Guest Review: The Help is a faithful adaptation

Special thanks to my friend & colleague Susan Martin.

While I read Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help, almost three years ago, seeing the movie adaptation a few weeks ago truly reminded me how much I loved the book. I appreciated the fact that the movie stayed true to the novel in every sense.

The Help is set in the segregated and hierarchical deep South, nearly half a century ago, and writer-director Tate Taylor’s film adaptation captures the time and place in perfect detail. The story starts with Skeeter Phelan, played by Emma Stone, just graduating from college and returning home to Mississippi in the 1960s.

The town is divided by racial lines – black and white – and nowhere is this more evident than in Skeeter’s circle of friends, young women married right out of high school, having children who are raised by the black maids who work for them. This isn’t the life that Skeeter wants, however. She wants to be a serious writer, but she needs a strong story to shop around New York so she is taken seriously. So Skeeter, having gotten a job at the local newspaper writing a housecleaning column, asks one of her friends’ maids for help with tips. But what she really wants is to know how “the help” is treated, about the world from their perspective.

Viola Davis plays Abilene, the maid who originally helps Skeeter with her cleaning column and eventually begins telling her story. This is definitely Davis’ movie, as her acting is phenomenal. Davis and Octavia Spencer, playing the sassy maid Minny, give names and faces to a group of women who were so much more than what they did for a living.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays the villain of the movie, Hilly Holbrook, to perfection. When I first heard that she was being cast as Hilly, I questioned this decision as I pictured someone more villainous to play that role. Someone a little more icy, like Elizabeth Banks or Anne Hathaway. But Howard captured Hilly’s cool and snotty demeanor spot-on.

Another delight was Jessica Chastain, playing the blond, bubbly Celia, who tries to force herself into the social circle only to be ostracized for being “white trash.” Chastain is empathetic and funny as Celia, and I found myself rooting for her as she got her revenge on the evil Hilly near the end.

In terms of its basic plot points, The Help only skims the surface of one of the most painful and violent periods in our country’s history. But it definitely worked on me as a tear-jerker with a terrific cast, and I thought it was the summer’s only decent drama.


Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

About these ads

Everyone’s a Critic: Cars 2 and Fish Tank

Hi everyone! Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! Pardon my lack of reviews this week and the next as I’m quite busy planning/preparing for our California trip next week, yes, less than two weeks away until Comic Con! :D

Anyway, check out the reviews below courtesy of my good friends Vince C. and Paula G.

CARS 2 (2011)

My son (who turned 4 this past month) is one of the millions of faithful Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater fans in the universe. He has seen Cars a few hundred times by this point and numerous movies on Netflix streaming and DVD – but he had never been to a movie theater and so what better way to christen this young lad into the joys of big screen entertainment than by seeing Cars 2? Win, win, right?

First, I should say, for his attention span, I credit (my son) for seeing the movie all the way through without demanding to go home for one reason or other. The movie was loud even to an adult’s ears and I was worried about him becoming overwhelmed. There was also the distraction of new surroundings for him. For the most part, he watched in interest, but with a consistent stoic expression. By the end, I sensed a mild disappointment.

During the course of the movie, he asked, “Where are the tractors?”, “Where’s McQueen?” and “Is Mack gonna be there?” From his perspective, this was really Mater’s movie which is great. Lightning McQueen (the star of the first movie) plays a supporting role; but because the movie is now set abroad across the globe, many of the lovable sub-characters from Cars 1 are not in Cars 2. And that is the problem with this action packed, spy themed, sequel. Gone is the compelling backstory of Route 66, of McQueen’s character development from arrogant racecar to earthbound ego and most importantly, the cool desert landscape of Radiator Springs.

A colleague once commented that the original Cars could’ve been made as a live-action movie with real actors in real settings and be just as good – it was written well enough to satisfy this adult’s (and most other parents) expectation. Cars has become a classic in story and technical achievement. Cars 2 needed a good story to balance out its technical boisterousness. Unfortunately, it was all loud explosions and no ‘bang’ (more like a clunk). This was clearly reflected in my son’s reaction to it – indifferent.

2 out of 5 reels




FISH TANK (2009)

Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a 15-year-old girl living in a cramped apartment in a housing project with her young single mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths). Mia has anger issues (as does Joanne) and has been kicked out of school. Mostly she spends her time practicing her hip-hop dance moves in an empty apartment. Joanne resents both girls and doesn’t care much for their welfare. There is a lot of yelling and arguing which sometimes turns physical. Into this gunpowder factory comes some dynamite, in the form of Connor (Michael Fassbender), Joanne’s latest boyfriend.

At first, it seems like Connor will be the family’s savior. He’s handsome and charming, but more than anything, his presence is like a shot of normal loving parenthood. He’s encouraging, nicer to them than their mother is, and does normal dad things. But he also flirts with Mia and says and does some inappropriate things. It soon becomes clear that Mia’s attracted to him, he may be attracted to her, and that Joanne views her older daughter as competition. When Connor moves into the apartment, things get really complicated.

It is easy to see why this film won a bunch of awards, including the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film and the Jury Prize at Cannes. Director Andrea Arnold got uniformly great performances from her actors, particularly Jarvis and Fassbender, who makes a potentially sinister character complex and likable. Their chemistry is a big factor in the film’s believability.

It’s also an amazing-looking film. Mostly using what looks to me like natural light, Arnold keeps the camera moving, and also uses slow motion and changing focus in subtle ways, for instance to show when Mia’s emotions are overwhelming her. It is also a very subjective film, almost everything that happens is experienced through Mia. Most of the time, we’re looking over her shoulder, seeing through her eyes and even hearing what she hears, especially where Connor is concerned.

It is interesting to note that the film was shot chronologically, and the actors were shown only a week’s worth of script (which Arnold also wrote) at a time. None of them knew what would happen to their characters later in the film. This improvisation keeps it real and explains why I sometimes felt like I was eavesdropping.

