Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
by Steve Habrat
Of all the recent films that managed to snag the Best Picture Oscar, the only one that I really thought was undeserving of the award was Slumdog Millionaire. This is in no way me trying to tear the film apart or declaring to the world I disliked Danny Boyle’s tale about fate. In fact, I actually really loved the film, but I just though that there were better films in 2008. I loved Slumdog Millionaire’s energy, it’s appreciation for life and love, and it’s hero who is putting it all on the line for the girl he loves. Boyle is near the top of my favorite current filmmakers, one who managed to sneak into the main stream, and jumps from genre to genre like a frog jumping from one lily pad to another. You never know where he will land and it’s unbelievably exciting when it is announced that he is making another film. Slumdog Millionaire is perhaps his warmest and fuzziest movie, one that your grandmother can sit down and watch. It’s certainly far from films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both polarizing works of art but ones that you probably wouldn’t want to watch with granny. Well, unless it was my grandmother, who will watch basically anything, and yes, she saw Slumdog Millionaire.
Slumdog Millionaire follows eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik (Played by Dev Patel), who has found himself as a contestant of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal is only one question away from a sum of money that will change his life, a life that involved living on the streets. Before he is to answer that final question, Jamal is detained by police and interrogated, the police demanding to know how a kid from the streets is able to answer all of these questions. Jamal recounts a string of memories and events from his childhood that have allowed him to answer the questions. In the memories, he also remembers time he spent with his brother Salim (Played by Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Played by Freida Pinto), a girl who Jamal has been in love with since he met her.
Boyle is the type of director who is just so eager to move his film along, wanting you to get swept up in the zooming story, you practically end up with whiplash by the end. Boyle can’t resist framing images for the audience that are familiar and alien, a trait of his films that are his own cinematic fingerprint. It’s also insanely colorful, a nod to Bollywood films and Indian culture, making Slumdog Millionaire almost seem like an ode to the color wheel rather than a drama. At times, I almost feel like Boyle suffers from ADD, as his films are always so busy. The film’s story is certainly inimitable, putting an updated spin on the rags to riches story that we have all seen and heard before. I think this is what led to the sweep that Slumdog Millionaire had at the Oscars. Slumdog Millionaire was a hip interpretation of the rags to riches tale set to thumping M.I.A. tracks and a lively, hip-hop-py score by A.R. Rahman.
So what is my problem with Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture? The short answer is that it was a safe option. It wasn’t threatening to mainstream viewers. Milk turned off the more conservative crowd but I thought it was the second best film of 2009, behind The Dark Knight, which should have been nominated but was ignored. The Reader’s nomination was purchased and everyone knows it. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon were both very bloated, Frost/Nixon being a little too dark to grab the win and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bit too whimsical at times (I liked them both very much but they were never going to win the gold). But I never thought my spirit was captured during Slumdog Millionaire and while I was moved while I watched it, I wasn’t after it ended. Milk was a film that stuck with me, both in style, message, and performance. Perhaps I just wanted the Academy to be a little bit bolder with their decision. I also think there was some bitterness that year, watching the snobby Academy wave off a film that was as defining as The Dark Knight, a towering achievement in blockbuster filmmaking that will live on much longer than Slumdog Millionaire will. People complained last year about The Social Network not winning even though it was a film that defined the current zeitgeist. The snub of The Dark Knight was much more glaring and troubling, hinting that many individuals of the uptight film community weren’t willing to give it a serious look even though it ended up being the highest grossing movie of 2008.
Enough with my ranting and back to Slumdog Millionaire. Not as fulfilling as I hoped it would be but good none-the-less, Slumdog Millionaire was exotic and a worthy entry in the works of Danny Boyle. In a way, Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture felt like a nod that was poorly timed. It was heartwarming to see the happiness and excitement burst forth from Boyle when he received the Best Director award, an enthusiasm that matched the enthusiasm of his films. And yes, I was happy for the clearly blown away cast as they took to the stage to claim their Best Picture award. Boyle will go on to make other great films (127 Hours was great) and I feel like there will be more awards in his future, but in a year where there was better and much more important films, perhaps Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t have taken both of the major awards. History is history and Slumdog claimed it, something that cannot be changed so all we can do is evaluate the finished film. I hate to sound like a Scrooge but looking at things now, it’s how I feel about the 81st Academy Awards. Slumdog Millioniare is a beautifully made film that was, yes, one of the better films of 2008, but it hasn’t had the lasting impact on the medium of motion pictures that many predicted it would. The film is well worth your time even if it did get caught in the crossfire of a controversial year at the Oscars.
