Category Archives: British

Movie Review: Skyfall

Now, this was the James Bond I’ve been waiting for. Or, more accurately, I didn’t know there would be a James Bond quite like this.

After 2006′s masterful “Casino Royale” redefined the series, 2008′s mediocre “Quantum of Solace” set it back another few years. 007 makes a major comeback yet again with “Skyfall.” When James Bond was rebooted, the intention was to radically start England’s greatest secret agent over from scratch. Now, everyone seems comfortable enough with Craig in the role to bring back some classic Bond tropes. I didn’t realize how much I even missed them until “Skyfall.”

“Skyfall” might be the first time since “You Only Live Twice” that Bond has “died” before the opening credits. A failed mission to get a hard drive containing a very secret list of names sends Bond hurdling off a train and into a river, leaving M (Judi Dench) to write Bond’s obituary. Before the train chase there is a motorcycle rooftop chase that is both implausible and impossible not to be thrilled by. The very best Bond moments make the implausible so much fun.

Shaken, not stirred.

After a fantastic opening credit sequence, Bond is found hiding on a tropical island. Craig’s Bond might be the most reckless Bond yet, so much so that he’ll even play drinking games with a scorpion. Unlike most exiled heroes, Bond doesn’t seem to miss his job. That is, until he sees a news report about a terrorist attack at M16 headquarters that effects him personally, despite being out of the job. The revisionist James Bond of the 21st century is not motivated merely by a duty to defeat the bad guys; this Bond also has a strong emotional compass.

Once we know that the actor is good, there is always the expectation that the character of James Bond will be awesome. However, it is rare that a Bond film produces a truly memorable villain. That is until they cast Javier Bardem as hacker terrorist Silva. Bardem has pretty much cornered the market on creepy villains in modern film. While Le Chiffre of “Casino Royale” was dark and frightening in a realistic way, Silva is cheesy in the best sense of the word. He is entertaining to watch because he is so unpredictable. We might know where he will go, but how he will get there is impossible to know. Bardem plays him with the exaggerated movements of a Broadway dancer. Here is a villain who is as interested in causing anarchy as he is in putting on a show. In that aspect, he is a perfect movie villain.

“Skyfall” might be the first time that a “Bond Girl” didn’t have significant screen time. I would argue that M is the Bond Girl of “Skyfall.” It makes sense, as the plot becomes largely about protecting her. It is also interesting to see a Bond film that is more about the development of a friendship than about the development of a romance. Bond and M have a very complicated relationship, as M is not above sacrificing an agent in order to complete a mission. It is this kind of character work that has made the past few Bond entries some of the strongest in the 50 year history of the series.

That dog.

“Skyfall” is brought to life by director Sam Mendes. Mendes has directed some smaller scale action flicks (“Road to Perdition,” “Jarhead”), but never anything on this scale. Mendes has done with James Bond what Christopher Nolan has done with Batman. Mendes brings a lot of his artistic sensibility to the table and makes the cities more than just giant action set pieces: they are living, breathing, and stunning places. The opening throws us relentlessly into the center of a bazaar. Bond has never stared so pensively at the London skyline. Shanghai is brought to life with beautiful colors and then becomes the stage for an amazing fight consisting only of silhouettes. I have yet to go to Shanghai*, but it looks something like the way “Blade Runner” imagined Los Angeles to look like in 2019.

While “Skyfall” may be the funniest Bond yet, there is a constant, dark shadow of death that hangs over it from the very beginning. It is as if Bond’s whole way of life is in more danger than ever before. “Skyfall” may be the most thematically rich Bond film ever made. It truly questions the place of a spy made for the Cold War in the modern age when anyone can get a computer and become a hero or a terrorist. This is probably the most self-aware Bond as well. It is an eloquent and deep territory to explore, but it is almost ruined at several times by overstatement.

As a director, Mendes’ Achilles’ Heel  has always been subtlety. He seems afraid to let a theme come across organically, so he feels a need to hammer the audience over the head with it. They ask, “are we still relevant with technology?” so many times that by the end, it almost loses all value. However, the surprising amount of innovation in this theme saves “Skyfall” in the end.

Anyone upset about the lack of technology in “Skyfall” clearly hasn’t seen Daniel Craig with a shotgun.

“Skyfall” is both a throwback to James Bond of the past and a radically new Bond as well. It includes a few surprises that will be most meaningful to die hard fans. It also peppers in some backstory that makes the Bond legend so much stronger. But overall, this is just the best action movie I have seen in ages. For every plant there is a payoff and for every explosion there is a reason. “Skyfall” shows how smart Bond and the other agents are. Getting Bond as far away from technology at the end was a pretty ingenious move on the writers’ part. Modern blockbusters never forget the eye candy, but they often neglect to make their heroes actually seem intelligent. I believe a Bond without jetpacks or invisible cars is the best Bond there is.

