When I was a child, I had this recurring dream where I would get out of my bed and start to walk down the stairs to the first level of my house. I would slowly grab the banister as I turned the corner to reach the cold floor of the downstairs. Before I would set foot on that floor, Uncle Fester from The Addams Family would start to approach the banister. My immediate reaction was to run back upstairs and yell for my mommy. Though, once I stared into his eyes, my entire body became paralyzed. The scariest aspect was that when I tried to yell to my mom, nothing would come out of my mouth. It was if he cut my vocal chords right out of me. This dream always felt so real while I was inside of it. As Leonardo DiCaprio's character states in the film, "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was strange." That statement could not be more true and I guarantee that everyone everyone reading this review has experienced that.
Inception is brilliant, period. On top of the films brilliance is the fact that the movie is not in 3D nor a remake. It would be worth the price of admission again just to sit in the audience and watch how people react to Inception. Christopher Nolan has, yet again, created another masterpiece of a film which will go down in history as one of the most innovative movies ever made. To sit here and try to explain to you how brilliant the film is, would be completely impossible but I am going to do my best. Words cannot describe the genius behind the idea. The fact that he was even able to come with an idea like this, let alone complete the final product, is beyond me. Inception is one of the most original, thought-provoking, intense, mind-blowing pieces of entertainment I have ever seen. The Academy Awards should just end the film-year now and give this movie Best Picture.
The film stars the best working actor in Hollywood, currently, Leonardo DiCaprio, who has two of the years best films now under his belt. Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island may have had a more emotional impact on me but Inception had more of a mind-blowing impact. The film also stars Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy), Ken Wantanabe (The Last Samurai), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later), Michael Caine (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), Tom Berenger (Major League, Platoon), Tom Hardy (Bronson, RocknRolla) and Marion Cotolliard (La Vien Rose, Public Enemies).
Without giving away too much, I will just skim the surface about the plot line. Trust me, you will want to stay away from certain reviews that delve too much into the plot line. The film has so many layers, no pun intended, that it would be impossible for me to explain everything here without spoiling something. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a character named Cobb, who works in the world of corporate espionage. The particular jobs that he works on uses a process called extraction, in which he and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), enter people's minds while they are dreaming and extract information. The information which is extracted is obviously extremely sensitive. In order to extract this information, Cobb and Arthur must enter the world of the dream of the person in which the information lives. Since people are aware of this technology, there are ways to set-up security in your sub-conscious to fight these people off. Confused yet? Probably but I just have a tiny bit more to say and then I'll move on with the review. As you have seen in the trailers, Cobb explains that if he is able to complete this one last job, he will be able to go home. This job is different and involves and a process called inception, in which the Cobb and his men would enter the other person's mind and plant information to effect the outcome of something in the real world. For example, if I wanted my best friend to let me date his girlfriend, I would plant a message saying that I was the guy who should date her. Cobb puts together a team to do this final job, which includes a dream world architect, played by Ellen Page and an expert named Eames (played by Tom Hardy).
Inception is pretty much a perfect film on every level, i.e. direction, cinematography, film score composition, the minimal use of CGI, not being in 3D, editing, pacing, etc. One of the strongest points of Christopher Nolan's directing is his minimal use of CGI. He really mastered this in The Dark Knight. Everything from the truck flip to the hospital blowing up were almost entirely real. There were small CGI aspects but the majority of those action scenes were real. The same goes for Inception. Obviously, CGI is used when it has to be, i.e. when we are seeing roads and building flipping over. Though, there is an insane fight sequence that takes place in a spinning hallway that was pretty much 99.9% real. According to Wally Pfister, the cinematographer of the film, a 100-foot spinning hallway was physically built for this sequence (much like the one used in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey). Joseph Gordon-Levitt was put on wires and everything you are seeing is real. The only CGI that had to be used was to edit out the wires. That just goes to show you how amazing of a director Christopher Nolan truly he is. He wants his scenes to look as realistic as possible.
Hans Zimmer has,yet again, created a masterful score. Zimmer, who also did the music for The Dark Knight, Gladiator, The Lion King, always comes up with music that stays with you after the film is over. His music perfectly follows each character and builds on itself throughout the film, until the movie and the music both reach an intense and amazing climax. As I am sitting here writing this review, I am humming and whistling music from the film. I also want to give credit to a man named Zack Hemsey who did the trailer music for the final trailer.
If I had to make one small complaint about the film it would be that I wish I had more of an emotional connection to Leonardo DiCapario's character. Normally, he really surprises me with an emotional explosion but I didn't get that out of him this time around. Though, that did not really bother me considering how complex the film really is. There are so many layers going on at once that you almost forget about the characters because you are so caught up in trying to figure out the answers. What's cool is that the film is very easy to follow as it starts going. The complexity of it all does not really hit you until after you have left the theatre. It finally hit me as I was driving home with my co-host and I started freaking out thinking about the genius that went into the story and editing elements of the last hour of that film. The film essentially loses itself in it's own complexity. You will be sitting there with your jaw on the floor in disbelief of what you are seeing.
Director Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the film, has seriously just blown me away, yet again. Apparently, the film was so secretive, that when the script was being read by anybody, including the head of the studio, that there was a security guard outside the room. That way, the script would not leak and it could not be spoiled. The complexity of the film is so insane that you will have to see it numerous times to even grasp the genius behind the idea. I can't tell you how many times I just sat back in my seat and smiled because my mind was just so blown. Even the publicist said that she walked in the theater and just stared at my reaction during the film.
Go see Inception immediately. Hopefully this movie will give a little jump to Joseph Gordon-Levitt considering he is involved in the greatest scene in the film. Levitt starred in last year's amazing film 500 Days of Summer. He has always been a great actor and it was great to see him in this type of huge summer blockbuster. Inception is almost the anti-big summer blockbuster though if you think about it. The movie is completely original yet has the ability to make a ton of money based on Nolan's previous work and its stars. Another great thing that Nolan does is that he makes his films feel R-rated, yet they are usually PG-13. The Dark Knight and Inception both had extremely dark tones which completely throw the viewer off.
