Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Long ago, Chuck D. warned us, "Don't believe the hype." True, he was talking about injustice and racial inequality in America and this is a blog that gripes about movies. But the advice is still sound.

This week, Michael Bay unveils his latest film TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. Bay has been living with the Autobots exclusively for four years now. He has gone from initial claims saying he would only direct one of the entries to directing all three, boasting about his buddy-buddy relationship with Steven Speilberg more with each passing year.

While I have spoken to many people who have enjoyed the first two TRANSFORMERS movies, I have not spoken to anyone over the age of 14 who has loved them. So, while they are not completely worthless, I fail to see how the world gets swept up in the hype every single time.

My problems with the TRANSFORMERS movies are simple. For one, the design of the robots has always left much to be desired. When in motion, they resemble blurry Erector sets - just a lot of swinging robot arms and legs that don't really convey anything. Completely nondescript, they are full of tiny details that make them unappealing to the eye. The very image of the robots is a distraction of wheels, gears and computer imaging. Unlike other CGI characters in far better films, one never gets the feeling that they are looking at a character, but another special effect. In fact, the robots themselves have no real personality to speak of. And while it may seem a bit strange to complain about the lack of emotion from machines, everything in the TRANSFORMERS mythos stresses that these are sentient beings. Hence, it should not be much to ask.

But just because the films are called TRANSFORMERS does not mean they are about TRANSFORMERS. Instead, we get the story of Sam Witwicky, a loser kid whose initial posting of rare artifacts on eBay thrust him into the middle of an intergalactic war. Or something like that. I'm sorry, it's not that I don't understand what's going on in these films. It's that I can't be bothered to care.

If you go see a James Bond film, you want to see a film about James Bond. You don't want to see a film about the guy that crashes on James Bond's couch a few days each month. That's the problem with these films. The robots themselves should be more interesting than the guy who gets to hang out with the robots once in a while.

And let's just talk about the plot for a second. As I mentioned earlier, I lose track of what's going on in the TRANSFORMERS films, not from a lack of comprehension but from an overall lack of interest. Think about it. Can you honestly tell me that you knew and cared what was going on every step of the way during these films? Perhaps you can and if so, I stand corrected. But no one event ever seems to flow into the next during the first two films. Rather, it's just a random selection of jigsaw pieces thrown up on the screen all at once. Not only is no attempt made to put the pieces together, I'm not sure all the pieces belong to the same puzzle.

This is a major problem that goes back to Bay's greatest weakness as a director. Technically, he's great. But when it comes to telling a story, he has nothing to show for it. PEARL HARBOR was to be his prestige film. Early buzz had people saying it was SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and TITANIC rolled into one. In an interview with a magazine, Bay talked about how he saw this great vision of the bomb being released from the Japanese plane, tracking down through the clouds and then impacting the hull of the ship. When asked what he wanted to convey in that shot, Bay seemed to be puzzled, as if the interviewer suddenly started speaking in tongues. Michael Bay can tell you how to film an amazing shot, but he cannot tell you why.

This isn't a problem if you're telling a simple, breezy adventure film. But these films seem to throw all these random events into the mix, never giving us any reason to care about what's happening. Reports say that there is an enormous action sequence that takes up the last 45 minutes of the film. It's big, it's loud and it's an achievement in special effects. But the last two films also featured long action sequences towards the end of the film. I did not care about either of these climaxes. By the time they reached their respective third acts, I had given up finding anything in the films worth investing in.

Now, Bay is telling us not to pay any attention to the second entry in the series. He didn't get to do what he wanted there. But this time, he knows what he's doing and he has accomplished things on film that you have never seen before. How easy it is to forget that he said the exact same things when the second TRANSFORMERS film came out in 2009. This is much better, now they know what they're doing, you've never seen anything like it.

Keep in mind that I have not seen the third TRANSFORMERS movie. This is not a review and I am not judging that film. I am however judging the first two films and the hype surrounding the third. Why should anyone be excited to see a third entry in a series, when the first two have left much to be desired? And yet they are. The campaign is working. It's frustrating to watch.

As mentioned, the film has at least one big action sequence and probably more. It also contains much of the horrible comedic relief found in earlier films. Why are we subjected to the goofy parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White)? We have Ken Jeong (who I enjoy in COMMUNITY and THE HANGOVER and hate everywhere else) improvising much like Anthony Anderson did, disastrously, in the first film. We have yet another convoluted storyline which sounds remarkably similar to earlier entries in the series - a previously hidden race of evil robots suddenly wakes up and smashes things on Earth, meaning the good robots have to come in and stop them.

We also have a new female lead. Making her feature film debut is Rosie Huntington-Whitely. She may turn out to be a solid actress, who knows? But the important thing is that she will smile, look pretty and keep her mouth shut. This is why she was hired and that is why Megan Fox was fired. The only reason I would have paid to see the third TRANSFORMERS film is that Megan Fox seemed to rise above the material. She's not here this time around. She made some disparaging comments about Michael Bay's chauvinistic and dictatorial directing style. The same thing has been said about Bay ever since he started his feature film career in the 1990s. On the set of THE ROCK (Bay's best film to date), Sean Connery famously called him a "cocksucker." If James Bond calls you a cocksucker, there's probably some truth to it.

What makes Fox different is that she said her comments while being a woman in Hollywood. Sorry people, but it's true. Guys get away with saying all kinds of things that women are called on. Don't believe me? Look at the things Shia LaBeouf has been caught saying. He has bad-mouthed virtually every film he's appeared in within the last five years (including the second TRANSFORMERS for director Bay and the fourth INDIANA JONES for producer Speilberg). He has spoken candidly about sleeping with women on the set and has gotten into trouble involving alcohol and scrapes with the law. Now, imagine his name was Sharon LaBeouf and tell me Michael Bay would show due patience.

The sad behavior of Bay and LaBeouf does not necessarily translate to the screen, but it does make the firing of one actress and hiring of another more manageable actress rather hard to accept. And what does translate onto the screen is that they have spent two films trying to get us invested in the relationship between their two lead characters, only to jettison the girl for a younger, more compliant model.

So to recap, we have the same focus on the humans instead of the robots. We have the same tone-deaf comic relief from human and robot alike. We have another convoluted story which is not much different from previous entries. We have a big concluding action sequence that is a dog's breakfast of special effects. The old relationship dynamic has been flushed and rebooted. The only thing that seems to have changed is that the only thing I liked about the previous installments isn't in this one.

So, why should I be excited by this film? I've heard all the promises before and I'm just not buying it anymore. If I wind up seeing the new TRANSFORMERS film, it will be unplanned. If my friends insist on going, I will not pass up a night at the movies. Otherwise, I have no interest. There is no event in this event film. The Emperor has no clothes. All we have is a lot of explosions punctuating an ongoing series that has already proven itself to be a colossal waste of time.

I know my opinion won't be shared by most people, but I felt the need to say it. And there are some who will not buy into the hype. The other night, a friend of mine went to a press screening of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. He took his daughter to see the film with him. I received a phone call from her as they were leaving. "Scott, the new TRANSFORMERS is horrible! Don't see it!" This girl is seven years old, but don't let that fool you. It appears she is more aware and critical of mediocrity than most people. Her opinion bodes well for the future.

Friday, February 25, 2011

THE BEST FILMS OF 2010.... Better Late Than Never

I know, I know. I'm a bit late.