The question of whether Bond is still relevant is actually pretty meta, and questions whether after 50 years, Bond films are still necessary. I think the answer is yes. James Bond has become something of a constant to me, and no Thanksgiving ever feels as awesome when there is no new Bond film to look forward to. It’s also great to think that whatever existential fear is currently haunting the collective subconscious (nuclear war, terrorism, cyber attacks), James Bond will always be there with his Walther PPK to stop it.

*Between “Looper” and “Skyfall,” Shanghai has gotten a glorious portrayal this year in film.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #9: Getting Your Film into Cannes in Five Easy Steps

I can’t believe that today is the last day of the festival. I might need a little break from intense film marathons, but I wouldn’t complain if I was stuck in the south of France for the rest of my life. It’s very nice here.

The last day is reserved for repeats of all of the films in competition. I plan of an intense double feature of “Amour” and “The Hunt” later today, but I started the day off strong with Ken Loach’s “Angel’s Share.” Most films that screen during Cannes are not happy affairs. So it was refreshing to see a comedy in competition. This British film is light-hearted yet very smart. It’s shot like a drama, yet written like a comedy. It’s a caper about a group of bumbling criminals who try to steal a cask of rare whiskey. Hilarity ensues.

“Angel’s Share” is certainly different than what you will usually see at Cannes, as there is, in a way, a certain “Cannes film.” After watching enough of them, I can say that I’ve found a sort of criteria. Despite the prestige of Cannes, getting a film in the festival isn’t as hard as you might think.* Based on my observations, here is my criteria of how to make a Cannes Film Festival entry in five easy steps:

1. At least one, overly long, and awkward sex scene.
See: The Paperboy, On the Road, Excision, Rust & Bone

2. At least two hours in length (exception: .

3. If it’s an American film, set in the South.
See: Lawless, Killing Them Softly, The Paperboy, On the Road (certain parts)

4. Cast an actor looking to be “taken more seriously.”
See: Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis), Shia LaBeouf (Lawless), Kristen Stewart (On the Road), Zac Efron (The Paperboy)

5. Cast Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey
See: Killing Them Softly, The Paperboy, Mud

*Note: Getting a film into Cannes is not actually this easy.

Movie Review: Submarine

Okay, everyone. Time to put on a scarf, thick-frame glasses, and turn your record player on. That’s right, it’s time to get quirky.*

“Submarine” is a very Welsh film directed by someone who is distinctly English, with a distinctly English sense of humor. Funny, as it begins with a note from the narrator Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) notifying the American audience that there is indeed a difference between being English and being Welsh. This is not the last time Oliver Tate will try and screw with your head in the most deviously playful way possible.

Watching “Submarine” is akin to watching a British Wes Anderson movie. Depending on who you are, this can be taken as a compliment, an insult, or something else in between. The film is filled with jabs of irony and self-awareness, yet thanks to the ideological protagonist, it mostly veers away from being pretentious.

Oliver Tate’s story is set in 1986. 15-year-old Oliver is a blend of Max Fisher, Antoine Doinel, and Alex DeLarge, minus the violent tendencies of the latter. Oliver seems to be a crafted response to these teenage anti-heroes, and his voiceover is of someone who is not aware that he is in a movie, but wishes he could be in one. At one point, Oliver imagines a small moment being captured in a zoom-in on film and low and behold, we get the zoom-in. Richard Ayoade may be credited as the director, but Oliver Tate deserves some of that credit as well.

Oliver may be precocious, but he is also like any character you would find in “American Pie,” as his foremost goal is to lose his virginity. But Oliver, who is probably too young to be this particular, won’t take just any girl. Oliver sets his sights on a girl who is neither the most popular nor the prettiest girl in school. Jordana (Yasmin Paige), like Oliver, keeps to herself. But she stands out in her bright red jacket, a change from everyone else’s drab uniforms. The color red has a big significance throughout, and with just one movie, Ayoade has already found a way to manipulate the small details on screen for his own advantage.

On the inside, Oliver is a hopeless romantic. Meanwhile, Jordana despises anything romantic. Oliver will only take her to the most decrepit places in town. Their dates, captured by Erik Wilson’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography, involve chaos and destruction. In Oliver’s head, everything is going perfectly between them. That is, until tragedy strikes in Jordana’s life, and Oliver is not there for her. She finds this an unforgivable betrayal and dumps him. Yet, he cannot forget about her. Then, Oliver is posed with one of the biggest questions involving young love: will it matter when you’re 38-years-old? Let’s wait until we get to that age to find out.

