Oscars 2013 – Predicting The Nominations

I still have a few 2013 releases to catch up with, and I though I wanted to make my Oscar nominations predictions post having seen all of them, the nods are due early tomorrow morning so I’ll have to post them now.

Below is how I believe the nominations announced tomorrow morning will shape up (in order of likelihood of having their names called out), with a brief paragraph following my prediction for each category to give out my feelings on each race, as well as me naming three wildcards that may also find a way to get in there. As usual, this is how I think the Academy will think and has absolutely nothing to do with my personal preference of films, performances or technical achievements (even though there are, obviously, bound to be some correlations). For my personal picks of the Best of 2012 you’ll have to check back in a few days when I’m done catching up with those 2012 releases I’ve yet to check out. So, yeah, without further ado, here are my predictions for tomorrow’s Oscar nominations (gonna be a long post, bear with me):

BEST PICTURE

  1. Lincoln
  2. Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Argo
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Les Misérables
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
  10. Amour

Much like last year, there can be anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees in this category, depending on the number of #1 votes each film gets on the nominations ballots. I’m inching toward something like 9 nominees or so, but here are the ones that, in the case of there being 10, I think will make the cut. I think the first 6 are absolute mortal locks, as is probably Django. So that’s 7 for us. Beasts andMoonrise have been doing well and probably have passionate followers that will rank them first on their ballots, and I think Amour gets the final slot. Wildcards:Skyfall (for the blockbuster element), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for targetting the demographic of Oscar voters) or Flight (because it’s Robert Zemeckis).

BEST DIRECTOR

  1. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  2. Ben Affleck (Argo)
  3. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  4. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  5. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

This category’s pretty amazing this year. The first three are mortal locks, and I think Ang Lee is pretty much as as safe as them. The last spot, however, is wide open. The DGA went with Tom Hooper for their fifth slot, which gives him momentum, but my gut feeling is that David O. Russell gets it, though there are some five other names or so that could also snatch it. Wildcards: Tom Hooper (Les Misérables), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Michael Haneke (Amour).

BEST LEAD ACTOR

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
  2. Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  3. Denzel Washington (Flight)
  4. John Hawkes (The Sessions)
  5. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

I actually changed the final slot when revising my final draft. I had Bradley Cooper in there because I thought The Master‘s momentum has died down, and it may have, but it’s still my favorite performance of the year in my favorite film of the year, so I have to go with my gut. Wildcards: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Richard Gere (Arbitrage), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour).

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

  1. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  3. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
  4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  5. Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)

I think this is about three ladies fighting for the final two slots, Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Chastain and Ms. Watts are mortal locks in my mind. I’m giving Ms. Wallis the nod because Oscar voters like to go for at least one young person and I’m giving Ms. Cotillard the other because I think she will triumph over her countrywomanEmmanuelle Riva. Wildcards: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  1. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  2. Alan Arkin (Argo)
  3. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)

This category is just insanely hard to predict this year. I think only the first two are absolute locks and then Mr. DiCaprio may split the Django votes with Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz and then maybe Javier Bardem can get in there. I don’t know. I’ll be happy to get 3 out of 5 in this category. Wildcards: Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  1. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  2. Sally Field (Lincoln)
  3. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  4. Amy Adams (The Master)
  5. Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

One of the weakest categories of the year and one that seems pretty much already sewn up for Ms. Hathaway. Wildcards: Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy), Ann Dowd (Compliance), Samantha Barks (Les Misérables).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  1. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  3. Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
  4. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)
  5. Rian Johnson (Looper)

Something tells me Amour will pop up somewhere here but I just don’t know who to bump so for now I’m sticking with this. Wildcards: Michael Haneke (Amour),John Gatins (Flight), Nicholas Jarecki (Arbitrage).

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  1. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  2. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Chris Terrio (Argo)
  4. David Magee (Life of Pi)
  5. Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

I’m giving the final slot to Perks for purely sentimental reasons, the fact is that maybe Beasts of Les Miz will probably end up getting it. Wildcards: Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild), William Nicholson (Les Misérables), Tom Stoppard (Anna Karenina).

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  1. Amour (Austria)
  2. The Intouchables (France)
  3. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  4. No (Chile)
  5. Beyond the Hills (Romania)

Maybe Kon-Tiki or War Witch could surprise here but these are the biggest-profile titles in the shortlist and should see no problem getting in there, though of course this category is always one to pull off a sneaky surprise or two. Wildcards: Kon-Tiki (Norway), War Witch (Canada), The Deep (Iceland).

