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Film Review: The Impossible
01/17/13 at 12:54 AM by Jonathan Bautts
The will to survive and the bond of family are two very familiar themes in storytelling, and it’s true the Impossible is not breaking any new thematic ground. But framed against the horrors of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004, it’s a powerful and personal story that won’t soon be forgotten.

The one scene that everyone immediately calls out is of the tsunami itself, which is as realistic a tsunami/flood scene as has been portrayed in film. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating, a remarkably realistic feat for something operating on a somewhat limited budget of $45 million or so. It is shot and framed well, while most of the water effects seem to have been done practically, which feels like you’re put right in the middle of it all.

The other aspect that stands out is the performances, particularly those of Naomi Watts and Tom Holland. Over the past decade, Watts has established herself as one of the premiere dramatic actresses working today, and she deservedly earned her second Oscar nomination for her work here. I doubt any other character in 2012 had to go through as many trying circumstances, as she’s either in various stages of excruciating pain or literally trying to stave off death for most of her screen time. It’s a gutsy role that is both physically demanding and emotionally draining, and we feel it through her every breath.

Holland plays her eldest son of three, in his early teens, and he joins Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis as the year’s most revelatory discovery. He capably holds his own against his more experienced costars, and this type of material is no easy task, regardless of age. Meanwhile, he evokes remarkable pathos in the moments when he has to act on his own, perfectly walking the scared-brave tightrope everyone in the film is undertaking on some level.

Now the first half of Impossible is near flawless. Following the tsunami we stick with Watts and Holland basically in real time as they try to find safety and medical attention. There’s no score, and it’s a riveting piece of pure filmmaking. However, an hour in it starts cross-cutting between the other half of the family, which consists of Ewan McGregor and their two youngest sons, and the raw intensity gradually begins to fade until it becomes more traditionally movie like. That’s not necessarily an outright bad thing, but the second half writing is the weakest element by far.

It should come as no surprise there’s some kind of reunion that takes place, and the scenes immediately preceding it definitely are exaggerated narratively. The sequence still works because we’ve become so invested in these characters, but in the back of your mind you know what you’re seeing is fairly ridiculous and manipulative. I’m not sure how you would fix the problem, because almost any ending you pick would feel “impossible” to a certain extent, but it remains a particular flaw nevertheless. I’m curious how the direction they went with compares to what happened in real life.

Speaking of real life, the last thing I found interesting is how the nationality of the actual family was switched from Spanish to British. I don’t know if there’s an underlying studio reason for that, or if they simply jumped at the chance to get actors of Watts and McGregor’s caliber, but considering how almost all of the principle crew is Spanish to begin with, it struck me as slightly odd and out of place.

The Impossible is just the second film from director Juan Antonio Bayona, who started out on 2007’s above-average horror film The Orphanage, yet you never would have guessed it because he already seems like a seasoned pro. I have no idea what the man’s future ambitions are but I can definitely see him helming a huge Hollywood blockbuster in the near future. The Impossible is a wonderful accomplishment and something to be proud of, a moving testament to one family’s love in the face of some of the worst life can throw your way.
Tags: the impossible, film review
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Film Review: Gangster Squad
01/15/13 at 11:06 PM by Jonathan Bautts
It’s no secret I have been looking forward to Gangster Squad for some time. It boasts a fantastic cast, with one of my favorite actors (Gosling) and actresses (Stone), while I’m a huge sucker for period gangster-noir films. L.A. Confidential and Chinatown are two of my all-time faves, and I was hoping Gangster Squad could be this decade’s updated version. But when the reviews began trickling in, they were less than kind, to say the least, and frankly I don’t quite understand why all the hate.

Yes, it’s derivate of several much greater films and unoriginal, but the same can be said for a good chunk of what Hollywood churns out these days. Plus, don’t forget back in the 30s there was a new gangster flick released literally every week, so originality isn’t exactly this genre’s forte. Gangster Squad has other issues as well. The bookend narration is terrible, the closing action set piece laughably nonsensical, it’s overly stylized and uses too much slowmo, and the script that was buzzed about for years is light on character depth and very pulpy. In hindsight, it makes sense why so many A-list directors passed it over before Ruben Fleisher, who has now used up most of the goodwill generated from his Zombieland debut, landed the gig.

