Each year my wife and I host an Academy Awards party. We put a lot of work into the party and into making sure that our guests enjoy the party and the show. We really do want people to watch the show and, hopefully, get into the spirit of the evening. As she did last year, my wife wrote a recap of the party including photos of the food and decor. You can visit her site HERE to check out what went down at this year's Oscar viewing party.
Few things are as sad as when you are prepping your elaborate Academy Awards viewing party and you discover that several of your friends are hosting their own Academy Awards viewing parties and that you have all used the same witty, film-inspired names for your appetizers and cocktails. The best way to avoid this social death is to plan early and lay claim to the event before your deadbeat, barely-see-any-movies-anymore friends try to pick it off.
This year will mark the 16th annual Academy Awards viewing party that I will throw with my lovely wife. Last year, I put up this post to help share some ideas. My wife wrote up some great suggestions for anyone who is throwing their own party for the big show which can be found on her site here.
We hope that you have a fun, glamorous, and safe Academy Awards night!
I am going to come out and say it. 2011 was THE worst single year for movies in recent memory - possibly ever. This was a year in which the mediocre rose to the top because there was no longer any room at the bottom. This was a year where films just blatantly missed expectations - badly. The collective wisdom in Hollywood that year was "no wisdom." As you review the list of films released that year, it is almost impressive how consistently bad the films are on the whole.
Now, there were a few bright spots, to be sure. This was the year that brought us Moneyball and Hugo. It saw Bridesmaids and The Town. It brought the Harry Potter saga to a satisfying end in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2. But for every Moneyball, there was an Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. For every Hugo, there were two helpings of We Bought a Zoo. For every Harry Potter, there was a Green Lantern.
My trip down this rotten memory lane was prompted by our attempt, via The Spoiler Alert Podcast, to watch and discuss every Best Picture Oscar winner ever. For our most recent trip to the podium, found HERE, we reviewed the 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist. For reasons which I recount in the episode, I had heretofore not seen that film. And now, just a few days after watching and discussing the film in minute detail, I am hard pressed to remember almost anything about it. I do, however, remember the awards circuit media campaign featuring red carpet walks by the dog (insert dramatic, painful, nauseating eye roll here).
I am an avid Academy Award fan and this blatant miss, even by a body as flawed as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I wanted to look back at the year and see what else was out there and who got snubbed for this picture to win the top prize. And I found...not much. The Artist won several awards in 2011. The Best Animated Film of the year was Rango. RANGO!! Remember Rango? (no) Did you actually see Rango? (no) Did you enjoy Rango? (Probably not) It was, at best, an average film - on its best day. And yet, it was still better than the other animated films of the year. That is really saying something.
To make my point about how bad this year was, I will break down, by genre, several of the more than 220 films released upon the Earth in 2011. I welcome your comments, arguments, or vain defenses in the comments section below. As mentioned earlier, there were a few good movies released in 2011 (thank goodness), so it was not a total blackout for 12 months.
Action & Adventure
2011 was a crap year for action or adventure movies. There was a handful of good films here like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (arguably more of a drama/thriller), Headhunters (terrific but it is a foreign film which means NO ONE saw it), The Grey, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and I have a soft spot for Super 8 (admittedly, also a bad movie). There were decent ones like Source Code, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Hannah and a few that shone for a particular reason such as Haywire (the one good fight sequence), or The Raid: Redemption (for the ungodly violence). Other than those we were treated to such poor fare as: In Time, The Adjustment Bureau (starring Movie Star Emily Blunt), Real Steel, Battle: Los Angeles, and Killer Elite. Nicolas Cage released TWO films in 2011 - Season of the Witch and Drive Angry. He has yet to apologize.
Comic Book Movies
For better or worse, 2011 was a year which stepped up the number of comic book movies we are subjected to each year. In a not-too-distant future, should this trend continue, the only films released in a given year will be comic book movies, with two awards-bait dramas and a terrible family film. Following the incredible success of the Dark Knight in 2009 and Iron Man the year before, in 2011 we got both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Neither is truly great, but they are both fun and did their job setting up things for The Avengers. Unfortunately, we also received The Green Hornet, The Green Lantern, Priest, Dreamhouse, Cowboys and Aliens, and Sucker Punch (I am aware some of those are not comic book movies but they are aimed at the same audience - so back off. Also, they all also sucked).