I love this film but I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed it. It’s is funny at times, but more often uncomfortable and disquieting. Mia’s narrow, trapped life and the strong possibility that she will repeat the cycle of poverty are sad. The film is honest and flawlessly done, and it is well worth watching.

4 out of 5 reels

Have you seen either one of these films? Do share your thoughts below.

Everyone’s a Critic – Flame & Citron, Faster Reviews

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! It’s been about three months since the last EaC post, and as always, we’ve got two very different genres from FC’s loyal readers/contributors. Special thanks to my pals Paula and Ted!

FLAME & CITRON (2008)



Made in Denmark in 2008, and based on actual events, the largely unseen Flame and Citron takes us into the world of two members of Holger Danske, the Danish Resistance during World War II. The Nazis have invaded and taken over Denmark. The Gestapo, Wehrmacht, Abwehr, and SS are everywhere. In this lethal atmosphere, two Danish patriots liquidate traitors—Danes who collaborate with the Nazis—knowing that being caught means certain death. Baby-faced killer Bent (Danish actor Thure Lindhardt), known to the authorities and his colleagues in the Resistance as Flame , is intense and reckless, though there’s an ever-increasing price on this head.

Told by his partner Jørgen to dye his ginger hair or wear a hat, Bent ignores the suggestion. Jørgen, a.k.a Citron (Mads Mikkelsen – Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising), is quiet and determined. He is a relatively old hand at Resistance activities; he was involved before Bent and is the last surviving member of an earlier underground group. His involvement is presumably what led to his split from his wife and his pill habit…he sleeps in his car. They have the chemistry of longtime law enforcement partners chasing bad guys in a buddy picture (which, if you think about it, they are), but these characters are well-drawn and well-acted, so they go beyond rookie and veteran stereotypes. We see their personalities and quirks and are invested from the beginning.

Their boss is the shadowy Aksel Winther, a well-connected police solicitor, who is supposedly getting orders from the British. Can they trust him? Bent and Jørgen, and the viewer, only have Winther’s word for it. Because business must be conducted in secret, no one really knows. “There aren’t many of us, and it’s hard to tell who does what,” Bent says. As the film begins, they run afoul of Winther for a killing he didn’t order. Winther says he just wants them to be disciplined, but later it seems he is shielding some of the traitors who make Bent’s trigger finger itch. Why does Winther order Bent and Jørgen to execute certain people but forbid them from taking out the head of the Gestapo in Denmark? Is he trying to maintain all of their covers or is he a double agent?

Flame and Citron draws on film noir and previous WWII espionage movies. Director Ole Christian Madsen has acknowledged particularly Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 neo-noir Army of Shadows, about a group in the French Resistance. As in that film, colors are mostly desaturated, suggesting the austerity of life during a Nazi occupation. There is a femme fatale, of course. Mysterious and cool, Ketty (Stine Stengade) is introduced with a building dissonance on the soundtrack. She reels Bent in even though he thinks he knows her game. And in the beginning, there is also a weary-detective-style voiceover by Bent, which Madsen uses to place the viewer in much the same position as our anti-heroes. We get pieces of the puzzle, but never really know exactly what’s going on, until the end. If then. But the film is resolutely its own thing—a shadowy spy thriller with a dose of documentary style, a partial history of the Danish Resistance including a side order of star-crossed romance, all in one fascinating and affecting film. As it progresses, there is sense of increasing paranoia as the Nazis close in and the two become tangled in an ever-thickening web of lies. It kept me guessing until the end and made me think about what I would do if I were in their places.

– review by Paula @ Paula’s Cinema Club


FASTER


Faster was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson first true action film since Doom and it was pretty entertaining. The story is about an ex-con who just got released from prison and decided to go on a killing spree to avenge his brother’s death years ago. Along the way, he was being tracked by a contract killer and a veteran cop with a suspect background. The movie pretty much focused on these three characters, The Rock played a character simply named Driver, Billy Bob Thornton played the cop and new comer Oliver Jackson-Cohen played the hired killer. Director George Tillman Jr. was really trying to pay homage to 1970s action thriller, if you’re a fan of 70s cinemas like myself then I think you’ll know what I mean when you see Faster. For the most part he succeeded, but I thought he totally messed up the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

The movie starts out like its title, fast and faster. Driver got out of jail and proceeded to start killing his prey one by one. Then we were introduced to the other two characters, Killer and Cop and also we got to know a little bit about their personal lives. I think it was bold move by the filmmakers to tell the story this way, considering the trailer made it look like the film was about The Rock going on a killing spree and kicking ass, well he did a lot of that. But it was kind of surprise to see these other two characters shared the same amount of screen time as the lead character. I think that’s the weakness of the movie, instead of focusing on the lead actor, they’ve decided to also focus on the two lesser interesting characters. I would’ve preferred to see more of Driver’s background and have the cop and killer just in supporting roles.

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed this movie up until the last 20 minutes or so. I thought the ending was quite predictable and didn’t live up to its title. I wanted to see hard and fast action for the finally but it never happened. They included the alternate ending on DVD/Blu-ray that has a big action scene but it didn’t make sense so I was glad they cut it out. I just think the writers should’ve came up with a better ending and delivered a rousing action for the climax.

I do recommend it if you’re in the mood from mindless action flick, but don’t expect too much from it.

– review by Ted S.


Any thoughts about either or both of these films? Do share ‘em below in the comments.

Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews of Coriolanus (2011) and Laura (1944)

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! Today we’ve got two special reviews from two different genres, one is a Shakespearean modern adaptation, straight from its BERLINALE premiere (thank you Vanessa, you lucky gal!) and the other an Otto Preminger’s acclaimed classic noir (Preminger was nominated for Best Director Oscar for this film). In regards to Coriolanus, you’ve probably read some of the more positive reviews I posted here, but my friend has quite a different impression about it. Anyway, read on:

CORIOLANUS (2011) – Berlinale Film Festival review

– by Vanessa Weinert of TheMovieNess

A modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, this film is set in the Rome of today. It is not the beautiful Rome that is usually seen in movies, but rather the run down parts of the city where broken houses are plastered with graffiti. Grain is sparse and “the people” are on the streets protesting. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, who also directed this film) is supposed to be the hero of this city but he despises the people. After long demonstrations, he is banished from Rome and finds refuge with his mortal enemy (Gerard Butler) who he fought with, almost to the death, only months earlier.

