Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Review of 2009

A long time ago, in the summer of 2009 (boy that seems forever ago doesn't it), Terminator: Salvation came out, and I was actually pretty stoked for it. Despite people's claims to the latter, I kinda enjoyed the director's previous outings (McG directed Charlie's Angel's and Charlie's Angel's" Full Throttle), have always enjoyed Christian Bale, and really enjoyed the trailer. Well, the film premiered and we all were rightfully not impressed. Probably the best thing to come out of the whole mess (besides the mid-film action sequence), was this hilarious review from Walter Chaw of Below is my favorite excerpt and I've linked to the whole review. Enjoy. (Keep in mind, this reviewer does use some vulgar language)

Excerpt: "The movie pretends that it's about discovering that which separates humans from machines--an idea of "functional equivalence," if you will, that Duncan Jones does a much better job with in his zero-budget Moon than McG does with in his small-country-GDP-budget Terminator Salvation. But what it's really about is blowing stuff up real good for two hours. A tanker blows, a gas station blows, a field of satellite towers blows, a hole blows, and, accordingly, the movie blows."

As a bonus, here is an excerpt from Roger Ebert's review of Transformers 2

Excerpt: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Up in the Air Review - Sort of

Overall Grade: B

Due to a complete lack of time (and subsequent sleep) I'm not able to do a traditional review of the film. So, to fill in I thought I'd just give you the bullet points of what my review would've been anyways. Feel free to comment.

- George Clooney gives a great and nuanced performance, even if it could be said that he is just 'playing' George Clooney. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick give great performances as well.

- The film is very enjoyable to watch and plays out very well. It looks good and is superbly edited.

- I've always personally enjoyed flying and 'hotel' culture. It is a bit fun as a vicarious fantasy to live out what that would be like.

- There is a decent message about our connections with others being the best parts of our lives, in the end meaning the most to us.

- There is also a nasty and cruel existential listless to the universe of Up in the Air that undercuts the 'sentimental' family and spouse message mentioned earlier.

- The existential underpinnings of the film reveal the film's ultimate message, life is limbo. Our job (like Clooney's in firing people) is to make limbo livable. To do so, we should be alone, together, or whatever gets us by.

- The desire for an honest existentialism should be commended though in that it's careful to not over-romantice Clooney's solitude or Clooney's future in marriage, but show that both directions will hurt you and let you down. There's ultimately no point, no purpose, and no destination. Like Clooney's 'miles', our lives are just a meaningless in the end.

- Most film critics COMPLETELY miss this undercurrent of nasty hopelessness, many claiming it's a heartwarming tale full of humanity (which comprises a small part of it).

- The film has practically nothing to offer as a critique of our economic times, most critics have no idea what they are saying when they claim this.

- George Clooney looks pimp in a suit.

- Despite the nasty existentialistic worldview, I still enjoyed the movie and was able to glean some interesting insights.

- It's a worth a watch, if not for George Clooney being George Clooney...and looking pimp in a suit.

Sherlock Holmes Review Roundup

One of the things that I enjoy most about films is their ability to produce multiple interpretations and viewpoints. Some of those points I agree with and many of them I don't. However, I feel that by opening myself up to them I gain a broader and deeper perspective than the one I had before.

It is with that in mind that I am attempting a new feature where I roundup several reviews of a recent film, in order to gain a broader perspective beyond my review. Some of the reviews will be negative and some positive, but they all will be ones that I thought brought something interesting to the party.

With Sherlock Holmes, it seems as though there is great divide on the portrayal of Holmes himself. While most everyone agrees that Downey performs the role brilliantly, the biggest complaints come from those who disagree with the 'hyperactive' and 'witty' portrayal, as opposed to the stately and studious Holmes of tradition. Below is a roundup of reviews that all speak to their view on Holmes portrayal. Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.

Kyle Smith of the New York Post: Typically we agree on films, but this conservative writer feels Ritchie’s touch sinks the whole film

Excerpt: “Who the deuce decided to filter Sherlock Holmes through “Batman & Robin”? “Sherlock Holmes” dumbs down a century-old synonym for intelligence with S&M gags, witless sarcasm, murky bombast and twirling action-hero moves that belong in a ninja flick. Directed to do frantic American-buddy-movie shtick by Guy Ritchie, who has never before ruled a big-budget production, the normally brainy Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law compete rather than complement, each spewing his deductions like “Rain Man” meets “Good Will Hunting” instead of leading the audience through the elegant process of solving a mystery. Somebodytellthesedirectorsthattalkingfastdoesnotmakeyousoundsmart.

Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer: Negative review that laments on the lack of ‘soul’ within this modern Sherlock

Excerpt: “I'm all for Sherlock as a man of intense agility. Indeed, so was Conan Doyle, who described his cunning and eccentric sleuth as an ace bare-knuckle fighter who once dispatched his arch nemesis, Moriarty, in a flurry of martial arts. But Ritchie, mega-producer Joel Silver, and their (many) writers have left out an essential element: soul. Downey, who appears to have boned up on his Brit-speak by reviewing the collected works of Jeremy Irons (dry, deadpan, a little debauched), plays Holmes as a bipolar type (up when he's on a case, down when he's not) whose ability to size people up by use of deductive powers is reduced to nothing more than gimmickry.

Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central: Positive and well articulated. I wish I could write like this guy -
**Warning, he uses profanity in his review, and I have somewhat cleaned up the excerpt below

Excerpt: “As Holmes is long one of my favorite literary characters, I confess to being filled with something very much like delight by a picture that has the sense to know that Holmes is one sexy guy--a rock star who does drugs, seduces chicks with his prodigious (and unique) talents, wins fights, and spits at police. He's a Dickensian Batman, and if Ritchie did indeed use Nolan's redux as a template, he couldn't have chosen a cannier one.”

Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic: A strongly positive review

Excerpt: “Turns out there was no need to worry. Playing literature's greatest detective as a sort of self-loathing action hero, Downey has an absolute blast. And thanks to his performance in "Sherlock Holmes," so do we. Mind you, those who are put off by a depiction of Holmes as the sort of fellow who indulges in underground bare-knuckle boxing (he thinks that through as much as he does anything else) will have much to be put off by. Although this may be closer to Arthur Conan Doyle's original depiction of Holmes, audiences used to Basil Rathbone-like portrayals will be jarred. This is a rock-and-roll Holmes without the attendant music. In director Guy Ritchie's telling, Holmes still is off-the-charts brilliant. He's just a butt-kicker to boot.”

The Part-Time Critic: My mostly positive review -

Excerpt: “The center of the film is the incredible performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Downey gives the most enjoyable and nuanced performance of a blockbuster hero since Depps’ Captain Jack Sparrow first waded upon shore…Despite his incredible skill and wit, Holmes is a fighter, gambler, and depressed addict that is generally unlikable when he’s not ‘on the case’…He is enjoyable here because the film makes no apologies for his character and isn’t afraid at showing the loneliness that stems from it…As entertaining as his deducing and fighting is, I find myself even more interested in how Holmes develops and overcomes his obvious flaws.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sherlock Holmes Review

Overall Grade: B+

The most entertaining blockbuster of the year arrives in theatres five days before the year ends (Somewhat salvaging an otherwise dismal year for mainstream films). Modernized and re-envisioned, I was suspect of this film from the first few pictures they released of it. To my surprise, this is a muscular retelling of Holmes that is part Scooby Doo (I’ll explain), part The Prestige, and part Lethal Weapon, all filtered through the masculine vision of Guy Ritchie. Despite falling into a couple setbacks, Sherlock Holmes attains that rare status for a blockbuster film; pleasure for the mind, pleasure for the eyes, and no guilt the morning after.

The center of the film is the incredible performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Downey gives the most enjoyable and nuanced performance of a blockbuster hero since Depps’ Captain Jack Sparrow first waded upon shore. Forget Iron Man’s Tony Stark, Holmes is the jerk to love and root for. Despite his incredible skill and wit, Holmes is a fighter, gambler, and depressed addict that is generally unlikable when he’s not ‘on the case’. So what makes him enjoyable?

He is enjoyable here because the film makes no apologies for his character and isn’t afraid at showing the loneliness that stems from it. See a scene in which Holmes deduces some rather hurtful information about Watson’s fiancĂ©, hurting her feelings and causing her to leave. A lesser film would’ve made her the object of laughter, a stuck up prude exposed by our hero. Here she’s appropriately the victim and we see the ‘warts and all’ side of Holmes. As entertaining as his deducing and fighting is, I find myself even more interested in how Holmes develops and overcomes his obvious flaws.