Still, for all its faults, Gangster Squad remains a capable piece of entertainment. Fleisher did his best contribution by landing a near dream-list cast, and even though it’s far from their best stuff, it keeps things respectable and never dull. Even though, as previously mentioned, the story is entirely all too familiar, the majority of key ingredients are included and the marks hit at least somewhat accurately. It will never be mistaken for a classic, but for fans of the genre, it’s hard not to walk away at least halfway satisfied.
Tags: gangster squad, film review
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Film Review: Django Unchained
01/12/13 at 12:59 AM by Jonathan Bautts
Django Unchained is about as quality as we’ve come to expect from Quentin Tarantino over the last 20 years. It’s not quite on the same level as his last film, the near-masterpiece Inglorious Basterds, but it’s roughly in the same ballpark, especially as they’re both period pieces reinterpreting history in a way. It’s not as groundbreaking or unconventional as past efforts, or narratively as creative, but more of his version of a straightforward spaghetti, exploitative western, and viewed from that front, it works best.

The obvious highlight is the acting, which is pretty noteworthy across the board. There’s no doubt left Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson were born to act in Tarantino films. Walt may not have top billing but his character is more complex and easily surpasses Jamie Foxx’s Django, and the film suffers whenever he’s not on screen, especially during the end. Leonardo DiCaprio is a delicious scene-stealer in a rare villainous turn, but the real villain is Jackson, and he delivers a wicked, darkly comedic performance about as strong of work as he’s ever done.

Now Foxx does an adequate job as the title character and is nothing to shrug off, it’s just the writing barely bothers to develop him or give him something substantial to do. Despite this being “his” story, he’s essentially relegated to the sidelines until he busts out on his killing rampage for the finale. The relationship with his wife, which is supposed to be the crucial crux of the story, fails to hit home on an emotional level. We know we’re supposed to care about it because the story says so, but the plot is so stuffed with characters and tangents, it shortchanges a good chunk of the dramatic impact.

The other main criticism, besides the editing needing to be tightened up, is Tarantino doesn’t seem to push himself as much as he could or should have. By putting racism and slavery front and center, and by portraying them to such an extreme extent, he had an opportunity to dig deep and really say something, but instead he seemed content with merely cracking a few jokes and never deviating much from basic blaxploitation, which he’s already shown to be quite capable of handling. At this point, we more or less know the basics of what we’re going to get from Tarantino, and however weird and demented a sandbox it may be, he ultimately plays it too safe and never expands upon said sandbox.

As it stands now, Django Unchained will go down as the most financially successful film of Tarantino’s and one of his most acclaimed. Without a doubt, it’s a well-made, well-acted and overall entertaining film, but it’s missing those moments of brilliance that have made Tarantino a star and one of the most talked about directors on the planet. There’s nothing as memorable as cutting off an ear, or the Ezekiel vengeance speech, or the mall swichteroo, or the Crazy 88’s bloodbath, or the tavern standoff. Because in the end, as good as Django may be, it’s hard not to walk away wanting a little bit more.
Tags: django unchained, film review
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Film Review: Les Misérables
01/09/13 at 11:07 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Les Misérables is the epitome of everything I hate about the musical genre, chiefly being it takes twice as long to say half as much in a wholly ridiculous and unconvincing fashion. The constant singing and bombast rob it of whatever genuine emotion or drama it was striving after. It’s mind-numbingly boring while being wildly disjointed. Basically, it embodies poor and lackluster storytelling, plain and simple.

I knew next to nothing about the Les Mis story going in, and believe it or not, I was more or less on board for the first 40 minutes or so. I love Hugh Jackman and felt he got things off to a solid start. Anne Hathaway was great as well, although I felt her now almost guaranteed-an-Oscar performance did not live up to the hype. But then Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are introduced as zany, slapstick characters, which feels like it’s directly culled from their roles in the superior Sweeney Todd but feels woefully out of place in this movie, and it’s all downhill from there.

It just goes on. And on. And on. With no more Hathaway, and Jackman not as convincing as he was in the beginning, things unravel disastrously. Several awkward time jumps take place, new characters are introduced, some pointless and never-explained revolution occurs, but by that time I’ve become so numb to the whole thing I just want it to end. Russell Crowe doesn’t do anyone any favors, either, showing how he’s a shell of his prime years by being locked into the same grim expression the entire time, no matter the scene.

Now I will applaud Tom Hooper for utilizing live singing. I’ve always been a big proponent for films doing this more often, have never understood why they don’t, and I think it pays off. It certainly works better than some of his other directorial choices and shot selection. I will also applaud the production design and costume work, which sets a grimy and realistic tone, even if the singing and some of the ridiculous plot points immediately takes you back out again.