It is not surprising that this is one of the lesser known Shakespeare plays. The story is all about war and politics, not people. It is also difficult to get involved with any of the characters: Coriolanus is extremely unlikable, his wife and son are weak and boring, his mother too dominant and controlling and his mortal enemy becomes his close friend without a moments hesitation. This leaves us with “the people” but they are too easily manipulated to be taken seriously.

The mix of the modern setting and the old language didn’t work for me in this movie. I think a total adaptation would have been better. There is a huge focus on media. Cell phones and cameras are constantly seen in shots which seems unnecessary. We get that it’s not 400 B.C. It also felt strange seeing Coriolanus being banished from Rome because that just wouldn’t happen today.

Usually I think Ralph Fiennes is a terrific actor but apparently he needs and outside perspective and directing himself was a bad idea. He is giving a theater performance which just looks over the top and silly on screen. What we end up with are two hours of rage and arrogance, which gets boring pretty quickly. Butler has a surprisingly small role in this movie. He looks amazing (of course) and doesn’t overact like Fiennes does, but he is also in a constant state of fury. Overall there is just too much rage in this film.

With a cast like this it is pretty difficult to make a bad movie but Fiennes unfortunately managed to do so. As much as I wanted to like Coriolanus, it didn’t grab my attention at all. The only reason why anyone should see this movie is Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as Coriolanus’ mother. She brings some beautiful moments into this otherwise dull movie. I am not surprised that plenty of people left the cinema throughout the screening.

2 out of 5 reels


LAURA (1944)

by Vince Caro

I had recently watched Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island – with Leonardo DiCaprio (playing a federal marshal) as a somewhat cheap imitation of Dana Andrews’ famous role of detective McPherson down to the faux New England accent and authoritarian scowl. But in sharp contrast to Dicaprio, Andrews could look relaxed even in the tensest of moments (with the help of a little hand held game). While Shutter Island is a respectable technicolor homage to 40s film noir, I couldn’t help but go back to Otto Preminger’s classic whodunit in all it’s black and white glory.

Laura is unique in that it starts off with the title character already dead – murdered in her apartment by an unknown intruder. The film opens with David Raksin’s haunting and memorable score and we see our first glimpse of the beautiful Laura Hunt (played by the stunning Gene Tierney) – a vanity portrait as the main credits roll. In classic noir fashion, we hear the narration of Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb in an Oscar-nominated performance) setting the tone – announcing Laura has just been murdered and he feels to be the “only human being left in New York”. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is investigating the murder with a slight suspicion of everyone within Laura’s circle. This includes fiancée Shelby Carpenter (nicely played by Vincent Price) as the disreputable playboy engaged to Laura.

The film begins to gather steam as Waldo offers McPherson recollections of how he and Laura met. These scenes are shown in vivid but dreamlike flashbacks. We see Laura as a young gentle ad artist, who charms Waldo out of his cruel and arrogant demeanor. In effect, McPherson paints a portrait of Laura in his mind – a beautiful, doe-eyed, naïve girl and begins to fall for her. He obsessively continues the investigation until a bizarre twist turns the whole case upside-down.

Dana Andrews & Vincent Price

In almost Rebecca-like fashion, the charms of the deceased Laura Hunt go way beyond the grave. The difference here is that Preminger leaves nothing to the imagination, instead serving us the picturesque Tierney, who I’m convinced is one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen. It is Tierney that keeps us involved in the picture and Webb providing its weight and legitimacy with his high-brow, curmudgeon and darkly humorous performance. Andrews is our everyman in this picture – hard-nosed, blue-collar and an outsider, somebody we would hope Laura would fall for in the real world. With that said, DiCaprio’s emulation of McPherson is honorable, but I can’t see Laura Hunt falling for it. Too much color perhaps?

4.5 out of 5 reels


Any thoughts about either or both of these films? Do share ‘em below in the comments.

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC: Life as We Know It, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Thin Red Line

It’s been almost a year since I had an Everyone’s a Critic post! I shall try to have this a bit more regular, perhaps more of a quarterly feature on this blog. Special thanks to Mike Beery (check out Mike’s contributor page), my Twi-mom friend Marianne Lemire, and FC’s frequent guest blogger Ted S. for their awesome reviews!


Life as We Know It (2010)

By Mike Beery

If you’ve seen the trailer on this one you know pretty much all there is to know about the story. Holly Berenson (Heigl) is a bakery owner and Eric Messer (Duhamel) is a playboy who works as a TV director for the local NBA team. Back in 2007 the couple is setup on a blind date by their best friends that goes bad fast and is never to be forgotten. These same best friends that later marry and have a super cute little baby girl. When tragedy strikes, Holly and Eric are left as guardians to the orphaned child. The will states they must live under the same roof in order to care for her. That’s when this flick kicks into overdrive.

The next hour is spent stringing together gag after gag showing how hard babies and toddlers can be to raise. How they can get in the way of your love life – if you have one to begin with! Eric is still a crazed bachelor that seems to only be doing this because he has to. Holly, a very desirable woman can’t seem to get his attention. As the movie wears on Eric is slowly transformed into this awesome Dad, that finally seems to be noticing Holly’s charms. Yes it seems that a wild ladies-man can be conquered by the lure of a good woman and “family life”.

The tension of forced parenthood and the chaos of trying to live with someone you’re not involved with climaxes just when Eric gets a job offer that takes him to the other side of the country. This is a welcomed break from all the toddler antics and it’s where the films develops some drama.

The film turns “feel good” after that conflict is resolved then quickly moves into happy ending mode. The remainder of the movie is a chick-flick fantasy come true with Eric becoming a dashing prince that has changed his player ways.