Downey is matched by Jude Law as Watson. Like Lethal Weapons’ Murtaugh and Riggs, both Holmes and Watson are up for a fight. Just like Glover’s Murtaugh, Law’s Watson provides the balancing effect with a call for Holmes to settle in and civilize. They are a fun match and like Lethal Weapon, the script really allows them to play off one another and run wild in their respective environments.

That environment is an interesting amalgam of a Scooby Doo (“that wasn’t a ghost, just a projector”) storyline set in the grimy London of The Prestige. Pairing a ‘supernatural vs. natural’ storyline with coming of industrial age London feels inspired within a Sherlock Holmes film that is all about reason, logic, and deduction. Like The Prestige, the pairings ask inherent questions about how a world of religion, mystery and the supernatural will exist in a world of widening scientific explanation, logic, and mechanization. It’s there to glean, but Sherlock Holmes unfortunately doesn’t delve too deep in that pool, whereas The Prestige gleans great wisdom from the tragic intersections of magic, the supernatural, science, and man's nature.

Here of course, Holmes’ deduction is infallible and victorious, but I wonder if the sequels will explore the limits to such an approach. Over reliance on deductions made about little details, while they make for fun banter and revelations, are not fool proof and require much faith in its methods. One last note I’d like to make about the science vs. faith/religion subtext in the film, but it will involve some details you might not want to read. If so, just skip the next paragraph two paragraphs.


A note should be made here that it’s possible for people to read an anti-religious and anti-Christian bent to this film. In fact, by the end of the film, Holmes has explained away the supernatural resurrection of a religious figure that then makes appearances to his followers (who drink a cup to pledge their allegiance) and to outsiders, doing supernatural ‘miracles’. This figure and his followers were then going to use this supernatural power to strike fear in to the hearts of the masses to control them. A cynic, or someone with half a brain, can make the connection to Jesus Christ and the claims made about his followers.

While it’s possible the writers intended it this way, it doesn’t alarm me, nor bother me in the least, and I hope it doesn’t for you. While it’s possibly a more direct and damaging attack on religion than any messages about ‘humans’ found in Avatar; it’s also infinitely more intelligent and honest. There are no one-sided caricatured Christians here nor are there any obvious and on the nose quotes made to draw direct parallels with Jesus or religious leaders (“fight terror with terror” and “shock and awe” are achingly bad from Avatar). In fact, when asked by Watson early in the film that Lord Blackwood’s resurrection could have a supernatural explanation, Holmes responds that it is possible; just that they shouldn’t buy it until all the facts have been discovered. What a refreshing viewpoint for a major Hollywood film.


Also refreshing is that we are allowed to watch a blockbuster without having to filter it through the eyes of a ‘Shia Lebouf’ like teenager. Essentially, these are adults taking on adult tasks in an adult world. The banter is primarily intelligent, the action brutal (Ritchie shoots ‘fights’ in much the same fashion as he did in Snatch), and the storyline rich in subtext. That’s not to say it didn’t have its faults. I’ll say a small word about those now.

In an otherwise perfect cast, Rachel McAdams is ill-placed and ill developed. Besides moving a plot forward and adding some weakness to Holmes himself (two admittedly important jobs), McAdams fizzles next to Downey and Law. Saddled with playing American (New Jersey to boot!), her accent and role just fall flat. Sherlock Holmes also suffers from a predictable and routine middle section with Holmes exploring and then subsequently being rescued by a ‘just behind’ police force. Included is a ‘heroine in distress’ action sequence in a slaughterhouse that comes straight out of a 'what might’ve been' version of this film. Thankfully, that version is unseen the rest of the film.

