Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Review

Review: A Dangerous Method is superbly acted, well written and engaging. The film focuses on the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud – and its catalyst, a patient of Jung’s Sabina Spielrein. Director David Cronenberg seems to be interested in the power of words, both as they pertain to Freud and Jung’s ‘Taking Cure’ psychoanalytic therapy, revolutionary at the time, and driving deeper into how words directly affect people (informing their behavior therapeutically and otherwise). Cronenberg sets up many of his scenes through the placement of his camera to play out like a power struggle (especially those between Jung and Freud), as each specifically chooses words to gain the upper hand (though the scenes with Jung and Spielrein allow put a lot of power behind the words, but to a different end). The film has little action (if any), and thus all the drama and conflict plays out through the language and delivery of the affecting words. The relationships themselves were mostly about power as well, each conversation a chess match – looking for the weakness – pitting wit against wit, ego against ego. Again, this is most notable between Jung and Freud. The film is so dependent on dialogue – but is particularly well written and played with intense concentration that the viewer is both enthralled by the intellectual side and engaged by the dramatic thug-of-war between the two men. Jung also has meaningful interaction with Spielrein and another patient Otto Gross. These two seem to shape his actions much more than Freud, which is interesting given the historical context of these men (Freud and Jung). Much more than Freud, these two seem to play off Jung’s desires, mostly through words (but in Spielrein’s case, through physicality as well). The film will not play well for all viewers as it is completely reliant on dialogue to convey all action, and these characters try to hold back their emotions as best they can (which is interesting given that the film is about psychotherapy), giving fairly subdued performances (aside from Spielrein in the opening scenes, who looks on the verge of exploding), which to an extend limits the emotional connection with the audience – but there is enough there. Themes of jealously, desire and sadness are still there, which we can all relate to. A Dangerous Method succeeds on its brilliant performances and the skill of Cronenberg to deliver a dialogue intensive film that still thoroughly engages the audience.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Cronenberg is one of the great cerebral directors – getting into the heads of his characters, and he is not afraid of graphic material. A Dangerous Method seems like a great departure from his typical films (given Easter Promises, A History of Violence and eXistenZ, to name but three), but given his skill set as a filmmaker he actually seems perfect for it – and the reason it turned out so well (when many plays do not work as well when done as films). Howard Shore’s score executes a different sort of role in this film, as many of the scenes were played without music which seemed (contrary to what is normally the case) to give them more impact, while the score serves as sort of an emotional bridge between truly impactful moments. Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography is good; I found the placement of the camera and the angles that Suschitzky and Cronenberg use to be interesting and different (but honestly I need another viewing to really explore how they informed my viewing – though I did feel like they were making a statement on the power struggle between Jung and Freud at times – most of their stuff is shot sort of looking down on them while Jung and Spielrein are shot more on the same level as their eyes). James McAteer’s production design is good as well, though it definitely plays a supporting role taking a backseat to the performances. Newcomer Sarah Gadon has a tough role to play as Jung’s wife Emma, as she is greatly marginalized yet still has a great impact on his life and work, and Gadon plays her well – sort of a mini breakthrough performance. Vincent Cassel is fantastic in his supporting performance. It is brief but leaves a lasting impact on the film and viewer. Viggo Mortensen is very good as Freud, capturing his pettiness and wit – giving the film some needed humor. Keira Knightley gives one of the best performances of her career (with Never Let Me Go, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice). When you first see her, it is almost too shocking and physical but she pulls it off very well. Michael Fassbender (having one of the best years I can remember – Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, Shame and this) is fantastic as well. His Jung is well groomed and confident, but also completely unraveling.