Remakes and Sequels
What we did get a whole hell of a lot of in 2011 was remakes and sequels - whether we wanted them or not. In addition to the aforementioned Harry Potter conclusion, and a pretty stellar remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, we were encouraged to try to swallow and pass the following: Fast Five (sequel), Conan The Barbarian (remake), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (terrible sequel), X-Men: First Class (terrible prequel), Fright Night (remake), Scream 4 (sequel), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (sequel), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (sequel), Arthur (remake), Footloose (remake), The Thing (remake), and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (sequel). Ooh, we also saw the theatrical release of Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) and then The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - just putting that out there.
Remember Rango? No, of course not. You've already forgotten it from the beginning of this post. Well, it probably still deserves to be put above the crop of crap we got for family films in 2011. Warning, some of these were also sequels. Hop, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, The Smurfs, Mars Needs Moms, Happy Feet Two, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, The Zookeeper, and Cars 2. I am one of the several dozen people who tried to admire The Adventures of Tin Tin. I also failed.
Surely, after trudging to the movie theater to turn over our hard-earned money in exchange for a little entertainment and being so consistently disappointed, we all deserved a good laugh. Well, in 2011, the joke was on us when we saw these pictures dumped on our doorsteps: Hall Pass, The Hangover Part 2, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, Big Year, Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached (basically the same movie as Friends with Benefits), Larry Crowne (written, directed by, and starring Tom Hanks!), Your Highness, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Porn Star, Johnny English: Reborn, Tower Heist, and two separate Adam Sandler movies - Just Go With It and Jack & Jill. To apologize to all of us, the studios did agree to release Bridesmaids, and Paul which may have been the only funny movies released that year.
There were several films that set out to be great dramas in 2011. Some of them succeeded. Of the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture, there best were: Moneyball, Hugo, The Descendents, and Midnight in Paris. War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life, and The Help are all fairly weak for Best Picture nominees. Other dramas released in 2011 which missed expectations were: Water for Elephants, Jane Eyre, We Bought a Zoo, and J. Edgar. Drive was OK and 50/50 was better than I expected. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, despite having one of the worst titles of all time, also flopped - and it starred Movie Star Emily Blunt!!
New Year's Eve
I did not know what category to put the movie New Year's Eve into. I don't feel embarrassed by this since the movie studios also did not know what to do this movie. We got this movie because in 2010 people paid good money to watch Valentine's Day (also directed by Garry Marshall). Everyone is to blame for this movie. I will list the main cast here. Just know that they each got PAID to be involved with the film. MIchelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro (!!!), Halle Berry, Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers, Abigail Breslin, Sarah Paulson, Carla Cugino, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, Jim Belushi (sorry, JAMES Belushi), Josh Duhamel, Larry Miller, Cherry Jones, Hilary Swank, Penny Marshall, Ludacris, Hector Elizondo, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
PS - that movie also had uncredited cameos from: Michael Bloomberg, Ryan Seacrest, Matthew Broderick, and John Lithgow.
Also - New Year's Eve made more than $140 million worldwide. Valentine's Day made more than $215 million. Think about that tonight whilst crying yourself to sleep.
So..... have I made my point? Have I effectively proven my point? What say you, Internet? Do you dare disagree and wish to defend any of the titles dropped above?
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
What do we want from a movie? How have our expectations of a film evolved in the last several years? Judging by box office results, many of us want big, loud, action-oriented, special effects-laden adaptations of material that we've already consumed for decades. We have been hungry for cinematic comfort food. Familiar, and easy to eat, perhaps with a little zing thrown in to spice it up just slightly. Judging by the films that have received most of the awards love recently, many of us are looking for more quiet, introspective, serious almost melancholy pictures. We have been looking to try new things, but mostly those that remind us of something else we ate long ago and remember enjoying. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is, at times, both of these types of movies. At others it is something else: the kind of bold, authentic, audacious, and original movie that we all deserve and should be trying more often.
The fact that Nolan was allowed to make and market a picture like Interstellar is a rarity. His track record of producing commercially and critically accepted pictures has given him the power to push a movie like this one through the system. Interstellar is arguably one of the most anticipated films of the year and comes with equally high expectations. I, being a passionate fan of Nolan's earlier work, came with my own set of expectations. The film met some, missed others, and turned some of those expectations on their heads.
The movie takes place in our near future on Earth. Our natural resources are waning and the planet itself seems to be working to reject our species like a body rejecting a transplanted organ (somewhere environmentalists are loving this movie already). Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper a former NASA test pilot-turned-farmer-widower living with his two kids and father-in-law. He's unhappy, restless, and while he is a competent farmer, he is not living his best life. He knows he was fit for something else. Something else comes along, via one of the film's less acceptable plot twists, which offers Cooper the chance to fulfill his life's ambition and to be part of the team working to save all of humanity in the process. The kicker is he needs to leave his family immediately and may not be back for several years.