Les Mis is one of the most apathetic experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. I’m sure the original Victor Hugo book is good, because there are some promising story elements at play, but the manner in which the deluge of operatic singing is portrayed and how repetitive the storytelling becomes wore me down to no end. I was as thankful as can be when it was over.
Tags: Les Misérables, film review
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Film Review: Life of Pi
12/07/12 at 05:04 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Early on, Life of Pi makes the bold, and if you think about it rather arrogant, claim this is a story that will make you believe in God. Yet once it’s over, it has almost the opposite effect, and will likely leave any rational filmgoer more confused than anything. Certainly, I don’t see it being used as an evangelical tool to convert atheists any time soon.

First, however, I suppose I should preface this by admitting I was almost preconditioned to not like the film going in. In my mind Ang Lee is the most overrated director in my lifetime, and the discussion is not even close. He seems like a nice and smart enough fellow from the interviews I’ve seen, I just personally don’t care for any of his work, even outright hating some of it (cough, Crouching Tiger, cough), and have never understood why critics are so eager to eat his stuff up at every turn. That said, Life of Pi is easily the strongest film of his I’ve seen, and the problem with it ultimately lies in its source material and not his faults as a director, although he isn’t entirely off the hook, either.

With that out of the way, yes, Life of Pi looks amazing, as everyone and their mom seem to be quick to mention. It has some of the best 3D work ever put to screen, rivaling that of Avatar, as there’s several stunningly beautiful sequences involving water and some of the most realistic CG animals money can buy. It also features a fine central performance from Suraj Sharma in his first acting role, who proves to be quite the find. When you think about it, most of the time he’s either by himself playing off of imaginary things or in front of a green screen, a difficulty for any actor, much less someone making his debut, and he handles it like a veteran. The always-reliable Irrfan Khan does fine work as the adult Pi as well.

Pacing has always been a major issue in nearly every film Lee has done, and when a little over half your movie is a boy and a tiger stuck together in a boat, obviously there’s going to be some issues to overcome. It’s not as bad as it could have been, but it definitely grows monotonous after awhile. But pacing isn’t the main problem this time, instead it’s Pi’s theology and muddled message.

For starters, the defining characteristic of Pi when he is first introduced as a young boy is how he cherry picks from every religion he comes across, in this case Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam. I’m not going to open this can of worms other than to say that at their core those three religions are not compatible in any way, shape or form, and any true follower of one would never claim to also follow the other two. Whatever, it was showing how naïve Pi was in his youth, as his father points out one night over dinner, I get it, but then it’s basically discarded for the remainder of the picture until it’s rashly tried to be tied back in at the end. It all comes across very awkward, while never progressing beyond a rudimentary stage. I don’t know why Hollywood loves to fall back on this kind of vague universalism, (oh look at us, we’re so postmodern!), but it’s starting to become a lazy crutch. By not taking a firm stand on anything, you really end up saying nothing at all.

In keeping with that theme, we learn at the end Pi’s fantastical journey, which Lee has dutifully shown us, most likely never factually occurred, but was instead merely an element Pi concocted to help him deal with the harshness of what really went down on the boat, never mind how neither of his stories seems all that plausible in the first place. But the movie zips right along to culminate with him saying it doesn’t matter which one is true, only which one you personally choose to believe in, and that is the same with God. Say what?

I understand the using an altered form of reality as a coping mechanism it was attempting, which was more dramatically convincing in Pan’s Labyrinth, and finding inherent truth in storytelling, even among greatly exaggerated tales, a la the excellent Big Fish. Yet these conclusions come across much too hastily and underdeveloped when revealed in the climatic hospital scene, and it is no help when Sharma chooses that moment to turn in his least effective acting in the entire film. No matter what interpretation you have, it just feels clumsily handled and way out of left field, akin to resembling a thrift shop version of Robert Shaw’s famous Jaws monologue. For someone as cynical as myself, who always thought Pi’s boat ride was far fetched to begin with but didn’t buy into the “real” explanation either, I was really left scratching my head. (You’re telling me he actually survived 227 days in that boat. As Gob Bluth would say, “Come on!!”)

The most unexpected and interesting part of Pi has easily been seeing the wide variety of readings people have taken away from it, and after only a single week I’ve already thought about it more than most films from 2012, so on that level it can be considered a great success. I’ve even come to accept and somewhat make peace with the ending, or at least more than I did when walking out of the theater, centering around the idea of Pi being a postmodern version of Pascal’s Wager, where if you have a 50/50 choice between a “fantastical” explanation (God, religion) and a natural reality (neither), you have nothing to lose and theoretically everything to gain with believing the former to be true. If it makes you feel better and allows you to make sense of life more easily, well, then hooray for you.