What differs Oliver from the lead of most high school movies is that he has to deal with issues well beyond what is important to the typical teenager. While trying to maintain his own relationship with Jordana, Oliver also takes on responsibility for his parents’ crumbling marriage. His mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is falling out of love with her husband Lloyd (Noah Taylor). Lloyd, given the look of a depressed 18th century philosopher by Taylor, is a man who seems content not reaching his full potential. He is a brilliant marine biologist (probably not coincidentally, he was also in “The Life Aquatic”) who excels in research, but mumbles in front of a crowd. He likes everything to be predictable, and he feels no shame in revealing gifts before they are unwrapped. Oliver’s mother, meanwhile, may be having an affair with her former lover Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine), who is an even cornier motivational speaker than Jim Cunningham of “Donnie Darko.” Purvis adds on to the comedic edge of “Submarine,” and makes the movie into a slightly altered version of a plausible reality.

“Submarine” has a deep affinity for the ocean. Maybe it’s a Welsh thing, as the rugged shoreline sure is scenic. The ocean, very adeptly, represents everything that “Submarine” is about. The one fact Oliver remembers that Lloyd taught him about the ocean is that it goes down six miles at its deepest point. Besides that, there is not much more that we can know for sure. It is also probably symbolic for the subconscious, but even my own knowledge only goes so far.

Someone will likely post this on their Tumblr.

The title of the movie comes from the idea that submarines operate at an ultrasound frequency above what humans can hear. One submarine can never know what the other one is planning or thinking. Oliver points this out. Yet, perhaps one of the biggest marks of immaturity is the constant need to contradict one’s self. In the memorable and darkly comic sequence in which Oliver imagines how everyone would react to his death, he believes he has it all down to a T. Maybe he does have it all right. Or perhaps, as he says himself, its better to be by yourself and think about how these things will happen then to actually experience them.

“Submarine” is really the story of Oliver coming out of his shell. The self-assured performances by Roberts and Paige give the movie the heart that it sometimes struggles to find. In a lesser movie, it would have been solely about him winning back Jordana and finding true love. But this is an above par Sundance entry that is about more than what is seen on screen. Here is a coming of age story where the character doesn’t even know if he came of age; all he knows is that he has grown older.

Here is a movie that is all kinds of sad and funny. It is never funny in the cliche, fall out of your seat sense, but rather in the satisfying sense that it has humorously captured a little trinket of life quite accurately. Alex Turner, better known as the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, is the movie’s Simon & Garfunkel: you feel like the songs could not exist without being a part of the movie, and vice versa. “Submarine” is one of the most aesthetically pleasing movies to come along in a while. It is like a cinematic museum composed of paintings and polaroids worth staring at for hours. While Oliver’s narration, which guides the story, can go all over the place and get out of hand at times, that is the way it should be. It is hard to say that any decision made by in the production wasn’t made for a reason.

While “Submarine” is rated R, I believe it is still suitable for any 15 or 16 year old to see. I probably shouldn’t be doling out advice to parents, but there is something wrong with how your kids have been brought up if they don’t swear words.

*If you feel the need to punch me in the face after reading the opening paragraph, then I would not blame you.

I have no definitive proof that the final images from “Submarine” (above) and the final images from “The 400 Blows” (below) are related, but I would be surprised if they weren’t.

Movie Review: War Horse

The Magic Hour.

Many have remarked that the ending shots of “War Horse” evoke the feelings and beauty captured in the landscape of classic Hollywood films, from “Gone with the Wind” to just about any John Ford western. And rightfully so, as this feels like a movie straight out of another era, the kind that isn’t made so often nowadays. It has the power to move any viewer, but it might just bring the biggest film admirer to tears.

Based on a play which was based on a book (I have not seen or read either), the cinematic version of “War Horse” could not have been brought to life by anyone except for Steven Spielberg. It might seem predictable from start to finish, but there is simply no other way to tell this story.

“War Horse” gets off to a slow start, but even the most impatient moviegoer will want to stick it through. In rural Devon, England just before the outbreak of the first World War, a farmer (Peter Mullan) buys a horse for a price more than it appears to be worth. While his wife disapproves, his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is infatuated with the horse, but not in an “Equus” kind of way. The horse, whom Albert names Joey, is small but distinctively beautiful, marked by four white socks on his legs and a large white spot on his face. At first, Joey can barely carry a plough but by the end of the movie’s lengthy first hour, he has plowed an entire field. Joey may be smaller than the others, but he is fast and persistent.

Then comes The Great War and like most men in the area, Joey is enlisted into battle. He comes into the care of Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston, or F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris”). After losing Nicholls in battle, Joey ends up in the care of the British, the Germans, and at one point, a young French girl. Albert enlists in the war, in hopes of being reunited with his beloved horse.