Slumdog Millionaire is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Posted in REViEW
Tags: 127 hours, 2008, 28 days later, 81st academy awards, a.r. rahman, best picture winners, danny boyle, dev patel, drama, feel good drama, freida pinto, frost/nixion, M.I.A., madhur mittal, milk, sunshine, the curious case of benjamin button, the dark knight, the reader, the social network, trainspotting
The King’s Speech (2010)
by Steve Habrat
It drives me nuts when someone says that The King’s Speech was overrated and undeserving of its Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director at last year’s Academy Awards. I can see that to some, The King’s Speech is a tailor made Oscar film. It’s a period piece that is, yes, a bit dry and uptight. While the debate raged on last year over which film was more deserving of the Best Picture award, half siding with The Social Network and the other half siding with The King’s Speech, I found myself floored by The King’s Speech. Both films are a work of art and both are gripping, but I found myself invested in the warmth of The King’s Speech over the coldness of The Social Network. This is not to say that I disliked The Social Network, in fact I found it to stand in the top three films of 2010, but I found myself in love with the characters in The King’s Speech and rooting for Colin Firth’s stuttering King George VI. I rooted for him to overcome his disability and to make a friend in the process, someone he could relate to and share his bottled up feelings with. Someone he can sit back with, laugh with, and have a drink with.
The King’s Speech tells the true story of Prince Albert, Duke of York (Played by Firth), who suffers from a stutter that has plagued him his entire life. After years of ridicule and teasing from his strict father King George V (Played by Michael Gambon) and his older brother David, or Edward, Prince of Wales (Played by Guy Pearce), help is sought out for Albert and speech therapists are brought in who apply unorthodox techniques to help with the stutter. The techniques do not work and they end up sending Albert into fits of rage and anger. In a final and desperate attempt, Albert’s loving wife Elizabeth (Played by Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out the help of a patient speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Played by Geoffrey Rush), who’s only demand is that Albert comes directly to him in his office and that he isn’t called doctor. Albert reluctantly goes and he begins to strike up a friendship with the quirky Logue. Soon Albert finds himself taking the throne and war with Nazi Germany is declared. With his new leadership role, Albert begins to allow Logue to probe into his personal life, something strictly forbidden by the royal family. As Albert opens up, he reveals traumatizing moments in his life that he has never told anyone before.
Director Tom Hooper turns The King’s Speech into a stunning work of art that visually suggests Albert’s alienation. One speech therapist is filmed in an extreme and grotesque close up, bearing down on Albert as he spits commands and demands that he annunciates. A panic washes over Albert and it’s easy to see why, with someone bearing down on you who you barley know and commanding you to do something that is extremely difficult, it is easy to see why Albert falls to pieces so easily. Albert is often times photographed to one side of the screen, rarely falling in the neutral middle ground and if he does fall in the middle, he is surrounded with support for those who care about him. He is also often shown in a close up when is quivering with nerves so we can see the fear that has embedded itself within him. The verbal torment he has endured has taken its toll on his spirit, making him someone with no confidence in himself and uses anger as a defense mechanism. Hooper puts us in the shoes of a plagued soul who has hidden his scars in bitterness. This is an approach that I thought made The King’s Speech a triumph, because many films will present someone who has been tormented, but we never see things from their perspective. We are allowed to sympathize with a character behind glass, but we are never plopped in their shoes.
Lionel Logue is the complete opposite of Albert, someone who is confident and self-assured, usually photographed with busy backgrounds and near the middle of the screen. He has faced rejection in his life, but he overcomes the rejection and pours his focus in putting a voice in those without one. He is someone who works to understand those around him and willing to level with them, something a true friend should do. This is where I found the relevance in The King’s Speech. Logue is determined to make a real flesh and blood friend in Albert, even if Albert puts up a hell of a fight. We live in an age where we can avoid real human interaction through emails, text messages, Facebook, twitter, etc. There is almost no need to actually speak to anyone anymore and to experience real human emotion with a “friend”. The King’s Speech encourages us to seek out real interaction and to find our own voice. Albert needs someone to talk to so he can mend the wounds that he conceals and Logue loves the company. Hooper opens the screen up to make the viewer feel like he or she is sitting in the company of these two men and it truly is a warm and fuzzy feeling.
The King’s Speech is loaded with emotional weights that Hooper drops unexpectedly on the viewer. It’s best not to reveal them and to experience them as they play out. It ultimately gives The King’s Speech more of an emotional impact. From a historical standpoint, The King’s Speech is beyond interesting and shed light on an aspect of history I was unaware of. The film can be seen as a learning tool, something that should encourage the viewers to go out and do some research on King George VI. Graceful, moving, and relevant, The King’s Speech blends art with a lasting statement. It doesn’t shy away from showing how important friendship can be especially in an age of digital isolation. You’ll also be surprised by how unpretentious the film truly is. I think that many viewers go in to the film with the preconceived notion that this is a film for snobs, which leads them to deem it unworthy of the awards it received. Maybe I’m a sucker for crowd pleasers, something The King’s Speech is, but it left me on a high note that I just didn’t want to come down from.