Summary & score: A Dangerous Method is potentially the best acted film of the year, making for a very good drama. 8/10

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

At the Movies – December 2011 – Part 3: This Month’s Best Films

Must-See of the Month:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher) – Mystery Thriller – Dec 21
Summary: Part one of the Millennium Trilogy, the film is about a journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who is hired to investigate the disappearance and likely murder of a young woman who has been missing for over forty years. He is aided by a young computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. Filmmakers: While many do not think this needed an English language remake, director David Fincher immediately makes it relevant and highly anticipated (as he is one of the best working today, and will bring something different to the film – much like Let Me In versus Let the Right One In). He is working with the same crew from his last film The Social Network: composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, editor Angus Wall, and production designer Donald Graham Burt. Cast: Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star, while Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer, Embeth Davidtz, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Yorick van Wageningen, and Alan Dale feature in support. Expectations: The role of Lisbeth Salander was maybe the most coveted role for young actresses in Hollywood, and yet relative unknown Rooney Mara won it – likely because she was fantastic in her small role in Fincher’s The Social Network (it also shows off Fincher’s power and respect in Hollywood talking MGM and Sony into Mara). Noomi Rapace is very good in the Swedish Trilogy, and thus Mara has a lot to live up to (but I think she will, having a breakthrough performance; has there ever been another character to give two actors their breakthrough?). Fincher directing alone makes this a must-see and probably even the film of the month, but the great cast does not hurt either. It will certainly have awards seasons implications. The trailers have been brilliant, so expectations are very high. Trailer: Here. Review.

Worth Checking Out:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) – Spy Thriller – Dec 9
Summary: The film is about semi-retired espionage veteran George Smiley, who is called back into service to find a Soviet agent within MI6. Filmmakers: Director Tomas Alfredson became a hot international commodity after the critical praise of his film Let the Right One In – this is his first Hollywood (or the British equivalent) film. John le Carre (writer of the novel for which the film is based) and multiple Oscar nominee Peter Morgan are producing, and Alfredson has a good group with Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias (The Constant Gardener), cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (who shot Let the Right One In for him) and production designer Maria Djurkovic (The Hours). Cast: This has maybe the best cast of any film this year. It stars Gary Oldman and also features work from Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Simon McBurney, and Christian McKay. Expectations: At the beginning of the year based on the filmmakers and cast, I thought this would be among the five best films of the year, and with what I have seen and the critical response, I think that could still be true. Oldman is being called a potential Best Actor Oscar nominee and the film should have entries in other categories as well. If the film does well, there are sequels in the novel series that could be adapted with Oldman returning (which would be awesome). For me, this is the film I am most looking forward to seeing in December (but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a very close second). Trailer: Here. Review.

Carnage (Roman Polanski) – Dramedy – Dec 16
Summary: The film is about two sets of parents who meet to discuss an altercation at school involving their sons. Filmmakers: Writer-director Roman Polanski is one of the great filmmakers in cinema history, and thereby each of his films comes with the potential to be great (though, he is a bit hit or miss). He is working with (the hardest working man in movies) composer Alexandre Desplat (The Ides of March) and frequent collaborators cinematographer Pawel Edelman and production designer Dean Tavoularis. Cast: The film has a great cast with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly. Expectations: Critics have praised the film for the most part and it should have awards season implications, especially for the actors, but those who have seen both the film and the play by Yasmina Reza for which it is based have found the play to be better. Polanski’s best work as a director has not been with comedy, making this an odd choice for him but many critics are placing it with his best films (The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and Repulsion). I look forward to the great performances from a top-notch cast, and to see things degrade and go haywire. Trailer: Here. Review.

