Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Glamor: Best Above-the-Line Work of 2009

Tuesday, I took the time to look at what I thought to be the Best Craftswork of 2009, today I'm looking at everything else, from Original Score, all the way to Best Director, and then tomorrow I am going to be posting my list of the Ten Best Movies of the Year, but that is not today. Today, is all about the glamor that we tend to associate with moviemaking, the visible heroes so to speak. I'm speaking of the directors, the writers, the actors, and the composers. To be honest, I've been looking forward to this post for a few months now, and my excitement has nearly gotten the best of me, so I wont wait any longer, here we go:

Best Song - Joe Hisaishi, "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," from Ponyo
While Overtone's song, "9,000 Days," from Invictus is one of my more favorite songs written for a movie of this year, I've gotta give credit where it's due. Japanese master composer, Joe Hisaishi, did it again, composing the most wonderfully cute and fun theme song to Hayao Miyazaki's latest film, Ponyo. Every Miyazaki film has a Hisaishi-penned song played in the credits or something, and I think that this one is one of his more memorable tunes.
(Runners-up: Karen O & The Kids, "All is Love," from Where the Wild Things Are; Leona Lewis & James Horner, "I See You," from Avatar; Overtone, "9,000 Days," from Invictus; and Sad Brad Smith, "Help Yourself," from Up in the Air)

Best Score - Joe Hisaishi, Departures
Hisaishi-San finds himself on here again, but this time for the Academy Award-winning Foreign Film, Departures. This was a great year for film scores, whether it was from Hans Zimmer's original work on Sherlock Holmes or Michael Giacchino's awesome music for the new Star Trek. While Joe Hisaishi nearly got on here for his score for Ponyo, the music he composed for Departures is just so integral to the film, not to mention beautiful and breathtaking, that it is safe to say the film wouldn't have been the same without it.
(Runners-up: Michael Giacchino, Star Trek; Joe Hisaishi, Ponyo; Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes; and James Horner, Avatar)

Best Screenplay - Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Endlessly filled with satire and authentic emotion, Reitman & Turner's script for Up in the Air sells the movie, from its snarky dialogue, to not allowing the film to traipse into melodrama when it reaches its big twists and turns. The script is authentic, and definitely worthy of this honor, even though I think Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman came close for their marvelously intense script for Star Trek.
(Runners-up: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek; Nick Hornby, An Education; Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer; Kundo Koyama, Departures)

Best Supporting Actress - Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
No other supporting role from a woman this year was as affecting as Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. Kendrick was the atypical know-it-all, fresh out of college, thought she understood everything about the world, had it all figured out, and realizes she's just a stupid kid. I think her performance rings true to me since her character was only four years older than me.
(Runners-up: Lauren Ambrose, Where the Wild Things Are; Zoe Saldana, Star Trek; Emma Thompson, An Education; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air)

Best Supporting Actor - Karl Urban, Star Trek
There were many great male supporting performances from this year alone, but it was Karl Urban's wonderful performance as Dr. "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek that takes the top prize. He took the character created by DeForest Kelly, and was respectful while making it his own. Not to mention he was probably the funniest part of the whole movie.
(Runners-up: J.K. Simmons, Up in the Air; James Gandolfini, Where the Wild Things Are; Jim Broadbent, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and Takashi Sasano, Departures)

Best Actress - Zoe Saldana, Avatar
It really came down between Ms. Saldana for Avatar and Ms. Mulligan for An Education, but at the end of the day I decided to give it to the actress who did the greatest transformation to assume her role. Zoe Saldana was marvelous as Neytiri, she is what brought the Nav'i to life in Avatar, as well she mastered a whole different way of speaking, a new language, and had to completely reinterpret her body language, and even after all of that she still gave a very emotional performance. It's kind of funny, you never really she her face, but her performance is one of the best things about the film.
(Runners-up: Carey Mulligan, An Education; Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer; and Ryoko Hirosue, Departures)

Best Actor - George Clooney, Up in the Air
For the latter part of this entire year, I had only been thinking of one guy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but after seeing Up in the Air, I had to give it to the most deserving male performance of the year. George Clooney essentially plays himself in Up in the Air, as a downsizing expert who fires people for a living, but in playing a character that goes through so much, in order for Clooney to of played the emotion he would have had to do some serious soul searching, and for that reason alone I think he is highly deserving, not to mention it is a marvelous performance, probably the best of his career.
(Runners-up: Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer; Chris Pine, Star Trek; Masahiro Motoki, Departures)

Best Ensemble - The Cast of Star Trek
In terms of ensemble work, there really was no contest, the new cast of Star Trek just meshed perfectly, possibly even better than the original cast. J.J. Abrams was spot on in the casting of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, there is some obvious chemistry between the two, and as a matter of fact, between the entire cast, and it excites me to see them possibly put this chemistry to good use in future sequels. The only one that came close to beating Trek was the cast of Harry Potter, but seriously, Star Trek is an ensemble film if I've ever seen one.
(Runners-up: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Up in the Air, Departures, Where the Wild Things Are)

Best Director - J.J. Abrams, Star Trek
This was one of the more solid categories in this year of filmmaking, but at the end of the day, the director I was most impressed by was J.J. Abrams for his work on Star Trek. Abrams managed to infuse this re-invisioning of Trek with excitement and energy. The action sequences were thrilling and suspenseful, and not to mention there was an emotional resonance inherent in the film due to its wonderfully drawn characters and beautifully realized sequences, such as the death of George Kirk or the destruction of Vulcan. Abrams didn't waste anytime, not only did he manage to bring Star Trek back, but he also managed to do something that Star Trek never did for me till now, he made it cool to say that you're a fan.
(Runners-up: Marc Webb, (500) Days of Summer; Yojiro Takita, Departures; Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air)

Tune in tomorrow as I post my list of the ten best films of 2009!

Movie Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air is an ethereal movie-going experience. I don't think there is any other way to put it. The movie is relevant, realistic, and at the same time, oddly beautiful. While the movie starts off snarky and very savvy, it later on slips into the true realities of life and meaning.

The film stars George Clooney as downsizing expert, Ryan Bingham. Ryan works for a corporation who loans out guys like Ryan to big companies all over the country to lay off their work force, so essentially he fires people for a salary. Ryan has no real connections in his life and considers airport terminals his home.  Seeing as how he nearly has 10 million frequent flyer miles and is traveling about 320 days out of the year, I'd say that is an astute observation.  Ryan's way of life is threatened when a young college grad starts working alongside him and has developed a way to fire people via webchat rather than traveling all over the country at an expense. Ryan is opposed, but has a chance to possibly settle down with Alex (played to crisp perfection by Vera Farmiga), a soul mate if there ever has been. She is a frequently flyer too, and as stated in the film, is essentially the female version of Ryan.