There are a number of reasons why this list of the Best Films of 2010 is late. First and foremost, it took me a while to see the notable films of the year, thus making it harder to reach an informed decision. And yet, I had this list pretty much locked a few weeks ago. No, the wait now is that I am knee-deep in my studies once again and just finding the time to write out the whole list seemed to be a monumental obstacle. And what's the point of having a blog if you can't drone on and on, right?

But the list is here. The Best Films of 2010. And let me take this time to reiterate that some of the films you will see on this list, you will see on no one else's. I have my own tastes and I stand by rankings. It's fun to go against the grain every now and then.

And that all starts with our weird little preliminaries......


Directed by Jean Rollin

This film would have easily made the cut for one of the Best Films of 2010. I couldn't put it on the list for one simple reason - it has yet to secure an American release. In fact, the film seems to have barely been released anywhere outside of France, despite being completed since 2007. Even a look at the IMDB page reveals very little information.

This is unfortunate. We lost Jean Rollin early this year. He was a filmmaker who brought a unique artistry to his films. Recurring themes and symbols such as vampires, fairy tale creatures, clowns, decaying chateaus and grandfather clocks, along with a sense of eroticism and surrealism set his films apart from pretty much everyone else.

NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS (the American translation of the title) has Rollin giving an unprecedented look at both his mortality and his legacy. In the film, we meet the estranged daughter of recently deceased filmmaker Michel Jean (an inversion of Rollin's first and middle names). She is approached by a character from one of his films and told to go look for him in the nearby cemetery and then finally at his chateau. On her journey, the daughter travels in and out of parallel dimensions. She meets several characters from her father's films, all of whom are also in a sense his children. These are actually characters from Rollin's "core" films, the ones he did out of love not money. Are these visions mere phantoms or do artists breathe life into their works. If that it so, what happens when the artist is no longer present? The appearance of these characters is often punctuated by brief glimpses of stock footage from Rollin's earlier films, bringing his entire canon to a cohesive whole.

Like the rest of his films, the whole thing is very arty. Those who have no seen at least most of Rollin's films will be left in the dark. Still, I hope to see this get distribution in the United States and elsewhere. In a very distinguished career, NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS is one of Rollin's most accomplished works.

And now, the official list....



And now....


10. 127 HOURS
Directed by Danny Boyle

It's not an easy thing to do. How do you make a film where the protagonist is stuck in one spot with limited movement throughout most of the film? It helps to have a craftsman as assured as Danny Boyle behind the camera.

Boyle has created an amazingly diverse filmography, covering comedy, drama, counterculture, romance, horror, science fiction, Hitchockian thriller and now this seemingly unclassifiable film. Boyle keeps the camera moving throughout the film, yet tempers style enough so that it never seems to be working against whatever is happening on the screen. Along with editor Jon Harris, Boyle has created a film that is always moving even when it's main character cannot.

Special praise must also go to James Franco, who bears the entire weight of the on-camera drama. Much like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp before him, Franco is proving that he is not just another in a series of endless pretty boys. This guy is the real deal, a true artist who is not only eccentric enough to try new and dangerous things but also with the talent to pull it off.

Directed by Michael Stephenson

I am a lifelong fan of B-movies. I also made thousands of trips to the video store. Hence, when I was in a teenager, I rented TROLL 2 the week it came out on VHS. Sure, the original TROLL wasn't the greatest. But it was campy fun and this should be pretty good too, right? I remember being pretty excited about watching this latest rental.

Wow. Few people who sit down to TROLL 2 know what they are getting into. I was no exception. This film seemed campy too, but it seemed so unrelenting in it's style that I didn't know what was going on. It's one of those films that you watch, constantly asking "What were these people thinking?" The film joined BLOOD HOOK, which I had rented a few months before, as one of the worst films I had ever seen.

But I still thought about TROLL 2. This film has a way of staying with you. So it was with Stephenson, who starred in the cursed film and now has created a documentary about the cult following that has arisen around the cast and crew from Nilbog. Stephenson introduces us to an interesting cast of characters, from the funny to the tragic. He focuses mainly on Dr. George Hardy, who played Stephenson's father in the original film. Hardy is so nice, he seems absolutely impossible to hate even while he seems freaked out by the "zombies" that flock to horror films (a.k.a. my people).

BEST WORST MOVIE is not just a celebration of a bad movie. It's a celebration of the people who make those movies and the fans who keep them alive. As a result, Stephenson creates one of the most endearing and entertaining documentaries ever filmed on the subject.

Directed by Matt Reeves

On the one hand, I hate that this film exists. Let me rephrase that. I hate the entire thought process that typically goes into remaking a foreign film for an American audience, simply because it is assumed that Americans don't want to read subtitles. Not only is that an insult to the original film, it's typically an insult to the American public. Reading is not a chore and the continued practice of such remakes only reinforces the fallacy that it is. Most of these remakes have been either so faithful as to be rendered pointless (QUARANTINE) or they have been so watered down that any entertainment value has been lost in translation (pretty much every remake of an Asian film in the last five years).

Tomas Alfredson's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not only my favorite film of 2008, I believe it to be one of the absolute greatest films of the last decade. That's why I was so incensed to find out it was getting the American remake treatment. I was screaming and moaning with the rest of them months before the film's release. But let me tell you something. If this remake had to exist, this was the way to do it. I don't see how they could have done a better job.

LET ME IN retains the spirit of the original. The beats are pretty much the same. However, the style and approach are different enough to make the film it's own entity. The storyline has been streamlined further. Gone are the subplots about the townies and even the police investigation is seen only in glimpses. Everything is cut down to the core story of the two children Abby and Owen as well as Abby's father figure. This gives us the entire story from their point of view.

You can thank the success of this film on a group of people who seemed dedicated to doing right by this property. Releasing their first theatrical film in thirty years, Hammer brought together just the right people to pull this thing off. Matt Reeves proves himself to be an exemplary director, creating one of the most poetically moving American films or recent memory. He is also responsible for the wonderfully structured script. Kodi Smit-McPhee is wonderful as the tortured Owen. Chloe Moretz will be a star, mark my words. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas create wonderfully sympathetic supporting characters. The classically influenced score by Michael Giacchino is another highlight in a year that brought us some amazing scores.

And that's why I'm devoting so much space to LET ME IN. I am sounding the alarm. Don't dismiss this film like I was ready to. While it cannot touch the original (few films can), this makes an excellent companion piece to one of the finest artistic achievements so far this century.

Directed by Neils Arden Opley

Speaking of remakes, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is also getting the Hollywood treatment this year, by no less than David Fincher. Still, I want to point people to this original film, a wonderfully textured mystery with some of the best characters to light up the screen.

It's the story of a disgraced journalist and a rebellious hacker who work, at first apart and eventually together, to unravel the mystery of a disappearance many years ago. This leads them to buried secrets, hushed-up conspiracies and the continuing plague of "men who hate women."

The reason the late Stig Larson's Millennium books are so popular these days is that they are so much better than the disposable mysteries out there. Likewise, the film adaptation is not your typical thriller. Nils Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are fully realized characters who react in a genuine manner to this intricate mystery. The film goes into the influence of power, the secrets families keep and the misogyny that is never talked about but still ever-present throughout the world.

Also, let me join the throngs praising Noomi Rapace. If I have any doubts about how Fincher's film will stack up to the original, it is mainly because of her. Rapace has taken a lively character in the books and made it completely her own. It is an astonishing performance and easily one of the year's best.

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Man, it was not a good year to be Leonardo DiCaprio's psyche. Now that I think of it, it probably wasn't a picnic being married to him in 2010 either. Months before having his dreams twisted, he was thrown right in the middle of Scorsese's mind-bending psychological thriller.

