F*** Valentine’s Day Movie Guide Vol. 2

F*** VALENTINE’S DAY MOVIE GUIDE VOL. 2

Last year I posted a list of films that I thought were good alternatives to the usual run-of-the mill chick-flick fodder and after it being one of my most successful posts I decided to follow up with another year’s worth of good relationship-based films that would be alternatives to Ahem, The Vow with Channing Tatum. Cue the vomiting.

Blue Valentine
(For those staying together for the kids) 

A movie that appeared on my top movies of 2010 list and still stand by it being an amazing motion picture that is an emotional roller coaster about Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) as a couple who fall in and out of love and give powerhouse performances in the process. The movie is an equivalent of getting a hug from someone and then following it with a punch into your gut. While I haven’t had a kid yet, so I can’t understand the complications of it in a relationship, it is still a universal feeling to realize it’s “too little, too late” in a relationship.

Like Crazy
(For those in a long distance relationship) 

Blue Valentine” for the college age is just as authentic and heartbreaking look at falling in and out of love and trying to reignite the dwlinding flame in a failing relationship. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones give amazing performances and improvise what feels like a completely truthful and honest relationship. Where as “Blue Valentine” had the issue of a child in the mix, this film replaces it with the issue of a long-distance relationship between countries and the politics of immigration. One of my favorite movies of 2011 that unfortunately left me shaken at how real it felt to be in your 20’s and in love.

My Bloody Valentine ’81/’09
(For those with bloodlust towards happy couples) 

A wild card. Maybe sappy romance isn’t for you and maybe you don’t want a “love conquers all” chick flick or a emotional roller coaster “Blue Valentine” but just want to see couples get mutilated and slashed to pieces. There’s a plethora of horror and slasher films to wet your appetite but why not go for the one related to the titular holiday. The 1981 version and 2009 remake both deal with a pick-axe wielding miner who comes to a small town on a murderous rampage after a Valentine’s Day mining accident. The 81 version is a slasher classic and now can be seen unrated and the 09 version is more brutal and unapologetic but can also be seen in 3D! Take your pick. Both are good for some cheap thrills.

True Romance
(For the couples with dreams of new lives together) 

One of Tony Scott‘s best films (Yes, even better than Top Gun) is this Tarantino written 90’s gem with literally one of the greatest casts ever in a film. It stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a young couple (comic-book nerd/call-girl) who fall in love seemingly overnight and when he murders her pimp they decide to run to Hollywood to sell his suitcase full of cocaine. What sounds like a grim/dark crime drama is actually a sweet, dark-comedy full of stellar cameos, witty dialogue, and genuine romance ending in the best mexican standoff ever filmed. Many people will remember scenes like the Christopher Walken-Dennis Hopper showdown but Clarence and Alabama are two movie characters so charming that a movie about them would be fantastic even without the gangsters.

Sid & Nancy
(For the couples constantly fighting) 

One of the most famous tragic love stories our time. The true story of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb give fearless, emotionally over-the-top performances as the doomed lovers who drank, smoke, shot-up, and swore through the England punk rock scene and led to the demise of the Sex Pistols and the murder of Nancy. The film is a great look at the London punk scene and is also great fun to see Oldman and Webb play off each other and see how their reliance on each other was also the cause of their own self-destruction. Even the modern day celebrity couples that self-destruct still don’t have the love and commitment that Sid & Nancy had.

Let the Right One in
(For the anti-Twilight vampire romance) 

This swedish horror film based on a book and remade into the 2010 “Let Me in” is a horror masterpiece in mood, lighting, and acting. Oskar is a 12 year old boy who is constantly bullied and discovers his new next door neighbor is actually a young female vampire. The film has a cheesy 80’s sounding concept that is a surprisingly dark and heartfelt drama about young adults who find solace and understanding in one another. Their relationship feels entirely real and never too Hollywood or dramatized. Their friendship and care for each other is the spark of the movie and it’s rare to see children actors portray a love and friendship that most adults in Hollywood films couldn’t make believable. I have not seen the American remake but the “swimming pool” scene is among the classic scenes in cinema history.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!  ❤

Underworld: Awakening (2012) Review

 

Underworld: Awakening
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Theo James, Michael Ealy, India Eisley
Directed by: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
Rated: R 

I guess it’s the sign of a successful horror franchise when you are going into fourth and fifth sequels. Once a genre film becomes a hit why is it so necessary to produce mass sequels/prequels etc. A good, original, studio-backed horror concept is far in between so it saddens me to see those type of films become gutted and sucked dry for mass profit then quality cinema.

Underworld was an original entry into the horror/action genre that before Twilight took an original concept and added a Romeo and Juliet twist to a story about Vampires and Werewolves. Of course, after the initial success came so do the sequels. Where as the first film was light on action and tried to shoehorn multiple stories and vampire/werewolf backstory, the second was all-out action, the third went the prequel route and was a lot of medieval backstory. Now we arrive years later at the fourth sequel and where do we stand?

Underworld: Awakening is a cash-in pure and simple. The series would have been fine at three movies. I enjoyed all three at a mindless level but I really didn’t toss and turn at night wondering what happened to Selene and Michael. However I’m not gonna complain at an opportunity to see Kate Beckinsale in a tight leather jumpsuit. The movie picks up after the second movie where the humans discover the existence of vampires and werewolves and commence a “purge” of eradicating all of them. Years later the humans have successfully almost eliminated nearly all of vampires and werewolves and Selene wakes up from cryogenic freezing to find twelve years have gone back, Michael is missing, and a little girl has escaped the same lab as her. Dun, dun, dunnnnn.

The movie moves at a crisp hour and a half, and wastes no time with backstory, side characters, or subplots. It’s the Selene show pure and simple. Kate Beckinsale has now become the equivalent of Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil films. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but how much more acting range can you show when you are known for firing two handguns in tight leather. Beckinsale is completely serviceable in the role and is the anchor for the franchise. Scott Speedman who is known for playing Michael is for whatever reason MIA and replaced with a horrible stand-in and his existence is made awkward the entire film and ends up leaving the film open for another unnecessary cash-in. You can’t complain that the film is boring because it is mainly action set-pieces that are all well-done including a car chase involving werewolves chasing a speeding car and a nice ending fight sequence in a parking garage. In IMAX and 3D the movie is fine but doesn’t really benefit from having either or. Some shots are nicely choreographed to include 3D shots but I wasn’t wowed enough to recommend the 3D and think the film will hold up perfectly well in 2D. The story is done by newcomers Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein and drench the film in traditional blue tint and bring a pretty stylized film that feels pretty identical to the previous installments.

