Category — modern
I loved it! Having listened to Ben Mankiewicz’s review I was expecting it to be terrible. Fortunately I had not read Roger Ebert’s rather ill-informed review. I hold his opinion in such high regard that I may not have seen it at the cinema. And, this kind of movie is best viewed on a big screen.
Let’s be clear, I am not a die-hard Terminator fan. But, I did faithfully watch and enjoyed the now cancelled Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series. I suspect that that was a factor in my enjoying the movie as much as I did.
Ebert’s biggest criticism is that there is no story. To someone that is not a fan, that is a valid criticism. The movie makes no effort to fill the viewer in on the back story. It assumes you know it. Both Ebert and Makiewicz contrast Terminator to the recent Star Trek and how it was approachable by regular movie goers. There is validity in that argument.
But anyone who is a fan of the Terminator franchise or the TV show will enjoy how Terminator Salvation fits into the overall story arch. It shows how John Connor becomes the leader of the resistance and, ultimately, the beginnings of why the machines spent so much time in the earlier Terminator movies going back in time to try to kill him. That is the main story. There is an important side story involving Sam Worthington that I also found interesting. Indeed, the side-story’s plot is the basis for the use of ‘Salvation’ in the movie’s name. To explain why would be to provide a spoiler.
Kudos to the producers of the 81st Annual Academy Awards for some wonderful changes to the show this year:
- Nobody was prematurely played offstage: Winners were FINALLY allowed to give their acceptance speeches. Thank God!
- Intros: Introductions to the acting awards by prior nominees is a terrific idea. It was great to see/hear the Oscar greats while hearing a personal introduction to each of the nominees.
- Orchestra Onstage: The orchestra wasn’t hidden in a hole – rather they were put on stage where they could be seen. Perhaps when seen publicly they were too embarrassed to prematurely play someone off!
- No Comedian: While Hugh Jackman was OK, the best part of this change was that the nominal host spent little time on stage, thereby giving the actors and other winner more time to talk. I miss Billy Crystal but I enjoy the winners getting a fair shake at an acceptance speech.
In The Changeling (2008), Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a pre-depression era single mom whose only child (Gattlin Griffith) was kidnapped. The L.A. police return a boy that is not her son, they know it, and they expect her to raise this strange boy pretending it to be her son. These plot elements are revealed within the first 15 minutes of the movie.
I couldn’t get past how preposterous the story was. I wondered to the end … how could a Hollywood script writer, write such a thing, how could Clint Eastwood agree to direct it, or Ron Howard produce it?
It turns out the movie was based on a true story! Yikes! I still find it hard to believe. Had I known this I likely would have appreciated the movie more. As it was I couldn’t get the idea out of my head how ludicrous it was.
In The Visitor (2008), Richard Jenkins plays the lonely widower, Prof. Walter Vale, who lives and works in Connecticut. His life is rudderless until he returns to his Manhattan apartment to speak at a conference. There he meets a young couple that change the course of his life.
The Visitor (2008) gives character actor Richard Jenkins the opportunity to play a leading man. But very little happens. His performance is monotonic. Perhaps that is what the life of a lonely professor is like, but it doesn’t make for a compelling story.
The bright spot for me was watching the performance of the relative newcomer Haaz Sleiman (who recently played Heydar on "24"). Sleiman helped coax some life back into Vale by, among other things, teaching him the African drums. I look forward to seeing more of Sleiman’s work in the future.
Given the buzz surrounding this movie I was expecting it to take a dramatic and interesting turn. It made a few unexpected turns, but it never got very interesting.
On that premise I did not want to watch this movie. But, all four of its primary actors were nominated for an academy award. I couldn’t pass it by. I’m glad I didn’t. The writing and all four performances were superb.
Meryl Streep demonstrates, once again, why she is the reigning queen of cinema. I disliked her character intensely. But there are layers to this nun that are not readily apparent. Each nuance is played to perfection by Streep – including a New Jersey accent and persona that is reminiscent of Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano.
In Tropic Thunder (2008) a frustrated director (Steve Coogan) sends his actors into the jungle (filmed in Hawaii) to make a more realistic Vietnam-era film. Local drug runners mistake the actors as Drug Enforcement Officers. The actors mistake the drug runners for other actors attempting to induce better performances. Comedy ensues.
I liked Tropic Thunder a lot. I laughed a lot. The cinematography was beautiful.