It's kind of odd watching this film and wondering whether the filmmakers had any idea what kind of state our nation's economy would be in at this time. I guess it was foresight or whatnot, but the film plays out so much more powerfully in this current economic crisis than I think it would in any other time. Much like The Grapes of Wrath, Up in the Air captures the realities of this economy. What it captures though isn't Midwest farmers, but rather the turmoil of the corporate world, where nearly every company is downsizing and having to lay people off. This is played out wonderfully in many sequences, in particular when actor J.K. Simmons steps in for a small one scene cameo, but he makes the most of it, as Ryan convinces Simmons to pursue his dreams of become a chef.

At the end of the day, this film is all about people. The recurring theme rampant throughout Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's witty screenplay, is the concept of connection, and in some cases the lack thereof. Anna Kendrick is a delight as Ryan's young, fresh-out-of-college protege, who Ryan has been forced to show her the ropes. She challenges Clooney's character, and acts as if she has it all figured out, but Clooney just shoots her down like a one-winged duck. Then, there is Vera Farmiga as Clooney's love interest, Alex. Farmiga is very flirtatious in the role and plays off Clooney and his charm extremely well, so well in fact that you wont even see the truck coming when it hits. Though the real star here is George Clooney himself.

Clooney is essentially playing himself, but I think that is what makes this performance all the
more affecting. In order to have achieved the emotions required by this film, Clooney had to have taken a deep look at himself, and if like Ryan, he didn't like what he saw, we will never know, but it is that soul searching that comes across in this film and is a different breed of acting that we tend to forget. Clooney manages for you to feel empathy for Ryan, even though he isn't the most desirable man on Earth. I mean seriously, he fires people for a living! Even still, we feel deeply for Clooney when he is burned by his own philosophy of having no connections in life, and we feel a rush of melancholy when he finally achieves his goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles.  It's kind of a moment of, "What was it all for?"

The film was directed expertly by Jason Reitman, and I applaud Reitman's decision to film the corporate world with a slick expertise, and when the characters are out mingling in the real world, he films everything handheld, almost as if it is a documentary. Not only that, I think Reitman benefits here from having written the script, because he handles the balance between the comedy and drama extremely well. It doesn't feel like a flip-flop bouncing up-and-down upon the sole of your foot, it's just a smooth ride to the other side, very much like a Billy Wilder film in that way.

Overall, this is a special movie that is actuality extremely funny, but at the same time it is very down-to-Earth and deeply moving.

I give Up in the Air a 9 out of 10!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trailer Rush: Robin Hood

There are certain stories that just seem to have been told to death on film. Every generation there is another filmmaker who comes along and decides they'd like to take a crack at it. One such story is Robin Hood. Well, director Ridley Scott has come along and decided he'd like to take his favorite man, Russell Crowe, and throw him into the woods of Sherwood Forest as the famed archer.

The first trailer for this film has been online for a little over a week now, but I've been debating ever since I've first seen it whether I wanted to post it or not. Before I go into my thoughts on this film, I'll just let you get a good look at the trailer and see for yourselves.

I just can't get excited for this movie. My complaints are many. First off, I've never been a huge Ridley Scott fan. Sure, back in the '80s, and even with a small resurgence in 2000 with Gladiator, he's made some good films, but for the most part, in particular in recent years, his work just seems uninspired, as if he's just kind of going through the motions, and that's what this film looks like to me. Plus, Russell Crowe is nowhere near likable enough as an actor to portray a character as virtuous as Robin Hood; the Sheriff of Nottingham maybe, but not the archer himself.

While the film does have Cate Blanchett in it, as a whole it just doesn't look all that different from Scott's own Gladiator, and at the end of the day, that isn't Robin Hood to me. Give me a swashbuckling Errol Flynn, or a Fox in a green tunic any day of the week; I'd even take American accent Kevin Costner, I mean that was a thoroughly entertaining film.

This one hits theaters next May.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting Technical: Best Craftswork of 2009

(Rather than doing a big post highlighting all of the best work in film from this year, I've decided to compartmentalize everything, each day taking a different look at the different aspects of moviemaking. )

The below-the-line crew members are the unsung heroes of the film industry. They are the people who make the film a reality, not the overpaid stars, not the pretentious director, or the money-mongering producer; no, it's all the little people who tend to get no recognition. Today, I'm gonna give all these guys (or girls) the recognition they deserve.

The technical side of filmmaking is, in all actuality, the most challenging to do, and very often the most rewarding when you manage to do it well. Anywhere from Cinematography, to Makeup, all the way to the lowly Production Assistants (yes, I've been there), everyone pulls their own weight to make the film work and be the best that it can be. That is why I'm giving all of the below-the-line people their time in the spotlight, naming the best of 2009 in all of the major tech categories, and then finishing everything up by naming what I think to be the Best Crew that worked on a film this entire year, based upon the quality of the work involved (now the Best Crew award has nothing to do with the story or direction or acting, purely to do with the technical details of the film and how well done every aspect behind-the-scenes meshed together to create perfect movie magic). Without further ado, let's get going:

Best Cinematography - Bruno Delbonnel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
There was some really great work this year, and I was actually very tempted to give it to Takeshi Hamada for Departures all due to the wonderful change of seasons sequence, but I've gotta go with Bruno Delbonnel for his ability to bring the magical look of Harry Potter back to life in a way that we haven't seen since probably the third film in the franchise.
(Runners-up: Daniel Mindel, Star Trek; Eric Steelberg, (500) Days of Summer; Takeshi Hamada, Departures; and Larry Fong, Watchmen)

Best Film Editing - Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey, Star Trek
The only real competition here was James Herbert for Sherlock Holmes, having the usual Guy Ritchie flair interspersed throughout in the action sequences, but Brandon & Markey did so well on Star Trek, there is not a single poor edit in that film as far as I'm concerned. They stayed on all the shots just long enough to get the full spectacle, which is something I tend to gripe about in fantasy or sci-fi films.
(Runners-up: James Herbert, Sherlock Holmes; James Cameron, John Refoua, & Stephen E. Rivkin, Avatar; Julian Clarke, District 9; and Mark Day, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

Best Make-up - Star Trek
Head-and-shoulders above its competition, the make-up work for Star Trek was phenomenal, from turning Eric Bana into a Romulan, to tiny details like creating the Vulcan's ears, or to the countless prosthetic aliens in the background, this film would have been nothing if it weren't for the talented make-up artists behind-the-scenes.
(Runners-up: District 9, Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Terminator Salvation)

Best Costume Design - Jenny Beavan, Sherlock Holmes
I really liked Michael Kaplan's work on Star Trek, capturing the look of the classic old uniforms in a flashy way, but being realistic, Jenny Beavan nailed the late 1800s with so much panache and style in Sherlock Holmes that it brought to life the personalities of both Holmes and Dr. Watson.
(Runners-up: Jany Temime, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Michael Kaplan, Star Trek; Michael Wilkinson, Watchmen; and Coleen Atwood, Public Enemies)

