Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie of the Week - Russian Dolls

This week’s movie is Russian Dolls (2005).

The romance comedy and sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole is about Xavier, a young writer who is trying to find meaning and love in his life, which he makes overly complicated (it takes place about five years after the events in L’Auberge Espagnole). The film is written and directed by Cedric Klapisch, who beings his pop-culture avant-garde style to the film, often being self-reflexive and surreal.  He brings back the same crew and almost all the actors from the first film, with music by Loic Dury, cinematography by Dominique Colin, production design by Marie Cheminal, and very interesting editing by Francine Sandberg. It has a fantastic international cast – Romain Duris (one of my favorite French actors) stars and is very funny, and there is supporting work from Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou, and Cecile De France. What makes the film great is Klapisch’s style and innovative storytelling mixed with the great performances by a mostly ensemble cast, with Duris in the middle as the protagonist. I also love the fact that both this film and the first have an international cast, feature dialogue in many languages and feature multiple locals. It brings Europe alive on the screen. I highly recommend both this films for fans of comedies. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and to Rent

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscars 2011 Predictions

Best Motion Picture of the Year
127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter's Bone

Who Will Win: The Social Network
Who Should Win: Inception
Winner: The King's Speech (0/1)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem for Biutiful, Jeff Bridges for True Grit, Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network, Colin Firth for The King's Speech, and James Franco for 127 Hours

Who Will Win: Colin Firth
Who Should Win: James Franco
Winner: Colin Firth (1/2)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Being for The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone, Natalie Portman for Black Swan, and Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

Who Will Win: Natalie Portman
Who Should Win: Natalie Portman
Winner: Natalie Portman (2/3)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale for The Fighter, John Hawkes for Winter's Bone, Jeremy Renner for The Town, Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right, and Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech

Who Will Win: Christian Bale
Who Should Win: Christian Bale
Winner: Christian Bale (3/4)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams for The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech, Melissa Leo for The Fighter, Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, and Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

Who Will Win: Helena Bonham Carter
Who Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld
Winner: Melissa Leo (3/5)

Best Achievement in Directing
Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, Ethan & Joel Coen for True Grit, David Fincher for The Social Network, Tom Hooper for The King's Speech, and David O. Russell for The Fighter

Who Will Win: David Fincher
Who Should Win: Darren Aronofsky
Winner: Tom Hooper (3/6)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written for the Screen
Mike Leigh for Another Year, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, & Keith Dorrington for The Fighter, Christopher Nolan for Inception, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right, and David Seidler for The King's Speech

Who Will Win: David Seidler
Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan
Winner: David Seidler (4/7)

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours, Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network, Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, Joel & Ethan Coen for True Grit, and Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini for Winter's Bone

Who Will Win: Aaron Sorkin
Who Should Win: Aaron Sorkin
Winner: Aaron Sorkin (5/8)

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Who Will Win: Toy Story 3
Who Should Win: Toy Story 3
Winner: Toy Story 3 (6/9)

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Matthew Libatique for Black Swan, Wally Pfister for Inception, Danny Cohen for The King's Speech, Jeff Cronenweth for The Social Network, and Roger Deakins for True Grit

Who Will Win: Wally Pfister
Who Should Win: Matthew Libatique
Winner: Wally Pfister (7/10)

Best Achievement in Editing
Jon Harris for 127 Hours, Andrew Weisblum for Black Swan, Pamela Martin for The Fighter, Tariq Anwar for The King's Speech, and Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall for The Social Network

Who Will Win: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
Who Should Win: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
Winner: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall (8/11)

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Who Will Win: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias & Douglas A Mowat
Who Should Win: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias & Douglas A Mowat
Winner: Robert Stromberg & Karen O'Hara (8/12)

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
A.R. Rahman for 127 Hours, John Powell for How to Train Your Dragon, Hans Zimmer for Inception, Alexandre Desplat for The King's Speech, and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for The Social Network

Who Will Win: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Who Should Win: Hans Zimmer
Winner: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (9/13)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cedar Rapids (2011) – Review

