January 31, 2010

Training Day - 2001

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke

"To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf." Such is the mantra of Detective Alonzo Harris (Washington), head undercover narcotics agent of the Los Angeles Police Department. Training Day follows the events of a 24 hour period in which Harris takes a newcomer (Hawke) under his wing, exposing him to the seedy underbelly of not only Los Angeles, but the less upstanding aspects of his job.

Let me be the first to say that I'm a fan of Denzel Washington. He's definitely one of the best living actors, and the best African-American actor. And the movie as a whole, I enjoyed, don't get me wrong. However, I'll also say that his performance carries the film, which is only magnified by the fact that he and Hawke are the lone recognizable faces in the cast, aside from a small role by Cordozar Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus. In addition, out of all the great roles Washington has played in his career, this is the ONLY one for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award. I understand a lot of this has to do with the competition and whatnot, but this man was Malcolm X, for crying out loud! You could do a lot worse than this film (like my bottom 5 movies of 2009, as well as countless others I deemed unworthy of my time), but it wouldn't be my first choice either, although the ending was a pleasant surprise.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - 2009

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown
Starring: Heath Ledger/Johnny Depp/Jude Law/Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer

"Nothing is permanent. Not even death." Terry Gilliam, the American of Monty Python and director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, has once again overcome his frequent studio troubles and brought his latest work of magical realism to the screens. In Imaginarium, a monk-turned-immortal-sideshow-performer (Plummer) has the power to give his audience nothing more and nothing less than a world of pure imagination, thanks to a mirror on his stage and supernatural powers given to him by the devil (Waits), known as "Mr. Nick" in the film. In exchange, the eponymous Parnassus must surrender his daughter to him upon her 16th birthday. As the day draws nearer, Parnassus makes a second wager in the hopes that he may keep his daughter--the first to five souls wins. To accomplish this feat, he accepts help from Tony (Ledger, et al), a mysterious stranger that Parnassus and his troupe discover hanging by a noose off the Blackfriar Bridge.

To me, this film delivered on Avatar's promise: remarkable special effects, and a great storyline to back it up (the idea that when two people enter the Imaginarium, the appearance of the person with the weaker imagination changes is a stroke of genius on Gilliam's part, and was a great rewrite following the loss of Ledger). However, I don't think I can do better justice than Johnny Depp did: "Maestro Gilliam has made a sublime film. Wonderfully enchanting and beautiful, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is a uniquely ingenious, captivating creation; by turns wild, thrilling and hilarious in all its crazed, dilapidated majesty. Pure Gilliam magic." R.I.P. Heath Ledger. We miss you already, but you went out on a high note.

Oh, and apparently Terry Gilliam was JK Rowling's first choice to direct the first Harry Potter film, but the studio rejected him, and he refused to do any others after hating the version Chris Columbus ended up helming. Good job there, Warner Brothers.

January 22, 2010

Coming to America - 1988

Director: John Landis
Writers: Eddie Murphy, David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Louie Anderson, Samuel L. Jackson

"I am a man who has never tied his own shoes before!"
"Wrong. You are a PRINCE who has never tied his shoes. Believe me. I tied my own shoes once. It is an overrated experience."
In this film, an African prince (Murphy) fed up with his lavish life, decides on the eve of his arranged marriage to travel to America with his servant Semmi (Hall) to find a bride that "raises both [his] intellect and [his] loins." After flipping a coin to decide if they're going to New York City or Los Angeles, they scour a map to determine what part of the city is best for locating a woman fit for a king. Why, Queens, of course!

This film is fantastic. Director John Landis is never one to disappoint, and Coming to America is no exception. Maybe it's just because he's done it time and time again (with progressively worse results), but this first team-up of Eddie Murphy playing multiple roles and Rick Baker's makeup wizardry is bar none head and shoulders above the rest. Both Murphy and Hall have four distinct roles in the film (most notably an old white Jewish man played brilliantly by Murphy), and any scene involving the old barbers is bound to elicit belly laughs. My one fault with the film lies in the costume design, as the Zamundan crowns and jewelry look like something a little kid could make by gluing random things together, but in light of the Nutty Professor franchise, Dr. Doolittle, Holy Man, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and Norbit, it's a relatively minor issue.

January 17, 2010

Golden Globes 2010 reactions

Okay, Hollywood Foreign Press. You've got some explaining to do.

BEST MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA: Avatar? I wish someone would tell me what made that better than Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Up in the Air, AND Precious.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA: Sandra Bullock's had plenty of acclaim in her career. Give the award to the one who blew us out of the water in her SCREEN DEBUT.

BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA: I haven't seen Crazy Heart, but it better be pretty good to beat out George Clooney AND Nelson Mandela.

BEST MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY/MUSICAL: 500 Days of Summer. THAT should have won. The movie you guys picked was the writers saying "let's pick random stuff and figure out contrived ways to connect it all."

BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY/MUSICAL: I'm okay with this one. Let's move on.

BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY/MUSICAL: I liked Sherlock Holmes, and I never say no to Robert Downey Jr. But did you guys even SEE 500 Days of Summer? COME ON!