This is the crux of the film. Nolan takes all of humanity's struggles, fears, bitter resentments, and emotional attachments and boils them down to Cooper and his kids. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's unparalleled 1968 sci-fi opus (and a movie that Christopher Nolan has mentioned as one of his favorites and as one of his main touchstones for Interstellar), the astronauts are mostly ciphers. They are the every man, they are all of us. We know very little about them and we don't need to know more. Their mission, and the challenges they encounter, are enough to carry the story. Here Nolan looks to pair the grandeur, spectacle, and clinical detachment of Kubrick's film with the heart of a Spielbergian father/daughter picture. This dynamic works at points in the movie - sometimes it doesn't.
The crew, made up of Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, David Oyelowo, and a robot named TARS (who looks ominously like the monolith from 2001), shoot themselves off into space and head for Saturn. There they plan to jump through a wormhole which was mysteriously "placed" there by "someone" and which serves as a gateway allowing interstellar travel to another galaxy where a more hospitable home planet may be found for mankind to inhabit. Several pioneers have previously made the journey and have sent back data upon which the crew can determine which planet to visit.
As expected in any sci-fi movie like this, things go wrong quickly. The crew must quickly adapt and make decisions on the fly. These decisions have consequences for the crew and for those they left behind on earth. In one particularly harrowing sequence, the crew picks a planet near a black hole. This proximity renders the experience of time on this planet different from that which we experience on Earth. One hour on the surface is the equivalent to seven years for us. A quick out and back jaunt to see the data from the pioneer and/or to rescue them could take decades of Earth time.
Back home, Cooper's kids have grown and the world's problems have grown more serious. Jessica Chastain plays his daughter Murphy who has never forgiven her father for leaving them behind. His son, played by Casey Affleck, has given up on him entirely (and, perhaps, on the world itself). These two struggle to bond with each other and with others as their father's mission drags on leaving them to question whether he and his crew are even still out there, still alive.
Consequences like the time shift, and the fantastic worlds the crew visit, are tossed off one after the other without giving them time to land. We are shown two separate possible planets, each insanely wild in their own right and yet the crew barely reacts to the worlds around them. Their tunnel-vision of mission has them missing the heart of it. And, perhaps that is one area where the film fails. It tries so hard to ground this mission in love - for Cooper and his kids, for Hathaway's Brand and her lover - that at times it is missing a heart. Nolan's previous films have never been overly sentimental but he has shown he can telegraph emotion with a great deal of subtly. Here he pounds it over the audience and, fore me, it landed too heavy handed.
The third act offers some action thrills for the space crew and a race-against-time scenario for Murphy back on Earth. The final plot elements will test the audience's willingness to go along with Nolan and to set aside cynicism. For some these events will be goosebump-level inspiring. For others they will ring hollow and flimsy. For all of us, the fact that Nolan has the guts and willingness to work this hard to put something this large and new and difficult and unwieldy in front of us is a reward. When was the last time you lined up for a movie without already knowing most of the story? Treat yourself to a new (old fashioned) movie experience. See Interstellar and decide for yourself how you feel about it.
- The visuals. Both the special effects and the practical sets and costumes are extremely well done. Nothing looks or feels cheesy.
- McConaughey carries the film. Some of his "alright, alright, alright"-ness comes out but he keeps it mostly in check.
- A surprise cameo turns into a deadly encounter for the crew.
- The music is sometimes lovely and sometimes insane. Some segments sound like Dracula banging on his pipe organ - while on ecstasy.
- Nolan's long time cinematographer Wally Pfister sits this one out and it shows. Hoyte Van Hoytema (who has the best name in showbiz) does good work but Pfister's touch would have added a lot to the film.
- Some of the late in the game exposition between McConaughey and TARS.
- Much of the Earth-bound sequences with Jessica Chastain as the now-grown daughter Murphy.
- The ending will please those left cold by Gone Girl's final act but feels a bit forced and overly saccharine.
- This movie will dazzle, confound, frustrate, excite, and move you. An original, audacious film-making exercise which gives some of the comfort and some of the high quality movie food we've been looking for and a lot more. B+
By Mike Palovcsik
Is it possible to love a film if you hate the ending? In my case, no. And that is a difficult realization to document. For years, I have felt that David Fincher can do no wrong, and this film had me captivated for 140 minutes. Then I left the theater in a foul, foul mood.
