Monthly Archives: May 2009

Movie Review: Up

The geniuses at Pixar have done it again. They’ve exceeded my expectations and created yet another masterpiece. This time, with “Up.”

The previews for “Up” have made it seem like a simple tale of an old man (Ed Asner) and a young boy scout (Jordan Nagai) heading on a fun-filled adventure in a house carried by balloons to South America. Believe me, the story runs way deeper than that.
“Up” begins in what can be assumed is sometime in the 1920s or 30s with a “News on the March” type reel, very similar to the opening minutes of “Citizen Kane.” It is footage of a daring explorer (Christopher Plummer) who discovered a place in South America called Paradise Falls (which highly resembles Angel Falls in Venezuela). He was never seen again.
The young boy we see watching this movie is Carl (Asner). After seeing it, he meets an equally adventurous girl whom he later marries. They live, like in any fairy tale, happily ever after.
However, “Up” is no ordinary fairy tale. And if it is, it is one grounded more in reality than magic. As they age, Carl’s wife gets sick and passes. He is left totally alone as the area surrounding his quaint home is turned into a new building complex.
In his mourning, Carl realizes he doesn’t have much left in the States and should therefore complete the journey to Paradise Falls that him and his wife always hoped to do. He attaches thousands of baloons to his roof, and with the help of boy scout Russell (Nagai), heads off to Paradise Falls.
I will not reveal the rest of the plot from here, so as not to give away the real magic of the movie. What really needs to be discussed is everything that makes “Up” so masterful.
Of all the Pixar films, “Up” may be the darkest and most intense. It deals with matters of life and death, ultimate greed, love, and the meaning of youth and age. These dark themes are not the ones you’d expect out of a kids movie, and something you probably won’t see in “Ice Age 3.” But this is the thing that makes “Up,” and nearly every other Pixar movie so great: it’s a movie made for kids that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. “Up” is an adventure made for kids constructed by someone with the wisdom and experience of both age and childhood.
One of the things that makes “Up” so masterful is simply the way it’s shot. One of the final shots of the house, balloons and all, as it descends through the clouds and eventually disappears into oblivion is stunning, the kind of the thing that even great CGI couldn’t produce.
“Up” differs from Pixar’s other fare because it is one of their only films in which it is told from a human point of view. “Up” proves that the studio can tell a human story just as well as a story of a toy, robot, or mouse.
While in most of Pixar’s films humans are nothing but caricatures, “Up” allows them to come to life. Each character has their own dark side and motivation behind each of their actions. Just to prove how much they care about their characters, directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson pay attention to every tiny detail, down to each facial hair and red cheek, with stunning perfection.
Of course, “Up” doesn’t fail to give voice to those who usually have none. The story includes a pack of talking dogs who provide a large amount of the film’s comic relief. They are not as wise as the rats of “Ratatouille,” but they say exactly what you’d expect a dog to say if it could talk. Another of the plot’s human-like non-human characters is a beautiful bird who becomes a key part of the story.
“Up” represents another turning point for Pixar. As last year’s “Wall-E” proved, Pixar represents a band of filmmakers who have no problem straying away from the usual fare studios think a child enjoys. They understand films are not just about entertaining, but teaching; they open the door to magical new worlds while still keeping the door to reality open. “Up” perhaps carries a very anti-consumerism/materialism message that is much more subtle than that in “Wall-E.”
Despite the newfound maturity, “Up” still contains the one theme essential to every Pixar film since “Toy Story”: that a friendship can flourish between any two people (or things), no matter how different they may be.
Many elements of “Up” may seem implausible, but these small things are totally forgivable in such an awe-inspiring movie. “Up” simply asks the audience to forget reality for two hours and focus on this sublime fantasy. It is not just a sublime fantasy, but a “real” fantasy; the kind of real fantasy that contains realistic people going through realistic struggle in a world where anything can happen. This is without a doubt one of the best films of 2009.

Today’s Sign of the Apocalypse

Ever heard the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, nobody ever told 20th Century Fox that. The studio plans to make a remake of the 1979 classic “Alien” (despite the countless sequels in recent years that no one saw).