Kate Beckinsale is the only actress to return to the franchise. Scott Speedman as I mentioned is MIA and great character actors like Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, and Tony Curran are all dead so new blood (no pun intended) is brought in. The great character actor Stephen Rea is brought in as the main villain Dr. Jacob Lane and does an admirable job but he’s no Bill Nighy. Other new characters include Michael Ealy in a throwaway role as Detective Sebastian, and Theo James as David who actually is a very good sidekick to Selene’s character and personally made me prefer a potential love-story between them. India Eisley is a newcomer as Eve and does a great job as a child actor in a horror film and actually somewhat resembles Kate Beckinsale‘s character. It is a nice touch to add a human element to the franchise that previously never featured humans or police officers. Although I felt like more could have been done with the government purging of vampires/werewolves and their conflict, instead of focusing on Selene’s mission which never really leads anywhere or adds nothing new to the franchise overall besides adding new characters. Ultimately this film feels like a good half of a story including the vampire purge, the super-giant werewolves, Selene’s kid, and some decent action sequences, but more fills like filler to the story than actual progression. A bigger budget, closure to the Selene/Michael storyline, and more with the human/vampire conflict, this film could have been the kickstart to the more or less lifeless franchise. As it is, it’s just a first half to an unfinished storyline, but I guess as long as Beckinsale is still willing to kick ass in leather, my ass will be in a theater seat. If they don’t continue the franchise, there’s always a new Resident Evil film coming out this year.

RATING: 5/10

 

20 Best Music Moments of 2011

Music is an essential part of cinema and this year featured many good music moments in film which I wanted to showcase. There’s more I would have loved to add and this list is pure fun and isn’t in any particular order.

IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

Hanna
Chemical Brothers – Escape 700

Chemical Brothers scored a pulse-pounding soundtrack for that breathed energy into this art house action film and was the equivalent of Daft Punk’s soundtrack for last year’s Tron Legacy. 

Drive
Kavinsky – Nightcall

Drive had one of the best soundtracks of the year. One of the most memorable songs was College’s A Real Hero, but the song that I listened to more than any other was this cooler than cool dance track over that was used over the opening titles. Perfect nighttime driving music. 

Martha Marcy May Marlene
John Hawkes – Marcy’s song

This country classic was given a haunting do-over by the amazing character actor, John Hawkes. He sings this song to his circle of followers and dedicates it to Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) that has her fall under his spell along with the audience and perfectly sums up the character of Patrick. “She’s just a picture, hanging on my wall.”

Another Earth
Fall on your Sword – First Time I saw Jupiter

Fall on your sword does a great job for this score for this independent film and starts the film on the right note with the movie’s intro scored to this mesmerizing electronic track. 

Warrior
The National – About Today

The National are an amazing band and not typically the one I’d think of to score a fight scene but their extended version of “About Today” is a perfect companion to the Brother’s final fight scene that swells up into a hard rock ballad outro. The National also have an amazing original track that closes the film “Win Win.” I consider them 2 for 2. 

Tree of Life 
Zbigniew Preisner – Lacrimosa  

The Tree of Life’s creation of the universe scene is made all the more stunningly beautiful by this orchestra track that is so moving and hauntingly beautiful on it’s own, it’s impossible not to listen to it without imagining the beauty of the universe. 

Like Crazy 
Stars – Dead Hearts

A heartbreaking movie staged perfectly to end with this indie rock track that sums up the beauty and tragedy of being in love. 

Melancholia
Richard Wagner – Tristan and Isolde, Prelude

Like the Tree of Life’s creation sequence, this orchestra track perfectly contrasts with the pain and beauty of the film’s striking opening sequence that already looks like moving oil paintings. The song feels like it was composed for this movie. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Trent Reznor and Karen O – Immigrant Song

One of the best things about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s marketing was the use of this infectious Led Zeppelin cover in their marketing and theatrical trailers. An odd use of a cover song that fits surprisingly well with the tone of the film and matches the tone of Fincher’s liquid metal opening sequence. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Julio Iglesias – Le Mer

An usual pick for a song to be in a cold war British Intelligence film but fits oddly well to the contrasting montage where all the loose ends get tied up and everything is resolved. 

Captain America: The First Avenger
The Star Spangled Singers – Star Spangled Man’

An original song isn’t a common thing in the day and age of the modern superhero but halfway through Captain America, when he begins to tour his Captain America character at various USO shows, it becomes his theme and one hell of a classic toe-tapper. 

Young Adult 
Teenage Fanclub – The Concept  

An old school alternative rock throwback that captures Theron’s character’s mindset when she jams to this song over and over from her high school sweetheart’s mix tape and ends up a heartbreaking song when she hears it played by her old flame’s wife. 

No Strings Attached 
Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love

Period Mixtape. Nuff’ Said. 

Super
Tsar – Calling all Destoryers

A great fist-pumping rock track that is a great soundtrack with the extremely clever and well-made animated opening sequence of this twisted superhero movie. 

Bridesmaids
Wilson Phillips – Hold On

This classic 80’s song will always make me think of Harold and Kumar go to White Castle but this film one-ups by being the theme song of the two main best friends and ends up getting the actual Wilson Philips to perform live at the ending wedding. 

Horrible Bosses
The Heavy – How you Like Me Now

Unless you lived under a rock you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing this great song that was prominently featured in television ads and commercials and featured in one humorous brief sequence in this summer comedy. 

Bad Teacher
Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise

While I didn’t really care for this ridiculously stupid, raunchy Cameron Diaz comedy, I did appreciate this montage sequence that was also a homage to Michelle Phieffer’s Dangerous Mind. Probably the most clever part of the entire movie. 

Moneyball
Lenka – The Show

Nevermind the huge continuity error that Brad Pitt’s daughter sings a song that was made in 2008 even though the movie takes place in 2002-2003, it is a great song to match Brad Pitt’s character’s situation and hearing the daughter sing it in a guitar shop is an unexpectedly sweet moment and makes for a surprisingly heartwarming ending. 

The Artist
Brussels Philharmonic – Peppy and George 

The big dance number at the end of the film is a joyous, wonderful moment propelled by this great piece of soundtrack that matches their dance routine and sends the audience off on a high note. 