I guess the big question that people want to know is whether or not the film is better than The Dark Knight. I would say the film is on par but The Dark Knight had a bit more of an emotional impact on me. Also, there was not really a stand-out performance in this film like there was in The Dark Knight with the Joker. Regardless, Inception is still a masterpiece and a movie that will take multiple viewings to wrap your mind around. The film is my fourth 5 out of 5 of the year, with the others being Toy Story 3, Shutter Island and How To Train Your Dragon.
The Social Network|
Listen to my interview with Armie Hammer
I want to start this review with an honest confession because I really need to get something off of my chest. Considering the classic nature of The Social Network, I feel this is the perfect time to do so. I know what you're thinking, "Why is this guy making the review all about himself?" Well, hear me out because it has to do with this film in particular. Over the past five years or so that I have been a film critic, I have heard people say that I exaggerate a lot. That I use the terms, "brilliant", "masterpiece", "riveting", "amazing", "brilliantly executed," "phenomenally acted," "beautifully directed", "genius film score" and "best film of the year" one too many times. I get that terms of those nature should be used lightly because after a while, the term can get worn out and people will start thinking your opinion is worthless. In 2010, I feel like I have been using those terms a lot, especially when it comes to films like Inception, Toy Story 3 and Shutter Island.
This leads me to The Social Network. I feel like I have hit a time in my profession where people are starting to judge me based on the words I use for movies. Let me say that I am just a film nerd and everything about a film impresses me, especially anything to do with cinematography and film scores. That being said, I want to make a promise to my viewers, listeners and readers. I have heard one too many times recently that "I say that all the time" and "Your opinion doesn’t mean anything because you like everything." I want to gain the trust back from people so that when I say a film is "brilliant," "a masterpiece" or even "phenomenal", you will believe me. Therefore, I promise to only use those words lightly from now on. That being said please put all bias aside you have about me and trust that David Fincher's The Social Network is a true masterpiece in American cinema. The film is brilliantly scored, beautifully directed, phenomenally acted and utterly amazing. Thank you.
You know you're watching a classic film when the end comes and you couldn't be more disappointed that it's over. I could have sat in that theater for two more hours watching David Fincher's masterpiece, The Social Network. First of all, let me stop this review to talk about Armie Hammer! Who the hell is this guy? Are you kidding me? When I walked out of the movie and the publicist told me that the Winklevoss twins were played by one actor, I almost went to the bathroom in my pants. Fincher is a master at effects, as we saw in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but this was beyond anything I have ever seen him do. I was convinced the entire movie that I was watching two actors playing the Winklevoss's. Now, I know this has been done before but I can't remember it ever being done this perfectly.
If I was able to choose the Oscars for 2010, it would go as follows; Best Picture: The Social Network. Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix for I'm Still Here. Best Supporting Actor: a tie between Armie Hammer and Armie Hammer for The Social Network. Best Actress: I am not sure yet. Best film score: give it to both Hans Zimmer for Inception and Trent Reznor for The Social Network. Finally, give best screenplay to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. I would like to thank to the Academy. – Tyler Durden
The Social Network stars Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland), Andrew Garfield (he's your new Spider-Man, Never Let Me Go), Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan), Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – David Fincher's remake) and Armie Hammer.
The film which has been heavily criticized by Facebook to the point, in which Facebook itself has decided not to promote it, is a look into the founders of the social networking site. I can kind of see why Mark Zuckerburg would not want to be involved in the film considering he is not shown in the best of light. Though, once we reach the end of the movie, there is a bit of sympathy to feel for him. The film's main focus is on the massive lawsuits that Zuckerburg had to endure after "creating" The Facebook. In the beginning of the film, we see Zuckerburg create a website called "Facemash" which used and crashed the Harvard network. Essentially, the site grabbed pictures from other schools' Facebooks and compared two girls together on a scale of who is hotter. This crashed the Harvard Network and inevitably gained Zuckerburg a lot of positive and negative attention considering it received over 22,000 hits in the first two hours. "Facemash" gains the attention of two brothers/twins, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (played brilliantly by one actor named Armie Hammer). They want Mark's help in creating a social networking site for Harvard. It would have been called Harvard Connection and only students with a Harvard.Edu email address could join. So, what Zuckerburg did is run with that idea and his idea of "Facemash" and created a website called Facebook with his business partner Eduardo Savini (played by Garfield). The movie revolves around this process and the lawsuits thrown at Zuckerburg, including the $600 million lawsuit his best friend and business partner Eduardo throws at him. The craziest aspect is that the website only cost around $1,000 to start up and is now worth $25 billion.
There is not a single issue with the film. Let me start with the way Fincher shot the movie. I love the beige tone of the scenes at Harvard. That gave the movie such an old fashioned and smart look. Even the opening scene of the film is extremely dark as Eisenberg and Mara spout off the amazing dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin. The story is told a non-linear fashion going back and forth to the start of Facebook and the lawsuits that followed. That really kept the film fresh and keeps the viewers extremely interested throughout. I just loved how Fincher did not warn the audience of the change in time. He lets you figure that out via the dialogue and actions of the characters.
Every performance in the film is perfect. The fact that Armie Hammer was able to play both of the twins is just beyond me. I realize this has been done before and it was a brilliant decision on Fincher's part to cast an unknown actor because I literally had no idea that only one person was playing both roles. It was THAT convincing. Hats off to both Fincher and Hammer for perfectly pulling that off. Eisenberg beautifully orchestrates the character of Mark Zuckerburg. Actress Rashida Jones, who plays one of the legal aids in the film, perfectly nails Zuckerburg's characteristic at the end of the film with a line that sums it up. You'll know it when you hear it. I just love how Eisenberg does not have emotional explosion once throughout the entire movie. All of the emotion is kept inside and you can see it all over his face. Eisenberg has been compared a lot to Michael Cera but this is the role that will completely define him as a great actor.
