January 31, 2013

Life of Pi

Ang Lee, 2012


I am not a fan of all of Ang Lee’s films, but this one certainly made an impact on me. According to Film Critic & "Film Vault" host Anderson Cowan - the three challenges Directors try to avoid is shooting scenes with Water, Child Actors, and Animals. While “Life of Pi” may have been aided by quite a bit of CGI, he really succeeded using those three elements in this film. Alluring/bright visualizations (at times very Avatar-like) with a gripping, compelling storyline. Shiraj Sharma is convincing as an innocent and compassionate Pi Patel. I felt like I was right there with Pi in the storm, and was happy to feel like I was there on the life raft afterwards.

January 29, 2013

Homeland (Season 1)

Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, 2011


Homeland is one of those series that is so unique and fast-paced that each episode flies by at a rapid pace. It leaves you wondering if you actually took it ALL in, possibly missing something with it being so rich in storyline. Claire Danes is amazing in her role as Carrie Mathison: a bipolar workaholic, who stops at nothing to get to the next stage of an investigation. Of course the show will draw comparisons to 24 with it being a political thriller and all but it is much more realistic, and certainly has more depth. You’re going to have trouble sleeping after watching the frantic pursuit of the “bad guy” through the picturesque, lush streets of Washington. The end of every episode will leave you feeling suspicious and quite possibly, sympathizing with the enemy.

January 28, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell, 2012


David O. Russell has really refined his craft, especially from a pacing standpoint which in this film was so evident. Frantic and gradually calming, there is a great parallel to the progression of Bradley Cooper's character Pat's medication taking hold. There is a scene where Pat is having a manic episode. In the background is the very fitting "What Is and What Should Never Be" by Led Zeppelin and the scene is shot in a claustrophobic attic with a lot of close angle & shaky-cam that really added to the tension. By the final act I was literally on the edge of my seat - laughing to myself that I was actually looking forward to a dance scene. It was refreshing to see Chris Tucker again, and his character provided some levity in the already mildly comedic moments. Silver Linings cuts raw, and feels real.

January 27, 2013

Let Me In

Matt Reeves, 2010


When I had heard that they were remaking the Swedish horror "Let The Right One In" I wasnt too optimistic that it could hold up to the original. Now after seeing both, I look at them almost equally and there are only subtle deficiencies in both films. Anyone who has not seen the original Swedish version should do so. Thats all I will say about the original. This film is a near perfect horror film, and definitely in my top 5 horror films of the past 10 years. Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) has been good in every film I've seen her in, and she is perfect in her role of Abby the vampire. Kodi Smit-Mcphee gives a really great performance as well, as Owen. This film is how every vampire film should be. Unfortunately we've become consumed as a culture with a watered down, vanilla Vampire genre thanks to the absolutely horrible Twilight films. Let Me In is very different. Its takes itself seriously. The cinematography in this film is fantastic. Theres an ambient, dark & yellow glow to the film that reminds me of David Fincher. I would imagine the cinematographer, Greig Fraser, is influenced by Fincher. There are so many big moments in this film that were so original, especially the ending.

January 26, 2013


Nacho Vigalondo, 2007


This is a Spanish time travel film starring Karra Elejalde. Very well made, well written, well acted. Elejalde was compelling in the lead role as Hector. I found him to be a sympathetic character within the first 15 minutes of the film. This film has the same grittiness and sophistication as "Primer" (2004), but on a much higher budget ($2.6M vs $7K). Not sure where that budget went because the film is absent of big budget effects, CGI, makeup, etc. It just didnt need it. So rich in storyline, the 90 min. runtime went by quickly and I was completely satisfied with the ending.

January 20, 2013

Changing Lanes

(Roger Michell, 2002)


Nothing really memorable about this film. Dull, predictable, lackluster. Seems like the director had some good ideas but was never really able to apply them in away that would make this film distinct. They should have put more emphasis as the lost file being a symbol of their morality... Near the end of the film the torn and frayed file folder could have represented their weathered virtue. but it didnt. It was just a file folder. What's funny is the setting is in New York City, but it may as well have been shot in Cleveland. I don't even know if there was one shot of the New York skyline. Affleck was disappointing in the lead, lacked the depth that he seems to in every film. His strength is definitely as a director and not in acting roles. Samuel L. Jackson played himself for the most part. The best performance was Sydney Pollack who has a limited role in the film.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Andrew Dominik, 2007