If you love babies, sexual tension, a relationship that seemed doomed but ends happily then this one if for you. As a chick-flick, this will do well as a rental. It’s got all the essential elements wrapped up into one neat package.


Twilight Saga: ECLIPSE (2010)

by Marianne Lemire

[Review may contain spoilers]

A while back my sister asked me if I wanted to read the Twilight series. I said ‘no thank you’ – I’m not interested in some teenage hype books. However, when the first Twilight movie series trailer came out – well, let’s just say my whole perception of the series changed. I watched the movie when it came out on DVD and that’s all it took for me to become a fan. I’ve since purchased the books series and read them twice. I now own all 3 movies and watch them multiple times. And I can’t wait for the two upcoming Breaking Dawn movies to come out.

Let me tell you why I love the story so much. What I see between Bella and Edward is rare and you don’t see in movies any more. A love and respect for one another. Bella Swan is a girl who is clumsy and insecure. Edward Cullen is a guy so handsome that you are not able to tear your eyes away from him. Bella and Edward are drawn to one another by an unnatural union of love. Their emotions for each other are so vivid, so intense, that you feel you are a part of their lives and you are drawn to their characters. What makes this unusual is that Edward is a vampire. There is also Jacob, someone that Bella became friends with when she first moved to Forks. Their friendship strengthened when Edward had left Bella for awhile thinking he was keeping Bella safe from the vampire Victoria. Victoria became the enemy when Edward killed her lover, James, while trying to protect Bella. During the time of Edward’s absence, Bella and Jacob’s friendship grew, but Bella couldn’t deny her love for Edward. Bella is still real adamant about Edward turning her – he would only agree to do it if she became his wife. He presented Bella with his grandmother’s engagement ring and proposed to her. Bella seemed hesitant. First, there’s the whole idea of getting married at her age and she was also concerned about the rumors going around. But it also mean that she would be with Edward forever as a vampire. So she said yes, but she wouldn’t wear the ring just yet.

Jacob was going through a rough time and was been keeping his distance, part for because of his love for Bella, but also because the turn of events in his life. Jacob is a werewolf along with the other members of his tribe. Now with the latest killings in Seattle, he has resurfaced to make sure that Bella is safe. The group behind the killings are newborns (newly turned vampires) and the person behind this new army is Victoria, her mission is to avenge James’ death. But they also had to worry about the Volturi’s involvement – the group who police the activities of all vampires – where the newborns were not hiding any of their actions. The Cullen family have come to terms with Jacob and his wolf pack to form a truce to end the killings and destroy the newborns and Victoria.

The battle between the groups was action packed, intense and engaging. While the fight was going on – there was only Edward and Seth (who is part of the wolf pack) to protect Bella in a secluded area, but Victoria along with Riley (the leader of the newborns) was successful in their quest to find them. Between Edward and Seth – they were able to fight off and kill them both – Bella is now safe. The Volturi showed up after the battle to make sure everything was taken care of – and Bella announced that a date has been set when she will be turned. Edward and Bella can now continue with their lives knowing the relationship between the Cullens and Jacob and the pack seems to be working itself out and they have a better understanding of each other and have mutual respect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  I guess I am a hopeless romantic.


The Thin Red Line (1998)

By Ted Saydalavong

After 20 years absence, Terrence Malick came back to Hollywood and made, in my opinion, one of the best war films ever. It’s on my top five favorite films of all time. It tells the fictional story of United States forces during the Battle of Guadalcanal in WW II. The film focused mostly on the five soldiers in The C Company, these soldiers were played by Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Ben Chaplin and Elias Koteas. The men of C Company have been brought to Guadalcanal as reinforcements in the campaign to seize the island from the Japanese. The film was based on a novel by James Jones. The original cut of the film ran over 5 hours long and after trimming it down to two and half hours, the footage of the performances by Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Jason Patric, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke have been removed.

As with most of Malick’s films, we get to hear what each character is thinking and we see some flashbacks of their lives back in the States. Out of all the characters in the movie, I thought Nic Nolte’s character was the most important one. He played an aging Lt. Colonel Tall, who’s been passed over for promotions too many times and wants to win this battle so he can impress his superiors and maybe getting that promotion finally. Nolte’s performance was so intense that you’d think his character is a lunatic, but to me it’s his last despiration attempt to prove to his superiors and to himself that he can still command and win a battle at his age.

Jim Caviezel (left) in The Thin Red Line

There’s a great scene in the movie where he orders his captain played by Elias Koteas to attack the hills but the captain refused because his men are dying and outnumbered, the expression’s on Nolte’s face was just pitch perfect. You can tell that he can’t believe one of his men is disobeying him and that he cannot do anything about it. I thought it was Nolte’s greatest performance and he should’ve gotten an Oscar for it. There’s also another great scene by Nolte after they took over the Japanese base camp, he was sitting by himself and he looked around at the corpses and started crying. Is he crying because he won the battle or was it from regret that he pushed his men too hard and a lot of them lost their lives? I’m leaning towards the latter.

Another great thing about this movie was that Malick decided to show the horror of war through emotional and psychological side instead of gore. The film has lots of violence but it wasn’t as graphic as most war films. Also, the score my Hans Zimmer is so haunting and beautiful at the same. Last but certainly not least, is the great cinematography by John Toll. The film looked spectacular. Malick wanted to shoot the whole film on 65mm but found out that there aren’t many theaters that can project 70mm prints. So he and Toll decided to just shoot it in 35mm.

If you’re a fan of Malick and haven’t seen this film yet, please check it out. And if you a Blu-ray player, I highly recommend you get the Criterion Collection (watch for a CC related post tomorrow). The picture and sound is just amazing.


Have you seen any of these movies? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, chime in below.

Guest Post: 3 Best films of 2010 and 3 worst films from 2010

By Ted Saydalavong (read Ted’s profile)

So 2010 is coming to an end, hard to believe, movie fans and critics everywhere will have their list of best and worst films. For this post I’ll name my top 3 best films (Note: Different people have different tastes in films so this is MY personally favorite films of 2010). And I’ll name my top 3 worst films of 2010. Also, since I didn’t see all of the films that came out this year, I will only focus on the big budgeted ones that studio hoped it will either make a lot of money or earn some Oscar nominations.

