Sunday, February 24, 2013

If I Were to Pick the Oscars

Best Picture: Cloud Atlas
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Best Adapted Screenplay: Cloud Atlas by Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Juno Temple - Killer Joe
Best Documentary Feature: West of Memphis
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Best Editing: Darrin Navarro - Killer Joe
Best Music, Original Score: Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil - Cloud Atlas
Best Music, Original Song: ‘Skyfall’ by Adele

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cosmopolis & Side Effects

DeLillo's worldview is steeped in darkness. Just from the ideas and events he builds stories around. The fear of death in White Noise, the JFK assassination in Libra, the conflict of the Cold War in Underworld and 9/11 in Falling Man. Cosmopolis is no different. For 28 year old billionare Eric Packer, the world has become digitized and converted into luxury limo that roams around the street. The characters and situations are all larger than life. It it easy to see how his influence seeps into the work of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palhaniuk. One could even draw a line from Patrick Bateman to Eric Packer. Where the former (Ellis) grapples with superficiality and decadence & the latter (Palhaniuk) dabble in extreme situations, DeLillo finds that middle ground between the two. Information plays a key role in the film and Eric Packer takes us aboard his limo to whisper into our ears his litany of thoughts.

Cronenberg said that to make a truly faithful adaptation, one must betray the source material. Adapting anything nowadays requires at least some betrayal. Kubrick gave us this in spades with The Shining. While I haven't read DeLillo's book, Cronenberg remains a keen eye on what to adapt. Which brings us into the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard about the project: why Cosmopolis? Why not White Noise? Well for one, Cronenberg's fascination with skin and texture abound through the film. And being the intellect he is, I can see a correlation between the darkness of DeLillo's worldview and his.

He's tackled King. He's tackled Burroughs. Now he tackles DeLillo.

To quote Adrian Belew of King Crimson, "the more I look at it, the more I like it."


Minimalism is the one trait that Soderbergh has over many of his peers. (See: Bubble.) Another trait: spontaneity. His 5 or less takes method makes way for spontaneous performances. In other words, if you act in a Soderbergh film, know your shit. Rooney Mara has certainly come up quickly after her role in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and proves she is not just a one trick pony. As if I ever needed proof that she can act, the woman sitting next to me in the theater whispered "She's scary" during one of her pivotal scenes. Mara inhabits the role of Emily and all her complexities and subtleties.

The script penned by Scott Z. Burns is intelligent and knows how to play the audience with just the right amount of information at a given time. Soderbergh said "All drama and all conflict is ultimately about betrayal. What's interesting to me is when you're able to find a story where you get to explore that unwritten, unspoken agreement that exists between the filmmaker and the audience. I like when you can betray them in a way that doesn't anger them but instead draws them into the story." Side Effects is the film I was waiting for Soderbergh to make. It just took him a while to produce it. It may be his last film, but he went out with style and grace.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Best of 2012

2016: Obama's America 
These kinds of docs, be it Fahrenheit 9/11 or 2016, are turn offs since they make no attempt to give the audience member truth. These docs only serve to excite the base it is trying to appeal to rather than win over anyone with compelling journalism. (D-)

You lost me Soderbergh. C-

Moonrise Kingdom 
He still is stuck in indie dry humor mode. Everything remains flat in this picture. Was the teenage couple cute? Yes. The overall mood of the film just seemed recycled.


The Dark Knight Rises 
Third installments to superhero (or any) franchises can prove tricky. It's an all or nothing card that is usually dealt. Spiderman 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, Lethal Weapon 3, etc. Most of these films range from adequate to poor. Dark Knight Rises would belong to the former. Nolan really said all he needed to say in The Dark Knight and while we were left wanting more, it makes me question if the signal should have been turned on for the third time? Still, what we got was something that isn't . It stroked the Catwoman nostalgia card we have from Batman Returns while giving us a new face in the suit. DKR remains the dark horse of the trilogy. Not as good as Dark Knight and not really as good as Begins either

Men In Black III 
Better than the second. Not as good as the first. The third greatest trait is its ability to create a plot twist that harks back to the first. A trait which I applaud. Now if only it had a memorable villain. C+

Seven Psychopaths (B-)

With a better script, this movie could have been great. Unfortunately it kind of loses me around the middle. Which is a shame since so many great actors are in it. B-

A Daniel Day Lewis period piece is bound to get just about anyone's attention. Attach Spielberg to the directing position and add Tommy Lee Jones to it and you have a movie guaranteed to get me in the seat. Regardless of his previous lackluster efforts, Lincoln boasts great performances and signature Spielberg camerawork. It still is missing something though. A rewatch will be needed. Until then, B.

