Sunday, February 26, 2012

Predicting the Oscars!

It's finally here, the 84th annual Academy Awards! As a fan of movies, this is one of the more exciting nights of the year for me. While the movies I love aren't always nominated, or even come close to winning if they are, the whole award shindig is like a big celebration on movies over the past year in general. Even still, I enjoy predicting the big show, and so here I am. Call it a hobby of mine, but I always try to go out of the way to see any movie over the course of the year that has any Oscar buzz whatsoever. With that said, I've set a new record for myself, having seen 8 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees (the only one left unseen is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and blame that on the movie's poor release schedule).

As I see it, The Artist will be the one to beat in most categories come tonight. While the tech categories will be the true test to how much the Academy loves The Artist. I am not seeing a clean sweep here, but rather it being one of those years where they spread the wealth a bit amongst a great many different movies. However, the biggest drama comes in the Best Actor and Actress categories.

Can Jean Dujardin from The Artist eek out the win past George Clooney's performance from The Descendants? So far I would say they're neck and neck, and as I said, it all boils down to how much the Academy really loves The Artist. Then there is Meryl Streep vs. Viola Davis in Best Actress. Streep is always a threat to win here, similarly they have been neck and neck throughout the awards' season, winning a pretty equal amount of hardware. As for Best Original Screenplay, will Woody Allen best The Artist here for Midnight in Paris? We'll see. On a side note, I don't do the short categories because I did not have access to all of the shorts in enough time to feel as if I could make a reasonable prediction.

Those are the categories with the hottest races, now on to the predictions:

Best Sound Mixing - Hugo
Best Sound Editing - Hugo
Best Visual Effects - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Makeup - The Iron Lady
Best Film Editing - Hugo
Best Costume Design - Hugo
Best Art Direction - Hugo
Best Cinematography - The Artist
Best Original Song - "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
Best Original Score - The Artist
Best Documentary Feature - Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Foreign Language Film - A Separation
Best Animated Feature - Rango
Best Adapted Screenplay - The Descendants
Best Original Screenplay - Midnight in Paris
Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Actress - Viola Davis, The Help
Best Actor - Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Director - Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Picture - The Artist

I'm predicting it to be a big night, split down the middle between The Artist and Hugo, with Hugo sweeping the tech categories for the most part, however The Artist will win big with the major awards. I'm predicting 5 wins for The Artist and 5 for Hugo. That seems realistic to me, however anything can happen come Oscar night. Remember the shocker when Crash beat out frontrunner Brokeback Mountain in 2005? It is never impossible for the impossible to occur on Oscar night, so tune in tonight on ABC!

UPDATE: I went 15 for 21! A new record for me. How did everyone else fare?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Christian's Oscars 2011 - Part 2

Without further ado, the final part of Christian's Oscars! My Top 10 Films of 2011, in order, counting down from my 10th favorite movie, to my number one favorite movie of the year. A few movies that narrowly missed this list, in no particular order, were: The Tree of Life, The Help, The Way, The Descendants, and My Week With Marilyn. So let's not waste any more time, here's the list!


10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dir. Rupert Wyatt)
As far as blockbuster moviemaking goes, this movie had it all. Awesome visuals, superbly crafted action, moments that made you wanna jump out of your seat and cheer (such as Caesar the ape's first words), and some truly spectacular special effects work. It simply answered the question as to how those apes from Charlton Heston days took over the world, and did it with such genuine style and energy, making Rise of the Planet of the Apes one of the more enjoyable times at a theater in this past year.

9. The Conspirator (Dir. Robert Redford)
This is bold moviemaking, not just re-enacting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but recounting the tale of the conspirators who conspired to kill him, and the first woman sentenced to the death penalty by the United States. The Conspirator is a movie that uses a brash, young lawyer, who is discredited for trying to obtain his client a fair trial, when the government is simply wanting to have a scapegoat to pin the assassination on, since John Wilkes Booth was shot and killed when cornered by the authorities. A wonderfully executed court room drama that manages to involve and enlighten the viewer through little known historical facts.

