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Moneyball

Posted by on September 25, 2011 | 9,954 comments
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Moneyball is a rare sports film that bucks the traditional conventions of sports movies. It amazingly doesn’t end with an epic home run to win the big game. And even more rare is a baseball movie that doesn’t wax nostalgic about the smell of the grass and the crack of the bat, blah, blah, blah. Moneyball is a different kind of sports movie, and broadly well done at that. At the center of the film is real life baseball G.M, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt. Faced with a fraction of the budget that other teams have, he is determined to find a different way to assemble a winning team. Enter Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Brand, a young, shy Ivy League brainiac, uses statistics and complex algorithims to find under-valued players. Together they assemble an “island of misfits” that end up blending into a winning team.

The best part of this film is the performances of Pitt and Hill. Pitt’s performance is utterly believable, bringing to life a character who is both publicly confident and privately conflicted. Hill’s portrayal of Peter Brand is nothing less than stunning. He is understated and wonderful in an awkward way – he may be the least “sporty” guy to ever star in a sports movie. And ultimately, this movie is at its best when Pitt and Hill are on the screen together.

The film is not perfect. The flashback scenes of Beane as a player are a tad tedious. And the film somewhat crawls a bit too slowly towards its end. But in the end, this is a fine film, and one that could see its share of Oscar nominations. At the top of the list will be Pitt and Hill.

Final Grade: B+

Drive

Posted by on September 19, 2011 | 3,881 comments
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Drive is a powerful, original film. Starting out slow, but in a good way, it has a feeling of smoldering suspense. And then the film explodes with high speed intensity. At the center of this film is a quiet, brooding stunt driver, played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s character dabbles in driving the getaway car for two-bit criminals. But eventually he ends up in the middle of a criminal group that is anything but two-bit, and must shift into overdrive to fight his way out of the situation.

Gosling’s performance is incredible. He believably shifts from showing his softer side, caring for his neighbor and her son, to picking up a sawed-off shotgun and blowing the head off a mob member. He may be the most versatile actor in Hollywood today, considering that he just excelled in Crazy. Stupid. Love. Also worth noting is Director Nicolas Winding Refn. This film has some amazing scenes, shots and angles. From close-ups of Gosling slowly making a fist in his leather driving gloves, to a final struggle shown only by the shadows on the parking lot. This is an intense (and violent) ride that you won’t want to miss.

Final Grade: A-

New Footloose Trailer

Posted by on August 30, 2011 | 11,555 comments
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A Footloose remake?  Is this a good idea? Click here to see the trailer: Footloose Trailer

 The first one was pretty good, but I’m not sure we need another one.  I suppose for another generation.  What’s next?  A remake of Grease?  Actually, yes…

Best (and worst) Academy Award Winning Songs of all Time…

Posted by on August 24, 2011 | 6,012 comments
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“Best Song” is a category in which Oscar is quite often terribly wrong (I will still never forgive the Academy for ignoring Eddie Veddor’s brilliant set list from Into The Wild).  That being said, they sometimes get it really right.  Below is my list, in reverse order of the Top 10 “Best Song” winners through the years:

10) Can You Feel the Love Tonight (1994) – During the 90s, Disney won 5 Best Song Oscars.  While some of them nauseate me a bit, it’s hard to deny Elton John’s work in The Lion King.

9)   Theme From Shaft (1971) – Its actually hard to believe that the Academy was ever cool enough to realize the brilliance of Isaac Hayes.  ”You say that cat Shaft is a bad, mother-..Shut your mouth, I’m only talkin’ about Shaft…”   Classic.

8)   Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (1947) – OK, its definitely a dated, creepy song, but this one makes the list for sheer catchiness.  Who amongst us hasn’t walked down a sidewalk, singing or whistling this song at some point in their life?  (OK, maybe it’s just me).

7)  Evergreen (1976) – Sappy, but beautiful.  Still a wedding favorite.

6)  Lose Yourself (2002) – Like Shaft, its surprising that this one got through the stodgy academy.

5)  My Heart Will Go One (1997) – I don’t particularly love this song, but it is undeniably an epic song from an epic movie.  For good or for bad, it will stand the test of time, which I think is a key criteria for this sort of list.

4)  The Way We Were (1973) – Great songs take you back to the moment, the movie, the period – and this one immediately does that.

3)  Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head (1969) – Just a great, great song.  Period.

2)  Moon River (1961) – Beautiful and timeless.  Henry Mancini has written a lot of crappy songs in his day, but this was not only his best (sorry, its way better than the theme from Pink Panther), but it is one of the all-time great songs.

1)  White Christmas (1942) – This is such a part of American life that it almost feels like it transcends “song-ness”, sort of like “Happy Birthday to Me” is more than a song.  White Christmas is the definitive Christmas song, and has been sung and listened to for almost 70 years.