Thor
Foo Fighters – Walk

Foo Fighters are one of my favorite rock bands of all time and to hear them in this summer’s big budget comic-book movie was a treat that surprisingly fit well the character of Thor. You can hear the song briefly in a bar scene and is a great ending send – off during the credits.  

AGREE/DISAGREE? GOT A SONG I WISH I INCLUDED? COMMENT BELOW. 

20 Best Movie Moments of 2011

THE 20 BEST MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2011

Here’s a list that was almost as difficult to make as my best movies of the year. I wanted to focus on the individual scenes that stuck in my mind all year long and were worth mentioning whether or not the movie was amazing or sub-par but included a moment of amazing filmmaking and had a scene that combined amazing technical skill from behind-the-camera, fantastic acting in front of it and combined to create something beautifully memorable. 2011 had many scenes to chose from and I wish I could have included all of them but at the risk of going insane I tried to limit myself to only twenty when I could have easily made it to 30.

(In Alphabetical order)

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ALL MOVIES MENTIONED

Adjustment Bureau – The Bathroom Meeting

The Adjustment Bureau was a good sci-fi/romance diversion released early in the year and quickly forgotten about. The best thing the movie had going for it was the dynamite sexual chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt which made a lot of the ridiculousness easier to swallow (Magic Hats). In this scene early on in the film, Matt Damon loses his campaign and runs into Emily Blunt’s character hiding in the men’s room where they have a verbal tennis match with sexual tension bursting off the screen. The scene inspires Matt Damon’s character to give a dynamic speech and gives the audience a reason to care about these characters.

Another Earth –  The story of the Russian Cosmonaut

Brit Marling really got to showcase her acting ability in Another Earth with the juicy role of a MIT student who kills a family in a drunk driving accident. In probably the best scene to show her wonderful acting and great independent filmmaking is a scene where her character is still pretending to be a cleaning lady for the man whose family she killed and transfixes the audience with a short monologue about a russian cosmonaut who starts to go insane from hearing a sound in the loneliness in space. Metaphorical and beautifully told, this is probably Marling’s best example of her as the next best thing.

The Artist – Uggie rescues George

For being a seemingly lighthearted silent, black and white film about Hollywood, The Artist delves into some dark themes of depression, pride, and loneliness. When our main character George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) looks over his old films while drinking, he gets fed up and decides to destroy all his copies of his films, finally feeling washed up and unwittingly starts a fire in his old home. Luckily, his loyal companion Uggie the dog runs out into the street, tracks down a policeman and frantically warns  him about George stuck in the fire in true Lassie fashion. A scene that is a hilarious contrast to the dark subject matter but is also a great scene for the wonderfully trained Jack Russell Terrier who is just as charming and charismatic as our lead protagonist.

Attack the Block – Moses vs. the Aliens

A highly enjoyable genre hybrid of sci-fi/comedy/horror is the British film about a group of teen thugs who try to protect their apartment block from a group of big, black, alien monsters with sharp glowing teeth. The movie is full of many badass, well-crafted scenes culminating in it’s best scene when the group leader, Moses finally owns up to his responsibilities of his friends’ deaths and initiating the attack of the aliens by going on a kamikaze mission to blow them up in his apartment. He runs in a beautifully shot, slo-mo sequence backed by a pulse-pounding soundtrack to a nail-biting climax of blowing up the apartment. Once this scene happened, I discovered what all the hype was about.

Dialogue in clip is in German:

Bellflower – The Beard Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” featured a disturbing scene of it’s main character Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) tattooing her guardian on his chest after he rapes her  as a constant reminder of him being a “Rapist Pig.” While disturbing as that scene, the scene in Bellflower that really got under my skin was when it’s main character Woodrow (Evan Glodell) is knocked out by his ex-girlfriend Milly, after she finds out about his relationship with her best friend and unwillingly gives him a facial tattoo of a full beard. The disturbing idea of being forever disfigured by someone results is a clusterfuck ending that features the memorable moments of The Medusa car gliding down the street in slow-motion and Woodrow walking down the street with a beard tattoo and fresh, bloody handprints on his shirt after his retaliation. Whether it was real or imagined it is correlated to Evan Glodell‘s solid acting and direction.

Bridesmaids – Shit on the street

The scene that was probably the best memorable and talked-about for most people this year is the scene that launched Kristen Wiig as a comedic force to be reckoned with and Melissa McCarthy as one of the funniest people of the year is the ultimate dress fitting gone wrong at a fancy bridal store after Kristen Wiig‘s Bridal party lunch at a Mexican restaurant that gives all its characters food poisoning and bad cases of diarrhea and has McCarthy shitting herself in a sink and Maya Rudolph planting herself in the middle of the street and shitting in an expensive wedding dress. Tasteless and raunchy? Definitely. But, probably the funniest scene of the year.

Carnage – Kate Winslet pukes

Carnage is noticeably a theater piece that gets great mileage out of it’s one location in a New York condo and out of it’s four seasoned main actors. The movie is full of awkward moments, tension, and intense arguments but the most unexpectedly hilarious and awkward is when Kate Winslet projectile vomits all over the living room of Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly to an almost absurd extent. The sequence has great buildup of the character’s dialogue with Winslet’s character complaining of nausea and it’s not often you see such a disgusting and raunchy sight gag in a dramatic theater piece. When such a skilled actress like Kate Winslet uncontrollably vomits in a film, it’s hard to forget.

Drive – The Elevator

A scene of cinematic beauty. Drive is full of memorable scenes but it’s most unforgettable sequence is where Ryan Gosling‘s Driver is in an elevator with Carey Mulligan‘s Irene and an assailant sent to kill the Driver. The scene represents everything great about the movie and it’s mix of dream-like fantasy and brutal violence. Once Driver realizes that he is in crosshairs to be killed, he grabs Irene, the lights dim and he gives her a passionate kiss that almosts transports them into their own element/world of their own that ends with The Driver subduing and crushing the face of the hit man until he is nothing but a bloody mess and Irene watches in horror of what he is capable of. A scene that people will study and try to replicate for many years.

Fast Five – Train Heist

Fast Five was big, goofy, fun and I loved every minute of it. Many people might remember the insanely implausible and fantastic ending chase scene featuring two cars attached to a bank vault plowing through the streets of Rio. As good as that scene is, nothing was as fun and exhilarating as the train heist sequence that for whatever reason had Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Jordanna Brewster heisting cars off of a speeding train onto a speeding truck. The scene quickly turns into a double-cross and ends up with Walker and Diesel defying psychics and jumping off of a bridge into a river below. Completely absurd and utterly insane was what made Fast Five so good. All the rules of logic and common sense were thrown out the window in favor of pure entertainment.