8. The Debt (Dir. John Madden)
A movie so good, I saw it twice in theaters. This complex tale of three retired Mossad agents reflecting on their youth hunting down a Nazi war criminal, was as riveting and suspenseful as any other movie this year. The characters were real people, with mystery behind them, and it was in unraveling the secrets and lies that we keep with us for decades upon decades that makes The Debt such an emotionally rewarding experience.

7. The Muppets (Dir. James Bobin)
What can you say, it's the Muppets. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, the whole gang, are putting on one last show to try and save the Muppet theater from an evil oil tycoon, played in a hilariously out-of-character performance by rapping Chris Cooper. The music from Flight of the Conchords' Brett McKenzie was hilarious and heartfelt, the script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller was equally hilarious and heartfelt, delving into real, conflicted human emotions that all people deal with, by personifying all of that through hand puppets. Not to mention, new Muppet Walter was a welcome addition to the old gang, and who doesn't get the warm fuzzies when they hear Kermit sing, "Rainbow Connection?" That's what I thought.

6. Real Steel (Dir. Shawn Levy)
Few movies are as enjoyable as Real Steel. It's a movie about boxing robots mixed with some well done sentimental heart tugging, making the seven-year-old inside of me get filled with raw excitement while at the same time actually feeling as if I've gone on this great emotional journey. This is the type of movie I'd watch again and again as a child, because it is just so perfect as an entertainment. Aw, I'll watch it over and over again anyways cause I still love these type of innocent movies told straight from the heart.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (Dir. David Yates)
The final installment in the Harry Potter franchise, and what can I say, it drew the series to an entertaining, and overall emotion-filled conclusion. While there are the standard qualms over what was cut, and what was changed, the filmmakers did such a fine job of executing the spirit of the book, that it made this finale a fitting conclusion to an eight film, seven book run. Not to mention, the action is amped up higher than ever before, with some truly spellbinding visual effects, and marvelous performances from the ensemble cast who each get their moment to shine and take a final curtain call.

4. We Bought A Zoo (Dir. Cameron Crowe)
A widower, who also happens to be a single dad, buys a zoo to try and create a change of pace for his family, and their lives change on account of it. We Bought A Zoo was a fairly standard, Hollywood produced family comedy/drama, but it is how director Cameron Crowe managed to balance the humor with drama, showing that even in dire circumstances there are still laughs to be had, delivering one of the most true movies about loss and dealing with grief in a long while. Featuring marvelous performances from the kids in the cast, as well as lead Matt Damon, and a scene stealing role from Thomas Haden Church as Matt Damon's brother, the laughs come with a deft blend of both pathos and redemption.

3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Dir. Thomas Alfredson)
This is a movie that is more than likely how the real world of espionage is. Tons of talking, sitting in rooms, and staring one another down, as MI6 agent George Smiley tries to uncover a Russian mole at the height of the Cold War. The story has a very real world feel to it, there are no gunfights or car chases, or any sort of high tech gadgetry. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is grounded in reality, featuring, real, flawed human beings, and that is where all of the magic of the movie occurs. Sprinkle on top some of the finest ensemble casting in years, led superbly by Gary Oldman in a career best performance, and you have one finely crafted motion picture that entertains, but is also near impossible to figure out who the mole is till it's revealed, addressing a major problem I've had with most modern day movies. Where is the surprise? A twist can usually be seen from a mile away, but not here. Huge kudos to the cast and crew for doing a surprise twist right and having the best use of Bobby Darin's, "Beyond the Sea," in any movie ever made.

2. X-Men: First Class (Dir. Matthew Vaughn)
After the disappointments that were X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, my expectations were not that high for X-Men: First Class, thankfully I was wrong. While the movie often deviates from the comic book source material in many areas, the movie remembers that it is a movie first, and so it remains faithful to the spirit of the X-Men comics while making the best movie of the franchise save for X-2. The core story of how a young Professor Xavier and a young Magneto came to be best friends to only be turned into mortal enemies is the stuff of greek tragedy, not to mention the movie had the slickness and excitement of a Sean Connery James Bond movie just with superheroes in it. An entertaining, emotion-filled thrill ride from start to finish.