The King’s Speech is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Posted in REViEW
Tags: colin firth, drama, geoffrey rush, guy pearce, helena bonham carter, king george VI, michael gambon, oscar winners, the social network, tom hooper
Feature: Steve reacts to the 69th Annual Golden Globes
by Steve Habrat
Last night, cinema fanatics, fashionistas, and celebrity gossip gurus tuned in to the 69th Annual Golden Globe awards eager for the lax, unbuttoned atmosphere the awards show is known for. I for one was excited to see what host Ricky Gervais would unleash upon the hoards of celebrities that showed up for a few glasses of champagne and to bullshit with one another. What we were treated to was a lukewarm show that for the most part failed to entertain its viewers and had a handful of winners that were even less dazzling. It didn’t help that the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored films that SHOULD have been nominated. Seriously, where the hell was Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Instead, we watched as the silent French film The Artist, a film that has yet to receive a wide release and mainstream audiences have not seen, cleaned house and Meryl Streep was handed ANOTHER award for The Iron Lady, another film NOBODY has seen. Can you say yawn inducing?
The show looked bleak from the get go. Uninteresting films, mediocre performances, and a slacking awards season were mostly to blame for the bland show. But it was infuriating to watch as Drive, a blood-soaked art house thriller that managed to be multilayered and boast a handful of stellar performances was waved off. It was nice to see Albert Brooks get a nod for his sinister performance of a gangster with the shortest temper known to man and a thing for stabbing forks into eye sockets but what about Ryan Gosling? Gosling had a nod for his suave turn in Crazy Stupid Love but his Drive performance was the one to talk about. And furthermore, what about Cliff Martinez’s retro score for the film? The soundtrack climbed the iTunes charts, had everyone who saw the film buzzing about it, and was the epitome of cool. Despite glowing reviews, the film was noticeably absent from the show.
Another film that was overlooked in the Best Motion Picture-Drama section was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a bold and unflinching serial killer thriller that, despite the lengthy runtime, was a chilly adult mystery. Instead, The Ides of March filled a spot just so more people could line up to kiss George Clooney’s ass. Mara received a nod for her jaw dropping performance and we watched as the award was handed (naturally) to Meryl Streep. Streep has won three other times! There was also the absence of Fincher in the Best Director category, his spot filled by Clooney. I would have been content if Fincher OR Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn had filled the spot. At least they had the good sense to give Martin Scorsese the award for the wonderful Hugo.
Another glaring omission was Gary Oldman’s performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oldman displayed grace, restraint, and eyes that were filled with heartbreak. The film may not have been one of the best films of the year but it was also loaded with expert performances. Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, and Colin Firth could have also nabbed a supporting actor slot. And am I the only one who loved Sasha Baron Cohen in Hugo? He was a villain who worked his way into our hearts, even if he did get a bit lost in all the action of that film.
Most of my disappointment comes from the sweep by The Artist, a film that Hollywood seems reluctant to give a wide release but has been subtly generating buzz throughout 2011. My suspicion is that they assume there most likely isn’t a wide audience for this type of film but they have showered it in awards and praise. Critics have placed it at the top of their Best of 2011 lists and raved about it since early last year. Lets see what the fuss is about! Even if I had absolutely no interest in silent films, I would want to know why everyone is giddy with it. Do not take this as I’m downing the film before I see it. Oh no, I’m excited to see this French gem but come on, a wide release before the Golden Globes would have been nice.
Overall, it was a major disappointment to see Gervais pulling punches with his hosting. I expected there to be a few more cringe worthy comments from the British funnyman. It was nice to see Scorsese make off with the directing award and it was great to see Woody Allen snag the screenplay award for Midnight in Paris. It was a nice welcome back for Woody. Streep and Clooney grabbing up the Best Actor and Best Actress awards came as absolutely no surprise whatsoever. I still have yet to see The Descendants so I cannot comment on its win of Best Picture-Drama. There is no one to blame but myself for not having taken a trip to the theater to see it. As a big fan of The Adventures of Tintin, I cheered when Spielberg accepted the award for Best Animated Picture. There was really no competition as there was a disturbing lack of quality animated films last year.
I certainly hope that the Academy Awards embraces some of the films that the Globes overlooked. The problem with last night was there was no hold your breath moment. There seems to be no competition like last year’s battle between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. I doubt that Drive will get a Best Picture or Best Director nod when nominations are announced but I could be wrong. Maybe it was the lack of excitement throughout the season but I hope that there is a spark of life in the next few weeks and that we can finally get to see The Artist so that when it cleans up at the Oscars, we can actually be familiar with it.
