Posts Tagged ‘Film’

thor-073113-1Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Since 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a consistent source of solid entertainment. None of the films have been truly transcendent, but even the worst have some strong elements and the best of which are a lot of fun. Next to The Avengers, Thor is my favourite film in the Universe and also the film that sold me on the idea of these films being a universe. What stuck out about Thor was the unique setting which helped set it apart from other comic book films. I’ve looked forward to returning to this world and now Thor: The Dark World is here to bring me back.

The film opens with a prologue taking place thousands of years ago, as Odin’s father leads the Asgardian’s against the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith plans to use an ancient power called Aether in order to destroy the universe. However he is defeated and he and what remains of his people go into hiding. The Aether is too powerful to be destroyed so is hidden. Cut to the present and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is tracking strange anomalies. In the process, she finds the Aether thus triggering the return of the Dark Elves and putting the Universe in danger. Naturally, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must save the day.

(more…)

By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos

I’m by no means a sports fan.  At all.  I mean, sure, if I’m watching a fun or exciting game, I’ll get into it, but I don’t follow teams nor do I get obsessed when the start of any given “season” comes by.  On average, I don’t know a lot about nearly any sport there is.  And I certainly know nothing about the sport of car racing, much in the same way I know jack shit about baseball statistics, and contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t particularly care for 2011’s Moneyball all that much.  However, the difference between that borderline snooze fest and Ron Howard’s Rush is that this film, set in the more high-stakes atmosphere of the Formula 1 racing event, contains a whole heap of excitement that successfully helps bring in any novice to this sport and gives them a wholly immersive experience that lives up to the title.  To be quite frank, I found this to be the best sports movie to come along since David O. Russell’s The Fighter.

The focus here are two men, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), real-life Formula 1 racers/enemies and this film chronicles their rivalry from 1970 to 1976.  Hunt is an experienced racer with dreams of making it big by eventually winning the Formula 1 racing event, dreams that are threatened by the arrival of Lauda, an expert driver who seems to have come out of nowhere and possesses the same goal.  Lauda is very much a gearhead, and knows how to calibrate his cars so that they’ll go the fastest.  This leads to plenty of early victories for him, as well as a growing resentment from Hunt, as well as a good amount of flared tempers between the two both on and off the track as the build-up to the championship race carries on.

(more…)

franceshaposter (1)Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2010, I saw a film from respected director Noah Baumbach called Greenberg and didn’t like it at all. I can’t really put my finger on what it was, but the film just rubbed me the wrong way. I haven’t revisited Greenberg since, but I’ve been tempted to. My taste in film has expanded quite a bit in the last three years and I think I may have misjudged that film. Anyway, this year Baumbach released another film called Frances Ha, which has gone on to receive a lot of praise from the limited audience that saw it. This was enough to gain my curiosity, and with the film on Netflix streaming I thought I’d check it out.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a young woman living in New York trying to make it as a dancer. She lives in an apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances and Sophie have been best friends since college, but their relationship is disrupted when Sophie opts to move into a better apartment with someone else. Frances attempts to find new living arrangements, while simultaneously struggling to maintain her relationship with Sophie all while facing financial problems.

(more…)

2001-ai_artificial_intelligence-1

Normally, my “Movie of the Month” is reserved for a film I find genuinely great. But originally, the series was meant just for me to highlight any movie I saw in a given month that I wanted to talk about. So for the first time since October of 2011, I will be reviewing a film more out of interest in discussion than the movie’s exceptional quality. The subject is A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a science-fiction film from Steven Spielberg. Since its initial release in 2001, the film has been met with mixed reactions from viewers and it’s easy to see why; the film is all over the place.

The actual history of the film is quite something. The starting point is a 1960s short story called “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”. Stanley Kubrick had interest in adapting the story and in the 1970s commissioned the original story’s author, Brian Aldiss to help with a film treatment, however the film would sit in development hell for years. In 1985, Kubrick brought in Steven Spielberg to produce the film, along with producer Jan Harlan. The next major development came in 1989 when Kubrick fired Aldiss due to creative differences and brought on writer Ian Watson instead. Watson’s treatment, in addition to being an adaption of “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”, now took influence from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child” and the Philip K. Dick short story “Second Variety”. Kubrick temporarily abandon the project as he felt visual effects were not up to the standards he needed them to be, but returned after Jurassic Park was released. Work began again with conceptual designs being done. In September of 1995, Kubrick tried to convince Spielberg that A.I. was closer to his sensibilities and that Steven should direct the film while Stanley produced. Spielberg was shocked, but opted to work on other projects instead. He convinced Kubrick to remain as director but at this point Kubrick was committed to directing Eyes Wide Shut. As fate would have it, Eyes Wide Shut would be the last film Stanley Kubrick would ever make. The great filmmaker passed away in March of 1999. Spielberg was once again asked to direct and this time he accepted as a tribute to Stanley. So you have a film with a production spanning decades, inspired by multiple science-fiction writers, and worked on by two directors with very different aesthetics. Makes it pretty easy to see why the final product would come out such a mess.

A.I. takes place in the future, though how far in the future is never revealed. In this future, global warming has caused massive floods reducing world resources and the human population. This has led to the government making a law that states parents are only allowed to have one child. This is unsettling for Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor) since their young son Martin (Jake Thomas) has a rare disease which has left him in a coma. It’s unlikely that Martin will awake. So the Swintons decide to get a robotic child named David (Haley Joel Osment). But David is not like other machines. He has been programmed to truly love, which causes tension when Martin is cured and returns home.

On one hand, A.I. is a great film full of amazing visuals and special effects, a unique setting, interesting ideas, and good performances. Simultaneously, it’s a film plagued with poor writing, contrived plot points, and straight up bad science fiction. It makes for a fascinating watch but a hard film to really discuss. As a result, this review will essentially be divided into two parts, where the first is dedicated to the pros and the second is divided to the cons. The second part will be filled with spoilers so the uninitiated my want to avoid parts of the review. I will indicate what parts will have spoilers.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the film is the tone. The film contains both Spielberg’s sentimentality and Kubrick’s surreal darkness. The end result is a tone which is extremely creepy. I don’t know if this was intended, but I like it all the same. The dark tone is made even more prominent in the second act when David comes across some darker settings and threatening circumstances. The sequence at the Flesh Farm (a circus where robots are destroyed for audience amusement) is especially frightening. The visuals in the film are also incredible, both because the effects are very good and because the designs are creative. There are a lot of cool robots and I really like the designs of the city as well, particularly the provocatively shaped buildings and tunnels. The visuals are somewhat reminiscent of other films including Blade Runner, but it never feels like it’s ripping off other films.

There are also some great performances. Hayley Joel Osment is very strong as the lead robot David. He starts out very awkward and robotic, which is obviously appropriate, but becomes more and more human as the film goes on. Osment also sells some very emotional scenes and proves that his work in The Sixth Sense was not a fluke. Even better is Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, who is a sexbot. Sean Penn once described Jude Law as, “…one of our finest actors,” and watching A.I. it’s easy to see why. Law has the robotic characteristics required, but he also has a lot of charisma and personality. Both Law and the character Gigolo Joe use Fred Astaire has a model and it’s insanely fun to watch. Some of the other performances are good too, but no one even comes close to Hayley Joel Osment and Jude Law. I also applaud the film for its ambition and all of the creative ideas running through the film, even if the execution is very flawed.