With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn, 'Gone Girl' is adapted from her 2012 novel of the same name. Flynn is on record as saying that the screen adaptation differs from the book (I would assume so, since it wasn't a screenplay). And admittedly, I have never read it. And I can now guarantee that I won't, because a good friend confirmed that the ending is indeed the same. And it was one of the most frustrating, unsatisfying, disgusting endings to a movie I have ever seen, or to a story I have ever heard.
The plot centers around Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, who returns home to find his wife Amy missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. After a series of unfortunate coincidences and bad judgement calls, Nick finds himself the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance, which looks like certain murder. Affleck is fantastic, playing the role of a guy you want to root for - warts and all - even while the suspicion mounts. There is no scenery chewing from any of these actors here, nor would we expect there to be with Fincher behind the camera. Both of these guys choose projects where characters live in a gray area between right and wrong...probably why I've been drawn to Fincher's work so much.
I had heard much about "the twist", which comes at the beginning of the second act. Alas, Amy (Rosamund Pike) is alive! She faked the murder in an attempt to frame Nick, who she had discovered was philandering. Amy, a trust fund baby, and Nick have been experiencing marital difficulties ever since they moved from the big city to Missouri, both lost their jobs, and saw their inheritance dwindle as Amy's parents need to dip into it. Children are often discussed, but not a part of their life yet, and Nick is spending a lot of time hanging out at the bar he runs with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). Kudos to all of the aforementioned, fantastic performances all around. Ditto to Neil Patrick Harris, as Amy's ex-boyfriend, Desi, and Tyler Perry, as Nick's attorney, who Nick retains after becoming convinced that Amy is alive and he is being framed.
The movie had me on the edge of my seat through all of this, desperate to learn if Nick would get his revenge, and if Amy would see justice. In the third act, I felt the story fell apart. [SPOILER ALERT for the remainder of the paragraph]. Backed into a corner after being robbed while in hiding, Amy is forced to take shelter with her ex-boyfriend, Desi (whom she had once filed a restraining order against?!) and, after seeing Nick plead for her return on a television interview, decides to "escape" Desi's generosity by murdering him and making it appear as if Desi had raped her. She returns home to the trap Nick had set for her, but the story twists again, as she has gotten herself pregnant on sperm that Nick had stored in a fertility clinic (let that be a warning to any men out there). I understand that in the book, more is made of the fact that Nick desperately wanted to be a father, and that would do a little more to explain why, after Amy confesses to murder, Nick still decides to stay with this woman who is clearly psychotic. The movie ends as they go on another TV interview to let the world know.
I cannot explain the anxiety I had in the final five minutes as I knew the movie was coming to a conclusion, and I could not see how it could wrap up in any way that I would find satisfying. A swarm of locusts descending on the house and carrying it off into outer space would have been more plausible to me. I walked out dejected. I loved 98% of this movie. Loved it. And I will never watch it again.
What I WILL do is continue to listen to the soundtrack, which I downloaded from iTunes several days before seeing the movie. This is Fincher's third collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and it is a beauty. The duo won an Oscar for their first Original Score, for Fincher's 'The Social Network' in 2010. That was a masterpiece, but I feel was bested by the nearly three-hour long headphone opus they created for Fincher a year later, for 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. And now they've done it again. An hour and a half of gorgeous, haunting melodies, intercut by ambient noise designed to elicit anxiety and remind you that nothing is as it seems. What I wouldn't give to watch any one of those three movies without the soundtrack, and see how different the experience would be. The music is like a character in these films, opposed to many movie scores that smack you over the head and tell you how to feel every 5-10 minutes. Listeners of the Spoiler Alert podcast will be in on the inside joke about my working out to the John Barry score for 'Out of Africa'. But no joke, there are several tracks from these three soundtrack albums that appear in my running mix.
Fincher is a genius. I wish he had picked a different story. And maybe had Aaron Sorkin adapt it. Check out Danny's take on 'Gone Girl' here.
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
The David Fincher in command of Gone Girl, the adaptation of Gillian Flynn's caustic mystery blockbuster, is as assured as ever. The filmmaking on display is confident but not gimmicky. There are few of the technological skill demonstrations evident in Panic Room or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This Fincher knows - that you know - that he rules.