1. War Horse (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
No other movie this year had as much of an affect on me as War Horse did. War Horse is a movie about a boy's horse named Joey, sold into the British cavalry during World War I, and the boy's journey to try and find his horse once more. However, the movie is not about Joey's owner, Albert, it is about Joey, the horse himself, and how he affects the people around him with compassion and love. Spielberg crafted a very human story, told through the point-of-view of a horse. The movie is about how life is not about wars or where we come from, but about being human and connecting with one another. Filled with spectacular battle scenes and some of the most uplifting moments in cinema this past year, it is hard not to love and be entertained by War Horse.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Christian's Oscars 2011 - Part 1

This year I decided to do something different when it came to my year end awards ceremony. I was putting it off trying to see every last major release from 2011 till I could finish off the list. Then my house was hit by a tornado at the end of January, and so rather than push myself to deliver a year end collective in February, I decided to wait till the week of the Academy Awards. So lo and behold, a new thing I'm gonna do here at the Unicellular Review. Welcome to the first annual, Christian's Oscars!

Now, let's straighten a few things out first. This is not my Oscar predictions, but basically my 2011 awards for Best in Film, it just happens to coincide with when the Oscars have decided to do their 2011 awards for Best in Film. Really, though, the more I think about it, it is very illogical to try and have a year end list at the end of a year, because there is no way you can see every movie that comes out in any given year. I think giving an extra two month buffer during the two slowest months of the year, in terms of new releases, allows me to catch up on movies I missed or finally get to see movies that don't play in my neck of the woods until they come out on DVD or get nominated for Oscars, like The Artist did this year.

Ultimately, I feel 2011 was a step up from 2010 in terms of overall quality at the movies. There were a lot of good movies in 2011, but no movies that just flat out blew me away like in 2009 with Departures or in 2008 with the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millioanaire. Even still, the quantity of quality movies was the highest it has been in nearly three years, so it's hard to complain. I hope you all enjoy my list, as I start a new tradition here at the Unicellular Review. So now it's time for me to fire away with my 2011 edition of Christian's Oscars!


Best Effects
- Real Steel
In some ways we've kind of gotten to a point where it takes little to wow us in terms of special effects, however there was a lot of solid effects work in 2011. Real Steel narrowly edged out Rise of the Planet of the Apes simply because it was so hard to differentiate the computerized robots from the real-life animatronics that the filmmakers built for the movie.
(Runners-Up: Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II; X-Men: First Class)

Best Editing
- The Way
Richard Chew's editing for Emilio Estevez's film The Way was nothing short of magical. The cutting was crisp, cutting to reaction shots at all of the right moments. Understanding how long to keep a shot to build up an emotional feeling and then cutting at the right moment to create that emotional release is spectacular editing, no matter how you cut it (awful pun).
(Runners-Up: Drive; The Descendants; War Horse; The Conspirator)

Best Cinematography - Drive
I have been a huge fan of Newton Thomas Sigel's work since The Usual Suspects. His ability to warp light is unparalleled, but it is his ability to frame some of the most beautiful tracking shots I have ever seen in Drive that marks his greatest cinematographic achievement. Not a single bump or unwanted wiggle of the camera, just smooth images sailing across the screen.
(Runners-Up: War Horse, Real Steel, The Conspirator, Water for Elephants)

Best Animated Film - Rango
This year was a really poor year for animation, with Pixar and Dreamworks churning out uninspired sequels to just meh movies to begin with. Even still, Gore Verbinski's Rango was an enjoyable film, original with some great vocal performances and breathtaking animation from ILM. The lighting work was astounding. If not for a few unnecessary bathroom gags, this one would have been up there in my top 10 films of the year.
(Runners-Up: None)

Best Music
- War Horse
I did something a little different this year, rather than highlighting only original movie scores, or songs written specifically for movies, I decided to open it up to the entire soundtrack. Whether the soundtrack had a traditional score, had excellent use of licensed music, had songs written specifically for the movie, or a combo of all three, that was my criteria for which movie in the year had the best music. While The Muppets came close, I loved John Williams' sweeping score for War Horse so much, I had to give it to Mr. Williams. The score for War Horse is so powerful, it encompasses every image and enhances it to create feeling within the image.
(Runners-Up: The Muppets; X-Men: First Class; We Bought A Zoo; Captain America: The First Avenger)