In truth, it isn't hard to figure out what's going on in SHUTTER ISLAND. But that doesn't matter. The real treat of this film is seeing how it all comes together. We're in the hands of a master as Scorsese connects all the threads together.

SHUTTER ISLAND manages to be one of the scariest films of the year, despite not being a horror film. Instead, the monsters lurk within the darkest corners of our minds, distorting the world and populating it with fire and terror.

I could not take my eyes off the screen during this one. Yes, it's pulp Scorsese. But it's still Scorsese and another fine film from one of our national treasures. In fact, it turns out to be one of his most enjoyable films in a long time and one that is completely worthy of repeat viewings.

Directed by Floria Sigismondi

The story of the Runaways should have been told a long time ago. One of the most amazing bands to come out of the 1970s. On the surface, who is going to take a band made up of teenagers seriously? What separates them from the many pop stars of today? But in fact, this was a band with real chops, bonded together through their desire to break out of the mold. These girls were rock stars in an age where girls were told the most they could hope for was to be groupies. And yet at the same time, they were horribly exploited, drugged, crooked and endangered by a callous management and the fame machine they created.

This film is based primarily on Cherie Currie's shocking memoir, Neon Angel and it does it's source material proud. First time director Florida Sigismondi does a fantastic job recreating the 1970s atmosphere, shooting everything up close where you can really see the grit and grime beneath all the neon. THE RUNAWAYS captures the spirit of the band and the chaotic time during which they both reigned and derailed. Filled with pitch perfect performances from Dakota Fanning, Kirsten Stewart, Michael Shannon and in smaller roles Scout Taylor-Compton and Riley Keough.

The first half of this film made me want to pump my fist in the air and the second half made me want to hang my head down and cry. A film of perfect length, this is one of the great rock bios.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Believe it or not, I am not one of those people who thinks Darren Aronofsky can do no wrong. I am one of the few who thought REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was overrated. I thought THE WRESTLER was a decent film but with an excellent performance at its center. I did love his sci-fi love story THE FOUNTAIN. Nevertheless, his best film so far is easily BLACK SWAN.

Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career so far in this tale of a ballerina whose quest for perfection causes some shocking manifestations. Despite what I said in an earlier article about Noomi Rapace, I now think Portman really did give the best performance of the year. It was a fearless performance. It's the kind of performance that you only see in that rare indie film, the type that sadly stays in the shadows, relegated to obscurity. Thankfully, BLACK SWAN broke through early and has stayed in the spotlight.

By far the most twisted film on this list, BLACK SWAN is wonderfully put together with an excellent supporting cast including Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

The best horror film of the year - and it is a horror film whether you want to admit it or not. BLACK SWAN does a fantastic job blurring the same boundaries that are blurred by Portman's character. There is a beauty and savagery intermingling during virtually every part of this film. A fine achievement and proof that there is room for original vision, no matter what the cynics say.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Speaking of originality, INCEPTION proves that there is room for smart science fiction at the multiplex. A brilliant film that nonetheless never weighs itself down or sacrifices entertainment value, INCEPTION is another gem on Nolan's crown.

INCEPTION gathers a great cast in telling an original story that creates several worlds. Give the film credit then for not having those worlds swallow up any of the characters. Even the supporting players feel completely fleshed out and could be featured in their own storylines. This is one of those films where you are never quite sure which end is up, but you love checking it anyway. It's designed to be watched more than once, with even subtle moments providing clues.

It seems like 2010 was quite a year for psychological filmmaking. Of the films I have written up on this list, at least five of them could be considered psychological in nature. Put INCEPTION at the top of that list. It's an excellent film and proof that summer blockbusters don't need to have a low IQ.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Hold on a minute, wasn't this just a silly exploitation flick. Yes it was, and what's wrong with that? The best of the year is not reserved for the so-called important films. Unless you've consciously made some piece of mediocre claptrap, your film is just as important as anyone's.

Besides, it's important to look at how I judge films. When watching a film I always ask two questions: 1. What did the filmmakers set out to achieve? and 2. How well did they reach that goal? MACHETE promised 100 minutes of overblown sex and violence, a drive-in movie filled to the brim with cheap thrills. MACHETE delivered all of this and more.

Rodriguez and first-time collaborator Maniquis (How much of the film did he direct anyway? I still haven't gotten a clear answer.) crafted the most pure fun to be had at the movies all year. They gave character actor Danny Trejo an excellent lead role and bringing along the most unlikely ensemble cast of 2009. Trejo was joined by Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Stephen Segal, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Savini and Robert De Niro - all of whom seemed to be in on the joke.

And just because the film was an overblown cocktail of exploitation thrills didn't mean the film couldn't make a point as well. Just like some of the best films of the 1970s, MACHETE manages to sneak in scathing indictments of the anti-immigration fervor sweeping the United States. The film sets its sights primarily on the Tea Party and the charlatans using the movement to mask their own greed and thirst for power. MACHETE winds up being the most gleefully shameless and shockingly subversive at the same time.

And my number one film of the year is......

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Yes, really. This was my most awaited film of 2010. I'm a huge fan of the original, remembering every detail of seeing it in the theater back in 1982. What I wanted from this honest to goodness sequel to the cult classic was a film that respected the original but brought it into a new realm.

Boy, was I pleased. First of all, yes there is a nerd factor. I got goosebumps the moment the "gridded up" Disney logo appeared on the screen. The very sight of light cycles on the poster gave me chills. None of these feelings subsided as I watched this film unfold. Realizing that I may be a little too in love in TRON as a whole, I went to go see it again and a funny thing happened. I loved this film even more the second time.

What we have here is a story of fathers and sons, a story of one generation trying to find a connection with the one that came before it. It's about the things that link us in technology, family and responsibility. TRON: LEGACY is littered with religious symbolism and it isn't hard to identify some of the legends the film references. This includes alusions to the Creation, Fall of Man, the Great Flood, Caine and Abel, the Tower of Babel and the coming of the Messiah to name a few.

Jeff Bridges in a sense plays three characters in this film and does an excellent job with all three. The effects are dazzling and the entire film feels somehow bigger than we ever imagined. The whole thing has an epic scope that makes you feel not that you have just seen a good movie, but that you have actually had an experience. It manages to feel special like the original classic blockbusters of Speilberg and Lucas did, something we've lost in the three decades since the market became flooded with big-ticket fantasy franchises.

TRON: LEGACY is not just a film that looks back with nostalgia, it is a bold vision that looks to the future, to a world of infinite possibility. In a film that deals with the madness that comes with the quest for perfection, first-time director Joseph Kosinski seems to have ironically created a film that gets everything right.

And if you disagree, that's fine. I kind of expect it. Only about a third of the audience fell in love with the original TRON as well. It's 1982 all over again. And yet, welcome to the future.

Friday, February 4, 2011

THE WORST FILMS OF 2010... Time to Relive the Horrible

I am notoriously late with my 2010 wrap-up lists. When you don't get into the advance screenings, it can be quite a task making sure you get to everything you want to see. Making an informed decision is important after all.

Unfortunately, while I worked hard to make a true and honest Best of 2010 list, I had absolutely no trouble at all filling out the list for the Worst Films of 2010. These were the worst films in a year that was truly awful. And I didn't even see GROWN UPS.

There was no shortage of horrible films in 2010. First, here's what didn't quite make the list.



All of those are terrible films sure, but only ten films could be chosen. And here it is,


Directed by Jorma Taccone

Chalk this one up to a matter of taste, I suppose. I am told that there are a number of people who really enjoyed this spin-off of the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE character. Personally, I didn't see it. I actually think the skits on SNL are pretty funny and the concept certainly held more promise than the glut of SNL spin-offs we got in the 1990s.

