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Showing posts from December, 2009

The Best of the Decade

Over the last ten years, the cinema has given us a great deal to be thankful for: a rebirth of the Batman franchise, a series of examinations of what it means to live in this particular decade, and a mass of character studies whether they be animated or popcorn thrillers. As much as I have enjoyed the offerings, a list must be culled together for the end of the year. Except this year is different, this year ten films must be selected from hundreds. Below are some of the best of the aughts. Enjoy!

10) There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson's magnum opus, a scathing look at extremism in America and the evils of greed and profiteering from religion. It also features the best performance of the decade with Daniel Day-Lewis as oil-man Daniel Plainview.

9)  Up
A beautiful tale that entrances all ages, Up managed to captivate children and tell a tale that adults cherish as well.

8) The Dark Knight
Maybe just a comic book film, but it is the best comic book film. Christopher Nolan did …

Review: Nine

Rob Marshall's Nine is a collision of two directors, namely Federico Fellini and Bob Fosse, interpreted by himself. 8½, and All That Jazz were major influences on Rob Marshall’s Nine each film represented a portion of where Marshall wanted his film to say. While both and All That Jazz were intensely private films made in an autobiographical fashion by directors Fellini and Fosse, Marshall is nothing more than an interloper here, he has no personal stake in the film.
Death, failure and womanizing were all a fixture of both directors for their films as it was revelatory of their dark periods where they did not know whether the creative genius that had accelerated their careers was getting away from them. Fellini was distressed by writer’s block and his own dissolving marriage to Giulietta Masina and Fosse was plagued with the thoughts of his own mortality both themes, while touched on in Nine, are mostly ignored for Guido Contini’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) relationship with the women…

Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air is a throwback of sorts to the classic Hollywood films of yesteryear. The dynamic banter between its two leads is reminiscent of classics like It Happened One Night and of course like the old Hollywood pictures, Up in the Air is a star vehicle led by the last real movie star in George Clooney.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends 90% of his life sucking recycled oxygen 10,000 feet above the ground surrounded, yet entirely alone. He is a corporate assassin leased out to cowards that cannot let go of their own employees. He isn't liked, but he's paid well enough that he doesn't have to care. Ryan isn't particularly liked by his family either.
Ryan's life is in a suspended state of animation much like all of the travelers stuck in airports. That is until he meets his equivalent in Alex (Vera Farmiga), they recognize they're essentially the same souls almost instantly. Alex teases him that when he thinks of her, to "think of yourself, with a vag…

Christmas Countdown: It's A Wonderful Life

The name George Bailey has been and always will be synonymous with Jimmy Stewart. Despite the many roles Stewart has taken (Vertigo, Harvey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, etc.) the fact that he is most remembered as a small business owner down on his luck resonates with the underdog in all of us.

After giving everything to Bedford Falls George Bailey faces a calamity, his uncle has lost the $8,000 deposit for the bank. Now George has to recoup the money or go to jail. Facing suicide to save his family from grief George receives the help of a compassionate angel who shows him how much the world would miss George Bailey.
Frank Capra's most beloved film and the best Christmas movie around. It's a Wonderful Life endures as a beloved testament to everything Christmas embodies: family, friends and the joy of life.

Christmas Countdown: A Christmas Story

Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB gun, that's all he wants for Christmas. Too bad he's being told by everyone he knows, "you'll shoot your eye out". Ralph writes a report about it for class, "you'll shoot your eye out". He asks his father, "you'll shoot your eye out". He asks the store Santa, "you'll shoot your eye out".
Will Ralphie get his Red Rider BB gun before time runs out? You'll have to see and find out.
This is a classic for all of its key scenes: the soap scene, the leg lamp, the dinner at the Chinese restaurant, the department store Santa. If you haven't been acquanited with A Christmas Story do so when TBS runs its annual 24 hour marathon.

Review: Avatar 3D

The hype for Avatar has been incredibly publicized. 3D has been around for the last several decades, but James Cameron wanted to do something bigger, better. Known for big summer blockbusters, Cameron wanted to push the realms of cinema into something unprecedented.

You know the story from the trailers, you know the director has been working on it for the better part of two decades. So the question is this the film that revolutionizes how people see movies?

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paralyzed former Marine joining the Avatar program after the death of his brother. He is uniquely positioned to join because he shares his brother's DNA, only Jake can control his avatar. With it, he can walk again and once he infiltrates the Na'vi and convinces them to move away from their land, Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) promises to get Jake's "real legs back". The Na'vi must be moved because their home is based on a very valuable deposit of Unobtanium.

3D films in t…

Christmas Countdown: Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually is an epic film. It has an ensemble cast of 20 or so stars (Blogger wouldn't let me put in the all names there are so many). The story spans across continents, between countries, and through life and death.
It's a remarkable film. It's definitely one of my favourites.