Best Screenplay
- Peter Straughan & Bridget O'Connor, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I don't believe in stupidly separating an adapted work from an original work. A good screenplay is a good screenplay, hands down, and no other screenplay this year was more finely constructed than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. First off, taking a labyrinthine novel and trimming it down to two hours was no easy feat for Straughan and O'Connor, but unlike so many other screenplays that rely squarely on dialogue to try and show how well written they are, Straughan and O'Connor made a tautly structured spy thriller that never loses the viewer but requires genuine thought to keep up.
(Runners-Up: Will Reiser, 50/50; Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller, The Muppets; Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash, The Descendants; Emilio Estevez, The Way)

Best Supporting Actress - Jessica Chastain, The Help
The Help was a movie filled with many magnificent performances, but I really felt that Jessica Chastain's work as Celia Foote was the best performance in the movie. The humor that her character brings to the story, as well as the tragic heartbreak, all stems from her performance. Not the script or the directing, but from Chastain.
(Runners-Up: Angelica Houston, 50/50; Maggie Elizabeth Jones, We Bought A Zoo; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Evangeline Lilly, Real Steel)

Best Supporting Actor - Kenneth Brannagh, My Week With Marilyn
To portray a famous historical figure such as Sir Laurence Olivier must have been a daunting task, but Kenneth Brannagh proved he was up to the challenge. Brannagh, who had a banner year with this role and having directed Thor, was not merely a caricature of a great actor, but delved deep within what is known of Olivier's own thoughts on acting to inhabit that kind of persona. Like Olivier, Brannagh's performance is very traditional in theatrical quality and highly controlled.
(Runners-Up: Jesper Christensen, The Debt; Thomas Haden Church, We Bought A Zoo; Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Tom Wilkinson, The Conspirator)

Best Actress - Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Now, think about portraying one of the most iconic movie icons of all-time, while also trying to portray the real person behind that iconic persona, and the appreciation for Michelle Williams' portrayal as Marilyn Monroe increases. Williams did her homework and not just mimics Monroe's way of talking and walking, but perfectly captures the emotional state of the troubled star who merely wanted to be seen as a good actress.
(Runners-Up: Viola Davis, The Help; Emma Stone, The Help; Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter; Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene)

Best Actor - Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I have always loved Gary Oldman as an actor. He is one of the finest working in the industry today, and he proved that once again with the lead role in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, his finest performance to date. Oldman, who is usually a very big actor, who plays many larger than life characters, tones it down and delivers a reserved performance that is all about what is evidently going on within his character, George Smiley's head. It is evident he is thinking behind those thick horn-rimmed glasses by just watching his eyes, the way they will stare or occasionally shift their focus, making this the performance of the year.
(Runners-Up: Ryan Gosling, Drive; Kermit the Frog a.k.a. Steve Whitmire, The Muppets; George Clooney, The Descendants; James McAvoy, The Conspirator)

Best Ensemble - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There were many movies this year with marvelous acting ensembles, but the ensemble for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, was really the perfect who's who of British character actors getting to play serious. From Gary Oldman's marvelously controlled leading role, to Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch's heartfelt performances, to a scenery chewing role from the fantastic John Hurt, this ensemble had it all. A charismatic Colin Firth, a reserved Toby Jones, and a equally reserved Mark Strong. No other movie this past year had finer acting.
(Runners-Up: The Muppets; The Help; We Bought A Zoo; My Week With Marilyn)

Best Director - Steven Spielberg, War Horse
If anyone knows me, then they should have known that this one was a no-brainer. Steven Spielberg is my favorite filmmaker of all-time, and War Horse was a true return to vintage Spielberg movie magic. The way that Spielberg dictates when to push the camera in towards the actors to create deeper emotional connection, or the energy that he directs all of the battle scenes with, just shows that he is still the master of modern moviemaking. Some call it sentimental, I just call it a director who knows how to make even the stoniest of hearts feel emotion by throwing himself and his idealistic world views into every movie he directs.
(Runners-Up: Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive; Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Robert Redford, The Conspirator)