Now as previously alluded, it never clarifies what its big metaphor actually represents, instead indirectly implying one story is as good as any other because no matter what the ship still sinks. All roads lead to Rome, theologically speaking. Above all, it reminded me of the hollowness of Lost’s finale more than anything else, and we all know how well that went over. Or, maybe in a Losteque twist, they were really trying to suggest Pi’s worldview, or any belief in God for that matter, is as irrational as the number his nickname derives from and nothing more than a child’s parable. Either way, I just wish there was a more compelling argument presented on screen, and maybe there is in the book, because the story has the basis for a meaty subjective vs. objective truth discussion and why it is we do believe in the things we do. Yet as something that repeatedly states its primary thesis to be a story that will make you believe in God, it falls woefully incomplete and inadequate.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, of course there isn’t a lot of depth to Life of Pi, it is based on a children’s novel after all,” but any such argument is disqualified for something being positioned as a genuine awards contender and coming from a previous Best Director winner. For instance, it shares many passing similarities to last year’s Hugo, (both were released at the same time of year, are based on children’s books, feature acclaimed directors tackling 3D for the first time, etc.), yet with his Scorsese was able to tap into a legitimately profound portrait on the power of storytelling while grounding it in a fulfilling emotional core.

Sure, Ang Lee did the best with what he had to work with, and Life of Pi is a well-made effort, which is the highest complement I’ve paid the filmmaker before. In the end, though, its lasting impact will likely be all about the visuals and not the substance, or lack thereof. It might be directly attributable to the original source, it might not be, but when all is said and done it was Lee’s decision to turn it into a $120 million film in the first place, and thus the final result falls squarely on his shoulders.
Tags: film review, life of pi
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Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook
11/27/12 at 02:43 AM by Jonathan Bautts
No matter how hard you might resist it’s impossible not to fall head over heels for Silver Linings Playbook, as it’s likely to be the most charming film about mental illness you’re likely to come across. In dealing with such a tricky and sensitive subject matter, it balances the line between comedy and drama, never fully committing to one tone over the other for any long stretch. Thankfully, writer-director David Russell, still fresh from his career resurrection 2010’s the Fighter provided, masterfully blends the two together in the greatest outing of his career.

Certainly the writing is a strong suit, yet Silver Linings’ greatest asset is its casting, and boy do they deliver. Hands down, this is the best-acted film of the year. Bradley Cooper, who I’ve never thought highly of and feared he was gravely miscast when the project was first announced, is nothing short of a revelation. For once, he’s not douchey, instead bringing to light the honest conflict of a man trying to stay on the positive side of a midlife crisis amid frequent outbursts brought on by a bipolar disorder. It’s a career-redefining performance.

On the other side is Jennifer Lawrence, who unlike Cooper I’ve always been impressed by her acting ability, and once again she raises the bar to a new personal height. She’s just as mentally unstable as Cooper’s character, the two really are quite the perfect match despite the age difference, combining the backbone that earned her an Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone with a sharp talker wit and haughty, take-no-prisoners attitude, the likes of which she hasn’t really shown before. Both are locks for plenty of awards attention, and Lawrence has a decent shot at Best Actress.

Then, as if proving Cooper is actually a legitimate actor wasn’t enough, Russell does more of the unthinkable – gets the least annoying performance of Chris Tucker’s career, also his first non Rush Hour role in over a decade, and an emotionally resonant turn from Robert De Niro, easily his best and most serious work in probably just as long. The rest of the supporting players are fantastic as well, and like I said there’s not a weak link in the bunch.