When it comes to depicting the horrors of war, no one does it better than Spielberg. It is stark realism to the highest, most detailed degree. If “Raiders of the Lost Ark” evoked a young boy playing with action figures in his backyard (as a critic once said), then “War Horse” evokes that young boy who is all grown up, knows history too well, and has sat through every action and adventure movie there is.

There have been few notable movies made about World War I, and the scenes in “War Horse” which take place in No Man’s Land and the trenches could definitely give “Paths of Glory” a run for its money. It looks exactly like the post apocalyptic hell that it should be depicted as. When it comes to unflinching historical accuracy, no one beats Spielberg.

Even when Spielberg fails (and he has before), he never loses his uncanny eye for what elements truly complete a movie. In “War Horse,” every little thing ends up having some sort of payoff. He knows what the viewers wants, but he also knows they shouldn’t have to be cheated in order to get it.

Despite having a lot of plain human characters, “War Horse” makes an indelible impact. It is Joey the horse who truly makes it special. If there was an Oscar for animals, he would surely win it. Having Joey as the main character of this movie is something of a small relief, as it is nice to have a totally silent lead character sometimes, and I don’t mean like Ryan Gosling in “Drive” kind of silent. Since horses can’t speak, they use the purest form of acting: the emotions generated by their facial expressions and body language. You can tell when the horse is in physical pain but the more time you spend with Joey, the more you can see emotions that go below the surface. From Joey it is apparent that every living creature feels the effect of war and loss. Think of it as a minor “Consider the Lobster” effect.

“War Horse” is many things. It is an underdog story, a tragedy, and a love story in one. It displays Spielberg’s great gift of always being able to shine the beacon of hope into the darkest of times. Spielberg gets to end “War Horse” with the big happy reunion he so often likes to conclude with. But here, it doesn’t feel like schmaltz as it did at the conclusion of “War of the Worlds.” It felt much deeper than that, and totally in place.

As many before me have pointed out, shades of “The Searchers,” no doubt a huge influence on Spielberg’s career, can be seen here. As Ethan Edwards stood outside the open doors of the house, feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the burdens of both the atrocities he’s seen and the bigotry he feels, is an outsider not just to normal society but even to his own family. As Joey stands just outside the open gate of the loving family’s estate, he probably can’t help but feel the same way. He is loved and many strangers go to great lengths to save him but he is still an animal who has seen more than any can imagine, and in an instant could be traded from one owner to the next. Even if Albert raised him, he will never have one true master. “War Horse” in a sense, is a western, and Joey is its outlaw.

“War Horse” is also the best looking movie to come out this year. From the red sunset to a shot in which an entire army emerges from a field of tall grass, “War Horse” is like looking at a constantly morphing painting. Despite the horrors of war, the beauty of the natural world does not cease to exist.

“War Horse” is especially different because of the unique perspective it is told from. It shows that when war breaks out, everybody feels the consequences. It takes a series of contrived coincidences and two and a half very speedy hours to arrive at this point, but when a movie is able to suspend you from disbelief during its entire running time and keep you in that state, it has ultimately done exactly what its supposed to do. I cannot justify the poignance I felt once the movie ended, but the fact that this emotional state stuck with me long after the ending credits rolled shows the subtle and outstanding power of this movie. Just as Joey is not some dumb horse, just as “War Horse” is not some war movie.

Harry Potter: From an (In)different Perspective

WARNING: This article contains a brief, but pretty major spoiler for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” If you care that much, I suggest you stop reading now.