Best Art Direction - Rick Carter & Robert Stromberg, Avatar
The most original film in the longest of time deserves this honor. The art direction for Avatar was astounding, original, and dare I say it, beautiful. I've never seen anything else like it, from the creature design to the design of the world of Pandora, and for that reason, the film's art direction is the best of the year.
(Runners-up: Stuart Craig, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Scott Chambliss & Karen Manthey, Star Trek; Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer, Sherlock Holmes; and Alex McDowell & Jim Erickson, Watchmen)

Best Sound Mixing & Editing - Star Trek
Good sound is often undervalued in a film, but when you see a film that sounds as if it was recorded inside a tin can, then you realize just how important it is. The sound work was really marvelous in so many films this year, but it was with Star Trek that I was able to hear the best balance between dialogue, sound effects, and music, although Watchmen came awfully close.
(Runners-up: Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Where the Wild Things Are, and Watchmen)

Best Visual Effects - District 9
I know, in the year with Avatar, I'm going with District 9, but that is because it was the most seamless integration of CGI and live-action that I think I have ever seen. Even in Avatar, when the live-action was against the CGI, you could tell it was fake, but in District 9 it was almost indistinguishable. While Star Trek came close for its beautiful space battles, and Harry Potter wowed me with its smooth integration of effects work (same for Wild Things), District 9 was this year's visual effects champ.
(Runners-up: Avatar, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Where the Wild Things Are)

Best Overall Crew - Star Trek
Overall, Star Trek was the best made film of the year, technically. It had marvelous visual effects and beautiful cinematography. As well, fantastic make-up, costume design, and art direction with stellar sound. The only way a film can be made with such quality across the board is if all the little people all the way down to the Production Assistants and the Best Boys are stellar at their job, and judging by the quality of Star Trek, I'd say they were all up to snuff.
(Runners-up: Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Watchmen)

Oscar Watch: The Writers

Taking a small break from my retrospectives, it's time to deliver a new edition of Oscar Watch, cause after all this is award's season. Today we're taking a look at the Writing categories of Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Let's get this show on the road talking about the Original Screenplays in contention.

It's been a pretty poor year for Original Screenplays, with only a few actually even being good enough to be tossed into the mix. For me, the only one really worth any mention is Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber's script for (500) Days of Summer. The script was witty, original, and extremely well-crafted. To me, if that doesn't present its case as to why it should win, then I don't know what can.

Other potentials in this category are the Coen Brothers for A Serious Man, Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker, James Cameron for Avatar, Bob Peterson for Up, Jane Campion for Bright Star, and Quentin Tarantino for his latest.

Out of all of these, I think Campion will be totally overlooked, the Coens will most likely get the recognition that they always deserve, Bob Peterson should get in there with the extremely lovable Up, and James Cameron is kind of on the fence for me with Avatar. I see this film being more of a technological showcase than a writing vehicle, but the film is highly original, which is what this category is about.

There is a ton of love for Tarantino, but it is possible he'll be overlooked, and as for Mark Boal, he will most likely get in there simply because there is so much critical appreciation for The Hurt Locker, even if it is more of a directing vehicle than anything else. A potential wildcard could be Woody Allen for Whatever Works, but I doubt it. Now, moving onto the bigger category, the Adapted Screenplays.

The clear frontrunners here are Damien Paul for Precious, and Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air. While I have seen neither of these films (I do plan on seeing Up in the Air tomorrow), I do think that the love for both of these films will make them shoo-ins come January. Filling out the field with the logical choices: Nick Hornby for An Education, Anthony Peckham for Invictus, Tom Ford for A Single Man, and Nora Ephron for Julie & Julia. Out of all of these, Ephron is out, and both Ford and Peckham will probably be overshadowed by the films and the performances within them. The only one left standing is Hornby, who deservedly should be included for infusing An Education with so much wit, charm, and sizzling dialogue. But what about the dark horses, or the wild cards so to speak?

There are actually a lot of wild card choices just chomping at the bit to squeak in there. Steve Kloves for the sixth Harry Potter film is a potential choice, but one that I don't think will pan out. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci could get in there for Star Trek, but that is a big "if", and I'm wondering if their work on Transformers could keep them out of the hunt?

Then there is Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell for District 9; Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, & Fran Walsh for The Lovely Bones; David Eggars & Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are; and Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wild Things is a longshot at best, so is Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I do think that The Lovely Bones, even though it has had a mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike, is still in the hunt and should not be disregarded. As for District 9, maybe it has enough supporters in the writing branch to make it, but the Academy is full of so many older members, I wouldn't place my bets on it.

So what about my nominee predictions at the moment? Well, for Best Original Screenplay, they are:

Bob Peterson, Up
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
James Cameron, Avatar

As for Best Adapted Screenplay:

Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, & Fran Walsh, The Lovely Bones
Nick Hornby, An Education
Damien Paul, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire
Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9

And that does it for this edition of Oscar Watch. Tune in next week as I start Part 1 of looking at the Tech Categories. Till then, enjoy my retrospectives on 2009!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Moments of 2009

2009 had a great many moments. Like every year, there were certain scenes or sequences that were just so awe-inspiring, or so emotional, that they were enough to warrant a second viewing purely on their own merits. This year was no different, in particular, there were five moments that I experienced in movies this year that stood out above the rest. These five moments are all fantastic and are worth the price of admission alone. I wont keep you all waiting, here they are, starting with a few honorable mentions:

The Honorable Mentions
Avemaria Okuri/Change of Seasons, Departures
The Spacediving Sequence, Star Trek
Ponyo Rides the Typhoon, Ponyo
The Destruction of Hometree, Avatar
The Closed Door Conversation, An Education

The Best Moments of the Year
5. The Death of Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - While the funeral was cut, the scene where the entire school gathers around Dumbledore's lifeless body and all lift their wands to the air and make the Dark Mark disappear is so emotional, and so satisfying as a fan of Harry Potter, that I've gotta admit, I nearly shed a tear.

4. Jake Taming his Banshee, Avatar - This one had it all. It was tense when Jake approached the Banshee and tried to make his Halo with it, and then when Jake finally assumes command, the sequence becomes a moment of pure excitement and exhilaration as Jake soars amongst the floating mountains of Pandora. Definitely a classic moment if I've ever seen one.

3. The Best Day Ever, (500) Days of Summer - The funniest moment of the year. When Joseph Gordon-Levitt dances through the streets, with animated birds, marching bands, and reflections of Han Solo, it's just a non-stop parade of hilarity that should please anyone who likes some good comedy.

2. The Beautiful Dead, Departures - Such a moving scene. This is the first time where our hero, Daigo, fully begins to understand the artistry and beauty inherent in his new job as an encofiner, preparing dead bodies for funerals in front of their entire family. If you aren't moved by this scene, then you don't have a heart. A definite moment of catharsis.

1. The Attack on the U.S.S. Kelvin and the Death of George Kirk, Star Trek - Seriously, this was the best moment of the year, in terms of both action and emotion. Not only was this opening sequence probably the most suspenseful and acion-packed moment in the film, but it is also probably the most emotional, witnessing the birth of Captain Kirk and the moving farewell between his father and his mother as his father flies the U.S.S. Kelvin straight into the Narada to allow Kirk and his mother to escape.