(Come back in the next few days as I will be posting Part 2 of Christian's Oscars, which feature what I feel were the Top 10 Movies of 2011!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Movie Review: "This Means War"

This Means War tells the story of two CIA, James Bond-lite agents (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine), who fall in love with the same girl (Reese Witherspoon), and use all of their skills in espionage to try and win her over.  This is by no means a highly intelligent movie, nor is it at all plausible.  It's good, clean fun, and the actors seemed to have a blast making it, in particular Hardy and Pine.  There is genuine chemistry between Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, so much so that I hope they do another, better movie together, because they are quite funny playing off one another.  So in all honesty, you could do a lot worse if you're looking for a movie that both you and your girlfriend can agree on this date night.

I give This Means War a D-

Movie Review: "The Secret World of Arrietty"

If you're a fan of Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro), then you will love The Secret World of Arrietty.  Based on the classic children's book, The Borrowers, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanesized version of the tale, about little people, who are 6 centimeters tall, who live in the walls and floorboards of homes, until a teenaged Borrower is discovered by a teenaged human boy who was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  Written by Ghibli co-founder, and animation maestro, Hayao Miyazaki, The Secret World of Arrietty has all of the hallmarks of a Studio Ghibli classic.  A strong female heroine named Arrietty, wondrous animation, a wide breadth of fantasy and imagination, and a consciousness of thematic ideas not typically found in American animation.  What is so brilliant about The Secret World of Arrietty is that it features such weighty concepts, such as young love and death, and yet it never becomes a bummer for the audience.  Younger viewers will probably love the visuals and the adventurous nature of the story, as Arrietty dodges cats and bugs, but adults will relish in the depths of the emotions and the characters that the film offers.  The American voice-over dub is well handled by Disney, with a marvelously subdued performance by Will Arnett as Arrietty's father, as well, the sound design is fantastic.  These everyday sounds that we humans hear are amplified in all of the scenes that are told from the point-of-view of the Borrowers, and it just takes you deeper into the experience, allowing one to get completely lost in the world of these Borrowers.

I give The Secret World of Arrietty an A+

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Most Anticipated - 2012

It's been a long time coming, but a month late is about as good a time as any to examine the outlook of 2012 in film and see what it has in store for us moviegoers. As with any year, not every movie will live up to expectations, and a few will surpass expectations. At this point last year I thought X-Men: First Class was going to be a joke and Super 8 was going to be amazing, and the opposite happened on both counts, so just because a movie is highly anticipated does not mean it is guaranteed to be any good. With that said, 2012 has a plethora of exciting movies coming out, a few original ideas, mostly adaptations, sequels, and reboots though.

There are still a great many question marks out there that I am anticipating, but I am not entirely sold on yet. For example, Terrence Malick's untitled project starring Ben Affleck. Malick -- who finally released his opus, The Tree of Life, in 2011 after being in production for nearly a decade -- is notorious for taking years to complete a project, and having one so soon after the other has me a touch wary. Then there is Robert Zemeckis' first live action film in over a decade with Flight. Does he still have the magic he once had? His animated offerings over the past decade, like Beowulf, aren't a good sign, but I still love Back to the Future.

Other major question marks: Ang Lee tackling the bestseller, Life of Pi, and Baz Luhrman attempting to make a definitive screen version of The Great Gatsby with Leo DiCaprio in the lead. Not to mention, Joss Whedon's modern day adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, which was shot for next to nothing. Can the guy who made The Avengers a big budget reality go macro and reinterpret Shakespeare? Then there's a potentially too soon reboot with The Amazing Spider-man, starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. Time will tell if director Marc Webb's more realistic take on the material will fall flat or fully realize the webhead like never before, but the trailers definitely look promising. I'll still consider it a surprise if the movie sweeps me away like the Sam Raimi movies did.