When “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two” concluded, a saga that had lasted over a decade had ended. Some people in the audience cried, others cheered, and pretty much everyone clapped wildly. For these people, it was a truly emotional moment.
Me? I made a fart sound with my mouth.
Maybe my reaction was a little bit immature. However, it summed up why I could just never get into this series. No matter how eye popping or imaginative “Harry Potter” could be, it just never clicked with me, whether in novel or film form.
My indifference to “Harry Potter” was never too personal. I read the first two books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I saw the first two movies, enjoyed those, too. The series started to lose me around the fourth film, though I have always appreciated the increasingly dark tone of the series. Looking back on it, the “Harry Potter” series did many good things. Most importantly, J.K. Rowling inspired children not only to read, but to enjoy reading, and to want to read, and to finish a book that was over 800 pages in one sitting. Even Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl would have had trouble pulling that off.
I never made it to the seventh book, and after giving up on movie number four, I only saw the second half of the seventh film (longest second act, ever). Harry’s original story, as a misfit who doesn’t understand his potential power is easily relatable to any young teen trying to figure out who they are. I could relate to this (no, I am not a wizard and no, my parents never forced me to live in a closet under the stairs). Yet, no real emotional connection ever forged between me and the young witches and wizards of Rowling’s universe.
When I was younger, I became attached to certain sagas and passed over all others. The world of “Harry Potter” never appealed to me. I tried “The Matrix” for one film and while I love “Star Wars” I could never call myself a fanboy. Rather than obsessing over Potter, I spent most of elementary and middle school as a “Lord of the Rings” geek. Later on, it was the two part universe of “Kill Bill” that somehow got the best of me and made me embark on my never-ending journey to watch every movie I could find at the public library.
“Harry Potter” has always felt strangely cartoonish to me. Even in its most serious moments, I never got a grasp in my mind that this world of magic could actually exist, that Hogwarts was a place I could put myself into. As far as the movies ago, I was never a fan of its mentality of making a gripping and dark action scene and then trying to end it with a light-hearted moment. That one little one liner would always devalue some of the previous scene’s seriousness. That’s just taking the idea of comic relief too far. Maybe it’s just an English thing.
At this point you are probably wondering: where the hell is my review? I just spent $10.50 and two and a half hours of my life on this movie, so shouldn’t I have some clear, formulated opinion? Well, here it is: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2″ is a highly entertaining summer blockbuster. Its special effects are dazzling and show the very best Hollywood has to offer in the latest CGI. This film shows how much the series has changed since its humble roots. However, if this is your first “Harry Potter” film, or your first “Harry Potter” film in quite some time, then you will not find yourself enjoying it so much. I would offer another big blockbuster for you to see but unfortunately, the only other ones currently out are sequels. So instead, I’ll request you go watch the pristine images and dinosaurs in “The Tree of Life.” That’s what you get for not liking “Harry Potter” more, you resentful jerk.
Anyway, there are some things I really do like about “Harry Potter.” I really like what the series did with Snape. I also admire the film’s special effects, which are the moviemaking equivalent of magic. The CGI felt organic, not forced. But because this film took place in the middle of a story that I was never involved in, I don’t feel I can properly review this film to the highest degree. Therefore, I leave you with these last two paragraphs.
All in all, not feeling an emotional connection with Harry and his friends doesn’t mean you’re missing a piece of your heart. Those tears that people felt once future Harry, Ron, and Hermione sent their kids away to Hogwarts is the exact way I felt after watching Andy give away all of his toys last year in “Toy Story 3.”
When some people walked out of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” a piece of their childhood ended along with the franchise. Everyone my age grew up alongside the “Potter” kids. Their awkward changes once they hit puberty only rivaled our own.
For me, once the screen faded to black, I just continued living from where my life had left off right before the film. However, I did feel an immense sting of disappointment that I didn’t stick around for the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises” that played following the credits.

Movie Review: Paul

Comedies that have been made since, let’s say the 90s, have been strongly derived from science fiction. It seems odd to think that the people who were raised on “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” went on to make “Clerks” and “Knocked Up.” I never really connected the dots until I watched “Paul.” Sci-fi, in either the best or worst sense, can also be comedy.

“Paul” is one of those satires that’s a little mocking, yet very loving, at the same time. Only someone so in love with sci-fi and comic book culture could ever make fun of it in this way. “Paul” is one of those movies that was much better than it had any right to be, or at least much better then I ever thought it would be.
“Paul” begins in a place where the new heroes of the 21st century seem to dwell: Comic-Con. Best friends Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) come all the way from England to experience the convention. On the way back, they stop off at some alien landing sites and come across Paul (Seth Rogen), a foul-mouthed, weed smoking alien who just wants to go back home. Now, the duo must help Paul safely meet his ship, while avoiding some very sinister FBI agents (including an intentionally robotic Jason Bateman, along with the much more ridiculous Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio). Along the way they also pick up a Jesus freak (Kristen Wiig) and flee her psychotic father (John Carroll Lynch).
“Paul” might not land my 10 best list for the year, but I will say that it’s probably the best put together comedy I’ve seen so far this year (though the competition is pretty slim). Though this shouldn’t be surprising, based on the people involved. Pegg and Frost have already gracefully mocked zombie movies with “Shaun of the Dead” and action movies with “Hot Fuzz.” In both cases, they wrote movies that both mocked the genres while becoming entries into them. “Paul” is no exception. These people have obviously partaken in enough sci-fi to know how to make fun of it correctly.
“Paul” has such a sprawling cast of comedic talent, and each actor contributes exactly the way they should be. Pegg and Frost have been practicing British bromance for close to a decade now, and they really know how to do it right. Though this time, their relationship had a much difference balance. It was a little less of one actually trying to get things done, and the other being a total idiot. This time, their friendship was basically played up as a romance, with hilarious effect.
The best comedic minds in Britain blend with America’s funniest comedians in “Paul.” I guess someone who can make characters as awkward as Wiig can was destined to one day play a half blind hard-core Christian; I guess she fulfilled her destiny. Rogen meanwhile is good as ever, even in alien form. At times, Paul never seemed very alien, because no one bothered to make his character any different from the real Seth Rogen. This actually turns out to be a good thing, as Paul becomes a likable, almost human character. He’s like E.T., if only E.T. could speak fluent English and chain smoke.
“Paul” nailed all of its sci-fi and pop culture references, from the never-ending mothership to the meeting spot at Devil’s Tower. The film is directed by Greg Motolla, who impresses more and more with the range of comedies he can direct. He can go from gross out (“Superbad”), to a little dramatic (“Adventureland”), to one that has an FX alien as a main character.
What Motolla does best is make sappy ideas seem very sweet. Think about the power of the friendship in “Superbad.” That’s why I really wish “Paul” had a little more emphasis on the friendship between Graeme and Clive, because very little development and change occurs in it throughout the film. This is too bad, as this was always a strong and hilarious aspect in the other films Pegg and Frost made together. Nothing against Motolla, but perhaps frequent collaborator Edgar Wright would’ve been a good directorial choice here.
Then again, how do you fit a fully developed buddy comedy into a movie about a half naked alien? If Motolla, Pegg, and Frost could’ve pulled that off, they’d forever be comic geniuses. Maybe they didn’t get there, but they still made a perfectly acceptable, unstoppably hilarious satire. They have certainly followed this rule of good satire quite well: if you want to make a good satire (especially of pop culture), you must be both familiar, and a little in love, with the content you are making fun of.
Most Anticipated Movies of 2011 - Paul