Cedar Rapids is very funny – mixing a lot of crude humor with small town heartfelt morality, something not often seen in comedies anymore. Director Miguel Arteta crafts a story of a naïve man who faces the corruption of the big city, but what makes this particular telling of the story interesting is how there is certainly a moral lesson and code to the story but the characters mostly sort of rest in the grey area. In the film the initial villains are not so bad and the good guys are really the devious fellows (not that this has not been down before, it is just that it works very well here). Yet, neither good nor bad completely defines any of them, which in term makes them feel real and more relatable to the viewer. Arteta also allows for the performances of John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr. to play big, which works very well considering star Ed Helms is at his best when reacting to those around him. Helm’s character Tim Lippe is a bit of a man-child (somewhat resembling that of many Will Ferrell roles), but unlike most representations of the role he is not a man-child because he is immature and never grew up rather he is merely naïve and without experience outside of his small town. This nuance makes him much more relatable to the audience which in turn engages them in the narrative past just watching it for laughs, and really elevates the comedy and drama of the film. The audience does care about Lippe and his journey’s outcome and are not there merely to laugh at/with him. The film plays out a bit like The Hangover (though on a much smaller scale), and focuses on a few of the same motifs like friendship, but this is not just a film about a crazy weekend with friends. Arteta creates an interesting juxtaposition between the crudeness of the jokes and language used and the overall message – one of being a good person and doing right is above business success and personal success. The film in a sense plays out like a parable, pitting greed and personal gains against sacrifice, friendship and honor, and a coming-of-age story. It is different, and ultimately something that sets this film apart from the barrage of crude comedies. Despite its outside perception of being an exaggerated wild weekend comedy, the film actually feels real and down to earth, which directly stems from its relatable characters and willingness not to pigeonhole characters and situations into one thing. Cedar Rapids is a very good mix of heart and crude humor (something also done well by Judd Apatow).

Technical and acting achievements: Miguel Arteta is a comedy director that also has a strong sense of drama and deeper characters, making his films feel more honest (which is not necessarily something needed in comedy, making it an odd genre, but certainly can only make a film better). I think this is his best film to date. Producer Alexander Payne also has a strong track record of comedies with deeper characters (Sideways being a good example). Aesthetically, the film is fairly straightforward allowing for the performances and comedy to be the focus. That being said, the technical work on the film did not really standout, but fit the mood of the film and style very well. Composer Christophe Beck’s (who does practically ever comedy, well not really, but he does a lot) score is playful and takes full advantage of the film’s local. Visually, the film never felt confined or restricted even though it mostly takes place in a hotel thanks to the work of cinematographer Chuy Chavez and production designer Doug J. Meerdink. The performances, however, are really what make this film great. Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat and Stephen Root are all funny in their supporting roles. However, the stars and soul of the film is the foursome of Helms, Heche, Whitlock Jr., and Reilly. They are all fantastic – each with their moments of sheer hilarity and dramatic emotion (I especially liked the work of Heche and Reilly).

Cedar Rapids is a great comedy, not just because it is funny (which it really is) but because its characters are so charismatic and draw the audience in. 8/10

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unknown (2011) – Review

Unknown is a lot of fun. While the plot may seem somewhat implausible (as many have stated), it is a thriller with twists and turns designed to entertain, so the story is merely the frame in which to accomplish this goal – and it does. The film is very entertaining, both stemming from the action set pieces and the unraveling mystery, as well as fine performances from the cast (especially lead Liam Neeson and German standouts Diane Kruger and Bruno Ganz). Director Jaume Collet-Serra is able to take full advantage of his locations, in this case being Berlin in winter. The cold and dark nature of the setting mixes well with the narrative for the main character Dr. Martin Harris, a man who is in a sense abandoned. Collet-Serra does do a good job grounding the film in reality, which benefits the narrative greatly as the resolution of the mystery feels a bit manufacture and inorganic (though, I enjoyed the twist quite a bit). However, this feeling (which for some viewers degrades the film) is the result of Collet-Serra leaving only subtle clues, and not the typically glaring (hey look at me) tips in other films, nor did he just pull the revelation out of left field – the clues are there for the observant viewer. While the main character, a man put upon by society and his predicament who is forced to prove himself, is nothing new to Hollywood film, the relationship between Harris (Neeson) and Gina (Kruger) felt fresh – mostly because there was not some forced sexual or love relationship between them. Their working friendship seemed genuine and was really the strongest part of the film, further grounding it, amidst the spies, espionage, action scenes, betrayal, and so. Collet-Serra also infuses the film with a lot of tension, often dragging out moments of panic to engage the audiences’ nerves. It makes the film all the more enjoyable.  However, a knock against the film (and really one against a growing number of Hollywood films it seems) is that the overall plot and idea of the film appeared on the outside at least to be unoriginal (also due to Neeson starring). For viewers that have seen Roman Polanski’s Frantic, part of the film felt a lot like that film, while the other part felt a lot like the more resent Taken (which also starred Neeson). However, the similarities are really only on the surface – the themes of those pieces play into this, but the characters and plot are much different. But, seeing Neeson in an action-thriller immediately takes some viewers to Taken as a comparison (which really is about as good as this – and with a just as implausible plot). Going back to Frantic, Kruger does look a bit like Emmanuelle Seigner and played sort of a similar role (but different too) and the scene in Gina’s apartment also had some noteworthy similarities to a scene from Frantic in Michelle’s apartment. These similarities (or references or homages) again do not detract from this film’s narrative, but do evoke a distracting comparison (for some). Despite this, Unknown is a good action-thriller, which will certainly be enjoyed for fans of the genre.

