Tuesday, February 23, 2010


SPEED RACER: Okay, I know this film is probably considered one of the biggest disasters of the last decade. I know this film is spit on by almost everyone. The problem is this; I honestly know only a handful of people that even bothered to see this movie. Obviously that’s one of the many reasons this movie failed, but it also says something. Very few people have actually given this movie a chance, thus ensuring they won’t fall in love with it. I know people think I’m off my nut when I talk about my love for this movie but honestly I have not talked to a single, solitary person that saw this movie and didn’t fall MADLY in love with it. And there-in lies the major issue with this movie. Because NO ONE saw it EVERYONE assumes it sucks. I swear to you nothing could be further from the truth.

Say what you will about the Wachowski brothers after the initial success of the first MATRIX film, but the guys always tend to make the exact kind of movie they want to make. Well, with SPEED RACER they wanted to make a live action cartoon and man oh man did they succeed!

Guaranteed you have never seen a movie like SPEED RACER. Lots of people have dabbled at bringing cartoon type ascetics, atmospheres, physics, etc. to real, flesh and blood, three dimensional life but until SPEED RACER no one ever really succeeded. When you watch the movie you are quite literally watching a live action cartoon. You are watching the infamous and world famous Japanese Anime come to life right before your eyes.

For its visuals alone SPEED RACER is worth watching at least once but the one thing that people seemed to ignore is that there is a genuine story mixed amongst all the flashy images. The thing that really drove SPEED RACER home for me (No pun intended) and everyone else that I know that saw it is that the film has a massive amount of heart. Ultimately the movie is about family and about pursuing your dreams and what makes you happy in life. That never really came across in any of the marketing campaign for the film but think about it, there had to be something other than a paycheck to attract the likes of John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Emile Hirsch and Matthew Fox to the project. Not to mention the fact the Wachowskis were able to lure the brilliant Michael Giacchino into composing a truly amazing score that genuinely makes the film sore.

SPEED RACER is one of those rare films that I really think plays to all ages. No matter your age there is no way you can’t be blown away by the dazzling, whiz bang images that assault you every second of the movie. The film is completely clean with a great message that will hit children and adults alike exactly where they live.

There are several films throughout history that I think are criminally treated and this is one of them. It is all but impossible not to have fun and get into this movie. Sure there are a few silly elements but they are very few and far between and they still somehow all fit with the world the Wachowskis created. SPEED RACER is genuine, bonafide fun for the whole family that dazzles the senses and stirs the heart. I don’t know about you but that sounds like the kind of movie everyone should see.

Monday, February 22, 2010


SAHARA: I have absolutely no idea why this film didn’t spark a gigantic franchise. I know there were supposedly lots of issues making the movie and it didn’t come close to making back what Paramount thought it should but I honestly don’t think that’s the movie’s fault. Point blank and honest SAHARA is an awesome, swashbuckling adventure film in the vein of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE MUMMY and ROMANCING THE STONE. The film is filled to the brim with high octane action, a fun, fast paced story, great quippy dialogue and loveable characters you truly root for.

As with THE DUKES OF HAZARD the chemistry in this flick is undeniable. Sure Penelope Cruz is kind of disposable but the friendship between Matthew McConaughy and Steve Zahn is one of the funnest, most engaging relationships I’ve seen in movies in the last 5 or 10 years. They have a great back and forth style and you truly buy that these guys are life long friends that have been through EVERYTHING together. The best example of this comes in my favorite scene of the movie in which they demonstrate what a “Panama” is.

The rest of the cast is uniformly good from Delroy Lindo to William H. Macy. Sure the villain may be a little under drawn and kind of Teflon but he still puts the main characters through their paces and the fun of the movie is watching how Dirk Pitt and Co. work their way out of them.

Breck Eisner and I think everyone in general got a really bad shake on this one. This film is expertly made and honestly has all the trappings and ear marks of a film that should have been a gigantic box office success that led to ensuring we would get to see the further adventures of the characters set up in this film. Sadly that never happened but at least this film exists so that whenever I want to watch a rip roaring action ride this diamond in the rough will be at the ready.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I hate to call something a guilty pleasure, at least when it comes to movies. Why should you feel guilty if something entertained you? If whatever you’re watching takes you out of your world for two hours and makes you laugh, thrill and have fun no sin has been committed, no error has been made. In fact that’s EXACTLY the whole point of most movies so why feel guilty or ashamed when something succeeds at doing what it set out to do?