Not the full scene:

Hanna – One-Take Subway fight

People who have seen “Munich” know the badassery Eric Bana is capable of. Hanna was a well-made throwback to old school action/spy thrillers with an 70’s/80’s aesthetic that took us to different exotic locales. Director Joe Wright definitely went wild with experimental shots and camera angles and one of the best moments is a single, unbroken, one-take shot that follows Eric Bana through the streets and down the stairs of a subway station where he is confronted by multiple CIA agents and proceeds to kick all their asses in the same one-take. A seamless merger of art-house cinematography and badass action.

Not the complete scene:

The Help – Abilene gets fired

The Help was a very good film although a bit overly-dramatic and after-school specialish with it’s view but a movie with fantastic performances especially by Viola Davis as Abilene. At the end of the film when the book “The Help” is published to critical success, some of the Jackson Mississippi women make the connections to the writers of the book especially Hilly Holbrook played with perfect cold-heartedness by Bryce Dallas Howard. With a ridiculous scheme about stolen silver, Hilly’s last attempt at revenge is to get Abilene fired and arrested. When the two confront each other it’s a rewarding scene of two great actresses facing off and easily Davis‘ standout moment. When she quits, leaves and her last child she helped raise screams and cries for her as she walks away is a easy ploy for melodrama but damn if it didn’t leave a lump in my throat.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Final Frames

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a complex thriller and a authentic deception of how it truly is to be in a cult and return to normal life afterwards. If it’s even possible to have a normal life afterwards. Elizabeth Olsen gives a fearless performance and the film features numerous memorable scenes and images including John Hawkes as the creepy leader Patrick playing a song to Martha. What stuck with me the most was the ending. The whole film grapples with Martha’s psyche which is constantly paranoid of being found by Patrick or any of his followers and leads to someone suspenseful scenes that have the viewer question what is real or in her head. Before her sister takes her away to get real psychiatric help she sees a young man watching her across her sister’s lake house and later on driving down the road, a man gets into a car and begins to follow Martha who sits in the backseat of her sister’s car with a terrified look on her face. Is she reading too much into the situation or should she be paranoid? We may never know, but the look on Martha’s face shows she’ll never truly be the same.

Melancholia – Opening

I wasn’t blown away by Melancholia like most people were but it did grab my attention immediately with it’s long 10 minute opening that features slowed down footage of Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg on a golf course in beautiful shots that look like stills that are moving in a 3d environment or almost like an oil painting brought to life. It is undeniably beautiful and absorbing especially with the Tristan and Isolde score blaring in the background. It would work on it’s own as it’s own short film that ends in a beautiful effects shot of a planet slowly colliding with Earth. Fade to Black, roll credits.

Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Climbing the tower in Dubai

As thrilling as the Train Heist in “Fast Five” was, it couldn’t touch the nerve-wrecking levels of suspense from the Dubai scene in Mission:Impossible that has Tom Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building and nearly falling off multiple times and ends with running across the building jumping and nearly missing an open window. (He hits his head and I’m surprised he doesn’t get amnesia from the number of times he bangs his head in the film.) It is already a thrilling scene made even more intense knowing that Tom Cruise did a majority of the stunt himself. It is an exhilarating, nail-biting scene made even more intense seen in IMAX and known that Tom Cruise himself could have fallen to his death at any moment. A pinnacle of the Mission:Impossible series and of action movies in general. Although I did wonder how no one happened to see Tom Cruise scaling a building full of all open windows.

Moneyball – Hatteberg’s homerun

It’s amazing when a film takes a true story and the audience already knows the outcome but still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. With the Oakland A’s on a winning streak about to win their 20th game in a row, they are up 11 to 0 and Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) decides to watch the game and break his superstition until an amazing comeback happens and the score is nearly tied at 11 and Billy Beane feels the walls closing in on him, sinking in quicksand, until Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a recruited player at first base with no first base experience steps up the home plate and blasts a home run out of the park. It’s a stand up and cheer moment that pulls tension until your stomach is in knots that makes the home run that more rewarding, it wasn’t just a home run for Hatteberg, Billy Beane, or Oakland A’s, it was a home run for everyone who was ever an underdog.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Opening Scene

From the trailer you might think that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a fast paced espionage thriller, when in reality it’s a slow burn drama that is given one intense opening sequence. Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is assigned by Control to go to Hungary to meet a General that will give him information about a mole inside British Intelligence. From the very start, something feels amiss and from Prideaux’s point-of-view we can feel in our gut that it is a set-up. Using Tomas Alfredson‘s stellar direction and use of editing and sound, it is a nail-biting scene where everyone might be a suspected killer out to get him. When the operation is blown and Prideaux is shot, it is a shocking sigh of relief but a scene that is a catalyst for the story and sticks in your mind for the rest of the film.

Tree of Life – Creation of the Universe

Tree of Life is a love or hate it movie and when I saw it, I knew it would touch on themes of the origins of mankind but what I didn’t expect was a near 20-minute abstract scene of some of the most beautiful imagery ever seen in a fictional feature length film. Director Terrence Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki deserve high praise for delivering such a wonderous, awe-inspring montage of beauty of The universe and Earth. The sequence is a modern day companion piece to the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey and ironically used the same special effects expert. The scene itself could be a stand-alone short film that could almost be a discovery channel or IMAX documentary. an unexpected surprise that whether you like the film or not, or whether you didn’t “get” the film or not, there is an undeniable beauty unlike you’ve seen all year or you’ve seen in your lifetime.

Not the full scene but a good HD version of part of it.

The Trip – Michael Caine Speaks

The Trip was a BBC miniseries that was condensed to a two hour drama that works primarily because of the chemistry of it’s stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. A sequence that I saw early on in the year and still made me laugh out loud when I watched the film was the “This is How Michael Caine Speaks…” scene. While eating Rob Brydon talks about his impressions of celebrities being described as stunningly accurate. What results is a oneupmanship match of two outstanding comedians going from early days Michael Caine to old age Michael Caine that at first seems like a competition until you realize that it’s just probably the way they communicate their friendship. A hilarious minute and a half scene that is a highlight of a great movie and I still haven’t decided which impression is the clear winner.