I suppose at its core Silver Linings Playbook could be considered a romantic comedy, as the feel good ending seemingly betrays. However, hardly any of it plays out or seems to live in the trappings of said genre, and the touching moments it does have all feel deservedly earned. The way it captures the different relationships and issues between the characters, giving you people to genuinely root for and care about in a non-sappy way, is an accomplishment that cannot be understated, which is why it’s already garnered an incredible reaction amongst the film world. It won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at Toronto, an honor recent Best Picture winners Slumdog Millionaire and the King’s Speech also took home, and is without a doubt one of 2012’s absolute finest offerings. I, for one, will be cheering for Oscar gold come awards night.
Tags: film review, silver linings playbook
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Film Review: Lincoln
11/25/12 at 12:28 AM by Jonathan Bautts
Centering a picture on arguably the most beloved figure in American history is no easy task, even for the most celebrated director of our time, Steven Spielberg. To his credit, then, he wisely enlists Daniel Day-Lewis as his collaborator to bring the larger-than-life Abraham Lincoln to life, and on that front the results are nothing short of spectacular. Towards the end of his life, Lincoln was under about as much pressure as you could humanly imagine, and Day-Lewis makes you feel it. Day-Lewis is a once in a generation talent who is famously known for completely immersing himself in his characters for months at a time, and his physical transformation as Lincoln is astonishing. His body seemingly creaks and aches under each movement, his demeanor deathly grave when he’s not sharing his knack for storytelling. Much attention has been made over his voice, which is higher pitched than usually has been portrayed but more historically accurate, and Day-Lewis simply makes it another extension of the character we immediately believe. Really, the film could have consisted entirely of Lincoln in a room talking and it would have been a triumph.

So with half the battle already won, Spielberg than goes ahead and proceeds to enlist one of the strongest acting rosters assembled in recent years, just because he’s Spielberg and he can. This isn’t to say it’s automatically the best-acted film of the year, because it’s not. The script is so jam-packed with characters hardly any are given ample time to be developed, so he wisely leans on them to do the heavy lifting and come across with strong personalities in short amounts of time. Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn and James Spader are easy standouts but others are shamefully underutilized, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln’s son, Robert. The film clearly is most adept at political maneuvering than Lincoln’s personal life, which outside of his relationship with his youngest son leaves much to be desired, and we’re never sure which side of his wife’s we’re supposed to be on.

Now Spielberg’s past forays into historical dramas have been decidedly mixed. Last year’s War Horse was his worst outing in more than a decade, while I remember Amistad, his previous film Lincoln most closely resembles, being very underwhelming. Lincoln is easily stronger than both but it does have its dry spells, especially in its first half where it takes quite a while to get going, yet unlike those two it has a well-timed sense of humor to continually fall back on, an unexpected bonus. In addition, it offers some eerie parallels to the modern American political landscape, and while we obviously are not on the brink of a civil war, despite those nut-job secession petitions going around online after Obama’s reelection, much of the rhetoric has remained largely unchanged.

Spielberg also keeps many of his past tendencies more subdued in Lincoln, which was a smart move and makes the overall picture stronger. However, while it might not be as emotionally calculated as some often find his films to be, an unintended side effect is it’s not as exciting as we’re used to him delivering, either. Sure, everyone already knows the major plot points, but the same case can be made for Munich or this year’s Argo, and that didn’t stop them. Either way, he definitely butchered the ending, which he had set up beautifully to end with Lincoln walking down a hallway, late for his date at the fated theatre, only to extend things another five minutes and squander almost all of the intended impact.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil War era ever since I was a little kid, while I’ve been a Spielberg devote just as long. Lincoln has all the ingredients for a modern classic, and there’s little question Day-Lewis deserves his third Oscar for his work here, but as a passion project Spielberg has spent a decade developing, Lincoln never can measure up to his best work, no matter how hard it wants to.
Tags: film review, lincoln
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Film Review: Skyfall
11/23/12 at 01:07 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Skyfall is not only the strongest installment in James Bond's storied 50-year history, it's also one of the finest films of 2012. I've been saying for years the best way to take a franchise to the next level is get Oscar-caliber talent involved, and Skyfall certainly fits that bill to a T. Sam Mendes, who burst onto the directing scene at the turn of the century with one of the most striking one-two punch debuts in cinema history, was a bold choice to helm a Bond film. He's never done an action picture before, and though there was some action stuff in Road To Perdition and Jarhead, none of it suggested he would be a good fit for a big-budget extravaganza. However, as someone to lead Bond further down the road Casino Royale started, which strived after a grounded and character-based tone, he was a logical continuation and one the franchise needed to take that next step.

Skyfall does deliver the action goods as well as any Bond adventure to come before it, so it hasn't gotten all artsy for those who may have been worrying. There's fun homages to the Bond of yesteryear, as well as characters such as Q and Moneypenny presented in new light for the first time in the Craig era. There's arguably one of the most memorable villains Bond has yet battled, brought to life with particular gusto and relish by the masterful Javier Bardem. Bardem makes such an impression from his introduction, an amazing static shot of him walking towards the camera delivering a monologue about cannibalistic rats, you're instantly in awe. He's almost like an exaggerated Julian Assange but combined with a helping of the Joker. In fact, it shares several interesting parallels with the Dark Knight, as both men are beaten down and battered, almost to the point of no return, before reaching down deep and pulling off a miraculous resurrection. If you want to dig deeper you can even read it as a kind of meta commentary on the Bond mythos itself, which finds itself now quite antiquated from the modern age.

