Friday, November 30, 2012

Anna Karenina

I suppose as good a way as any is to begin by stating that Leo Tolstoy’s iconic novel, Anna Karenina, remains unread by me. And probably always will. It’s just not my thing. And I only mention this as a means of giving context to this review: I am an Anna Karenina novice. Going into the film, I hadn’t the slightest idea what the movie was about. The trailer flexed notions of an infidelity drama set centuries back, directed and starring people who make great films together. That’s all I had going in.

What I can assert after seeing Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is that it is a lively, inventive period piece unlike any film I’ve ever seen. The problem that I’m still trying to wrap my head around is that, given how unique and seemingly energetic it is, why am I left feeling as though it is forgettable and utterly lifeless?

End of Watch

Every year, multiple films are released that I hear enough about to know that I don’t want to see it. Whether it’s in the casting, choice of director, subject material, genre – whatever the case may be, I know my movie tastes well enough to know that I’m not going to dig the flick.

Watching End of Watch only confirms that I don’t know shit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Character: Which Actors Deserve More Work?

I don’t usually make a point of repurposing lists from mainstream movie sites on this blog – that’s what Twitter is for. But a recent list from The Playlist is simply too good to ignore.

Their list, titled 10 Undervalued Actors Who Deserve To Get More Work, was published yesterday afternoon and aims to draw attention to excellent actors whose faces are known, but names are largely overlooked. 

A little over a year ago, I started my column In Character solely to draw attention to such people. Today will mark my 40th In Character post, so I thought I’d change things up and ask the same essential question The Playlist did: which undervalued actors do you think deserve more work?

My Top 10 (many of which show up on The Playlist’s original tally) is below. Do feel free to tell me yours. And really, thanks so much for your support of this In Character column. I’m glad a lot of you enjoy putting names to the faces as much as I do!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Top 10 Scenes of Ed Harris’ Career

I’m hard pressed to think of a living actor that is as continually intense as Ed Harris. Whether he’s screaming, shouting, punching or glaring, he gives off an immediate sense of fear that is impossible to take your eyes off of.

But there’s a flip side. The inverse to his trademark intensity is his genuine tenderness. He can play mean and he can play earnest, as good as any of them.

Because today is Harris’ 62nd birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to list my Top 10 favorite scenes of his career. From brooding to sensitive, here’s where Harris has been at his finest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Film Independent Spirit Award Nominations

I absolutely love the Independent Spirit Awards. Acting as the unofficial antithesis to the Oscars, the Spirit Awards are meant to instill the wholesomeness of struggling, independent filmmakers.  Problem is, over the last few years, the Oscars have damn near mimicked the Spirits, sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

Maybe mainstream Indies are finally getting the mainstream attention they deserve. That or the Independent Spirit Awards aren’t nominating the proper films anymore. Hell, I’m getting ahead of myself, for now, let’s marvel over the (mostly good) 2012 Spirit Award nominations.

The Girl and Hitchcock

One of the best courses I took in college was titled Hitchcock Reexamined, in which we watched all of Hitch’s films and discussed them ad nauseam. In addition, we detailed the man behind the infamy – his passions, obsessions, fears, desires – and so on. The course was as interested in the man as it was in his films, which made for some fantastic old time Hollywood musings. But the flip side is that, learning what I learned, it makes films as unaccomplished as The Girl and Hitchcock simply unforgivable.

It is very important to begin these reviews by stating outright that the words Based on a True Story are to be taken as loosely as possible in most any film depicting a real person. Liberties are taken, time is altered, moods are exaggerated – I get it, it’s part of the game. Thing is, if you’re going to change/add/remove from the way it was, then please, for the love of God, make it interesting.

And that is precisely what these films fail to do.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Top 10 Song Moments in Martin Scorsese Films

Few directors can cut a scene to a track more appropriately than Martin Scorsese. Although he mostly keeps his scenes dedicated to popular classic rock, there’s no stopping him from venturing into pop, rap, or classical territory. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, the name Scorsese is synonymous with the art of musical juxtaposition. Here are my 10 favorite examples as to why.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Top 10 Movie Character Introductions

The way in which a film character is introduced can make or break a performance. More often than not, little attention is given to the opportunity filmmakers have by completely stunning the audience from the onset. Here is a list of my personal favorite character introductions in film history. Some come in with a bang, others come in with a smile, and some come in yielding a very large kitchen knife. No matter the entry, they’ve all left their mark.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

the Directors: David O. Russell

I go back and forth with David O. Russell. With the exception of one of his films (well, now, two), his movies frequently verge on the edge of brilliance, but something manages to deter it away from whatever lame idea of greatness I have perceived of it.