A really great film. I'm mad at myself for not watching this sooner as it sat on my tv stand in the netflix envelope for over a month. The photography in this film is so beautiful. Amazing Vignette shots throughout the beginning. As the train approaches through the forest, the way Dominik used the light through the trees is one of the best shots ive seen in years. The pacing is so perfect, scattered violence isn't over the top or gratuitous. The setting, late 1800's Midwest, reminded me of "Deadwood" and "There will be blood". The song, "Song for Jesse" by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, plays throughout the film and is now on one of my Spotify playlists. The cast is packed with talent. Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider all contribute great performances. If i made a list for top films of 2000-2010, this would certainly be on it. I plan on rewatching soon.

January 19, 2013

Old Joy

Kelly Reichardt, 2006


A real simple story that follows two old friends as they go away on a weekend trip into the Pacific Northwest. I find it surprising that the film was made on a budget of $300K, seems like it could have been made for much less. While there are parts that seem spontaneously homoerotic (massaging his buddy in a hot springs), you get the sense that its two friends that have grown apart over the years, and try to keep the friendship alive by going away for a couple of days to drink some beer by a campfire. Well acted, beautiful shots of the Northwest forests give you the feeling you'll spot Bigfoot running across the lightly traversed dirt roads.

January 18, 2013


Steven Soderburgh, 2011


I have to admit that I am not a fan of Soderburgh's films. I find them to be too clean, choppy, and they are absent of that grittiness that I look for. I didn't expect this to be any different, and it wasn't. I wanted to see this mainly for Gina Carano's performance. I found it disappointing. Her character seemed to lack the emotional depth that would make me get behind her. There were a couple of scenes that I really liked (the quick gun fight scene shot in black and white w/muffled sound, the car chase through the snowy woods), but overall the film just didn't do it for me.

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson, 2012


First off, I'll just say I'm a big Wes Anderson fan and I'll see anything he makes. Some say hes over-rated. I think some people just want to have a contrarian attitude with him. He creates these beautiful worlds in his films that I would love to spend some time in. This film is full of that same innocence, colorful, dry & quirky elements that are in all of his other films. They jump right into it with the camera panning through the summer camp with Ed Norton inspecting the various scout stations. The camp is settled on a fictional New England island. I wish it was a real place. I'd spend my summers there.


Rian Johnson, 2012


You can convince me to see practically any film that has a time-travel theme to it. When I heard about Looper I was interested immediately. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has really grown on me and I think hes going to be in the upper-tier of leading actors for years to come. His performance in the film was good, although it was a bit distracting seeing him with the facial prosthetic. Bruce Willis plays his future self and I'm convinced though that Willis is going to shine in any sci-fi thriller if you give him a weird gun. Definitely plan on re-watching this in the near future.The best performance in the entire film was probably the kid in the farmhouse.

January 17, 2013


Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011


If "Heat" and "Taxi Driver" had a baby, it would be Drive. This had everything that I want in a film. It is very stylistic, dark/disturbing at times, and had an amazing soundtrack. The limited dialogue helped to maintain a hypnotic effect. A lot of people have called this an Art-house Noir. Considering there was quite a bit of star-power in the cast, it was made on a relatively small budget of $15M. Gosling evidently hand-picked Refn to direct Drive after Neil Marshall pulled out. Gosling has become one of my favorite actors, and I think Refn figured out a way to really let Gosling play to his strengths - even if in this case it is a lot of standing around, looking cool with a toothpick in his mouth. I loved seeing Albert Brooks playing the antagonist (were his eyebrows shaved?) and I now have a crush on Carey Mulligan after seeing this and I am interested in seeing some of her other work. My only criticism of the film is I wonder if the storyline with purchasing the race car was even necessary - it seemed confusing but I guess I am willing to let that go. Refn's films seem to be very consistent in the sense that they are very heavily stylized, have spontaneous gore and very pronounced scores/soundtracks. Refn is definitely the kind of director I would want to have a beer with. Overall, its probably my favorite film of 2011.


James Mangold, 2003


This film is about a group of strangers who become stranded at a remote motel one night while a crazed murderer is on the loose. There are a couple of plot twists, but this film just feels very predictable. I felt like this had something going for it early, but that seemed to fade away abruptly. I'm disappointed because I really like John Cusack's older films (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, One Crazy Summer), but with those older films comes a lot of mediocre films like this one that I just don't care for.