Technical and acting achievements: Jaume Collet-Serra directs his most ambitious and in my opinion best feature film with Unknown. Coming from a horror background gave him a strong command of the thriller aspect of the film, making it all the better especially in a genre that is often plagued by an overabundance of action and not enough real tension. The score by John Ottman and Alexander Rudd is fitting and emphasizing the tension well, making many a viewer uneasy. Flavio Martinez Labiano’s cinematography is also good, bringing the cold feeling from the location to the visuals – creating the sense of being lost. However, the standout among the technical work is that of production designer Richard Bridgland. His sets are interesting making for impressive visual composition as well as playing off the audience’s visceral experience of the film. I particularly liked his set for the blown-out hotel. The film features good work from its cast. Sebastian Koch did not really have that much to do, but is good in his scenes. Frank Langella, Aidan Quinn and January Jones also deliver strong performances without much character work to do. Bruno Ganz is fantastic and steals all his scenes. Diane Kruger is very good as well – mixing vulnerability with toughness, while not feeling like just another Hollywood romantic interest, but rather a full character. Liam Neeson makes for a good action star. He is tough and stoic, while being able to carry the dramatic work well.

Unknown may seem like just another typical action-thriller similar to others you have seen, but it is much more – feeling original and being very entertaining (and having a compelling twist, that I for once did not figure out before it was revealed, but looking back there certainly were signs). 7/10

Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie of the Week - Lawrence of Arabia

This week’s movie is Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The epic adventure is about T.E. Lawrence, a brilliant, flamboyant and controversial British military figure – taking place during his time in Arabia, WWI. The film is directed by extraordinary British filmmaker (and one of my favorites) David Lean. He had a phenomenal cast and crew on the film with iconic work from composer Maurice Jarre, cinematographer Freddie Young (almost impossible to name a better shot film) and production designer John Box. It stars Peter O’Toole (one of the great actors of all-time in his first major role) who is spellbinding and charismatic, with fantastic supporting performances from Alec Guinness (Ben Kenobi), Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, and Arthur Kennedy. What makes the film great is really every aspect of it – it is stunningly beautiful, features excellently played scenes (really just very strong performances throughout), a classic score, and an unrivaled artistic flare. There is nothing more I need say than: if you are a film fan, you need to see this film. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and to Rent

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TV Series of the Month - Firefly

This month’s series is Firefly (2002-2003).

The sci-fi/western drama is about a crew of smugglers five hundred years in the future captained by Malcolm Reynolds, a veteran of the Unification War (on the losing side). Mal wants to be free and be as far away from the Alliance as possible. But there are not a lot of honest jobs outside the Alliance, so he and his crew work as smugglers from time to time. Things are going ok, before stowaways bring the Alliance after them. The show is by master TV auteur Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel). Whedon writes wonderful characters, and these are among his best. Producer, director and writer Tim Minear (Terriers and Wonderfalls) also worked extensively on the show. The series has an absolutely fantastic charismatic cast with Nathan Fillion (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Castle), Gina Torres (Huge), Alan Tudyk (Dollhouse), Morena Baccarin (V), Adam Baldwin (Chuck), Jewel Staite (Stargate: Atlantis), Sean Maher (Party of Five), Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles), and Ron Glass (Barney Miller), not to mention great guest appearances by Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Michael Fairman (The Young and the Restless). Sadly, the show did not find a large enough audience on TV (plus Fox aired the episodes out of order) and Fox cancelled it midway through the first season. Whedon made a feature film Serenity, to serve as a final chapter to the saga (though there are rumors that he may return to the material in the future, which I personally would love almost above all other potential possible projects) and there are three comic books (V1, V2 and V3) that bridge the series to the film featuring stories that would have been in seasons one and two had the show continued. What makes the series great is how well everything works together. It is very funny and entertaining, yet moving and emotionally gripping. The viewer really cares about the characters. This is one of my personal top five favorite television shows and I think it is a must for all sci-fi, western and lovers of great TV. Check out the trailer for Serenity.

