Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie I Watched in February

And here is my February watch-list.

*- Means I've seen it before

L'Atalante (1934, Jean Vigo)
Biutiful (2010, Alejdandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Broadcast News (1987, James L. Brooks)*
Cedar Rapids (2011, Miguel Arteta)
Children of Paradise (1945, Marcel Carne)
The Eagle (2011, Kevin Macdonald)
French Cancan (1954, Jean Renoir)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009, Niels Arden Oplev)*
Hilarious (2010, Louis C.K.)
I'm Still Here (2010, Casey Affleck)
The King's Speech (2010, Tom Hooper)*
Paul (2011, Greg Mottola)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Jim Sharman)*
The Sunset Limited (2011, Tommy Lee Jones)
Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song (1971, Melvin Van Peebles)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Favorite 25 Working Directors

Inspired by recent lists of a similar nature, I decided to make my own.

25. Kathryn Bigelow

When I think of my experience of watching The Hurt Locker, never before has a movie made me sweat, keep me on the edge of my seat, and have me wincing at the brutality. This is because the film has such a sense of dramatic suspense no matter what was happening. These elements could be seen in all of Bigelow's films and yet she just recently achieved her first truly great filmmaking achievement. One shouldn't say that her sensibilities have matured, just her understanding of how to best direct action-based material. I can't wait to see what she does next as she is working with her Hurt Locker writing collaborator, Mark Boal on a movie set in South America.

Favorite films
-The Loveless (1982)
-Near Dark (1987)
-Strange Days (1995)
-The Hurt Locker (2009)

24. J.J. Abrams

Abrams is a pure blockbuster filmmaker. He often does triple duty with directing major films, producing others (Cloverfield), and producing/directing/writing for television (shows such as Lost and Fringe). As a director he has proven to be great with adaptations and creating an enjoyable popcorn fueled atmosphere. When you step into a theater to watch his movies, you find that most importantly of all, he is capable of blending in with whatever genre he desires (while still attracting a wide audience). He has even begun working with the man he is considered the modern day equivalent of- Steven Spielberg.

Favorite films
-Mission Impossible III (2006)
-Star Trek (2009)
-Super 8 (2011)

23. Edgar Wright

Wright was first noticed when he created a cult-favorite British sitcom called Spaced (a show that would make Joss Whedon proud with its use of popular culture). He then went on to direct two hyperkinetic genre comedies about zombies (Shaun of the Dead) and cops (Hot Fuzz), all while pointing out the tropes of these genres and yet still admiring why those tropes work. Wright is fortunate to work actors with such great comedic timing such as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as others who bring out the humorous style of storytelling that can be found in his scripts.

Favorite films
-Shaun of the Dead (2004)
-Hot Fuzz (2007)

22. Brad Bird

When it comes to animation, Bird is just as good with the old school (the tearful Iron Giant) as he is with the new school (The Incredibles and Ratatouille, both part of Pixar's impressive filmography). Aside from a great understanding of how to use animation to express ideas, he is equally adept at storytelling since he writes the scripts for his movies as well. He is a part of that impressive group of filmmakers who are just as technically savvy as they are with understanding characters. With Bird making the move into live action films, I can't wait to see him further develop his visual style.

Favorite films
-The Iron Giant (1999)
-The Incredibles (2004)
-Ratatouille (2007)
-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

21. Guillermo Del Toro

Not to say Del Toro is never original, but the man's designs for his characters (or should I say creatures) are usually respectful homages to some classics that would make H.P. Lovecraft revel in horror. That is where Del Toro's strength lies, taking a monster and making it the hero (although that isn't completely the case, such as in Pan's Labyrinth). He takes "the weird" and mixes it with amazing visuals. He takes war and mixes it with fantasy. No matter what the man does, his films are always compelling.