Warrior – Final Fight

Warrior was a surprising sports drama that was cliche/predictable and still managed to be engrossing and entertaining even if it lead up to a climax that was known from the start and even spoiled in the theatrical trailers for the film. If you were like me, it didn’t matter and Warrior was still a satisfying, entertaining motion picture where the final fight was shot with equal brutality and compassion. Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy deliver emotionally sound performances that lead to the ultimate form of masculine problem solving in the old tradition of fighting them out. Being a man with an older brother its impossible not to relate to the sibling fight that ends with neither a winner or loser but two brothers who finally settle their differences. When the song “About Today” by the National swells up it’s impossible for even the manliest man not to get a little bit teary-eyed.

Young Adult – Front Lawn Meltdown

Young Adult had some great overlooked performances this year especially in the likes of Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt. Theron especially was both icy, honest, and pathetic. Theron is a character who writes those cliche young adult novels about girls in High School and after returning to her hometown to ridicule and make fun the people she grew up with, we realize she is just as clueless, selfish, and childish as a high school girl which results in one scene where all her plans for snatching her high school sweetheart away results in a hard-to-watch monologue where she explains to a bunch of partygoers, including her own parents, why she is such an intolerable bitch that becomes more or less an intervention than a tearful reconciliation. Theron’s stellar performance adds pathos to a character that is like a car accident happening in slow motion.

What scene did I miss? What was Your favorite scene? Comment Below. 

Best Movies of 2011

PRODIGAL FILM STUDENT’S BEST MOVIES OF 2011:

Well I did it again. I waited to the last minute to make my best of the year list and I tried to do it right before the Oscar nominations were announced and I failed. (argh.) Well, I finally was able to finish my list and there’s still feels like a million movies I haven’t seen yet for as much as it seemed like I went to the movies this year. Movies like Shame and Hugo are notable misses. I tried to catch up as much as I could but it never seems like there’s enough time does it?

2011 was an interesting year for film. I’d say that it was a improvement over 2010 even though there were less movies that seemed to really blow me away and felt like they were very good instead of being great. I’d rather have a bunch of above average films than a stream of mediocre ones. I was definitely more picky about the films I saw this year and Netflix turned out to be an even greater resource for peering into some independent horror, drama, foreign, documentary films that might have otherwise gone overlooked. In 2010, much of my list was compromised of movies I saw at the tail end of the year while surprisingly my list features many movies that came out in different time periods. My best of list was also very formulaic to the best movies of the year and my top ten featured most of all the Best Picture nominees. (yawn) This year was all over the board and featured more movies you may and may not find on best of lists which is a fun little change. This list was definitely hard to compose but surprised me that a majority of my list is comprised of movies I actually saw in theaters. I saw many mediocre movies this year too but nothing to really constitute it as worst of the year (like i said, I was picky) so I don’t think I’ll be composing a worst of list. Overall this year’s really big winner was independent cinema which makes up a majority of my list and really shined this year in terms of endearing movies that outshined big budget hollywood movies, which appeared in more theaters and had an advantage of being VOD too, but it made for an extremely mediocre summer in terms of Hollywood fare. This year was a lot about nostalgia featuring many movies that reflected on the past and different eras of movies whether it was 80’s noir, a silent film, or 70’s paranoia, this year was the year we looked to the past for inspiration and dissection.

Instead of a traditional top 10 I extended it to 15 so think of the 5 after ten as quasi winners/runners up for the top ten. I also tried to refrain from using documentary picks (like the outstanding Senna) and foreign language films, which I hope I can make separate lists for.

Runners-Up: Young Adult, Hanna, Warrior, X-Men: First Class, Source Code

15. Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol

“Overall, this film is probably the best action movie of 2011 and will be held as a standard for blockbusters. Director Brad Bird (in his first live-action film) knocks it out of the park in terms of technical quality and a great script. Brad Bird definitely sets the bar for how an action film should be made and then leaps over it.”

Original Review

The best action film of 2011 and some of the most fun I had at the movies all year. Tom Cruise is still a formidable action hero and screen presence and this time brings the best team he’s ever had in form of a Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Paula Patton. The story is pretty been there, done that but it is such a fun, exhilarating over-the-top spectacle it feels like a breeze at over 2 hours. Tom Cruise hanging from the tallest building in Dubai is among one of the most terrified I’ve ever felt during a movie.

14. Bellflower

An insanely dark and hypnotic mumblecore drama about ordinary 20 something best friend male slackers in California who spend their time building flamethrowers and badass muscle cars in preparation for the oncoming apocalypse. When one of them falls in love and gets his heart broken by a local girl, their lives take an inevitable path of destruction and betrayal. This low-budget gem was written, produced, edited, directed and stars the lead actor, Evan Glodell who created the camera used for the film that gives it one of the most distinct film looks seen in a long time. The film is definitely love or hate it and doesn’t always feel cohesive story wise but it is an effectively disturbing motion picture that crawled under my skin and burrowed itself deep in my brain. The film may not affect you the way it did for me but there is no denying that Glodell has potential to be the Robert Rodriguez of the YouTube generation. Now who can tell me how to build a flamethrower?

13. Another Earth

“While, Brit Marling may not be there on Oscar night, this film is an indication she will be one day soon. A sci-fi film with heart, an independent film with ambition, and an ending that left me completely blindsided, hopefully this film will not go overlooked. “

Original Review

A low budget sci-fi drama that really shows the potential of a new age of filmmakers. Brit Marling co-writes, acts, and produces this film that takes a high-end concept and ends up being a low-key drama about forgiveness and grief. Marling is the star of the show who dominates every frame she is in and has one of the best breakout roles of the year. A film that really shows how a good script, good actors and a lot of heart can shine through the constraints of a low budget. The composited image of a floating Second Earth hanging in the sky has been seared into my mind all year long.

12. Win Win

“Many of the characters are faced with situations that force themselves to make a compromise to do what is essentially the “right” thing. That is basically the principle behind the “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” and the principle behind the film “Win Win.””

Original Review

Paul Giamatti is one of our generation’s best actors and Thomas McCarthy is becoming one of our best directors. A film about Giamatti as a small-town lawyer/high school wrestling coach (does anyone else play such a good lovable schlub?) who has fallen on hard times and takes in a young teenage runaway who happens to be a wrestling prodigy. From the plot, the movie sounds like it has potential to be a made-for-tv drama that surprisingly turns out to be a film without the usual sitcom cliches we are used and in turn becomes a hilarious and realistic movie that ends up being about choices and compromises instead of easy resolutions.