Top 5 Zombie Films Of All Time

5. Dead Snow
(Tommy Wirkola, 2009)

How can you not love a film about Nazi zombies?  Its a Norwegian film shot on a budget of $800K. The opening scene of the movie is shot in a car with a group of medical students on their way to a Ski weekend in a remote cabin. The mountainous winter landscape is beautiful in the beginning of the film and maintains that same scenic beauty throughout - contrasted by gory, blood drenched snow.

4.Shaun of the Dead
(Edgar Wright, 2008)

The best "Zomedy" film made to date. I can't imagine ANYONE other than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the leads. They are so perfect as the oblivious buddies who have no idea whats going on around them. Like 28 Days Later, the film is entirely based in London. Funny throughout the entire film.

3. Dawn of the Dead
(George Romero, 1978)

Its probably considered a more complete, entertaining film than Night of the Living Dead but definitely not as iconic. Either way, very entertaining. Sure, its campy - and the makeup on the zombies leaves something to be desired - but I found myself living vicariously through the main characters. I found the beginning of this film to be somewhat confusing and diluted, but it picks up soon after and maintains that momentum through the rest of the film. I think a lot of people have had that childish fantasy of being able to live in a mall, grocery store, etc. and having it to yourself. You see that acted out in this film, with the conflict being that you never know how safe you really are. You have to be aware of the slow moving zombies and the bandits trying to inhabit your location.

2. 28 Days Later
 (Danny Boyle, 2002)

I have probably seen this film close to ten times by now. Danny Boyle provided so much realism that it really gives you a sense of how things would be if a global pandemic hit and turned everyone into rage fueled zombies. Some people say that this film is not a zombie film because 1) the zombies run and 2) because its a "rage" virus that makes them violent but not necessarily flesh eaters. I discount both claims and say that it reinvents the existing zombie genre and takes a more realistic approach. I have NO problem with zombies running. Cillian Murphy is great in the lead. The sequel "28 Weeks Later" is also pretty good, although not directed by Boyle (Boyle produced the film though). Danny Boyle apparently has a preliminary plot laid out for a "28 Months Later" that I would love to materialize within the next few years.

1. Night of the Living Dead
(George Romero, 1968)

This is the film that started it all. While some may consider it too campy and outdated... it HAS to be on the top of the list.This is the film that created the zombie genre without actually ever mentioning the word "zombies". Made on a budget of $115,000, the film has now grossed $30,000,000 worldwide. Because the film was shot in B&W, it gave Romero the liberty to use Chocolate syrup for fake blood. It was originally supposed to be a horror comedy, and ultimately became a highly influential film with ambitious, societal statements.

January 16, 2013

Dexter (Season 6)

HBO, 2011


First I should mention that before watching this season I took a break from Dexter. I felt that the series had become too predictable and repetitive. Maybe it was the fact that Lithgow was SO GOOD in Season 4 that Season 5 just couldn't compare. Either way, I found Season 6 refreshing and was entertained through all 12 episodes. There are two antagonists this season - played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks. Olmos is a good character actor who happens to fit into his role pretty well. Hanks, on the other hand, I thought fell short in his performance. I do not think that Hanks is a good fit for the Horror/Thriller genre. I believe the last time I saw him was in Mad Men playing the Priest, which I thought he did well in. I guess I admire him for reaching out into a new genre and taking a risk professionally. I thought the finale was great, and has me eager to see Season 7.

Sleepwalk With Me

Mike Birbiglia, 2012


I really enjoyed this film. Good direction, good acting and a good soundtrack. You watch as a not-so-good comedian (a character loosely based on Birbiglia) works on his chops and refuses to turn down a gig with the fear of not getting another offer from a manipulative, mid-tier manager. Lauren Ambrose's performance was particularly good as the love interest. Ambrose, who I haven't seen in a while, was probably the best actor on HBO's Six Feet Under and was clearly the best actor in this film. I am usually not a fan of actors breaking down the fourth wall, but Birbiglia's character did it in a way that was reminiscent of Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Like Annie Hall, the film follows the struggles of two people in a relationship who aren't necessarily looking for the same things, and are distracted by other factors in their lives. Oh, and the lead has a sleep disorder that causes him to sleepwalk - which added a nice comedic element to the film that I did not get tired of (no pun intended).