Christmas Countdown: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Christmas Vacation is my favourite Christmas film, and probably the movie I've seen more times than any other.

This was one of the first movies the family got to watch on our first VHS player; in the 20 - plus times that I've seen this since 1989 it still hasn't gotten stale. This movie definitely contributed to my love of film.

Everything about the film is perfect in it's myriad flaws. It's like a fractal composed of jagged little screw-ups, comedic failures and uninvited guests; it's stomach churning in its humour, but also beautiful when you step back to see the whole.

I may sound like I'm being facetious in my hyperbole, but Christmas Vacation truly is a stroke genius not only as a Christmas film, but as a film in general.

Fight Club Blu-Ray Contest

Fight Club is being released on Blu-Ray for its ten year anniversary and to celebrate Nevermind Pop Film is giving away a copy. In order to win you have to correctly answer the question below.
Who was originally up for the role of Tyler Durden in Fight Club?
Leave your answer and e-mail address in the comments below.
Update: Congrats Optimus Blimey on your win!

Christmas Countdown: The Muppet's Christmas Carol (1992)

It came as a surprise to me to find that The Muppet's Christmas Carol was the most entertaining of all of the renditions of A Christmas Carol that I've seen this year, including the exceptionally enjoyable Christmas Classic Scrooged. Not only was TMCC the most enjoyable, but it was also more true to the original story than most I've seen.

The Great Gonzo plays Dickens, who is also the narrator of the film. I've come to think that the Dickens tale personifies the modern Christmas season: it's foremost a time of good-will and giving.

The Muppets were all quite emphatic and characteristically charming. Michael Caine's turn as Scrooge may not mark high on his list of cinematic accomplishments, but his performance was as good as any Scrooge I've seen.

This may not be a classic, but it's earned its spot on my five year rotation roster.

Christmas Countdown: Santa Buddies (2009) vs. Eight Crazy Nights (2002)

Today I'll take a look at two of the most terrible holiday films I've seen, and the tie that binds them.
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Santa Buddies is a film churned out off the Disney conveyor belt of "Buddies" movies. These are films that feature talking dogs, who are probably related to "Air Bud" somehow.

There is a family of five dogs, each with it's own personality and stereotype that it personifies. The main story is a pastiche of Christmas classics, and reminiscent of Elf: Christmas spirit is running low, and the deer can't fly. There is also a cheezy Christmas Carol-esque subplot about a dog catcher called S. Cruge, apparently put in to fill the film out to feature length.

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Eight Crazy Nights is another terrible holiday film. The motivation for this film seems to be the same as Sandler's Hanukkah song: to fill the dearth of Hanukkah-related holiday media.

Sandler is renowned for his whorish adulation of product placement (even the otherwise serious Punch-Drunk …

Christmas Countdown: Fred Claus (2007)

The premise of Fred Claus is okay, and there are enjoyable parts. It's silly and stupid, but fairly enjoyable at the outset. It's essentially a role reversal of Elf. The problem is that the film is about 25 minutes too long, and the contrived plot twists get tiring.

The cast of this one is quite incredible. There are four Oscar winners and one two-time nominee among the co-stars. Unfortunately the material isn't up to much so no one can really let their talent shine.

One of the high points of my Christmas movie watching binge was in this film, in a particularly sweet scene where Fred chastises Santa and explains that there are no naughty kids. Good stuff.

First Look at Scott Pilgrim

The first image of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World comes from Wright's blog

Christmas Countdown: The Ref (1994)

The best Christmas films set a generally non-Christmastime story in the holiday season, play off the holiday energy and motif, and culminate with a slightly Christmassy motif. The Ref is such a film.
It's seems like Kevin Spacey is in just about every movie I've been watching these past few weeks. I've started to garner an appreciation for him. He's good in The Ref; the up-tight chemistry between his character and his wife (played by Judy Davis) is what makes this film so much fun to watch. This is one I will come back to watch in future Decembers.

Christmas Countdown: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Nothing bothers a film buff like an uneven film. One can tolerate many shortcomings in a film, as long as it holds to some kind of intent without too many diversions.
Of course, Jingle All the Way (1996) fails in this regard.
In general it's a story about a deadbeat dad, Arnold, trying to buy his son's affection, then seeing the err in his ways and making amends (there are probably 20 episodes of The Simpons like this). The subplot about his rivalry with another bad dad (Sinbad) fits well with this theme; it fleshes out how bad of a person the protagonist is.
The film falls on its face is when criticisms are made about the commercialization of Christmas (what else is new, Arnold?), and then later retracted. Wishy-washiness spoils the occasion. The early critiques are meant to be obviated by the amends a father makes with his unhappy son. It's a strange take on the old "Christmas Family Magic" theme that doesn't nearly work, and doesn't really fit with th…

Christmas Countdown: Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone is a prototype for an excellent Christmas film, and one of the most enjoyable Christmas films going.
Contrasted against the stomach turning slapstick, the story of an accidentally abandoned child learning to take care of himself and his family's desperate attempts to get back to him are endearing.
It's a funny, poignant and timeless Christmas classic.