We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe) – Drama – Dec 23
Summary: The film is about a father who moves his young family to Southern California to take over the operation of a small countryside struggling zoo. Filmmakers: Writer-director Cameron Crowe (finally) returns to feature films after six years (his last feature was Elizabethtown).  He is working with very good cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Babel) and frequent collaborator production designer Clay Griffith. Cast: The cast is wonderful with Matt Damon starring, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church co-starring and supporting work from Elle Fanning, Carla Gallo, Patrick Fugit, Stephanie Szostak, John Michael Higgins, and Angus Macfadyen (The Bruce). Expectations: We Bought a Zoo will probably be good for the sole reason that Crowe is a great writer of dialog and he has a great cast on the film (I am probably most excited for relative newcomer Fanning after her stellar work in Super 8 and Somewhere). The fact that it is coming out on Christmas and is not rated R means that 20th Century Fox is hoping to promote it as a family feel good movie (mainly geared towards adults). Will it be an Oscar contender? Maybe, but probably not – though, I think it looks like it should be a good drama with some patented Crowe dialog (see the Jerry Maguire speech Damon gives in the trailer), humor, and a fantastic found-music score. Trailer: Here.

At the Movies – December 2011 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

New Year’s Eve (Garry Marshall) – Romantic Comedy Ensemble – Dec 9
Summary: The film is an amalgamation of intertwining stories involving singles and couples over the course of New Year’s Eve (much the same at Valentine’s Day). Filmmakers: Director Garry Marshall is best known for his romantic comedies like Pretty Woman and Overboard (probably my favorite of his films) and his comedy The Princess Diaries, but now seems to be relegated to making these celebrity-packed meaningless glorified holiday movies. He is working with previous collaborators: composer John Debney and cinematographer Charles Minsky from Valentine’s Day and production designer Mark Friedberg from Runaway Bride (though he has since done brilliant work on films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and Synecdoche, New York). Cast: The ensemble cast is stuffed with famous faces (see the whole list here), highlighted by Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel, Abigail Breslin, and John Lithgow. Expectations: I am not sure what gave rise to these films – was it He’s Just Not That Into You or The Holiday or something else?  Whatever it was, these movies feel like expensive Hallmark cards – capturing the commercial sentiment but void of any real emotion or meaning. They are essentially the big Hollywood mindless action movie equivalent for romance –which is fine, as they are somewhat entertaining and sometimes we do not need or even want entertainment that is also engaging and meaningful (but just do not expect it to be good). While Valentine’s Day focused on LA, this takes place in New York – next we will have President’s Day in DC or some other over commercialized holiday set in Las Vegas. Anyway, there are some good actors collecting paychecks in this and Garry Marshall has probably checked out at this point, but it will probably be somewhat entertaining. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd) – Biography – Dec 16
Summary: The film is a biography of Margaret Thatcher, a former Prime Minister of the U.K. with the focus of the price she paid for power. Filmmakers: Director Phyllida Lloyd made the adaptation of Mamma Mia! as her first feature, this is her second (and we can only hope it is much better, because let us be honest, that film is terrible). She is working with great composers Clint Mansell (Black Swan) and Thomas Newman (WALL-E), cinematographer Elliot Davis (Out of Sight) and production Simon Elliot (North & South). Cast: Meryl Streep stars, and Anthony Head, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Nick Dunning, and Hugh Ross provide supporting work. Expectations: Of course Streep is being mentioned in the Best Actress Oscar buzz, and is also the main reason this is even anticipated or relevant to Awards Season. I am suspect of it because of director Lloyd (as I was not a fan at all of Mamma Mia!, and I like musicals; it was just a poorly made film). However, Streep and my love of biographies will still see this make my Netflix queue. Trailer: Here.

Summary: The film is about a nine-year-old boy who searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father when he was killed in the September 11th attacks. Filmmakers: Stephen Daldry is one of the best dramatic directors (he made Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader). He is working with an excellent group including producer Scott Rudin (pretty much every great film to come out lately), cinematographer Chris Menges (The Mission), composer Alexandre Desplat (the hardest working man in cinema), and production designer K.K. Barrett (Lost in Translation). Cast: Thomas Horn stars, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock co-star and John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, James Gandolfini, and Jeffrey Wright feature in support. Expectations: With Daldry directing, Rudin producing and actors like Hanks and Bullock, there is a very good chance this will be in the Best Picture conversation come February 2012 – in fact, it is probably the front runner along with War Horse. Von Sydow also has a ton of positive buzz surrounding is supporting performance. Daldry is a wonderful filmmaker, and therefor this is a film worth seeing. Trailer: Here.