But what should have been a funny action comedy was filled with overblown humor that constantly begged for attention. It played like a film whose first draft was written by the SOUTH PARK guys and then quickly handed off to committee. Val Kilmer is wasted in his return to the big screen and Ryan Phillipe should be embarrassed. In the end, the whole thing comes off as a second-rate Will Ferrell comedy.

Directed by Alexandre Aja

The sheer number of people who praised this film depressed me. Here was a film that promised 100 minutes of sex and violence, a return to the no holds barred exploitation cinema of years gone by. That so many seemed to think they pulled it off makes me think they have been watching bad exploitation for far too long.

The film plays like a SyFy Channel Original, with special effects to match.. The post-converted 3-D process made the bright colors seem murky. And the big showcase is that in a bid to alleviate the mediocrity, a ten minute geek show of random violence is thrown into the middle.

The thing is that Aja's style does not lend itself to good fun. Even when he tries to be silly, the tone comes off as relentlessly punishing as his HIGH TENSION or THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Maybe that tone works for those films, but it doesn't for this one.

Yes, it had adult star Riley Steele without clothes. But you can see like that elsewhere, and in films with better writing.

Directed by Andy Tennant

THE BOUNTY HUNTER may not be the worst film to come by in 2010, but it was certainly the most boring. I actually have respect for Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. For this film however, it seemed as though they heard the promising premise and signed on the dotted line before they released the script was not about to be fleshed out any further.

Hence you have a film that plays like a first draft. No laughs. No inspired set-pieces. No chemistry between the leads. Everyone, including director Andy Tennant, goes forward on cruise control, just trying to get to the end without offending anyone or allowing anything exciting to happen.

Take a good look, people. This is the exact type of film that infuriates me. Here is a film that had no desire to try. The idea was to have a set-up and two likable stars. Once you got into the theater, nobody cared if it was any good. A boring, flatlined mess of a film.

Directed by Michael Lembeck

Dwayne Johnson seems like a nice enough guy, but his choice in movies seems to undermine his earnest performances.

Hearkening back to a time when family films were the absolute basement of quality entertainment, TOOTH FAIRY does pretty much everything wrong. There is not one three-dimensional character here. Everything is placed right on the surface as the main character keeps repeating, "dreams are bad." Thankfully, certain enterprising filmmakers have since shown that family films do not need to insult or talk down to their audience. It's a memo the makers of this film failed to receive.

All you're left with is an endless barrage of people mugging for the camera and taking lame pratfalls. The film's tagline of "the tooth hurts" is more prescient than we dared believe.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan's earlier films THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE are major achievements. Since then however, he's been struggling, with films that ranged from disappointing to merely decent. I never got on the bandwagon of fanboys who enjoyed ripping him apart over the last few years. But THE LAST AIRBENDER is sure to be the biggest black mark on his filmography.

Give Shyamalan credit for trying something different as people began criticizing him for repeating himself. He put himself out there and tried something different. Unfortunately, there is no redeeming this poorly scripted, poorly acted, poorly realized fantasy adventure. It's a film that features not one moment of true excitement, no fleshed out characters and tons of unintentional laughs.

A rather inventive attempt to stretch action sequences into long takes (think OLDBOY) is a good effort, but couldn't redeem this painful film.

Directed by Robert Luketic

Most people learned a long time ago that if Ashton Kutcher is in a film, you should probably stay away. Now, we can say the same thing for Katherine Heigl. After a promising turn in KNOCKED UP, Heigl has been setting a land-speed record for the most insufferably horrible romantic comedies this side of Kate Hudson.

In this pathetic attempt to rework MR. AND MRS. SMITH, we're expected to buy Kutcher as a government assassin and Heigl as the woman determined to make their relationship work. Because that's what defines women in films like these. Luketic is one of the most bland directors working in Hollywood and that blandness strikes like gangbusters here.

There's not much to say here. Two boring movie stars acting out a boring script being shot by a boring director. I'm now staying away from every Heigl film as well. It's probably the only reason LIFE AS WE KNOW IT didn't make my list.

4. SAW 3-D
Directed by Kevin Greutert

Why wasn't this on more worst lists? My guess is that on one end, it wasn't screened for critics. On the other, there was a sense of ennui, "It's a SAW movie, what did you expect?" I can't be the only one to find the latest SAW film to be this bad... can I?

While I never jumped for joy over the SAW franchise, I enjoyed most of what they had to offer. But to say this is merely the worst entry in the SAW franchise does not scratch the surface. You practically have to try to make a horror film this bad.

We start out with a set-piece that seems more appropriate for one of the FINAL DESTINATION films (the current nadir of popular horror films) with a ridiculous "bros before hos" payoff. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, or rather the lack thereof. The film follows the evil Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as he seeks revenge. Hoffman was never convincing in the whole morality-play theme. Yet, even when it becomes obvious Hoffman has no moral compass at all, the film half-heartedly tries to wring one last game out of the lot. The game is really nothing more than Jigsaw bitching and moaning about copyright infringement, while even killing innocent people as the clock ticks down. All of this is just a distraction as Hoffman becomes more of a slasher superhero than Michael Myers at his worst.

Kevin Greutert (who did a very good job with SAW VI) did not want to direct this film. He was contractually forced into the job when Lionsgate grew worried that he would be directing their biggest competition, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. The lack of commitment shows. Everything in the film looks shabby. Most infuriating of all is that while this is promised as the final entry in the SAW franchise, the film leaves many openings for more installments, though I wouldn't count on it.

Directed by Anand Tucker

How bad does your film have to be in order for the film's star to call it one of the year's worst... while the film is still in theatres? That's what Matthew Goode did, saying he took the job because the pay was good and it was close to his house. We can't really argue with him on that one.

But why in the world did Amy Adams get herself sucked into this? Adams is one of our most talented actresses and it was just depressing as she tried to breathe any life at all into this dull, laugh-free, romance-free warmed over script from the Heigl-Hudson fold.

It's interesting that Anand Tucker is responsible for one of the worst films of the year, and also one of the best. He directed the concluding chapter in the RED RIDING TRILOGY.

Directed by Roger Kumble

If you enjoy seeing people scream incessantly while getting their testicles pulverized, this film might be the one to wean you off of that for good.

FURRY VENGEANCE is nothing more than 90 minutes of slapstick-gone-wrong. People get injured, personal belongings are destroyed, sleep is disrupted, scatological humor rules the day and people scream. Oh, how people scream.

We have animals who do not look or sound like animals. We have a family that is just horrible to behold. And for the second time this year (after Aasiv Mandvi in LAST AIRBENDER), we have talented DAILY SHOW people wedged into a film that suggests they should stay on basic cable until they can better roles.

I will admit that I was probably too hard on Ken Jeong when reviewing this film on Film Geek Central. But he still winds up being the worst thing in a film that is more Guantanamo-styled torture than motion picture. Check him out on COMMUNITY instead. If you were a parent that somehow managed to not be dragged to this film, be thankful.

And the worst film of 2010 is.....

Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

Of course. Just when you think you've seen the worst the year has to offer, here comes Friedberg and Seltzer with another of their so-called spoofs. And while this take-off of the TWILIGHT franchise might have more focus than their earlier films (DATE MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE, MEET THE SPARTANS, DISASTER MOVIE), it still doesn't make it funny.

So, why give this one the top spot? Because while even FURRY VENGEANCE shows the same level of inventiveness of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, VAMPIRES SUCK shows no originality whatsoever. These films hold their audiences in absolute contempt, believing the concept alone should get them in theatres.