But enough of this, what are the movies I feel most moviegoers should be anticipating in 2012? That is the real reason for all of this. So here is my list of my 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012:

10. John Carter
I have very little knowledge of the Edgar Rice Burrough's novels upon which this movie is based, but the trailers at least paint this flick as an enjoyable sci-fi adventure like Star Wars or Avatar (which both films were inspired partially by Burrough's books). A Civil War hero falls asleep in a cave and awakes on the planet Mars where he has superhuman strength and joins forces with the natives in an epic war. Pixar animation director Andrew Stanton is making his live action debut with this movie, and if this same guy can give us Finding Nemo and Wall-E, then that is enough for me to want to see this movie.

9. Prometheus
Director Ridley Scott makes his first sci-fi flick since Blade Runner, about a bunch of explorers who find themselves on a distant planet that holds clues to the origins of Earth and mankind. The story keeps flopping back-and-forth between is it or isn't it a prequel to Scott's own Alien, but no matter what it really is, I really wanna see where this one goes. The premise seems to have genuine promise, and with LOST showrunner, Damon Lindeloff, as writer, this one definitely has the talent.

8. Rush
Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda narrowly survives a car crash, and then only a few weeks later he manages to fight his way back behind the wheel to race his rival, James Hunt. Director Ron Howard seems to be a perfect match for the material, but what has me most excited is to see Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, do his first dramatic role as Hunt.

7. The Avengers
Who isn't excited for this one? Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor, all fighting evil in the same movie. The box office is already getting prepped and ready to explode come May 4th. Whether or not writer/director Joss Whedon manages to find the characters behind all of the surefire explosions and CGI craziness is still yet to be seen, but just the sheer scale and scope of this movie has never been seen before. Avengers assemble!

6. Lincoln
With Steven Spielberg directing and Daniel Day-Lewis starring, this tale about Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation couldn't be in any better hands. This has been a project long in development for Spielberg, with Liam Neeson once attached to play Honest Abe, but now he has to make due with Day-Lewis. How terrible! (Sarcasm, I know). With such talent in front, and behind the camera, this could be a major Oscar play come next awards' season, not to mention it's Spielberg, the same guy who nailed Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. A film about American history has never been in better hands, at least in my lifetime.

5. Gravity
Reports of the opening shot lasting twenty minutes with zero cuts, lets you know you are watching an Alfonso Cuaron film. Gravity is Alfonso Cuaron's first film since Children of Men, and it is a simple enough premise, but one that I wanna see. Sandra Bullock stars as the only survivor of a botched space mission, trapped in outer space, trying to return home. With support coming from George Clooney, the cast is up to par, but Cuaron is the real reason I am so amped to see this. His imagination in terms of story and shot design has left me speechless with his previous work, so here is hoping.

4. Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond, again. Sold. Craig has become the greatest James Bond in my mind aside from Sean Connery himself, and this new Bond flick promises to be more like the old 1960s' Bond movies in style, but keep the depth of character found in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. With Road to Perdition's Sam Mendes directing, and a story promising to question Bond's loyalty to Judi Dench's M, this should be a great thrill ride, with the Craig-era finally getting a Moneypenny and Q. And I must say, Q being a young 20-something has me intrigued.

3. The Hunger Games
Based on one of my favorite books of recent years, the epic story of kids from the ages of 12-18 being forced to fight in a fight to the death battle by their tyrannical government, may not sound like it has much more than carnage and mayhem, but The Hunger Games is a story about so much more than that. It's a story with full three-dimensional characters, all fighting for what they believe in, all fighting for love in order to protect those they most care about both in the ring and out of the ring. However, it is also a fascinating view on government and politics, and how a rebellion forms. If the movie does the books justice, moviegoers will see why this is not just another Twilight, but is something worth their while.

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The much anticipated prequel to The Lord of the Rings finally makes it to the big screen, and it's only taken a little over a decade since The Fellowship of the Ring to make it. What has me so excited for this movie is that it isn't just another retread of what we've already seen. This is the story of how Bilbo Baggins became a hero and found the one ring. While we will run across many familiar characters from Gandalf to Gollum, it stars many characters that we do not know (unless you've read the book). As well, the book itself is more of a kid's adventure story than it is an epic tome, and early looks from the movie show a style that is less dark than The Lord of the Rings and more whimsical. I couldn't be more excited, and Martin Freeman is perfect casting as Bilbo.