Sherlock Holmes is a solid blockbuster that falters a bit in the middle, but is nonetheless is as refreshing and entertaining as anything put out by the major studios all year. When was the last time that you could say a Hollywood blockbuster was seemingly made for adults with adults themes and stars, entertains in spades, and yet is suitable for almost the whole family? The true test about the success of this film and it's re-envisioned world is whether or not I’d want to see anymore of it. To that question I answer with an easy "Yes". A great foundation has been laid here, and I’m excited to see what adversaries and mysteries lay in store next for these characters. As Holmes himself might say, “The game is afoot”.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Films of the 2000's

Day 1: Best Films of the 2000's

This is the list that I've been building up to this whole time. It's an expansive list and because of that, it's also a very fluid list. Outside of the Top 50, movies could move up and down this list pretty easily given my mood at any moment, so keep that in mind. If you've been following my lists, then much of it won't come as a surprise to you. Feel free to comment and I hope that you enjoy!


100. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
99. Gosford Park (2001)
98. Fearless: Director's Cut (2006)
97. In the Bedroom (2001)
96. The Fountain (2006)
95. Children of Men (2006)
94. Almost Famous (2001)
93. Red Cliff Parts 1 & 2 (2009)
92. King Kong (2005)
91. Hustle & Flow (2005)


90. Capturing the Friedman's (2003)
89. Chicken Run (2000)
88. Friday Night Lights (2004)
87. Billy Elliot (2000)
86. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
85. Thirteen Days (2000)
84. Chicago (2002)
83. The Incredibles (2004)
82. Encounters at the Edge of the World (2008)
81. Sexy Beast (2001)


80. The Protector (2006)
79. Matchstick Men (2003)
78. Bad Santa (2003)
77. Grizzly Man (2005)
76. Coraline (2009)
75. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
74. Snatch (2000)
73. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
72. Role Models (2008)
71. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)


70. A Mighty Wind (2003)
69. The Proposition (2006)
68. Traitor (2008)
67. Shanghai Knights (2003)
66. Hero (2004)
65. Ip Man (2009)
64. X2: United (2003)
63. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003,2004)
62. Spellbound (2003)
61. The Matrix Relaoded (2003)


60. In Bruges (2008)
59. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
58. Infernal Affairs (2004)
57. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
56. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
55. Wedding Crashers (2005)
54. The Life Aquatic (2004)
53. The Class (2008)
52. Doubt (2008)
51. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)


50. Black Hawk Down (2001)
49. Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005)
48. Shrek (2001)
47. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
46. The Lives of Others (2007)
45. Pieces of April (2003)
44. Speed Racer (2008)
43. Stevie (2003)
42. Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
41. Catch Me If You Can (2002)


40. Kung Fu Panda (2008)
39. Zodiac (2007)
38. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)
37. The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
36. City of God (2003)
35. The Descent (2006)
34. The Bourne Identity (2002)
33. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
32. Crash (2005)
31. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)


30. Minority Report (2002)
29. In America (2003)
28. The Road to Perdition (2002)
27. Meet the Parents (2000)
26. American Gangster (2007)
25. The Prestige (2006)
24. Sideways (2004)
23. Finding Neverland (2004)
22. Casino Royale (2006)
21. A Beautiful Mind (2001)


20. No Country For Old Men (2007)
19. Gladiator (2000)
18. Before Sunset (2004)
17. Shrek 2 (2004)
16. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
15. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
14. Unbreakable (2000)
13. Cast Away (2000)
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
11. Finding Nemo (2003)


10. Adaptation (2002)

9. The Dark Knight (2008)

8. Mystic River (2003)

7. Lost in Translation (2003)

6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

4. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

3. United 93 (2006)

2. Munich (2005)

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Best Performances of the 2000's

Day 2: The Best Performances of the 2000's

Outside if the Top 100 Action Sequences, this has been the hardest list for me to make. In order to keep it to a manageable level, I've limited myself to ten performances in each category. They have been assembled into chronological order. For those who expect this to be a Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman fest, you might be a little surprised by the list. Did I miss any major performances? Feel free to comment.