Tune in later this week as we continue our countdown of the year's best!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fanboy Awards, 2009

2009 was a fantastic year at the movies, and it's still not over, it's time to look back over one of the finer years of cinema of this past decade.

2009 was a year of excellence on many levels, I think I gave out more A ratings this year than just about any other year since I have been reviewing films, if that says anything to you. Even still, there were a few stinkers filtered in there, but that doesn't change the rest of the genetic make-up.

I've decided to kick off my weeklong celebration of 2009 with a look at what I'm calling the Fanboy Awards. These awards have no real prestige value, they're just purely here to get things going with a little bit of fun. The Unicellular Review's First Edition of the Fanboy Awards starts right now:

Most Disappointing Film of the Year: Watchmen - Almost every Fanboy out there wishes this one was better, but it was just a hodge-podge of some really obscure artistic choices that didn't work for me at all. Grade: C-
(Runners-up: Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Best Hero: Chris Pine, Star Trek - Chris Pine knocked Captain Kirk out of the park, he was heroic and cocksure, everything that he needed to be, so much so that I'd actually venture to say he was better than William Shatner himself.
(Runners-up: Sam Worthington, Avatar; Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes; Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Ed Asner, Up)

Best Heroine: Zoe Saldana, Avatar - Ms. Saldana had quite a year, and it was tough to pick between her portrayal of Uhura in Star Trek, or her role as Neytiri in Avatar, but at the end of the day she is probably the most awesome female lead since Princess Mononoke in an action/adventure film in James Cameron's latest.
(Runners-up: Zoe Saldana, Star Trek; Siqourney Weaver, Avatar; Noah Cyrus, Ponyo)

Best Villain: Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes - Really no contest here, Strong's work as Lord Blackwood was frightening and creepy, being the first time I legitimately was creeped out by a villain since first seeing Temple of Doom.
(Runners-up: Eric Bana, Star Trek; Christopher Plummer, Up; Stephen Lang, Avatar; Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

Best Sidekick: Karl Urban, Star Trek - Urban was spot on as Dr. Leonard McCoy, otherwise known as Bones, and I don't think anyone else came close to having the impact he had as Kirk's Academy buddy.
(Runners-up: Jordan Nagai, Up; Zachary Quinto, Star Trek; Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes; Rupert Grint, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

Most Repeat Viewings: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - The most logistical award, I saw it more than any other movie this year, four times in theaters for anyone counting. Grade: A+
(Runners-up: Star Trek, 2)

The Film I Most Wanted To See Again Once the Credits Rolled: Star Trek - Really, this one was it, it was a joy from beginning to end, and I'd gladly watch it again right now if someone put it on. Grade: A+
(Runners-up: (500) Days of Summer, Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ponyo, Sherlock Holmes, Up)

Most Over-Hyped Film: Terminator Salvation - Another logistical one, mainly cause so many Fanboys were so pumped and then when it came out, well, use your imagination.
(Runners-up: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Watchmen)

Worst Sequel/Prequel: X-Men Origins-Wolverine - If you've seen the first three X-Men films and then this one, then you'd understand, and if you haven't seen this one yet, just take my advice and don't. Grade: D

Best Sequel: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter's sixth installment finally hit theaters this past summer, and it was definitely worth the wait. Not only was the film true to its book counterpart, but it was a beautiful piece of emotional filmmaking, very bold compared to the two Potter films that preceded it. Grade: A+

Worst Film of the Year: Terminator Salvation - Hands down, this was it, the only F rating of the entire year (of what I saw). It is a mindless action movie that is in high gear the entire time without a real coherent plot, Christian Bale acts like an angry uncle, and Sam Worthington is no where near as charming as he was in Avatar. Skip it. Grade: F
(Runners-up: X-Men Origins-Wolverine, Watchmen)

And that does it for this years Fanboy Awards! Stay tuned this entire week as we continue our examination of the year's best!

Wrapping Up Christmas

What a Christmas!?! It was another year filled with laughter and that untangable something called love.

Getting to spend Christmas with all of my family was a genuine blast. I got presents, lots of great films, some Kurosawa, Smallville on DVD, a book called Bambi vs. Godzilla by screenwriter David Mamet, and I've gotten even closer to finishing my Miyazaki collection, plus a few new video games and the Star Wars soundtrack to boot. But putting the presents aside, it was the memories that made this Christmas special.

Going to see Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day with my entire family was a genuine thrill. This was the first movie we had seen together since the early 2000's, and to me, a movie buff, that was possibly the most special moment.

Alas, Christmas is over and we must move on into the next year, but each new year is a new beginning, and there are some exciting things around the bend. So enjoy the rest of the holiday season, cause this week on the Unicellular Review we're going to not only be breaking down 2009 in film in detail, but also preview the films of 2010, and deliver my list of the 10 Best Films of the Past Decade. Some exciting things are afoot, so stay tuned.

Oh, yeah, jump to about minute 7 of the video below for some Creeper action.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Reinterpreting a classic character is always going to be met with mixed response. The only way to pull this off is to boldly pursue a new vision while retaining the recognizable core of the character, which is what Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes does so well.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Sherlock Holmes, and he knocks it out of the park. The film deals with the supernatural Lord Blackwood, who is at the beginning of the film arrested by Sherlock whilst performing a human sacrifice. Blackwood is sentenced to death and hung, however the following day, Lord Blackwood rises from the grave and puts into motion a plan that will completely warp the fabric of life as we know it.  Of course it is up to Sherlock Holmes to stop him, alongside his legendary sidekick, Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law.

This Sherlock Holmes film is less of a mystery and more about the ride, which might disappoint a few fans of the famed detective, but it's what I enjoyed so much more about this adaptation than previous adaptations of this classic character. The film does have a mystery, but rather than giving the audience the hints and clues throughout the film to try and let us solve the mystery alongside Holmes, we literally see and hear Holmes's thoughts as they're happening and we go along with him as he solves the mystery.  This really comes through in the scene where Holmes pummels a Big Guy whilst in an underground street fight.

For me, Sherlock Holmes was very different than the trailers. The trailers paint it as a stupid amusement park ride made up of cheap thrills and explosions.  While the movie does have some fun action sequences, this is not a correct portrait. In actuality, this film has had some thought behind the creation of the story. The script is filled with highly clever dialogue, and the witty banter between Holmes and Watson is hilarious, not to mention the chemistry between Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. Then the villain, Lord Blackwood, is the first badguy I've seen in a longtime that legitimately creeped me out. Blackwood is mysterious and evil, being given that all-evil moment that I am always looking for out of a villain when he makes a man spontaneously combust!  The only weak link to this film is Rachel McAdams. She just doesn't really work in her role as Holmes's love interest, Irene Adler, although her character does set-up a potential sequel. Also, the action in the film is fairly generic, never having that memorable action sequence that would allow one to put this film alongside movies like Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes is an extremely fun time at the movies. Robert Downey, Jr. is charming and lovable as the eccentric detective, and turning Sherlock into an action hero actually works extremely well. Sequels are definitely desired.