It would be one thing if the film's jokes just fell flat. That would be forgivable. But Friedberg and Seltzer continue to show no real understanding of what a joke is. What they offer instead is a series of pop culture references, gathered from a week's worth of watching E! NEWS DAILY. It's a film with such sloppy writing and such a poor opinion of their audience that when they briefly need to lampoon Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they require the character to have "BUFFY" printed out in block letters on her tank top.

I've heard people defend Jenn Proske's performance, since she imitates the Bella Swan character well. Let me break it to you, it's not that hard. I offer these films no quarter. Making excuses for them only encourages them to continue. These are the worst things to come out of Hollywood right now and VAMPIRES SUCK is no exception.

Onward and upwards, stay tuned for my much happier Best Films of 2010 list.

Monday, January 31, 2011

KING'S SPEECH GAGGED?... Weinsteins Court Censorship While Proclaiming Artistic Integrity

It's a conflicting time to be THE KING'S SPEECH. The film has recently racked up major awards and buzz just when it seemed like everything was going to be swept by that Facebook movie. It should be a time of joy. But then, THE KING'S SPEECH is being distributed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, a strange place to be in at any time. And how are the Weinsteins taking their new success - by cutting the wings off it's Golden Goose.

Last week, the Hollywood Reporter ran a story that announced the possibility of cutting some of the saucier words from THE KING'S SPEECH in order to cut the film down to a more consumer-friendly rating. The idea is that the Weinsteins would speak with the director Tom Hooper about cutting the film down a PG-13 or possibly even a PG-rating in the U.S.

Hooper has not supported cutting anything out of the film, but has mentioned that the Weinsteins were looking at possibly censoring the language in the film. Both Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush have been against any censorship in the film. No matter who they confer with, the final decision rests with the studio. If the Weinstein Company goes ahead with this, the film would not go into cinemas until after the Academy Awards.

Naturally, there is a lot here to comment on. In order to do this, and because I am incapable of keeping any of these articles simple, we must look at four things.


In the United Kingdom, THE KING'S SPEECH currently carries a rating of 12A, as voted on by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). That means that children under the age of 12 must be accompanied into the theatre by an adult. It is roughly the equivalent to the United States' PG-13 rating, only the age is one year lower. In the United States however, THE KING'S SPEECH has been given an R-rating. For our non-U.S. readers, that means no one under 17 is admitted without an adult.

THE KING'S SPEECH is actually not a very explicit film at all. The only reason it currently carries an R-rating is for several instances of cursing, all of which are important to the plot. In the film, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) tries to cure the speech impediment of the eventual King George VI (Colin Firth). One of the techniques he uses is for George to swear between his recitations of words, presumably so that the tongue has somewhere to go in places where it might normally stammer. It makes for a truly humorous sequence, and one that is important as the future king seeks to overcome his impairment.

Let's take a good look at the British rating system so that people can understand this further.

U - Suitable for all
PG - Parental Guidance. No age restriction, although some scenes may be inappropriate for young children.
12A/12 - Suitable for 12 years and over. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied to the cinema by an adult. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to rent or purchase 12-rated DVDs or videos.
15 - Suitable for 15 years and over. No one under the age of 15 admitted to the cinema, with or without adult supervision. Children under 15 may not rent or purchase 15-rated DVDs or videos.
18 - Suitable for adults only. No one under the age of 18 admitted to the cinema, with or without adult supervision. Children under 18 may not rent or purchase 18-rated DVDs or videos.
R18 - Restricted. To be shown only in specially licensed cinemas, or supplied only in licensed sex shops, and to adults of not less than 18 years. (source: British Board of Film Classification website)

Now, of course the more familiar Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings system.

G - General Admission. No objectionable material.
PG - Parental Guidance. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned. No one under the age of 13 admitted without an adult.
R - Restricted. No one under the age of 17 admitted without an adult.
NC-17 - No One 17 and Under Admitted.

On first glance, the MPAA looks to be a more tolerant if less complex system. The only age markers are ages 13 and 17. Likewise, the British board begins eliminating access completely to children at age 15 and then again at 18. In the United States, a film needs to be rated the ultra-rare NC-17 in order to be completely off limits to those younger than 17 years of age.

So, score one for the USA? Not quite. THE KING'S SPEECH still has the much lighter 12A rating. Why is that? There are many things to take into account.

One is that the story presented in the THE KING'S SPEECH is one of national heritage. There is a local culture to the story, and thus a bit more of an understanding. Think that's an unfair assumption? Let's turn the tables then. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is a film that strikes a cord with many people around the world. There is a deep, personal, even spiritual significance that comes with that film for many people. Hence, the film had no difficulty securing an R-rating in the United States, despite the fact that most of the running time is spent beating, whipping, kicking, torturing and finally crucifying the protagonist. The level of violence depicted in that film is something else. One of the only other types of films to compare it to is that of the horror film, particularly some of the more graphic films of recent years. Films like the SAW franchise have all had problems with the MPAA. The hopefully final installment in the series, SAW 3-D (retitled SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER for the rental market) had to be submitted then cut a whopping six times to avoid an NC-17 rating. No question, SAW 3-D is an astonishingly violent film. But THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST had no difficulty securing it's R-rating. What separates it from the SAW films, if not that feeling of historic or even spiritual iconography that some of the ratings board may have felt? America is not alone in this either. In other countries with more lax ratings laws, PASSION was released with an even less restrictive rating.

A second reason might seem at odds with the first - context. In the United States, some things are worthy of context while others are not. It is made plainly clear that the swearing in THE KING'S SPEECH is not only important to the plot, but harmless. The language is nothing more than a placeholder and is not meant to have any avarice, anger or abuse. This no doubt played an important role in securing THE KING'S SPEECH with a much lighter rating.

In the United States, context does not matter when it comes to language. If certain words are uttered more than once or twice than their R-rating is automatic. This might seem strange given the treatment of violence such as in the above example. Stranger still, check out Kirby Dick's documentary THIS FILM IS NOT RATED to see the shocking leniency heterosexual sex is treated over homosexual sex, or even the amount of wiggle room given to major studio productions over smaller independent films. There is a very large chasm, one too large to go into, even in an article as overblown as this.

I think we would all agree that cursing at someone and stabbing that person are two radically different things. And yet, there is a lot of leeway when it comes to film violence or sexuality. And yet, practically none when it comes to harsh language. Go figure.

If you want a real eye-opener, look at the back of a major Region 1 DVD. You won't see one rating there, you'll see three. The other ratings reflect the film's status in Canada, both in and out of Quebec. Take a movie like INCEPTION for instance. In the United States, it was given a PG-13 rating, which was expected. In most of Canada however, it was rated PG, without any age restriction. In Quebec, INCEPTION is rated G.


The Weinstein brothers are not new to this whole censorship game. Back when they ran Miramax, they cut various films to ribbons. If you ever followed by old articles on Horror Express from a few years back, you will see a pattern of growing frustration and rage as I read whatever they were up to next. They were constantly lightening the tone of certain film, even while they piled on as much gross-out humor as possible in the first two SCARY MOVIE films. One of the practices I was most frustrated with was their habit of buying up foreign films and recutting them. Sometimes, they recut them to dodge harsh MPAA ratings. Sometimes, they recut them to appeal to a wider audience, such as making a long movie much shorter and thus fitting in more showings per day. And sometimes, most confounding of all, they did it for no clear reason.