Firefly available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent – Serenity also available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Amazing British Television – TV Spotlight – February 2011

TV Series: Luther (BBC One)
Creator(s): Neil Cross
Plot Summary: John Luther is a brilliant yet unhinged, destructive Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) who specializes in catching exotic and strange murderers by getting inside their minds. The series opens with Luther returning from suspension (and nervous breakdown) rejoining his special murder unit, but all is not right when he finds that his wife has moved on and that he may not be completely mentally stable.
Why You Need to See It: The series is one of the best mystery/detective shows of all-time. The cast is absolutely brilliant, highlighted by staggeringly great performances by Idris Elba and Steven Mackintosh and a star making turn from Ruth Wilson, who commands the screen and the viewer’s attention whenever she is in a scene. The dynamic that develops between Alice (Wilson) and Luther (Elba) is fantastic (I do not want to spoil anything, just watch it). The writing is also excellent. The series builds over its six episodes, tightening the tension and expectation until the viewer can barely breathe. It is quite exceptional. If you like detective series, you need to see this one. BBC One has commissioned a second series for 2011 consisting of two two-hour episodes (so like four regular episodes). Check out the trailer.
Available On: DVD and to Rent

TV Series: Sherlock (BBC One)
Creator(s): Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Plot Summary: The series is a modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes stories, featuring many of the notable characters. The show begins with Sherlock Holmes, an unofficial consultant to the police, assisting in the investigation of a series of suicides by poisonous pill. Meanwhile, Holmes meets John Watson and the two become friends – Watson dragged into helping Holmes solve the case and try to find out who is really behind it all.
Why You Need to See It: The modern take on the stories breathes new life into the characters. It is really funny, but also action packed making for a great detective/mystery series. Each of the three ninety minute episodes is excellent, creating a world that while set in modern London is completely loyal to the source material in tone and charisma. Cumberbatch and Freemen have tons of chemistry and make for an amazingly good Holmes and Watson team (and friendship). The writing is also very good with wonderful stories and lots of wit (it really blows the recent film version out of the water – well it is different, and better).  This is a must see for fans of the books and characters, or if you just like a great detective TV show. BBC One has commissioned a second series (again with three ninety minute episodes) to air in late 2011. Check out the trailer.
Available On: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

TV Series: Red Riding Trilogy (Channel 4)
Creator(s): Tony Grisoni
Plot Summary: The series based on David Peace’s novels, is about police and government corruption in Northern England in the 70s/early 80s with the Yorkshire Ripper case serving as the backdrop (though fictionalized from the real events). The series is split into three films: 1974, 1980 and 1983.
Why You Need to See It: Aesthetically speaking, this is one of the most brilliant pieces of television ever done. Each part had its own director and crew, and thus a slightly different look and feel. But, the directors were able to maintain an overall tonal continuity to the series. Personally, I feel that 1974 is the best part, as it features an amazing performance from 2010’s breakout star Andrew Garfield, excellent directing from Julian Jarrold and exceptional cinematography from Rob Hardy (among the best I saw in 2010). Parts two and three are also very good, but part one is special. The series also has a number of great supporting performances (especially the work of Sean Harris, who is brilliant and scary, and Rebecca Hall) that supplement and push the great work from the three leads (a different one in each part). The material is very dark and intense, more so than most TV productions, but this is well worth seeing for fans of mysteries, because this is really not only a good story but also a piece of art and fine filmmaking. Check out the trailer.
Available On: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent (1974, 1980 & 1983)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Movie of the Week - Say Anything...

This week’s movie is Say Anything… (1989).