Why do people disrespect Justin Timberlake as an actor? Did you see Alpha Dog or Black Snake Moan? The kid can act and he does it again in a David Fincher movie. Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. He was also involved in the beginnings of Facebook. Don't knock Timberlake just because he was in a boy-band. The guy has serious talent.
Trent Reznor's film score beautifully blends together with Fincher's direction. It helps create some of the emotion throughout and keeps the movie going at a great pace. If you are fan of Reznor's music, you will notice how the music has a very Nine Inch Nails-style vibe to it.
Give Aaron Sorkin the best screenplay award right now. The dialogue flows like a knife cutting through warm butter. I loved watching it flow out of the actors' mouths and it was extremely witty/smart at the same time. The movie has some of the best pacing I have seen in a while, as it never gets old even as it reaches the ending.
Anybody who has a Facebook is going to thoroughly enjoy this movie. You get to see how it all began and you will think of your own experiences with the website. When Zuckerburg starts creating the "Wall" or adding the "relationship status" area I just had gigantic smiles on my faces. Anyone can relate to the movie. I believe it was a buddy of mine, Brandon Fibbs, who said this is the movie of our generation. He could not be more right. Please, do yourself a favor and go see this movie this weekend. The Social Network is my fifth 5 out of 5 of the year.
(Note: this is my first 5 of 2010)
From every note of music to every frame of film to every line of dialogue and every performance, this film brings a terrifying tale to screen that will keep you thinking about it days later. Director Martin Scorcese (which is pronounced Score-Sez-e rather than the popular Score-Say-Z) doesn't wait a second to start giving you the creeps. The film's opening ten minutes are just as eerie as the entire film containing a loud blaring film score that will immediately put you on edge. What's crazy, and I don't use that word lightly, is that once you walk out of the film you will replay everything back in your head. All of the film's "issues" that may have been odd during the first two hours are completely erased and all make complete sense once everything is explained, i.e. odd character development, awkward scenes, etc. The last thirty minutes of the film are so breathtaking that I felt like I was losing my breath.
Besides the vibrant cinematography, brilliant acting and genius story, the real star of the film was the music. This to me is what drove the entire film. I was talking with fellow critics after it was over and we were discussing its presence being similar to the music Johnny Greenwood did in There Will Be Blood. The music always completely overpowers the film but in a great way that is completely beneficiary. Searching online for the music notes, I came across the title of the main theme throughout the film, which is "Symphony No. 3" by Krzysztof Penderecki (who was also involved in the music for The Exorcist). Re-listening to the theme now is completely bringing me back to Shutter Island. The tone of the song perfectly fits the entire tone of the film. There was also another theme done by The Orchestra of Saint Lukes and John Adams called "The Fog Horns." The music is completely haunting and extremely immersive which is brilliant. If you could compute Avatar's 3D visuals to music that would be the level of immersion I am talking about. The music sets the table for the entire film.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also authored Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), Scorcese brings to life this sickening story about two deputy marshals who travel to the Boston Harbor Island to visit an insane asylum in 1954. On Shutter Island is a psychiatric ward for the criminally insane that is broken into three sections (A,B,C) where woman and men are put into separate wards and the completely insane people are thrown into ward C. Deputy Marshall Teddy Daniels (played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo) are assigned to Shutter Island to investigate a missing patient by the name of Rachel. This patient apparently brutally murdered her three children and has now gone missing completely. Daniels and Aule are introduced to the head doctor on the island, Dr. Cawley (played by Ben Kingsley) and his colleague Dr. Naehring (played by Max von Sydow (Priest Merrin from The Exorcist). Both of which seem very creepy and odd throughout the film.
As the film goes on, we learn that Daniels fought in World War 2 and we experience flashbacks to the war where he had to brutally murder the Nazis. These flashbacks are mixed in with flashbacks of his dead wife (played by Michelle Williams). It is in these flashbacks that we start to learn about the character. A hurricane strikes the island and he and his partner are now stuck there for a couple of days. The mystery of Rachel's disappearance turns into an even bigger mystery leading up to an amazing final thirty minutes of the film. I will leave it at that as to keep any spoilers from leaking. Do yourself a favor and stop reading reviews until you see this film.
Some of the best performances in the film were not from the lead stars. I will get to Dicaprio and his emotionally changing performance in a second. I want to recognize Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine, Max von Sydow and Ben Kingsley. Both Haley and Clarkson are only in one scene each but completely stole the film in the first two hours. Now, once things starting getting a little "weird" and we learn what's really going on, we get to see DiCaprio's emotions explode on screen. Though, looking back, I have to say that besides the ending, the two most explosively emotional scenes in the film were with Haley and Clarkson. Their characters, who I won't say who they are for spoiler reasons, are unbelievable and brilliantly acted. Keep an eye out for a great driving scene with DiCaprio/Levine and a rather wicked scene with Sydow/DiCaprio.
As I walked out of the film, I called a good friend of mine who said that he read an article somewhere where a critic compared some of the shots in Shutter Island to Hitchcock, particularly a rock climbing scene and a shower scene (if anyone knows about this article or has a reference to it, please email me a link so I can give proper credit at firstname.lastname@example.org). That got me thinking about the shower scene in Shutter Island. Looking back on Psycho, we have the famous shot where the shower is turned on and the camera is looking up as the water starts pouring out. I had read somewhere that Hitchcock had to build a bigger shower head so that the camera wouldn't get wet. Now, in Scorcese's film, the shower's water stream is coming out of every hole and coming down directly onto the camera, yet the camera is not getting wet. How is that possible?
The last thirty minutes of this film are breathtaking. This may sound like exaggeration but I could feel my chest caving in. The intensity surrounding these minutes and the fact that it takes about twenty minutes to explain what is really going on is just sickening. The film is very dark in nature and Scorcese definitely captures that with beautiful cinematography. The lighting and the vibrancy of the film are astonishing. There is one particular scene where Dicaprio and Williams are embracing each other in room that has been set-ablaze. The scene starts off after the fire and then kind of rewinds as the embers are floating around. This entire sequence is shot so brilliantly and with great intensity. There is another shot in the film where it tracks to the right of the screen for about fifteen seconds while a lot of guns are going off. You will be shocked.