11. Ides of March

“The movie may not bring anything new or noteworthy to the list of political films, but like last year’s “Social Network,” anytime a movie can put me on the edge of my seat from two characters having a conversation, I cherish it.”

Original Review

I normally don’t seek out political movies but when a movie features a cast of Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman that is based on a renowned stage play and directed by Clooney himself it’s worth taking note of. The story of an idealistic campaign worker who gets a lesson in dirty politics while working for a Presidential candidate is a tense drama/thriller that is a showcase for great acting and is comprised of mostly well-written scenes of dialogue. Clooney’s best directorial effort doesn’t bring anything revelatory to the Political genre but with a 2012 election around the corner, the movie is probably more accurate than we’d like to think.

10. Midnight in Paris

“A likable, fun, diversion. A love letter to Paris, as much as it is a love letter to a golden age, while being a study of our modern relationship with nostalgia.”

Original Review

This was the year I really began to consider Woody Allen as one of the best directors of all time. After a period of mediocre films, Allen returns to form with a film that’s part romantic comedy, part Paris travelogue and is as charming and magical as any film this year. Owen Wilson is probably the best Woody Allen acting surrogate to grace the screen and gives one of his best performances. A film about a screenwriter vacationing in Paris who at night is able to travel back to 1920’s Paris is a classic Woody Allen story that combines great cinematography, Jazz Music and an eclectic cast of actors playing famous playwrights and artists. Although the film is lightweight comedic entertainment it still manages to include a great subtext about living in the past and not appreciating the present.

9. 50/50

“Some movies use cancer as a joke or punchline. 50/50 knows that even with the anger, fear, and pain that comes with cancer, people can still have a sense of humor.” 

Original Review

Cancer is never good subject matter for a comedy but the surprising thing about “50/50″ is that it is a more honest and realistic portrayal of dealing with cancer I’ve ever seen in a movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a 27 year old unexpectedly diagnosed and gives a wonderful, emotional performance. The reason the film works so well is its actors and a true life screenplay by Will Rieser. The Bromance between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hilarious and unexpectedly heartfelt without being overly sentimental. Anjelica Huston as JGL’s mother and Anna Kendrick as a love interest/therapist are roles that seems like comic relief and turn out to be full of more depth than you’d expect. A successful comedy about the touchy subject matter of cancer that made me shed a few tears as well.

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

“The film is a great homage to 70′s era political intrigue thrillers that never compromises the integrity of its story for modern audiences.”

Original Review

Tinker Tailor is not the fast-paced thriller you’d think it would be. Based on an acclaimed spy novel and adapted into an acclaimed BBC series, the movie is condensed into a two hour drama that is probably the most accurate portrayal of cold war spies of MI6. Gary Oldman stars in a career best of already great performances as George Smiley, a semi-retired agent who has to figure out a soviet mole placed in the high rankings of MI6. A british masterclass of acting thats complimented by great editing, directing, production design that feels like a film right out of the 1970’s. The movie is hard to follow and at times confusing but one that will reward after multiple viewings.

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene

“This film is truly a great low-budget arthouse drama that is propelled by an extraordinary lead performance by Elizabeth Olsen in the kind of breakthrough dramatic role that must young actresses dream of.”

Original Review

Not the horror movie you think it would be, Elizabeth Olsen stars as the titular character who escapes a cult and tries to readjust back to normal life with her sister and fiancé while dealing with repressed memories of her past. First-time director Sean Durkin crafts a beautifully complex drama that throws us in the mindset of the title character and with great directing, editing, and cinematography makes us wonder what is real, a memory, or side effect from paranoia. The story isn’t your average cult movie but feels more authentic and is carried by a breakthrough role by Olsen and an insanely creepy supporting performance by the underrated John Hawkes as the cult leader.  An absorbing first-time independent film that is hard to not think about long after it’s over.

6. Like Crazy

 “Like Crazy” is much like last year’s fantastic “Blue Valentine” where the film is more of a drama that’s almost documentary-like. The look and relationship of the characters feels so real that we feel like voyeurs in these character’s world that feel all too close to some of our own real life relationships.”

Original Review

“Like Crazy” is your typical Indie romance about young adults in love. Maybe because I’m in that same age range but this film resonated with me more than any romance movie I’ve seen in awhile. Newcomer Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin create a believable, adorable, and ultimately tragic couple. Shot handheld and mostly improvised this film feels like a documentary more than a feature film. The film also adds in an additional layer of frustration with a subplot about immigration laws that keep the couple long-distance and put up many road blocks for them. The film is overflowing with raw emotion that sucker punched me in the stomach and reminded me all too much about my own relationships. I walked out of movie theaters this year with endings that emotionally affected me but this film was the only one where I could say “I know exactly how you feel.”

5. Moneyball

Baseball and Sports movies are the easiest go-to for a feel-good movie especially if its a true story. What’s so great about “Moneyball” is that it barely spends any time on the field and is as fascinating and feel-good as any other major baseball movie. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the real life General Manager of the Oakland A’s, and how him and Peter Brand (a shockingly good Jonah Hill) used economics/mathematics to create a winning baseball team on a small budget. The screenplay by Steve Zallian and Aaron Sorkin is expertly written mixing the right amount of emotion and technical jargon to show a behind-the-scenes look at the politics and drama of running a baseball team.  Even though I don’t follow Baseball that much, the true story is so well-told that it is always fascinating, full of good humor, and has moments of good old fashioned crowd-pleasing entertainment. It’s up for debate if it’s one of the best baseball films every made, but all I know is that I’ve never found myself so engulfed in talking about baseball statistics.

4. The Descendants

“Overall, the film is a great example of a good American drama. A film that is equal parts depressing, comedic, heartwarming, and honest. “

Original Review

George Clooney is amazing for the simple fact that he plays more or less the same character in every  movie and is able to give a brilliant performance each time. This movie was also Alexander Payne’s return to filmmaking after a long hiatus and shows what a skilled, talented storyteller he really is and what a shame that his films arrive so few are far in between. His films always deal with male characters in sort of mid life crisis’ and this time it’s Clooney’s character as a hawaiian lawyer/landowner who must deal with his two daughters after his wife falls into a coma from a boating accident and then finds out she was having an affair. Tough subject matter that Payne and Clooney transform into heartbreaking drama and laugh-out-loud comedy. Clooney has the gift of the playing an everyman and is endearing to watch in every scene. Alongside him are many memorable supporting turns including Shailene Woodley as his teenage daughter. The movie also features one of the most unique portrayals of Hawaii as i’ve ever seen in a movie and is a perfect backdrop to the film. Director Alexander Payne has had a seven year gap between this film and his last, but it’s worth the wait for such a well-acted, well-made film.