What is the reasoning for this? “Alien” has just hit the 30 year mark this year, and the FX and frights still hold up well. The sight of the alien popping out of that man’s stomach is still as shocking and terrifying today as it ever was.
Why is it that studios can’t come up with original horror or sci-fi blockbusters anymore? It’s not as hard as one may think; there are no doubt hundreds of out-of-work screenwriters who’d be more than willing to share their ideas. For once, will they listen?
The film will reportedly be co-produced by Ridley Scott. Scott, a pioneer of the modern sci-fi genre, directed the original “Alien.” Why is he remaking his own masterpiece? Doesn’t the man behind “Blade Runner” and “American Gangster” have any better ideas up his sleeve?
Read More About It Here

Bruno Gets a Second Trailer

This week the second trailer for “Bruno,” what will likely be the best movie of the summer, was released. It’s not much different from the first trailer (with the exception of some more footage of his visit with Ron Paul and time on a talk show), but just seeing some footage from “Bruno” is enough to make my day. Already I see the velcro suit as a possibility for one of the funniest bits of slapstick comedy in years.

I will try my best not to overhype this thing. Then again, the trailer is just three minutes out of what is likely to be a 90 minute movie; so who knows what madness could ensue in the remaining 87 minutes. Lets hope that madness is filled with laughs and not yawns. Knowing Sacha Baron Cohen, it will likely be filled with laughs.
Here’s the second trailer:

And, here’s a classic clip from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G:

Weeds is Coming Back

I can’t believe I’ve neglected this story for so long but I felt it was necessary to share some exciting news: a new season of “Weeds” is just around the corner. Yep, Showtime’s twisted comedy is getting a new season.

Seasons one through three of “Weeds” was a “Blue Velvet”/”American Beauty” like satire on suburbia. Season four took a sudden turn by abandoning the comfy gated community of Agrestic for the more harsh life of a town right next to the Mexican border. Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) got herself into a whole new mess of trouble and as usual, got her whole family mixed up in it as well. The question is, will she be able to get herself out of this complete mess this time around? The utterly intense final minutes of season four saw Nancy pondering the possibility of death before saving herself with…pregnancy. But, is she really pregnant? And what will this mean for her drug dealing days?
“Weeds” season five begins Monday, June 8 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. For longtime fans, be ready. For newcomers, you’ve still got two weeks to catch up! And, let’s hope this season gets “Weeds” back into the Emmy spotlight.
For more information visit

The Top 10: Directors

Well, the Top 10 has disappeared for a while, but now it’s back. This time, we’ll focus on directors. These brave men are the true architects of the cinema; they must be daring. They bring ideas to life any way they can. This list, are the directors who do it best:

1. Stanley Kubrick- Kubrick once said, “if it can be written or thought, it can be filmed.” To this man, the term “unfilmable” didn’t exist. Kubrick had an imagination like few others, an imagination that spilled over onto the screen. He had the ability to show the dark side of something good (technology) or the beautiful, even hilarious side of something tragic (war). He could also make long stretches of silence exciting and ridiculous dystopian futures seem frighteningly real. He made the impossible possible, and like great men before him like Einstein, Galileo, and Darwin–he extended the limits of the human imagination.