Movie Review: The Prestige

Only Christopher Nolan could turn something dumb into something smart, and something smart into something artistic. There have been a lot of movies made about magicians, but none quite like this. “The Prestige” makes magic seem real, and it portrays the ways to obtain it as truly genius.

“The Prestige” follows the same vain as films such as “Sunset Boulevard” and “American Beauty” and uses a narrator who speaks from beyond the grave. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), an American magician, begins the film by being murdered by rival British magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale).
From there on, the film flashes between many different points in time. All of the jealousy and obsession between the rivals is revealed to show how it all leads up to the film’s deadly conclusion. If you think I’ve given away the whole plot just because I revealed the ending, you don’t even know the half of it.
“The Prestige” is the maximum potential greatness that “Inception” could’ve been if it had a stronger screenplay. While “The Prestige” might not have had the budget or effects of “Inception,” it is an underrated gem that outshines it simply for its story.
Writing is a small factor that matters much more than most people realize. “The Prestige” has just about as many twists and complicated layers as “Inception,” yet it handles them in a much clearer way. “Inception” was like a puzzle where you were given the pieces, but had no clue what they were supposed to create. “The Prestige” is like a puzzle where you know what it wants to create, you just have to figure out how to piece it together. This is not meant to speak ill of “Inception,” simply to try and understand why “The Prestige” fell so under the radar.
Like the characters in every single one of his films, Nolan is something of an obsessive. That helps give way to his strikingly accurate image of England in the 1800s. He also obsessively strives to make magic and the world of magicians not just performance, but art. Nolan puts the magic back into magic, which was taken away intentionally by Gob Bluth in “Arrested Development” and unintentionally by “The Illusionist.”
In the world of “The Prestige,” magic doesn’t just involve a straight face; it requires the magician to be intelligent, innovative, and artful. Magic tricks should actually be magical. Although in this world, some of it could actually be real.
As for the acting, Jackman shows he is not quite as world class as some of his co-stars, but he is certainly trying his best. Bale meanwhile, is as wildly spot-on as always. Even in moments that seem genuine, he is always projecting a dark underside that is just waiting to be revealed at every moment. That is what truly makes Bale such a great actor: his unpredictability.
Nolan favorite Michael Caine also starts in “The Prestige” and for the first time in years, he plays a large, incredibly vital part of a story. While he usually plays the nice old mentor who helps the hero out, in “The Prestige,” his role is less good and much more ambiguous. None of the characters in the movie would function without him. Also, for the sake of getting my hits up on Google, I thought I’d mention that Scarlett Johansson is also in this movie.
“The Prestige” reminded me of the recent “Black Swan,” mainly in its final twist. Like “Black Swan,” it pulled off an ending that could’ve been guessed and still makes it both shocking and exciting. Even if an end twist is obvious, it can always be good as long as the filmmaker isn’t pretentious about it.
Some might call Nolan a modern day Spielberg for his ability to convert smart ideas in huge blockbusters. “The Prestige,” meanwhile, is Nolan at his most Hitchcockian. Everything about it from the perils of obsession to the way the twists and thrills are laid out would make the British master of suspense proud.
“The Prestige” takes a genre that was stretched to its end and makes it fresh and captivating again. “The Prestige” is the best kind of psychological thriller: it actually makes you use your brain to enjoy it.
If You Liked This Movie, You’ll Also Like: Black Swan, Fight Club, Inception, Memento, Moon, There Will Be Blood, Vertigo

Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

There can be a point in a certain film where it stops being a film and starts a living, breathing creature. Some call this meta. Some may think it doesn’t even deserve a name. Whatever meta may be can be the only way to ever truly describe the riveting maybe real or maybe fake documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” that tells multiple stories and is, believe or not, multiple films rapped within one. The main focus of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is on Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French-American man who is obsessed with filming everything he sees. Thierry’s annoying filmmaking begins to find a purpose once he gets sucked into the world of street art, meeting such famed street artists as Shepard Fairey.
One day, Thierry is asked to become the personal filmmaker to the most famous, most elusive modern street artist: Banksy. Banksy also directed “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Discuss.
The interesting thing about describing “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is that it may sound like I’m describing a narrative film rather than a documentary. That’s because “Exit Through the Gift Shop” does a better job than most modern documentaries at taking its parts and constructing a coherent whole.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” proves that Inception can be a real thing: once an idea is planted in someone’s head, it can never be eradicated. Once the idea that this movie might be a hoax comes to mind, it makes almost too much sense. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is either the best documentary or the funniest comedy of the year, or both.
However, Guetta seems almost too strange to have ever been invented. At first, he is likably ambitious. After a little twist, he begins something more of a psycho who has absolutely no clue what he’s doing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see this man somehow become an extreme success in the world of street art.
Thierry Guetta may be the film’s main star, but “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is always surrounded by the idea of Banksy. After all, this is a Banksy production. Even though he is nothing more than a man in a black hoodie with a muffled voice, he still feels so real and powerful. He also proves here that he is a multi-talented artist, not just mastering the world of street art, but also the world of filmmaking.
Real or not, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” does exactly what it’s meant to do: explore the world of street art. It gives us a look at how street artists function in a way that is so close and exclusive that the viewer begins to become enveloped in the world itself. Notice the film barely uses the term “graffiti.” Instead, all the artists say “street art.” “Exit Through the Gift Shop” will make you more open minded about what art can be.
What “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is really trying to answer (besides who its own director is) is this age old question: what is art? Nearly any object in the world can be taken and turned into art. What Banksy is really asking is this: maybe it isn’t. Could we be living in a world where the idea of artistic expression has been taken too far? That seems possible, especially in a world where people like Thierry Guetta can pick up a camera or a paint brush.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” becomes meta in that it is a film about the making of the film. It is like a behind the scenes documentary that is way more informative than the average behind the scenes documentary you’d find on Showtime. It is not really about the stars, but about the art that the stars create. What Banksy has created a behind the scenes look not about himself, but about his art. In that art, maybe the real Banksy can be found.
I could be thinking to myself right now that it is a real shame that I didn’t see “Exit Through the Gift Shop” earlier on, for its brilliance deserves a spot on my list of the ten best films of 2010. However, I find it impossible to say that. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” doesn’t even deserve to be on a list of its own. Its unique, reality-bending view on art defies the entire idea of lists.

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

It must be hard to make a speech to an entire nation, but I imagine it’s even more difficult to have to do it with a speech impediment. “The King’s Speech” manages to bring history’s most insecure king’s struggle to life, one oblique angle at a time.

“The King’s Speech” does the extraordinary by making British royalty both sympathetic and not at all boring. I guess people are just more interesting when they’re facing total ruin from an evil foreign power.

For those who need to brush up on their history (like me), “The King’s Speech” is a biography on King George VI (Colin Firth). It begins in the days when he was still Duke of York, to his rise to the throne in the wake of World War II.

George’s path to power is blocked by his speech impediment, a problem which prevents him from speaking in public. So, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) hires speech doctor Lionel Lougue (Geoffrey Rush) to help him get rid of his confining stutter. Throughout the years, Louge becomes both a doctor and a life coach to George.

That man playing the king is someone who has hopefully become a household name by now, because his acting ability is too good to ignore. Firth turns a character that might’ve been cold and unsympathetic into someone who is both warm and funny, a man who under his problems is radiating with personality and life.

Firth is also one of the most emotional actors working today, and Hollywood’s best crier. I still remember that first scene in “A Single Man” when he breaks down into silent rage. Nobody knew anything about this character, but still, we wanted to cry with him.

As an actor, Firth does best when given as little to say as possible. Even in a film about the importance of rhetoric, Firth’s silence is a dominating factor.

