Monday, October 18, 2010



To those who wish to continue reading me, from now on I am publishing here:

Don't worry! I haven't been sued! This is just a precautionary measure I've been meaning to do for a while now. I hope you'll continue to read at the new site!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Best of the Decade #11: There Will Be Blood (2007)

A challenging and unsettling portrait of greed, cynicism, religion, and money, There Will Be Blood is one of the most uncompromising and unforgettable pieces of high art of the decade. Unlike his previous hits Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love, writer/director/producer Paul Thomas Anderson did not set out to make this an accessible film. It does demand the attention and patience of its audience, and upon first viewing, it does not even seem to pay off. But the more this film festers in one's mind the more striking its impact becomes.

Much of the credit for this lasting impression goes to Daniel Day Lewis, who offers up the performance of the decade as Daniel Plainview, a ruthless oil prospector who's insatiable lust for wealth and desire to obliterate all competition drives him to absolute madness. And yet his performance is in no way predictable, often going places we neither expect nor want it to go. It is a courageous turn from a courageous actor. One for the ages.

Thanks to Anderson's meticulous direction, this arthouse film as the look of a glossy studio blockbuster, boasting gorgeous photography from Bob Elswitt, impeccable production design from Jack Fisk, and completely unique musical score from Johnny Greenwood.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review - RED

Mini review today:

Ex-CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is RED; retired and extremely dangerous. He passes his days trying to grow an avocado plant and flirting with a receptionist in Kansas City over the phone. When it becomes apparent in a not-so-subtle way that someone really wants him dead, he must rescue his spunky love interest and touch base with some old friends in order to find out who's behind it.

There's nothing here that hasn't been done before in dozens of madcap espionage action/thriller/comedies, and RED hardly makes an effort to improve. It draws a little too much attention to its attempts at been funny, only a few of which succeed. The action doesn't have much spark and the whole movie is edited a bit arhythmically. The best part is John Malkovich's droll performance as an old cohort of Moses who is hilariously paranoid (often rightfully so!).

** out of ****

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Academy announces Foreign Film long-list & Doc Short finalists

65 official entries are in the running for this year's Best Foreign Language Film (a handful of which I've actually seen). The most high profile titles include Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's Biutiful for Mexico, Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives for Thailand, and France's Of Gods and Men. See the full list courtesy of In Contention.

They've also announced the eight finalists for Best Documentary Short:

Born Sweet
Killing in the Name
Living for 32
One Thousand Pictures: RFK’s Last Journey
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

Review - Restrepo

For one year, film makers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger accompanied and documented the Second Platoon on their posting in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, one of the most strategically important but deadliest spot in the Middle East. From their footage they've put together Restrepo, a riveting documentary which focuses on the basic observation of men at war.

We get to know the soldiers as people, we relate to them, and we sympathize with them when they suffer a loss. An early casualty was Private Doc 'Restrepo', after whom the troop subsequently named their hand-made mountain-side outpost. In time, the base comes to represent the teamwork and companionship of this tight-knit fraternity, but at first it only represents hell on earth. They receive enemy fire multiple times a day, and their best-laid plans to smoke out Taliban insurgents come up empty-handed, even ending tragically in the harrowing Operation Rock Avalanche. The film may have been made a bit better had Hetherington and Junger actually attempted to say something with their material (besides “war is hell” which we already know), and it could have benefited from some structure, but the story they tell is compelling and informative nonetheless. Its a credit to rerecording mixer Coll Anderson that we can make anything out of the grainy production tracks. Good job!

An Oscar nom for Best Documentary seems in order, and I see no reason why it shouldn't get one with its combination of zeitgeisty subject matter and dramatic impact. But of course, it's got stiff competition, and as I've stated before, this branch can be unpredictable at times.

*** out of ****

Monday, October 11, 2010

Best of the Decade #12: Memento (2000)

Pay attention. Very close attention. This is one movie where you can't afford to miss a second. The maddeningly brilliant screenplay by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan forces us to retrace the steps of a man with short-term memory loss who tries to hunt down his wife's killer, writing notes for himself all over his body so he cannot forget the clues he uncovers. It is an ingenious narrative device that the brothers Nolan employ, presenting us every scene in reverse order, such that we experience every scene as our forgetful sleuth does; confused and unaware of what has just happened before.

Well cast and exceptionally edited, this thriller is so tricky it keeps you guessing even after the film is over. The psychological depths it probes are just too vast to fathom once over. Multiple viewing is required!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review - Peepli Live

Just a quickie for this foreign film I caught a while back.

As a social satire, Anusha Rizvi's Peepli Live doesn't aim particularly high. Themes of the media's circus-like machinations and the downside of fame have been lampooned before, and better, but this modest effort is still mildly effective and enjoyable.