Scorcese has directed yet another great film and has again reminded me why he is one of the greatest film makers out there. Shutter Island is also living proof that DiCaprio may be the greatest working actor currently making movies. This is DiCaprio and Scorcese fourth film together (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed) and you can tell they are just getting better and better together. You will be completely shocked by this film, whether it is the violence or the story itself. Every piece of the film was done with care and you can tell that a lot of work went into the production. As the film was going for the first two hours, I was finding errors and then once the last twenty to thirty minutes hit, all of those problems are fixed. Shutter Island receives a 5 BDK rating and needs to be seen immediately. This is how films should be made and once the screen goes place and you see "A Martin Scorese Picture", you know you just watched a great film. "Would you rather live as a monster or die as a good man?"
Black Swan is simultaneously one of the most emotionally devastating experiences I have had in my entire life but at the same time, I couldn't look away. Imagine going past a terrible car accident and you get that sick feeling in your stomach, yet you have this morbid curiosity about it. We are all fascinated with things that we are afraid of. Think about it the news you watch on a daily basis. It is all murders and crime. That is the type of material that people enjoy reading. I heard a terrible story the other day but I couldn't stop reading it because it intrigued me. Now, we know Black Swan is a movie but it will still eat you alive.
Director Darren Aronofsky has directed his best film since Requiem For a Dream. I had a similar experience with Black Swan where I had to sit still after the credits rolled and catch my breath. I had the biggest knot in my stomach the entire time and I would guarantee that my heart rate was going up. They should attach people to heart rate machines to see how nervous they get during the film. Aronofsky, who also directed Mickey Rourke's Oscar-Nominated performance in The Wrestler, is back with one of the sickest, yet beautiful films you will see all year. Black Swan stars Natalie Portman (The Professional, Star Wars Episode 2, 3), Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, "Family Guy"), Vincent Cassell (Eastern Promises) and Barbara Hershey.
Only Darren Aronofsky could direct a sick, twisted thriller about ballerinas recreating the infamous "Swan Lake." I can't even imagine the pitch to the studio but thankfully it was made. To be honest, what these ballerinas go through is worse than some football games that I have seen. Nina Sayers (Portman) is a ballerina whose dream is to play the Swan Queen (Black and White Swan) in a professional production of "Swan Lake." This is her entire life and she has been pushing for it for so long. When the opportunity arises via a professional theatre company in New York, she jumps at the opportunity to ask the director (played by Cassell). Though, she fears that she is competition with another ballerina named Lily (Kunis). That turns out to be false when we start realizing that Nina is really in competition with herself. She starts seeing things and very odd marks start to appear on her body. As the film goes on, she gets deeper and deeper into character. The question is whether or not she is going too deep.
It is really tough to categorize this film because it is truly in a genre of its own. The film has horror elements, dramatic elements, extremely sexual elements and so on. You won't be scared like in a traditional horror film but you will be freaked out. I think the term that best describes the film was a term I saw in the ad campaign, which was "psychosexual." The movie has this intense sexuality too it but it is also very creepy and extremely out there.
Yes, there is a sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman. Though, after the film ends, you completely forget about it. The movie itself is so shockingly disturbing that the scene is kind of forgettable. It's a great scene and serves the story but it's not the only reason you should see this movie. I would be lying if I didn't say I was looking forward to it but all in all, the movie itself is better than that scene.
This is Natalie Portman's best performance, hands down. She deserves the Oscar right now. She became this character, no pun intended. Not once did I think of Natalie Portman. My brain was so wrapped up in her emotions that I forgot I was watching a film. This is the performance of a lifetime and it needs to be recognized. It is downright disturbing and as I write this review, I am feeling knots in my stomach.
Explaining how I feel about this film is almost impossible. I feel so much yet I don't want to give anything away. This is a film where you can't really describe it to your audience. You have to let the audience have their own experience. I will say that every performance is phenomenal including Cassell, Hershey and Kunis.
Oddly enough, one of the most painful aspects of the film was the close-up shots of the feet when they would spin. The way Aronofsky directed the feet was brilliant. He would have close-up shots on Portman's feet as she would be removing and putting on her slippers. The craziest shots were the close-up's while she was spinning. I just kept balling up my feet because I felt like I could feel the pain. I also really loved the shots of the spinning camera when a character would be spinning.
Black Swan is easily one of the best films of 2010. Anyone who says this is not a great year for cinema is insane! My top 10 of the year at the moment are Inception, The Social Network, Black Swan, How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Shutter Island, Kick-Ass, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. My wild card is The Town. Go see Black Swan immediately, hence the FOX 5 BDK rating.
How to Train Your Dragon|
How To Train Your Dragon is the best animated film since Wall-E. Both films fall into a category I like to call, "Animated Masterpieces." If you have ever wanted to see a film where essentially 99.9% of its elements go right, check this film out. You will be laughing, crying, clapping, cheering and rooting the entire film. Well, at least I was. It has been a while since a good underdog story has come out. Yes, this film contains elements from a ton of films whether it is Avatar, 300 or any film where a geeky kid rises up against all odds to prove that he was right. The reason Avatar and 300 were brought up first are the obvious comparisons. The 300 comparison mainly comes from Gerard Butler's voice work in the film where he plays a bad-ass Viking who leads his men into battle against and unspeakable force. It was as if they took King Leonidas, turned him into a Viking, changed the name and animated him. How To Train Your Dragon also stars the voices of Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara ("Ugly Betty"), T.J. Miller (Cloverfield, She's out of My League), Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad).