Not only is “The King’s Speech” wonderfully acted, it’s also wonderfully told. What could have been dated and stale historical nonfiction feels so alive and modern; the characters of the past feel as tangible and relatable as characters in the present would. The fantastic screenplay, written by David Seidler, brings fascinating historical depth and great moments of comic relief when needed.

The man who deserves the biggest praise for the success of “The King’s Speech” is director Tom Hopper. The rookie British director directs like an old pro. It is both claustrophobic and emotionally shot. The best example of the superb directing would be that first scene. Everything from the way the camera is slightly tilted to how the frame is slightly blurred represent a nervous tension leading up to the opening speech. You could look at that, or the subtle imagery, like the way the microphone is placed in front of George’s mouth to look almost like a muzzle, or a cage. The best directed films are the ones you have to look at with the keenest eye, and find the greatest little details.

“The King’s Speech” is even better than the Oscar-begging period piece it appears to be. It will be raking in the Oscar nominations this year because it deserves it, and that is a rare find nowadays.

Halfway Through: The Best Films of the First Half of 2010

There has been an unreasonably large amount of articles lately chronicling the best films of the first half of 2010. As a journalist, I need to stay relevant. So, why not chime in as well.

So far, this year in cinema has been quite odd. So far, trash has just been piling on and on. Big films have either been disappointing or flat out awful. “Robin Hood” was an example of Hollywood desperately trying to market off an existing franchise. That one failed, miserably. Another movie, “The A-Team,” is an example of the death of both originality and intellect.
Yet, maybe the financial troubles of those two films could prove that the public is actually starting to search for quality, not crap. But then again, some really great films also had trouble finding an audience. And yes, there have been a few really great films so far this year, ones that will most likely make it onto my year end top 10 list.
The best films so far this year are a mixture of independent and mainstream. Some are ultra violent, and others are ultra silly. Since we are only halfway through the year, I will do only half of a top 10 list. Here are my five favorite films so far from 2010. They are listed in alphabetical order, as I still have half a year to decide what is truly best.
Fish Tank
Nobody can do Realism quite like the Brits can. “Fish Tank” is a gritty and unflinching look at the troubles of a rebellious teenage girl living in a London slum. It’s documentary-like style is almost painful; it introduces to moments that perhaps we aren’t even supposed to see. But we’re looking at it for the better. Even from a removed distance, we feel with the characters, and change with them. Challenge yourself to watch it; you won’t regret it.


The movie to end all superhero movies, though it probably won’t. “Kick-Ass” manages to be so many things. While it’s a social satire about why superheroes can’t exist in reality, it’s also a fine entry into the superhero genre. It’s one of the best made films in a while, and it contains some amazingly shot action sequences. It’s also not afraid to get gory. In a world where few things seem taboo anymore, “Kick-Ass” is the rare film that actually feels edgy for all the right reasons. Oh, and I have to mention Hit-Girl. Believe me, you’ll never stop talking about her.


By far the most underrated film of the year. Most unfortunately saw “MacGruber” as dumb and unnecessarily vulgar. Vulgar indeed, but not stupid. What exactly is the essence of the brilliance of “MacGruber”? Is it how it managed to take a one minute long sketch and develop it into a feature length story? Or is it how perfectly it mocked the action genre without repeatedly winking at the audience? I would say a little bit of both. I think what made “MacGruber” ultimately so satisfying is that it’s truly, originally hilarious. It might not have made as much as “Killers,” but I think we all know which one people will be talking about 10 years from now.

Shutter Island

If there’s one person on the planet who could make a mainstream film feel like art, it’s Martin Scorsese. “Shutter Island” could’ve been a total disaster, but all it really needed was someone with as extensive a knowledge of film as Scorsese has. The film is a throwback to ’50s noir. It utilizes cinematography and soundtrack to the highest degree in order to elevate the extremely creepy atmosphere. It’s brilliant technically, but it’s also given a heart by the emotionally complex performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, who proves himself a better and better actor everyday. And unless you’ve read the book, there’s a nice little surprise waiting for you at the end. “Shutter Island” is a movie made for movie lovers.

Toy Story 3

Few movies have the capacity to both make me cry and feel like a child again. Congratulations, “Toy Story 3,” on getting nostalgia down right. “Toy Story” captured two very important moments in my life: the beginning of my childhood, and the end of it. I remember seeing the first one in theaters, and I’ll never forget when I saw the third one. But if you didn’t grow up with “Toy Story,” then see it because it proves why animation is officially a respectable form of art in society. It’s fun and it’s filled with more actual jokes than just pop culture references. Pixar, keep being you.

A Few Other Good Ones: Hot Tub Time Machine, Greenberg, Cyrus, Winter’s Bone, Splice, The Ghost Writer