In the film, a poor farmer (Omkar Das Manikpuri) gets the idea to commit suicide in order to secure financial aid for his family. But when a reporter overhears this juicy tidbit, it's not long before our shy agriculturist becomes the centre of a ridiculous media storm, beset by opportunistic politicians looking to win the upcoming elections and by unscrupulous news networks frothing at the mouth for footage of a live suicide.

Manikpuri is quite droll as the humble farmer, a character written with easy-going wit. The film's ideas struggle a bit to surface from beneath the thick comic panache, but that doesn't make it any less pleasant.

This has become India's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film, but somehow I doubt the Foreign Film branch will go for something this light.

**1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review - Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

After stewing in my own dizzying thoughts about The Social Network for most of the weekend, I was in need of a good mental palette cleanser. And it turns out I could've done a lot worse than Zack Snyder's debut animation Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

The story is nothing we haven't seen before. Just take your favourite Arthurian legend and add owls. Narratively, the film doesn't strive for much. The characters aren't written that thoroughly, especially the bad guys who don't seem to have any real motives besides being evil for the sake of being evil. There's not much thematic meat the chew on. The film touches momentarily on the idea of disillusionment and that war isn't as glorious in real life as it seems in stories (no duh), but that only comes off as unintentionally hypocritical when our young hero has to save the day by violent means and proceeds to regale impressionable owlets with romanticized stories about it. And it's full of logic holes, like, why would these guardians choose to locate their HQ as far removed as possible from the land they're supposed to protect? And why are these owls cruising at altitudes higher than any real owl would fly? Not that you should intend to take this movie all that seriously. As one character astutely states, “...such a story stretches plausibility beyond reason”. My sentiments exactly.

It would be all too easy to write this film off if it weren't for one thing: it is damn gorgeous! I daresay the most aesthetically beautiful film I'll see all year. This is the second feature film from the Australia-based animation studio / visual effects production company Animal Logic (their first being Happy Feet in 2006), and it is a HUGE technical advancement. The photorealism of the effects animation is dazzling every detail, from the hair-raising grandeur of the matte paintings to the immaculate minutia of each individual feather on the owls' heads, which are forced to interact with wind, ash, and in one particularly breath-taking sequence, torrential rain. Snyder's trademark ultra-slow motion shots are actually a very nice fit, allowing us to properly appreciate the incredible effects work which frankly deserves an Oscar nomination.

I doubt we'll see it though. The VFX branch has it in for animated movies. Although, Ratatouille did make the shortlist a few years ago... hmmm. Maybe animated feature? It would need five slots to get in, but it could happen.

**1/2 out of ****

The Way Back is back

Back in the Oscar race that is. Newmarket and Wrenkin Hill have announced that Peter Weir's epic will play a one week qualifier in December after all, and just after I finally nixed it from all my predictions too!

This could be a late game changer, like Million Dollar Baby, or it could have virtually no impact at all, like Defiance. I'm still cautious about its chances (will anyone see it in time?), but look forward to seeing anyway.

All I know is that (even without having seen the film) I am squarely in Ed Harris' corner for Best Supporting Actor. He is WAY overdue.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Predictions - October 2010

At long last, updates:

-The Tree of Life & The Way Back have been removed from every category. In Best Picture, they (along with Conviction) have been replaced with Made in Dagenham, Rabbit Hole, & 127 Hours.
In Best Director, they've been replaced by Danny Boyle (127 Hours) & Tom Hooper (The King's Speeck).
In Best Film Editing, they've been replaced by 127 Hours & The King's Speech.
In Best Cinematography, they've replaced by 127 Hours & Black Swan.
-In the Acting categories, James Franco moves into Best Actor, Nicole Kidman & Natalie Portman move into Best Actress, Andrew Garfield moves into Best Supporting Actor, and Melissa Leo & Miranda Richardson move into Best Supporting Actress.
-Made in Dagenham & The Fighter jump into the Original Screenplay hunt, while 127 Hours & Winter's Bone join Adapted Screenplay. Be aware: The Social Network may be classified as Original by the Academy, as the screenplay was not actually based on the book.
-In Best Art Direction and Costume design respectively, The Tree of Life & The Conspirator make way for Secretariat & True Grit, and Secretariat & Get Low.
-Never Let Me Go joins Original Score. Toy Story 3 & Country Strong join Original Song.
-Taking a chance on The Town getting into Sound Mixing. Added 127 Hours as well.
-Some early Foreign Language Film predictions are in place now that official submissions are almost complete.

The main point here is that 127 Hours looks like an across-the-board contender. There's also a chance The Way Back may be getting that one-week qualifying run, but I'm still keeping it off for the time being. We'll see where it sits in a month's time.