I give Sherlock Holmes a 9 out of 10!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Old School Fridays: It's A Wonderful Life

It's a special Christmas Edition of Old School Fridays! This Friday we're featuring the extremely cheesy, but charming trailer for the best Christmas movie of all-time, It's A Wonderful Life. No need for a commentary on a day such as this, just enjoy the trailer and have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Classics: It's A Wonderful Life

Christmas just never is the same without It's A Wonderful Life, it's one of those seminal moments of the Holiday season. Frank Capra's classic fairy tale about one man's importance to a small community, whilst learning the true meaning and worth that one person's life can bring in the process, is a genuine classic.

The man is George Bailey, played expertly by Jimmy Stewart in one of the finest performances of his career. His everyman charm is what makes this film work, and it is because of his ability to act just like your Average Joe American that makes this film the uplifting piece of cinema that it is.

My favorite character in the film is Clarence the Angel, who is hilarious almost every single time he is onscreen, not to mention Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter, who is one of the more treacherous badguys to ever be in a movie (I put him alongside Darth Vader). Then you round out the ensemble with the likes of Donna Reed and the lovable Uncle Billy, and you have a terrific movie right there.

Then, there is the director, Frank Capra. The word masterpiece is often thrown around too much, but here it is highly justified. Frank Capra was the hinge that made this movie work, if any other director had done it, it probably wouldn't have been as good, thus, for this reason alone, this is his masterpiece. Plus, he's the only filmmaker in the history of cinema to of been so bold to do an ending that is so overtly sentimental, yet so perfect at the same time.

When you examine this film by today's standards, the film doesn't play like a realistic piece of cinema, but rather as a black-and-white portrayal of a pure and innocent world, where good is white and bad is black, no gray areas in between, and it's because of this that this film has endured as long as it has. People want to believe the best in people, even if that person can't find it in themselves, and this film tries to help show you the way.

I give It's A Wonderful Life an A+!

Uniform Storytelling, Out the Window

As a filmmaker, I've only ever really been interested in narrative filmmaking. I like to be able to get to production and know what I will most likely have and already have a rough idea in my mind what the finished product will be like, thanks to the script and storyboards.

Now, being honest, I've never really been all that interested in documentary filmmaking, but I've recently gained a new appreciation for it. While this does not mean that I'm gonna forsake narrative to make a bunch of documentaries, it just means I'm not ruling out the possibility of making a documentary or two in the future. But what brought about this change of heart?

Recently, I've been editing my sister's wedding video for my dad. I was tasked with editing the pre-wedding stuff and the reception, both of which needed to be done in order for the video to be given for my sister's wedding anniversary. At first, I was a touch frustrated, having to edit footage that someone else shot, realizing that I didn't have a shot that could have covered in a gap in how I think the sequence should have flowed, but there and again, that was where I found out the joys of this kind of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, or documentary filmmaking as you will.

With documentaries you have to tell a story, but unlike narrative films, you have no definitive script and no real storyboards. See, in narrative, majority of the creativity tends to come in the scripting and filming stages, and by the time you reach editing, if you got the shots, it's kind of like auto-pilot just trying to make all of what you shot work, where as in documentary it's so different.

All of the creativity in documentary filmmaking comes within the editing. That is when you tell the story. You have to go fishing for the right footage or the right still photography in order to be able to tell the story the way in which you feel it should be told. Very often you run into brick walls, or other snags, and then you have to find a different way to do a scene or you have to just make it work somehow.

It's an excitement I've never really experienced before, but at the same time it is five times more frustrating. I'm a guy that likes to have strict plans, and when they're changed I tend to get a touch upset, so this type of filmmaking is only fun every now and then, but it is a nice vacation from narrative, even if it's only for a few days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Trailer Rush: Inception (2nd Trailer)

Finally, a new trailer for one of my more anticipated films of next year has surfaced. The film is director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to the most successful film of the decade, The Dark Knight. The film is Inception. At the current moment not much is known about the film other than that it is a sci-fi/action flick set within the architecture of the mind, and it stars Leonardo Dicaprio alongside an all-star cast of some of my favorite actors and actresses currently working in cinema, from Ellen Page to Cillian Murphy to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Check it out:

Wow! This film looks awesome, hands down. Not only does it look like a great time at the movies, but it also looks unlike anything I've ever seen before, and that is why I think it looks so amazing. Not to mention I'm a fan of Chris Nolan's, as well as pretty much every member of the cast, especially Leo. The film hits theaters next July, and I will be there at midnight for sure.

Update: The trailer is back online, this time in English!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oscar Watch: The Actresses

Oscar hype is now at fever pitch with all of the precursors being announced; from the Critic's Choice, to the Golden Globes. This week, the Oscar Watch topics are the two categories Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Let's get a move on with Best Supporting Actress.

The Supporting categories tend to be weak compared to that of the leads. Very often you find actors or actresses nominated for the sole reason because they've: a.) never won an Oscar, or b.) are just so popular it's a filler nomination. This year, while there looks to be some of that going on with the guys in Supporting, I think the women are shaping up to be a strong list of some of the years better underrated Supporting performances.

One of the big ones in contention is Mo'Nique for her role in Precious. While I haven't seen the film, she is considered to be the frontrunner by a great many folk. Then there is the duo from Up in the Air, which comes to theaters in my hometown tomorrow! Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are both strong contenders in this category for Up in the Air, some might even put them up there alongside Mo'Nique as frontrunners. These three performances are all critic's favorites, and I think are the shoo-ins at this point, but what about the rest of the field?

Julianne Moore is getting a lot of buzz for her performance in A Single Man, where as the women from Nine are getting a lot talk as well. Only one woman from Nine will be able to make it in, but the question is, who? Out of Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, and Judi Dench, I'm putting my money on the Dame Judi Dench, she's Oscar bait if there ever has been, plus it's said she probably has the most to her role out of all the women in the film. Though, the true dark horse to look out for in this category is Emma Thompson for An Education. She is always brilliant, but she does the most with the small amount of time that she has in this film, and I think she definitely should get the recognition she deserves, plus I think the vote might be split between the three frontunners allowing either Dench, Thompson, or Moore to slip in there and win. Now, changing gears a bit, onto Best Actress.

For me, there is really only one name in contention that matters, Carey Mulligan for her star-making performance in An Education. Mulligan was brilliant, and to me, it's probably the finest female performance of the year, hands down, and one of the best of the decade at that. While many are presenting a case for Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, I think Mulligan deserves the award a touch more, cause she truly was brilliant.

Really, when you get right down to it, this category is one of the most boring this year. Sandra Bullock is pretty much almost all but guaranteed after the Globes nomination to get in for her role in The Blind Side, and Meryl Streep, as usual, is another shoo-in for Julie & Julia. Out of Streep's two films, It's Complicated and this, I think the Academy will recognize her for where the credit is really due. Rounding out the category with Helen Mirren for The Last Station, and you see what I mean. With the exceptions of Mulligan and Sidibe, quite a boring and unadventurous slate, though it is possible for say Zoe Saldana or Abbie Cornish to ride in on their dark horse unexpectedly for both Avatar and Bright Star, respectively. Or, perhaps Saoirse Ronan for The Lovely Bones? That would be a real kick.