War Horse (Steven Spielberg) – War Drama – Dec 25
Summary: Set during WWI, the film is about the friendship a young man, Albert, has with his horse. However, when his horse is sold to the military and sent to the front lines, Albert goes to France to rescue his friend, despite being too young to enlist. Filmmakers: Director Steven Spielberg brings his “A-Team” to the picture with composer John Williams (Jurassic Park), cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan), editor Michael Kahn (Schindler’s List), and production designer Rick Carter (Munich). Cast: While the cast does not feature any A-List stars, it is quite good with Tom Hoddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emily Watson, David Thewlis (side note, see his film Naked), Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irvine (the star of this film), David Kross, and Niels Arestrup. Expectations: Many critics are projecting this to be among the Best Picture nominees at the 2012 Oscars, but based on the trailers I just do not see it. Sure, the filmmakers and cast are both very good, but the story seems a bit suspect – it is a film about a boy, his horse and WWI. And sure, this will be a tearjerker, but how much more powerful would this be if the horse were his brother or a human? That said, will I still see it? Yes. Too much quality behind the camera to dismiss based on the trailer. Trailer: Here. Review.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie) – Action Adventure – Dec 16
Summary: Following up on where Sherlock Holmes left off, Holmes and Watson are on the trail of their most dangerous adversary Professor Moriarty. Filmmakers: Director Guy Ritchie returns, as do composer Hans Zimmer, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and production designer Sarah Greenwood. Cast: Also returning are stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Supporting players Kelly Reilly and Eddie Marsan and Rachel McAdams are back too. New to the film are Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris and Stephen Fry. Expectations: The first film was a lot of fun, and this looks to be in the same style as if has all the key ingredients returning. However, most alluring (at least for me) is the prospect of a fantastic villain performance from Harris playing one of the great villains. Since this is a sequel, expect more action and explosions (certainly the trailer is living up to this), but hopefully story and characters remain the focus. Trailer: Here. Review.

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) – Animation Adventure – Dec 21
Summary: Likely the first part in a series (we will see how this one does and go from there), the film is about a young (Belgian) detective Tintin who sets off on a treasure hunt to find a famous sunken ship. He is helped by Captain Haddock, whose ancestor commanded the ship. Filmmakers: This has a dream-team, so to speak, of filmmaking talent behind it. Steven Spielberg (Raider of the Lost Ark) is directing, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) is producing, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) wrote the script, John Williams (Star Wars) is scoring, and Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan) is the D.P. Hard to beat that. Cast: The film stars the voice work of Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis, and features the supporting voice work of Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, and Gad Elmaleh. Expectations: This has opened oversees to strong but not universal praise. The animation looks decent, but not amazing. However, as a film primarily targeted towards children, it will probably be a success. I will likely see it in theatres due to its grand scope and scale, but if I just end up renting it, that would be fine too. Really, with the cast and crew that it has, it should be amazing – too bad it fell just a bit short, but still good. Trailer: Here. Review.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird) – Action – Dec 23 [Dec 16 IMAX only]
Summary: The fourth installment in the franchise finds Ethan Hunt on the run after the IMF is shut down due to their implication in the bombing of the Kremlin. Hunt and his team must go rogue to clear the organization’s name. Filmmakers: The film marks the live-action debut of animation great Brad Bird (he has only made the films Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and worked on The Simpsons). He has a very good crew with producer (and director of MI 3) J.J. Abrams, composer Michael Giacchino (Super 8), cinematographer Robert Elswit (The Town), and production designer James Bissell (300). Cast: Returning to the series are star Tom Cruise and supporters Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames. While not officially listed as a cast member, it would make sense for Michelle Monaghan to have a cameo (she plays Ethan Hunt’s wife after all). New to the cast are a number of fantastic additions: Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, and Anil Kapoor. Expectations: As a big fan of MI 3, I am very interested in this film – yes, I would have rather Abrams directed, but at the same time I am enthusiastic to see how Bird approached the material (for all I know he may have made an even better film). The teaser trailer and full trailer are both quite good and action packed. Another reason to see this is that the prologue for The Dark Knight Rises apparently will play before the movie (much like how The Dark Knight’s prologue was a special feature on the Batman Begins Blu-ray release). Nothing against Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but I think this will be the best action film of the month (and among the five best of the year). Trailer: Here. Review.


