate it more on a re-watch, but for now I can only say I liked it. I will also add that Jeanne Moreau is great here.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I have a feeling that when the news broke that Peter Jackson was returning to Middle-Earth, fans of The Lords of the Rings trilogy rejoiced. Nine years after The Return of the King wowed audiences, Jackson brings forth a new vision of J.R.R. Tolkien's famed work. But is it worth seeing?

I myself am relatively new to Jackson's depictions of Tolkien's visions. I only saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy this past summer, so I wasn't blessed with seeing them on the big screen. However, I did fall in love with each one of them, which only made me more excited for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

But was I satisfied with the outcome? You bet I was. More than once as I was watching it, a huge smile crawled across my face. I was so happy returning to the world I first saw this summer. Of course, not everyone shares the same opinion as me. (A few comparisons to The Phantom Menace were brought up, but they weren't too severe.) Some think Jackson put too much (or not enough) in the film. I personally had no problem whatsoever. But everyone's entitled to an opinion.

Either way, I just loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The only problem I had was the fact I have to wait a year for the sequel. (I can't wait that long!) Also, I love how the film's almost three hours long, and it just flies by without any hesitation. Oh, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins? Perfect, perfect casting.

My Rating: *****

Friday, December 14, 2012

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

I admire directors who provide homages in their work. It doesn't have to be a huge, flashy reference. Just something that might make the viewer happy.

Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is reminiscent of the comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age. I mean, what other kind of film is there where you can find an odd menagerie of characters under one roof? Only in a screwball comedy.

One thing I realized was that some aspects of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown were also used for the film within a film in Broken Embraces, a later film of Almodovar's. It's just a simple call back like that which makes me admire directors like Almodovar. Any director who can self-reference is one I'm bound to like.

It's interesting to see Almodovar doing straight-up comedy. I'm mainly familiar with his melodramas (though I use that term loosely), so seeing him tackle something much lighter is somewhat of a shock. Still, many of his noted trademarks are present throughout so I was content.

I feel that a film like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown couldn't be made today mainly because it takes talent to be able to balance out the pure chaos within the story. Of course Almodovar knew what he was doing back in 1988 (and still does today), so that's why I enjoyed the film so much. (I'm a sucker for a good film. Is that so much to ask for?)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of Watch

There are two sides of Los Angeles that film and television depicts. There's the Los Angeles where dreams are born and there's the Los Angeles where the dreamers are viciously slaughtered. (They sometimes intersect.)

David Ayer's End of Watch captures the latter reality. During a time in Hollywood where the ugly side of the law is often depicted, this film shows the ugly side of the criminal world. And boy, it's a brutal portrait. (Then again, this is directed by the same man who wrote Training Day.)

End of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, and both are fantastic. Their roles of Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala make them seem like the cocky cops that are usually background characters in most police dramas, but they're clearly competent. And even though they might not act like cops sometimes, they follow the law that they enforce.

It's not surprising that there are a few elements of Training Day within End of Watch. It's fortunate that Taylor and Zavala aren't like Alonzo Harris. (If they were, this would have been a very different film.) They're much more like Jake Hoyt. They witness the many horrendous deeds committed by man but they don't succumb to the many vices of criminal life like the people they arrest. Thank God.

To be honest, that trailer was pretty misleading. I thought it would strictly focus on gun fights like most crime films. What I got was a damn good film. Something's stopping me from calling it great though. (Maybe the shaky cam?) Still, don't ignore this film. It's really good.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Upside of Anger

In the first few minutes of Mike Binder's The Upside of Anger, it becomes quite clear that Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is a very bitter woman. Matters only get worse when her husband runs off. It doesn't help much that she's a drinker too.

Life must be hell for Terry's daughters Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Keri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood). Their mother is proud of them, but her attempts to praise them are futile. (Just watch Terry's reaction to Hadley's post-graduation plans.) Wonder if their lives were like this when they were younger.

It doesn't mean Terry isn't happy with her daughters' successes. It's just she wants the best for them. She can't help but feel angry when she see them with something less than perfect. (Terry's mental response after finding Andy in bed with a man she doesn't trust is priceless.) But then again, aren't most mothers like this?

Terry clearly just needs a man in her life. Enter Denny Davies (Kevin Costner), a former baseball star turned DJ. He's not really a shoulder for Terry to cry on but rather someone for her to vent her anger out on (with the occasional bedroom romp). Isn't love grand?

The Upside of Anger is more cynical than a comedy should be, but it has a certain charm to it. Binder gets great work out of his actors, but this is definitely Allen's show. The strange thing is I'm going to be exactly like Terry several years down the line. Eep.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


There's something interesting about watching an actor in something they did early in their career. Whether it's seeing an aged actor when they were much younger or seeing how their career started, it's worth taking a look.