Favorite films
-Cronos (1993)
-The Devil's Backbone (2001)
-Hellboy (2004)
-Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
-Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

20. James Cameron

Cameron may be the most skilled director when it comes to creating a blockbuster. In those films, the point is to really just give the audience what they want on a large scale. Another thing that Cameron has going for him is his large wealth of knowledge when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking. In fact, many believe Cameron will continue to figure out the future of filmmaking and ready the medium for the times to come. Just look at his box office receipts for his films as proof. Say what you will about his stories, but he knows how to keep the movie industry going while still keeping audiences excited.

Favorite films
-The Terminator (1984)
-Aliens (1986)
-The Abyss (1989)
-Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

19. David O. Russell

Most famous for his aggressive nature (George Clooney and Lily Tomlin have admired his films and yet refuse to ever work with him again), but whatever method O. Russell uses for completing his films, the end result is always better than expected (especially if you go by the tabloids that report on his zaniness). His films are always energetic no matter which genre he decides to tackle next, but you'll still usually see some great comedic timing no matter how serious the material is. Full of great characters and irony that would make Stanley Kubrick proud, he is a filmmaker to always keep an eye out for.

Favorite films
-Spanking the Monkey (1994)
-Flirting with Disaster (1996)
-Three Kings (1999)
-I Heart Huckabees (2004)
-The Fighter (2010)

18. Wes Anderson

On the surface, Anderson's films have such an interesting aesthetic (primary colors, simple cinematography) and of course there is the folk and rock music. If you look deeper at his scripts, you'll find dry humor expressed with poignancy. To me that is a true auteur, someone who is in control of both the story and the visual style of the film. Anderson's set designs are just as interesting as his characters; his best creations being Herman Blume (Bill Murray) in Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Favorite films
-Bottle Rocket (1996)
-Rushmore (1998)
-The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
-The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
-The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
-Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

17. Darren Aronofsky

He has a very gritty visual style in all of his films, but in terms of the types of stories he is trying to capture, one could argue that he has actually just found his niche. His first three films were very dense and full of ideas (and I mean that as a huge compliment). In fact, they've been called "life changing" by some critics. With The Wrestler, Aronofsky instead used his innovative camera techniques to capture a very realistic story. With his latest film, Black Swan, Aronofsky combined that realism from The Wrestler with the mind-bending emotional gravitas that one found in his earlier work. You don't just watch an Aronofsky movie, you experience it.

Favorite films
-Pi (1998)
-Requiem for a Dream (2000)
-The Fountain (2006)
-The Wrestler (2008)
-Black Swan (2010)

16. Mike Leigh

Leigh has such an interesting method of coming up with his scripts. He comes up with a basic premise, casts his movie, and then has his actors improv some scenes and discover their characters. Only then does Leigh actually sit down and write a script. His directorial style brings those great characters onto the screen and the result is usually very uplifting or very heart-wrenching. He is also noted for working well with actresses leaving us with such great female performances like Brenda Blethyn as Cynthia Rose Purley (Secrets and Lies) and Imelda Stauton as Vera Drake (Vera Drake).

Favorite films
-Naked (1993)
-Secrets and Lies (1996)
-Topsy-Turvy (1999)
-Vera Drake (2004)
-Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
-Another Year (2010)

15. Pedro Almodovar

What makes an Almodovar film? Is it his complex narratives? His grand use of melodrama? The strong color schemes with glossy sets? I personally relate to his themes of two things that most people hold high in life- family and love. His writing and directing also led U.S. audiences to discover such Spanish actors and actresses as Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. His powerfully emotional movies have led many to speculate that he will be remembered as the greatest Spanish director of all time. I personally think he is already there. Also, of all the directors on this list who make dramatic films, Almodovar is the best at incorporating humor into his work in a very respectful (as in not gimmicky) manner.

Favorite films
-Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
-All About My Mother (1999)
-Talk to Her (2002)
-Bad Education (2004)
-To Return (2006)
-Broken Embraces (2009)
-The Skin I Live In (2011)

14. Danny Boyle

Boyle has a very defining aesthetic and rhythm to his work whether he is working with established actors (such as James Franco in 127 Hours) or newcomers (such as Alexander Etel in Millions). His films don't necessarily sound the same, but they are similar on more than just a purely visual level. The stories he likes to tell are so full of energy that I feel that is what defines Boyle most importantly as a filmmaker- a never-ending rush of energy that starts and ends with the film. He will still tackle different stories and move around the world with each film taking place in a different genre or locale. Even when he changes his regular collaborators of writers, producers, and composers, the end result is usually pleasant thanks to his directorial leadership.