Look at Jaume Baloguero's DARKNESS, rendered completely incomprehensible in it's Weinstein cut. The Weinsteins had the film cut to reduce the film's violence but also to cut the film down to a shorter length. Hence, roughly fifteen minutes were cut out of what was already a pretty esoteric film. Moviegoers were confused and left the theatre angry. The uncut version was later released to DVD after the damage had already been done.

It wasn't just genre films either. For fear of receiving an NC-17 rating, the Weinstein's cut Giuseppe Tornatore's critically-acclaimed film MALENA. In it's native Italy, the film runs at least 17 minutes longer than it's U.S. counterpart. Most of what was cut involves sexual fantasies involving Monica Bellucci. And yet MALENA was one of the films that the Weinsteins proudly held up as one of their great artistic achievements that year. The uncut version has yet to be released to DVD within the United States.

They have tampered in other ways too. Remember LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL? When Miramax distributed the film in the U.S., it became one of the highest grossing foreign language films in American history. Not happy with the money the film had already brought in, the Weinsteins re-released the film in a dubbed version for moviegoers who had a paralyzing fear of subtitles. Unlike it's subtitled counterpart, the dubbed version of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was met with derision from filmgoers and bombed at the box office. Which leads us to....


Ever try to convince a bunch of younger people to go see a film about a speech therapist who helps a future world leader overcome his stammer? I have and the laughter sort of stung a little.

But that's the issue at hand. THE KING'S SPEECH may be a very fine film. But it's not a film that is aimed at the youth market. There are some under 17's out there who have the patience and desire to see a film like THE KING'S SPEECH. If the MPAA made any sense at all, the film would have a less restrictive rating and getting it to them should be no problem. But unfortunately, the kids who are going to be truly excited to see THE KING'S SPEECH are not in the majority. No matter what the rating of the film, THE KING'S SPEECH will most appeal to adult audiences.

I grew up in the 1980s and was a fan of film ever since I can remember. My family was pretty shocked when I begged and pleaded to go see THE RIGHT STUFF, a film about America's space race that ran over three hours in length. Not only did I stay awake through the entire film, I absolutely loved it. None of my other friends had any desire to see it, as soon as they figured there were no lasers or aliens. Was I so much more evolved than my peers? Not really. I was just really into space when I was a kid. Hence, I was predisposed to enjoy it. It would be a number of years before I got around to watching more mature prestige productions from the time. I enjoyed OUT OF AFRICA when I was 25, I don't know if I would have when I was 10.

While I'm sure we would love it if young people took an interest in a film like THE KING'S SPEECH, it's not going to happen. It at least will not happen to the effect of bringing in tens of millions of dollars in added revenue. It just does not appeal to them right now. Hopefully, it will one day. And there the film will be, waiting for them. You may call this pure pessimism. But I just don't see millions of kids upset that they aren't allowed to see THE KING'S SPEECH because their parents won't let them. Likewise, I don't see throngs of teenagers lining up around the block, screaming, "King George FTW, yo!"


Let's suppose for a moment that censoring THE KING'S SPEECH would result in as much as $10 million in added revenue, it just isn't worth it.

The Weinsteins have had this weird relationship with art all their lives. There is no question that were it not for their work, many of our most beloved modern filmmakers would have never gotten a break. But at the same time, even as they have presented themselves as artistic icons, they have behaved as shrewd businesspeople, who need to turn a profit. And of course there's nothing wrong with that, unless it's at the expense of the very art one pretends to hold as sacred.

It is ironic that this controversy surrounds a film that centers around one's inability to speak. Now, there is a question of stifling George VI once again. How do you continue in proclaiming artistic integrity when you do not respect the art enough to speak for itself? You can't have it both ways, people. The MPAA made a ridiculous decision in insisting upon an R-rating. But it would be equally as ridiculous and many times more damaging if you inserted bleeps or silent pauses within the film in order to reach a wider audience.

Art embraces freedom. Censorship embraces commerce. But at what cost?

Let me speak directly to the Weinsteins for a moment (They're reading this, right? Of course they are.). No one is asking you to take a loss here. THE KING'S SPEECH has grossed over $60 million in the U.S., before the Academy Awards have even aired. The film has made back four times it's budget and it's still climbing. Since going wide, it has kept people coming for more. Not bad for a film whose climax is a guy reading. Do you really think censoring this film which you worked so hard to bring to the masses will fare that much better in a censored version. And will it be worth sacrificing what you have accomplished to bring in that much more?

If it is then I'm afraid you have learned nothing. Your trigger-happy censors which helped sew animosity towards you in the film community are part of what led to your departure and the ultimate destruction of Miramax. And you still have not learned your lesson. Already, the knives are out. Critics, writers and people within the film community have expressed outrage at this decision, and remember you still need to work with these people.

And yet, I fear that by merely entertaining the notion of censoring this film, you have already shown your true colors. Your decision will likely be based more on greed than integrity.

Take a note from your own film, and let King George speak for himself.

Special thanks to Dark Horizons for helping bring this issue to my attention.

Friday, January 28, 2011

OSCAR NOMINATIONS...In Which I Find Enough to Complain About and I Still Don't Get That Facebook Movie

It's that time of year when our attentions once again shift to Oscar.

Sorry, not that Oscar. That really would be something.

Yes, it seems like just yesterday when I was mostly okay with the 2010 Oscars and here it is, time for me to be mostly okay with the 2011 Oscars. That is not to say that all my favorite films were nominated. Trust me, no one would stand for my awards show. Next week, I will be posting my Best Films of 2010 list. These will be my personal favorite films of 2010 and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ELSE'S. You've been warned.

But of the crop that the Academy was likely to choose from, we had some pretty good contenders this year. The big surprise was that THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which has been running away with virtually every other major award this season, did not lead the pack in nominations. That honor goes to earlier favorite THE KING'S SPEECH with 12 nominations. This is followed by TRUE GRIT with 10 nominations. THE SOCIAL NETWORK ties for third with INCEPTION's eight nominations. While this might seem like a blow to that Facebook movie, let's not forget that 8 nominations quite an acheievement. Also, leading in nominations does not necessarily mean you will run away with the night. Just look at THE COLOR PURPLE and THE TURNING POINT, both of whom were nominated for 11 Oscars and won precisely zero.

So, let's take a look at the nominees. Please note that this is not my formal predictions. I think making predictions more than a couple weeks before the Oscars opens yourself up to failure. Even as the votes are cast, a lot can change in the public eye between now and then.


Nothing really too shocking here. Since they've moved to 10 nominations over the previous five, the Academy has all but assured no one will be too upset. I suppose now is as good a time as any to note that THE TOWN was surprisingly absent from this year's Oscars. Only Jeremy Renner was nominated for this film, in the Best Supporting Actor category. While not a bad film by any stretch, I don't think THE TOWN deserved to be nominated, but it seemed like a sure thing to be nominated early on. Blame Blake Lively, I know I'm going to.

It's also probably the time where I'm going to have to say something controversial. I just don't get all the love being heaped on THE SOCIAL NETWORK. That this film might win for Best Picture at least seems probable at this point. And yes, many people I talk to seem to really enjoy it. I personally don't get what the big deal is. Ivy League jerk comes up with a great idea and makes a fortune while stepping on everyone else getting there. Fine, but how is that different from every other Ivy League jerk who comes up with a brilliant idea and makes a fortune while stepping on everyone else getting there? The film never had me sympathizing with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) or really understanding much beyond his surface arrogance and gullibility. The film is acted well (especially by Andrew Garfield, who was not nominated), looks crisp and the dialog is typically good in that Aaron Sorkin kind of way. I just didn't know why I should care.