Best Supporting Actresses of the 2000's

Kate Hudson Almost Famous (2000)
Jennifer Connelly A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Meryl Streep Adaptation (2002)
Shohreh Aghdashloo House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Patricia Clarkson Pieces of April (2003)
Catherine O'Hara A Mighty Wind (2003)
Renee Zelweger Cold Mountain (2003)
Cate Blanchett The Aviator (2004)
Virginia Madsen Sideways (2004)
Amy Ryan Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Best Supporting Actors of the 2000's

Ben Kingsley Sexy Beast (2001)
Chris Cooper Adaptation (2002)
Paul Newman Road to Perdition (2002)
Andy Serkis The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Sean Astin The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Tim Robbins Mystic River (2003)
Thomas Haden Church Sideways (2004)
Vince Vaughn Wedding Crashers (2005)
Tommy Lee Jones No Country for Old Men (2007)
Heath Ledger The Dark Knight (2008)

Best Actresses of the 2000's

Ellen Burstyn Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Sissy Spacek In the Bedroom (2001)
Naomi Watts Mulholland Drive (2001)
Jennifer Connelly House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Samantha Morton In America (2003)
Charlize Theron Monster (2003)
Julie Deply Before Sunset (2004)
Hilary Swank Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Helen Mirren The Queen (2006)
Meryl Streep Doubt (2008)

Best Actors of the 2000's

Tom Hanks Cast Away (2000)
Russell Crowe A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Tom Wilkinson In the Bedroom (2001)
Nicholas Cage Adapation (2002)
Daniel Day Lewis Gangs of New York (2002)
Bill Murray Lost in Translation (2003)
Sean Penn Mystic River (2003)
Paul Giamatti Sideways (2004)
Eric Bana Munich (2005)
Daniel Day Lewis There Will Be Blood (2007)

Best Ensemble Casts of the 2000's

The Lord of the Rings Cast (2001, 2002, 2003)
Adaptation (2002)
In America (2003)
Lost in Translation (2003)
Mystic River (2003)
Before Sunset (2004)
Sideways (2004)
Crash (2005)
Munich (2005)
The Departed (2006)
Doubt (2008)

Best Horror Films of the 2000's

Day 3: Best Horror Films of the 2000's

It might seem odd to post a list of best horror films, but I do enjoy the best entries into this genre and I try to watch a couple every year hoping for the best. Unfortunately, this genre gets more than its fair share of stinkers, so I end up sitting through quite a few terrible films. It's worth though in the end when you find that film or two that really nails the potential of what the horror genre has to offer. Anyways, here are what I found to best 10 horror films of the 2000's.


10. Saw II (2005)

9. Silent Hill (2006)

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

7. 28 Weeks Later (2007)

6. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

5. The Others (2001)

4. Signs (2002)

3. Saw (2004)

2. The Host (2007)

1. The Descent (2006)

It was an unlikely event that I even saw the film, but for it to climb its way into this list in front of other horror films like Psycho and Scream is a surprise for me. The Descent looks like a typical horror gore fest on the surface, but to me it’s one of the best cautionary tales about forgiveness, the effects of tragic deaths, and moving on that I’ve ever seen.

A year after the tragic death of her husband and child, Beth heads out to the Appalachian Mountains to spend some time and return to normal with her fellow daredevil girlfriends. They decide to spend their time spelunking in some of the Appalachian caves when one of the caves collapses and traps them underneath.

It’s true that there are scary creatures that kill their team off one by one (providing the standard genre fare), but it is done so well that there is some truly great moments of shock and gore. There are some perfect homages to other horror films as well, ranging from Apocalypse Now to The Blair Witch Project. This film gets the scares right, the logic of the scares, and it even gets the fighting back right.

Even better though is the social dynamic between all the women. Each woman is given a personality that adds something essential to the group dynamic creating a group of people as interesting as the jurors in 12 Angry Men. I appreciate that Neil Marshall is able to tell the personality and psychology of each of the women through the action and not through long takes of dialogue. It really is a superbly directed film.

I wouldn’t want to spoil the details of how the whole group unravels (that’s one of the true pleasures of the film), so I’ll just share with you my favorite aspect of the story. Beth’s inability to move pass the death of her child as well as forgive her friends (for reasons I won’t spoil here) are vital in how the story progresses. If you watch the film, I suggest you watch the unrated cut as it contains the original ending and not the American ending (its s British film).

This original ending is a powerful confirmation that unforgiveness and vengeance are caves of darkness with their own demons. The ending moments are just plain devastating for me. Its not an ending that satisfies genre convention, but it's one that truly transcends the genre. For those not into horror films, especially ones with gore, this may not be a film for you. However, if your just a little bit adventurous and willing to take a risk, I heartily recommend this film to you. This is my favorite pure horror film and the only one that I wouldn't want to live without.