 

So what was the worst “Best Song” of all time?  It’s a tie:

The Morning After (1972) – C’mon?  It’s a terrible, depressing, crappy song from a pretty bad (but fun) movie (The Poseidon Adventure).

Its Hard Out Here for a Pimp (2005) – What the hell?  Did the Academy think that this was going to be hip and memorable like Shaft or Lose Yourself?  The only memorable part of this award was that the winners (Three Six Mafia) were as surprised as the rest of the world when they won the Oscar.

Brad Pitt’s Top Five Film Performances…

Posted by on August 21, 2011 | 39,296 comments
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A couple of days ago I saw a trailer for Moneyball, the film based on Billy Beane and the Oakland As.  It looked intriguing, partly because its an interesting story, but largely because Billy Beane will be played by Brad Pitt.  It doesn’t seem like this would be the most logical role for Brad Pitt, and that got me thinking:  What have been the best Brad Pitt performances in a film? (“film” is an important distinction, because he has a long history of acting in some fairly crappy TV shows over the years).  So in reverse order, here is the list:

5) Thelma and Louise - I don’t feel great about this movie making the list, as I think that Thelma and Louise is a movie that doesn’t really stand the test of time (if you see it now, it seems remarkably dated).  However, it was Brad Pitt’s first legit movie role, and even though it was quite small, he put in a solid, memorable performance as the young cowboy who seduces the cougar (either Thelma or Louise, I can’t remember which).

4)  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – This was an odd, and under-rated movie.  Pitt really delivered in a challenging role as the lead character who “youthens” as the film progresses.

3) A River Runs Through It – This was a visually beautiful film that juxtaposed two different brothers in the mountains and rivers of Montana.  Pitt was remarkably believable as the fun-loving, nature-loving brother whose charm would repeatedly get him in, and out, of trouble.  A signature Pitt scene:  late in the film when Pitt latches onto a massive trout and, refusing to let go, floats down the river’s rapids with the fish, finally landing it when they both end up in calmer water.

2) Inglourious Basterds – “We in the killin’ Nazi business – And cousin, business is a-boomin’”.  With that line (and many others) Pitt delivers a riveting performance in this very good WWII Tarantino film.

1) Fight Club – As opposed to Thelma and Louise, this is the Pitt film that truly stands the test of time.  It is a very good film, driven in large part by Pitt’s raw and powerful performance.  And as with most Pitt performances, it comes with some great memorable lines – “The first rule of Fight Club, don’t talk about Fight Club”.  When Pitt, or any good actor, really delivers, he doesn’t look like he’s acting.  And in Fight Club, you believe Pitt is Tyler Durden.

That’s it.  Honorable mention goes to his performance in Se7en (I struggled with putting in Thelma and Louise instead of Se7en, but I need to stand by my decision), as well as the Ocean‘s series of movies.  However, my issue with Oceans is that, while they are fine movies, all of the actors in these films look a little too smug for their own good.  A bit of an attitude of, “we’re all really cool, and since we’re all in a movie together, it’s automatically good….”

Thoughts or comments anyone?

 

Missing:  Se7en, and the Oceans series

Another Earth

Posted by on August 17, 2011 | 14,682 comments
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If you happen to see the trailer for Another Earth, you would think that this is a Sci Fi/Thriller film.  You’d be only sort of right.  Yes, it is involves “another earth” that suddenly shows up in the sky, and all the expected craziness that might come with such an event.  But moreover, it is a brilliantly written story about life here on this earth.  The story centers on Rhoda, a beautiful, intelligent young woman who is about to start her college life studying astro-physics.  Driving home one evening before school starts, she makes a mistake that changes her life, and the life of a stranger, forever.  From that point forward, under the shadow of the growing “second earth”, she lives a life of desperation, and ultimately redemption.

The story is original, and riveting.  The scenes are haunting, beautiful, and at times, incredibly tense.  Rhoda is played with such remarkable realism by Brit Marling, that at times it almost has a documentary feel.  She has an understated magnetism about her on the screen, such that it is hard to take your eyes off of her as she wills her character to move forward in life. Side note: this talented actress was also one of the film’s writers.

While Another Earth is in limited release (you won’t find it in your typical megaplex), it is well worth the search to find where it is playing.

Final Grade: A-

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Posted by on August 7, 2011 | 9,212 comments
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Whether or not you were a fan of the original, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel that is well worth your time.  It is a smart story that logically (within reason), explains how the world could be run by apes.  While James Franco is the main human in the movie, make no mistake about it:  The lead is the chimp.  While I’m not generally a fan of CGI, it works here, arguably better than in any other film to date.  Caesar, the lead chimp, is digitally created so masterfully, you fully believe he is a real, albeit intelligent, chimp.  Honestly, the movie works best when the humans get out of the way and the apes are front and center.

The film does bog down a bit early on with a lot of semi-boring scenes of Caesar growing up in his human household.  During those moments it feels a bit like Harry and the Hendersons. And speaking of Harry and the Hendersons, John Lithgow turns in a brilliantly touching performance as Franco’s alzheimer stricken father.