Favorite films
-Shallow Grave (1994)
-Trainspotting (1996)
-28 Days Later (2002)
-Millions (2004)
-Sunshine (2007)
-Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
-127 Hours (2010)

13. Christopher Nolan

A skilled director like Nolan is capable of twisting our psyches while still delivering something very commercial and appealing. Nolan mixes smarts with stories that a lesser director would use to just slam our senses with eye candy. The reason Nolan is such a loved director, whether one recognizes his name or not, is because he still provides that emotional element that I'm going to beat to death on this list. If a movie doesn't make us feel something, then it really isn't worth our time, and Nolan makes every second of his films count. Some critics are calling him a commercial Stanley Kubrick. That might be possible one day, but I have a feeling there is more films coming from Nolan that will place him in a class of his own.

Favorite films
-Following (1998)
-Memento (2000)
-Insomnia (2002)
-Batman Begins (2005)
-The Prestige (2006)
-The Dark Knight (2008)
-Inception (2010)

12. Peter Jackson

Jackson started out doing splatter horror with a hint of slapstick thrown in, almost like a New Zealand version of Sam Raimi. Jackson then showed an unexpected sense of style when he wrote and directed a heavily dramatic character film called Heavenly Creatures. It was then later proven that fantasy was Jackson's strong suit when he delivered The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are fantastic adaptations, but they also stand well on their own. Jackson understands how to make fantasy be desired by the masses; you mix emotion with action and therefore, Lord of the Rings will forever be cemented alongside such famous epics as Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia.

Favorite films
-Heavenly Creatures (1994)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
-The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
-King Kong (2005)
-The Lovely Bones (2009)

11. David Fincher

Fincher may be obsessive of every visual detail, but his main concern seems to be to provide a riveting experience for the audience. Yes, his films are often dark and if they seem cheery, then they do eventually get dark (no matter what the subject matter is). Yet I don't find Fincher as nihilist as others might. Instead I look at him as a director who with each film his style matures. He presents us with something about humanity that we as audiences members only recognize subconsciously. Fincher is the most entertaining director in Hollywood at this very moment and I'm always going to be excited to see what he does next.

Favorite films
-Se7en (1995)
-The Game (1997)
-Fight Club (1999)
-Panic Room (2002)
-Zodiac (2007)
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
-The Social Network (2010)
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

10. Quentin Tarantino

How could anyone resist his dialogue-heavy films? His writing style and pacing is so recognizable that he may be the best living example of an auteur. His films are usually artfully non-linear, violently stylized, and each one is from a different genre leading to a variety of homages that cinephiles often notice. Aside from being very knowledgable about film history, Tarantino is also arguably a great "composer" as well. He never uses scores for his films and instead uses soundtracks. He claims this came from when he was a kid and decided to film scenes at the rhythm of a song. If that isn't an interesting way to make "home-movies" then I suppose you aren't used to the oddball style of filmmaking that this director delivers.

Favorite films
-Reservoir Dogs (1992)
-Pulp Fiction (1994)
-Jackie Brown (1997)
-Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
-Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
-Death Proof (2007)
-Inglourious Basterds (2009)

9. Terrence Malick

Malick is noted for being a director who made so few films and yet all are just about considered masterpieces (he took a long hiatus between 1978 and 1998 where it is rumored he got a little tired and possibly fed up with studios). Malick is mainly noted for his beautiful results from placing a large emphasis on cinematography. As a writer, his films are both often heartbreaking and powerful. I personally compare them to the effect of a pleasant dream. You are placed into a hypnotic state when you watch his films, and you don't want to "wake up." Simply put, the reason he is on this list despite his small body of work is because there is no other filmmaker like him.