Skyfall's biggest weapon isn't Bond, though, it's Roger Deakins, one of the greatest DPs on the planet. From beginning to end Skyfall sparkles and pops, especially in IMAX, and you won't see a more beautifully shot film this year. In particular, there's a sequence in Shangai set in a glass skyscraper that is absolutely gorgeous. The amount of time and care it took to set up shots and have it be an integral part of the storytelling is obvious, and it works wonders. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Adele's theme song, one of the best in Bond's history, and Judi Dench, who delivers a phenomenal performance that takes M to places the character has never gone before.

Skyfall isn't perfect, but as a Bond film it's pretty dang close. Really, I only have a few slight story nitpicks here and there, nothing major, and it would have been nice to see the sex slave character fleshed out a bit more. I know a lot of people had issues with the ending, which slows things down for an old-school western style shootout, but I thought it worked fine and helped close things out on a more intimate level. Just as Casino Royale raised the bar on what a Bond film could be a handful of years ago, Mendes calls and raises it further with Skyfall, once again proving amazing things happen when you have A-grade talent both in front of and behind the camera, no matter the setting.
Tags: film review, skyfall
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Film Review: Flight
11/23/12 at 01:05 PM by Jonathan Bautts
Flight is a tricky film to pinpoint because it's both better than you would think and yet not as good as it should have been at the same time. The real reason it works at all is due to the greatness of Denzel Washington. Flight is one of his strongest performances of the past decade, possibly even his best work since 2001's Training Day. Denzel is always at his best in darker roles and here he makes the character's downward spiral believable and the battle with addiction feel authentic, not overplaying things in a film where subtlety is not in its natural vocabulary (more on that in a moment).

Much ado has also been made over Flight as it marks Robert Zemeckis' first foray into live action since Cast Away back in 2000, and for the most part he hasn't skipped a beat. The plane sequence is one of the most harrowing scenes of its kind we've seen on screen before, while he gets some truly great work from his deep cast. Quick shout out to James Badge Dale, who has rarely been mentioned in reviews but is absolutely fantastic in his one scene.

Really everything is clear skies, Flight even flirts with being A-grade material, until its final half hour that is and the metaphorical plane starts to go down. That bad pun pretty much sums up just how little subtlety there actually is. It quickly goes south with a sequence seemingly lifted from some other movie, way too lightly played and unrealistic for this film, and then the themes are continually spelled out for you with the grace of a jackhammer. Denzel even has one of those speeches everyone hates in which the point of the entire movie is summed up in one neat little monologue for those who weren't following along.

Contrast Flight with how Shame plays out from last year, in my opinion one of the most powerful and emotionally draining films about addiction ever made, and the difference is mind boggling. Flight comes across as so much clunkier and its message so overtly explicit it almost dims Denzel's masterful work somewhat. Now I understand Flight is a big-budget Hollywood production with an A-list star and an A-list director, so it's natural to not have as much creative license and leeway, and it is commendable for what it does with the pieces it has. Without a doubt it's a far more interesting take on Sullenberger's heroic landing than just being, "Oh, it's the movie with the one scene where the plane flies upside down." However, I've never been a big Zemeckis fan, and the ending serves a stark reminder why. All I could do was shake my head and wonder what might have been.
Tags: film review, flight
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Fall Movie Picks
08/14/10 at 11:54 PM by Jonathan Bautts
I just got done reading the new Entertainment Weekly and the fall release schedule is packed with sweet goodness. It should have little trouble making up for a pretty pathetic year thus far which included one of the worst summers in recent memory, despite the trifecta of awesomeness (Inception, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim). Here's my top picks of what to watch out for:

The Contenders
127 Hours (Nov 5)
Black Swan (Dec 1)
Blue Valentine (Dec 31)
The Fighter (Dec 10)
HappyThankYouMorePlease (TBA)
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows (Nov 19)
The Social Network (Oct 1)
The Tree Of Life (TBA)
Tron: Legacy (Dec 17)
True Grit (Dec 25)

Middle Of The Pack
Biutiful (TBA)
Buried (Sept 24)
Catfish (Sept 17)
Due Date (Nov 5)
Hereafter (Oct 22)
Let Me In (Oct 1)
Never Let Me Go (Sept 15)
The Rum Diary (TBA)
Somewhere (Dec 22)
The Town (Sept 17)