So the next section is going to be full of spoilers. I’m basically going to go through the entire film’s story and identify all of the major problems in the script. So if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want things spoiled for you, skip to the last paragraph.

A.I. is film plagued by holes and things that don’t make sense right down to a conceptual level. In the opening scene, we’re told that massive flooding is drastically reduced the human population and the amount of resources left. This has caused the government to limit the amount of children a family can have. Makes sense so far. The movie then gets nonsensical when it says robot children are preferred to regular ones since they don’t use any resources. I realize that robots wouldn’t need for or water, but wouldn’t they need some form of sustenance to survive. Especially when these aren’t robots that live for x amount of years before becoming non-functional, these things are immortal. You’re telling me these robots can live to the end of time and never need a recharge of sorts. That’s pretty hard to swallow, and even if one can, one still needs to take into account the likely massive amounts of resources required to make a start of the art robot in the first place. Why don’t more parents just adopt. I imagine in this world where massive flooding has devastated the planet there are likely a few kids running around without parents. Also, these robots are immortal and don’t age, so any robotic child will be a child forever. So now matter what parents do with their robotic child, they can never raise it. They will always be a child. Once again, why don’t these parents just adopt?

Additionally, during the first scene the main robot creator Professor Hobby (William Hurt) is speaking about the developments they’ve made in robotics. All of the other scientists seem impressed, but Hobby isn’t satisfied. His goal is to make a robot that can love. Cut to 22 months later and such a robot has been created. Once again, I have a few questions. First off, I can understand why Hobby is interested in making a robot who can love. He’s a scientist and I understand his desire to push science forward. It is also revealed in the third act that Hobby’s son passed away and David is modeled on and named after his child. I don’t question Hobby’s motivation, but why did the rest of his company support the initiative? Designing a robot who can love has no obvious financial gain but would cost a fortune at the same time. I can’t see the financial backers of the company supporting the initiative, especially since Hobby is clearly modeling the robot after his dead son. It would be one thing if David was a one of a kind experimental model, but in the third act it is implied that the company is making hundreds of these things for public consumption, which in itself doesn’t make sense but I’ll get to that later.

But that’s mostly background stuff that sets up the film, now let’s get to the story itself. So the Swintons’ son Martin has been in a coma for five years. The father Henry seems to have accepted he may never see his son again and his already mourned. His wife Monica on the other hand still won’t let go to the possibility her son may return. Henry and the doctors fear for their health. Henry also works for Hobby’s company that makes the robots. The company decides that this family is the perfect one to test their little boy robot who can love. So far things seem sound enough, but how Henry presents David to Monica is pretty stupid. He knows his wife is mentally strained because of her son, but instead of discussing the matter of a robot child with her first, Henry just comes home one night and surprises her with David. Predictably, Monica freaks out. However instead of making her husband take David back, Monica decides to give him a chance because he looks like a real kid, even though he does not act like one at all. The next day, Henry goes to work and while Monica does basic housework, David continues showing up in the creepiest of ways. He pops up unexpectedly with a vacant smile, obstructs her path, and at one point walks in on her in the bathroom and continues to stare and smile. Later at dinner, which David sits in one despite not being able to eat, Monica has some spaghetti hanging from her mouth which causes David to laugh like a deranged lunatic. Henry and Monica laugh as well, but after a bit David stops laughing and stares at the pair with a look of bewilderment. For some reason this moment is presented as a scene of family bonding even though it’s insanely creepy.

So at this point, David has done nothing but be creepy and awkward. But instead of taking him back, Monica decides to do the exact opposite. You see, when Henry first arrives him, he tells Monica that if they use a specific set of words in a specific order, it will act as a code that will cause David to love whoever says the words. This is called imprinting. However it is not something done lightly since it is irreversible, meaning that if the parents get bored with David, he can’t be resold since he will still love whoever previously used the code. In fact, if they do decide they don’t want David anymore, they are supposed to return him to the company to be destroyed. So again I must reiterate this is not something done lightly. Yet despite the fact that she’s known David for less than 48 hours and he’s been intensely creepy, Monica decides to imprint on David. She not only does this irrationally based on how David has acted, but she doesn’t discuss it with her husband at all. Does this couple communicate at all? These parents are so inept it’s probably for the best their real son is in a coma.

After the imprint, David immediately loves Monica and starts referring to her as “mommy”. He also acts a lot less creepy now. Months or years (it is never specified) pass by and David and Monica actually have a pretty good relationship. She genuinely seems to have grown attached to him. Henry is far less fond of David and for the rest of the film is role is to basically object to David’s presence and wonder if they should keep him. He brings up some good points as the film goes on, but it’s real hard to sympathize with him when it was his stupidity that caused David to come into their lives in the first place. But, like I said in my plot synopsis, the family dynamic is shaken up even further when Martin awakens from his coma and returns home. What follows is essentially a competition between the two for Monica’s affection, with Martin being the more aggressive of the two. Now the idea here makes sense and Monica even says at one point that it’s natural for boys to compete. But the way it’s executed makes Martin come off like villainous asshole. He tricks David into cutting Monica’s hair when she’s asleep, promising Monica will love David more if he does. He also encourages Monica to read Pinocchio to the boys as a way of secretly mocking David for not being real. It doesn’t help that actor Jake Thomas recites his lines as if he’s trying to sound villainous and conniving. It may sound like I’m being too critical, but there’s a big reason this bugs me. After an incident where David almost inadvertently drowns Martin, the parents decide they cannot keep David anymore and decide to return him to be destroyed. The moment could have felt more tragic and emotional if Martin hadn’t been painted as such an unlikable character. Instead it comes off as one dimensional.

Monica takes David to be destroyed, but eventually decides she does not want to kill him and instead releases him in the wild to give him a chance at survival. David begs Monica to keep him but she refuses, leaving him alone with his robotic teddy bear. David is convinced that if he was a real boy he could return him. So he sets out to find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio to turn him into a real boy. It is during this time that he and the audience are introduced to Jude Law’s awesome Gigolo Joe, as well as Flesh Farms and the creative futuristic settings. These are in fact the film’s highest points and for a while the film has found its footing and is actually pretty good. There are a lot less holes, the film is much darker, the settings are all great, and there is lots of content with Gigolo Joe. Unfortunately the film takes a nose dive when it hits the third act.