The main reason for why I watch early works of actors (and occasionally directors) is to see the film that kick-started their career. (That's one of several reasons for why I saw Atonement.) Sometimes you can see an actor starting to hone their craft. Other times you can see them starting to leave their mark in film. Either way, it's something I always enjoy watching.

That was the case with Dan Ireland's Jolene, which starred a young Jessica Chastain. Made long before she did The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter, she plays a woman who leads a very vibrant personal life. Sounds like a cliche, sure, but Chastain provides a fascinating performance.

The thing about Jolene is she tends to leave an impact on the people she meets. Men usually fall in love with her instantly while women (except for one case) view her with contempt. Yet there isn't an element in Jolene that suggests she's promiscuous or a home wrecker. She's honestly just the girl next door.

Jolene isn't perhaps the best thing Chastain has done, but that performance of hers is one that sticks. (Can't say the same about the film though.) This has definitely gotten me more interested into what path Chastain's career goes down. Here's hoping she has staying power.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 10, 2012


Within the first few moments of Milos Forman's Amadeus, we get a clear glimpse into the mind of Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). As the film wears on, the audience gets a further idea of how his demented mind works.

What makes Salieri's mind tick? Well, for starters, he has a consuming jealously towards fellow composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). It's not strictly because Mozart has more talent than Salieri. Pay attention to Salieri's face when he first witnesses Mozart's behavior. This is clearly the thought running through his mind at the time: how could a man of immature behavior also possess true ability?

It's not that Mozart doesn't give a damn about his talents. He's more oblivious to the impact his music has on people, especially Salieri. The one person he regrets disappointing is his own father. But even then he keeps it hidden from those around him.

The performances from Abraham and Hulce are both phenomenal and ideal contrast pieces. Abraham flawlessly captures the bitter resentment bubbling within Salieri. Hulce in turn effortlessly depicts Mozart not as the anguished artist but rather as the not-always-serious genius. (A far cry from Animal House, don't you think?) Boy, it must have been a tight race that year for Best Actor. (On a somewhat similar note, what ever happened to both of them?)

Amadeus is truly brilliant. Within the first ten minutes of this, I immediately regretted having not seen this earlier. Just watching this makes it very clear on how it won eight Oscars. If you haven't seen Amadeus yet, do yourself a favor and see it. You won't regret it.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making the Case for The Deep Blue Sea

Stevee has commissioned her many readers to a blogathon. With awards season fast approaching, she thought it would be appropriate to cover the films that the voters will very likely overlook. Originally I didn't want to join in, but Stevee insisted. Considering most of the films I saw from this year are going to be awards worthy, it was somewhat hard to think of a good film to cover. I say somewhat because it didn't take long to think of a good film. Which one, you ask? Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea.

Stevee implicated that she only wanted one aspect of the film covered in our posts. (You know, an actor's performance, cinematography, and so on.) However, there are three things I want to focus on. I'll try to keep each entry short though.

The first is Simon Russell Beale. As William Collyer, he shows a controlled display of emotions in the little screen time he has. Pay attention to his face when he overhears Hester talking to Freddie on the phone. The silent devastation in his features speaks volumes. That look stays with him throughout the film, and it's a haunting look.

The second is Tom Hiddleston. His Freddie Page is very much the opposite of Beale's William. William keeps his emotions reserved whereas Freddie's mood can change in the blink of an eye. One minute he's joking around, the next he's seething with anger. Many people have been introduced to Hiddleston from his villainous role of Loki in Thor and The Avengers, but it's his work here that confirms he'll be around for some time. (Freddie's penultimate scene with Hester is solid testimony of that.)

Last but definitely not least is the reason for why The Deep Blue Sea should not be forgotten this awards season: Rachel Weisz. Her Hester Collyer longs to be happy, but something is stopping her from achieving true happiness. As I said in my review:
There's a perpetual sadness in the face of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) that lingers throughout Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea. It's very evident when she's with her husband William (Simon Russell Beale). Even when she's with her lover Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) she has that look, no matter how happy she appears.
It's probably the most nuanced performance of this year and hopefully one that earns some recognition.

I'm probably in the minority in adoring this film (more so for having actually seen it), but I really hope the critics' circles and other awards organizations don't overlook this film. It is quite fantastic.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Apparently the best way to ensure a definitive lock on the Oscars is to make a film revolving around mental illness. (Trust me, AMPAS loves them.) It seems rather crass that something millions of people have is fodder for awards. (Looking at you, Rain Man.)

Yet David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook doesn't over glorify such a thing. (Thank God.) Instead, the film depicts a menagerie of characters who try to survive the hellish monotony that is life.

I admire any director who can every character as compelling as the last. Russell is one such director. (Other examples include Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.) I haven't read Matthew Quick's novel but I have a feeling that Russell stayed true to it.