I saw some good foreign films this year too that I would include in my top 3 but again since I decided to just focus on big budget Hollywood films, I can’t include them. Side note: In case you’re interested in some of those foreign films, please check out Mother from South Korea and A Prophet from France. Both were released in 2009 in their country but didn’t hit the states till early 2010. I will bet that those two films will get a remake from Hollywood real soon, so check them out before Hollywood will either ruin or maybe they’ll improve them. (Example: The Departed was an upgrade over the original Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong).

Anyhoo, here are my top 3 best/favorite films of 2010:

  1. The Social Network
    So how can you make a movie about how Facebook was created? Well first off you hire a good writer in Aaron Sorkin and a great director David Fincher and make one hell of great film. Whether you’re a Facebook user or not (I’m one of the 500 million users, in fact I signed up with them since they started accepting users from outside of college campuses around mid 2004, I think), you’ll enjoy the great cinematographer, sharp dialogs and great performances. I can’t say enough good things about this film, partly maybe because I’ve started a online company in my early twenties and was caught up in the excitement and/or maybe I was just thrill seeing a movie that didn’t have any shootouts or explosions yet I was on the edge of my seat while watching it. Will it win the best picture of the year, I won’t be surprised if it does, so far it won pretty much all of the prestigious critic awards and I believe most of the respected critics in the country have voted as one of their favorite films of the year.
  2. Inception
    This is by far one of the most ambitious and smartest summer tent pole films I’ve seen since well Nolan’s last film, The Dark Knight. It has great visual effects, soundtrack, performances and editing. This is a good example of how to make a good smart pop corn summer flick without insulting the audience (I’m looking at you Michael Bay, McG, M. Night and Brett Ratner). A lot of us have been complaining about how summer films tend to be either sequels, remakes or comic book based, so when a studio has the balls to release a big summer flick like this, I was truly appreciated.

    If The Dark Knight didn’t make as much money as it did, we probably would never have seen Inception on the big screen.Now with all that said, I do have some problems with the film. Mainly I think Nolan made the story more complicated than it should have been and he just couldn’t figure out how to solve it. Maybe he should’ve brought in his brother to clean up the mess. Also, I just think the main characters weren’t in any real danger even though they were being chase by the “bad guys”, maybe if Nolan had included another team who’s also going after the same thing and somehow they meet in the dream world or something like that, I don’t know. Those are just some minor complaints I have about this film.

    I think Time magazine had it wrong when they named M. Night the next Spielberg a few years ago. They should’ve waited a few more years and name Christopher Nolan instead, let’s face it, what has M. Night done since he was given that throne? Well he made The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Air Bender. Raise your hands if you actually think those films are “good” or even decent, anybody? I didn’t think so. Nolan on the other hand has made some good to great films around the time M. Night was on the cover of Time magazine. You may ask why I brought this up? Well I believe Nolan will have a career that’s similar to Spielberg’s. Steven Spielberg has made a lot of films that earned tons of cash at the box office but was never given any respect by his peers until he made Schindler’s List. Now look at Nolan’s career so far, the two Batman films have made well over a billion dollars, Inception made close to $300 million and of course the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises is a guarantee box office gold. Maybe in a few more years, Nolan will make THAT film and get some respect from his peers.
  3. True Grit
    I saw this film just a few days ago and it’s still fresh on my mind, when I see it again I may either move it up on the list or down, not sure yet. In any case, this is a great western from the Coen Bros., filled with great performances and dialog. It’s so surprising how funny it was and yes it does have the Coen Bros. signature violence in it, even though it got a PG-13 rating. I won’t ruin it for you but you’ll be shock at how brutal that scene was for a PG-13 film. The film was gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins, one of my favorite cinematographers. Seriously this man just doesn’t know how to make a movie look bad, he even shot M. Might’s awful film The Village and that film looked amazing.

    With the Coen Bros.’ direction and Deakins’ great cinematography, this is a highly recommended film. BTW, don’t expect to see a lot of shootouts in the movie, the marketing folks did a great job of making the film look like it’s an action adventure western. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll be truly disappointed, Tombstone it is not. For western, I would compare this to Unforgiven and for the Coen Bros. film, I would compare it to Blood Simple.

Now here are my 3 worst films of the year, again there are tons of bad films that came out in 2010 but I’m going to only focus on the high priced pictures Hollywood offered us.

  1. Green Zone
    This is by far the worst film I saw this year and it pains me to say it because Paul Greenglass is one of my favorite directors working in Hollywood today. I also like Matt Damon as actor quite a bit but somehow these two guys totally messed up this movie. I considered myself to be liberal when it comes to politics but wow this movie just rubbed me the wrong way. Not only was it preachy on a subject that most people in America already knew about but Greengrass kept hammering away at it and never lets up. If you saw the film then you know what I’m talking about. I also thought that the film came out a couple of years too late, I mean if the Bush administration were still in the office then maybe it would’ve been more relevant but it’s 2010 and Bush is long gone.

    A little history behind this movie, when it was first announced way back in 2007 the film was supposed to be a satire on the Irag War. But before they started shooting, Greengrass decided to change the script to a straight drama picture. Universal was actually quite excited about the new script and they even scheduled the movie to open on the holiday season of 2008 hoping for some Oscar nominations. Well a month or two into production, Greengrass again decided to change the script, now he wanted to be an action/drama and so they had to push the release date to 2009. With more changes to the script while the film was being shot, Universal didn’t have much faith in the picture so they decided to dump it in March of this year, a hit or miss month for film releases. Also, the film went well over its original $80 mil budget, it came in around $150 mil and of course it tanked at the box office.