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  1. The Gatekeepers
  2. How to Survive a Plague
  3. Searching for Sugarman
  4. The Invisible War
  5. This is Not a Film

To be honest this is just a combination of those which I liked and those which have buzz, the documentary branch (as evidenced by their mind-bogglingly dumb omissions from its shortlist) has a knack for making the weirdest decisions ever so you can’t really predict them. Wildcards: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of GodAi Weiwei: Never SorryBully.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  1. Frankenweenie
  2. Brave
  3. Wreck-It Ralph
  4. Paranorman
  5. The Painting

I think the first four are locks and then you could fill the fifth one with Rise of the Guardians or Hotel Transylvania but the animation branch always leaves room for one obscure surprise so I’m going with a small French title. Wildcards: Hotel TransylvaniaRise of the GuardiansMadagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

BEST EDITING

  1. Argo
  2. Lincoln
  3. Zero Dark Thirty
  4. Life of Pi
  5. The Master

Maybe Django or Les Miz could pop in here if the love for them is pretty big. Wildcards: Les MisérablesDjango UnchainedThe Dark Knight Rises.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Life of Pi
  3. The Master
  4. Lincoln
  5. Skyfall

I’m giving the fifth slot to Skyfall simply because the Academy loves nominating Roger Deakins and then leaving him empty-handed. Wildcards: Les MisérablesDjango UnchainedAnna Karenina.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  1. Anna Karenina
  2. Lincoln
  3. Les Misérables
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Django Unchained

This category, renamed this year from Best Art Direction, is always damn hard to predict, the only one I’m 100% positive on is Anna Karenina, really, but we’ll see. Wildcards: The MasterCloud AtlasThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  1. Anna Karenina
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Lincoln
  4. Cloud Atlas
  5. Django Unchained

Period pieces are golden here so I think the first three are set (Lincoln far less so but I think it’s going to get a ton of nods so it will get one here, too). Wildcards:Mirror MirrorSnow White and the HuntsmanThe Master.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  2. Lincoln
  3. Les Misérables

Only three nominees will get in here out of the shortlist of seven and the whole thing is pretty wide open, really. Wildcards: Men in Black IIIHitchcock,Looper.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  1. Life of Pi
  2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  3. Cloud Atlas
  4. The Dark Knight Rises
  5. Prometheus

Wildcards: The AvengersSnow White and the HuntsmanJohn Carter.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Life of Pi
  3. Lincoln
  4. The Master
  5. Anna Karenina

Wildcards: ArgoCloud AtlasThe Dark Knight Rises.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  1. Hugh Jackman – “Suddenly” (Les Misérables)
  2. Adele – “Skyfall” (Skyfall)
  3. Birdy and Mumford & Sons – “Learn Me Right” (Brave)
  4. Paul Williams – “Still Alive” (Paul Williams: Still Alive)
  5. Arcade Fire – “Abraham’s Daughter” (The Hunger Games)

The first 2 are mortal locks and the winner will be one or the other. The Bravesong has Mumford & Sons on it and they move millions of records so that’s probably in, as well. Then the Paul Williams track is something I think the Academy will dig, and the Arcade Fire one is what I want them to choose so that we can see Win Butler and company at the ceremony. Wildcards: Norah Jones– “Everybody Needs A Best Friend” (Ted), Florence + the Machine – “Breath of Life” (Snow White and the Huntsman), Neil Flinn – “Song of the Lonely Mountain” (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

BEST SOUND MIXING

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Skyfall
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Lincoln

Wildcards: The AvengersThe Dark Knight RisesArgo.

BEST SOUND EDITING

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. The Avengers
  3. Skyfall
  4. The Dark Knight Rises
  5. Les Misérables

Wildcards: Django UnchainedLife of PiLincoln.