Let us know what you thought of the 69th Annual Golden Globes by voting in our poll attached below or leaving us a comment! We’d love to hear from you.
Posted in FEATURE
Tags: 2011, 69th annual golden globes, 69th golden globes, albert brooks, cliff martinez, david fincher, drive, gary oldman, george clooney, hugo, martin scorsese, meryl streep, ricky gervais, rooney mara, ryan gosling, sacha baron cohen, steven spielberg, the adventures of tintin, the artist, the descendants, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the help, the iron lady, the king's speech, the social network, tinker tailor soldier spy, woody allen
Feature: Steve’s 5 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012
It’s going to be a huge year at the movies, folks. If the world is really ending in December, Hollywood is going out (hopefully) strong with an A-list year. I will be like a kid in a candy store and my inner fanboy will be going crazy. Here are the five films I absolutely cannot wait to see in 2012. These are the films I will sacrifice sleep and my other job to see. I will be in line at midnight for these movies and that, my dear readers, is a promise.
Let’s be honest here, the last Bond film was, well, meh. Quatum of Solace felt like heated up leftovers that should have been part of Casino Royale rather than their own stand alone film. Enter moody director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Javier Bardem as a villain, and Bond going up a much more personal threat and you have the makings for what sounds like a seriously cool Bond flick. Oh, and Miss Moneypenny and Q are most likely in it. Truth is, Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond actor and I love the grittier take on the classic character (It is actually the truest interpretation of Bond (FYI.). I’m crossing my fingers for a car chase that is as cool as what opened Quantum of Solace (It was also the best part of that forgettable film) and a cutthroat swagger that Casino Royale possessed. Bring on more Bond!
4.) The Amazing Spider-Man
Yes, it does feel a bit early for a reboot of the webslinger but I know you were let down by Spider-Man 3 too. Still a touchy subject? I thought so. Going the darker route (At least that first teaser was pretty grim looking), I’m curious to see what director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) does with the source material, as the ominous new poster boasts this will tell “The Untold Story”. Hmmm well I think Raimi covered most of it in his origin tale Spider-Man. With the revelation that is Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) taking over as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, the It-Girl of the moment Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as new baddie The Lizard, this should shape up to be a truly unique vision of Spidey. With tighter jeans and maybe The Smith’s on the soundtrack.
3.) Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino is FINALLY making an all out spaghetti western and it should be nothing more than talky and awesome. What is sure to be drenched in gruesome violence, Tarantino loves this movement in westerns and I’m positive he will do it sweaty and squinty-eyed justice. Rumored to be loosely based on the classic Franco Nero and Sergio Corbucci western where the hero drags a Gatling gun around with him in a coffin, I’m sure Tarantino will do one better and up the ante to absolutely extreme. Boasting a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, RZA, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell, Don Johnson, and Tom Savini, this thing will go down as a cult legend.
2.) The Avengers
I was lucky enough to see some of the sets and filming for this superhero mash-up in downtown Cleveland and I have to say, this will be extremely impressive. Oh, and have you seen the first trailer for it? There should be plenty of shit-talking to each other (Iron Man and The Hulk are rumored to verbally spar. Captain America also appears to get a few jabs at Iron Man), epic science fiction action, and globe trotting awesomeness, The Avengers will be shape up to be the only worthy challenger to my number one pick on this list. Shrouded in secrecy (I was lucky enough to get to see what appeared to be some sort of UFO crashed in the middle of a Cleveland street) and sure to satisfy the ultimate fanboys, this will be a must see just for the towering premise (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and The Hulk all in the same movie. Woah!). I will be sporting my Captain America tee while I get in line for this about two days early.
1.) The Dark Knight Rises
Being a HUGE Batman fan, how could this not be my most anticipated film of the year? For all the nitpicking I hear (We can’t understand Bane! Catwoman looks lame!), my response is go see the Prologue that is now in theaters along with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It will blow your mind with the epic scope and bone shattering action. And Bane isn’t that hard to understand, he just sounds like an even more demented German Darth Vader (Wrap your head around that!). Nolan has promised this will be the final installment in this franchise so I’m sure we are in for a showdown for the ages. If you haven’t seen the badass new trailer that is playing before Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, you are missing out and are probably the only human alive to have not seen it. Based on everything we have seen, this looks to be even more haunting, darker, vicious, and destructive than 2008’s The Dark Knight, . The Hobbit may make a slight dent and The Avengers will take swipes, but this will be, without question, the biggest film of the year. I promise you that. Strap yourself in; things will go from epic to out of this world in The Dark Knight Rises.