    Again it pains me to call this the worst film of year because I know that Greengrass is such a talented filmmaker but I think his political beliefs has overtaken his mind and ruined this movie. Hopefully he’ll come back with a great film in a year or two. He’s currently in pre-production of a film called They Marched Into Sunlight, another political theme film set during the Vietnam war.
  2. Unstoppable
    I don’t know how Tony Scott convinced a movie studio to give him $100 mil to shoot a film about a runaway train and somehow he even convinced Denzel Washington to come on board. The film got some good reviews from critics and I was hoping for some good time when I went to see it. Boy was I wrong, the film has no dept and I didn’t care for any of the characters in the movie. I was so bore that I was sort falling asleep during one of the big action sequences. The film runs about an hour and a half but it felt like 3 hours to me.

    If you really want to see a better movie about runaway train, I suggest renting Runaway Train starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, it doesn’t have the cool action scenes like Unstoppable but it has way more interesting storyline and characters. Runaway Train was going to beAkira Kurosawa’s first directing debut here in the states but the project was canceled because the snowstorms were so bad, his crew could not work. The movie might have even better had Kurosawa directed it but I’ve never seen any of Kurosawa’s work so I’m just assuming here.
  3. Robin Hood
    This was one of the films I looked forward to back in the summer but wow I don’t know what happened. The film was a mess from start to finish and everyone in the film looked like they didn’t want to be there, well Cate Blanchet was pretty good in it. Crowe looked like he’d rather be doing something else than playing Robin Hood and Scott’s direction was downright awful. It pains me to say it because Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors but I think he just made the movie for the money. The movie was supposed to be a prequel so why did they cast a forty something Crowe as Robin Hood? We’ll never know.

    The behind the scenes stuff was quite long with this film so maybe they should’ve shelf the project instead of spending close to $200 mil shooting it. My guess is that Universal spent so much money in pre-production that they have to make it and probably pushed Scott to finish it in time for an early May release. Originally it was scheduled for a November 2009 release but because of script changes, they had to move the release date to 2010.

I would’ve included the remake Clash of the Titans on my worst list but it was so bad that I couldn’t even finish watching it, I turned it off after half hour into the movie.

Well those are my best and worst list of 2010, feel free to agree or disagree and of course you can name your best and worst films from 2010.

Happy New Year!

***

rtm’s note: I should have my own list up by later today this weekend. Well, any reaction to any of Ted’s choices? Please chime in below.

Guest Post: Favorite Christmas Movie set in & around NYC – ELF

Seasons Greetings from TheScarletSp1der!

When I was asked to contribute to FlixChatter about Christmas movies that I enjoy, I did not know what to think…because there are soooo many Christmas movies that I love! Narrowing it down to one or two  seemed nigh impossible! Some of my favorite Christmas movies include titles such as The Santa Clause, White Christmas, Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, Christmas With The Kranks, Home Alone, Jingle All The Way, the classic It’s A Wonderful Life, and many more! (I feel a movie marathon coming on soon at my house!) :)

Fortunately, this post is meant to focus on a couple of Christmas movies set on the East Coast! “Whew!” I can narrow it down a tad now!  Several movies showcase the legendary Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as that landmark seems to be a requirement for all Christmas movies in NYC! I hope that Ruth will get to see it this Christmas!

My choice this time around for one of my favorite Christmas movies set in and around NYC is: Elf!

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I do not enjoy much that Will Ferrell does. His over-the-top style of comedy (loud, gesture-filled, and obnoxious) ruins too many scenes in my opinion. BUT when I saw Elf for the first time, it ended up being proof to me that Ferrell can indeed be a part of a fun movie project and not ruin it. (I know many people LOVE Stranger Than Fiction….but not I). Why Elf? In case you don’t know about the film, Elf focuses on Buddy the elf -a human that was raised by elves and has lived at the North Pole his entire life at Santa’s workshop. The movie follows him as he embarks on a quest of adventure to New York City in order to find his real father who, up to this point, has had no idea of his existence. Things get hilariously interesting rather quickly as Buddy explores the unforgiving environment of New York City!

Alongside Will Ferrell, Elf showcases the acting talent of Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, James Caan, and Jon Favreau (who also directed Elf….he directed Iron Man as well)! Elf ends up being a movie that encourages lightheartedness and embracing the true spirit and meaning of Christmas….and, it’s just plain fun. Here’s one of my favorite clips from this film. Elf brings a nice blend of music, cheer, unconditional love, togetherness, comedy, Christmas, and ignorance to New York City. While there are so many other films that feature Christmas in New York, Elf is one that I initially thought I would hate, but have ended up enjoying it, and I hope that you may too! If you’re still not convinced, here is the trailer…it may change your mind!

I wish a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Sincerely,

TheScarletSp1der

What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Do you like Elf?

Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews from FC readers (6th Edition)

This edition’s of Everyone’s a Critic‘s series happen to be movies that exceeds the reviewers’ expectation. In fact, Mike was practically baffled why Remember Me had gotten such terrible reviews – which at 28% is exactly the same Tomatometer as Twilight Saga: New Moon. He thought that this indie drama definitely has much more depth than that vapid vampire flick and shows that R-Patz actually has acting chops. I have not seen any of these movies, but I do plan on seeing them once they arrive on dvd. Special thanks to Corinne, Mike and Alan for their kind contribution!

Alice in Wonderland
– by Corinne Olson

A few friends and I were all geek-ed about seeing Shutter Island. So we all met for lunch and thought we had plenty of time to get to the theater for the 2:00 show. But when we got there at 1:55, we found that Shutter Island had already started at 1:30. So after 5 minutes of arguing about what we should do, we all decided to go to the 3D version of Alice in Wonderland which was starting at 2:00.

I love Tim Burton movies and of course I love Johnny, but for some reason I had low expectations for this movie since I heard it had a cool reception in England. We’re already a little late going into the theater so we were stuck sitting in the front and off to the side. I hadn’t sat that close to a movie screen for 20 years.

Doesn't Johnny look a bit like Elijah Wood as Hatter?