Favorite films
-Badlands (1973)
-Days of Heaven (1978)
-The Thin Red Line (1998)
-The New World (2005)
-The Tree of Life (2011)

8. Clint Eastwood

How do you best understand actors? It helps to have been a damn good one. Eastwood rediscovered his talent as a director when he deconstructed a genre he helped make popular with the western film Unforgiven. After that, his career in the 2000's have been followed with hit after hit after hit. He is an American icon who has made some of the most meditative and thoughtful films I've ever seen. His understanding of how to get inside a character's head is his greatest asset, but his deep understanding of music is also important when it comes to creating the moods of his films. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone should both be proud of their protege.

Favorite films
-Unforgiven (1992)
-Mystic River (2003)
-Million Dollar Baby (2004)
-Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
-Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
-Changeling (2008)
-Gran Torino (2008)
-Invictus (2009)
-Hereafter (2010)
-J. Edgar (2011)

7. David Lynch

No one can still be so surreal and then vary in the types of genres like Lynch. The man can go mainstream or independent when it comes to his productions and he works so well when it comes to eliciting performances from his actors. The best example of this the beginning of the career of one of today's best actresses with Naomi Watts in the role of Betty Elms (in Mulholland Drive). Lynch redefines our expectations with each film he completes and of course he brings in his always growing knowledge of how to use sound with great effect, which only disturbs or inspires us further.

Favorite films
-Eraserhead (1977)
-The Elephant Man (1980)
-Blue Velvet (1986)
-Wild at Heart (1990)
-Lost Highway (1997)
-The Straight Story (1999)
-Mulholland Drive (2001)
-Inland Empire (2006)

6. Paul Thomas Anderson

This director makes excitingly more dramatic movies with each new project he undertakes and shows a dynamic style (both as a writer and a director) that is hard to clarify with words. The best compliment I can pay Anderson is that he is very unique. The comparison to Robert Altman wasn't just placed on him by critics, but by Altman himself. What do the two directors have in common? Their energy, their ability to get great performances out of actors (such as Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood), and they can move between genres without any trouble at all.

Favorite films
-Hard Eight (1996)
-Boogie Nights (1997)
-Magnolia (1999)
-Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
-There Will Be Blood (2007)

5. Spike Lee

Lee's films often look at race and then add in other important issues such as urban lifestyles, crime, and poverty. At heart, Lee is a political and socially conscious filmmaker and it would not be a stretch to call him an activist. His films are often social commentaries full of a pleasant aesthetic deserving of the moment and also filled some great song choices. His masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, is arguably the most truthful examination of racism ever put on film and let's not forget how well Lee just understands acting and character as a writer (see the performance of Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in the film of the same name for an example).

Favorite films
-Do the Right Thing (1989)
-Jungle Fever (1991)
-Malcolm X (1992)
-Crooklyn (1994)
-Clockers (1995)
-Get on the Bus (1996)
-He Got Game (1998)
-Summer of Sam (1999)
-25th Hour (2002)
-Inside Man (2006)
-Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

4. Roman Polanski

Aside from his sexual promiscuity, Polanski is probably best known as a director who can take any genre and revive it with mystery and memorable characters. He mastered noir in Chinatown and horror in Rosemary's Baby and just when you think he won't make another good film and has run out of tricks, he returns with films like The Pianist and The Ghost Writer. Although he'll occasionally write his films as well as direct them, even when he doesn't, his films are so well-crafted that it leads to memorable performances from well-known mainstream or independent actors in the roles of such interesting characters.

Favorite films
-Repulsion (1965)
-Cul-de-Sac (1966)
-Rosemary's Baby (1968)
-Macbeth (1971)
-Chinatown (1974)
-The Tenant (1976)
-Tess (1979)
-Frantic (1988)
-Death and the Maiden (1994)
-The Pianist (2002)
-Oliver Twist (2005)
-The Ghost Writer (2010)
-Carnage (2011)

3. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

The Coen brothers are often called the two-headed director by many actors (I believe George Clooney is the one who coined the term). This is said because you could separately ask one of them a question and you would absolutely get the same answer. Their films are very distinguishable due to their cinematographically-based choices (usually working with the famous Roger Deakins) and their writing style. As writers, the Coens like to tell these thinly veiled morality tales that are often mixed with irony, wit, and karma. Like many directors on this list, they are also very versatile and can be deliver scenes that are very dramatic or very funny at any given moment in one of their films.