The romance is about Lloyd Dobler, an all-around nice guy but underachiever (by societal norms) who falls in love with the beautiful and driven yet isolated Diane Court. The film is directed and written by Cameron Crowe, and is his first feature. Crowe is known for his love of music and its incorporation into his films. Here, the film is set in Seattle at the birth of grunge, yet only features a couple songs by local bands of the movement (which is maybe why his next film was Singles taking place within grunge culture) – the film’s most notable soundtrack moment (and iconic in cinema history) is the use of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes (which is also a great song). Crowe had a lot of talent on the film behind the camera with producer James L. Brooks, composers Anne Dudley and Richard Gibbs, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (who also shot Paper Moon and Ghost Busters), and production designer Mark W. Mansbridge. He also had great talent in front of the camera. John Cusack and Ione Skye star and have great chemistry together. John Mahoney co-stars, while Lili Taylor, Amy Brooks, Pamela Adlon, Loren Dean, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, and Joan Cusack make up a wonderful group of supporting characters. What makes the film great is John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler. Cusack plays the everyman extraordinarily well, appealing to both guys (who would want to hang out with him) and girls (who would want to be with him) – plus he is wearing a The Clash shirt throughout, so that is pretty cool too. He is just really cool without seeming to try at all, but also sort of goofy and vulnerable – it is a great mix. Crowe’s script has the right amount of romance and comedy, feeling both light and meaningful. The film is a must for fans of romantic comedies and John Cusack. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Anthony Dod Mantle – Movies Spotlight – February 2011

Anthony Dod Mantle is known for being at the forefront of digital photography in cinema, primarily working with directors Danny Boyle and Lars von Trier. This month his cinematography is featured in Kevin Macdonald’s new film The Eagle, about a Roman solider who crosses Hadrian’s Wall to retrieve his legion’s Standard, which was lost by his father.

Early Career:

Dod Mantle was born in the UK, but moved to Denmark in 1979 where he qualified as a photographer taking up permanent residence. In 1985, he enrolls at the National Film school. Five years later he is hired by Lone Scherfig (who made 2009’s An Education) to shoot his first film (Kaj’s fodselsdag) and then by German director Philip Groning to shoot Die Terroristen! The film is banned in Germany and thus achieves some cult status. He continues to work in the German and Danish film industries shooting both features and documentaries for around ten years. Then he met Danny Boyle, who had the idea to shoot two TV films for BBC One digitally – Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. The success of the medium leads to the pair working together on a new feature film, which would serve as Dod Mantle’s breakthrough work and Boyle’s career resurgence after the box office flop The Beach (though, I think it actually a fairly interesting film).

Digital Photography:

That film is 28 Days Later…, which is shot almost entirely digitally (the sequence near the end at night when the military HQ is attacked by infected is shot on film). Boyle wanted the film to look aesthetically like it is being shot by survivors of the outbreak, the grittiness and harshness of the digital medium (at the time) made for a logical choice. Dod Mantle uses a Canon XL 1 camera to shot the film. In 2002, it is one of the first feature films to open wide to be shot on a DV format, paving the way for many other Hollywood films to be shot digitally (like Michael Mann’s Collateral in 2004). Next he works on Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s first Hollywood film It’s All About Love (he also shot his 1998 film The Celebration). The film is not well received; however it does serve as Dod Mantle’s introduction to another Danish filmmaker and friend of Vinterberg – Lars von Trier, who hires Dod Mantle to shot his new film and follow-up to his own breakthrough Dancer in the DarkDogville. The film is very interesting aesthetically, von Trier presenting it like a scaled down play with chalk outlines serving as buildings. Yet, his directing, Dod Mantle’s photography and the performances make the audience forget that the whole thing is taking play on a black stage not in an actual run-down small town. Dod Mantle continues to forward and perfect his craft of digital photography working again with Vinterberg on Dear Wendy (written by von Trier) and von Trier on Manderlay (aesthetically similar to Dogville).