Then the trailers started and we put on our 3D glasses. Then the movie started and after a funny beginning where Alice (Mia Wasikowska) seems more interested in chasing a rabbit down a hole than accept a proposal of marriage, the movie turns into this strange but beautiful alien world of strange creatures, plants, and disproportionately figured people. Alice is thrown into a world where  all these creatures in “Underland” are terrified of the dreaded “Red Queen” (Helena Bonham Carter), who Screems “OFF WITH THEIR HEAD!!!” to anyone that disagrees with her. She is my favorite (human) character in the movie.

Yes, Johnny Depp is really good as the Mad Hatter but Helena is a scream with her over-sized head and her super-diva Kate Gosselin-like attitude. She really pules that off. Then there’s my favorite digital character, the “Cheshire the cat”. This creature pops in and out throughout the movie with all the creepiness you’ve come to expect in a Burton movie. The 3D effect works especially well with the cat as it looks like you going to be nabbed out of your seat and eaten alive. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually loved this movie for the 3D effects more than Avatar. I’m not sure if it’s from sitting closer or what, but I felt like things were coming out at me more than with the Avatar 3D effects. In fact, I would recommend sitting closer then you normally would in a 3D movie. It seemed to enhance my experience anyway.

……

Remember Me
– by Mike Beery

I was dragged to this one my my significant other. Now I’m a dude, so Robert Pattinson doesn’t exactly do it for me, however, my lady was interested so what was I to do? We both knew the reviews were pretty bad so perhaps that put us in a general mind-set not to expect much. It was from there that I grew more and more engaged as the movie dug deeper into the storyline.

Pattinson plays Tyler, a rebellious young man in New York City, who has a strained relationship with his father played quite believably by Pierce Brosnan. Tyler doesn”t think anyone can possibly understand what he is going through until the day he meets Ally played by Emilie de Ravin. Love was the last thing on his mind, but as her spirit unexpectedly heals and inspires him, he begins to fall for her. This is about as happy as it gets.

A series of rather sad circumstance unfold one after another. All is well with regards to the writing and acting, however, it’s not happy stuff. Perhaps it’s here where most of the reviewers were lost with this film. I’m not one to shy away from slightly depressing story lines, as that’s often how life is, as long as the portrayal is well done. This film does explore Tyler’s life in a respectful manner, as sad as it is. Remember Me isn’t the typical “tear jerker” love story at all. It’s a love story, it’s sad, but the two aren’t related. It’s that disconnect that adds to the movies “unlikeability”. Because it’s really about a young man that just can’t get past several tragedies in his life, and then, in the end, it’s too late for him to have a chance to do so. Adding to the ultimate sadness of this film.

Personally I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it. It’s engaging and memorable – lingering with you after you leave the theater.

……

The Invention of Lying
– by Alan Markham

I have to admit going into this movie I was more than skeptical (given the weak title), but Gervais’s sharp wit and humor quickly turned me around. Co-written and co-directed by Ricky Gervais and Mathew Robinson, this romantic comedy does a good job of making the viewer think while also making them laugh.

In this movie, Gervais plays the character of a failing screenwriter who exists in a world where no one tells a lie. Early on in the movie though, Gervais soon discovers [the idea of] lying, and this begins to dramatically change/improve the world in which he lives. Part of this world involves Jennifer Garner, whom Gervais meets on a blind date, and Rob Lowe, a competitive coworker that Gervais has a hard time measuring up to.

I believe what makes this movie so entertaining is the fact that it makes you think about lying and how much lying really takes place on a daily basis… and how that really isn’t such a bad thing. During the movie I found myself wincing several times as characters delivered brutally honest lines to one another. The saying “The truth hurts” was never quite so apparent.

Entertaining movie for the most part… go see it!

Everyone’s a Critic: Two Twin-Cities natives review ‘A Serious Man’

Happy Monday, everybody! In this special edition of Everyone’s a Critic, I thought it’d be fun to have a couple of my Minnesota friends to offer their (slightly different) views on a movie that happens to be filmed in our neck of the woods. This is the first movie set in Minnesota from the Coen brothers since Fargo over a decade ago. I haven’t seen it but I’m definitely intrigued to check it out just to see the familiar places I’ve been to in Minnesota, i.e. the Embers restaurant shown in the movie was a regular hangout place for my friends and I in my college years.

Special thanks to Becky and Leslie for their contribution!

Leslie Thomson

So for the last few years I’ve made it my mission to see the best picture nominees before the Academy Award’s big night. And mission it was this year with the Academy changing the number of nominees from 5 to 10 movies. Not having seen any of the movies before the announcements, it was a scramble. Unfortunately I only made 8 of the 10, missing out on Up (should be an easy one to watch) and Precious (expecting a very hard one to watch and I admit I’ve been reticent to see it, but eventually I will).

Having seen 8 of the movies, I was asked my opinion of A Serious Man. With a large part of the production being filmed here in my home state I was obviously interested in seeing it. Friends were approached by one of the film scouts to look at the interior of their house for that perfect 60’s décor but they lost out to neighbors up the street. But we were given day by day descriptions of the numerous trucks, powerful arc lights illuminating their neighborhood at the crack of dawn and the constant parade of cars cruising by to see what all the activity was about.

 

Joel & Ethan Cohen

 

I’ve liked many of the Coen Brothers’ movies, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski (my mother’s favorite), O Brother Where Art Thou (my favorite) and No Country for Old Men. So of course as with their other movies, I expected a slightly twisted, quirky movie populated with slightly twisted, quirky characters. Well A Serious Man is all that. But I was bemused – missing – something. I watched the numerous scenes of a middle class, Midwestern Jewish family  moving through their life of Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, running from the school brute (whom I kept thinking of as a golem), a failing marriage, a nude neighbor, a rude neighbor, car accidents, rambling rabbis young and old, bickering siblings, etc, etc, etc. Was there more to this movie that I, as a goy, was missing? I don’t know. All I know was that my facial expression throughout the movie mimicked that of Larry Gopnick – slight head tilt, furrowed brow and an uncomprehending stare all until the final scene which snapped to black. Huh?