Favorite films
-Blood Simple (1984)
-Raising Arizona (1987)
-Miller's Crossing (1990)
-Barton Fink (1991)
-The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
-Fargo (1996)
-The Big Lebowski (1998)
-O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
-The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
-Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
-The Ladykillers (2004)
-No Country for Old Men (2007)
-Burn After Reading (2008)
-A Serious Man (2009)
-True Grit (2010)

2. Steven Spielberg

Here is a director whose films are for all ages and who tells stories that move from genre to genre (whether it be horror, science-fiction, or adventure). Aside from being multi-generational and versatile, Spielberg is at his best when he examines the extraordinary and the sense of wonder that comes with it. Spielberg also loves to comment on the family dynamic. His films will be about companionship, friendship, and most importantly of all, the parent-child dynamic. Spielberg accomplishes what I feel a good director needs to accomplish so that one could view films as an art; Spielberg leaves you with a feeling. A feeling that often prevents me from revisiting his films so I can hold onto that emotional impact.

Favorite films
-The Sugarland Express (1974)
-Jaws (1975)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
-E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
-Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
-The Color Purple (1985)
-Empire of the Sun (1987)
-Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
-Jurassic Park (1993)
-Schindler's List (1993)
-Amistad (1997)
-Saving Private Ryan (1998)
-A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
-Minority Report (2002)
-Catch Me If You Can (2002)
-War of the Worlds (2005)
-Munich (2005)
-Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
-The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
-War Horse (2011)

1. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is simply put, a living legend. He is an important member of the film industry as his other main concern aside from directing is the preservation of films so that future generations can continue to learn and experience them. Scorsese's films are often about a number of things, but the themes he loves to explore include identity, guilt, redemption, machismo, and violence. Why is he at the top of this list? It's because he is the most influential filmmaker around and is the best example of how to successfully direct image, sound, and performance. I won't elaborate much further because his films speak for themselves better than I could ever put into words. Once you start watching enough of his films, you'll understand why he is the greatest living and working director.

Favorite films
-Mean Streets (1973)
-Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
-Taxi Driver (1976)
-Raging Bull (1980)
-The King of Comedy (1983)
-After Hours (1985)
-The Color of Money (1986)
-The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
-Goodfellas (1990)
-Cape Fear (1991)
-The Age of Innocence (1993)
-Casino (1995)
-Kundun (1997)
-Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
-Gangs of New York (2002)
-The Aviator (2004)
-The Departed (2006)
-Shutter Island (2010)
-Hugo (2011)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cedar Rapids

In the past couple of years, I haven't been that fond of comedies produced by independent studios and companies. They always seemed more quirky than necessary while the trailer would advertise them as these "laugh-a-minute" type of movies that I usually expect from Judd Apatow and his cohorts. Cedar Rapids falls somewhere in between and I'm actually happy it does. The premise of the film is that an insurance salesman, named Tim Lippe (Ed Helms,) is sent to an insurance convention after the guy who was supposed to go for his company died under suspicious (read as 'hilarious') circumstances. Tim's job is to win the coveted Two Diamonds Award that represents excellence in insurance sales. His company has previously won the award for the past several years. Yet the convention turns into another experience altogether as Tim encounters a large cast of characters played by a fantastic ensemble consisting of John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Rob Corddry, Mike O'Malley, and Sigourney Weaver.

This time the word that comes to mind for this movie is delightful. Helms is perfect as the guy who is oblivious to the adult world when he gets thrown into another (that is just a few states over from where he lives) and yet the role is not a carbon-copy of his character from The Office or The Hangover. Instead of going for the whole "this convention is a culture shock to Tim", the filmmakers go with "this convention is full of some of the most insane characters Tim has ever met in his life", and none of these characters are completely unrealistic thanks to the talent that is portraying them.