The entire affair rests on Flynn's twisted anti-romance. She has done more than adapt her own novel for the screen. She has distilled it. She has taken the framework of her story, with all its narrative twists and nastiness, sacrificed what needed to be cut for the sake of a film adaptation and left us with the husk of a relationship. A bombed out, burned up, rotten-to-the-core marriage built on lies, regret, resentment, and outright hatred. You know, a classic Fincher movie marriage. Flynn's adaptation works well and it fits the director's arm's-length style. The movie retains the book's three-act structure and competently pivots the audience's point of view and sympathy. For the uninitiated, this could be overwhelming. For readers of Flynn's novel the results are satisfying while still delivering on shock.
Ben Affleck, who is custom-cast for this role, plays Nick Dunne, a former New York writer living in Missouri with his type A wife Amy. Amy goes missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary and Nick is left grasping for what to do next. As the search for Amy intensifies, along with the requisite police and media scrutiny, things begin to unravel. We get peeks behind the curtain into Nick and Amy's relationship and don't always like what we see.
The director displays his knack for casting as each actor slips comfortably into their roles. Affleck oozes smarmy, schlumpy-hunk charisma and angst. Tyler Perry purrs as a high-dollar defense attorney. Rosamund Pike, in a career performance, wraps herself into Amy Elliott Dunne, the victim and plays her straight. Pike has never given off much warmth as an actress and this distance is a perfect fit for Amy whom we are not sure how we feel about. Watching Pike in several of the more difficult scenes will leave you chilled long after leaving the theater.
Fincher's third collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the soundtrack truly adds to the piece. The music is really a part of the film and vice versa. The sense of dread and malaise the music evokes is palpable throughout the movie, peaking in the drop-dead third act as things really kick into a high gear of craziness.
The first two acts do seem somewhat tame. As though Fincher were on a leash, expertly, yet cautiously, adapting this very popular book. He is faithful to the source text and leaves just enough of his fingerprints on it to keep you hooked. As the second act concludes and you begin to grasp the true depths of the sickness on display, he roars to life. Affleck slinks around his house, ostensibly a free man, looking like he is dancing on a field of Black Widows and poisonous snakes. This is where Fincher and Flynn bring the story home. And where they take your breath away.
- The acting all around was very good. Affleck has never been better and Pike is thrilling.
- The color palette that David Fincher chooses just bleaches all joy from the world.
- The soundtrack is great.
- The first two acts, if you've read the book, miss some of the punch. Fincher rears his head in act three.
- A tight, twisted tale that keeps you engaged even as you look to distance yourself from almost everyone on screen. A
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a movie caught in a strange place. In time. In moviegoer’s tastes. In the United States’ appetite to use war, especially World War II, as entertainment. The film has a strong pedigree both in front of and behind the camera. It ranks in the top 15 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time. It won seven Academy Awards in 1958. And yet, for me, something doesn’t click. The sum of these parts do not, for me, make a fully-satisfying whole.
The movie is set in an Asian-based Japanese POW camp during World War II. A British battalion, ordered to surrender to the Japanese, are brought to the camp and informed that while in captivity they will work to build a rail bridge spanning the Kwai river. The bridge is a necessity for the Japanese as it will open a valuable supply line for them. A due date has been set and the camp’s commander, Colonel Saito, has very strict orders to meet this date.
The battalion is commanded by Colonel Nicholson, a by-the-books, career-military man played with starched righteousness (and later misguided delusion) by Sir Alec Guinness. Nicholson is fine with his men building the bridge you see, but, per the Geneva convention, does not want his officers doing any manual labor. It is acceptable that they work in an “administrative capacity” but not manual labor. Saito disagrees and puts Nicholson and his officers in tortuous "hot boxes" to sweat them into submission. For days (or weeks, it isn't clear) Nicholson sits in the box sustained by his indignance and defiance of Saito's crazy request. How dare he want to have officers do work!?? An American detainee, played by William Holden, uses the distraction of the British soldier's situation to escape the camp. He barely escapes the jungle with his life and, with the assistance of some local citizens, is eventually rescued by nearby British naval resources.
Nicholson's refusal to budge ignites a battle of wills against Saito, a British-educated Japanese commander who has more riding on the bridge's completion personally than we may understand. This conflict over the officers' role seems petty and ridiculous but it does provide Guinness with many opportunities to play nearly-broken and physically decimated. He does this very well. Ultimately, Saito relents and the men continue building the bridge with the officers overseeing their work.