Now, unfortunately, I must compare the film to Avatar. Just for the record, I did not hate Avatar as I thought it had the greatest visuals ever but completely lacked in the story-telling department. Interesting enough, How To Train Your Dragon has a very similar story line where a character abandons his people to go fight for another side. Avatar did this poorly because Cameron did not develop his characters and give you anything to root for. It was one of the more emotionless films I had seen in a long time. Not once did I care for any of the characters. On the other hand, How To Train Your Dragon actually takes the time to develop this story line where this wimpy kid is the outcast of his town. Nobody likes him, even his own father. When it comes time for him to shine, you want him to win so badly because of how poorly people treat him. It's the age old formula done super well.
The question surrounding the film is whether or not anyone has ever trained a dragon. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Barachel) is your normal dorky kid who everyone picks on. He lives on an island called Berke where they have big dragon problem. The town is filled with Vikings whose sole job is to kill dragons and rebuild their homes after an attack. His father, Stoic (voiced perfectly by Gerard Butler) thinks Hiccup is a loser and will never live up to the family potential. The film opens with this amazing battle sequence where the Vikings are fighting the dragons. Hiccup is supposed to stay indoors but wants to prove to his dad that he can be a great Viking by shooting down the most dangerous dragon possible, the Night Fury. He miraculously shoots down the dragon but no one believes him. As he sneaks out the next day, he comes across the dragon only to realize he can't kill it. On the contrary, he ends up becoming best friends with it, giving him the name "toothless." He learns that the dragons are as much afraid of the humans as the humans are afraid of them, much like snakes. Though, the drama comes when his father wants to put him in dragon training school to learn to kill. Now that Hiccup has become friends with the most dangerous dragon, he no longer wants to train to kill. He has figured out that these dragons are actually good at heart and don't want to kill humans. There is a greater force at hand.
As a critic, you should never talk, clap or cheer during a film but I could not help myself. I could not stop rooting for Hiccup to triumph. It has been a while since I wanted an underdog to win so badly.
Let's talk animation and 3D. I will be the first to admit that I am sick and tired of all of these 3D films. Ever since Avatar made two billion dollars, every movie is striving to look like that. So much so that even Tim Burton wanted Alice in Wonderland in 3D. That movie wasn't even shot in 3D! He spent the extra money to convert it because it costs more to see the film and the box office numbers would be much higher. Now with this film, you actually don't shoot the film. Everything is created in a computer and you just create two images to give it that 3D look. Regardless, the visuals and 3D were stunning along with the great story. That is why it works. How To Train Your Dragon works on both levels, adult and children.
If you are a dog person, you are going to love this film. The dragons, particularly Toothless, have very dog-like characteristics where they lick the humans and play. Every time Toothless and Hiccup were playing together it reminded me of playing with my dog. The only difference is that this animal can breathe fire and kill you instantly.
The film has some of the most beautiful flying scenes ever caught on film, or should I say on a computer. After Hiccup finds Toothless, he realizes that by shooting him down, he ruined his tail and the left half of his tail wing is missing. This makes Toothless unable to fly out of the pit he is caught in. Hiccup creates a paper wing for Toothless and essentially trains him to fly all over again. These scenes are so fascinating and joyful to watch. Anytime he and Hiccup are flying through the Island, you get that Avatar vibe but you realize how much more chemistry and connection you feel to the characters in this film. That's all I kept thinking about the entire movie. This is the same story as Avatar just done in a much better light.
I highly recommend taking your entire family to see this movie. As it stands right now, it is my second favorite film of 2010 and we are already almost in April. There is so much heart and comedy in this movie that it is bound to please anyone. How To Train Your Dragon is my second 5 BDK rating of the year.
Kevin's 1:1 VIDEO interview with star Mark Wahlberg
Kevin's 1:1 VIDEO interview with star Christian Bale
Kevin's 1:1 VIDEO interview with star Amy Adams
I am guilty of this but it really bothers me when people say that a great film has been "done before." Meaning, we have all seen the film where a boxer goes from the dumps to the highlands. That shouldn't take away from or diminish the amazing film making that we are witnessing. Also, when the film is a true story, you really shouldn't use that as an excuse to not like the film. Trust me, I have said a million times in my reviews that we have seen this type of film before and that it is formulaic. So yes, The Fighter has been done before but David O Russell delivers a beautifully directed and emotionally uplifting story containing brilliant Oscar-worthy performances and beautiful cinematography. I also really enjoyed the musical choices. There is a great shot at the beginning of the film where Wahlberg and Bale are walking through the streets of Lowell, Massachussettes and "How Do you Like Me Now?" comes blaring through the speakers. They are the rock stars of that city and O' Russell perfectly captured that. I love the shot that tracks quickly backwards through the streets at the end of the scene.
The Fighter easily contains one one of the best acting ensembles of the year with Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, Max Payne), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, American Pyscho), Amy Adams (Enchanted, Doubt) and Melissa Leo (Conviction, Frozen River).
Much like Micky Ward's persistence in the film, Wahlberg was persistent for four years while trying to get this film made. He kept getting the green light and then the production would get shut down. Well, we are lucky we are finally seeing this film which will probably get a nomination for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Bale), Best Supporting Actress (Leo) and Best Director (O'Russell).
The true story takes place in the 90's and follows professional boxer Micky Ward's (Wahlberg) path to victory. His half-brother, Dicky Ecklund (Bale) was once a great Boxer who "knocked down" Sugar Ray Leonard. The big problem was that Dicky resorted to crack cocaine which almost ruined his life and relationship with his brother. Micky and Dicky own the streets of Lowell and their relationship is just as raw and uplifting as the picture. Micky falls for a beautiful bartender (played by Amy Adams) who became a major player in his success story. One of the craziest and most entertaining parts of the story is Micky and Dicky's family, including his amazing mother (played by Melissa Leo). Some of the best scenes in the film were watching the family sit around and yell at each other. Micky and Dicky's sisters are absolutely hilarious and they have the greatest mullets ever.