I quickly looked at who made the film and I should've known that I would be pleasantly surprised. Although this is Phil Johnston's first script (and it got a lot of love thanks to the Black List) this film is from Miguel Arteta who previously gave life to just as intelligent scripts from Mike White (the end results was one film called Chuck and Buck and another called The Good Girl). The film is produced by Alexander Payne and he pretty much follows a similar M.O. You have reasonable and insane characters meeting up and unintentional hilarity ensues in inappropriate settings. Most importantly of all, Arteta/Payne/Johnston understand that the characters and their emotions should trump the laughs and the quirk.

The highlight performance of this piece is John C. Reilly as Dean Ziegler. Reilly can be known for his wide range of dramatic roles in films such as Days of Thunder, Hoffa, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The River Wild, Dolores Claiborne, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, For the Love of the Game, Magnolia, The Perfect Storm, The Anniversary Party, The Good Girl, Criminal, The Aviator, and A Prairie Home Companion. He can also be known for his roles in comedies such as Anger Management, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, The Promotion, and Step Brothers. On a final note, he is also noted for having a major supporting role in three Academy Award nominees for Best Picture in the same year (2002's Gangs of New York, Chicago, and The Hours). He also brilliantly balanced drama and comedy in Cyrus and will hopefully repeat this in God of Carnage. This may be my favorite comedic performance from him because this role is more grounded than his characters created by Adam McKay while still being just as hilarious. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that you should be easily impressed at his acting ability and versatility if you take a look at the roles he has played... and yet I still feel like the man's talent is criminally underrated or underestimated.

So... back to the movie I was talking about. It wasn't always funny, but it sure as hell was amusing, interesting, and entertaining for me. Oh, and it had John C. Reilly in it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


(Note: I saw an advance screening of the film. It comes out in wide release on 3/18.)

I don't mind when films reference other films. Sometimes a homage is nice and suitable despite being blatant, while other times they can be overbearing and annoying. Paul is somewhere in between. The references work in one respect because this is co-writer/actor Simon Pegg's take on a sci-fi movie and they don't work most of the time because they aren't funny. They are just gags without a laugh. Pegg previously co-wrote Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both films that are more than just genre parodies and they function without one getting all of the references. Paul on the other hand might be lacking Edgar Wright's careful direction and I say this as a huge fan of Paul's skilled director, Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland).

The film follows two sci-fi nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Frost is the other co-writer) who encounter an extra-terresetrial on the run (voiced by Seth Rogen, the film also stars Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, and Sigourney Weaver). The actors seem to be trying their best and are really into the material, but the story is just middle-of-the-road. In other words, everyone displays good comic timing... just not good comedy. The friendship between the two main characters is quite typical. It was as if it was placed into the film just to give the story a somewhat grounded emotional spine since a majority of this movie is action sequences, sci-fi film references, and crude language (saying penis is always bound to get a laugh out of someone). The relationship just doesn't seem interesting because there are no major conflicts other then short-lived arguements that are resolved quickly. Therefore, the only thing that differentiates the main characters seems to be their weight and the length of their hair. At least when Paul shows up, things get more lively than just watching two men walk around Comic-Con.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Eagle

I don't mind historical fiction. I'm not a big fan of when it becomes so popular that it is accepted as fact, but I don't mind when changes are made to a story because that's what it is, a story. The story is fictional and might be based or inspired on truth (take A Beautiful Mind which has an unbelievable story, but glosses over the fact that the main character was really racist as to obviously create an outcome that leaves the audience feeling a certain way). This is the second film where one of my favorite directors, Kevin Macdonald, has tackled fiction based on a historical novel. Macdonald's name is somewhat underrated, but film fans know his work. He won the Academy Award for Best Documentary with One Day in September about the murder of Israeli athletes at an Olympics ceremony in Germany (a film that inspired Tony Kushner and Eric Roth when they wrote the screenplay for Munich) and later made a documentary called Touching the Void (a 127 Hours-esque story about mountain climbers who nearly died). He turned to narrative filmmaking with The Last King of Scotland which is the first film Macdonald made based on a historical fiction novel (the film won Forest Whitaker his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Idi Amin). The film was written by Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan (one of my favorite screenwriters). Macdonald then worked with Morgan (and a screenwriting team that consisted of Tony Gilroy, Matthew Michael Carnahan, and Billy Ray) on an adaptation of the BBC miniseries State of Play (a criminally underrated film). The subject of this review is Macdonald's third narrative film, The Eagle (written by Brock) and based on the historical fiction novel entitled The Eagle of the Ninth.