So, to be clear, I enjoy every single one of Russell’s films, but I love few of them. Either way, his ability to impeccably shift tone, style, and genre from film to film (and often, within each film itself) definitely deserves to be applauded. For better or worse, he is one hell of a unique cinematic voice.

My Favorite Scene: Three Kings

I have a few movie pet peeves, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing irritates me more than the overuse of effects. I don’t mean CGI (although that, to me, is often used in excess more often than it’s not) but rather, the use of cinematic editing effects that one can add to a film in post-production. Stop motion, time lapse, white fade, stylized sound, over saturated colors – these all (often times) leave the stamp of an amateur filmmaker, and rarely can I support it.

Which is what makes one scene in David O. Russell’s perfect Three Kings such an enigma. The scene in question uses all of those effects (and more) a few times in the span of a few minutes, yet everything – every heightened frequency, every overblown tone – everything works perfectly to dramatize a moment of horror.

Let’s dive in.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Pat Solitano is a man defeated. When we meet Pat (Bradley Cooper), he is fresh off a stint at a mental hospital for beating the shit out of his wife's lover, and because he now has no house, job, or wife, he is forced to move back in with his kind, overbearing mother (Jacki Weaver), and his compulsive gambling father (Robert De Niro). Both parents don’t seem to mind throwing Pat in the attic, so long as he’s well behaved.

And little do they know.


In the opening scene of Smashed, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up covered in her own piss, the result of a night of epic binge drinking gone too far. She playfully nags her just-as-hungover husband, Charlie (Aaron) before heading to the shower (where he cleans herself while crushing a beer) and attempting to make it to her job on time – a job in which she is paid to teach first graders.

And we’re off and running.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Top 10 Martin Scorsese Pictures

In honor of master Marty’s recent 70th birthday, here’s a list of his films that have inspired me most. Scorsese is one of my top three favorite directors of all time, and I’ve seen all of his films many times over. These are the ones that never dare go away.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Movie Alphabet Blogathon

Mettel Ray has a great idea for a blogathon, tasking bloggers with creating their specific movie alphabet. The one rule in effect is to simply match every letter of the alphabet with something relating to film. And the only rule I’ve set for myself is that I will list the very first thing that pops into my mind for each corresponding letter. Challenge accepted!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Character: The Cast of Lincoln

If Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is nothing else, it is a glorious roll call for many of the finest character actors currently working in film. As often as I can, I dedicate this blog to character actors in my recurring column, In Character, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to mix things up.

So, below I have called out more than 20 character actors who appear in Lincoln, highlighting some of their best work, and drawing attention to their one particular best role.

Hope you enjoy putting names to the faces!


Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a superbly acted historical drama about the most famous President in American history. It is gorgeous looking, impeccable sounding and unimaginably boring. In fact, when all’s said and done, Lincoln represents 150 of the most puzzlingly dull minutes I’ve spent in a movie theater this year. It wants (and tries and urges and pleads) to be excellent, which, given the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, it should be. But, alas, it remains anything but.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Holy Motors

The more I think about Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, the more I appreciate it. The more I analyze Holy Motors, the more I am frustratingly confounded by it. It’s a film of such unique sensibilities, that, in passing, I could hail as a potential masterpiece. But under the harsh scrutiny of my movie-freaked mind, I’m still not sure if it fully holds up. Actually, forget fully… try remotely.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Top 5 James Bond Films

I’m among the many people who have gone back and refreshed their cinematic minds on the films of James Bond in the wake of Skyfall’s release. And while refamiliarizing myself with some of Bond’s films proved to be as taxing as watching really really bad horror films, there is so much about the 007 franchise to love. 

Here are the five James Bond films that so clearly make my case.