Christmas Countdown: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

You can't expect much from a movie that's been featured on MST3K and resides permanently on IMDB's bottom 100. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has the kind of plot, direction, set pieces and acting that you'd expect to see in a junior high school play.
It's filled up with all the usual funny stuff you see in every 60s sci-fi b-movie: gratuitous stock footage, abducted children, terrible costumes and the dreaded tickle ray.
The film is in the public domain, so expect to see it on TV once a year on every channel trying to save a buck. Or you can google it and watch it from free online.

Christmas Countdown: Scrooged (1988)

Giving the Christmas season its modern day patina, then stripping it away to leave nothing but the naive childlike interpretation of the event, Scrooged stands the standard coming of age tale on its head. The film tells the classic Dickens story "A Christmas Carol" in a modern setting.
With stars like Bill Murray, Bobcat Goldthwaite and Karen Allen, the cast has the comedic chops to make the story work.

Christmas Countdown: Christmas with the Cranks (2004)

The usual criticism of Christmas with the Cranks is that it encourages conformity through community intimidation.
The Kranks, a pair of newly empty-nesters (played by Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to forego the hustle and bustle of Christmas and indulge themselves in a romantic getaway together. Their neighbours begrudge them this decision, and decide to make their lives a living hell of harassment and annoyance as comeuppance. The pod people neighbours' actions are disconcerting.
When the Kranks' extremely spoiled daughter surprises her parents on Christmas Eve that she'll be coming home for Christmas, they decide to make a mad dash attempt to put together their traditional Christmas Eve party in time for her arrival. Of course this can't happen without the help of the neighbours who bullied them throughout the rest of the film.
The film is supposed to speak in favour of community and tradition, but the actions of the neighbours are way overboard and the mes…

Christmas Countdown: Four Christmases (2008)

Christmas cheer is not required for watching Four Christmases. The film takes place around the holidays, but the plot is only seasonal to the extent that it required the protagonists to visit all four branches of their disparate families. Over time the protagonists decide that their relationship is worth investing more seriousness into (the film is similar in this way to Away We Go).
Aside from the phenomenal cast (composed mostly of Oscar nominees or winners, with the exclusion of Vaughn) the film isn't really up to much. It's no Christmas classic.

The Company Men

A first look at John Well's The Company Men starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, and Kevin Costner.
I do not know of anyone who cannot relate to this picture right now. Sitting in a crowded lobby wondering if you will be the one to get back on your feet or one of the dozens to go back out to the uncertainty.
(Courtesy: Collider)

Christmas Countdown: Mixed Nuts (1994)

I always liked Mixed Nuts. It's a very different take on the Christmas comedy. The film has an all-star cast, led by Steve Martin. The plot centers around a suicide hotline that's lost its state funding. A cast of goofy characters comes and goes from the soon-to-be-evicted hotline. The film draws a lot from the "family Christmas where nothing is going right" line of films, but is more interesting than most due to the unconventional cast.
As usual, the unifying effect of the holidays, combined with a miracle or two, helps to move the plot along and resolve conflicts.

Christmas Countdown: Die Hard 2 (1990)

Die Hard 2 is a pale imitation of its antecedent. Whereas modern sequels are often travesties, like Indiana Jones 4, back in 1990 they were just poor copies of the original.
Die Hard is one of the best action movies ever produced. Die Hard 2 is a tame progenitor to Snakes on a Plane.
The film does incite the Christmas mood. McClane survives by the help of strangers and miracles, and is reunited with his family after his ordeal. As a Christmas film, Die Hard 2 is better than most, but it's still not much of a movie.

Christmas Countdown: Die Hard (1988)

A hirsute Bruce Willis combats a crack team of Scandinavian terrorists cum thieves in the yuletide classic Die Hard.

Die Hard is a worthy entrant on any list of all-time best action films. It sits comfortably in the delicate and illusive balance between character, plot, dialogue, guns and explosions. The repartee between Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman is now textbook Good Guy vs. Bad Guy stuff; it makes the film.

Christmas movies generally have a lot of puerile emotional drivel, so it's refreshing to see a film like Die Hard where the protagonist survives enough physical trauma to have a good excuse to get a bit choked up by the holidays. It may be caused by PTSD, but them's the breaks.

Review: Brothers

Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) are about the closest replica of East of Eden that one could find. Sam is a Captain in the U.S. Army, married and the father of two beautiful children. Tommy scrapes by getting in and out of prison while earning the wraith of his father Hank (Sam Shepard).

