Benning, Moore & War



Put Annette Bening and Julianne Moore at the top of this year's Best Actress race, they are the heart and soul of The Kids Are Alright. They play a married couple that go through the same issues any other hetero married couple would go through. Bening with her devious but honest smile is a tour de force as Nic, a woman that only wants the best for her children, even when she can sometimes come out looking harsh and honest. Julianne Moore, playing Jules, is her wife. Jules feels isolated and resorts to an affair with their kids' sperm donor Paul -magnificently played by Ruffalo (almost a sure thing for next year's Supporting Actor race). The scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are tremendous, sexy, touching and extremely honest.

Paul owns a restaurant but is haunted by the wasted potential of his life, meeting Jules and the kids makes him want a family to settle down with. Jules already has that and commits to the affair only for excitement and the isolation her partner has brought on. The hot sex they have brings much needed intimacy to Jules' sex life, If you don't believe me check it out for yourself it's ragingly hot. Ditto Moore, who's both sexy and terrific in her best role in years. Being the huge Julianne fan that I am, I cannot help but warmly welcome this comeback.

Much credit must be given to Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko, who infuses realism and indie spirit to the film. Cholodenko -36- hits a career peak with the film. While her first two features (High Art & Laurel Canyon) had the potential, The Kids Are Alright shows it wasn't just anything. Born and raised in California's San Fernando Valley, Cholodenko makes high art out of family manners. Her personal life -she also had a kid through sperm donation with her long time partner Wendy Melvoin- makes this a personal and rewarding independent effort, even when the film hits through melodramatic bumps in its last third. Judging by the critical acclaim this film has gotten, expect it to get some well deserved awards in the months ahead.

★★★



If there's one documentary that should be seen this summer it's this one. Restrepo -directed by the team of Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger- will likely be seen in the years to come as one of the finest documents of the war in Afghanistan. The stuff captured here is at times jaw dropping as a platoon of U.S Soldiers get deployed to Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots for violence in the region. As the days go by and the casualties grow Junger and Hetherington start to focus on the bonding these soldiers have to one another and the way they manage to stay clam in a walking hell such as this one. They name their outpost after one of their fallen friends, his ghost lingers throughout the movie as these soldiers cannot shake their fallen comrade.

This isn't for the weak of heart. Restrepo might be about war and mortality but it isn't an indictment or critique of war. It stands on its own ground and doesn't make any assumptions about how these soldiers got there and why. The braveness that I saw in their faces was overwhelming. One soldier is asked "why are you here in Afghanistan". His response? "for my country". Junger and Hetherington's film is a knowing tribute to those that are still out there fighting the fight. The footage they have captured here is tremendous, as they put their own lives on the line filming soldiers in combat and on the brink of losing it. The film's most gut wrenching moment comes when a soldier is killed in battle and the reaction that ensues. If watching documentary is your thing, check this one out.


★★★

Christopher Nolan & his amazing mistakes



I've already chimed in on Inception a few days ago -that can be read HERE- but I'm still not done talking about Nolan and the constant mistakes he seems to be making in every film he releases. That is not to say Inception or Memento or The Dark Knight are not memorable experiences but they have a coldness and detachment to character that is very evident and almost frustrating to watch. Nolan is a man that is all about Ideas and structure- in fact he's a master @ those things. The concepts in Inception are brilliant and unforgettable, so are the payoffs and images that he imposes on the viewer. Nolan has a knack for creating visually stunning imagery that takes your breathe away, I can think of a few in his Batman movies and the lasting image of Leonard Shelby covered in tattoos and haunted by his dead wife in Memento. He is one of the great creators of the past 10 years of film, I haven't necessarily disliked any of his feature length movies with the exception of his film school-felt debut Following- which debuted in 1998 at sundance.