 

Michael Stuhlbarg

Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik

 


Becky Kurk
(Prairiegirl)
I liked this movie simply because it was so nostalgic for me. It’s also amusing, in the Coen Bros kind of way, with enough laugh-out-loud moments to satisfy the comedy junkie in me. It is set in 1967 and was filmed entirely in and around the Twin Cities, mostly in Bloomington, a second-tier southern suburb. I grew up in Roseville, a second tier northern suburb. (The Coen Bros grew up during the 60s too, in St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis.) The 60s sets – interior and ex, the clothes and the music were so faithfully recreated I thought I had gone back in time, and it brought back a lot of memories. One of the most surprisingly delightful scenes (for me) was an exterior shot of a Red Owl grocery store (the precursor to Super Valu), with it’s distinct logo. I remember going to shop there with my mom a hundred times when I was a girl.

After a Jewish college professor’s (Larry Gopnik, played wonderfully by Michael Stuhlbarg, a 2009 Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor) wife asks him for a divorce, his life starts to come apart, and his search for “meaning” leads him on many paths. One of many laugh-out-loud scenes include a loose neighbor woman who indulges with him in the same recreational drug his young son smokes right before his bar mitzvah. Combined with his brother’s bizarre troubles, their Jewish traditions (of which I am not familiar with at all, but most of the time, you don’t need to be Jewish to see the humor involved), his kids (Larry has two teenage children, a 16-year-old girl, thoroughly embarrassed by her parents and obsessed with her hair, and a 13-year-old son who is beholden to a bully for $20 he owes him for the pot he and friends smoke in the high school bathroom), there is so much subtlety woven into the plot I can see how viewers can easily get bored. But I thoroughly adored the charm, loyalty and realness of this outwardly normal-seeming, inwardly dysfunctional, ultimately (probably) typical Jewish family living in the suburban Midwest in the late 1960s. With this film, I think you need to go with your instinct whether you should see it or not – either you will love it or hate it. I doubt there’s much room for anything in between.

Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews from FlixChatter Readers

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic series. Today we’ve got an Oscar nominated flick and two sports movies from a golf and soccer enthusiast. Special thanks to Becky, Scot and Alan for taking the time to contribute to FlixChatter!

Crazy Heart (2009)
by Becky Kurk

My sister from California was visiting a few weeks ago, and we both wanted to see the The Blind Side, but it vanished from the theater one day before we planned to see it. Crazy Heart was her second choice, and since she was from the “away” team, I let her win the coin toss.

Turns out Jeff Bridges (Bad Blake) performance is certainly Oscar-worthy. He plays drunk and down-and-out so well it hurts to keep watching him. In fact, I think his role was over-written. I mean how many times do you need to see him vomit or pass out before you get the hint that he’s got a problem? Not as much as we have to watch. So that leaves little left for the rest of the characters. I have no idea why his love interest (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the least bit interested in him, and there’s nothing in the story that even hints at it. I really think Maggie is a good actor, but her performance here is not Oscar-worthy. That’s not her fault, it’s because of the weakly-written character she has to play. And I don’t know why one minute Colin Farrell (Tommy Sweet) is his musical rival, and then suddenly Bad is his opening act. Sweet then strongly encourages him to write original songs for his band to finally start making some money again. Strangely, Bad turns him down, and again, we have no way of knowing why. Colin, however, gave a subtle but surprisingly good performance.

There’s very little in this film to get you to care about any of the other characters. On the plus side, however, even though I’m not a country music fan, I was surprised I didn’t totally hate the music. And the beautiful panoramas of the Southwest are worth seeing. The story line has been compared to Tender Mercies, The Wrestler and Walk the Line – I haven’t seen the first two, but Walk the Line hits it out of the park compared to Crazy Heart, which barely gets to second base.

….

The Damned United (2009)
by Scot Mattison

Michael Sheen takes on the role of one of England’s all-time great and controversial football managers, Brian Clough. The movie looks at Clough’s 44-day reign as the coach of Leeds United and the events that lead up to the doomed Leeds side.

Colm Meaney plays Don Revie, Clough’s nemesis and predecessor at Leeds. Clough’s sets out to change the playing style of the existing Leeds team, players loyal to Don Revie, and a team Clough has openly criticized for playing dirty. Clough attempts to endear the team to him by telling them “You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly”… surprisingly, this doesn’t produce the desired endearing effect.

An ok script filled with very rich characters. I can’t say the movie captured the whole that was Brian Clough though. Lacking is a charming, working-class, boozer quality…  which leads to a “campy” feel to some of the scenes. The movie does do a good job of creating many uneasy moments, and Sheen does a great job of portraying the over-confident and egocentric manager, delivering his lines with a “nasally-condescending-Cloughie” quality. A good watch for football lovers and anyone that enjoys seeing off-center historical characters.

….

The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
by Alan Markham

The Greatest Game Ever Played
is not the “greatest movie ever made,” but it is pretty decent as far as golf flicks go. The movie is based on a book written by Mark Frost (well known golf writer), and even if you’re not a huge golf fan, I think those who like sports movies would appreciate this story.

The basic premise of the movie is the story of Francis Ouimet’s (played by Shia LaBeouf) rise to golfing fame in the early 1900’s. The movie begins with Ouimet’s life as a caddy, and as a relative unknown in the golfing world, and follows along with his growth and ultimate success when he wins the 1913 U.S. Open at age 20. The key moment is when Ouimet takes on Harry Vardon (Tiger Woods of the day) in a head to head match. The outcome seems predictable, but the fact that it actually did happen makes it more entertaining. No fire hydrants or smashed Escalades here, just good clean fun.

As I mentioned, the storyline is expected, but I feel it still has enough interest to hold your attention throughout the entire movie. The acting is decent, cinematography is great (from a golfers’ perspective), and the story is entertaining. If the movie were a golf score, I’d give it a par.

Edit: This movie was Bill Paxton’s directing debut. As a teen, Bill caddied for golf great Ben Hogan in Fort Worth, which might’ve explained his enthusiasm for the sport.