On their journey to find the Blue Fairy, David and Joe end up in Manhattan which is mostly flooded. I should say right now that I love the visuals of a flooded Manhattan. Anyway, it turns out that what they thought would lead them to the Blue Fairy has instead brought David and Joe to the headquarters of the corporation that build David. This was due to a small piece of evidence planted by the company to lead them there, but more on that later. Anyway, upon arriving, David finds another robot that is the same model he is. He finds another David, only one that hasn’t been imprinted. David and Joe are both shocked by this, but the other David does not mind. David then begins being jealous and intimidated by his counter-part. Worried the other David will take Monica way from him, David brutally murders his counter-part by decapitating him, causing Gigolo Joe to run out in a panic. The scene itself is interesting; my problem is no one ever addresses it again. This is especially problematic when the film has made the point having the audience feel sympathy for the robots. We cared about the robots that were being killed in the Flesh Farm, we cared about Gigolo Joe when he was framed for murder, and we cared for David through his struggle to return to his family. Yet after David kills a robot, it is immediately abandoned. What’s more is that being the same model as David, it is reasonable to assume he is capable of loving just as strong as David.

Things fall apart even further when Professor Hobby runs into the room and meets David. He reveals that David was a prototype not only made to see if a robot could love, but also if a robot could pursue their dreams. In this case, David chased his dream of finding the Blue Fairy to be human. Hobby also says that he did not interfere at all apart from planting the clue that led them to Manhattan. Now, here’s my problem: if Hobby’s experiment was to see if David would pursue his dreams, why would he put David in an environment he has no control over. After being imprinted, David loves Monica. His only purpose is to love his mother. So what if Martin never woke from his coma and David lived with Monica comfortably until her death? Or what if Martin did wake from his coma but wasn’t an evil prick, and he David, Henry, and Monica lived happily as a family? Or what if while going on a family drive, David was in a car accident which killed him? What if after Monica released David in the wild, he was killed in the Flesh Farm? Hell, let’s dial it back; what if when Henry came home with David, Monica freaked out and forced Henry to return him? All of these possibilities would have presented David from pursuing his dreams. But let’s just disregard all of that for a second. Just for a minute, we’re going to accept that, just like in the film, Monica imprints on David, Martin comes home, family friction is caused, and the parents decide they have to get rid of David. But unlike the film, what if Monica had taken David in for destruction like she was TOLD TO DO BY HOBBY’S COMPANY in the event that she no longer wants him? How was he going to “pursue his dreams” then? My point is that it makes no sense for this multi-million dollar company to risk a fortune on a situation where there are too many variables they have no control over.

If their plan was to make a robotic boy love his mom and then see if he would chase a goal once abandoned by her, why not construct a scenario with actors and actresses who know of the company’s intention? One of the actors could imprint on David and after some time had passed release him into the wild. That way you guarantee David is imprinted, that he isn’t destroyed, and that he is pushed out and given a shot of pursuing a goal. There is still some risk once he’s released, but at least you can control most of the variables. Or if they can’t find actors to play the parts they need, because they don’t want to commit the time, try it with other robots programmed to never reveal they are robots. It’s more than likely David won’t notice. And if that doesn’t work, just program David to love a figure from an implanted memory and then release him into the world. All of that to say there were a lot of better ways to handle the situation of making David pursue his dreams was the original intention. I believe all the different creative forces involved had a different idea what the movie should be, hence the jarring shift that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

After explaining this to David, Hobby leaves the room to get some of the other scientists to meet David. David then explores the room and discovers several other David models, packaged looking like they’re ready to be sold. It’s a pretty atmospheric scene but it doesn’t make any sense. What about their experiment with David has convinced these scientists that these robots are ready to be owned by the public? Was it the part where David almost killed himself by eating spinach? Or how about when David almost drowned another little boy? Maybe they were just isolated incidents? Well David violently murdering another robot out of unreasonable jealousy proves that wrong. Bottom line, there is nothing about David that would even somewhat suggest his model is ready for public consumption.

David leaves and then discovers what he thinks is the Blue Fairy, which is a statue underwater at what used to be Coney Island. David then says his goodbyes to Gigolo Joe, who is then taken away by the authorities for the murder he was framed for. David and his Teddy take a transport underwater and visit the statue. The vehicle is also crushed by some debris forcing David and Teddy to be stuck under water. David continues to plead the Blue Fairy statue to grant his wish and make him a real boy. David and Teddy sit there for 2000 years, at one point being frozen in ice, before being discovered by advanced machines. Before we get to the segment in the distant future, I have to ask why it took 2000 years for David to be found. Wouldn’t Professor Hobby and his science team be looking for him? They seemed to place tremendous importance on him before and David didn’t travel far from where they’re building is located. In fact, why did Professor Hobby leave David alone in a room full of other David robots? He said he was getting some of the other scientists, but why wouldn’t he take David to them? At any rate, this hole is nothing compared to what’s coming up.

So 2000 years in the future, David and Teddy are found and woke up by advanced machines. In this future, human beings have gone extinct and all that remains are these machines. Admittedly, I love the idea of a world where humans are extinct and machines run the world. A lot of films talk about the possibility, but this is the only film I know of that shows said future. I also love the design of the machines. Unfortunately, it’s in this section where the movie’s problems increase exponentially. Things get really problematic here so instead of explaining my problems, I will instead describe what happens and then talk about my issues. So the machines read David’s mind and know his entire history. They tell David they want to make him happy since he represents the last sentient link to mankind. David asks them to bring back his mother, who naturally is long deceased. The machines say they’d like to, but they need some physical evidence to bring his mother back. Thankfully, Teddy has stored the hair that David cut from Monica’s head. The machines use this strand of hair to bring Monica back. However there are certain conditions to bringing a human being back. The way it works is that these Machines have discovered that any physical remains of a human (including hair, bones, and skin) contains their complete memories. However, the catch is those resurrected can only survive for one day. As soon as they go to sleep, they will never be able to wake up, and they can never be revived again. What this means is that while David can see his mother again, they only get one day together. David decides one more day is worth it and the two share a perfect day. The Machines reconstruct their old house exactly the way it was, and together David and Monica play together, laugh, share stories and drawings, bake David a birthday cake for the birthday he never had. Most cathartically, Monica tells David she loves him, the claim he was always waiting for. After their perfect day, Monica feels asleep and David knows she will never wake up. David too, for the first time in his life, goes to sleep and it is implied at the end that he too is dead.

There is so much wrong with the ending it’s staggering. Alright, so at first I was under the impression The Machines could clone humans if they had enough genetic material. Luckily enough, the bear has kept it stored with him the whole time. Isn’t it convenient that Martin’s cruel test for David involved taking a piece of Monica’s hair thus allowing her to be revived? And I say revived because it is later clarified that The Machines are not creating clones, but are in fact bringing a person back to life just the way they were. I could maybe accept this if they had the original body or even the brain, but all that from just a hair sample? That’s a lot harder to buy. It also makes no sense that a simple hair sample could contain all of Monica’s memories, but that’s an issue I’ll get to in a minute. No explanation is given as to why the revived humans can only live for a day; it’s just that way to serve the story. Another big issue here is Monica’s memory after being revived. The Machine says that any physical evidence of a human contains all the memories of who they were. The long and short of it is that all life still exists, but on a different plan of existence. This is a ridiculous idea, but it’s also inconsistent with Monica’s memories. Based on what The Machines have said, wouldn’t Monica return exactly as she was when she died? It’s fair to assume she died of natural causes at an older age, but when revived she still looks young. Even if she died the same day she got rid of David, she should still remember getting rid of David. Why is she not the least bit concerned that he’s back? So are we to assume the hair is the key to reviving Monica the way she was right as the hair was cut from her head? If so, why is she not concerned that her husband and real son are nowhere to be found? Plus if we’re going by the logic that her memory cut off is right before she noticed David cutting off her hair, in her mind the next morning would be Martin’s birthday party. Why would she spend her son’s birthday playing with a robotic child while not interacting with anyone else? It makes no logical sense for Monica to act the way she does during this final sequence. I will say I like the idea of David accepting death once he has received the fulfilment of hearing his mother loves him. But that’s way too little way too late.