Dod Mantle also did a few films using film stock, working again with Boyle on Millions and shooting on both 16 and 35mm for Brothers of the Head, directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. His work on the film is fantastic as he distorted his film stock greatly to make it appear as though it were an older stock, fitting the time period of the film. Scottish director Kevin Macdonald loved his work so much that he hired Dod Mantle to shoot his first feature film (coming from a documentary background) The Last King of Scotland, using both 16 and 35mm film stock again and corrupting it to look grainier to fit the time period. Dod Mantle’s work on the film is recognized by the British Independent Film Awards, winning Best Technical Achievement. He next works again with Scherfig (Just Like Home) and Vinterberg (When a Man Comes Home), before again working with Boyle on a new project in India – Slumdog Millionaire. After shooting his sci-fi film Sunshine on 35 and 65mm film stock, Boyle wanted to return to digital aesthetically fitting the slum world of his new film. Dod Mantle’s work on the film is outstanding and (if not before with other films) legitimizes digital photography by winning Best Cinematography at the 2009 Oscars. He also won a BAFTA award for Best Photography (TV Award) for his work on the series Wallander (he shot episodes 1 and 3). In 2009 he shoots Antichrist for von Trier, and his work is again praised. He uses the Red One Camera on the film and on Wallander. His latest film, 127 Hours, with Boyle takes advantage of HD digital, 35 mm stock and a Moviecam Compact MK2 garnering him another BAFTA nomination in 2011 for Best Cinematography.

Future Projects:

Dod Mantle has The Eagle coming out this month, and he is currently filming on a reimaging of the comic book hero Judge Dredd – called Dredd. The film is directed by Pete Travis and written by excellent screenwriter Alex Garland. It stars Karl Urban (as Dredd), Lena Headey and Olivia Thirlby.

Anthony Dod Mantle’s Selected Career Highlights:

1.)    28 Days Later… (2002)* – available on Blu-ray/DVD
2.)    Dogville (2003) – available on DVD
3.)    Millions (2004) – available on DVD
4.)    Manderlay (2005) – available on DVD
5.)    Brothers of the Head (2006) – available on DVD
6.)    The Last King of Scotland (2006) – available on Blu-ray/DVD
7.)    Slumdog Millionaire (2008)* – available on Blu-ray/DVD
8.)    Wallander (2008) – available on DVD
9.)    Antichrist (2009) – available on Blu-ray/DVD
10.) 127 Hours (2010)* – available on Blu-ray/DVD
*editor’s picks

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Movies Spotlight – Underrated and Under Seen in 2010 – February 2011

Film: Let Me In
Director: Matt Reeves
Plot Summary: It is a horror/romance film about a young boy who is bullied at school and has no friends. One day he meets a girl in the playground of his apartment complex, but she has a dark secret. She is a vampire. They develop a deep and twisted friendship that is threatened when a police detective hunts for her after a series of murders.
Why You Need to See It: The film had a lot of initial bad buzz because it is a remake of the revered Swedish film Let the Right One In. However upon its release, critics and fans soon realized that the film is just as good, if not better than the original and has something different to offer. It has fantastic performances from its young cast (including one of my favorite leading performances of the year) and a wonderful score from Michael Giacchino (also one of my favorites of the year). If you are a horror or vampire fan, you need to see this film because it was the best of its genre hands down. Check out the trailer.
Available On: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Director: Mark Romanek
Plot Summary: The drama is about three children who grow up at a boarding school in England. They are restricted to the grounds. Once they become teens, they move out into the world and find love. However, their purpose in the world is to be harvested for their organs. Now, they are faced with their duty, ingrained in them since birth, impeding their lives and love for one and other.
Why You Need to See It: The film is the most aesthetically brilliant of the year with outstanding directing, cinematography and a haunting but hopeful score from Rachel Portman. Of all the new films I saw in 2010 (something around 150), Never Let Me Go affected me the most emotionally and left me in thought for days. It is both a beautiful and hopefully story yet utterly tragic and heartbreaking. It is too bad that the film, which is far more nuanced than most of the acclaimed films of the year, was overlooked completely, aside from the few who actually saw it. Check out the trailer.
Available On: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Director: Edgar Wright
Plot Summary: The action adventure comedy follows the journey of Scott Pilgrim, a shy bass player who must battle the seven evil exes to be with the girl he believes to be the love of his life.
Why You Need to See It: If you are a video game fan or grew up with them (you have probably already seen this), this is a film made just for you. It is hysterically funny with great running gags, has awesome music from composer Nigel Godrich and Beck and features amazing editing from Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. Plus, the cast is very good, especially Ellen Wong and Kieran Culkin. Yes it is based on a comic book, but it is not a super hero film. It plays a bit like High Fidelity (for a younger generation) mixed with a Kung-Fu movie. If you liked Wright’s other films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), you are going to like this one too. Check out the trailer.
Available On: Blu-ray, DVD and to Rent