First of all, hats off to Mr. David O'Russell for directing some of the best boxing scenes since Raging Bull. I just loved how he recreated the HBO look with that highly stylized, colorful and brutal cinematography. The boxing scenes are very brutal and realistic to watch. You will literally feel like you are on your couch at home watching an HBO boxing match.
Every performance in this film is brilliant. Knowing that Wahlberg struggled for four years to get this picture made makes it even better to watch. The struggles coincide with each other. Bale should finally win his long over dude Academy Award. He physically and mentally became Dicky Ecklund. When you see the end credits and meet the real Dicky Ecklund, you will see what I mean. His physical transformation, i.e. weight loss and hair, were only part of it. He went around with Dicky, learning his rounds. Not once did I think of Christian Bale. He became that character like he always does. Melissa Leo delivers an emotionally devastating performance as their mother. Her physical and mental transformation was spot on. When you meet her in real life, she is nothing like that. That is just the mark of a true actor. Even Amy Adams delivers her best performance of her career. She completely steps outside of that cutesy box of hers and delivers a hard-punching performance, no pun intended.
The entire movie is a boxing match. Even the dialogue sequences felt like fights. Every piece of dialogue thrown is like a punch to the face. There are so many great scenes. The movie is not just about fighting. It is also about family and how important loved ones are.
I am also a sucker for Boston accents. Amy Adams nails her role. That's the great thing about this film is that the women and the men are on the same playing field. There is no stereotypical female character and no stereotypical male character. Every character has emotions and tough at the same time.
The Fighter is one of the best films of 2010 and everyone should see it, hence the 5 BDK rating. My favorite scene from the film is when Melissa Leo's character finds Christian Bale's character in the trash. They both go to her car and have this amazing emotional sequence where they sing a song together. It is both devastating and beautiful at the same time.
The King's Speech|
The King's Speech is one of those films that sounds boring based on it's storyline but contains acting and dialogue so mind-blowing, you'll feel like you are watching 3D action-adventure. Director Tom Hooper (Red Dust, The Damn United) has a crafted a beautiful film where the dialogue and performances flow like clear running water. Colin Firth gives an Oscar-worthy performance that will surely be the staple of his entire career. From the minute he walked on screen to the final frame of the film, I was locked in. His character had such humanity and there was just something special about seeing the struggles of a future king. Normally, we think of King's as powerful, strong and extremely confident. There is no doubt that King George VI had those qualities later on, but this film showcases the struggles he went through as a normal person.
The film stars Colin Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary, Love Actually), Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Pirates of the Carribean), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Alice in Wonderland) and Guy Pearce (Memento, The Time Machine).
The film tells the true story about King George VI's stammering problem. When his father, King George V, was King, Prince Albert, Duke of York (Firth) would be asked to read his speeches to millions of people. The problem was that Prince Albert ("Bertie") had a stammering problem. He would get in front of the microphone and just freeze up. When King George V passed away, Prince Albert's brother King Edward VIII (Pearce) took over but he wanted to marry a divorced woman and the English Government would not allow that. That meant that Prince Albert, who changed his name to King George VI (Firth) would have to step up. His wife, Elizabeth (Bonham Carter) found a speech therapist named Lionel (Rush) who was supposed to be the best in the business. Reluctant to go first, Prince Albert and Lionel develop a beautiful relationship which is dramatic yet hilarious at times. His goal is to help Prince Albert learn to speak well so that he can be the best King possible. Keep in mind, this is all taking place around 1935 and 1936, right during the rise of Hitler. Imagine having a stammering problem and having to talk to your country about Hitler.
Colin Firth will 100% win the Oscar. The performance was so naked. I felt like we were seeing something so special watching a powerful man in history while he was at his weakest. There is just something really intriguing about that. This might sound really weird but I spent a lot of the film watching Firth's mouth as he tried to speak. I even felt my mouth moving to try and speak for him.
Even Geoffrey Rush was phenomenal. He always is. Though I am kind of in the corner for Christian Bale to win the Oscar for The Fighter. Rush and Firth have brilliant chemistry but this is obviously Firth's film. For The Fighter, Christian Bale steals the film.
The cinematography is another star. I could watch this entire movie on mute and just gaze at the beautiful shots. From the beautiful opening close-up shots of the microphone to the perfect one-take shots of Firth/Bonham Carter walking down the stairs to the epic close-up's of Firth as he tries to talk, the film deserves the Academy Award for cinematography. My favorite shot of the film was when Firth and Rush are doing motion exercises and Hooper pushes the camera towards them and then comes back out and they are in a different position or day. It was a really cool way to pass time.
The King's Speech is an absolute pleasure to watch. You will be amazed how the story translates to the screen. The music is so beautiful and the performances are so perfect. The film receives a 4.5 BDK rating out of 5.
Toy Story 3|
Toy Story 3 is a perfect film. For the past hour or so, I have tried going through the entire film in my head to find at least one negative quality. Pixar has done it again and pretty much outdone all of their other films except for Wall-E, which still holds a special place in my heart. Wall-E was one of the first animated movies I had scene where I forgot that I was watching an animated film. The issues that I had with Pixar's last film, Up, were all fixed in Toy Story 3. Up had an odd balance to it where it was not sure whether it wanted to be a drama or a comedy. The lines were too solid and the film did not know how to walk it. As much as I loved Up, there were those issues. Toy Story 3 perfectly balances out the emotional deepness of the story with the comedic childlike ideas behind it. There are two films going inside Toy Story 3. You have the one for children, which is the main idea behind the entire series and then you have the adult oriented subject matter, i.e. adult humor, themes of abandonment and the idea of losing something so important to you that it could kill you inside.
I was talking with a friend the other day about how great this film really is. He looked at me in all seriousness and says, "Isn't just a cartoon?" That statement really hit me and I thought to myself how much of an impact these computer generated characters really have on the audience. These "cartoons" often-times have more realistic qualities to them than "real" actors in "real" movies. I find myself emotionally invested and extremely attached to characters like Woody or Buzz or Wall-E or Carl Fredrickson. Just because the actor is doing a voice behind an animated character, does not make that character any less of a person. There has not been a more emotional film this year than Toy Story 3. You will be up and down with emotions but in a great way because the writing is so smooth. The story arcs are perfect and the computer generated environments are spectacular.