The Sitter (David Gordon Green) – Comedy – Dec 9
Summary: The film is about a college student who is tricked into babysitting the kids next door. It should be an easy job, but when he takes the kids into the city so he can meet up with a girl he likes things get out of hand. Filmmakers: Director David Gordon Green is giving comedy yet another crack – he has had success with Pineapple Express and Eastbound & Down, but his latest, Your Highness, was not well received (though, I thought it was funny). He is working with frequent collaborators composers Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo, cinematographer Tim Orr and production designer Richard Wright. Cast: The film has a good comedic cast with Jonah Hill starring (and executively producing) and supporting work from Sam Rockwell, Ari Graynor, Method Man, J.B. Smoove, Max Records, Alex Wolff, Landry Bender, and Kevin Hernandez. Expectations: The Sitter looks basically like an R-rated Adventures in Babysitting (which by the way is a lot of fun and worth checking out), but that is not a bad thing. Advanced screenings have resulted in positive critical buzz and it does look funny. Hill is a good fit to take on a comedy of this type (though, narratively it sort of resembles Get Him to the Greek). I think it will make for good alternative programming against the Oscar hopefuls and blockbusters. Trailer: Here. Review.


The Darkest Hour (Chris Gorak) – Action Sci-Fi Thriller – Dec 25
Summary: Aliens invade Earth, kill almost everyone, but in Russia a few young adults struggle to survive. Filmmakers: Chris Gorak is back with his second feature (his first was the thriller Right at Your Door). He has an action thriller specialty crew with producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), composer Tyler Bates (Sucker Punch), cinematographer Scott Kevan (The Losers), and production designer Valeri Viktorov (Night Watch). Cast: It stars Emile Hirsch, Rachel Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, and Max Minghella. Expectations: While conceptually the film sounds cool, the stuff I have seen thus far has been less than compelling – I think this is directly due to the aliens being invisible, maybe. The cast is decent and the director should make an okay thriller, but this is probably only for fans of sci-fi thrillers and sci-fi horror. Trailer: Here.

At the Movies – December 2011 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Shame (Steve McQueen) – Drama – Dec 2
Summary: The film is about Brandon, a successful New Yorker, who carefully cultivates his private life allowing him to indulge his sexual addition, but that is thrown into disarray when his sister arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay. Filmmakers: Writer-director Steven McQueen is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in the last few years with his debut, the brilliant Hunger. Shame is his second feature. He is working with a wonderful group featuring composer Harry Escott (The Road to Guantanamo), cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (who shot Hunger) and production designer Judy Becker (Garden State). Cast: It stars Michael Fassbender, co-stars Carey Mulligan and has supporting work from Hannah Ware and James Badge Dale. Expectations: As an admirer of Hunger, I am very much looking forward to this, plus the cast with Fassbender and Mulligan is very good. McQueen has such an unflinching aesthetic that this is going to be graphic and intense (also evident by its NC-17 rating). It might be a little too much on the fringe and arty to be a major awards winner (for things like the Oscars of Globes), but should secure a few Independent Spirit Award nods. Trailer: Here. Review.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay) – Drama – Dec 9 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about a mother who thinks there is something off, evil even about her son. Filmmakers: Writer-director Lynne Ramsay became a name to know in the U.K. with her first feature Ratcatcher, however her third feature We Need to Talk About Kevin is what will make her a sought-after talent in America. She is working with a brilliant crew, including: executive producer Steven Soderbergh, composer Jonny Greenwood (a member of Radiohead who has done some fantastic scores, like his work on There Will Be Blood), great cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement), and production designer Judy Baker (The Fighter). Cast: The film stars Tilda Swinton and co-stars John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller. Expectations: The film is a frontrunner for nominations at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards but should also garner some Oscar nods as well – most likely for Best Actress Tilda Swinton. It has played very well for critics and looks like a great character drama that is also terrifying in its buildup. Ezra Miller is also looking to be a breakout actor and this is likely to be the film that does it. Trailer: Here.