It has a large ensemble case. Ben Stiller plays a an actor attempting to prop up a sagging action star career. Matthew McConaughey plays his agent – seemingly willing to do anything to keep his cash-cow of a client working. Jack Black plays a low-brow comic actor not concerned with much more than his next drug fix. Nick Nolte plays a Vietnam vet. The movie being made is based on his book.
Here are my thoughts/picks for the major categories of the 81st annual Annual Academy Awards show- to be held on February 22, 2009. Links in this post are to my reviews of each on The Daleisphere. The rating I gave each to each appears in (parenthesis). Movies where I indicate [RCS ] indicate a ‘review coming soon’
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has 13 nominations, Slumdog Millionaire has 10, The Dark Knight and Milk each have 8 nominations, Wall-E has 6 and each of Doubt, Frost/Nixon and The Reader have 5.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: (3/5)
- Frost/Nixon: (3.5/5)
- Milk: (4/5)
- The Reader (4.5/5)
- Slumdog Millionaire (5/5)
Slumdog Millionaire should win Best Picture and I predict it will win. It was the best picture of 2008.
I rated each of the following movies 5 out of 5 in my reviews. In my opinion, each were better overall movies than those nominated other than Slumdog Millionaire:
- Iron Man (5/5)
- The Dark Knight (5/5)
- Kung Fu Panda (5/5) and
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (5/5)
Still, I would give the Best Picture Oscar to Slumdog Millionaire.
I had no desire to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2oo8). I did because it the only 2008 film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that I hadn’t seen. My instincts were right.
It’s a story about a person, born into a baby-sized, old-man’s body, that ages backwards. The story works, but to a point. I can’t help but think a more apt title would be ‘Mork from Ork meets Forrest Gump’. It was similarly narrated and slowly paced. Unfortunately it didn’t hold my interest for it’s whopping two hour and 45 minute length! Bring a seat cushion!
[Update: After writing this review, I discovered why I instinctively felt this movie was similar to Forest Gump – they share a screen play writer: Eric Roth – Take a look at this funny, comparative, Benjamin Button = Forrest Gump? video – scroll down a bit to get to the video.]
I would sum of In Bruges as follows: Mobsters lay low in the story-book town of Bruges Belgium – and nothing happens. This movie was simultaneously boring and amusing. Amusing because each of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes were amusingly quirky. Jordan Prentice, a Canadian Dwarf, was also very good.
Once again, fine performances do not alone a fine movie make. All of the main actors were good. But I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Nothing did.
In Milk, Sean Penn inhabits America’s first self-identified gay politician, Harvey Milk. As with Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon (2008), within seconds I ceased focusing on Sean Penn the actor and was carried away with his brilliant performance as Milk.
Penn is one of the finest actors of his generation. The characters he convincingly plays in, for example, Milk (2008), I Am Sam (2001) and Dead Man Walking (1995) couldn’t be more different. There are only a few actors capable of his astonishing range – Ed Norton being another.
Mickey Rourke is an intriguingly unique actor. He was terrific in Sin City (2005) but disturbing, to me, in Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986). My opinion of him has flip-flopped over the years. Ultimately I do respect his considerable talent.
The Wrestler, as you know, is his come-back from obscurity movie. A movie of a down-and-out Wrestler – with parallels Rourke’s acting career and personal life. Randy the RAM is one-trick pony – as the Springsteen theme song to the movie goes. He’s a wrestler that knows nothing else. Years after he should have retired, his pride keeps him from moving on.
On Charlie Rose Rourke made the point that, unlike Randy the RAM, he had someone to talk to (a therapist), to equip him with the tools he need to overcome his demons and move on.
To my mind, this movie is about Frank Langella’s total embodiment of Richard Millhouse Nixon. Langella honed this roll with Sheen during a two year stint on Broadway – and it shows. Within seconds, I had an uncanny feeling that I was watching Nixon himself. Langella didn’t put on excessive amounts of makup to try and look like Nixon, rather he studied the man and captured his essence, his mannerisms, his speech patterns, the way he carries himself – to a tee. Very impressive!
Kevin Bacon aptly plays a loyal aide to Nixon. After his years on West Wing, always enjoyable Oliver Platt seemed an apt choice for his role. I wasn’t impressed with Sam Rockwell as James Reston (the researcher). Anyone could have played that role.
The Reader (2008) is a powerfully complex movie, both beautiful and sorrowful, romantic and tragic.