2. Quentin Tarantino- This man inspired my obsession with film because he is a man as obsessed with film as I am. Tarantino’s films are not violent, vulgar trash but rather loving odes to the violent, vulgar trash he watched in his youth. His tributes bring to the light the obscure films of his era into our own. Without him, the words Leone, Kurosawa, Scorsese, Ford, and Eastwood would sound like nothing more than foreign objects.
3. Martin Scorsese- The 1970s was perhaps the greatest period of American filmmaking. And Scorsese was the greatest of the period. Like a film out of the French New Wave, it contains loose narrative structure and a large degree of social realism and awareness. Few directors know the art of directing better than him, nor understand the tremendous effect that simply dimming the lights or playing downbeat music can have on an entire film.
4. Sergio Leone- When people think Western they think America. They think of Wayne and Ford. But really what they should think of is Italy and Leone. Like Kubrick, Leone works best under great silences; creating intensity through creepy stares. Like any great western director, he observed the landscape and fully exploited its stunning beauty, from the buttes of Monument Valley to the crowded streets of Brooklyn in his underrated foray into the gangster drama, “Once Upon a Time in America.” No doubt though, he is most famous for the conclusion of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” when the showdown between three outlaws culminates into one of the most thrilling uses of music and suspense ever put into the movies. Thank Leone for that.
5. Joel & Ethan Coen- Many directors work great alone. Not this sibling team, who are sometimes labeled “the two-headed director.” They brilliantly exploit their characters’ flaws, and turn the landscapes they film into their own personal canvas. Upon first viewing, some of their characters might seem one-dimensional, but after multiple viewings, deeper dimensions come out. Perhaps just one piece of evidence proves the Coen Brothers greatness: they created The Dude.
6. Judd Apatow- With only two features (it might seem like more with all of his producing projects), Apatow has already established himself as a leading voice of the comedy world. He directs in a different way than one would expect a great director to. He stays out the way, with simple still shots rather than complex aerial or tracking shots. Meanwhile, he famously chooses his actors before even writing the script, and once shooting starts, he practically lets them do whatever they want, and therefore his films feel more natural. Apatow proves that the director that directs best is one that directs least.
7. John Ford- The father of the Western genre. Despite the racism and political incorrectness of his movies, they still stand the test of time. His “The Searchers” has inspired sci-fi films (“Star Wars), war movies (“Apocalypse Now”), and crime dramas (“Taxi Driver”) amongst others. Just from that one movie alone, Ford proved that the universal language of film is the concept that a simple, human story can fit into any setting, any genre, at any time.
8. Wes Anderson- Many directors fall into the dreadful category of style over substance. Anderson however, defies all odds and is able to achieve both style and substance by bringing out substance through his style.
9. Steven Speilberg- Because, how could I not? He’s one of the few directors that is more famous than his stars. He is also the father of the summer blockbuster. Today, this might seem like a negative thing, but following Speilberg’s model could bring about that seemingly unachievable balance between art and entertainment, a sort of nirvana every great director hopes to achieve. Just remember, behind the dazzling effects of “E.T.” is the story of a young boy’s connection with an alien, and behind the horror of “Jaws” is the story of a man who will do anything to protect his family and community. Speilberg also showed he was capable of more serious work, with “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Munich” quickly ranking among the finest movies ever made.
10. Clint Eastwood- Everyone knew the man could act, but who knew he could direct? Taking tips from his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood went on to make a name for himself directing epic westerns, epic war movies, and smaller, human dramas.
Other Contenders: Roman Polanksi, Francis Ford Coppola, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Akira Kurosawa, Francis Truffaut, Hayao Miyazaki, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Milos Foreman

Movie Review: The 400 Blows

When “The 400 Blows” opened in 1959, it delivered more than 400 blows to everything people loved and cherished so much in cinema. It changed the way a story could be told on screen. No more formal structure. No more conclusive endings. Just…life.