One thing I found very disconcerting about Inception was the way Nolan handled the action- his use of hand held camera was at times nauseating and completely devoid of comprehension. Ever since those Paul Greengrass Bourne movies came out, it's been a hip thing to use hand held camera for any and every action scene, which -instead of realism- can sometimes bring a feeling of dizziness. This struggle with action is not new to Nolan. Don't get me wrong The Dark Knight had some awe inspiring set pieces but Nolan can sometimes suffer from a case of too much is not enough. He gets excited with something and never lets it go- hammering down at his audience like an excited fanboy. Then again Nolan is only 40 and still has time to master his ingeniously original ideas into coherent action. You expect a movie such as Inception to create a backlash. It's riddled with ideas and is one of the most original movies you will likely see in 2010. Is it the best one? probably not.

Originality always comes at a cost and Inception will most likely puzzle and provoke the most timid of audiences. In other words, the world Nolan has created isn't for the A-Team crowd. Just like any of his previous efforts, it has flaws but its beating heart is undeniably real and in the right place. The male characters that populate his movies are flawed men with a haunted past. I can think of Leonard Shelby seeking revenge for his dead wife in Memento, Bruce Wayne building a better Gotham and still troubled by his dead parents in The Dark Knight, Al Paicno's detective Domer haunted by his past and not able to sleep in Insomnia & Leonardo Dicaprio's Cobb in Inception, a man that cannot face the facts and still tries to create memories of his wife in his very dreams. Now if only Nolan can control himself for a change and bring subtelty to his game, then maybe we can talk about a true master of his game. For now we are left with his undeniably messy but brilliant films which I've rated below

Following C
Memento A
Insomnia B+
Batman Begins B+
The Prestige B+
The Dark Knight A-

Salt



It wasn't supposed to work but it did. Salt starring Angelina Jolie is a high wire act of suspense mixed in with breathless action & excitement to spare. It's one of the funnest times I've had in a theater all year- which says a lot about the quality of film in 2010. The plot is outrageous but it works because a competent director is at work here. Philip Noyce, the director of Rabbit Proof-Fence and The Quiet American, knows how to stage action- unlike Christopher Nolan, who's still learning the dos and dont's. He stages Jolie in the most over the top set pieces you will ever see, which is all part of the fun and why Salt is a a master class in action. It actually reminded me of the first time I saw Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible- a film which shares similar traits to Salt & which was a clear influence from top to bottom. Just a real blast all around.

Inception



Am I dreaming? A movie from the Hollywood system done with intelligence and ambition? Christopher Nolan's Inception is just that movie & although it is not a perfect one, there is something ambitiously sly and shocking about Nolan actually trying to sell such a movie to the mainstream. That's what happens when your last movie was The Dark Knight- you usually end up getting creative control for your next project. Nolan was given 200 million $ to make a movie about dreams within dreams within dreams, a maze-like art film masqueraded as an action picture starring Leonardo Dicaprio.

I've seen Inception twice and although I understand its concepts and (most of) its ideas, It's a real mindfuck. It's a puzzle that unfolds before your very eyes with different clues flying all over the place at the same time. It is rooted -just like in Nolan's other films- with psychological undertones that bring much depth to a story about loss and illusion as Dicaprio's Cobb tries to find the memories that have haunted him since the death of his wife. Sounds familiar? Martin Scorsese pursued the same themes earlier this year in Shutter Island, a movie in which his main hero -also played by Dicaprio- is haunted by the death of his wife & resorts to a made up dream world as a cure. Familiar?

The film's highs are joined in by its lows as Nolan overdoes the action that takes place in 4 dream stages. His use of hand held camera does not necessarily make his action any easier to comprehend- because as talented as the man is, he still has a lot to learn with the staging of his action sequences & the emotional coldness that his characters seem to possess. The film juggles many ideas and doesn't deepen the character development. You don't care as much as you should about his characters and what's at stake. As much as I adored Memento and The Dark Knight, their main protagonists always left a coldness and detachment in me that was bothersome but not entirely distracting to the overall originality and sheer chutzpah of the overall piece.

Inception is Nolan's most frustrating film to date, a film which provokes its audience to ask many questions- which isn't a bad thing. It is an original work of art that has the advantage of being thought provoking and infuriating. A film rooted with a sense of purpose and intrigue, even if it didn't necessarily entertain me as much as make me admire its originality and ambition. To call it imaginative would be to state the most obvious of statements. In a summer filled with nothing but bad movies, Inception comes out of nowhere and makes you think hard about the psychology, philosophy & meaning of dreamlike existence.