The new James Bond film, Skyfall is a worthy induction to the throwback Bond. Which is to say, it is so easily reminiscent of the best that the franchise has to offer. Many times while watching the film, I kept remembering to be thankful that Skyfall didn’t take on too much. So many Bond films (which are, incidentally, many of the weakest films of the series) assemble themselves around plots that are so needlessly intricate.

And make no mistake, the main objective of a Bond film (of any Bond film) is to please. They’re supposed to be fun and entertaining, and sort of corny and pleasantly ridiculous. With Casino Royale, the producers wanted something different – darker and foreboding and new. Skyfall is all of these things – a fresh mix of the old and new and more.

Friday, November 9, 2012

James Bond by the Numbers

Us Americans are a little slow on the go sometimes. Many of my digital friends who reside overseas have already been privy to the presumed wonderment of the latest James Bond flick, Skyfall. So, while I wait a few more long hours before marveling at the baddassery of 007, here’s a list I cooked up that breaks the world’s greatest spy down statistically. These figures are from Dr. No through Quantum of Solace, and exclude the in-no-way-affiliated-with-the-franchise Never Say Never Again.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rust and Bone

A movie like Rust and Bone is the hardest kind of film to assess. It’s a film that is so perfectly aware – aware of its intentions, aware of its manipulations, aware of its impact – that describing its faultlessness can be taxing. Push too far, and the reader becomes desensitized in hyperbole. Hold too much back, and the mystery of the film isn’t done due justice. All’s I can hope to do is trigger something within you to see this film. It likely won’t come to your local theater, nor will it be discussed much outside of critical circles and awards shows. What it will do, if seen, is provoke. It will provoke fear, laughter, devastation and humiliation, in the best, most effective ways possible.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Character: Don Cheadle

Of all the Don Cheadle performances I’ve seen (and there have been many) I cannot recall him giving a bad performance. He’s been in some crap films, sure, but he always brings it, no matter what.

Rarely changing his appearance or voice inflection, Cheadle has an uncanny ability to not only make every character its own, but to captivate you within mere minutes. He’s one of the best we have right now. Period. Here are a few reasons why.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Liv & Ingmar

Ingmar Bergman has been my favorite film director since I spent a quiet, warm June night a few years ago watching The Seventh Seal (twice). I had never seen anything remotely like it, and from that point on, I was utterly intoxicated by watching the cinematic world through Bergman’s eyes.

I was first exposed to the great Liv Ullmann through Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, a film, like most of Bergman’s best, that continues to haunt and inspire me inexplicably. I was (and am) completely entranced with Cries and Whispers, much in part to the perfect, emotive face of Liv Ullmann. I had never seen anything remotely like it, and from that point on, I was utterly intoxicated by watching a film unfold strictly by paying attention to Ullmann’s facial expressions.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

I think the best way to start this review is with the man. A man I admittedly had never heard of before seeing this documentary that so closely chronicles his struggle. And having seen the film, I’m almost ashamed to relent that I’ve gone this long without familiarizing myself with his fight. But that’s what a great documentary (or any film, really) is for: to inform. To make us aware, and, possibly, care.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Let me tell you about a movie I love that I never anticipated loving. This film tells the story about a man lost. He’s not hidden, but rather drowning in public.

Whip Whitaker is a man who enjoys the life. The life of a middle aged bachelor, commercially piloting his way around the globe, banging stewardesses in whatever city he happens to be laid over in. He caps the night with whiskey, vodka, beer – whatever. And jumps his morning with a line (or two) of premium blow. But inside, he’s completely vacant. An empty shell of a man, using substances to distract himself from his long ago failed marriage and current status as an absentee father.

The Sessions

The Sessions tells the true story of Mark O’Brien, a middle aged man crippled and deformed by polio, who wants nothing more than to be loved. Soon after we meet him, the love he longs to feel manifests itself in complete physicality. The man is 38 and has never felt the intimate touch of a woman. To speak clearly: Mark wants to get laid. And soon. Can you blame him?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is almost as hard to review as it is to watch. How do you go about explaining and analyzing a film that you don’t fully understand (especially when you feel the filmmakers involved aren’t particularly interested in having the film clearly defined anyway)?