End of spoilers.

So as you can see, this ending (and most of the film) is full of problems. These bother me for three main reasons. One, they’re examples of poor and rushed writing which was not fully thought out. Two, most of these decisions were made at to serve the plot but abandon logical choices. Third, and this is a point exclusive to the ending, the movie abandons the “science” in science fiction and just becomes straight up fantasy. It’s fine that a science fiction film contains elements of the fantastical, but they need to be based in some form of reality. Instead, the ending of A.I. completely abandons any sense of reality based science. I’m not against fantasy as a genre either, but I don’t like that the film betrays what it was.

Given that you may have just read 14 extremely long paragraphs about why the story is a confusing mess which flounders on a number of levels, you probably think I hate this film, but I don’t. It’s tremendously, flawed so much so that it’s baffling. But even at its worst moments, I still found A.I. interesting. I also think the film has some very well-done elements, such as the visuals, Jude Law’s performance, and the sheer ambition it took to bring this to the screen. Yes, the film is a mess, but rarely is a film a mess in such a spectacular fashion. Overall, the filmmaking is too good to dismiss the film, and yet too poor to embrace it. It works out to being a middle of the road film. If you see it, you’re in for an interesting and unforgettable film, but necessarily a good one.

Rating: C

Leonardo-DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the great actors to have never won an Academy Award. Now this has been known for a long time, but it seems like the topic has been discussed a lot more recently, likely as a result of Leo not receiving an Oscar nomination for his work in Django Unchained. Now I’m definitely a DiCaprio fan and I’ve loved a lot of his performances, but I started to wonder if DiCaprio ever really should have won. Sure he’s a great actor with a lot of great performances under his belt, but one also has to consider the competition too. So that’s exactly what I’ve decided to do. I’m going to look at a handful of DiCaprio’s more prominent roles and films as well as the competition from each year in order to find out if DiCaprio really should have won by now. An asterisk indicates a nomination.

1993: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?*

Leonardo-DiCaprio

In all honesty I haven’t seen this film in a long time, but Leo’s performance as stuck with me pretty well. DiCaprio has the role of a mentally disabled young boy and he handles it extraordinarily well. When playing mentally disabled people, it’s easy to fall into offensive territory, especially for a young actor. Thankfully DiCaprio never falls into that hole and portrays his character respectfully and accurately. It’s a great performance, though if I had to point out a weakness it would be that even though DiCaprio does a good job handling the mental disability, there isn’t much of a character out side of that. Granted, this is in part because DiCaprio is in a supporting role, but it’s worth considering all the same. That year, Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar for a good, albeit not really Oscar worthy performance in The Fugitive. Also nominated however was Ralph Fiennes for a stunning turn in Schindler’s List. Another fine supporting performance came from Sean Penn in the underrated Carlito’s Way. In all honesty, out of the four actors mentioned I think I’d give the Oscar to Sean Penn first, and if not in him than Fiennes. So while DiCaprio made a great case for himself, there were better performances that year.

1996: Romeo and Juliet

Leonardo-DiCaprio

Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for Shine (a movie I haven’t seen), but when I consider the great performances from Steve Buscemi in Fargo, Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet, and Billy Bob Thorton in Sling Blade, it’s clear Leo had a fair share of competition. More importantly his performance in Romeo and Juliet is actually pretty weak (the man isn’t a Shakespearean actor) and I only included the film because it is notable.

1997: Titanic

Leonardo DiCaprio titanic (1)

The role that turned Leonardo DiCaprio into a household name and still one of his most beloved. In fact I don’t doubt a lot of people posting DiCaprio/Oscar memes think this is the film he should have won for. To his credit, DiCaprio is very good in Titanic. He’s charismatic, charming, and extremely likable. His performance is also one of the most memorable traits in the film. But with that said the character of Jack Dawson is pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting. He feels more like a woman’s fantasy than a real character. This is more of a flaw with the writing but it does limit how effective DiCaprio’s performance can be. Jack Nicholson won the category for his performance in As Good As It Gets, a film I haven’t seen, but given that it’s Jack Nicholson I’m sure it was a good performance. However also nominated was Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting in a performance just as charismatic as DiCaprio’s but with a lot more depth. The same can be said for Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights. Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe both gave great performances in L.A. Confidential but may have been seen as Supporting do to the ensemble nature of the cast. Hell I even think Ben Affleck gave a great performance in Chasing Amy, though I realize a nomination for a Kevin Smith film would never happen. Bottom line, while I could maybe see DiCaprio getting an Oscar nomination, he definitely did not deserve to win.

2002: Catch Me If You Can and Gangs of New York

catch-me-if-you-can1

l_217505_603a98ceAfter Titanic, Leo had a few years of irrelevant films before coming out big working with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. His work in both films is very good. In Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio takes the same charm and charisma he had in Titanic and applies it to a character with a lot more layers. He’s also pretty good in Gangs of New York, though the character isn’t very deep. Still it’s a good performance and the beginning of DiCaprio moving away from his stance as a teen idol. So let’s look at the competition. Adrien Brody won Best Actor for a very moving performance in The Pianist. Also nominated was Gangs of New York co-star Daniel-Day Lewis gave a phenomenal performance and Nicolas Cage for an unforgettable dual role in Adaptation. That year also gave us Tom Hanks playing against type in Road to Perdition, Ed Norton in 25th Hour, Tom Cruise in Minority Report, George Clooney in Solaris, and even Adam Sandler (yes, Adam Sandler) in Punch-Drunk Love. There were a ton of great performances in 2002. Of all of them, I’d probably have given the Oscar to Nicolas Cage who is amazing in Adaptation. If not him, than probably Daniel-Day Lewis for Gangs of New York or Ed Norton for 25th Hour. So no, I don’t think DiCaprio should have won in 2002. In fact, looking at all the great leading performances, I may not have even nominated either of DiCaprio’s performances.

2004: The Aviator*

aviator leo 1

After over ten years, Leonardo DiCaprio finally was nominated for his second Oscar and I can say it was well deserved. DiCaprio is fantastic in The Aviator. He fully embodies Hughes and gives the man a lot of character and depth. Quite frankly he’s mesmerizing to watch and The Aviator might just be his best performance. But did he deserve to win the Oscar? Well, Jamie Foxx for Ray. Haven’t seen it, no comment. In fact other than DiCaprio, the only nominee I’ve seen is Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby in one of his best dramatic roles. However, there are some great performances from non-nominees. Jim Carrey was incredible in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film which fully showed off is comedic skill but also downplayed it in favour of some very powerful dramatic beats. Tom Cruise went against type as a chilling badass in Collateral and Paul Giamatti was great in Sideways. There were some fine choices to choose from, and I honestly think it’s a very tough call between DiCaprio and Carrey.