Nicholson not only gets the men working on the bridge, he gets them perfecting the bridge. His men are going through the motions, working to sabotage the bridge with poor and sloppy work and delays. This simply won't stand for Nicholson and he, instead, whips his men into shape and has his officers lay out a new location for the bridge. They devise a schedule which will ramp up the work being completed by the men and finish the bridge on schedule. This deluded obsession with proving to the Japanese and the world just how superior the British are leads Nicholson to push his men fervently to create a lasting monument in the bridge. Saito largely sinks into the background in the second half of the film as Nicholson serves as both protagonist and antagonist.
Holden's character, having been rescued, is sent back into the jungle with a small team in an effort to destroy the bridge. The Allies have gotten word of the bridge's existence and mean to blow it up just as a train of Japanese VIPs attempts to christen the bridge. The slog through the jungle provides some beautiful cinematography and reminds us why the jungle SUCKS. Ultimately, the allied force reaches the bridge, wires it to blow, and waits for the train.
The climactic scene is heart breaking as Nicholson actually fights to defend the bridge which he has forced his enslaved men to build for his enemy. This bridge which will carry supplies and reinforcements for the enemy to kill his countrymen and further the war effort. This bridge which he sees as a permanent monument to his men and his career. In his last few moments of life, the folly of this effort dawns upon Nicholson and he aids the Allies in their mission.
David Lean's direction is languid and full of wide shots in the beating sun. The actors mostly look miserable (as they should) but there are strange elements that don't fit and plot points that go nowhere. Why make a point of Holden's character having lied about his rank? Why try to insinuate the female sherpas who accompany the Allies are also paired up with one man a piece? Why have the British soldiers, who have worked for months in the heat and humid jungle doing back-breaking labor to build this bridge also have the time, interest, and energy to put on a drag show complete with live band to celebrate its completion?
This movie seems trapped between a rousing, we-won-the-war type of film and a depressing, war-is-hell and pointless type of film. It seems that World War II may have been still too fresh to push things further (and Korea was fresh as well) and yet the filmmakers did not want to whitewash things too much. It feels like a compromise.
- Sir Alec Guinness. He is very good in the role (he won Best Actor) and adds to my perspective on his career. It doesn't erase Obi-Wan Kenobi, but complements it well.
- The cinematography. Beautiful shots in day or night fill the film.
- Holden's subplots. There are several and they do not add much.
- Saito. He isn't quite developed. He is neither too evil nor too nice. He's bland enough to be immediately forgettable.
- Pacing & music. The movie has fits and starts and at times the music feels as though it was written for another film. It is well done - it just doesn't fit the movie.
- The movie feels old. Like a type of movie they don't make anymore. And it doesn't leave you wishing they did. Big, almost-bold, well-acted: B
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
In the newly-released to home video film Locke, Tom Hardy and writer/director Steven Knight work awfully hard. They set out, I think, to craft a unique, inventive, highly structured film grounded in the real-life drama of one flawed man. The movie follows this highly-determined man on an insanely stressful night as he drives along a busy highway surrounded by strangers. Though he is constantly taking and making cell calls to family and co-workers, he is utterly alone. To call this a one-man film is not an exaggeration. Unlike Phone Booth, which bored us to tears twelve years ago and cheated by having tons of action and actors circle our man-in-a-booth hostage, Locke sticks with it. Like Tom Hardy? Good. Because that is all you are getting for the duration. No other actor appears on screen. None.
I can imagine the pitch meeting now: "I have an idea for a movie." "Go on." "It's entirely shot in one car, on one road, on one night." "Ok..." "It follows one guy as he drives and talks on the phone." "Look, Steven..." "Wait, wait, the calls are sort of important. I mean, some are to his employer and those aren't that big a deal, and others are to a co-worker and those mostly feel like filler..." "Steven, you're great, but..." "Wait, the guy is Tom Hardy. Did I mention that? And the entire film will be done shooting in 8 days." "Oh, in that case, let's knock it out next week. Does that work for you?"
The film feels small and intimate. There is a high level of film making talent on display as this really is one dude in a car for 90 minutes. The different angles, use of traffic or b-roll footage, and music combine with Hardy's valiant acting to keep us engaged for the duration. Points to Knight for using all the technical tricks up his sleeve to keep the movie pulsing forward.
The script, however, is a let down. Locke uses his commute to make calls and admissions to various players in his life. He also works to solve some logistical challenges at his construction work site since he will be playing hooky the following day just as an "historic" pour of concrete is to take place. Man, to hear Hardy talk about concrete is just spooky. It is sacred to this guy. He takes it all very seriously and is sort of aghast at the thought of anyone else not living and dying by "his concrete" for "his building."