Posted in FEATURE
Tags: 2012, 500 days of summer, american beauty, andrew garfield, anne hathaway, bane, captain america, casino royale, catwoman, christian bale, christopher nolan, django unchained, don johnson, emma stone, iron man, james bond, jamie foxx, javier bardem, joseph gordon levitt, kurt russell, leonardo dicaprio, marc webb, mission impossible: ghost protocol, quantum of solace, rhys ifans, rza, sacha baron cohen, sam mendes, samuel l. jackson, sherlock holmes: a game of shadows, skyfall, the amazing spider-man, the avengers, the dark knight rises, the hobbit, the hulk, the social network, thor, tom hardy, tom savini
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
by Steve Habrat
American fans of Stieg Larsson’s webbed murder mystery novels now have a reason to celebrate with the arrival of David Fincher’s fiercely loyal The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an frigid film that proudly embraces graphic rape scenes, torture, and fits of bright red gore on white tile. Fincher promised the film would earn its hard R rating and he sure as hell made good on that promise. Being someone who read the novel and was left underwhelmed by it considering all the hype that surrounds the books, the movie clipped the drier moments and kept the pace swift and forthright, even if it did sometimes feel like the Cliff Notes version of the book. As far as this film being the follow-up to Fincher’s praised The Social Network, it is a worthy follow up, if a bit of an epic one at that. But this isn’t The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Social Network Fincher. Oh no, this is Fincher in the vein of Zodiac with a touch of Seven and the camera flips of Fight Club. This is down and dirty Fincher. His choice for his punk rock hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander, who is tackled here by the immersive Rooney Mara was a wise one and she gives one of the finest performances of the year.
Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Played by Daniel Craig) is hired by the retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Played by Christopher Plummer) of Vanger Industries to help him solve the mysterious disappearance of his great-niece Harriet Vanger. Henrik promises Mikael that if he discovers anything at all about Harriet, he will give him information on Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the businessman who brought the libel charge against Mikael and ruined his career. As Mikael digs deeper and deeper into the history of the Vanger family (You practically need a family tree to keep up with who all of them are), sinister secrets start to emerge that some of them want to keep quiet. Mikael also finds himself in need of a secretary and he gets more than he bargained for when he is brought Lisbeth Salander (Played by Mara), an anti-social computer hacker and punk rocker who is a wizard at research and has been doing some digging on her own.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes with a lot of baggage. It is a psychological scorcher, equipped with a heavy plotline and more characters than you can shake a piece of IKEA furniture at. It also has some fits of black humor that will lighten the tension that is caused by not one, but two stationary rape sequences. Yet the film is fearless, tackling issues of trust, solitude, and the drive to prove oneself. Both Mikael and Lisbeth have been disgraced and they both are eager to bring honor to their name. It should be noted that they go about drastically different ways of doing it. Fincher edits the action together with quick, precise cuts that cause a few scenes at the beginning to feel a little too brief. He is very anxious to get to Hedeby Island and focused on igniting the web that is the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. At two hours and forty minutes, Fincher could have slowed it down a bit, but I also understand that he has a lot of material to tackle to satisfy fans. I’m fairly convinced done right by them.
If the length and strong subject matter turns you off, the performances will surely wet your appetite. Rooney Mara, who had a bit part as Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in The Social Network, looses herself in the role of Salander. She apparently took up smoking for the role, got everything from her eyebrow to her nipples pierced, and bleached her eyebrows. She has a slight alien look to her but it is also beautiful in bizarre way. She can be devastating (Just watch her at the hands of guardian Nils Bjurman, who tortures her mentally as well as sexually), resilient, haunted by her past, and in the blink of an eye, stare daggers right through you. For a film this fearless, it needs a heroine just as fearless and it is without question one of the most confident starring roles I have seen all year. Craig is overshadowed by Mara but she does deserve the attention she is getting for her work. Craig’s character is altered from the book, less a womanizer and a not quiet as confident. He has a sense of humor, sometimes at himself, and it appears as if he gives himself some room to have fun with the role at times. This isn’t clean cut Craig, but a coarse “detective” roaming a snowy film noir. Fincher couldn’t resist making another one (Seven, anyone?) and he even gives us a femme fatale. Plummer is also award-worthy in his own way, a fatigued old man just looking for the truth. He has the second greatest line of the movie. Everyone else is background performance good, no one being the weak link in the chain. Stellan Skarsgard gets the chance to play a slippery part, the mysterious current CEO of Vanger Industries.