So what do I see these categories looking like at this point. Well, Best Supporting Actress:

Judi Dench, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Emma Thompson, An Education
Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire

As for Best Actress:

Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

And that's it for this week. Tune in next Tuesday as I take a look at the Writers in contention. Till then.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hidden Gems: Peter Pan

Almost everyone knows the classic tale of Peter Pan. Whether their knowledge comes from the Disney classic or the vague Steven Spielberg sequel, audiences have always enthralled to the adventures of the boy who never grew up. In this latest version of the classic story, directed by P.J. Hogan, we see a different side to both Peter and Wendy than ever before, a blossoming romance.

This latest version of Peter Pan is a mega-budget Hollywood production that practically bombed upon its release, but contrary to common belief, the film is actually an extremely faithful and emotionally satisfying adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic story.

Unlike the Disney version, the filmmakers didn't sugarcoat Neverland. Neverland can be both beautiful, and foreboding both at the same time. As well, the filmmakers wisely left in many of the references to death and love that the Disney version almost all but cut out. This only strengthens this film and allows it to stand amongst the rest as not just a faithful adaptation, but a rich and involving adventure yarn. But don't be fooled, this is a fantastic film for children as well, but I believe many adults will adore this film alongside their children.

In the film, Peter Pan is played by spry Jeremy Sumpter, where as Wendy is portrayed by Rachel Hurd Wood. The film depicts young love in a beautiful way, the first brushes of adolescence are poking out. The film focuses the tension between the two, and at the end when they finally kiss, it is magical.

On the flip side there is Captain Hook, seen here in this film played by Jason Isaacs, who also doubles as Mr. Darling. They actually give Hook a little bit more to play with in this film than in previous versions of the story. While Isaacs' Hook is not as hilarious as Dustin Hoffman's, Isaacs plays the role with way more menace and grit.

I really believe that director P.J. Hogan should be applauded for figuring out an extremely wonderful way to portray the death and resurrection of Tinkerbell in this film. This is probably the most moving scene in the entire film, but there are so many other fantastic moments that bring the magic of this story directly into your heart and allows you to fly and soar above Neverland. This film makes you wish you never had to grow up, and for that reason alone it is worth seeing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top 5: Christmas Movies

There are a slew of Christmas movies out there, but only a small handful of them in my opinion are actually any good. Out of that handful of good Christmas movies, even less of them are great.

I've decided, with Christmas only five days away, to rank the list of my five favorite Christmas movies of all-time. All five of these Christmas movies are great, not just good, and deserve to be seen to get filled with the holiday spirit. As you will see, majority of these films hail from my childhood, and I think that is because each year at Christmas we try to recapture the children inside all of us. Without further ado, let's get started:

5. The Muppet Christmas Carol - Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, along with the entire cast of the Muppets, it doesn't get any better. What's more, is this version of Charles Dickens' classic tale is actually emotionally resonant, unlike just about any other version ever made.

4. Elf - Will Ferrel shines here as Buddy the Elf. It is a offbeat comedy filled with quirky humor, but the character of Buddy is so lovable you can't help but be swept away by this movie.

3. Home Alone - This one is a genuine classic. Everyone knows the classic scream from Macaulay Culkin. Not only is this film one of the funnier Christmas movies ever made, but it is also a heartwarming film that is great for the entire family.

2. The Santa Clause - Tim Allen is the perfect Santa Claus. The film starts off as a riotous comedy and turns into an emotional fairy tale about a boy and his father, who just happens to be Santa Claus. You just have to love this film if you have any Christmas spirit.

1. It's a Wonderful Life - The best Christmas movie ever made, hands down. The story of George Bailey learning the importance of one man's life is one of those holiday hallmarks. Alongside the evil old Mr. Potter and my favorite character, Clarence the Angel, this is one of those Christmas movies that gives one not just the true meaning of Christmas, but the true meaning of life in general.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go out and watch these five films and get into the holiday spirit. Merry Christmas!

Movie Review: An Education

People are very often completely different than what they seem. In the British film An Education, by Dogma director Lone Scherfig, young 16-year-old Jenny learns that the hard way.

An Education follows the story of school girl Jenny. Jenny makes straight A's and is on the fast track to Oxford till she meets David, an older man with a cool car and a passport to all the exciting things that Jenny's parents shelter her from. Jenny goes along with this man, even though she knows that the relationship is no good, but she is fascinated by the world in which David lives in and is willing to put up with it, even if it destroys everything she's ever worked for in her life.

The film is based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber with a script filled with sizzling dialogue by Nick Hornby, and it's believable that something such as this could have happened, especially back in the pre-Vietnam era. While most parents nowadays would have objections with their 16-year-old daughter going out with a 30-something man, Jenny's parents are so fascinated by David's charm and wealth that they can't see the user that he really is. Really, Jenny's parents are kind of the hinge that make this entire film work.  Of course, I'd actually venture to say the entire ensemble  of actors is what makes the film work.

I think this film is more of an actor's showcase than anything else. Carey Mulligan is simply marvelous as Jenny, she plays her with this kind of attitude that she knows what she is doing, rather than playing the part awkwardly and acting like a doe-eyed innocent. As well, the film is filled out with marvelous character actors, from Alfred Molina as Jenny's father, to Peter Sarsgaard as David, all the way to Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson as Jenny's teachers at her all girl prep school.

The film is a touch uncomfortable at times because of its subject matter, and if anything that detracts from the enjoyment, but at the same time it is the right way to handle such subject matter. They play the entire film kind of like a light mystery/thriller, you know something isn't right about David and you're just waiting the entire film to see what that is. When you finally learn, you feel crushed, the same as Jenny, which results in one of the more touching scenes of cinema this year, where Jenny's father tries to console her through the door of her closed bedroom door.  This scene alone should be enough to win Molina and Mulligan Oscars.

All in all, you actually feel something while watching this film, which is something that not many movies have managed to do this year.

I give An Education a 9 out of 10!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10: Christmas Specials

Every Christmas season people see fit to unleash a slew of brand new made-for-television Christmas specials. These specials often range from the horrendous, to the magical (I would actually say the vast majority are cheesy and horrendous). Of course, there are those small minority that go on to be favorites in the hearts of viewers for years to come.

Kind of on the other side of the coin, there is another kind of television Christmas special, the classic Christmas episode on a TV series. Almost every TV show that has lasted long enough has a Christmas episode. Thus they fall into the same category of Christmas specials, because to some people, like myself, these episodes are just as seminal of an event each and every Christmas as the made-for-TV stuff.