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to write this but over the past few days I’ve been going through a bunch of the movies I owned and I realized there are a small handful of films that standout to me as films that bring me a massive amount of joy. By no stretch of the imagination are they the greatest films ever made they’re just films that I find myself throwing into my DVD player just as often, if not more than seminal classics like THE GODFATHER, CASABLANCA or ANNIE HALL. Why? Because I enjoy the crap out of them! These flicks entertain me to no end and for the most part these films that have been crapped on from the moment they were released.

Over the next few days (And maybe further in the future) you’ll see posts about films that I don’t want to call guilty pleasures, but are basically films that I truly love and get GREAT entertainment from yet I think most people barely give them the time of day. The criteria I used to pick these films were they had to be drubbed by most critics and audiences alike and for the most part weren’t financial successes. In fact some of them were MASSIVE failures. The thing is, for the life of me I can’t tell you why. These films are so much darn fun I can’t imagine anyone not loving them but sadly I think I’m in the minority on most of these. I guess I’m doing this to state my case and with luck maybe turn some people onto some movies they’ve been ignoring for a while now simply because they heard there was nothing to get out of them. Well, this is my attempt to prove them wrong.

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: This movie is exceedingly dumb. This is a silly film with a barely-there plot that’s basically there to pay loving, tongue-in-cheek homage to the equally silly TV show it’s based on. The thing is though from the very get go the makers behind this movie (Basically the guys from Broken Lizard the brain trust that brought us SUPER TROOPERS, BEERFEST and so on) know that is EXACTLY what the movie should be and they don’t shy away from it in the least. Instead they go charging in full bore and don’t let up long enough for you to catch your breath.

The two things that no one ever really talked about or necessarily played up about this movie are the things that make it so much fun. First, I’m not sure they could have picked anyone better than Johnny Noxville and Sean William Scott to play the Duke Brothers. Honestly I don’t like these guys in everything they do but here they are perfectly cast and they have a fun, free wheeling chemistry between each other that you only chance upon by pure luck. Honest to God I think this is my favorite thing they’ve ever been in. Sure Jessica Simpson is just brainless eye candy (Which actually fits with the character) but the rest of the cast is pretty sharp too. Between Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds and a bunch of familiar faces from the Broken Lizard world you have a cast that understands exactly the kind of movie they’re trying to make and as such they all gel beautifully together with not only each other but more importantly the tone of the movie as well.

Second and I think even more criminally overlooked is the fact that for all intents and purposes THE DUKES OF HAZZARD is basically an old school 1970’s car chase comedy along the lines of CANNONBALL RUN, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT or even THE BLUES BROTHERS. I read an interview with the director before the movie was released and he stated that’s what he was going for and the man seriously pulled it off. This movie has more spectacular car stunts and vehicular mayhem and destruction than 20 other films combined. As a result the movie while genuinely funny is also one hell of a car chase, action picture.

I’ll be the first to admit that THE DUKES OF HAZZARD is a pretty mindless romp but by golly it’s a fun one. This is one of those movies I put in when I want to have a good time because it delivers exactly that, and honestly what more could you ask for?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

And out of winter's dark night, there came a light . . .

It's no secret that the beginning of each new year is usually filled with many of what will become the year's worst films. After the usual surge in quality that occurs at year's end as studios rush to release their films in the Academy's extremely short memory span, the well seems to go dry and, come January 1st, we don't get anything that good for far too long.

So, it's with great surprise that this pessimist reports to you that 2010 looks like it might be an exception to that time honored tradition.

Shutter Island (3/19) - FilmNinja and I were talking the other day about just how long this one had been on the backburner, and, believe you me, it's been far too long. The mind-bending thriller formerly known as Ashecliffe has been delayed again and again, and it's TIME to put this one out! Scorsese. DiCaprio. De Niro. Enough said.

Alice In Wonderland (3/5) - I'm not normally a Tim Burton guy, but for some reason, this one is a must-see for me. The idea of making a sequel of sorts to the original story is a very interesting one that, perhaps, might be the best possible scenario. We all know the original story well enough that a re-imagining, complete with familiar characters in new situations, is a really exciting idea. I'm thinking of seeing it in 2D, and then, if it's good enough, maybe seeing it again in 3D. Who knows? I did that for Avatar, but that was AVATAR. Itty bitty difference.