2006: The Departed and Blood Diamond*

leonardo_dicaprio_the_departed

leo_narrowweb__300x46401In 2006, DiCaprio only starred in two films but both of which made an impact at the Oscars, earning a total of ten nominations between the two (five each). His performances in both films are quite good, bringing a lot of energy to the roles as well as a certain level of depth. Overall, I’d say his performance in The Departed is the superior role, but like I said he’s good in both films. But what about the competition? Well, Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland, a film I haven’t seen. I have however seen nominee Ryan Gosling who gives one of his best performances as a drug addicted teacher in Half Nelson. That year also gave us strong work from Ken Watanabe in Letters from Iwo Jima, Clive Owen in Children of Men, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat, Ulrich Mühe in The Lives of Others, and Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale were both great in The Prestige. A lot of great performances, but ones DiCaprio is just as good in The Departed as all of these actors are in their films. In fact he’s better than most of them and definitely deserved to be nominated. However, I believe the victory that year should have gone to Ken Watanabe for his moving performance in Letters from Iwo Jima. Though a much more subtle performance than either of DiCaprio’s 2006 efforts, Watanabe brings a fascinating character to life and brings such an air of dignity to the role. He shows a lot of complex sides while delivering a very emotional performance.

2008: Revolutionary Road

tumblr_kvdvngnJeX1qayuluo1_500

Revolutionary Road was a definite step down for DiCaprio after the streak of The AviatorThe Departed, and Blood Diamond. Not that he’s really bad, but the performance consists of a lot more yelling and less character. Now I do think DiCaprio is perfectly cast playing opposite Titanic co-star Kate Winslet. Their couple in Titanic are often seen as the “perfect couple” so seeing the two as a couple slowly failing is very uncomfortable and effective. But like I said, the performance is nothing special. DiCaprio has his moments mind you, but it doesn’t even compare to what was done by so many other actors that year, including: Sean Penn in Milk, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Michael Fassbender in Hunger, Benicio del Toro in Che, Josh Brolin in W., Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and especially Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

2010: Shutter Island and Inception

shutter_island_movie_image_leonardo_dicaprio_01

Inception_Leonardo DiCaprio

In 2010, DiCaprio got to play two very similar characters in Shutter Island and Inception. The movies themselves were very different, but both characters were going through very similar feelings and experiences. I probably lean towards his role in Inception because it allows DiCaprio to handle grief and sorrow but also lets him be a cool infiltrator. At any rate, both performances were very good and a big step up for Leo after Revolutionary Road, but how do they stack up to the other top performances of 2010? Well, Colin Firth won the Oscar for The King’s Speech and for all my complaints about that film he isn’t among them. Other nominees include Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, and James Franco in 127 Hours. Great work was also done by Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Kevin Spacey in Casino Jack, and Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me. Still, DiCaprio’s work is certainly on the level with all those actors, right? Well, most of them. Great as DiCaprio was in Inception (and Shutter Island) the top performance of 2010 has to go to James Franco in 127 Hours. He showed a tremendous amount of range, had a great arc, and carried the film for the most part.

2011: J.Edgar

Leonardo-DiCaprio-as-J.-Edgar-Hoover

I liked J. Edgar and I liked DiCaprio’s performance in it quite a bit at the time. But here we are a year and a half later and I barely remember the film or the performance. I still think Leo did a good job, but Best Actor over the likes of Jean Dujardin in The Artist, George Clooney in The Descendants, Ryan Gosling in Drive and The Ides of March, Michael Fassbender in Shame, and Joseph-Gordon Levitt in 50/50? Hardly. Michael Fassbender’s work in Shame was the best performance by a lead actor in 2012.

2012: Django Unchained

leonardo-dicaprio-django-unchained

I won’t spend too much time on this one given how recent this is so I’ll go through quickly. Samuel L. Jackson gave the strongest performance in Django Unchained and Christoph Waltz was better as well. Also consider the great supporting turns from the likes of Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, Javier Bardem in Skyfall, Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook, and of course Philip Seymour Hoffman’s PGCMA winning role in The Master. So Leo really didn’t deserve it in 2012.

So to circle back to the point of this post; does Leonardo DiCaprio really deserve an Oscar? The answer is yes he does… for The Aviator. Sorry for the misdirection earlier, but I couldn’t reveal my answer so early in the post. Anyway, The Aviator is definitely DiCaprio’s finest hour. It’s the film which solidified DiCaprio as a lot more than a teen heart throb and also showcased the most of his talent. No Leonardo DiCaprio film relies on his performance as much as The Aviator and he completely delivers. It ‘s also important to note that he is better than his competition (that I’ve seen). I love Eternal Sunshine and I love Carrey’s performance in it, but I can’t deny how good Leonardo DiCaprio was and is in The Aviator.

So while I don’t claim DiCaprio has been snubbed time and time again, I do claim that he has one performance which was worthy. Keep on mind I haven’t seen Ray, so my opinion may change, but in all honesty I doubt it will. 

IF

It’s Halloween time, and I felt like I should do something to celebrate on my blog. So I figure what better than listing my favourite horror film. Now I’m not the horror expert that HT Schuyler is, so horror fans might find a lot about my list to criticize. Regardless, these are my favourites and I stand by them.

5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Release date: September 2nd, 1978

Running time: 127 minutes

Written by: George A. Romero

Directed by: George A. Romero

Starring: Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, David Emge, and Gaylen Ross

One of the arguments that constantly divides film fans is what’s better, Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead? While I love both, it’s no question that Dawn of the Dead is my favourite. The story is simple, a group of people hold up in a mall during a zombie apocalypse. All the characters are likable and interesting in their own way, with Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger being especially cool. There’s also a lot of great lines and the music kicks ass. And of course there’s Tom Savini’s classic make-up effects. But what I think really makes this film work is the incredible balancing act it pulls off. It manages to be an effective horror film, but it’s also a fun film that has a sense of humour. On top of that, the film has several themes revolving around materialism and society, yet none of it feels forced. The film is also one of the most re-watchable films of all time. I could watch it again and again and I never get tired of it. Zombies are just as popular today as ever, with movies like Zombieland and shows like The Walking Dead being very successful. If your a fan of these and wanna brush up on your classics, you gotta check out Dawn of the Dead.