“The 400 Blows,” a pivotal film from the French New Wave, is short in length yet deep in content. It follows Antoine (Jean-Pierre Leaud), a delinquent of a child whose stealing money and telling lies when he’s not being abused by his overbearing parents or his overly controlling and abusive teacher. Antoine is something of a young Cool Hand Luke wearing a Terry Malloy jacket: he commits crimes yet struggles with remorse; he makes petty crimes seem somewhat stylish.
Like Luke, Antoine tries many failed attempts at escaping his wretched life. The great paradox of the film lies within the fact that the more and more Antoine is put in chains, the more and more free he ultimately comes. This paradox is no more apparent than in the iconic final shot, as Antoine gazes at both freedom and confusion.
“The 400 Blows” is perhaps the pinnacle of the French New Wave; a post WWII film movement which embraced the iconoclasm and rebellion from society’s typical ideals. Not only was the New Wave breaking free from the burden’s of society, but also the burden’s of typical, mainstream filmmaking. Nowhere is this more apparent than in “The 400 Blows.” Francois Truffaut takes him time telling the story, and it is time well spent.
Truffaut doesn’t rush through events, no matter how insignificant. Maybe watching Antoine drink an entire bottle of stolen milk doesn’t move the plot along, but it reveals certain, small things about the life of the character. Most important is the nearly three minutes Truffaut spends capturing Antoine wandering through miles of countryside. Three minutes may be short in reality, but it could feel like an eternity in the film world. Three minutes is an especially long time to capture someone walking. However, I felt like this dialogue free scene could’ve gone on for hours and I wouldn’t have minded because of the way every tiny detail is captured. There is the background score, the way in which Antoine carefully yet cavalierly wanders, or the breathtaking scenery.
This attention to small detail could be considered a turning point in filmmaking. While many movies simply move along as quickly as they can to reach the conclusion, “The 400 Blows” takes it time and doesn’t quite care when it arrives because frankly, Antoine doesn’t quite care when he arrives, just as long as he is going somewhere.
Perhaps I am over-exaggerating the film’s breakthroughs. Perhaps many films before it tried the same new style, yet no matter what, “The 400 Blows” achieves to perfection. It is one of the few movies you will ever see that contains so little action yet is so exciting, one that is pushed along not by events, but by people.

Watch: Precious (aka Push) Trailer

“Precious” (still is and always will be titled “Push” in my mind), a movie I reported with a sensational review a few months ago at Sundance, is finally making its way to theaters. The release date is not set yet but hopefully it’ll be sometime soon. 

“Precious” follows Precious (Gabby Sidibe), an overweight black girl whose pregnant with the second child of her father. She lives with an abusive mother (Mo’Nique) on welfare. 
Too often I say a movie is extremely depressing yet uplifting in the end, but this time, I truly mean it. Few films will put you into the depths of the most horrible abuse and tragedy and then shine a tiny glimmer of hope above your head. Seeing this movie might not just make you a better person.
Watch the trailer below; if you tear up over it then be prepared for the movie (not that this should discourage you from seeing it). Also, keep Mo’Nique down as a frontrunner in your Oscar pool. Seriously, snubbing her stunning performance would be a crime:

Lost: Season Five In Review

(Warning: Article may contain spoilers. Do not read if you have not yet watched the season five finale)

Wow. That is the only word that comes to me when thinking about season five of “Lost” and its finale. 
Season five certainly wasn’t the best season (that still remains season three) or the most emotional (that would be season one). However, it was certainly the strangest. And I mean that in the same way as I did for “Happiness.” I mean the kind of strange that is strange because it is something unseen, something many would think of but few would ever carry out. They went back and forth between over two periods of time. Flashbacks became flash-forwards. Past became present. Future became present. And then, the bomb went off. Yes, the bomb went off. While most shows give off the sense of security that the bomb will never go off, the characters will always be safe, “Lost” threw that notion out the door. It threw the characters right in front of a speeding train.
And then, it took this twist one step further and made it the final moment of the season. So now we are forced to wonder: were they really put in harm’s way? Will the bomb save them, or kill them all? My friends, it looks like we’ll have to wait until 2010 to find that out.
This season, the cast shined as usual. Terry O’Quinn (Locke) and Michael Emerson (Ben) were standouts as usual. However, this season’s biggest standout was Jeremy Davies. Davies portrayed Daniel Faraday, a scientist who seemed timid and clueless in season four but really had every answer the survivors were looking for. Another standout was Josh Holloway, who’s Sawyer underwent one of the biggest character transformations in “Lost” history this season. 
This season wasn’t perfect. The constant time jumping in the first few episodes was too hectic and too difficult to keep up with. Once Locke turned the wheel and the island stopped moving, things seemed to go back to normal. However, things were far from normal. While the past four seasons contained either past and present or present and future, this season managed to use all three and balance them out perfectly. 
Each season of “Lost” has mixed science with science fiction by setting of themes of faith vs. science and mythology. This season it took a way more scientific approach and examined time travel. Not just time travel, but the implications of it. A new twist of “Lost”‘s central argument of fate vs. freewill: can humans change the past? Or was everything bound to happen no matter what? “Lost” never answered this question because this question should be up to the viewer. It is one of those things that no person could ever answer correctly.
The season five finale set up multiple new problems to be solved next season and questions demanding answers. Ben has killed Jacob, but what will happen when Jacob dies? When will Jin & Sun reunite? But most importantly, will the island even exist anymore now that Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) detonated the bomb? I can’t answer any of these questions but I will say this: Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse have continued to hold my attention, and I cannot wait until next year to find out all of the answers in the season to conclude one of the greatest sci-fi masterpieces ever made.