The Ghost Writer (?/?) - Roman Polanski was working on this film at the time of his arrest, and continued to do so confined in his home. This certainly isn't the first time he's been compelled to be absent from his own set, and it'll be fascinating to see how well The Ghost Writer works, given the tenuous conditions surrounding its creation. I'm inclined to think that, if anyone can, Roman Polanski is that guy.

I may never have told you this before, but I just love the movies!!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

FOTM: "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone."

Over it’s 80 plus year history the Academy Awards has gone through a great many changes. Everything from the venue and the way the awards are presented to the very categories themselves has changed and evolved along with the world of cinema. Every so often the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences sees the need for another category to be added to its annual honors in an attempt to pay recognition to yet another of the many facets of the creative process that go into making a movie. This may be anything from the addition of the Best Make-Up category when something like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON comes out and changes the perceptions of what can be shown in movies to something like the addition of the Best Animated Feature Film category when everyone realized they were going to need a way to pay tribute to Pixar each and every year. Now that the Oscars have made the very wise decision to expand their Best Picture category I think it’s time they add yet another category to their annual ceremony, a category that already exists in another highly regarded group of Awards, the SAGs. I think it’s high time the Oscars add a Best Ensemble Cast category to their honors.

Just like a single actor or actress can make or break a movie so too can an entire cast. Unless you are dealing with a one man play having the right actors and actresses in each and every single role is essential to a movie’s success. If one actor is stellar and brings the house down it may mean great things for him but your movie is bound to suffer unless he or she can bounce off and react to everyone else they share the screen with. As someone who has made a movie that involves a large, diverse, ensemble cast I can say with absolute certainty that if just one of those elements is out of place, if one of those roles doesn’t work it can throw the entire picture off. Look at the great movies throughout the history of cinema. Humphrey Bogart can burn through the screen all he wants as Rick in CASABLANCA but it’s ultimately all for not without Ilsa or Sam. Michael Corleone’s rise to power is nothing without his father and brothers, each and every single one played impeccably by the PERFECT actor for their parts.

While I’m all for recognizing the best individual performances the acting world has to offer I think there really is something to be said for the way the Screen Actor’s Guild also recognizes the way individual performances connect to form a beautiful, brilliant, cohesive whole. I know that it may be years, if ever before the Academy realizes the need for such a category so what follows is what I would hope the Oscar nominees for Best Ensemble Cast for 2009 would be should such a category existed.

THE BROTHER’S BLOOM: This film walks a very fine line with equal parts drama, comedy, whimsy, heart, cunning, sadness and joy. If it were to falter and upset this most delicate and precarious of balances the entire film wouldn’t work, however Rian Johnson recruited a crack team of actors to play the likes of Stephen, Bloom, Bang Bang, Penelope, The Curator and the rest. Each character is a little slice of heaven played perfectly by actors that know how to maintain the right level of… everything to ensure that Johnson’s perfectly constructed little world never goes spinning off it’s axis.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: Over the past decade we have seen Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up and together as they face an ever changing, increasingly dangerous world. It is a testament to the casting geniuses at Warner Brothers that they picked 3 actors we as an audience would want to almost quite literally grow old with. The sixth entry in the HARRY POTTER franchise could have potentially been a disaster. While it serves as a bridge and a set-up to the conclusion of J.K. Rowling’s epic fantasy series it is ultimately about relationships. It is about boys and girls growing into young men and women and the inherent difficulties that go with such maturation. In my humble opinion HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is the best entry into the series so far and the majority of the credit for such brilliance lies squarely on the shoulders of the three impeccable actors tasked with playing characters we have grown to know and love like family. In what was easily the most emotionally complex film yet they along with the likes of Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and everyone else in between proved they were more than up to the task of grounding this fantastical series in the reality of humanity that ensures this series’ legacy will never die.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS: This film is the very definition of an “Ensemble Film”. There really are no main characters. Instead each individual part forms a piece of the grand puzzle that is Quentin Tarantino’s WWII fantasy opus and the voters for the SAG Awards agreed.