Darren Aronofsky - BLACK SWAN
David O. Russell - THE FIGHTER
Joel and Ethan Coen - TRUE GRIT

Nothing really to see here. All of the nominees did a fine job. If I had my pick, I would love to see Aronofsky get it.

Javier Bardem - BIUTIFUL
Jeff Bridges - TRUE GRIT
Jesse Eisenberg - THE SOCIAL NETWORK
James Franco - 127 HOURS

Again, everyone here I'm assuming did a fine job (I have not yet seen BIUTIFUL). I will have to disagree with my Film Geek Central co-host who thought that Colin Firth's performance was rather average. I thought he was excellent.

And yes, add me to the list of people surprised to see Leonardo DiCaprio not get nominated for his fantastic turn in INCEPTION. However, I am more surprised to not see Marc Wahlberg get a mention for THE FIGHTER. For all the cheers proclaiming Christian Bale's performance, I much preferred Wahlberg's smoldering and subdued lead role as "Irish" Micky Ward.

Nicole Kidman - RABBIT HOLE
Jennifer Lawrence - WINTER'S BONE
Natalie Portman - BLACK SWAN
Michelle Williams - BLUE VALENTINE

Wow, I just realized I am really not qualified to comment on the Best Actress category. While I hope to see all of the films on the list eventually, I have currently only seen THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and BLACK SWAN. Having said that, Portman's performance was an astonishing accomplishment in a career marked by exemplary performances... and also those lousy prequels. But seriously folks, Portman was incredible.

It looks as though I am alone in my surprise in not seeing Noomi Rapace nominated for her role in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Rapace was so perfect in her role that it has made most people question how she could ever me matched in the upcoming American remake. If I had my current pick of my favorite performance of the year, it would be Rapace but with Portman coming in a very close second.

Christian Bale - THE FIGHTER
John Hawkes - WINTER'S BONE
Jeremy Renner - THE TOWN
Geoffrey Rush - THE KING'S SPEECH

Christian Bale has got this in the bag and that's a problem for me. I am never going to argue that Bale is not one of our best living actors. However, I never truly felt comfortable with his peformance in THE FIGHTER until the second half of the film. Before that, there seemed to be way too much scenery chewing. I get it, Dicky Edlund, with his accomplishments as well as his fall from grace, overpowered everything in the family for a very long time. But he also threatens to drown out everything else in the film. It should be noted that during the second half of the film, after Edlund experiences a character arc, he is nothing short of outstanding.

Also, since THE SOCIAL NETWORK seemed to mop up a ton of other major noms, it's surprising that Andrew Garfield was not nominated for what I felt was the film's best performance.

Of the nominees I'm qualified to talk about (sorry, Hawkes), I personally prefer Geoffrey Rush in THE KING'S SPEECH.

Helena Bonham Carter - THE KING'S SPEECH
Melissa Leo - THE FIGHTER
Hailee Steinfeld - TRUE GRIT

Hailee Steinfeld did such an amazing job in TRUE GRIT that I would love to see her get it. That is the biggest difference between the Coens' TRUE GRIT compared with the Henry Hathaway original. While the original seemed mostly told from the point of view of Rooster Cogburn, the Coens' film tells the story from the point of view of Mattie Ross (Steinfeld). That's the case, and not even a correction from one of the film's producers can change that in my mind. It's the story of a young girl who has learned independence at a young age and who voluntarily throws herself in with the wolves in the wilderness in her search for justice. A great performance and an interesting young actress.

Of course, we all ask if she is such an integral part of the film, why is she not in the Best Actress category? Your guess is as good as mine.


The big surprise here is that the number of nominees in this category has shrunk from five to three, despite there being more quality animated films each year than ever before.

Although many people felt that TOY STORY 3 was a life-changing event, and yes I did get choked up at the end. Still, I'm rooting for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

Danny Boyle & Simon Beoufoy - 127 HOURS
Michael Arndt - TOY STORY 3
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - TRUE GRIT
Debra Granik & Ann Rosselini - WINTER'S BONE

You have to hand it to both 127 HOURS and THE SOCIAL NETWORK for translating which on the surface seems like truly dry material into Oscar contenders. Personally, I felt that the writing, direction and acting all played an equal role in making 127 HOURS a great success.

Having said that, I would like to see the Coens get this one. Listen to the antiquated dialog in TRUE GRIT, with it's combination of frontier slang and eloquent rhetoric - the very collision of savagery and society that permeates through the film. It's not an easy thing to make that work and it deserves recognition for that accomplishment.

Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson - THE FIGHTER
Christopher Nolan - INCEPTION
Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg - THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
David Seidler - THE KING'S SPEECH

It's not easy making a smart science fiction film. It's even harder to make one that is continually fascinating, holds up to repeat viewings and somehow manages to be accessible while not sacrificing any of it's grandiose goals. For that reason, I feel that Christopher Nolan did an incredible job with INCEPTION.


Some good nominees here... and ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Am I really alone in thinking that was Tim Burton on cruise control? As far as the art direction, I was bored after the initial ten minutes in Wonderland.



I am no slave to fashion, folks. But even I see this as one of the biggest snubs. BLACK SWAN was not nominated in this category? Really? Amy Westcott's designs actually helped tell this amazing story and complimented the production beautifully.



Andrew Weisblum - BLACK SWAN
Pamela Martin - THE FIGHTER
Jon Harris - 127 HOURS
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter - THE SOCIAL NETWORK

127 HOURS please. Look at it this way. You have a film where for over an hour of the running time, a guy is pinned alone in a crevice. And yet, the film seems to move at a breakneck pace and be continually fascinating. A lot of that is done in post, folks.

Also, some special mention for Lee Smith with INCEPTION.



Hans Zimmer - INCEPTION
Alexandre Desplat - THE KING'S SPEECH
A.R. Rahman - 127 HOURS
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - THE SOCIAL NETWORK

As a man who owns every Nine Inch Nails album, I will not lie when I say it would be interesting to see Trent Reznor take the stage. However, my personal pick has to go to Hans Zimmer for INCEPTION. Just the most incredible score of the year in my opinion. Not only does it compliment the story perfectly, but there are hidden clues, motifs and themes within the score itself. That's revolutionary stuff there, folks.

Speaking of which, it was perhaps too much to hope for that the Academy would be hip enough to recognize Daft Punk for TRON: LEGACY. Still, it would have been nice.

"Coming Home" - COUNTRY STRONG
"I See the Light" - TANGLED
"If I Rise" - 127 HOURS
"We Belong Together" - TOY STORY 3

"If I Rise" is a pretty good song. Otherwise, the Academy has once again nominated some of the most boring music of the year. Don't be surprised. These are voted on by the most ballots they receive. Hence, this is like Top 40 radio for movies. Dull, dull, dull.


WISH 143


I would love to see TRON or INCEPTION take this one.


And now I show my ignorance. Some of us just don't get these categories. Anyone want to tell me what was so amazing about the sound mixing in THE KING'S SPEECH?


Oh, come on! Look, I know not everyone likes TRON: LEGACY, that's fine. But surely you can't deny that 2/3 of the film was an amazing feat of visual effects? At least moreso than HEREAFTER.

Nevertheless, the win for me would be INCEPTION, who managed to incorporate the special effects so seamlessly into the film, that it brought our dreams to life in a non-obtrusive manner.

Well, look at that. I guess there were enough surprises to comment on after all.