Fincher applies some chilling artistry to the film, mostly in the creepy, alien-like biblical readings from Harriet that slink in every now and then. These will make your arm hair stand on end, I promise you. Fincher goes on to paint an uninviting portrait with a craggy background and spitting snow. Everything has a slight decayed and dusty look, more in the vein of Zodiac and Seven. He trades his trademark amber glow and rich colors for cool, faded tans, whites, and shocking blues. Fincher puts the mystery right out in the open and tells us to have at it. The twinkling score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is sometimes dreamy and sometimes keenly aware of the pulsating evil and doom coursing through the film’s vein. Fincher must have wanted to emulate his own success, the score never being as ear grabbing as The Social Network, but it adds a foreign sound to a film that takes place in a foreign land.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best mainstream films to come out in 2011. A hearty crime thriller that isn’t afraid to leave the audience rubbed the wrong way and a performance that will join the ranks of great movie performances. The film was released during head-scratching time and I wonder if releasing it at Christmas was the smartest move by the studio. I know it tried to embrace and poke fun at the season it has been released in, but the studio has to understand that this isn’t everyone’s cup of Wayne’s Coffee. The film, just like the book, many demand a few views for all the action to really sink in and to give the audience the opportunity to learn who all these characters are. In a way, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is decently timed by the studio, a chilly film to compliment and enhance the chilly weather. And trust me, this one will chill you to the bone marrow.
J. Edgar (2011)
by Steve Habrat
With Oscar season comes the unavoidable biography picture, one that zooms in on a controversial figure in history, a figure that is loathed by many and loved by few or vice versa. This year, just less than two weeks in and we have Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which plops Oscar season veteran Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as the ornery innovator/director of the F.B.I. The film boasts an all-star cast of A-list actors and actresses in the forms of Judi Dench, The Social Network’s Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts, all firing on all cylinders and producing performances that match their A-list status. Sounds promising, right? Sadly, J. Edgar is a inconsistent, spotty, and finicky portrait, a film that is inebriated with facade and reckless with its emaciated narrative. Nothing really drives this film, slowly revealing that it has nothing to move it and worse, it instructs the viewer on how they should feel about a man who rose to be one of the most powerful individuals in American history. There is nothing that remains open-ended, nothing that allows me to form my own opinion on J. Edgar Hoover. An icon like Eastwood, who sits behind the camera here, should really know better.
J. Edgar is a film more interested with trivia, minuscule factoids about a multifarious man who was a mama’s boy, closeted homosexual, scheming brute, and devious manipulator. Hoover would stop at nothing to dig up dirt on everyone around him, leaving him with more skeptical enemies than close pals. The film begins with Hoover’s twilight years, all saggy cheeks, furrowed brow, and DiCaprio in the best looking elderly make-up the film has to offer. The reflective innovator is dictating his memoirs in the final years of his life, recalling his early years, awkward dates that lead to alliances, his formation of the Bureau of Investigation, his interactions with his loving mother Annie (Played by Judi Dench), his battle to create the finger print system, his first big case that involves a kidnapping, and more. The film also tracks the hiring of his loyal secretary, Helen Gandy (Played by Naomi Watts), and his number two man Clyde Tolson (Played by Armie Hammer), both who remained by his side until the end.
For a project that was whispered about for the past several years and the hype that built during the making of it, you would have thought that someone that was a part of the crew would have realized that the film lacks structure. It jumps all over the place, painfully lacking a driving storyline. It’s practically overflowing with moments rather than arching story. It feels as though Eastwood crammed as much as he could to the point where J. Edgar feels like it is about to burst at the seams. There is some fat that could have been trimmed from this bird, which also could have made the murky story a little less vague. I applaud screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s sharp dialogue and piercingly emotional personal moments, but when it shifts over to the technicalities, it stalls out violently, leaving the viewer squinting at the screen and asking, “What is going on?” or worse, “Who is this character?”. It has a burning desire to be an epic character study but falls victim to being too all over the board. It needed to narrow down its focus.
The other element working against J. Edgar is the enigmatic lighting scheme it has, which casts every single scene in heavy shadows to the point where it is impossible to catch a glimpse of an emotional reaction from the characters. At first I figured it was meant as an ode to the old film noir pictures and cast an old school ambiance over the film, but it is so frustratingly distracting that it pulls us out of Hoover’s stories. It was hell on my eyes. Why Eastwood settled on this specific choice I will never know. The make-up department also worked hard to make sure J. Edgar was a dud, placing Hammer’s Mr. Tolson in what appears to be the elderly man mask worn by Johnny Knoxville in Jackass. I can’t fathom why his make-up was approved, as it too is distractingly poor. An audience member in my showing actually exclaimed “IT LOOKS SO FAKE!” I couldn’t agree with you more Miss. Moviegoer. The rest of the art direction is superb, gloriously meticulous when it comes to detail, which makes me angry that the lighting was so awful and the make-up so artificial. Mr. Tolson looks like someone who aged badly after one too many plastic surgeries.