In the Land of Blood and Honey (Angelina Jolie) – War Romance – Dec 23 [LA/NYC]
Summary: The film is about two lovers, on opposite sides of the Serbian-Bosnian war, which re-encounter each other, try to recapture their relationship from before the war but find that their motives have changed. Filmmakers: It seems like it was only a matter of time before Angelina Jolie directed a film, but this is her second (but first feature) as she directed the documentary A Place in Time. She is working with a good crew, including composer Gabriel Yared (The Talented Mr. Ripley), cinematographer Dean Semlet (Danced with Wolves) and production designer Jon Hutman (The Tourist). Cast: She has unknown leads (at least in the States) with Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic, and support from Rade Serbeszija (who has shown up in many Hollywood films, as the go-to Baltic actor). Expectations: The trailer looks good, but this month has so many fantastic films coming out that this will probably be forgotten in the mix. Even among these four indie films it is by far the least anticipated and buzzed about. However, fans of war films and romances in trying times should probably give this a rent. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Young Adult (Jason Reitman) – Dramedy – Dec 9 [limited]
Summary: The film is about Mavis Gary, the most popular girl from her high school class. Now divorced, she returns to her small town in Minnesota to rekindle a romance with her high school boyfriend who is married with kids. Filmmakers: The film sees the reunion of director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, who made Juno together. Reitman is also working with frequent collaborator cinematographer Eric Steelberg (Juno and Up in the Air) and production designer Kevin Thompson (The Adjustment Bureau). Cast: Charlize Theron stars with support from Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, J.K. Simmons, and Patton Oswalt. Expectations: There is Oscar buzz around the performances of Theron and Oswalt as well as Cody’s script, but probably all three can hope for nominations at best. The film looks to be a funny character piece about Theron’s ‘mean girl’ who comes back to find she is maybe not as big a deal as she thought she was. Theron won an Oscar for Monster (likely due to her physical transformation), but would like to reestablish herself as a top leading lady (and she is a producer on the film). Trailer: Here. Review.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie of the Week – Beverly Hills Cop

This week’s movie is Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

The action comedy is about rebellious Detroit cop Axel Foley, who pursues the murderers of his best friend to Beverly Hills, to discover a much different culture. The film is directed by Martin Brest, who also made the fun action comedy Midnight Run. He worked with cinematographer Bruce Surtees, production designer Angelo Graham and composer Harold Faltermeyer (whose score is one of the most iconic of the decade – especially the track entitled Axel F). Eddie Murphy stars as Axel Foley. At the time, he was the biggest comedy star in America (coming off 48 Hrs., Trading Places, the comedy special Delirious, and being the most popular star on SNL). It also features supporting work from Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, and Jonathan Banks. However, the movie’s success is primarily due to Murphy’s charisma and improvisation. The 1980s featured a lot of action comedies, but Beverly Hills Cop (and its sequel, and Big Trouble in Little China) is the best of the bunch. Along with its great score, it also has a fantastic soundtrack (with songs like: New Attitude, Neutron Dance and The Heat is On). It is a must-see for fans of Murphy and action comedies. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jason Segel – Movies Spotlight – November 2011

Jason Segel, 31, is probably best known for his role as Marshall on How I Met Your Mother. He got his break on TV, but has started to become a feature film comedy star, writing, starring and producing his own work. This month he stars in The Muppets, which also co-wrote. It is directed by James Bobin (of The Flight of the Conchords) and also stars Amy Adams and Chris Cooper.