Of course, the greatest feat of this year's Academy Awards is that it makes the Golden Globes seem even more ridiculous. Sorry, folks. Even with pickings as slim as 2010's BURLESQUE does not deserve a single nomination in any category. Ditto THE TOURIST. The Academy saw fit to give TRUE GRIT ten nominations. And while it is perhaps not the greatest film in the Coen's canon, it was one of the best westerns in many years. And it got zero Golden Globe nominations. That's right, none. It sort of cements my opinion that the Globes are a red carpet ceremony with the awards as an afterthought.

But despite myself, I still get very excited for the Academy Awards. The final awards will be handed out on February 27th.

Monday, January 24, 2011

KEVIN SMITH SHAKES UP SUNDANCE... Celebrates Punk Distribution, Critics Worried About Being Called "the Man."

This week at the Sundance Film Festival, director Kevin Smith premiered his new film RED STATE, made an audacious move to self-distribute the film, defied studios to look at how they market films, created a huge controversy with internet reporters and announced his retirement from filmmaking. All this and it's only Monday. What did you do this week?

The whole thing started innocently enough, with Kevin Smith unveiling his latest film, RED STATE. The film is a huge departure from the comedies Smith has become known for. Reportedly not fitting neatly into any category, Smith recently told the Nerdist, "I've just been calling it a horror movie." If early word is any indicator, it might not be fair to lump it into one genre.

Years in the making, it was turned down by longtime Smith partners Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Smith had tried numerous avenues to get the low-budget film made, including soliciting fans for the means in which to complete the film. The film complete, Smith went to his immense SModcast network of podcasts to promote the film. There are seven podcasts on the network, all of whom are among the most listened to on the net. Smith himself takes part in most of them. He had been stoking the fires early for RED STATE, even offering a "class" and interview series leading up to the film's premiere called, Red State of the Union.

Then came the premiere and the sad announcement that it would be picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church. This is the subhuman group not opposed to picketing the funerals of murdered children, celebrating death and destruction as proof of God's divine wrath against a society tolerant of homosexuals. They also weren't above picketing a tiny little movie at an indie film festival. Face it, folks. The Westboro people are in it for the media attention. Smith had a war of words on Twitter with Phelps family members, and early word said that some of RED STATE's characters may be based on the group. Hilariously, a counter demonstration broke out which not only vastly outnumbered the WBC, but made them truly look like the fools they are.

Then came the big event. Kevin Smith unveiled RED STATE. Reviews were mixed, and from the sounds of things it might take some time for the public to see where Smith is going here. Still, there were plenty of interested parties. Smith announced that there would be an auction after the film. Studio reps showed up, since Smith said "I will pick the distributor in the room."

Then, the move that everybody is talking about. Just as things were getting started, Smith preempted everything and sold the movie for $20.... to himself. Smith then announced that he would self-distribute the film, taking it on a roadshow tour, complete with director Q & A sessions, bringing it right to his loyal audiences who would probably be the ones to run out and see it right away anyway.

That is just so punk.

Some people were furious and have been very vocal about it. In his scathing review of both the film and the event, Drew McWeeny said bluntly, "Kevin Smith, you are a liar." And then there are publications like Vanity Fair, which are wondering if this might just be the signal of something new in independent film. Internet chatter has been all over the place since Smith made his announcement. Surely he expected some reaction, but I'm not sure he expected it to explode like it has. Commentators left and right have been calling Smith everything from a visionary to a charlatan.

Smith had reportedly grown weary with the Hollywood machine and the huge amount of money required to publicize and release the film. He also didn't like the idea of the filmmaker being taken out of the equation once it comes to selling a film to the public. "For me, the idea of giving somebody else five times the amount of the budget for the movie that we all collectively made, worked our asses off real hard, to sell the thing just seems obscene," Smith said.

This opinion is reiterated on the RED STATE website in a brief posting that reads like a manifesto. "We believe the state of film marketing has become ridiculously expensive and exclusionary to the average filmmaker longing simply to tell their story," the statement reads. "When the costs of marketing and releasing a movie are four times that film's budget, it's apparent the traditional distribution mechanism is woefully out of touch with not only the current global economy, but also the age of social media."

RED STATE already has dates lined up as tickets go on sale for advance screenings. Smith will host "one night only" screenings at huge venues. A Q & A session with Smith and awesome actor Michael Parks will follow each screening. Prices will naturally be much higher than your standard movie ticket. The first of these screenings will be at Radio City Musical Hall. From there, it will move onto at least a dozen other venues. If you live somewhere that might make getting to one of these roadshows difficult, never fear. This model is only designed to recoup costs and pay back investors. RED STATE will have a wider release on Oct. 17, 17 years to the day Smith's first film CLERKS was released.

Smith's model is actually nothing new. As he has acknowledged, the age of 3,000 screen releases that only last a few weeks in theaters is still relatively new. In the decades before the internet, home video or cable television, movies opened on far fewer screens, sometimes only one, and toured the country a bit before calling it a day. Smith's process is similar to an old practice called "four walling," a process by which the filmmaker releases their own film. It has been used by some religious filmmakers as well as exploitation gurus of years past. Kroger Babb famously toured his film MOM AND DAD everywhere, a fake doctor substituting for the more reputable Smith and Parks.

"This is Indie Film 2.0," Smith said during his rant. "It's not enough to just make the movie. We have to learn how to release the movie. Because true independence isn't making a film and selling it to some jackass. True independence is schlepping that shit to the people, which is what I intend to do."

Not every filmmaker, especially those starting out, could afford to do what Smith is doing. Smith does however have a built in cult following and a ready-made publicity machine with his SModcast network. If nothing else, this shows that there is more than one way to do things. Other filmmakers, who might feel that the current method of doing things is outdated, might want to take a look at what Smith is doing. After all, if there is more than one way to get a film out to audiences, there is certainly more than two.

That is something that is reiterated in the Harvey Boys manifesto. "It is our intent to use the groundwork we lay with RED STATE to aid other filmmakers in releasing their films, via our new launched SModcast Pictures," the posting read. "Don't hate the studio; BECOME the studio. Anybody can make a movie; what we aim to prove is anyone can release a movie as well."

Kevin Smith has shaken things up and forced filmmakers to take a look at new ways of doing things. And that's always exciting.

As if all of this weren't enough, Kevin Smith also announced his retirement from filmmaking. For months, he has been hinting at this development in his podcasts. "After this, I think I have one more film left in me and then I'm done," he told the Nerdist. That film is another comedy, the hockey-themed HURT SOMEBODY, to be made next year. So, this announcement was sort of expected. Still, to hear it formally announced at Sundance is a major disappointment.

Personally, I've enjoyed all of Smith's films to varying degrees. Some I naturally love more than others. But I am very excited to see RED STATE, because I believe Smith is at his most interesting when he defies expectations. Smith took his brand of comedy and inserted it into a tender and unconventional love story, coming up with the incredible CHASING AMY. He used old school zany humor to skewer religious stereotyping in DOGMA. I was personally a big fan of the film he did a few years ago, ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. So now that he is truly going out on a limb like no other filmmaker with his reputation, it would be a shame if this were an end to what he has to offer. I personally hope he discovers more stories he wants to tell.

Is RED STATE a successful film? I don't know. Like much of the country, I have not yet seen it and so I cannot comment. It will however be an interesting film, just like it is interesting to see any talented filmmaker venture out of their comfort zone and deliver something new. That is something that doesn't only cover the making of RED STATE, but the release as well. Maybe it will be a success, maybe not. But Smith has already struck a resounding blow to independent filmmaking. Just like 17 years ago, when Smith first burst onto the scene.... at Sundance.