4. The Shining

Release date: May 23rd, 1980

Running time: 144 minutes

Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Based on: The novel of the same name by Stephen King

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers

I’m sure any fan of the novel reading this is gonna hate this choice. A lot of people, including author Stephen King himself, criticize the film for not being very true to King’s novel. Maybe it isn’t a good adaptation (I’ve never read the novel) but I really don’t care since The Shining is an example of good film making, plan and simple. The plot revolves around a family spending the Winter season as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel. The son is plagued by super natural premonitions and the father is a writer who slowly loses his sanity. Stanley Kubrick was an extraordinary director, and The Shining is one of several great films from him. Kubirck’s visual style brings a lot to the film, and the direction really ramps up the suspense and terror. The cast is really good too, with great performance from Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and an unforgettable appearance by Joe Turkel. But it’s Jack Nicholson who really steals the show here. It’s an iconic performance that has been the subject of tribute and parody since 1980. Hell, his “Here’s Johnny” line alone has gone down in history as one of the greatest movie quotes of all time. But really, there’s something interesting about every line Nicholson says. What’s really scary about the film isn’t just when Jack loses it near the end, but also just the sheer psychological effect the film has on the viewer. For whatever reason, The Shining opened to a lukewarm reception and was only of Kubirck’s final nine films to not receive any Oscar or Golden Globe nominations. But in recent years, critics have come to see The Shining for what it is; a masterpiece.

3. The Terminator

Release date: October 26th, 1984

Running time: 108 minutes

Written by: James Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd, and William Wisher, Jr.

Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger

I know a lot of people don’t view The Terminator as a horror film, but it is. It’s pretty much a slasher where the slasher uses a gun instead of stabbing weapon. But if you look at it, it’s a mostly silent, masked killer, stalking a young girl. On his path of destruction, he kills several others on his path. He’s indestructible and will stop at nothing to get his prey. The movie even ends with a young girl on her own, terrified and hurt, desperately trying to bring down her assailant. But it’s not just the structural details that make this a horror film. The film has a very dark and chilling atmosphere, one which is reflected in it’s colour and cinematography. The film has a very dark and bleak look to it, and the music has a techno nightmare sort of feel, fitting given the nature of the story. The film also has one of the scariest and most iconic villains of all time with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, the role that launched him into super stardom. I also think Michael Biehn is awesome as the film’s hero, Kyle Reese. While it’s often over-shadowed by it’s equally good but larger scale sequel, The Terminator is a classic in it’s own right and one of the most overlooked horror films of all time.

2. Se7en

Release date: September 22nd, 1995

Running time: 128 minutes

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and R.Lee Ermey

Not just one of my favourite horror films, but one of my favourite films of all time. Two detectives are trailing a serial killer who kills his victims based on the seven deadly sins. There are two things that make this film scary. One is the atmosphere. Se7en is easily one of the most depressing and bleak films I’ve ever scene. Every scene is covered in rain, and dark skies. Hell, the character of Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is tired and broken down by the world. He looks at life with a cynical perspective and just doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. The movie also ends on an incredibly dark note (the infamous “box” scene), with the final line especially being one that really hits you. The other think that makes this film scary is the killer John Doe, and his motivations for killing. All his victims are technically sinners and when Doe talks about why he killed them, you understand where he’s coming from, even if you don’t agree with him. It’s scary the way the film makes you understand the monster. John Doe is also played brilliantly. I won’t say who the actor is, because the film goes out of it’s way to make it a surprise. I will say it’s an amazing performance from one of my favourite actors. I also should acknowledge how good Brad Pitt is, with this being one of his first big roles. Se7en also benefits from a great script with tight pacing and dialogue so good you could just listen to these characters for hours. Se7en is intense, disturbing, scary, and quite possibly David Fincher’s best film.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

Release date: February 14th, 1991

Running time: 118 minutes

Written by: Ted Tally

Based on: The novel of the same name by Thomas Harris

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glen, and Ted Levine

I have to admit, I gave a lot of thought to putting Se7en at number one. But I guess at the end of the day I’ll always come back to The Silence of the Lambs, the story of FBI agent Claurice Starling (Jodie Foster) tracking down serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) with the help of the incarcerated mad man Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It’s interesting that a lot of the imagery in the film has become somewhat dated. The images of mutilated bodies and corpses aren’t far removed from what can now be seen on typical crime procedurals on TV today. Yet this film still manages to be absolutely horrifying. Why? Because of the characters and the situations. Buffalo Bill is one of the most underrated and scary villains of all time. Bill is a serial killer who is kidnapping women and keeps them around for a few days before shooting and skinning them. There’s also an element to Bill that the audience sort of pities. The scenes in Bill’s house are some of the most deranged bits of cinema I’ve ever seen. And of course you have Bill’s night vision goggles, those god damn goggles. What helps make the film scary is the attachment you feel to the main character Claurice Starling, who has some issues of her own. And of course, I’ve saved the best for last. We still have to talk about Hannibal. What can be said about Hannibal Lecter? He’s rightly considered one of the greatest villains of all time, all the more amazing considering he only has sixteen minutes of screen time. He leaves such an everlasting impression. Anyone who has seen this film will remember Hannibal Lecter forever (or at least until the dementia kicks in). Hannibal spends most of the film in a cell, yet he still manages to be scary. He doesn’t need to be outside to hurt you, he can break you down without lifting a finger. All it takes is a cold stare and a few words. And of course the scene where Hannibal fully reveals the monster (I won’t spoil what happens) is completely brilliant and one of the greatest horror scenes of all time. I know a lot of people don’t consider this a horror film, but I personally can’t think of a film that has filled me with as much fear and dread. The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favourite horror films, and one of my favourite films of all time.

Release date: June 7th, 2011

Running time: 114 minutes

Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg

Based on: The character “Green Lantern”, created by John Broome and Gil Kane

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, and Tim Robbins

I remember way back when I first started hearing about a Green Lantern film, I got really excited. I’ve been wanting more DC characters to be adapted, and Green Lantern looked like a character who’s world lent itself to movies well (granted, my biggest exposure was to the John Stewart character on the Justice League show). Then when I found out Martin Campbell would be directing, I got really excited. Martin Campbell made two of the best Bond films with GoldenEye and especially Casino Royale. I was expecting Green Lantern to be as good as the first Iron Man. Those expectations were dashed and shattered when the first trailer came out. It looked terrible, and I was really disappointed. Then the movie came out and just got blasted by critics. I ended up avoiding it in theaters knowing that I would inevitably see it when came out on DVD. So now that I’ve seen Green Lantern was I smart for avoiding it in theaters, or should I have had more faith in Martin Campbell.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a reckless test pilot for Ferris Aircraft. He finds himself chosen by a dying alien to bare a ring of power. He then finds himself amongst a society of  ring wielding aliens known as the Green Lanterns. The Green Lanterns are facing a powerful threat in the form of Parallax (Clancy Brown), an entity that feeds on fear. On earth, Hal is trying to mend his relationship with his old friend Carol (Blake Lively) while dealing with his old friend Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) being infected by Parallax.

That plot description I just gave is far more coherent than the actual plot of the film. The plot is such a jumbled mess that it’s hard to focus and actually irritating to watch. The film jumps around a lot and there isn’t enough time to get attached to anything. There’s a seen early on where Hal is with is family and there’s some drama, and then those characters never come back at all. Then there’s the Hector Hammond character. The film tries to act like him, Hal, and Carol had been longtime friends since they were kids. But you never really feel a friendship and there’s no scenes where we see their friendship, we just hear people talk about it. Then there’s Parallax, who the entire film is dedicated to making this ultimate villain. Problem is Parallax is a boring villain. He’s pretty much just a big cloud that goes around smashing things. Also, despite being in the film from the very beginning, he never feels like a genuine threat.