Early Career:

Segel planned to be a professional actor while still in college. He got his start with three small feature roles in 1998 (Can’t Hardly Wait, Dead Man on Campus and SLC Punk!).  He also got roles in Slackers, 11:14, an episode of Alias, and a three episode arc on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. However his first breakthrough came in 1999 when Paul Feig and Judd Apatow cast him as a series regular on Freaks and Geeks.

Judd Apatow and Good TV:

Freak and Geeks is thought of as one of the best TV series of all-time, and yet it was cancelled after only one season. Segel played Nick one of the Freaks. On the show Segel met Judd Apatow, who was coming off The Larry Sanders Show and joined Freaks and Geeks as a producer (on his way to becoming the most proficient comedy producer working today). With the failure commercially of Freaks and Geeks, Apatow pitched a new show to Fox and had his first show as its creator – Undeclared, bringing with him from Freaks and Geeks Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, David Krumholtz, Busy Philipps, Sam Levine, and Segel. The show is also excellent and also cancelled during its first season. Segel played one of the series regular’s crazy boyfriend and is hilarious. In 2005, Segel got his a big break securing a series regular role on How I Met Your Mother, playing the show’s protagonist Ted’s best friend Marshall. The show is currently in its seventh season and is a huge hit for CBS. In 2007, Segel reunited with Apatow to take a supporting role in his second feature Knocked Up. He is again very funny playing one of star Rogen’s friends.

Writing, Producing & Starring:

With the success of How I Met Your Mother and Judd Apatow (as a comedy guru), Segel was able to get his script Forgetting Sarah Marshall greenlight. The romantic comedy is produced by Apatow and directed by Nicholas Stoller, who also worked as a director on Undeclared. The film is one of the best comedies of the decade (and my personal favorite rom-com of the decade). The film is about a guy who goes through a tough breakup with his high profile girlfriend. He decides to go to Hawaii to get away and ends up running into her and her new beau. Stoller and Segel have since become a creative team. Their second project was Get Him to the Greek, centered on Russell Brand’s character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Segel wrote new songs and produced the film. Next they pitched Disney an idea to revive The Muppets. The Dracula Musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the puppet bits on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson presented Segel as the pefect person to bring them back, and Disney agreed. The film comes out this month written and produced by Segel and Stroller, Segel also stars and worked on new songs with Bret McKenzie. Coming April 2012, Segel and Stroller have their fourth feature – The Five-Year Engagement. It is about the ups and downs of a couple, starring Segel and Emily Blunt. They also have a number of projects they are working on.

Becoming a Comedy Star:

How I Met Your Mother and Forgetting Sarah Marshall have propelled Segel to the top of the feature comedy game. His first project as a leading man without Apatow producing came in the form of the buddy-film I Love You, Man co-starring (Apatow alum) Paul Rudd, who Segel worked with previously on Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up, and directed by John Hamburg (who directed three episodes of Undeclared). The film is very funny. Next, he took the role voicing Vector the villain opposite Steve Carell in Despicable Me. Then he took supporting roles in Gulliver’s Travels (which Stroller wrote jokes for), Bad Teacher (neither is very good though) and the funny rom-com Friends with Benefits (though his role is more of a cameo).

Future Projects:

Segel has four films scheduled for release in 2012. First he stars in the Duplass Brothers’ (Jay and Mark) new comedy Jeff Who Lives at Home opposite Ed Helms, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon. It is about Jeff (played by Segel) a detached slacker who might discover his destiny when he helps his brother track down his possibly adulterous wife. Next, he stars in The Five-Year Engagement (detailed above). After that, he reprises his voice role as Vector in Despicable Me 2. Finally, he reprises his role in Judd Apatow’s fourth feature This Is Forty, a spinoff of Knocked Up focusing on Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters.