The call of duty waits for no man, however and he is sent to Afghanistan. There, the unimaginable happens, Sam is taken by insurgent forces.

Wayward brother Tommy has just been released from prison. When news comes of Sam apparent death comes, he is far from turning his shit around like most film would have. Tommy plunges further into drinking and confrontations with Hank. Grace (Natalie Portman) has to pick him up from a night of binge drinking she finally gets through to him and the transition the following morning is much richer because it was not rushed.

As Tommy and Grace learn to make the transition from nuclear family to their happy union, Sam comes home to their simultaneous d…

Christmas Countdown: Elf (2003)

While Chicago is clearly a Mecca for suburban Christmas joy, it's hard to beat the urban majesty of a snow-draped Big Apple. New Yorkers know how to celebrate Christmas; for a city that's lit up like a tannenbaum year round, this should come as no surprise.
It's against this backdrop that Elf is set. The plot has been done many times before: a naive bumpkin travels to the big city, gains knowledge and power, and falls in love.
Elf is probably the closest thing that the noughties have to a classic Christmas film. It's definitely worth seeing.

Sneak Peek of 'The Town'

Warner Bros. has provided sneak peek pics of their upcoming 2010 releases. This one in particular is of Ben Affleck's fourth effort in the director's chair The Town starring himself, Jon Hamm, and Rebecca Hall. The Town hits theatres September 10, 2010.

(Courtesy: Collider)


Christmas Countdown: Bad Santa (2003)

There is a burgeoning sub-genre of Christmas film: the anti-Christmas film. In these movies, the protagonist is generally set up as a Christmas hating low-life in the first act, does something despicable in the second act, and, often after a Christmas-spirit revelation, makes amends in the third act.

Examples of this kind of film include The Ref, Scrooged, and Bad Santa. The latter is a particularly raunchy example of this sub-genre, including reams of humour so base that it would give Bacchus himself an infarction.
It's a charming film, as these tales of deadbeat redemption often are.

Christmas Countdown: Black Christmas (2006)

Black Christmas is a lazily made film. There is no art to it at all.
The writing is terrible. As is common with lower quality horror movies, the film mostly reuses elements from popular horror films. The plot is a slightly dressed up version of Halloween, with a houseful of bitchy sorority sisters as the target of the psychopaths' rage. Characterization is done by direct exposition and reference to archetypes. And right when you think it's over there's one more "scare." It's all terrible and terribly lazy.
Of course, the most attractive woman is the one who lives.
Don't watch this ever.

Hoffman is Master in PT Anderson's Latest

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love) is starting  work on his new film The Master, $35 million period drama in which Hoffman will play a master of ceremonies nicknamed The Master, “a charismatic intellectual who hatches a faith-based organization that begins to catch on in America in 1952.” Variety has the scoop on plot details: The core is the relationship between The Master and Freddie, a twenty-something drifter who becomes the leader’s lieutenant. As the faith begins to gain a fervent following, Freddie finds himself questioning the belief system he has embraced, and his mentor. Anderson's last work was a definite condemnation on the extreme followers of religion and capitalism. It should be interesting to see whether The Master will be a philisophical sequel to There Will Be Blood, or not.


Christmas Countdown: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is about Jack, the creative genius behind Hallowe'en who feels that his efforts with that Holiday have grown stale.
Distraught, Jack sets out for an evening walk in the woods to be alone with his thoughts. By dawn, he's walked farther away from his town than any of the residents have ever been, where he finds a portal to the North Pole. At the pole, he is enthralled by the Christmas cheer and how different it is there from where he lives. He brings back the news of Christmas to his townfolk, but they don't quite get it.
Many people find the Christmas season to be a cloying affair, and take strides to avoid the state-enforced cheer and "five golden rings" nonsense. The Hallowe'en townspeople are like this.
Fair enough.
But there's more to Christmas than the saccharine merrymaking and joyous jubilation. Christmas is a celebration of community and our common threads which form the mesh that is humanity.
TNBC is a successful Chri…

Christmas Countdown!

So... it's December again!

Where I live, December means that you wake up in the dark, and the sun will have set by the time you leave work. It's extremely depressing; many people around here suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder to some degree.

I've always found that, to combat this, it help to embrace the happy aspect of December. This year, I'll be combining my Christmas cheer with my love for movies, and bringing a Christmas movie post daily until Santa's big day.

Now let me take a moment to expound on my philosophy on how to conduct film analysis. I generally critique movies based on the following pyramid:

Enjoyment is the lowest level on which a film is graded. It forms the foundation that is often lacking in so-called "art films" that focus solely on the higher levels. Above Enjoyment is Criticism: how well a film was made has a huge bearing on its quality. Atop this, we have Commentary: this is mostly dependent on the writing and direction of a …