The more the days go by, the more I come back to Nolan's visionary film. It lingers inside our heads like a nightmare that won't go away. Its existence is important because it is soaked in idealism that is rare and and almost non existent in mainstream -and even independent- consciousness. It provokes conversation that resorts t0 furious debating and psychological reasoning that can warp the most timid of minds. Only time will tell if Inception will hold up in the years to come but in a summer movie season filled with crass entertainment, the ambitious but flawed Inception is a welcome jewel from the sky.

Tilda Swinton Falls in love



I Am Love can take back a viewer to a time when movies were slowly paced but beneficial and satisfying. It is in Italian and is the directorial debut of Luca Guadagnino. It's a family affair as tradition clashes with modernism and desire clashes with values. Tilda Swinton first created the project with Guadagnino many years ago, it quickly became a labour of love that took up a big chunk of their times. Swinton saw something in the director that was special and unique. One cannot help but understand what Swinton saw when watching I Am Love. Guadagnino stylizes his film -if a bit too much- into a kind of Wes Anderson-like bon bon, spiked with malice and eroticism to boot.

The problem is in fact Guadagnino's over stylization, which is showy but not overtly effective. The talent is shown but doesn't need to be blown up in every scene. While Wes Anderson infuses heart and passion into his screenplays, there is a coldness in Guadagnino's words that one cannot escape. The silliness of his words and screenplay cannot be saved by his visual flair for image. The romantic plot is at times worldess and dull. There are moments of brilliance & moments of desirable sexiness but one leaves I Am Love with the notion that for all the positives & dizzying stylishness, the negatives outweight them and are like watching paint dry.

Recent stuff I've contributed



The wonderful Sasha Stone over @ AwardsDaily published a few writings of mine this past week, you can check it out in the Contender Tracker section which magically appears when you click HERE. I'll be contributing more stuff in the weeks ahead and look forward to a busy & exciting Awards Season over @ AwardsDaily & other publications.

Facebook movie -The Social Network- finally hits the web, amid controversy

*Video has been removed*

This should be interesting to say the least, especially with David Fincher at the helm of this one. Based on a controversial book about the creator of facebook -Mark Zuckerberg- and the way he back-stabbed and lied his way to the top of the Social Network market. This is sure to be something relevant and essential to our times, a dystopia of the world we live in and the greed that follows it. Fincher kind of struck out with Benjamin Button 2 years ago but there's something about this trailer that makes me think he's got his mojo back. Put this one on top of your list of must sees for the fall, it's gonna be explosive.

The Five Best Movies of 2010



It's only been 6 months, so I thought it'd be a kick to make a list of the 5 best movies of the past (Half) year so far. Especially after having seen a few of these pop out in the blogosphere the past few days. Take in mind, I haven't seen Christopher Nolan's Inception & Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are Alright- although that will likely change soon. The deadline to make this list would have been June 31st .

(1) Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
(2) Un Prophete (Jacques Audiard)
(3) Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
(4) Cyrus (Jay & Mark Duplass)
(5) Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)

Armond White vs. The World



Armond White is a film critic over at New York Press- an alternative weekly newspaper that has had incredible traffic on the web in the past year. Mostly due to White's -shall we say- alternative views on modern movie classics such as There Will Be Blood, Wall E & The Hurt Locker. He is basically a man that has the most curiously original taste in movies and a man that has no shame in bashing Toy Story 3 because of product placement & then praising Transformers 3 (a movie destroyed by every film critic imaginable & containing just as much product placement as about any other movie in history).

He is different and revels in his originally poor taste in film. Although I shouldn't really criticize his taste considering film criticism is -after all- an objective profession. Roger Ebert has come out calling him a Troll, former Premiere Magazine chief critic Glenn Kenny has called him a "Bully & a hypocrite" & just about every other film critic in the country has had their own saying about the man that has openly idolized legendary -and nonetheless controversial- film critic Pauline Kael.