Ultimately, there are ways that Knight could have tweaked this script to keep it interesting or to create more drama and interest. In the end, it feels like you are stuck in the car with a pretty gruff guy working down his call log on a road trip. If you have ever ridden in a car with your boss or someone on the phone and you just need to sit quietly, you have experienced this. The movie doesn't offer any new insights for you. Why they felt the need to keep things so mundane is a mystery to me. With the "locked room" premise and engaging actors (Hardy and the quite-good voice cast on the phone), there should be more here.
- Hardy's acting. He is intense throughout and really shows us the stress he's under
- The voice cast on the phone all do a good job with limited material
- The drama. There is just too little here to warrant 90 minutes of your life
- As an interesting exercise in filmmaking: C-
- As a dramatic film: D-
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
Let me start by saying I have no affinity, nor deep-seated childhood love for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Be wary of anyone who claims that they do. While there must be someone out there who has been buying and reading the comic books these characters are based upon for the last several decades, you don't know any of them. Anyone who tells you that they have always loved these characters or has read all of the comics or that they almost got a tattoo of Groot the walking, fighting, barely-talking anthropomorphic tree is lying. Also, as a disclaimer, while this movie is based upon comic characters and released by Marvel Studios, it is not a superhero movie. It is, as writer-director James Gunn would call it, a space opera. And while that term is incredibly annoying, it is closer to what you'll get with this movie than not.
I have enjoyed most of the movies released by Marvel Studios (you can read my review of their last release Captain America: The Winter Soldier here). I have also recently watched Slither, James Gunn's directorial debut (The Spoiler Alert Podcast recently released the episode on that movie here). So I came into this movie very interested in what one part Marvel and one part Gunn would add up to. The trailers had sold me on a silly, loose, less-comic-book-canon-reliant space adventure. The movie, which certainly has its issues, delivers just that.
The story is pretty standard sci-fi MacGuffin fare. A mysterious relic is being sought by some extremely sinister people which may or may not contain fantastic powers and planet-destroying energy. We are introduced to a ragtag group of strangers who meet each other by happenstance and who, almost immediately, band together for various stated reasons to retrieve the item (the real reason, for all of them, is that they are secretly very good people. Or plants. Or genetically altered, gun-toting animals.) Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, a thief and rogue with a quick wit and an excess of charm. Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, supposedly the deadliest woman in the galaxy. Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, a large, tattooed, grief-stricken badass. The team is completed by two CGI-created characters. Bradley Cooper voices Rocket, a tortured soul in a raccoon's body while Vin Diesel voices Groot, the aforementioned tree. (Also, can we admit that we have officially bottomed out in the celebrity stunt voice casting arena? Diesel famously teased his participation in this movie and the opening credits give him a "featuring Vin Diesel" credit. He says four words. Four. Words. Robin Williams as The Genie this ain't.)
The five of them band together, escape a space prison, and set about retrieving, then losing, then retrieving the MacGuffin. It is desired by Thanos, the biggest, baddest, most powerful evil doer in the Universe. Thanos is also the purple guy you may have seen if you stuck around through the very end credits of The Avengers. Before Thanos can get it, it is stolen by Ronan The Accuser played with deep malice by Lee Pace. Ronan is the kind of villain that is really, really evil and you know he is evil without really knowing or caring why he is so evil. Just understand that he is really, really evil. And scary. But mainly evil.
The quintet of heroes put their personal problems and quarrels aside in order to band together to save an entire planet of innocent lives. The movie devolves, as most Marvel movies seem to do, in its third act into a large CGI-created battle scene (see the last acts of Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Solider). Much of this is noisier and busier and more generic than you need it to be. The villain is dispatched in pretty underwhelming fashion and the day is saved. So, the plot, set up, villains, and third act are all pretty standard sci-fi, comic book movie fare. The characters themselves, and Gunn's tone? Not at all.
The five heroes are, unlike the other Marvel heroes you've come to love, losers. They are misfits and criminals. This movie is like Goonies in space (complete with Josh Brolin!). These outcasts and unloved space orhpans form an unlikely family and pool their damaged goods into one loud, raucous, unruly, silly team. The chemistry is actually pretty good. Pratt is very funny, as you'd expect, and has good heat with Saldana. Bautista is wooden and stilted until you realize he is supposed to be wooden and stilted. He is best in quiet scenes and tosses out some pretty funny throw away lines. Cooper uses a strage accent with Rocket, which takes time to get past. Once you do, you realize that the combination of his voice, the CGI-artistry, and the script help make Rocket the stand out character. It is obvious that he is Gunn's favorite in the group.