Potential Sleepers
The American (Sept 1)
The Company Men (Oct 22)
The Debt (Dec 29)
Fair Game (Nov 5)
How Do You Know (Dec 17)
It's Kind Of A Funny Story (Sept 24)
Jack Goes Boating (Sept 17)
Machete (Sept 3)
Red (Oct 15)
Waiting For Superman (Sept 24)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Sept 24)
Tags: Fall, Film, Movie, Preview, 2010
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01/26/10 at 01:04 AM by Jonathan Bautts
01. Up In The Air
02. (500) Days Of Summer
03. Up
04. District 9
05. Star Trek
06. Fantastic Mr. Fox
07. Inglourious Basterds
08. Moon
09. The Hurt Locker
10. Big Fan
11. Avatar
12. Dear Jack
13. Watchmen
14. The Road
15. Public Enemies
16. State Of Play
17. Funny People
18. I Love You, Man
19. The Brothers Bloom
20. Sherlock Holmes
21. Zombieland
22. Duplicity
23. Sugar
24. A Serious Man
25. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
26. The Hangover
27. Invictus
28. Terminator Salvation
29. The International
30. Where The Wild Things Are

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
Drag Me To Hell
Observe And Report
Sunshine Cleaning
Tags: Best Of, 2009, Film
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12/29/09 at 03:11 PM by Jonathan Bautts
1. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)
2. Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War Of The Worlds, Munich)
3. Peter Jackson (Lord Of The Rings, King Kong, The Lovely Bones)
[Tie] Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Millions, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire)

Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler)
Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille)
Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man)
Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II)
Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino)
Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum)
Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air)
Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Kingdom Of Heaven, American Gangster)
Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E)

1. Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Master And Commander, Cinderella Man, 3:10 To Yuma)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman (Almost Famous, Capote, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt)
3. George Clooney (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Ocean’s Eleven, Syriana, Michael Clayton, Up In The Air)

Tom Cruise (Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, The Last Samurai, Collateral, Tropic Thunder)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs Of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, The Departed, Blood Diamond)
Johnny Depp (Blow, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Finding Neverland, Sweeney Todd, Public Enemies)
Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Sherlock Holmes)
Ryan Gosling (The United States Of Leland, The Notebook, Half Nelson, Lars And The Real Girl, Fracture)
Viggo Mortenson (Lord Of The Rings, A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Road)
Clive Owen (Closer, Children Of Men, Inside Man, Duplicity, The Boys Are Back)
Sean Penn (I Am Sam, Mystic River, 21 Grams, The Interpreter, Milk)
Will Smith (Ali; I, Robot; Hitch; The Pursuit Of Happyness; I Am Legend)
Denzel Washington (Remember The Titans, Training Day, Antwone Fischer, Man On Fire, American Gangster)

1. Kate Winslet (Iris, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Little Children, The Reader)
2. Meryl Streep (Adaptation, The Hours, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt)
3. Jennifer Connelly (Requiem For A Dream, A Beautiful Mind, House Of Sand And Fog, Little Children, Blood Diamond)

Amy Adams (Junebug, Enchanted, Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, Sunshine Cleaning)
Judi Dench (Chocolat, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Casino Royale, Notes On A Scandal)
Scarlett Johansson (Lost In Translation, Girl With A Pearl Earring, In Good Company, Match Point, The Prestige)
Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Pride & Prejudice, Atonement)
Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Red Eye, State Of Play)
Ellen Page (Hard Candy, Juno, Smart People)
Natalie Portman (Garden State, Closer, V For Vendetta, Brothers)
Marisa Tomei (In The Bedroom, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Wrestler)
Naomi Watts (The Ring, 21 Grams, King Kong, The Painted Veil, Eastern Promises)
Rachel Weisz (About A Boy, The Constant Gardener, The Fountain, The Brothers Bloom)

1. Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Michael Clayton, Duplicity)
2. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)
3. Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation; Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind; Synecdoche, New York)

Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People)
Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille)
Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; No Country For Old Men; A Serious Man)
Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II)
Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (Lord Of The Rings, King Kong, The Lovely Bones)
Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland, Frost/Nixon, State Of Play, The Damned United)
William Monahan (Kingdom Of Heaven, The Departed, Body Of Lies)
Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Up In The Air)
Andrew Stanton (Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E)
Tags: Best Of, Decade, Film
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12/23/09 at 02:26 AM by Jonathan Bautts
25. Spider-Man 2
24. Batman Begins
23. (500) Days Of Summer
22. Downfall
21. Almost Famous
20. Crash
19. United 93
18. Munich
17. Up In The Air
16. Slumdog Millionaire
15. The Departed
14. Children Of Men
13. No Country For Old Men
12. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
11. Black Hawk Down
10. X2: X-Men United
09. Minority Report
08. The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum
07. Letters From Iwo Jima
06. Mystic River
05. Memento
04. Pan’s Labyrinth
03. The Dark Knight
02. Gladiator
01. Lord Of The Rings