3. Tree of Life

“Many people will claim that it is long, has no story, is boring, and makes no sense, and for many people this will be the truth, but for some people who are willing to sit back and be engrossed in a rare motion picture, the experience will be extremely rewarding.”

Original Review

When arriving into the theater for “Tree of Life” I was expecting a unique drama about a family in 1950’s Texas. While I didn’t get the traditional drama I thought I was, instead I sat through one of the most abstract, beautifully shot, mesmerizing films I’ve gotten the chance to see on the big screen. A movie that is definitely not for everyone and it does indeed feature a family in the 1950’s Texas but it is more of a series of snapshots of various childhood memories that feel more authentic than any narrative could have, featuring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain giving outstanding performances. This is one film impossible to categorize but affects you so viscerally with a depiction of the creation of the universe and ending with a vision of the afterlife. The film is long, doesn’t always make sense, and has more voiceover than dialogue but is unlike any movie I’ve seen this year. Simply put, it’s pure art translated to a cinema screen, that has numerous philosophical and religious subtext. Director Terrence Malick‘s passion project is a one-of-a-kind film that tries to sum the meaning of life, but to me it’s amazing to think we are small ripples in the grandness of the entire universe.

2. The Artist

“The film is a testament to the power of cinema and how as an art form it can affect us in such a way that emotions, actions, humor, and a sense of imagination can transcend language.”

Original Review

In an age where digital is replacing film, IMAX and 3D versions seem to be attached to every new film and countless remakes, reboots, and sequels are churned out, “The Artist” is a breath of fresh air. A grand love letter to a forgotten age of cinema. A silent, black and white film about a silent actor’s downfall when talkie motion pictures become the newest, biggest trend is an ironic film that has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda except to entertain. This film could have been a joke or a one-note concept stretched out to feature length. Instead is a wonderfully crafted piece of film that never has a dull moment from beginning to end. With great actors like Jean Dejardin and Berenice Bejo, who are irresistible on screen, the movie is impossible not to love. It is exactly the kind of film needed to remind us of the simple joy of  watching a movie and the powerful grip a good movie has to thrill us, make us laugh, put us in suspense, entertain us, and let us leave the theater completely satisfied. “The Artist” meets all of these requirements.

1. Drive

“While this might sound like the plot of a B-action/revenge thriller from the 80′s/90′s, the movie finds it’s depth in it’s simplicity. While it’s drawn from a novel that lends itself to be a straightforward action drama, the film shifts between a chase movie, a revenge drama, a love story/modern fairy tale, superhero origin story, love-letter to L.A., and a homage to the 1980′s.”

Original Review

Drive” is a movie I anticipated all year and once I saw it opening weekend it has been one that hasn’t left my subconsciousness. Director Nicolas Winding Refn takes a cliche plot and creates a visual odyssey of a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. It may be the most overrated movie of the year as I’ve seen it on nearly every top ten list as number 1 or close to it and there’s good reason for it. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been already said about it, but I agree with every word. Some people might not appreciate the sparse dialogue or minimal action sequences but to me, it’s what makes it so appealing. It’s a film so gorgeous to look  even when a head is being smashed. From the direction to the cinematography to the editing it is a film lover’s wet dream. Starting with the opening chase scene to the opening credits to the open-ended ending, not a single frame is wasted or useless. Every character from Gosling’s silent hero to Albert Brook’s frightening mob boss to Carey Mulligan’s angelic next door neighbor, is pitch-perfectly cast. Like “The Artist” it’s the kind of film that makes you appreciate filmmaking and the reason why we go to the cinema. Part samurai film, part cheesy 80’s action movie, part art-house, “Drive” is a game-changer for cinema. Thousands of action movies that are in theaters or direct to video have plots that are nearly identical to this one. So what makes “Drive” so special and so worthy of all it’s praise? It’s a movie with affection for it’s story and characters pouring out of each frame, a movie dedicated to itself without compromises or care what people think. A film so stylish and so cool that it feels timeless and over time will only become more discussed, analyzed, and appreciated.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Review

 

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner,  Michael Nyqvist
Directed by: Brad Bird
Rated: PG-13

I’m not sure why Hollywood tries so hard and fails so easily at making a big budget action film that ends up usually being a remake, sequel, or reboot. The audience won’t care about what is going on if what’s going on is so quick we can’t tell who is who and what is what, and the special effects are so overblown that we don’t believe for a second any of these actors are in actual danger. Movies this year like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” (even though Ghost Protocol is just as bad as Dark of the Moon) look stunning but are so fast-paced, so overlong, so unnecessarily comedic with unlikable characters the movie becomes a overlong chore than a satisfying blockbuster. Enter the fourth sequel to Mission Impossible,  which has been a strange franchise. Each installment has had a different director and a different style. The first was more of a 70’s Cold War spy paranoia thriller, the 2nd was a asian influenced action film, and the 3rd helmed by J.J. Abrams was a big budget version of his television series “Alias.” Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, the newest installment is most similar to the third movie and ends up being the best in the series.

IMF agent Ethan Hunt and his team are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin in Moscow and are disavowed by the government and are forced to go rogue and clear their names while stopping a worldwide nuclear missile attack.

Much like this year’s “Fast Five” this sequel took everything people loved from earlier installments and throw the kitchen sink into the screenplay that gives the audience an adrenaline fueled sensory overload without giving you a headache. Tom Cruise, pushing 50 is one of the oddest celebrities on the planet, but for some reason is an insanely lovable presence on screen. Not many actors can be a wackjob in real life and still have an overwhelming charisma and physicality to perform his own stunts. Tom Cruise has slipped into his role of Ethan Hunt seamlessly and is an absolute joy to watch. He is also joined by probably the best team he has ever had in the series. While the presence of Ving Rhames is sorely missed, the rest of the team is filled with roles just as likable as Hunt’s character that they never become expendable. I actually cared about characters other than Cruise in this film. Paula Patton, stunningly gorgeous and equally dangerous is one of the best kick-ass females to appear in the movies of 2011. She is a welcome addition that becomes her own person with her own heartbreak that is a good mix to Ethan Hunt’s conflicted character instead of being used as a one-note potential love-interest. Simon Pegg also returns as techie now field agent, Benji. Pegg already is known to have a goofy, fun personality,  has opportunities to become more than just comic relief (even though he’s still hilarious), however I felt like his techie skills became too conveniently good. (small nitpick) Last but not least is the addition of Jeremy Renner as Brandt, an analyst whose character has more to him than you might think. Renner is a great go-to action character. He’s stylish, charming, and a badass. While the tension between him and Cruise isn’t milked for as much as it could, their relationship has a pay-off that doesn’t feel forced by the script.