It's interesting to have a guy this entertaining in the profession. His reviews tend to be well written and highly amusing in A what the fuck kind of way. He is what he is- a man that has firmly asserted himself into film media due to controversy (White is currently the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, a prestigious group that is as influential and well regarded as any in the biz). However, his denial about being an attention whore is also amusing. One can only imagine a person with White's taste writing about film.

He has the intellect and capacity to exude great debates but he sometimes deliberately writes to infuriate rather than to actually lay claim to firm reasons as to why he did not like the said picture. He has openly criticized film critics and -more importantly- film bloggers, whom he considers bad for his profession. White's reasoning behind some of his reviews is sadly inauthentic and sheepishly thought out. He is the anti film critic, a man possessed to cause controversy and make a name for himself just for the fun of it & for that I salute you Mr White by looking forward to your next comically written gem.

Satisfaction & failure in 'Cyrus'



It takes a lot to make a person laugh but it takes even more to send out the laughs out with smarts. That's how I felt watching The Duplass Brothers' Cyrus Starring John C Reilly, Jonah Hill & Marisa Tomei- all perfectly cast & great. A look @ the plot, one might be reminded of Step Brothers. Remember that one? Will Ferrell and Reilly playing step brothers that don't get along? This one is totally different and has an indie vibe that actually brings realism with its hand held camera & eccentric tone. Tomei is a divorced mother to a son (Hill) that will do anything to get her away from her new goofy boyfriend (Reilly)- a rivalry happens between the two guys, mind games that are both comic and deceptively nasty. Despite a pat ending that comes out as a major letdown, Cyrus is that rare jewel in a sea of muck. It's coming out @ a time when most mainstream fare is disappointing and relentless, stupid and unoriginal. It is counterfare to the horrendous films being hammered down our throats for the mind numbing pleasure of teenagers & the immature. I guess you can say that I liked it.

The Girl Who Played With Fire



I promised. The next time I would talk about the Millennium series is when the new chapter comes out. Well, here we are and The Girl Who Played With Fire is about to get released next week all across North America. Like the first chapter, it is a well thought out & at times challenging dive into the great Swedish divide. However, just like the first chapter, it is a mess, overstuffed with characters and a story that is hit and miss in execution.

The plot -involving sex abuse and sex rings- overreaches and ultimately fails in its outrageous concept. I do think the lead actors are great starting with Noomi Rapace as femme fatale Lisbeth Salander, the movie rests on her shoulders and she carries it gloriously to the finish line & her compatriot and film partner Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist- an impeccably professional Swedish movie star. They are the driving force of the movie. The filmmakers strike a somber, successful mood but there isn't much here that I'd recommend, unless -of course- you are a fan of the popular books. & That is basically what it comes down to. Most of the folks I encounter that have an affinity for these films are fans of the novels- which have sold in the millions worldwide.

When you have a fan base that is straight up literary, there is no reason why a film adaptation should not be made. Case in point, the Twilight series, which has single handily focused its attention on the book's die hard fans, to make the movies as straightforward as anything read on book. Smart move, considering the movies are now bona fide cash cows that are the hottest thing to have come out of the Hollywood system since The Lord Of The Rings (which doesn't necessarily mean the quality is high). Basically, playing it safe so that Twi-Hards don't get pissed off prevents the artistic freedom necessary for such a satisfying ventures into cinematic territory. Sucks for us but a wet dream for Twi-Hards and Millenium fanatics.

Kudos has got to be given to director Daniel Alfredson- trying his best at keeping the style and substance relevant- but even the greatest of directors cannot save the most poorly written screenplays (Scorsese? New York New York?). Rumor has it that Hollywood maverick director David Fincher has a remake up his sleeves for 2011, he's currently starting pre-production and filming should begin in the fall with Bond man Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and An Education star Carrey Mulligan as Salander. Here's hoping this visionary does something different with the source material and conjures up a screenplay that is both cinematic and more worthy than its predecessors & goes his own rebellious way in telling the stories. If there's a person that can do it, it's Fincher.

Phil Spector all coked up



I couldn't resist but post this absurd and scary-funny picture of genius/madman music producer Phil Spector. Thanks to Glenn Kenny for the heads up on this priceless snapshot of the music mogul.

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