STAR TREK: I honestly can’t think of the last time I saw a film this perfectly cast. Each and every actor perfectly embodies characters that have existed for decades all the while making them intrinsically their own as well. J.J. Abrams and crew had to make us fall in love with characters that we know backwards and forwards all over again. We not only had to buy each one of them as these iconic characters but we also had to completely buy the way they related to one another and the situations they were thrust into. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and the rest did all that and more by turning in career making performances and knocking it out of the park all at the same time.

UP IN THE AIR: Somehow George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are able to form this perfect little nuclear family one that takes their broken, empty characters and somehow makes them at least somewhat whole. I loved this movie from the moment it began till the moment it ended but what really drove it all home for me was when Anna Kendrick’s beau breaks up with her causing these three lost and adrift people to gravitate towards one another. Over the next twenty to thirty minutes we see this group of adults become a cohesive family perfectly displaying what the film is really trying to impart about priorities and importance. Without the perfect person in each of these roles (As well as they great supporting and bit characters) none of this would have worked and the movie would have never been able to soar to the great heights it achieves.


If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, especially a year or more you know I am not always the biggest fan of the decisions and selections made by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in terms of what they think is worthy of being recognized for Oscar glory. I am still horribly distressed and upset by the fact that SLUMDOG MILLIONARE won the Academy Award for Best Picture last year while THE DARK KNIGHT wasn’t even nominated. I could and probably have gone on at length about many of the ridiculously blatant mistakes the Academy has made over the years so hopefully you’ll fully understand the significance of what I’m about to say next. Well done Academy, bravo! Tuesday morning the Academy announced their selection of Oscar nominees and I have to admit I am more than a little bit shocked and amazed at just how satisfied I am with most of their selections.

I dare anyone to look at this year’s list of nominees and argue that it’s more of the same. My hat is off to the Academy for nominating a wide selection of films, throwing in everything from gigantic blockbusters like AVATAR and THE BLIND SIDE to movies I’ve never even heard of like THE SECRET OF KELLS and IL DIVO. The Oscars are meant to honor the very best that the entire world of film has to offer and for the first time in a long time I think they’ve done just that. Instead of the same 3 or 4 movies getting nominated for every single award it really feels like each film that was released this year was judged on it’s individual merits for each and every category which is why we see nominations for films like the lesser known IN THE LOOP and PARIS 36 as well as movies like THE HURT LOCKER and UP IN THE AIR that every single critic with a pen or keyboard has fawned and blubbered all over.

Am I happy with everything the Academy has done? No, of course not. If I were I don’t think I’d be a true, honest to God movie geek. While I still haven’t seen it (Although I’m going to have to now that it’s been nominated) I highly doubt that THE BLIND SIDE deserved to be nominated for Best Picture. Likewise the complete exclusion of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and the fact that STAR TREK didn’t get a Best Picture nomination sort of irk me but that pain is almost completely assuaged by the fact that the most assuredly worthy DISTRICT 9 was nominated instead.

At the end of the day I think two things can be taken from these nominations. First, I think we are in for one of the more entertaining, interesting and wide open Oscar races in a great many years. While I think certain things are a lock such as Jeff Bridges for Best Actor, I think just as many categories are still completely wide open. By this point each year I can almost guarantee you what will win Best Picture but as of now it looks like it’s a dead heat between AVATAR and THE HURT LOCKER but with 10 nominees who knows how the splits in the voting could effect each one’s chances. I’m also inclined to think that Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique are locks for their respective categories but that’s some pretty strong competition that they’re up against. UP should have Best Animated Feature in the bag but will it’s nomination for Best Picture end up splitting the votes so that something like THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX can sneak in? I honestly don’t know but I like that. I like the fact that some mystery, some honor and prestige has been brought back to an institution that was starting to get real stale, real fast.