Much like the third film, the movie starts fast paced and never lets up and globe trots from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai. Scenes in Moscow are great fun and more of the traditional Mission Impossible antics that feature fake identities and a great trick with a portable green screen to distract a guard. Once the film moves to Dubai is when the film really hits his target. A long second act featured primarily in the world’s tallest building is one amazing set piece after another. Of course, the most talked about is Cruise’s character scaling the building himself which is an eye-popping visually arresting scene like no other. Especially in IMAX, the scene is a terrifying joyride worth the price of admission alone. What most films would use as a climactic scene features a death-defying scene of Cruise jumping, running, and nearly falling off the side of the building. Following that scene is a foot chase sequence through a dust storm that is remarkably shot and edited. The entire Dubai sequence is a quality feat of amazing camerawork, acting, directing and editing that sets the bar extremely high for big-budget action films.

After the Dubai sequence and the film features Mumbai for its third act is when I thought it could have used some trimming in the editing room. The first and second act are so thrilling that the film tries to add in a ridiculous sequence featuring Jeremy Renner wearing a magnetic suit. A cool sequence that feels out of place and too extra for a film overloaded already with action set pieces, and an awkward scene of seduction between Paula Patton and the gameshow host from “Slumdog Millionaire” felt like padding to get to the ending. The film does climax in an impressive scene in a car factory that reminded me of a modern version of Cruises‘ “Minority Report.”

Overall, this film is probably the best action movie of 2011 and will be held as a standard for blockbusters. Director Brad Bird (in his first live-action film) knocks it out of the park in terms of technical quality and a great script and reliable actors even if the third act feels overstuffed and the villain’s motive is the same ol’ James Bond world destruction gimmick. Brad Bird definitely sets the bar for how an action film should be made and then leaps over it.

Now the Hollywood studio’s mission (should they chose to accept it…sorry bad joke) should be to make big budget movies that are fun and don’t insult the moviegoer’s intelligence, and realize that we don’t always need 3D and an overload of CGI to exhilarate us for two hours or maybe that’s just the power of Tom Cruise.

RATING: 9/10

Carnage (2011) Review

 

Carnage
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Rated: R

Lock people in a room together long enough and they are bound to start fighting. No matter how civil people may be, in the most confined settings is when animal instincts become to come apparent. Logic and reason clearly dissipate and a person enters Survival of the Fittest mode. The way we are able to handle problems and resolve them is what separates adults from children and animals from human beings but sometimes, the line between them becomes a very fine line.

Nancy and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) are two New York parents who get invited over to the apartment of Nancy and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) when The Cowan’s son gets into a fight with the Longstreet’s son on the playground. What is meant to be a diplomatic way of resolving the situation between the two families gradually spirals out of control.

It is a difficult thing to take a script that originated on the stage and adapt it for the cinema screen. While it is apart of the charm of seeing a broadway play on the stage to have limited characters and location, but on film you run the risk of completely losing your audience. No matter how good your story is, your actors have to fully realize the screenplay and the director has to play puppet master well enough that the audience never feels trapped being stuck in minimal locations. Recently watching the 1982 film based on a play “Deathtrap” by Sidney Lumet, I realized that a film like this truly needs a great experienced director to bring a stage story to life on the big screen. Luckily the film has veteran director Roman Polanski who I was hesitant at first to bring this type of material to the big screen. However one of his first films “Knife in the Water” is essentially three people on a boat for the entire running time. Besides an expert director an expert cast is needed and Polanski has cast perfectly in Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, and John C. Reilly. All four actors are talented enough to hold their own and be well-drawn out characters and still be interesting and even hilarious.

The film is relatively short and takes a while to get going but once it hits it’s stride it’s like being at a party where a fight breaks out (or maybe like seeing a car wreck). It’s so uncomfortably awkward, you can’t help but watch. The film is a great dark comedy that at the forefront deals with the situation between the two children but eventually turns existential dealing with sex, marriage, life, death etc. The film  becomes a tennis match that starts off between parents vs. parents and multiple times switches sides between men vs. women, liberal vs. conservative, husbands vs. wives, aggressive vs. passive, and inevitably a every man for himself battle royal of emotional conflict. Each character isn’t particularly written deep but each actor is so good at their craft that they each are given their own strengths, weakness, and award-worthy monologue that embodies their character’s persona. Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet especially shine in roles that could be considered as playing against type. Winslet gets the chance to be a shrewish bitch who gets funnier the drunker she gets and Foster gets the opportunity to be a pretentious, uptight busy-body who  maintains composure until she explodes with frustration/anger. Not to say that the male leads are worse but Christoph Waltz is an acting powerhouse that can play any role and is magnificent as Alan, who appears as a rich asshole constantly on his cellphone but essentially is probably the most straightforward with what he thinks and feels. John C. Reilly is a great dramatic actor and is known more for comedic roles but is perfect as a yes-man husband who is more chauvinistic than you’d think.

Unfortunately for this type of film there isn’t really a clear resolution and it just sort of ends which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it is the type of movie where I’d actually love to spend more time with the characters and see what happens next. The film also plays out with elements happening exactly how you would expect them to save for one or two vulgar, gross-out moments. Polanski does a great job directing and really gives his actors a chance to flex their acting abilities. The movie is not the most memorable out of any of the actors’ or director’s resume but it is a great exercise in what can come from the basics of a good script and good acting. Another reason the film works so well is how easy it is to relate to being a kid who have had parents intervene in a situation that doesn’t need it and how immature parents can react. No matter how old we get, or how much money we make, or how fancy our jobs are or what possessions we own, given a situation there’s nothing stopping any of us from being a little, whiny child.

RATING: 7/10