Kate Winslet is within my top 10, perhaps top 5, all time favourite actresses. She is once again fantastic here – playing a compelling character that I simultaneously felt empathy and revulsion for. It’s a sin that 6-time-nominated Kate Winslet has never won an Oscar. She ‘should’ be a shoe-in for best Actress for this performance.
The most poignant line from the movie is ‘It’s not what you think, its what you do that matters’. The surprisingly good newcomer, David Kross convincingly played a naive teen and a mid-20’s law student struggling, years later, with what to think and what to do.
Yes Man (2008) is a story about taking chances, trying new things and getting the most out of life. After attending a motivational seminar, Carl decides to say ‘Yes’ to every ‘opportunity’ thrown his way. The story that follows is eminently predictable, but still enjoyable and rather uplifting.
Jim Carrey plays Carl with ‘a little less’ than his normal whacky shtick. That is a good thing. Carrey, best suited for this type of role, does a fine job.
Zooey Deschanel is another of my favourite contemporary comedic/romantic actresses. She is, once again, type-cast as a quirky, yet adorable, eccentric. For that reason, she was the only thing I enjoyed about the otherwise disappointing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). As always, I enjoyed her performance here. I would like to see her stretch a bit in future films. She is, I believe, an actress capable of so much more than her film choices do date have allowed her.
Yes Man is a touching, romantic comedy, suitable for the entire family.
(5/5) drama, romance
This is a beautiful movie. It has an engaging story. The terrific cinematography captures India in a beautiful, yet realistic, way that I’ve never seen before. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) won Best Picture at the 2008 Golden Globes (see video). It deserved the win.
The casting was impeccable. Each of the three main characters age over the film. Three distinct actors played each of the three main characters (for a total of 9 actors) in childhood, youth and young adulthood. While obviously impossible, I really felt I was watching the same actor playing each character, aging through each stage of their respective lives. This was the first movie for all of them. All were very good.
I’m glad I didn’t know much about the plot before I entered the cinema. I don’t want to ruin it for you beyond what is revealed in the trailers. An unlikely boy (Jamel) from the Indian slums becomes a contestant on India’s version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. The story – how a boy from the slums got to where he is, how his devotion to a girl, as she grew into a young woman, propelled him through life – is revealed through flash-backs. The story is lovely.
If you enjoy shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, you’ll want to hang around for the entertaining credits. I highly recommend this movie.
Clint Eastwood hits another home run. I agree with my friend Don Bennett who said on exiting the movie: “I was expecting a good movie and I got a very good movie.”
In Gran Torino (2008) Eastwood plays an aging and grizzled Korean War veteran coming to terms with the death of his wife, a changing neighbourhood, disappointing children and grand children, an Asian family that has moved in next door and, most importantly, his life.
In his sunset years, this aging Dirty Harry’esque character unexpectedly becomes friends with the young boy next store. The boy, competently played by Bee Vang is torn between gang-life and the straight and narrow. More impressive is the performance of Ahney Her, his smart and feisty sister, who makes an effort to bridge the cultural divide.
Terrific movie. Probably not suitable for young children.
Quantum of Solace (2008) is part 2 to the spectacularly good Casino Royale (2006). It takes up just minutes after the first ends. I agree with the critics who say that this Bond instalment tends more towards the action-oriented Jason Bourne series of movies than a typical Bond flick.
But, was there too much action? I disagree with the critics. I enjoyed the action. I enjoyed all things Bond including the beautiful women, sports cars, political intrigue and exotic locals. While different, it was still very much a Bond film.
(3/5) – historical drama
In Elizabeth (1998), Cate Blanchett plays Elizabeth the 1st, daughter of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth gains the thrown after her half sister Mary dies. From the moment of her coronation, she is challenged on all fronts. Elizabeth meets the challenges, taking on all comers from the House of Lords, to Mary Queen of Scots and the Pope. She is in love with Lord Robert (Joseph Fiennes) but is pressured to marry elsewhere in order to ally England with powerful nations in its time of weakness.
Cate Blanchett is an undeniably terrific actress. My favourite Cate Blanchett performance was her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Aviator (2004). She was very good in this movie as well. Geoffrey Rush (excellent in Shine (1996) and Shakespeare in Love (1998)) plays Elizabeth’s most loyal subject, Sir Francis Walsingham. I was particularly impressed by the unknown, to me, Christopher Eccleston who played the Duke of Norfolk, whose chief concern was, like her father before her, Elizabeth’s turning away from the Catholic Church.