BEST ANIMATED: Finally, a legitimate chance to take the award away from Pixar...alas. Maybe next year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE: I heard nothing but praise about Mo'Nique, so not having seen Precious, I'll let this stand as I did with Jeff Bridges (although Anna Kendrick was superb).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE: No one knew Christoph Waltz before he was Tarantino's "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa, but no one will forget him anytime soon.

BEST DIRECTOR: The only people who deserve recognition for Avatar are the folks at WETA Digital, who MADE EVERYTHING.

BEST SCREENPLAY: While I was figuring the District 9 guys would take this, I would have been fine with Reitman and Turner or Tarantino, and the pair got it, so good for them.

BEST TV SERIES, DRAMA: I picked House because it wins a lot. But I hear Mad Men's good too.

BEST ACTRESS IN A TV SERIES, DRAMA: Never seen The Good Wife, but then again, I haven't seen a lot of these shows.

BEST ACTOR IN A TV SERIES, DRAMA: Dexter has a habit of getting nominated and not winning, so it was good to see Michael C. Hall up there (even though he had on a silly hat).

BEST TV SERIES, COMEDY/MUSICAL: Glee isn't my cup of tea, but I'm sure Tina Fey was getting tired of winning by this point.

BEST ACTRESS IN A TV SERIES, COMEDY/MUSICAL: Toni Collette has never done me wrong. Didn't know she was from Down Under, though.

BEST ACTOR IN A TV SERIES, COMEDY/MUSICAL: If you're going to steal an award from Tom "I just want my kids back" Jane, at least SHOW UP TO THE CEREMONY!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS FOR TV: Again, haven't seen most of these, but I hear that Mormon show is good.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR FOR TV: Neil Patrick Harris would have been nice, but again, Dexter deserves an award or two. As long as it's not Lost or Entourage, I'm happy.

Naturally, I would have liked to see the other films in my 2009 Top 10 get in there, but I understand there's only 25 categories overall, and only so many cover film. That's all I hae to say about that.

Avatar - 2009

Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Siguorney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez

"You've never heard of the flying mountains of Pandora?" In the year 2154, humans have begun to exploit places beyond Earth, the latest being the moon Pandora for its rich unobtanium deposits. Since the Pandoran atmosphere is toxic, this is partially done through avatars, a fusion of human DNA with that of the native Na'vi. Naturally, the natives do not appreciate their home being encroached upon by outsiders.

This movie cost at least $237 million to make. So far, it has grossed $1.6 billion, putting it $200 million shy of becoming the top grossing film of all time. The plot's essentially the same as Pocahontas, Fern Gully, Dances with Wolves, or anything else in a similar vein. Give it the Academy Award for Best Special Effects (because it's 2 hours and 45 minutes of stunning visuals), but it's nothing to write home about beyond that. I could also go into the aspects of the film I found unrealistic (continuity issues with the Na'vi weapons, language in the 2150s being identical to our own, etc), but that can be tossed aside as the "fiction" aspect of "science fiction."

I recently got around to watching The Hangover for the first time, and found it similarly underwhelming.

January 14, 2010


Something happened in my statistics class, and I got pissed off. Since it's movie-related, you guys get to hear about it.

We were talking about expert opinions being bought and sold, and specifically about the tobacco companies doing so through the late 1990s. Naturally, the great Jason Reitman film Thank You for Smoking was brought up, to which someone said "Oh, that's that one with the guy from Batman."

NO. NO IT'S NOT. Batman was made in 1989 and starred Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. What she meant was 2008's The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and (of course) Aaron Eckhart. On top of that, TYFS predates TDK by two years, so at the time of its release, you wouldn't refer to Eckhart as "the guy from The Dark Knight."

Thanks for letting me vent. I needed that.

January 9, 2010

Youth in Revolt - 2010

Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Gustin Nash
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta

"In movies, the good guy gets the girl. In real life, it's usually the prick." The director of The Good Girl and the writer of Charlie Bartlett teamed up to present us with Youth in Revolt, the on-screen adaptation of C.D. Payne's 1993 novel of the same name. The eloquent Nick Twisp (Cera) lives in Oakland with his mother (Jean Smart) and her boyfriend Jerry (Galifianakis), struggling on a daily basis with that which plagues nearly every teenage male: virginity. When Jerry sells some sailors a defective car, he decides to take the family out to a trailer park for a few weeks to avoid their vengeance. At said trailer park, Nick meets Sheeni (Doubleday) and falls hopelessly in love with her. Among other things, however, he's not enough of a "bad boy" for her, so he creates the supplementary persona of Francois Dillinger (Cera and a wispy mustache) to start wreaking havoc.

Several things make this film stand out:
  • Big-name actors making small roles memorable
  • Three scenes of animation (clay, paper, and traditional) makes these silent and less interesting scenes nothing short of riveting
  • A rather faithful adaptation of the book (at least, of the first half that I've read)
  • Michael Cera playing something BESIDES his usual awkward teenage role
Maybe not Oscar-worthy, but possible Golden Globe contender in the Comedy/Musical category for next year. Don't miss this one.