Toy Story 3 stars the voices of Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump), Tim Allen ("Home Improvement", The Santa Claus), John Ratzenberger ("Cheers", the only actor to have appeared in every Pixar film to date), Michael Keaton (Batman, Multiplicity), Joan Cusack (High Fidelity, Arlington Road), Don Rickles (Casino, Dirty Work), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Ned Beatty (Superman, Deliverance), Estelle Harris (Stand and Deliver, Brother Bear), Teddy Newton (Day and Night) and Kristen Schaal (When in Rome, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard).
Before I get into the plot line, I do want to bring up the genius Pixar short film that occurred before Toy Story 3. Pixar usually does a brilliant job with these shorts and they help the audience get ready for the greatness which is about to appear on screen. My favorite before tonight was Presto, which appeared before Wall-E. The new short is directed by a Toy Story 3 star named Teddy Newton and is titled Day and Night. The short essentially takes blob-like creatures that are see-through. The entire background of the screen is black but we can see through the outline of the creatures. Within these outlines are normal every day shots of trees, water, birds, etc. One of the blobs is Day and one is Night. They both become jealous of each other and fight it out. For example, when Day is sitting on top of Las Vegas, we see the beautiful city in the day time. Though, when Night comes around, we see how beautifully light Vegas is at night. You kind of have to see it to understand what I mean.
Generally, I am against 3D films. I have stated numerous times that 3D films are kind of ruining cinema in the sense that movie studios are now focusing more on visuals and less on story and dialogue. I feel like the studios are trying to use the 3D just to get a couple of bucks extra per ticket in their pockets. The case could not be more different for Toy Story 3 whose 3D is pretty much perfect. The depth of field-3D used in this film is unbelievable and creates an insane encompassing feel around you. There are shots in this movie that were meant to be seen in 3D, one in particular where Buzz is climbing up a snack machine to find a secret meeting. Along with the amazing computer graphics used in the film, the 3D was a perfect machine for this.
I don't want to give any spoilers away in my plot description, therefore I am going to keep this very vague. Just so you know where I stand, I feel this is the best of the three films. I would say it goes Toy Story 3, Toy Story 2, Toy Story. They are all excellent but those are my preferences. If you have not seen the first two, why are you reading this review? The movies essentially revolve around the main question of what do our toys do when we are not in the same room. Well, in this world, they come to life, talk, have feelings and go on action adventures. They also get very jealous when they are not played with. In the first two films, we were dealing with the owner of these toys, Andy, and his lack of playing as he became older. These toys do not reveal themselves to the humans and get very jealous when other toys are entered into the picture, i.e. in the first film when Buzz was introduced and Woody became jealous. In Toy Story 3, Andy (voiced by John Morris) is now seventeen years of age and is heading off to college. His mom tells him that he needs to clean out his room and throw the trash away. He decides that all of his toys, including Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Hamm the Pig (John Ratzenberger) and even Buzz Light Year (Tim Allen), need to be left at home in the attic. His favorite toy, Woody (Tom Hanks), would be going with him to college. Interestingly enough, the toys have felt abandoned over the years because as Andy gets older, they get played with less and less. The opening scene of the film is a really great action scene showing how much the toys used to have with Andy. Now, they pretty much have to do anything in order to Andy to even look at them.
Without giving anything away, the toys end up in a daycare center called Sunnyside Daycare where they have to figure out a way to escape the torturous hands of the children and make it back to Andy's house safe and sound. We encounter many new toys along the way including the villain of the film, Lotso (voiced by Ned Beatty). Lotso is a angry stuffed bear who was lost by his owner and has developed a bad attitude every since. He essentially runs all the toys at the daycare center and tries to essentially imprison Andy's toys when they arrive. When the toys realize that Andy actually wanted to keep them and not throw them away, they try to escape but Lotso has other plans.
The movie is perfect. The laughs are strong as well as the emotions. If you don't get teary eyed towards the end of the film, you must have been lost. The movie contains a perfect amount of action, adventure and tons of excitement. Even the adult jokes were hilarious. There is a very funny recurring joke about Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) and they even bring back the "claw" from the first film. The introduction of Ken and Barbie was very funny and added a different angle to the film.
If you remember, Toy Story was the first completely computer generated film to be released as a feature film. After that film came out, every other studio tried to emulate that exact style. Yet, Pixar has always been the most consistent studio, always releasing quality. This time around, they have topped themselves yet again with a brilliant movie. Toy Story 3 will hit you very hard emotionally, make you laugh and definitely keep you on the edge of your seat the entire movie. There were adventure scenes where I was honestly scared for the toys and there were scenes where I wanted to cry with the toys. The life inside of these little animated creatures was so bright.
Toy Story 3 receives a 5 BDK rating out of 5. This is my 3rd five of the year next to Shutter Island and How To Train your Dragon. Go see it immediately, i.e. quit your job, leave work early and go see the film now.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World|
Imagine if you took the comedic/well-written value of 500 Days of Summer and blended it together with a Super Nintendo system playing "Street Fighter 2: Turbo;" you would have Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Even though the film is much more, that is essentially Scott Pilgrim in a nutshell. Edgar Wright, who is responsible for "Spaced", Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, has brought you the ultimate fan-boy action flick. Scott Pilgrim is going to be the type of film that everyone either loves or hates. There is a specific built in audience of people who love video games that are going to go completely Lady GaGa over this film. Everything from the highly-stylized action to the numbers of combo hits being shown on screen are a sure thing to please any gamer. Though, what makes the movie work is the love story. That is where the film becomes a film for everyone. It can please all audiences. Oddly enough, that love story does kind of get lost in all of the insane and quirky action but Wright brings it back perfectly at the end.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World stars Michael Cera (Superbad, Youth in Revolt), Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down, The Cidar House Rules), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Funny People), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free Die Hard, Final Destination 3), Alison Pill (Dan in Real Life, Milk), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Twilight), Johnny Simmons (Hotel for Dogs, Jennifer's Body), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Ellen Wong (first movie - she plays Knives Chau), Mark Webber (Boiler Room, Broken Flowers) and your new Captain America, Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie, Fantastic Four).