Another thing that really grinds my gears about this film is the theme at the center of it. The movie revolves around fear and overcoming it. This is reflected in it’s villain who preys on fear. For the hero, that fear stems from seeing death when they were a child. That description sound interesting? It should, Green Lantern stole it from Batman Begins. It’s bad enough that they ripped off the theme and the way it’s used from another film, but they also stole it from one of the best comic book films of all time, one all comic book fans have seen. Did they really think nobody would pick up on the connection? Green Lanern was bad enough on it’s own, but for it to constantly remind it’s audience of Batman Begins didn’t help.

A great super hero can make the film though. Unfortunately Ryan Reynolds isn’t really acting in this, he’s just being himself. I don’t mind Reynolds’ usual schtick but in this he was pretty annoying. I’m especially disappointed with Reynolds because in Buried, he proved he was a pretty good actor. So for him to fall back on just being  himself was lackluster. The rest of the cast isn’t any better. Blake Lively is playing generic love interest number seven and Peter Sarsgaard got on my nerves pretty much every time he was on screen. The only actors who were alright were some of the Lanterns, particularly Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Mark Strong. But overall, this cast was really weak. Oh and why the hell is Tim Robbins in this? I hope he was paid well.

This movie has a budget of $200 million dollars and I wanna know where the hell that money went. Is there a lot of special effects in the film? Oh yeah, tons, but not $200 million dollar value special effects. In fact, a lot of the effects are pretty distracting. Rise of the Planet of the Apes had a budget of less than half what Green Lantern had and looks a million times better. The action scenes aren’t very good in this either and the editing is horrible. The music was also pretty bad, and it’s rare that I’ll complain about a films score.

There’s a lot about Green Lantern that pisses me off. There’s the fact that it’s a horrible film on every level and is painful to sit through. There’s the fact that it’s a horrible DC adaptation, meaning they still haven’t had a good non-Batman film since Superman II. But what pisses me off the most is that this comes from a director I have great respect for. It baffles me that a director like Martin Campbell could put something out this bad. I know almost every director has a few weaker films in their career, but this was just so horrid on every conceivable level. I think I have to watch Casino Royale again just so I can remind myself that Campbell can actually direct. Regardless, Green Lantern is one of the worst films I’ve seen all year and the black sheep in a year where all the other comic book films have been good.

Rating: F

 

Release date: October 7th, 2011

Running time: 101 minutes

Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon

Based on: The play Farragut North by Beau Willimon

Directed by: George Clooney

Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood

The Ides of March is a political thriller revolving around Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a young campaign manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney) a democrat who is running for president. Stephen is assisted by senior campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and opposed by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who is running the campaign for the opposition. Duffy approaches Stephen and asks of he’ll work for him instead of Paul. This, on top of being involved with a young intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), pull Stephen into a world of secrets and lies.

I should say right now that politics don’t interest me in the slightest. Perhaps it’s because of my age, but I can’t of too many things that bore me more than politics. Yet in spite of that, I still really enjoyed The Ides of March. While the story is very political, it’s written in a way that makes it accessible to any audience. You don’t have to know the inner workings of politics to understand the drama of the film. This is because of a great script with great dialogue that gets better as the film progresses.  The film starts out good, but starts to really excel as the film hits its second act. From there, the film just continues to improve scene after scene until it eventually reaches its great ending.

What really shines through in this film is the acting. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Gosling for a long time. Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive, and now The Ides of March. I wouldn’t say his performance in this is his best role, but it ranks among his best. Stephen is a character who is a good guy and genuinely believes in what Mike Morris stands for. He’s smart and efficient, and Gosling brings a lot of charisma to the role. Stephen also goes through a very interesting arc through the film. He starts out as an innocent man who genuinely believes that he’s doing the right thing. But the deeper he goes into this world the more he begins to question his morals. The arc is very reminiscent of Michael Corleone’s in the first two Godfather films. Even the final shot of The Ides of March is evocative of The Godfather Part Two.

The film also has one of the strongest supporting cast I’ve seen all year. George Clooney isn’t exactly doing any acting stretches, but he is perfectly cast as presidential candidate Mike Morris. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also quite good as the senior campaign manager Paul. Hoffman is very commanding in the role and there are times where you can’t take your eyes off him. He brings in a lot of intensity when necessary, but he also gives the character a lot of credibility and makes Paul feel very wise. But for me, the best supporting performance came from Paul Giamatti.  Tom Duffy isn’t a flat-out villain, but Giamatti gives the character such a threatening presence that he dominates any scene he’s in. One of the best scenes in the film is a confrontation near the end between Duffy and Stephen. Giamatti doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he does a lot with what he’s given and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get an Oscar nomination. The film also sees strong performances from Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei.

If the film has one weakness, it’s that the revelation that politicians play dirty is not a very surprising revelation. After decades of films, books, and music about how corrupt politicians are, it isn’t a very big reveal. We also live in a world where information is leaked immediately. Politics don’t have the same dark and mysterious feel they use to. This isn’t a big problem mind you, and the film is more than smart enough to make up for this.

If I had to compare The Ides of March to one other film, it would be last year’s The Ghost Writer. Like that film, The Ides of March is a thriller that doesn’t rely on shoot outs and explosions to thrill the audience. It doesn’t bother with pointless action scenes that don’t mean anything. Instead, The Ides of March is film that stands on it’s excellent drama brought to life by some terrific performances. I highly recommend The Ides of March, easily one of the best film’s of the year.

Rating: A

Release date: September 23rd, 2011

Running Time: 133 minutes

Written by: Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian

Based on: The novel “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Matthew Lewis

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Chris Pratt

Moneyball tells the true story of Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics and a former professional baseball player himself. Beane was believed to have been an all star player back in the 80’s but unfortunately he never panned out. Jump a head twenty years and Beane is managing the Oakland Athletics, a team which doesn’t have the money to compete with other teams. Frustrated by so many losses, Beane attempts to rethink how they scout players. He meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young kid who views players as statistics. He eliminates all the factors of recruiting players that don’t come down to mathematics. Several of the players Brand sees as having a lot of potential are undervalued by everyone else. Beane and Brand use this information to put together a successful time that threatens to change the baseball industry.
The thing that got me excited for this film was knowing the script was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who is known as a master of dialogue. Indeed, there is a lot of fantastic dialogue in Moneyball, which is one of the highlights of the film. However, the actual story is not very compelling. We don’t know very much about any of the characters in this film. They’re all just there to fill their part in the plot. The only exception is Billy Beane. We do see some insight into Beane’s past and see the drama of Beane’s life unfold. But I never found this drama very compelling. This leaves the actual baseball statistics of the film. I don’t care about baseball, but I did find some of the insight that Peter Brand brought pretty interesting, at least at first. The problem is the film relies on that so much that my interest gradually waned.