The acting carries J. Edgar over the finish line, giving it some Oscar potential in the acting department (We know it will be laughed at in the make-up department). This film captures DiCaprio at his absolute finest. He completely disappears into Hoover, regurgitating a miserable coot that trusts no one. He is a delusional grump who takes his anger and frustration out on those around him. If he is embarrassed by his agents in any way or shown any disrespect, he punishes by termination of their job. The only affection he shows is for his mother. Watts does a good job with the bit part she has here. She mostly fills the background but it’s always nice to see her. Hammer’s Mr. Tolson is a fascinating chap, one who loyally trails Hoover with wide-eyed wonder, always offering up his own approval of whatever Hoover does. I found myself rooting for him in the romance department, but ultimately Hoover shoots him down. It’s implied that Hoover was disgusted with his own homosexuality. I will give Hammer credit for forcing out some loving support for Hoover, even if he is hidden behind some of the worst make-up work I have seen in a major motion picture. Eastwood, Hammer deserved better than that!
My major beef with J. Edgar is it never let me sculpt my own judgment on the grimacing Hoover. He was a man set to destroy but without a real target. It’s well known he was a glum individual and Eastwood rubs our faces in it as if we were ignorant to this fact. You are practically forced at gunpoint to dislike him. Most of the time, Hoover is plotting who he is going to ruin next, be it Martin Luther King, Jr. or John F. Kennedy. The film does however let you form your own opinion on why he was miserable. Hoover himself suggests that it is because none of the men beneath him look up to him. Hoover was always looking down on them, brandishing his power right in there face. They probably didn’t dare look up because they would have their career destroyed. There is the slight implication that he wanted to be viewed as a superhero, one who was always swooping in and getting the bad guy. The invisible theory thread throughout J. Edgar is that he was living too many lies, which is the theory I side with in this debate. He would never admit that he could sometimes be a fraud, both in the admitting of his sexuality or his cowardly tendencies. He wore a mask of overconfidence. At least his mask was more convincing than any given mask in J. Edgar.
The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve…Pt. 2
by Steve Habrat
Part 2 is here, boys and ghouls! Here are five more horror films that will have you dying of fright! They sure spooked me!
20.) The Mist (2007)
To judge Frank Darabont’s 2007 creature feature by it’s cover and basic premise alone would be an incredibly gross error on your part. I am here to inform you that it’s like the 1950s best kept sci-fi secret! And it’s actually an A-list film masquerading as B-movie absurdity. Aiming its focus on a mysterious, otherworldly mist that floods the streets and traps a group of people in a grocery store, the mist brings with it insects that look like they have been spit out from the depths of hell. And these insects bring lots and lots of hell indeed. They dispatch the desperate citizens with incredibly savage brutality. As for the film itself, think Alien smashed with Dawn of the Dead with the artful approach of 28 Days Later. Do I have your attention yet? If that’s not enough to convince you to see it, it features an incredibly chilling performance from Marcia Gay Henderson as an end-of-days-is-here Bible nut who may actually be more dangerous than the man-eating bugs. It features an end so shocking and devastating, you will be shaken to your core. The bugs will make your skin crawl and then your muscles too right of your bones. And on the DVD, you can actually watch it in glorious black and white. If you’re not scrambling to add this to your instant-que on Netflix, you should be.
19.) Nosferatu (1922)
A word of advice for all you Twilight fans out there: If you LOVE vampires, like, so much, then you should do yourself a favor and seek out the roots of vampires in cinema!!! Oh, and you may actually discover a beautiful and haunting horror film in the process. F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist silent film is the first portrayal of Dracula, but due to certain circumstances, it had to be renamed. Either way, Nosferatu will awe you with its gothic style (It’s like a Tim Burton flick, kids!). While I know most of you are already fairly familiar with the appearance of Count Orlok, it’s worth your time to seek the film out for it’s dreamlike imagery that will creep its way into your dreams. You may just keep your eyes on the shadows in your room in the middle of night! Actually scarier than Dracula, it’s does exactly what The Phantom of the Opera did, it forces you to fill in the sound effects. You paint the images in your head. And the images you are not left to create on your own are some of the most iconic in the history of film. Being a big fan of this film, I recommend you make it a double feature with The Phantom!