1. The Dark Knight Rises
This is the final outing for director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale. No more Batman movies after this one. With a budget that is rumored to be north of $250 million, it puts TDKR in the upper echelon of most expensive movies ever made, but seriously, after how good Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were, who wouldn't put that much money behind the finale to Nolan's trilogy? The biggest question is: can Tom Hardy's Bane live up to be as memorable of a villain as Heath Ledger's Joker? I managed to see the first six minutes of the movie in Imax last December, and from those six minutes, I think, yes. As well, the more I see of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, the more I buy it. As of this point, I'm no longer a critic, I'm just an eager fan who wants to see how this particular Batman story comes to an end. With intriguing twists, such as the return of Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, and the story taking place eight years after The Dark Knight, TDKR promises to be another one of a kind moviegoing experience. It's gotta top the two greatest superhero movies of all-time, but who says there can't be three movies that vie for that title rather than just two?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Movie Review: "Take This Waltz"

Take This Waltz is merely a film that just didn't appeal to me from the first frame.  It's offbeat, Indie hipster aesthetic just put me off to the story of a married woman developing a questionable relationship with her good-looking neighbor.  While actress Michelle Williams gives a good performance, as does Seth Rogen as her husband, Take This Waltz was just a huge misfire for me.  It wasn't funny, nor was it all that dramatically interesting.  The story is very similar to made-for-Lifetime movies, with only the cast elevating it slightly above those films.  Take This Waltz is a film that proves, just because it's Indie doesn't mean that it's art.  Films like this just do nothing for me emotionally, leaving me cold.

I give Take This Waltz an F

Friday, February 3, 2012

Movie Review: "Chronicle"

I am generally not a fan of found footage movies.  From Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield, I've never really felt that these films had much to say.  They were gimmicks used to get cheap thrills, or to tell a conventional story that has nothing else going for it than the found footage angle, but what Chronicle does, is that it not only plays on the superhero genre, but it also works as a fascinating expose on modern teenage culture.

The premise is simple, a teenage outcast takes to videotaping his life, then one night him and two other guys travel into a mysterious cave, and when they emerge they all have telekinetic powers.  The film then doesn't bother itself with being a superhero film, but rather a realistic exploration of what would more than likely actually happen if teenagers got super powers in real life.  Well, they'd abuse them of course.

Actor Dane Dehaan is the thread that holds the whole movie together, as outcast teen, Andrew, filming his whole life.  By choosing to do the found footage approach, it shortchanges all of the other characters, but makes Andrew's character all the stronger, and it actually portrays an outcast's turn to violence, with more clarity than films without the fantastical elements.  In a world such as the one we live in, it's surprising to find a film that is so socially minded, wrapped up in a film that will appeal to the crowd that most needs to see this cautionary tale.  While it isn't perfect, or by any means all that rewatchable, it's a genuine surprise that is worth seeing.

I give Chronicle a B

Movie Review: "The Woman in Black"

Nothing freaks me out more than a ghost story.  There's something about the idea of something that you cannot see, that you cannot fight, that's more terrifying to me than any other type of horror story, and The Woman in Black is one of the best horror films I've seen in years.  The film is brilliantly directed by James Watkins, with so much of the film's characters being revealed through cleverly designed shots, rather than verbal exposition.  It tells the tale of a recently widowed London lawyer named Arthur Kipps, who travels to a small country village to settle the documentation of an old abandoned house in a foggy marsh that is unreachable during high tide, and is also haunted by a vengeful ghost who is causing the strange deaths of all children in the village.   Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, portrays Arthur Kipps in his first major, post-Potter role, and he is marvelous.  At first he seems too young to be portraying a father, but it's how Radcliffe shows a breadth of emotions that one generally associates with someone beyond his years, that makes him believable in the role.  In many ways, it's a one man show, and Radcliffe carries this film, with much of the film following him being terrorized in a house, and he is such a mesmerizing presence onscreen, you're willing to go along on the journey.  Where the film really stands out though, is that it just avoids all cliches of films like this.  Not only is it well acted and well directed, it just genuinely keeps you on the edge of your seat because it does not traipse into genre formula, and literally shocks and surprises you in the very end.

I give The Woman in Black an A