Even with the most unlikely of names in the cast, the actors are perfect in their roles. Chris Tucker is quite entertaining in his small role. Jacki Weaver, recently recognized for her Oscar-nominated work in Animal Kingdom, is also quite good. Bless Russell for giving Robert De Niro a long overdue good role. (He needed it. Badly.) The MVPs of Silver Linings Playbook, however, are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It's clear that Lawrence will get award recognition, but I hope Cooper doesn't get overlooked.

In short, Silver Linings Playbook is a great film. Brilliantly acted and wonderfully written, it's very a messed up sort of way. Seriously, go see it while you still can.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Very Long Engagement

There's no worse feeling than losing someone you love. You can move on with your life, but you can never fix the gap they left in your life.

Just imagine what Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement felt when she heard the news of her fiance Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) was killed in action. She knows that he's still alive. She just needs the evidence to prove it.

This was one of the few films that focused on France's involvement in World War I. (The only other one I can think of is Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory.) Both Jeunet and Kubrick's films capture the very ugly side of war. (Their depictions of the trenches alone prove that completely.) Even more interesting to watch considering what Jeunet's previous film was.

The actors were good. Tautou and Ulliel are clearly the highlights of the film, but I want to mention another actor. In a supporting role, there is a pre-fame Marion Cotillard. I admire the way she displayed the femme fatale elements in her performance.

All in all, A Very Long Engagement isn't particularly memorable. Sure, Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is lovely, but it doesn't mask the flimsy story very well. But if you like films about undying love, then this has you covered.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Kings

I honestly wonder how David O. Russell's mind works. Who else could make a movie about existential crises and depict it as a comedy? (Well, other than Woody Allen perhaps.)

Being the kind of person that I am, I got curious as to what else Russell directed. I opted for Three Kings, which most people call his best work. It's clear as to why. Going against the norms for most war films, Three Kings depicts not the ongoing carnage of war but its harrowing aftermath.

It's weird. When I first read the premise of Three Kings, I was expecting something along the lines of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. What I got instead was a film that captures the raw consequences war leaves behind. The film feels even more unsettling in the aftermath of 9/11.

The cast is interesting. A pretty boy TV actor (George Clooney), two rappers (Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube) and a music video director (Spike Jonze) are the main actors. And surprisingly they're all great. My favorite of the quartet is Wahlberg, who pretty much proved here that he's a legit actor. (Well, this, Boogie Nights and We Own the Night.)

Three Kings is surprisingly great. Usually I'm not up for war films (too bloody, you know?), but Russell makes it fascinating to watch. Throw in the appealing performances from the actors, and you've got a film definitely worth watching.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

So many TV shows, so little time...

Oy, and I thought balancing between watching movies, reading books and writing was complicated already. Now I'm trying to catch up on a number of TV shows, a handful of them still being on the air. Here's a small sampling of the shows I watch(or have just started to watch):

  • Sherlock
  • The Hour
  • Luther
  • Elementary
  • Breaking Bad
  • Black Books
Shows I plan to watch in the very near future:
  • Doctor Who
  • Mad Men
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Downton Abbey
  • Spaced
  • Firefly
And shows I'm thinking about watching:
  • The Wire
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • The X-Files
I want to hear from you. What other TV shows should I take a look at?

Monday, December 3, 2012


Exactly one year ago today, I saw a film that completely changed the way I saw films. The film in question? Steve McQueen's Shame. It very much opened my eyes to other films that were just as raw and unflinching. (For some strange reason though, I haven't seen it since that day.)

Anyway, my question to you, dear readers, is this: is there that one film you contribute to the way you watch movies?

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Boy, I managed to get one hell of a response out of this post when I shared it on Twitter late last night. To sum it up nicely, I saw The Heiress on Broadway, and got autographs from its two stars Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens. (My favorite response was from Stevee: "CRYING. CRYING SO MANY ENVIOUS TEARS.")

Anyway, my question to you, fellow readers, is this: are there any celebrities you want to meet?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


There are two types of post-apocalyptic fiction: the "fight for survival" type and the "all hope is lost" type. Sometimes the two types merge but either way, you can bet it'll be as bleak as it can be.

Just look at The Road. Depicting the aftermath of an unknown cataclysm, the story chronicles the flicker of hope among the few survivors. To be honest, not many stories with post-apocalyptic themes tend to focus on that.

Cormac McCarthy's novel is possibly the bleakest piece of literature out there. What makes his writing so unsettling is that McCarthy doesn't go into grand detail when describing things. He leaves everything to the reader's imagination.

John Hillcoat's film manages to keep the spirit of McCarthy's novel intact. Its star Viggo Mortensen is ideally cast here. (I admire actors who display immense subtly.) The even bleaker backdrop makes the complete transition from page to screen.

That said, both the novel and the film are vastly different in regards with presentation. McCarthy's novel is more devoted to the vast bleakness reality has become. Hillcoat's film, which omitted a few scenes from the novel, focuses more on the sentiment between father and son, To me, it's evident as to which of the two is better. (But both are quite good.)

What's worth checking out?: The book.