28 Days Later
District 9
Finding Nemo
Finding Neverland
Garden State
High Fidelity
Hotel Rwanda
King Kong
Little Miss Sunshine
Million Dollar Baby
The Passion Of The Christ
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Road To Perdition
The Wrestler
Tags: Best Of, Decade, Film, List
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Best Of 2008 – Film
01/10/09 at 12:07 AM by Jonathan Bautts
01. The Dark Knight
02. Slumdog Millionaire
03. WALL-E
04. The Wrestler
05. Cloverfield
06. Frost/Nixon
07. Iron Man
08. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
09. Nothing But The Truth
10. Role Models
11. Body Of Lies
12. Valkyrie
13. Changeling
14. Tropic Thunder
15. Gran Torino
16. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
17. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!
18. Ghost Town
19. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
20. The Incredible Hulk

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
In Bruges
Let The Right One In
Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Quantum Of Solace
Rachel Getting Married
Smart People
Speed Racer
Tags: Best Of, 2008, Film, Movies
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A Look Back At 2007’s Best Films
01/29/08 at 11:24 PM by Jonathan Bautts
In the face of the impeding writer’s strike, Academy Award nominations were released last week. With emphasis on both solemn and contemplative fare, “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” led the pack with eight nominations apiece.

As with every year, there were several notable omissions. Gems such as “Sunshine” and “Zodiac” went ignored, “Eastern Promises” and “Into The Wild” were underrepresented and a late questionable call disqualified Jonny Greenwood’s superb score for “There Will Be Blood.” Meanwhile, the overrated “Atonement” racked up seven nods, while the abysmal “Norbit” can somehow call itself an Academy Award nominee, picking up one for Best Makeup.

Out of the films which did garner nominations, here are those I enjoyed the most:

“3:10 To Yuma”
2 Oscars, including Best Original Score
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe excel as men on either side of the law, and Ben Foster is a scene-stealer as Crowe’s ruthless right hand man. The story focuses on its characters yet manages to deliver plenty of action, proving all hope is not lost for this once great genre. The best western since 1992’s “Unforgiven.”

“The Bourne Ultimatum”
3 Oscars, including Best Editing
Matt Damon returned for a third outing as superspy Jason Bourne, and it matched the high bar of its predecessors. The action scenes are superbly staged, another adept display from director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), and the film exhibits an unusual amount of smarts for a Hollywood blockbuster.

4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
Not only was it the breakout hit of the year, it was also the year’s best comedy. Buoyed by a star-making turn from Ellen Page, the story’s real charm lies in the script from rookie screenwriter Diablo Cody, made up of wildly inventive dialogue and wholly amusing characters.

“Michael Clayton”
7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director
A character-driven, legal thriller centering on a man caught in a moral crisis. Tony Gilroy’s sophisticated screenplay is brought to life by one of the best casts of the year — George Clooney has never been better, and Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton excel in support.

“No Country For Old Men”
8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography
The Coen brothers’ strongest outing to date turned out to be the best of the entire year. Highlighted by an impressive cast, including the phenomenal Javier Bardem, it is impeccably written and executed. How much you like the film hinges on its unconventional ending, which has generated a significant amount of debate among viewers.

1 Oscar – Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly”)
The stirring Irish musical incorporates songs naturally into its storytelling style. The indie soundtrack is stellar, and first time actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová deliver heartfelt performances in a down-to-earth movie devoid of Hollywood conventions.

5 Oscars, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score
Pixar bounces back from 2006’s disappointing “Cars” with one of their best yet. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), it is cute and full of humor, yet unafraid to tackle existential themes for older audiences.

3 Oscars, including Best Visual Effects
A widely entertaining popcorn extravaganza with some of the best visual effects ever seen in a film, it is director Michael Bay’s (“The Rock”) most accomplished work. It also features plenty of humor, especially from budding star Shia LaBeouf.

Honorable Mentions:
“Sicko,” “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood.”
Tags: Best, Films, 2007, Academy Awards, Oscars
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