Both the film and the novel focus on the myth of the Ninth Legion of Ancient Rome that had a golden eagle standard (statue). This legion disappeared in Britain in dangerous enemy territory and was never heard from again. Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) made a mediocre film last year called Centurion that dealt with what physically happened to the Ninth Legion, but The Eagle takes a different approach. Marcus Flavius (Channing Tatum) is a Roman commander whose father was the commander of the ninth legion. Marcus has faced much difficulty in his military career because of father's fiasco so he finally decides to go into North Britain and look for the golden eagle after hearing rumors of a sighting of the eagle at a dinner hosted by his uncle/father's brother (Donald Sutherland). Marcus asks for the help of Esca (Jamie Bell) a slave whose people were potentially responsible for the attack on the Ninth Legion that led to their believed death. Along the way, Marcus and Esca encounter several personalities such as an ex-legion member (Mark Strong) and a tribal prince (Tahar Rahim) who hold answers that the pair seek in their quest.

The most remarkable aspect of the film is its cinematography. The shots of the landscape are so rich and textured that they speak to Macdonald's documentary background. I did take issues with the film's editing as it destroyed any sense of choreography during the fighting (and these movies tend to rely on that). Christopher Nolan had some issues shooting action scenes in Batman Begins, but that was more his shooting style that ultimately complimented the film as opposed to Macdonald's choice. I'm not saying I couldn't tell what was going on, just that the sword-fighting has this random hack-and-slash style to it that made me miss the days when choreographed swordfights were a part of these swords-and-sandals movies. I remember the swordfights in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet or a better genre-related example would be the arena fight in Ridley Scott's Gladiator between Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. They had a sense of style to them that seems to have disappeared as time has gone on (take last year's Clash of the Titans as a leading example).

As for the overall story itself, it may not be that unique or fresh, but Macdonald/Brock definitely keep your interest going so that you don't mind when the film goes over-the-top with coincidental moments and meetings. The film falls into the category of harmless entertainment thanks to several factors. The first, I mentioned above, is the atmosphere that Macdonald and Brock create with the story and cinematography. The second is that this wasn't a CGI-driven 3-D film. The third is the lack of an R-rating. It just goes to show that we don't need blood and gore to have an effective experience. This is slightly better than Centurion yet it is Macdonald's weakest work. It just lacks that energy that Macdonald brought to State of Play that made me stop looking at it as an All the President's Men type of movie. Sadly, I find myself looking at The Eagle as a Gladiator (a recent example) type of movie as it just doesn't rise above the standard set for these types of stories.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January 2011: Movies I watched

Here is a full list of movies I've watched this month.

*- means I've seen it before

24 Hour Party People (2002, Michael Winterbottom)
Big Fish (2003, Tim Burton)*
The Blood of a Poet (1930, Jean Cocteau)
The Company Men (2011, John Wells)
The Green Hornet (2011, Michel Gonddry)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders)
The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee)
Industrial Light and Magic: Creating the Impossible (2010, Leslie Iwerks)
It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra)
Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino)*
The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich)
Lumiere and Company (1995, various)
The Mechanic (2011, Simon West)
The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)*
Rabbit Hole (2010, John Cameron Mitchell)
Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola)
Super Troopers (2001, Jay Chandrasekhar)*
This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)*
The Way Back (2011, Peter Weir)