The plot line to the film is a bit on the absurd side but if you can fully understand the nature of the film and have fun with it, you will be golden. Scott Pilgrim plays bass for a band called Sex Bob-Omb (which I later found out is a reference to Super Mario Bros.), an insane rock group who are trying to make it big. They find themselves competing in battle of the band competitions all the time because they want to get signed to a major record label. Scott (Cera), who is twenty-two, is currently dating a seventeen year-old high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Everyone around him, including his gay roommate Wallace Wells (Culkin), thinks it odd that he is dating a seventeen year old. Though, Scott constantly reminds people that they haven't even held hands. This all becomes the past though when he meets Ramona Flowers (Winstead), who he considers to be the girl of his dreams. Though, she comes with some very interesting baggage. In order for Scott to date her, he must defeat her seven evil ex-girlfriend/boyfriends. Over the years, Ramona has always dumped her boyfriends/girlfriends and now they are back with a vengeance to fight Scott to the death. These are not just normal fights. Rather, the fights include highly stylized video game violence that will blow you away.
The film is a nerds dream, aesthetically and video game-wise. From a film makers stand point, this is the most fun you will have all year. You get to see all the amazingly quirky tricks that Edgar Wright has up his sleeve. Whether it be changing the aspect ratios numerous times or creating an 8-bit song version of the Universal Pictures logo or even using digital words on screen to express the power of a punch. In case you are confused about aspect ratios, when you are watching the film, you will notice that the majority of the time, it takes up the entire screen. Then, during a fight sequence with Cera and one of the evil exs, the film will shrink down to a difference size which essentially gives it more of a theatrical edge to it. Pay attention because there are so many great editing techniques done throughout the film. The split-screens were perfect and I just loved the way Edgar cut the film together. My favorite aspect is watching the tracking shots and how he uses a wall or a couch to jump to the next scene. It makes the film feel very fluid.
Someone asked me today what movie they should see this weekend. They stated that they were heading to the theatre with their wife and needed a good flick that both of them would like. You can look at Scott Pilgrim is two different ways. There is the "chick flick" side of it where you have this passionate love story and quest where the man fights for his woman. On the other side of the coin, you have this amazing action film that will satisfy action fans and comic book nerds. Therefore, everyone can be satisfied.
The film definitely stays true to the comic book/graphic novel. Edgar Wright and his co-writer Michael Bacall adapted the screenplay from Brian Lee O'Malley's series of comic books. I just love how the film kept that comic book vibe but also added its own elements that would not work on the page.
People and myself argue that Michael Cera plays the exact same role in every single movie he is in. I would not disagree with that statement in the least. He is always the awkward nerdy kid who ends up overcoming all of his issues at the end of the film He is that same Michael Cera character in this film but this time around he's actually kicking butt. All of this fight sequences worked really well and even his dialogue was hilarious.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World will make nerds cry, satisfy action fans and even satisfy people who are looking for a good love story. I highly recommend checking out one of the most original films in years, hence the 4 BDK rating.
Easy A is one of my favorite movies of 2010. I was blown away by how charming, laugh-out-loud funny and honest the film was. Emma Stone is so natural on screen and her laugh is so infectious. Hopefully, this film will launch her career and land her more leading roles.
In 2008, a little film came out called Charlie Bartlett, starring Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr. and Kat Dennings. The film flew completely under the radar and was extremely funny, smart and witty. Unfortunately, the film did not do so well. Well now, the same style of film is getting a second run and instead of prescription drugs being the selling point, it is sex.
Emma Stone plays Olive, a seventeen year old high school student who is living a lie. She lies to her best friend, Rihannon (played by Alyson Michalka), because she did not want to go on a camping trip with her friends' weird parents. Instead, she spends the weekend at home learning the lyrics to a Natasha Beddingfield song called "Pocket Full of Sunshine," which eventually becomes her ring tone despite her hatred of the song. When her best friend gets back, she is forced to make up a story about losing her virginity to a college guy. This lie is quickly heard by the school's goodie goodie gossip queen Mary-Anne (played by Amanda Bynes). The rumor starts to spread like wild fire and she starts getting noticed by everyone for the wrong reasons. It then turns out that guys start begging her to make up stories around school to make them popular. It all starts with her gay friend Brandon who uses a fake sex story to stop him from getting beat up. Obviously problems arise when Olive starts wearing a Scarlett Letter A around school and embracing the lie.
Every performance in the film was so natural and hilarious. I have to start off with Olive's parents played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. The chemistry in that household was hilarious and completely off the wall. One of the funniest jokes in the entire film comes from Tucci about adoption. I almost fell out of my seat. I felt like they were all best friends because the chemistry worked so well. Emma Stone completely owned this part. You could tell she went all out with the singing and the laughter. Her laugh was so infectious and so natural. Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow were fantastic as well.
The film works on an emotional level as well as a funny one. There are tons of deep themes about being in high school and popularity. The witty and smart vibe surrounding the film reminded me a lot of Mean Girls. The script is extremely well-written and totally self aware. Sometimes it did feel like it was trying too hard to be anti-cliche but most of the time it worked.
The direction is even great. I loved the opening credits. Notice how the flag goes behind the credits and I loved how Emma Stone's name was listed last even though she is the star of the film. I also loved the quick zooms used for the "spreading rumors" shots.
The movies flows beautifully and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the film. I highly recommend checking it out if you like well-written comedy. Easy A receives a 4.5 out of five. If I was on a letter grade scale I would give it an A.