Jason Segel Career Highlights:

1)      Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)* – principal cast member (DVD)
2)      Undeclared (2001-2002)* – supporting (DVD)
3)      How I Met Your Mother (2005-present) – principal cast member (DVD, Streaming)
4)      Knocked Up (2007)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
5)      Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)* – writer, leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
6)      I Love You, Man (2009) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Get Him to the Greek (2010) – producer (Blu-ray, DVD)
*Editor’s picks

Monday, November 21, 2011

Movie of the Week – The Pianist

This week’s movie is The Pianist (2002).

The Holocaust drama is the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a famous Jewish pianist living in Warsaw during the time of the Germany occupation of Poland. He is forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto and fights to survive in the city escaping the trains to the death camps. The film is directed by Roman Polanski (winning a Best Director Oscar) and is a very personal film for him (being a Jewish Pole).  It is also considered to be his masterwork (though an argument can be also made for Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby). He has an excellent group working with him on the film including wonderful composer Wojciech Kilar, cinematographer Pawel Edelman (who is a frequent collaborator) and production designer Allan Starski. The cast is also very good with one of the best performances of the decade by lead Adrien Brody (who won an Oscar for it), and good support from Thomas Kretschmann and Emilia Fox. There have been a number of well-made Holocaust films, but this is certainly one of the best (up there with Schindler’s List). It is a film that you need to see if you are interested in WWII, and it is a must-see for fans of Polanski (and among my favorite 25 films of the last decade). Check out the trailer here.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drake – Take Care (2011) – Review

Drake – Take Care
For his sophomore effort, Drake made a much more atmospheric, musically cohesive album. Thank Me Later has better standalone singles. Take Care’s singles are strong too (Marvin’s Room, Headlines and Make Me Proud), but they serve the overall tone of the album. For the most part, this feels like a (drunken or ‘faded’) confession, as Drake explores his own sadness, hurt and loneness – both in growing up and in dealing with fame. There are hip hop boasts and hometown representing (par for the course), but the album is at its best when Drake digs deeper into his personal issues. There are also great moments when Drake references the music that influenced him (songs like Underground Kings and Practice). Drake has a very good flow and his sing-song style and singing works really well. It is clear that while Drake did not produce any of the tracks (though he is a co-producer on a few) he had a specific sound in mind when crafting Take Care. He works primarily with Toronto producer 40 (and a childhood friend) and T-Minus (also from Canada) – they produce on sixteen of the eighteen tracks. This gives Take Care a feel and sound that flows throughout (which is surprisingly rare in hip hop, even though most of the best albums have a distinctive and cohesive sound). Drake also has great guests and utilizes them well. Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Birdman from his YMCMB crew make appearances (but are probably the least interesting of the features – though Nicki Minaj gives a decent verse). The other guests include Rick Ross (on a great Just Blaze track), Rihanna, Stevie Wonder, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar (who is wonderful on the Buried Alive Interlude), and Andre 3000 (who drops one of the best verses on the album on The Real Her) – the latter three being the standouts. A minor issue with the album is that there are probably five too many songs (aka five weaker songs) that could have been left off, but overall Take Care is a strong effort and better than Thank Me Later. Drake two albums in (three if you count his So Far Gone EP or Mixtape) is already atop the game with the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z and (sadly) Lil Wayne (because he is not that great anymore, most of his verses are just random gibberish these days – let us be honest with ourselves, Tha Carter IV was terrible, like a 2/5 at best, terrible for someone of his stature in the industry, but seemingly everyone still bought it, so I guess we can expect more less than efforts from him in the future) – and this is the kind of album you expect from an artist of his quality and standing in the game. 4/5

Editor’s Essential Tracks:
1)      Underground Kings – Produced by T-Minus and 40
2)      Crew Love – Produced by 40, Illangelo and The Weeknd, featuring The Weeknd
3)      Lord Knows – Produced by Just Blaze, featuring Rick Ross

Available on CD and Digital Download