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Strings Attached (2011) – Review

No Strings Attached is really funny, yet disconnected and sort of a depressing assessment of modern relationships. Ultimately, it is an entertaining and enjoyable film – thanks primarily to the witty joke writing and comical (if not zany) performances from many of the cast members. Director Ivan Reitman seems, however, to want to tell a number of different stories with the same narrative. There is a lot stuffed into the film (much like life, I guess), but the format of a sub two-hour romantic comedy does not lend itself well to tackle all the narrative issues convincingly in the allotted time (had this been stretched to a season of television, it may well have worked a lot better and felt more complete, not to mention that the narrative idea felt a bit like a television sit-com pilot). As is, it is disjointed and superficially satisfying. Sure, the audience laughs (a lot) but the deeper emotions are not there. Not due to poor performances, but more so to the out-there, exaggerated nature of the comedy and hollow characters. The most difficult relationship to feel anything for was Adam’s with his father. The father character is not real, or at least does not feel that way at all. He oozes with forced humor intentions, while being completely awful to his son – resulting in a character and scenes that are neither funny nor illicit emotional connection/development. When, he does find his heart and reconnects with his son, no one cares because the relationship was meaningless to the audience from the beginning. Reitman also does something quite interesting (whether on purpose or not) in his juxtaposing the silly humor against the sad state that modern relationships are in. The ‘real’ love examples the audience are given play out mostly off screen, while the highly problematic relationships are forced upon the audience (one of them being Adam and Emma’s – while they do like each other on some level, it does not feel like they will make it, the ending having a slight awkward The Graduate feeling to it, though not nearly as poignant). Whether or not relationships in the film (primarily the one of the main characters) accurately mirror the current state of dating or not is secondary to their comparison to those of romantic comedies past (a genre that in recent years has faltered for the most part). Watching this film leaves an overall feeling of sadness while romantic comedies generally leave the audience feeling good. And so, while it is an interesting approach for Reitman and writer Elizabeth Meriwther to take (plus, in a world of remakes trying original concepts is greatly welcomed); it seems to ultimately leave the film feeling disconnected. The narrative is depressing for the most part, and yet the audience is told to laugh (and does so) throughout creating the disconnection from the deeper emotional turmoil the film is addressing. Thus, the narrative does not succeed (however, for those reading deeper into the film, Reitman does create a clashing of emotions akin to taking uppers and downers). The other issue is with the character of Adam. He really has no character. He is in a sense the ultimate straight-man allowing all those around him to be crazy. But, this is really his film and thus his character needed more. The audience only relates to him through projection of their own experiences and feelings. No Strings Attached is difficult to completely peg – it is very funny at times (though certainly geared towards a younger audience) and in being so entertaining and likable, but for those wanting more, like a complete narrative with real characters, it falls short.

Technical and acting achievements: Ivan Reitman has had a tough go of it in the last decade or so, directing mostly terrible films. Thus, it is good to see that the director who made many of my favorite childhood comedies (Ghost Busters being one of my top five favorites of all-time) actually make an entertaining film again. John Debney’s score and Rogier Stoffers’s cinematography were adequate for the type of film that this was (nothing special, but really not needing to be). However, Ida Random’s production design and sets/locations were aesthetically interesting. The cast is what really elevated this film (which is true really with any romantic comedy). Lake Bell, Chris Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, and Mindy Kaling provide good supporting work and some very funny moments. However, very good actors Cary Elwes and Kevin Kline were underused (and seemingly pointless to have an actor of his caliber in the role) and just not good respectively. Greta Gerwig and Jake M. Johnson were fantastic in their supporting roles. Both had some of the best and funniest moments; Gerwig stealing most of the scenes she was in. Ashton Kutcher plays the straight-man almost to the extent of being interchangeable with any other good looking late 20s early 30s male (though it is not completely his fault, his character was written hollowly without much emotional connection to the audience). Natalie Portman is good in the film (serving also as an executive producer), both powerful in the dramatic scenes while having great timing in the comedic ones.

No Strings Attached is probably the most entertaining and funny film to have a narrative that does not really work at all. 6/10