I decided to do the heavy-lifting and try to rank my ten favorite Television Christmas specials of all-time. Let's get started:

10. Frosty the Snowman - One of those greats from my childhood. Frosty is such a lovable story, and the overtly cartoonish animation sells the story perfectly in this special.

9. Mickey's Christmas Carol - Almost everyone has done an adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic, but Mickey Mouse succeeds where many others have failed. Mickey's Christmas Carol has all of the things that make the classic tale endearing, but it does not get bogged down by many of the overtly long middle segments that is often found in other adaptations of this timeless story.

8. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Puppets do make the difference. This was one of the more popular films in this string of Christmas specials. These are easily some of the more recognizable Christmas specials to ever be, and Rudolph leads the charge with his bright red nose.

7. Seinfeld, "The Strike" - Festivus is a legitimate holiday, all thanks to this episode of Seinfeld. It makes you wanna just gather your family around the aluminum Festivus pole and air your grievances. "It's another Festivus miracle!"

6. Lost, "The Constant" - This was a Christmas episode, done Lost style. It is kind of on this list purely by default, cause the only thing Christmasy about this episode is that the episode itself takes place on Christmas Day, but the emotional telephone conversation at the end between Desmond and Penny is genuine Christmas magic if I've ever seen it.

5. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! - The slippery and slimy Mr. Grinch is one of the highlights of my Christmas season each and every year. The song was catchy, the animation endearing, and the voice-over work astounding and the voice reverberates in your head every time you try to read the book after seeing this.

4. I Love Lucy, "The I Love Lucy Christmas Show" - The episode is kind of just a Greatest Hits of the first five seasons of the show, but it all takes place on Christmas Eve, and the last few minutes where the entire gang dresses up like Santa Claus and discover that one of them is the real Santa is priceless. They started the classic sitcom tradition of Santa visiting the characters, and it has been done over and over again many times ever since, but never as good.

3. Smallville, "Lexmas" - One of my favorite shows of all-time is Smallville, and "Lexmas" is probably one of the finer episodes ever in the show's run. The episode follows Lex Luthor, who gets shot on Christmas Eve and has a near death experience, being given the chance to see what his life will be like if he chooses not to go down the path of villainy and become an honest man. It is a touching story, and not only that, it solidifies why we all love to hate this baldie.

2. Batman: The Animated Series, "Christmas With the Joker" - This one came dangerously close to my number one spot. Mark Hammil shines as the voice of the Joker as Batman and Robin have till midnight to save the Commissioner. It's a classic episode, while not the best in the series, it's just too much fun to pass up, and the Joker's rendition of "Jingle Bells" is so catchy, you'll be singing it for days on end.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas - How can this one not be on your list? The Peanuts gang unite for the Christmas special to beat all Christmas specials. There is nothing more magical than when Charlie Brown buys the little old Christmas tree, or when Linus gives his speech on the true meaning of Christmas, or the ending when all join in together and fix up Charlie Brown's tree to a chorus of "Hark, the Herald". Charles Schultz was the man.

And that does it. Tune in later on in the week as I will share my list of my favorite Christmas movies of all-time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

There are films, and then there are movies. I am not going to be technical here in my definitions, I'm just going to speak from how I feel the difference is between the two words. A film is a piece of work that might be artistically engaging, but is just meh, whereas a movie is all that and a bag of chips.  A movie is something that sweeps you away into its world and keeps you riveted to your seat till the credits roll. James Cameron's Avatar is a movie in the best sense of the word.

Avatar has been in production for nearly fourteen years, and it shows in the world in which James Cameron has created. The world is Pandora, an alien moon covered in lush rainforests inhabited by wild alien creatures of astounding design, and an indigenous race of 10 ft. tall cat people called the Nav'i, who have had their own language created specifically for this movie.  Humans have come to Pandora to mine a precious resource that is unique to the planet, but in order to do so they must relocate the Nav'i, which is almost impossible, so the humans have instituted the avatar program. The avatar program is where human scientists mix the DNA of a human with that of a Nav'i in a test tube, resulting in an organically grown humanoid that a human can link their mind into Matrix-style. All of this is unfurled upon the audience within the first thirty minutes or so, and while it all seems a touch too explanatory, it is necessary information needed for the rest of the movie to work.

The hero of this story is Jake Sully (likably played by Aussie, Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine who comes to Pandora after his identical twin brother's death to fill his brother's slot in the avatar program. While in his avatar, Jake can run and walk unlike he can as a human. Eventually Jake meets Neytiri, a Nav'i princess (portrayed by Zoe Saldana, who completely disappears into the role). Jake and Neytiri fall in love and Jake begins to embark upon an ordeal to get inducted into Nav'i civilization. All the while, the war-mongering human corporation behind the whole shindig is chomping at the bit to eradicate the Nav'i from the face of the planet in order to mine. This conflict results in Jake having to choose sides between the humans he hails from, and his newfound home with the Nav'i.

The story has traces of so many different movies found within. It's ecological message can make you want to compare it to the work of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, where as it's sci-fi/fantasy story of a man crossing over to fight for an alien race can make one think of The Planet of the Apes, not to mention the influences found from our own country's Native American history. Of course, to me Avatar is a wholly original experience. James Cameron should be applauded for attempting something that isn't based upon a book, comic book, or video game. In a way, Avatar is far more thought out and better executed than many movies that are already part of pre-existing properties. What Cameron did here was tell a story that blurs the lines between science fiction and fantasy, much in the way that he blurs the realities between Jake's two worlds.

Avatar is many different things, it has romance, action, adventure, and drama. The film has moments of sheer wonderment, and moments that make your heart ache or wanna punch the bad-guy Col. Quaritch, played to perfection by Stephen Lang. That is why Avatar is such a good time at the cinema, because of these moments. Cameron actually took the time within the film to detail the world, to give you a sense of its scope and its scale, and it all adds up to make Avatar a rollicking success.

When all is said and done, Avatar is a special time at the cinema. It's one of those movies that has to be experienced again in order to fully drink it all in, but even after one viewing, the film is very much appreciated. Thanks, James Cameron.

I give Avatar a 10 out of 10!

Old School Fridays: Star Wars

It's Friday, which means a new edition of Old School Fridays has arrived! This week enjoy the original theatrical trailer for Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope:

Seriously, if I had only seen this trailer and not the movie, I would have thought Star Wars was the biggest pile of rubbish on the face of the Earth. Of course I know differently, but there was a time where the world didn't know Star Wars, and if this trailer is any indication, it's all the more spectacular that it was as successful as it was. While the trailer is like that of a film you'd probably see on Mystery Science Theater, it has this odd charm about it because you know that the film itself is nothing like this trailer and so you kind of get to enjoy it in all of its awfulness.