 

A big part of the blame has to go to director Bennett Miller. To add on to the already not very interesting story is the extremely slow pace. At times the film just felt like it dragged on and on. Compare this film to the Aaron Sorkin penned The Social Network. The characters spend a lot of the time talking about things I don’t care about and yet I was constantly engrossed with what was going on. Part of that was because the characters were interesting, but also because David Fincher brought a sense of intensity and excitement to everything with his direction. I’m not saying the direction in Moneyball is bad, in fact the film is well made in the technical sense. It just doesn’t have any passion or excitement.

What saves the film, apart from Sorkin’s dialogue, is the performances. Everyone in the cast delivers a good performance. Brad Pitt is great as Billy Beane. Despite my problems with the drama coming from his story, Pitt still managed to win me over and I did find myself rooting for him. For most of the film, Beane keeps his emotions on the inside through most of the film, only having it come through in short bursts. Pitt does an excellent job trying to keep his emotions inside and makes Beane a far more intriguing character than he seems in real life. I also really liked how Pitt balanced the comedic side of the character, as well as the deeper and more personal side.

The supporting cast is great too. Jonah Hill is popular for his comedic roles in films like Superbad. The character he plays here does have some funny moments, but is mostly a serious character. I really like the way Hill played Peter Brand as an awkward nerd who is also very good at what he does. Philip Seymour Hoffman also has a nice small role as the manager of the Oakland Athletics who doesn’t approve of Beane and Brand’s methods. I was worried they’d make him the default villain of the film, but thankfully they didn’t. While Hoffman isn’t given much to do, it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, he’s almost always great. There’s a lot of great bit parts here and there too, like Beane’s daughter, the scouts for Oakland, and the players on the team. I must admit I do find it odd that Robin Wright is here playing Beane’s ex-wife and is given next to nothing. Why did they bother getting Robin Wright if they weren’t going to use her? Unless of course there’s a bunch of cut footage.

If one looks at good sports films, one will notice that most of the good ones aren’t really about the sports. Raging Bull isn’t about boxing, it’s about a man who’s rage and inner-demons pushes away his loved ones. This year’s Warrior isn’t about mixed-martial arts, it’s about how two brothers drifted apart and where they ended up. Moneyball is about baseball, plain and simple. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll likely really enjoy it. Otherwise, then I’d recommend this film as a rental, or at best a low matinee. Apart from the acting, there isn’t anything special about Moneyball.

Rating: C

Release date: September 16th, 2011

Running time: 100 minutes

Written by: Hossein Amini

Based on: The novel “Drive” by James Sallis

Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, and Bryan Cranston

Drive has been one of my most anticipated films of the year for a long time. I still haven’t seen any of director Nicholas Winding Refn’s other films, but the trailers were bursting with style. I’m a huge admirer of Ryan Gosling and looked forward to seeing him tackle an action movie. On top of that, the film has been receiving rave reviews from critics. It was even nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Refn won Best Director. So now the question is, does Drive live up to the hype?

The story is simple. Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed getaway driver who also works as a stunt car driver and at a local garage. “The Driver” has a strict code for his work. He waits five minutes, no more. He doesn’t help with the job and he won’t work with you again. He’s a driver, he drives. “The Driver” works for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who gets “the Driver” various criminal jobs throughout the city. Early on in the film, “the Driver” develops an intimate relationship with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benecio (Kaden Leos). Irene’s husband (Oscar Isaac) has just completed a sentence in jail, and when released, he entangles “the Driver” within a complex web of crime. Other actors play prominent roles such as Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and James Biberi.

Despite the simplicity of the story, the script is very well crafted. The crime story is pretty interesting, and it is enjoyable to watch the relationship between “the Driver”, Irene, and Benecio unfold. There is minimal dialogue in the film, characters only speak when necessary. Some may be bored by the lack of dialogue, but personally, I couldn’t have been happier. So many films have so much unnecessary dialogue that more often than not just points out the obvious. Drive trusts that it’s audience can figure out what’s going on without the characters constantly explaining everything. When characters do speak, the dialogue is good, but straight forward. Once again, this straight forward approach is not a problem, it’s actually very helpful given the film and it’s story.

Ryan Gosling is an excellent actor, but I feel he isn’t being given the proper respect for his performance as “the Driver”. I think the main reason is that his role isn’t a “showy” one. He doesn’t have lots of dialogue and he does seem, at first glance, like a simplistic character. His character is very reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s”Man With No Name.” His character is something of an enigma. We don’t know too much about him. He’s a silent badass who wanders through and changes things for everyone. As the film progresses, you begin to see the darker side of “the Driver.” These moments are incredible and Gosling plays them to perfection. Gosling’s name better be considered when award season starts. It’s also interesting to note that Gosling speaks less than 20 sentences in the film, yet leaves an unforgettable impression.

The supporting cast is also very impressive. Bryan Cranston is very good as Shannon. He’s very likable and you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Carey Mulligan is also very good as Irene, “the Driver’s” love interest. Like Gosling, Mulligan has to rely mostly on body language and facial expression, which she pulls of quite well. Of course it’s the criminals who really stand out. Albert Brooks plays the sophisticated crime lord Bernie Rose. He’s very charming and likable, but also very threatening. In all honesty it’s hard to take your eyes off him. Ron Perlman plays Bernie’s partner Nino. While Perlman doesn’t quite hold up to Brooks, he’s still very good and threatening in his own way. The entire cast does a very good job though. All of the characters are interesting in their own ways.

But the real star of the film is director Nicholas Winding Refn. Refn took the script and turned it into a director’s playground. Drive is a very stylish film with a fine handle on tone and atmosphere. Refn also paces the film in a smart way. The first half is slow, but it introduces you to the characters, as you invested in their lives, and the story begins to progress. This means that in the second half when s*** hits the fan, there audience has genuine attachment to the characters. Some may find the first half overly slow. Admittedly most of the first half is about the relationship between “the Driver”, Irene, and Benecio. But I loved these scenes. The juxtaposition between the lighter scenes and the darker story turns later on gives the film a big boost.

The film is even very successful on a technical level. The cinematography is gorgeous. The film has a very gritty look and the camera movements are really impressive, especially during the action scenes. I also loved the score by Cliff Martinez, who scored Contagion earlier this year. The film also makes good use of source music, particularly the song “A Real Hero” by College. The editing is also quite good. I’ve already mentioned the tight pacing, but scenes are also cut together in a way that really amps up the tension.

Those expecting action beats minute to minute may be disappointed. Drive sets out to be a good film first, and a good action film second. That said, the action in the film is spectacular. Scenes that jump to mind include a violent confrontation in an elevator and a bloody shoot-out. And of course, with a name like Drive, the car chases are all great. The first car chase I found especially impressive. Mainly because it wasn’t just about speed, but also about suspense. It’s also fun to watch character’s have to rely on their brains during a chase instead of just trying to go the fastest.

Film critic Xan Brooks of the Guardian described Drive as his guilty pleasure at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. While I appreciate what Xan is trying to say, I don’t like his use of the term “guilty pleasure,” implying that Drive is an enjoyable film, but not a good one. But Drive is a good film. In fact, Drive is an excellent film. Nicholas Winding Refn took a simple story and proved that execution is everything. I adore every second of this film, easily among the best of the year.

Rating: A+