Burton's best since Big Fish. His love of Universal horror is on full fledge display here. B


Washington delivers his best performance in years and the opening plane crash proves Zemeckis still has it in him. B

Cabin In the Woods

One of the biggest surprises of the year. This is what horror needs more of. B+


10. Silver Linings Playbook

Russell hasn't really crafted anything of note since Three Kings. Thankfully, he found the cast that helped him change that situation. While the bulk of the cast are good performers, the MVP is Lawrence, whose chemistry with Bradley Cooper keeps the film walking a tightrope between the familiar and the unpredictable. B+

9. Prometheus (B+)

(see September archive review)

8. Argo

Affleck's scriptwriting is at its peak. He has yet to craft a masterpiece, but Argo shows he is more than capable. Every scene of tension is earned. A-

7. Django Unchained 
If any trait can be culled from the many that Tarantino possesses, it is that he knows how to write fully realized characters. Dr. King and Calvin Candie became two of the highlight characters of this veritable buffet of dialogue. It is a lot looser than previous Tarantino films as far as structure. Yet it coheres in a way that Basterds does. As a friend from Radio Isn't Dead put it, Tarantino is at the point where he makes film that are his own genre. Django Unchained isn't a comedy, western or action film. It is a Quentin Tarantino film. A-

6. Looper

Director Rian Johnson’s debut feature was the awesome Brick, a pulpy noir set in a modern day high school. It established him as someone to watch, and he makes good on his early promise here with Looper, a film that borrows from literally every other time travel science fiction film ever made and yet still manages to be fiercely original. A film that backed away from making diagrams with straws and instead made fully realized characters and story developments. A

5. Paradise Lost: Purgatory


4. Skyfall 

Like Batman & Robin was for the Batman franchise, Die Another Day became the black cloud that the franchise kinda needed. You can only go so far into sell-them-toys mode until you have Batty whipping out a credit card. Or in Bond's case, driving invisible cars and jumping onto Playstation- level CGI ice chunks.  Thus, a silver lining was created in 2006 with Casino Royale. The 'Batman Begins' of the series. Daniel Craig was a fresh splash of water in the face of a stale formula. A man only Martin Riggs would be capable to go toe to toe with. Yet the potential wasn't fully realized because we still didn't get the Bond film we deserved in terms of story. Well, it took two movies and we finally got what we wanted. Ian Fleming would be proud. A+

3. Killer Joe
Some counties away from the Firefly clan, lives a family intent on casting themselves in their own little personal hell.  As if Texas didn't have enough problems with Leatherface, Anton Chigurh and the Firefly family, they know have brought a new terror into the world- Joe Cooper. A+

2. The Master 

The Master defies easy interpretation, is at times frustrating to watch, but continues to remain endlessly fascinating months after viewing. It’s a story of a man searching for purpose in a world without meaning for him, and he finds a man who’s doing much the same, although with false intentions. These characters are so complex that we often reinvent them in our own heads as the film progresses; only when the story concludes do we realize that this has been a tragedy all along. I think this is one of the most sharp, assured character studies ever made. It is far and away PTA's most oblique picture. His Eyes Wide Shut. Phoenix is outstanding, remarkably so, reinventing himself, and Hoffman commands in an equally important role. This is a dense, deliberate, abstract film, but it’s also a great one. (A+)

1. Cloud Atlas 

This film’s vision is unprecedented, a 172-minute magnum opus to humanity about the emotions we all feel, utilizing six different storylines spanning hundreds of years; it’s sprawling, it’s dense, but above all it’s grounded in human emotion. I don't think a full on, let's stay true to the novel version could have been possible. (i.e. what Coens did with No Country) But the choices the creators did in adapting by folding minor characters and subplots into larger plots and more prescient characters, the story arcs are able to coalesce into something fun, action packed, dramatic and entertaining.


One of the defining characteristics of villians like Tommy DeVito and Frank Booth is just how funny they are. Gyp takes these characteristics in stride. Turning a 'funny ha-ha' scene to a scene that makes an viewer shift in their seat at the flip of a coin.


1. Swans- The Seer
2. Fiona Apple- The Idler Wheel
3. Godspeed You Black Emperor- Allelujah! Dont Bend! Ascend!
4. Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music
5. Scott Walker- Bisch Bosch
6. Ne Obliviscarios- Portal of I
7. Rush- Clockwork Angels

(in somewhat chronological order of reading)

The Stranger by Albert Camus
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
The Thin Red Line by James Jones
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
Haunted by Chuck Palhaniuk
Choke by Chuck Palhaniuk
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Conner
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
On Writing by Stephen King
The Stand by Stephen King
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Boy's Life by Robert McCammon
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Serial Killers: The Methods and Madness of Murder by Peter Vronsky
The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Travers & Eliot Aaronson
Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story by D.T. Max