I hadn’t heard of Best Laid Plans (199) until it showed up as a Reese Witherspoon Wishlist option on my TiVo. Reese is one of my favourite contemporary actresses. Josh Brolin, who I was impressed with in the recent W. (2008), also plays a supporting role. On the basis of that star-power I set my TiVo to record it.
I was initially disappointed with the movie and was about to delete it. As my finger was hovering over the delete button, a rather surprising plot twist occurred. The twist extended my interest enough to watch it to the end. Unfortunately, while the twist made the movie initially more interesting, the script was poor, the less-than-credible plot unravelled, and the movie hobbled across the finishing line.
As I did before watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I went back and watched the fantastic Casino Royale (2006) in preparation for the forthcoming Quantum Solace (2008). Quantum Solace takes-up 15 minutes after Casino Royale ends.
Casino Royale (2006) is a remake of thee earlier Peter Sellers, Casino Royale (1967). The remake follows the classic James Bond formula – exotic locals, fast action sequences, beautiful women and sports cars. But this time, Daniel Craig’s Bond is blonde haired, blue-eyed and superb.
In the main, I respect Kevin Smith and have enjoyed several of his acting and directorial works including Clerks (1994), Chasing Amy (1997) and Clerks II (2006). But I hated Dogma (1999) and his excessive use of over-the-top bathroom humour.
I’m tiring too, of Seth Rogen it seems. I enjoyed him in The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) but wasn’t terribly impressed with him in either Knocked Up (2007) or Superbad (2007). He played the same, odd, yet endearing lug in all these movie.
Not as blatantly, over-the-top, biased or revisionist as some of Stone’s prior work (JFK, Platoon, Nixon), but still riddled with cheap shots – such as the multiple, and disingenuous, uses of famous Bushisms (or DubyaSpeak) taken out of context. Nonetheless, the movie is a surprisingly sympathetic and engaging portrait of George W. Bush.
The huge cast is destined to yield Oscar nominations. Josh Brolin embodied Bush. He was absolutely terrific. Richard Dreyfuss (one of my all-time favourite actors) as Cheney was superb. Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powel were very good. Elizabeth Banks was enjoyable as Laura Bush.
In the irreverent Religulous, Bill Maher uses humour (and a little mean-spirited, unfair editing) to poke holes in the dogma, beliefs and creeds of several religions. Maher is an agnostic. His intention is to show that religion is dangerous, plays too large a part in politics (especially in the U.S.) and is the cause of most of the world’s problems. While he spends half the film challenging Christianity, he also confronts Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and Scientology.
Religulous has a Michael Moore-like feel. It is directed by the same director as Borat – the Larry David protégé, Larry Charles. It’s punchy, funny, ironic and even engaging. But the unfair editing, unnecessary pot shots, disrespectful interruptions and biased subtitles needlessly diminish it.
While amusing, it is not as funny as some critics lead me to believe. The movie will be offensive to devout theists and informative to those questioning their faith. The latter would be better served by picking up a copy of either Dawkins’ The God Delusion or Hitchens’ God Is Not Great.
This is a fun, predictable, action-filled romp with a nonsensical plot and a nonsensical villain played unconvincingly by Timothy Olyphant.
It’s the second movie I have seen featuring Justin Long – the Mac in the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials. Is it just me, or does Justin Long seem to you as if he is the result of Zack Braff and Keanu Reeves mating? True to form, he played a computer hacker in need of Detective McClane’s protection. Amusingly, there wasn’t a Mac in sight! I enjoyed his performance – exactly what you’d expect.
The title should be changed to "Burn Before Watching". It’s an awful movie. I laughed a lot during Burn After Reading (2008). I laughed at it, not because of it. Given my general disdain for Coen Brothers movies, I only went to see it because a good friend paid for my ticket (it was my birthday).
This bit of drivel attracted yet another star studded cast, all of whom wasted their considerable talents on a movie about hapless physical trainers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) trying to ply a hapless ex-CIA agent (John Malkovich) for money in exchange for the return of electronic documents of questionable intelligence value.
Tilda Swinton, who won the Best Supporting Actress award for her terrific performance in Michael Clayton (2007), was wasted as Malkovich’s one-dimensional, witch-of-a-philandering-wife. George Clooney reprised his O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) buffoonery as a Treasury Department body guard, engaged in multiple affairs with the Swinton and McDormand characters, among others.