The movie's tone is a double-edged sword. This movie is funny. It is silly. The humor is ironic and jarring at times. Unfortunately it also makes it difficult to really take the picture seriously. The fate of entire planets, nay the Galaxy is on the line, but its hard to care because Bradley Cooper's character is making silly comments and teasing Groot. There is a running joke that Rocket can understand Groot, which despite being used a few times made me laugh every time. The use of 1970s/1980s pop music is also a bit jarring. As are references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Jackson, and Kevin Bacon's portrayal in Footloose. While explained in the story, it is so odd to have them included. I had a good time seeing this movie but I am not as confident that this will be as mainstream a success as Marvel has enjoyed thus far.
- The pair of Rocket and Groot. I thought I would like them the least but ended up digging them.
- Pratt as comedic adventurer.
- Visuals. The movie is beautifully shot. All of the visuals and effects are very well done.
What didn't work:
- The generic villains. Karen Gillan's character is especially bland. Disappointing for such a unique looking character played by a talented actress.
- Thanos. I don't really get, nor do I care, who Thanos is. I know he is the entry point to bring the Guardians into the broader Marvel universe and someday have a giant Guardians/Avengers crossover film. But I just don't care.
- Michael Rooker is also in this film.
- As a Marvel comic book franchise launching film: C+
- As a silly, fun, space adventure: B+
PS - Don't bother sticking around through the end of the credits. This movie boasts the worst post-credits tag in any Marvel movie. Really. Worse than Thor 2.
Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
And I mean that. Oy. What a picture. 1947's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Gentleman's Agreement, is a tough one. This movie has it all: bland characters, slow scenes, weak & cliched dialogue, and an extremely forced plot. Perhaps, in its day it was a powerful wake up call to movie goers about the dangers of intolerance. Of course, movie goers of its day had just lived through WORLD WAR 2. I hope, by that point, they had learned a thing or two about the dangers of intolerance. Anyway...
The movie stars Gregory Peck as Philip Green, as a widowed magazine writer, newly arrived in New York after living his entire life in California. He is in town to consider accepting a job at a prestigious and liberal weekly magazine. His assignment is to do a series of articles on Antisemitism. People of 1946 New York seemed to believe that intolerance and hate were the domain of zealots and overtly monstrous loners. The secret hate for Jewish citizens, apparently just below the surface of every day life, needed to be exposed and discussed.
Green accepts the assignment without a clear bead on the story. He works to crack it for a few days but is missing an "angle" that really sticks. As he vents to his mother (who lives with him and his young son Tommy - a very young Dean Stockwell), he recounts that he usually "lives" his stories. He becomes engrossed in them and enters the worlds that he writes about. This takes Phil to the idea of pretending to be Jewish in order to write about what's like to be a Jew (why this took any time at all is not explained - this appears to always be his angle). Thus, Phil sets about planting seeds with his new colleagues and friends that he is Jewish to see what happens.
He doesn't make an effort to go and "live the Jewish life" or really venture beyond his office. The next hour and a half are really just Peck being in rooms with horrifically intolerant bigots who make seemingly endless Jewish jokes or horrible comments at the end of which he says "did you know that I'm Jewish?" And then they seem sheepish. I mean, the fact that anyone thinks that Antisemitism is not a problem has apparently never been in a room with anyone else in New York. Every scene for the rest of the movie involves some sort of anti-Semitic content. Phil is the subject of prejudice and discrimination, his son is beaten up, and so on... In fact, being fake Jewish even costs Phil his new relationship.
Ah, the relationship. After arriving in New York, Phil meets Kathy, a wealthy, WASP-ish divorcee. After two dates and one kiss, they apparently decide to get engaged. She is his partner in the secret of his plan with writing the articles and sees the hate all around him. She also silently watches others make anti-Semitic comments and sits idly by while her exclusive, gated community refuses to admit Jews. There is no formal rule against Jews, you see, just a "gentleman's agreement" that they will not be welcome. And there you have it. The hate is everywhere. The film ends with Phil publishing his article and us getting a few sermons about our need to speak up and fight for those who are being discriminated against. I wonder how the African Americans who saw this film felt the rest of the country was doing at all of that.
- Celeste Holm plays a spitfire fashion editor who is a colleague of Phil's at the magazine. Her quick wit and been-there-done-that attitude is refreshing in every scene she is in. She took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role.
- Pretty much everything else.
- Ultimately, this movie is slow and boring. It condescends to you. It lectures you - D