There is nothing really campy about this movie, as there was with the original series.  Nor is it unforgettable like the re-make a couple of years back with Marky Mark.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is its own movie, and it is really quite good.

Final Grade:  B+

 

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Posted by on July 30, 2011 | 36,947 comments
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For Steve Carell fans suffering from Michael Scott withdrawal syndrome, go see Crazy, Stupid, Love. It’s a surprisingly creative, funny, romantic comedy.  Carell plays Cal, a suburban husband and father, who is happily married.  Or so he thought.  After his wife has an affair, he suddenly finds himself out on his own.  After a slow (and slightly depressing) start, the film kicks into high gear as Cal tries to enter the dating scene, with the help of Jacob, a slick pick-up artist, played by Ryan Gosling.  Jacob is as smooth as Cal is awkward.  And their scenes together are brilliant.  Gosling and Carell are both wonderful and the script soars when they are in the scene.  From funny pick-up lines to the scene in the mall where Jacob is trying to update Cal’s look.  It is like a twisted version of Pretty Woman, and it works.  One of my favorite lines is when Cal is going into the Gap to buy some new jeans and Jacob slaps him across the face, declaring, “you are better than Gap!”

While it is a bit of an ensemble cast, this movie works best when it focuses on Carell and Gosling.  Also strong are Emma Stone, who plays a love interest of Gosling, and Analeigh Tipton a confused babysitter for Carell.  Julianne Moore and Marissa Tomei are just OK in the movie, with Moore coming across a bit whiny and Tomei’s performance is strangely over-the-top, and not in a good way.  Also, there are several scenes, usually including Carell’s son that are simply too precious and strange.  Oddly, his parent’s in the movie repeatedly refer to the child as being different.  Yeah, he’s different because he’s got all of the worst lines in the movie.  But all in all, this movie is a fun time, and the big scene towards the end that ties up all the loose ends is absolutely hilarious.

Final Grade:  B-

Top 5 Jim Carrey Movies…

Posted by on June 20, 2011 | 9,084 comments
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While I haven’t seen it yet, Jim Carrey’s new movie about penguins looks ridiculous.  Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Assuming I’m not, I wanted to take a crack at a Top 5 list of Jim Carrey movies.  The criteria I used are this:

Carrey had to be the star of the movie (that eliminated a few earlier films from the list).

My test of film “greatness” is fairly simple:  how much do I think I will want to watch this movie, 10, 20, 30 years from now.

Including Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Carrey has made 35 films.    Here are his Top 5, in reverse order:

 

5)   The Truman Show – This represented Carrey’s first effort at a serious role, and he proved himself capable.  With Ed Harris in his role as “the Architect”, this movie was unique and thought-provoking.  And Carrey really showed his true acting chops.

4)   Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – While this was not one of my favorites, at all, for whatever reason my remote stops when I come across this movie on cable.  It introduced Jim Carrey to the world (beyond his following on In Living Color),  and it showed that he would be the king of physical (and crude) comedy.

3)   Cable Guy - Broadly looked on with disdain as “too dark”, I thoroughly enjoy this movie.  Carrey’s Chip Douglas character is so creepy and quotable, he’s wonderful.  And Matthew Broderick is the perfect straight guy for Carrey to play off of.

2)   Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – This is one of Carrey’s truly great films.  Directed by Michel Gondry and co-starring Kate Winslet, this film is complex and beautiful.  And Carrey exponentially extends his capabilities as a legitimate serious actor

1)   Dumb and Dumber – This to me is the definitive Jim Carrey movie.  It is stupid, and funny, and seared into my brain.  He exudes funny from the beginning of this movie to the end.

 

That’s it.  I know there are a few good movies that didn’t make my list (i.e. Man on the Moon, and I Love You Phillip Morris), but I stand by my Top 5.  Discuss…

Super 8

Posted by on June 11, 2011 | 89,220 comments
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With so many crappy, CGI-laced comic book movies dominating the summer blockbuster scene, it is so entirely refreshing to see Super 8.  Super 8 is not a good movie, it is a great movie.  It combines the authentic teen relationships of a Stand By Me, with the wonder of a Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The two lead teen actors in the movie, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, are incredible and will make their characters memorable in the same vein as did Henry Thomas as Elliot from E.T. The dialogue draws you in, the acting is fantastic, and there is still the mandatory exciting action sequences.  And as a bonus for anyone 40 or older, the 70s pop imagery and references are incredibly fun to take in.  From the convenience store clerk listening to a new Walkman, to Space Food Sticks, to omnipresent firecrackers, this movie will take you back.  And don’t get me started on the soundtrack (it may even give Electric Light Orchestra an iTunes jolt they never could have dreamed of).  Added bonus:  you can actually take your grade school age kids to this movie and not regret it afterwards.  Go see this movie!

Grade:  A+

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