And that brings me to my second point. I think we can all agree that this new 10 nominee Best Picture category worked splendidly. The expanding of this category allowed many very worthy, very different types of films to be nominated. Along with all the usual critical darling films the movies that the movie going public as a whole embraced are getting a chance to have their day in the sun as well. It really is the best of both worlds and I think the Academy’s gambit will pay off huge when for the first time in a long time, people once again in mass tune in to see who gets the little golden, bald dude. If you think I’m wrong and that this has irrevocably damaged the image of this illustrious institution then I’m sorry but you’re never going to get me to see it any other way. How could I when 6 of my 10 favorite films of the year were nominated for Best Picture. For that matter how could anyone have an issue when not one, but TWO of those ten nominees were science-fiction films, one is a pulse-pounding action film directed by a woman, one is a perfect snapshot of our times, one is perhaps one of the best animated films ever made, one is a fantasy film about a bunch of dudes that kill Hitler and one is a Coen Brother’s movie? If you can think of a more eclectic, yet fully worthy list of nominees then man I want to be able to travel to the future with you because up until now this is about as good as it gets. Once again well done to everyone that voted, March 7th can’t get here soon enough.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

FOTM: What the SAG's Forgot

"Crazy Heart"
Originally uploaded by beastandbean
Until awards season rolled around I had completely forgotten about a little movie called Crazy Heart; the films title confused me, but I remember reading the cast list and logline and thinking it sounded pretty interesting…but it was a small movie and until Jeff Bridges started getting recognition it disappeared from my radar. Luckily, the film did start getting some recognition because that pushed it into one theatre in Orange County and I was able to see it. For me 2009 may be a year that lacks as many phenomenal films as some of the prior years in the decade, but I do think that in 2009 a lot of actors did very phenomenal work and Crazy Heart is one of the films that contains phenomenal performances – not just from Jeff Bridges, but from the entire cast.

When it came time for the SAG nominations this year I fully expected Jeff Bridges to be nominated, but there were two nominations I wanted to see and didn’t – I wanted Maggie Gyllenhaal to be nominated for best supporting actress, and I wanted the entire cast to be recognized with best ensemble.

Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell and the rest of the cast perform their butts off in this film. Bridges of course leads the pack with a moving performance of a has-been country star sliding towards rock bottom, Gyllenhall is the woman who can’t resist latching on to him while he slides, Duvall is the friend that wants to be there no matter what and Farrell is the sideman that broke out on his own. They relationships between the characters are complex and played by all the actors with a subtle grace that shouldn’t go unrecognized. Farrell alone plays perhaps the pin in the most complex relationship in the movie as Tommy Sweet the new country superstar that used to be Bad Blake’s (Bridges) side man; while he went up Bad slid further down into oblivion and Bad blocks every way Tommy tries to show him his gratefulness. The performances are impeccable.

I think that perhaps Gyllenhaal was forgotten at the SAGs because her performance is a subtle one, especially compared to Bridges character. Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a single mom and a reporter in one of the small towns Bad performs in. The two meet and you can immediately tell that in a way that too often seems exclusive to females Jean knows a relationship with Bad is not a good idea she slowly enters one with him any way. Like so many of the characters in the film her character is developed more by performance than by the script and watching the character unfold slowly is a pleasure.

My personal theory as to why Crazy Heart itself was ignored for best ensemble is pretty simple. I think the cast was too small. With the exception of The Hurt Locker every film nominated for best ensemble at the SAG’s this year had a pretty large main cast. The Hurt Locker had six-plus months of hype behind it and it’s director which easily explains why it was nominated, Crazy Heart was still a small film, relatively new to everyone’s radar.

Today the Oscar nominations were announced. Even though Crazy Heart didn’t score one of the ten Best Picture nominations, it did get one award I am very happy with. Maggie Gyllenhaal scored a surprise nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I don’t think she’ll be the one to take home the little bald man this year, but in this case I do think it’s an honor just for her to be nominated.

Other Performances to see from 2009:
Robert Downey Jr - The Soloist
Karl Urban - Star Trek
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Zoe Saldana - Avatar
Nicholas D’Agosto & Eric Christian Olsen - Fired Up
Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Jackie Earl Haley - Watchmen
Meryl Streep - It’s Complicated
Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law - Sherlock Holmes

Crosses fingers, hopes for the best

It's almost 1 AM and the Academy Award nominations are about 6 1/2 hours away. For some reason, I felt like an 11th hour post to make some predictions. Here's what I think you can expect in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.

Best Picture: Avatar, District 9, An Education, The Hangover, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Star Trek, Up, & Up in the Air. Possible dark horse(s): Invictus and maybe even The Blind Side.

Best Director: James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, Lee Daniels, & Jason Reitman. You can bet money on those picks.

I think there's a definite possibility Zoe Saldana (Avatar) might get the very first acting nomination for a character created entirely using VFX. Here's hoping that Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) gets a nod too.

Now, let's see what happens . . .