That does it for this Friday. Tune in next week for a special Christmas Edition of Old School Fridays!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Morgan Freeman Chain of Command

oh yeah. Original link

Trailer Rush: Iron Man 2

Tony Stark returns next May to kick off the summer movie season. Iron Man 2 is one of the more anticipated films of next year, and I think you will see why in this first official trailer. Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his role as the titular hero alongside with Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, director Jon Favreau, and newcomers to the franchise, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johannsen, Sam Rockwell, and Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard as Col. Rhodes/War-Machine. Check out the first trailer:

What a trailer! It looks as if they took everything that was great about the first one and just took it up another notch, which isn't that what good sequels are supposed to do? When Mickey Rourke appeared as the villain Whiplash, I'm not gonna lie, it sent chills down my spine. Could Rourke's Whiplash join the pantheon of all-time great screen villains? Plus, it was real fun to see Tony Stark living up the celebrity that being the first ever public superhero grants him. While I know little about the story of this film, the trailer looks to be more of the same from the first one, just with a ton more character and polish. I mean, just look at the action sequences shown in the trailer, they are head-and-shoulders far more impressive in scope and scale than any of the scenes in the first film.

Here's hoping this one manages to usurp its predecessor when it hits theaters May 7th.

Bryan Singer to Return to X-Men

Out of all the modern day filmmakers, Bryan Singer is one of my favorites. From his work on The Usual Suspects to Valkyrie, all the way to three of the finer superhero films ever made, the first two X-Men films and Superman Returns.

It's been a while since Singer played in the comic book realm. After his attempts with the Man of Steel were met with mixed reaction from fanboys, many thought his comic book days were over. Of course there was always a shimmer of hope for geeks that he'd return to the superhero franchise to which he truly belongs. Now, it's official, Bryan Singer is going to direct X-Men: First Class for 20th Century Fox.

Last night at the LA premiere of Avatar, Singer revealed that he had just signed the deal with Fox to return and helm the new X-Men film based on the graphic novel X-Men: First Class. Like this past summer's Wolverine, First Class will be a prequel to the other three X-Men films, but unlike Wolverine it will all take place at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. The film is said to follow the early days of the very first X-Men, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm, all under Professor Xavier's watchful eye. I cannot stress how pumped I am for this.

While I loved Superman Returns, Bryan Singer was the heart-and-soul of the X-Men film franchise, and when he departed after the second film, the X-Men films just weren't the same. Without Singer the X-Men films lost all the thought and emotion that Singer infused within the first two installments. He made a perfect allegory towards racism through the prejudice against mutants, something that didn't carry over after he left. Hopefully with this announcement, Singer will bring back the magic and put X-Men back on track.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inception Poster

One of my more anticipated films of next year is Christopher Nolan's follow-up to The Dark Knight, Inception. Well, as things usually go, the first official one-sheet for Inception has surfaced online and it doesn't really help to solve the mystery behind this film at all, but then again, I don't want them to. It's so rare nowadays to be going into a film and having no real clue what it's about, it's actually kind of exciting.

Chris Nolan is the type of director that, if the studio would let him, would probably never do interviews or behind-the-scenes clips of his films because he likes to reserve the full spectacle for when the audience sees the film. I can kind of see this mentality sprinkled throughout the marketing campaign for Inception thus far. They give you just enough to pique your interest, such as the mindblowing teaser trailer or the water surrounding Leo in the poster below.

Safe to say, Inception looks to be a unique experience at the cinema. Take a look at the poster:

Production Diaries: The Godfather of Liquor and Some Jewish Cheeseburgers

Nothing is more nerve-wracking than the first day of shooting. Will I get all the shots? Will I find all the right things to say to the actors to get everything I want? Is the story of this film actually any good or have I just been fooling myself this entire time? Will anyone even actually care about this film? These are all the usual thoughts that I believe swim through every director's head before taking the first shot on the first day of shooting. The key is to block these thoughts out, know deep down that you're prepared, and do what you've set out to do.

Filming started on my latest film, Lost and Found, yesterday morning. Other than the usual pre-shoot jitters, I feel everything went real well. It was an exhausting experience, being probably the first time I've ever done essentially a full day of filming, from about 7 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon.

The day started early, first location was the ABC Store that I was gonna shoot at guerrilla-style. Things went real well at first, not a single worker in sight. We got at least two or three shots, then the manager of the store drove up in his car.

I was beckoned over to his driver's side window. I immediately felt that this was the end of the line for this scene, we might as well start packing up and go home. I told him what we were doing. He decided to call the owner of the store, who is the higher up above him, the Godfather of Liquor (that's his nickname, no lie), to see what to do with us. I waited, trying to be patient. He got off the phone with the verdict. We now had obtained official permission from the Godfather himself and continued on filming.

Things went real smooth after that, we got all the shots without any disturbance. We even met the Godfather himself. He drove up in his nice Dodge Charger, out steps this 90-year-old man, looking a lot like the cliche' awesome ol' grandpa. He was so nice, he even offered us to come inside if we got too cold and chill in his office for a moment. Of course, we continued filming, but still it was nice, and we also learned that the Godfather pretty much owns every liquor store in Birmingham, AL and that he is the supplier of liquor to pretty much every restaurant or bar in the same area, which might explain the well-tailored suit and the Dodge Charger.

We got done, packed up, and went to lunch at good ol' Wendy's. Dollar menu, nothing better. We were starving, and I guess I was still a touch tired and crazed with hunger, seeing as how I hadn't eaten anything all day. I was first in line and approached the counter.

There were at least four or five other customers standing around waiting for their food. I decided to place my order. I looked from the menu to the lady behind the cash register. I knew what I wanted, but before I could really think, my brain melted and jumbled words spluttered out of my mouth.

I mean, it's easy, isn't it, when you want two Jr. Cheeseburgers to say you'd like a "Jew" Jr. Cheeseburger? Well, maybe not. My entire cast and crew exploded in laughter behind me, all the workers joined in, as well as a couple of the customers. As far as I know, Wendy's food isn't Kosher, but maybe my little stunt will have them consider it. Probably not.

After that, the day really settled in, we went to an underpass, got the needed shots for that scene and then came back to my brother's apartment to wrap up filming for the day. The pace had been set and we just kept cruisin' till filming was done for the day. We wrapped and everyone went home.

As a whole I'd consider it a good first day of shooting. We got some good footage, of course I wont really know how good it actually is till I'm trying to piece it together with the other shots in editing. Regardless, after a long day of filming, we're still only halfway done with the film. We have one more big day of shooting coming up in the next two weeks, and I've gotta say I'm pumped to finish this thing and begin pulling everything together on my computer.

The Mel Tackles Vikings

Mel Gibson loves making these lavish epics. He's done medieval Scotland, biblical times, and ancient Indian civilizations in South America, so why not make a film about the Nordic masters of the sea, Vikings.

Word is, is that Mel Gibson is set to direct a film about vikings starring Leonardo Dicaprio, with a script by The Departed-scribe William Monahan.

I have no clue what the story is about, but my interest is peaked. There is a ton of talent behind this one, and as far as my knowledge, no one has ever truly done a convincing portrayal of Viking culture on film. My only reservation with this one is seeing whether the Mel can keep the film cool and intriguing rather than cheesy like pretty much every other Viking movie ever made.