18.) Seven (1995)
Before EVERYONE was talking about that Facebook movie, The Social Network, David Fincher spun a film noirish nightmare about a serial killer who chooses his victims by their violations of the seven deadly sins. Bleak even in the landscape, which is an unidentified city where it rains more than it does in Seattle, it establishes and maintains the feeling that no one gets out of this scenario alive or untouched by evil. And this is all waaaayyyyy before its devastating conclusion. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait until you get a load of the climax. While the gruesome murders will keep you busy trying to keep the last meal you ate before watching this safely in your stomach, try to keep it on simply to marvel at Kevin Spacey’s unforgettably calm, cool, and calculating monster John Doe. It’s his performance alone that anchors this doom-drenched masterpiece confidently in the waters of truly unforgettable.
17.) Targets (1968)
Oh what a shame it is that many people have never heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 film that is loosely based off the atrocities committed by real-life serial killer Charles Whitman. While ultimately an exploration of the death of the fantastical movie monster and the emergence of the everyday monster, the premise still manages to be alarming relevant in the world we live in today. And the film has aged with magnificent grace! Following two storylines, one follows Boris Orloff (played awesomely by monster movie legend Boris Karloff) who is starting to realize that his monster movies are beginning to be old hat. On the other side of town, All-American Bobby decides to murder his family and sets out on a killing spree armed with several sniper rifles and a number of other assorted firearms. Sound chilling? It is. Especially when Bobby casually eats his lunch while brutally killing innocent civilians. The film leaves the viewer with the unsettling feeling that every moment could be your last. The scariest part of all is that fact that there is no motive. That someone could simply entertain himself or herself by committing mass murder is one of the most chilling things imaginable.
16.) Halloween (1978)
I will give Rob Zombie credit, his remake of the John Carpenter classic and last year’s sequel where littered with his cinematic fingerprints and where truly his own visions. Splattered with his trademark hillbilly horror and copious amounts of blood, it definitely strayed from Carpenter’s original vision, which was an exploration of pure evil. But it’s the 1978 original that will forever stand as the crown jewel. Everyone is familiar with it and our antagonist, Michael Myers, would send both Freddy and Jason heading for the hills. Yup, he’s THAT scary. Dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and wearing a whited-out William Shatner mask, Michael dispatches teens with surprisingly no remorse and shockingly little bloodshed. And the whole time you will be begging to know why. Carpenter gleefully turns the other way and leaves you right in the middle of Michael’s wrath. It’s what the film refuses to reveal that is truly terrifying and we are left to contemplate what this embodiment of evil ultimately means. Though it’s had countless imitators and sequels, it is still the undisputed king of teen slasher flicks.
15.) Audition (1997)
I can finally breathe a giant sigh of relief for two reasons: 1.) Hollywood FINALLY realized that they are incapable of making good American versions of Japanese horror films. Sure, The Ring was pretty good, but seriously, every other one SUCKED! The Ring 2? Ummm, did you see that scene with the deer? The Grudge? Come on! The Eye? Yawn. The Grudge 2? You gotta be fucking kidding me. Pulse? No, you’re not even trying anymore, Hollywood. So, my point is that Hollywood seems to have moved on from defecating all over some fairly interesting horror films from another country. This leads me to my next reason: 2.) Audition was never plucked from the J-Horror pack to be remade. THANK GOD! A heartbreaking love story with some seriously dark and twisted stuff lurking beneath the surface, the climax of this film is like a sucker punch right to the gut. It will knock you right off your feet, and then proceed to chop them off with razor wire. Following an older Japanese man who in the wake of his wife’s death holds an audition for young women to attempt to grab his eye is quite a chiller indeed. If while watching it you’re thinking to yourself: “Steve, why on earth did you say this is scary?” Be patient. The climax is ranks among some of the most horrifying stuff ever committed to celluloid. Murder and torture are just the beginning. And it’s torture that will make you cringe. And possibly upset in ways you never thought possible. But most importantly, scare the absolute shit right out of you. If that’s not enough, wait for the man who’s kept in a sack, is missing an arm, leg, and a good majority of his fingers, and who laps up human vomit like a dog. ENJOY!
Tune in tomorrow, boys and ghouls, for more thrills and chills. In the meantime, click the vintage Halloween photo above and vote in our tiebreaker poll! Hope you are all having a ghastly Halloween!
Posted in FEATURE
Tags: 1922, 1968, 1978, 1995, 1997, 2007, 28 days later, alien, boris karloff, brad pitt, charles whitman, classic horror films, creature features, david fincher, dawn of the dead, f.w. murnau, frank darabont, german expressionist, halloween, horror, horror films, japanese horror, john carpenter, kevin spacey, marcia gay henderson, michael myers, morgan freeman, netflix, peter bogdanovich, pulse, rob zombie, scariest movies of all time, takashi miike, the grudge, the phantom of the opera, the ring, the ring 2, the social network, the walking dead, twilight, vampire films