Taking Back An Old Post

About a year ago, I expressed much anger and shame in a possible decision by the Academy to let Justin Timberlake host the Oscars. I apologize for this claim. To be fair, the Academy called him a “song-and-dance” man and all I could see him as was a member of ‘N Sync. Times have changed and I would not mind seeing Timberlake as an Oscar host.* Want to know why? Watch and learn: 

*A Timberlake-Samberg team up would be great. However, I still have my hopes set on a Stewart-Colbert team up or the small possibility of bringing Mitch Hedberg back to life for one night.

Movie Review: Happiness

Think of the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. You might think it was weird, but after seeing “Happiness,” you won’t know what weird is anymore. I don’t say this in a negative way. “Happiness” exceeds any level of strangeness and thus propels itself into its very own, unique category.

“Happiness” has no plot, only many characters. The decisions, good and bad, of these characters is what ultimately propels the story forward. It is an ensemble film which contains a sprawling cast. The story focuses on many different New Jersey residents, each who are far from happy. The ensemble includes Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a lonely man who’s afraid to talk to women, a lonely woman (Jane Adams) who’s afraid of the future, a married therapist (Dylan Baker) with a disturbing secret, a shallow writer (Lara Flynn Boyle), and an old couple who can no longer feel love.
Each character is presented in their own original story at first. Over time, the stories start to overlap, and it is revealed that every character is somehow related. One character is the sibling of another who is friends of another character and neighbors with another. At certain times, you’ll scream in shock to see one character’s unexpected relation with another. But at the same time, it allows you to see another side of each character. A contrast between one or the other, a look at how much deeper their emotions go than we thought we knew. 
Yes, the movie is strange and uncomfortable. Conversations are evoked that one would never have in ordinary life, topics I can’t even mention here. However, the awkward moments don’t detract from the story but instead make it better. They turn into little idiosyncrasies that reveal something about each character, whether it is a vulnerability, or an unknown strong point. Overall, the awkwardness is another method that brings together every character into a giant web.
While watching “Happiness,” I was reminded of “Magnolia.” “Magnolia is another story that is more about the characters than the actual plot, it is a story in which small decisions propel the plot forward with no real goal or destination at the end. However, “Happiness” does contain some sort of goal: a goal for the characters to reach the titular feeling. How they will do that is what they must figure out.
“Happiness” is directed with close precision by Todd Solondz. He uses the camera to usually follow around the characters, create creepy shadows to show one character’s slip into madness, and many times allow different characters to chime in for narration. There is not one narrator, because not one character is truly the center of attention in this story. Despite the technical triumphs, the real triumph of the film is Hoffman’s performance. Only he could make a character so unlikeable yet so easy to sympathize for at the same time.
“Happiness” can be seen in many different lights. Some may view it as a pitch black comedy that gets huge laughs out of squirms. Others will see it as a very dark, brooding drama that is set up to reveal the flaws of each and therefore the fundamental flaws of mankind. The film, like “American Beauty,” (which came out just a year after “Happiness), portrays ordinary people doing whatever they can to break free and discover truly the things that will bring them to a state of nirvana. You can enjoy this deep subtext within “Happiness,” or you can just enjoy it for what it is: a smart, daring, devilishly funny look at those small things in life that no one likes talking about it.