Title: Les MisérablesYear: 2012Director: Tom HooperWriter: William Nicholson, based on the music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, based on the novel by Victor HugoStarring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron TveitMPAA Rating: PG-13, suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elementsRuntime: 157 minIMDb Rating: 8.2Rotten Tomatoes: 70%Metacritic: 63
I remember when I first decided to start a blog to review films I vowed I’d try to see as many films from any given year I could, so that I could get a real overview of the whole year in film and not try not to skip those films which I knew were just disasters waiting to happen. I also vowed that I’d see at least one more film each year than I had seen the previous one. In 2010, my first year doing this, I saw 210 films, which I thought was a pretty good number. In 2011 I saw 256 releases from that year, upping the quota from the previous year by a whopping 46 films. That number, 256, always seemed pretty huge and I doubted I’d be able to pass it this year. Well, Les Misérables (though I’m seeing it in January) is the 256th 2012 release I’ve seen, and I still have a few more films to go, so I guess 2013 will be the real challenge.
I take this walk down memory lane not just because I’m proud of the milestone (though I really am) but because in that first year I reviewed films the film that held the 13th spot (with an A) was Tom Hooper‘s The King’s Speech. When I give out grades and put a movie in my rankings I leave it there, rankings are my initial reaction to films, if I end up liking them more (or less) as time goes on or as I get to see it another time I don’t alter the rankings. In 2010 David Fincher‘s The Social Network had the second place in my yearly rankings, belowDarren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan, that order would be reversed if you asked me today, but the rankings show what I thought back then.
Well, back then I thought The King’s Speech was an A. I’ve seen it again and think it’s more like a strong A-, though I’m still absolutely enamored by the performance Colin Firth gave in it, my favorite from a lead actor in 2010. Maybe I’m a bit biased to downgrade it because of how infuriated I am that The King’s Speech took the Best Picture Oscar from The Social Network (a vastly superior film) and even more enraged that Mr. Hooper took the Best Director trophy from Mr. Fincher (a vastly superior artist). I honestly had cultivated a bit of dislike for Mr. Hooper and told myself I wouldn’t like what he did next.
What he chose to do next was Les Misérables. That made it harder for me to think of disliking. The musical and the book are absolute classics which I love, and then you had the fact that the cast was filled with people I respect like hell, especially Anne Hathaway, and then you had the fact that Mr. Hooper chose to record the singing live on set instead of adding enhanced vocals later on in post-production, a decision which I thought was incredibly daring and impossible not to admire, even if I wasn’t unsure how it would play out. So I went into it thinking I might actually like it, but I left feeling rather underwhelmed, to be honest.
I mean the film’s obviously well-made, and some of the performances here are just a thing of beauty, but I ultimately thought it was just too pompous and grand most of the time. Of course, an epic story in 19th century France about an ex-convict fleeing from a ruthless Police Inspector while agreeing to care for the young daughter of an ill factory worker, dealing with love and sacrifice and redemption while it’s at it, will always be a bit bombastic, but I don’t know, I just honestly thought this was too much.
And this really has nothing to do with my opinions of Mr. Hooper. Like I said, I actually thought I’d love this movie, and as many directorial missteps as one can point out here I still think there’s a lot worth applauding, and when Ms. Hathaway wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (and she will) I’ll be clapping for her, even if someone else is probably a tad more deserving (holla, Amy Adams) because she still delivers a tremendously brave performance here worth recognizing. The thing is, it’s just damn hard to translate a musical to the screen successfully.
I genuinely think this is a good film, though, just far from a great one. A problem I had with it was the unrelenting use of close-ups when the actors were singing. I get it that he does this so that we can connect with the emotions and feel the song, to kind of replicate the feeling of watching it live on stage, but it doesn’t really work. I mean, it works at times, sure, but not with every single number.
Considering how amazing the sets and the views are it feels a tad disjointed to have him shift into this low-angle close-up the second someone bursts into song, following them around, looking up at them. It’s supposed to get us into their plights but it took me out of the movie. By the way, that’s not to say that style didn’t work, it will provoke tears around the world, I just didn’t like it all that much.
As for the decision to have his actors sing live on set? Well, I respect the decision. I respect it because it took balls and few filmmakers would have gone for it, you have to give the man his kudos for that. I just don’t think it works well. Like the close-ups, it works well sometimes, mostly when you have Hugh Jackman as the escaped prisoner Jean Valjean, because this is a guy who’s spent more than his fair share of time doing musicals on Broadway and who knows how to do this, he knows how to sell the material. Most of the actors however either over-sell it or just plain don’t have the chops to sing such insanely demanding songs with a camera six inches from their face.
The actor who seriously didn’t do it for me? Well, that would (easily) be Russell Crowe as Javert, the evil Police Inspector. The producers obviously cast him in the part because of his looks and because he’s a big name that would draw attention to the film, but he just can’t sing. Or well, he can sing because he has a rock band in Australia, he just can’t sing these Javert jams, an added frustration because the Javert numbers are probably the best songs in all of the original musical. He’s by far the weakest link of this whole production, and I genuinely believe the fact that Les Miz isn’t being talked about as a stronger Best Picture contender is his fault; a great Javert would’ve made this a great film, instead we get one that’s acted nicely enough but that’s horribly sung.
As for the other actors, well I really do have to give a shout-out to Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit. Props to them. Mr. Redmayne is a relatively unknown actor with a lead role (especially compared to the heavyweights he’s up against, and especially since I’m not a fan of this character in the original musical) and he’s honestly great, like star-making-role kind of great, this guy’s going to be around for a while, just look at what he does with “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” number. And then Mr. Tveit absolutely owns the role of Enjorlas in a way that really surprised me, plus he has a brilliant pitch which helps a lot.
Those two were the ones I love, but also big props to Amanda Seyfried andSamantha Barks. Ms. Seyfried genuinely got into the role of Cosette and brought forward things about her character that were awesome to see, I thought her acting was flawless here, sincerely, and her voice was just impeccable as well. Then you have Ms. Barks, the girl who played Eponine in the stage production and who gets to reprise her here, and it shows that she’s done this before on-stage. It shows because she’s the one that most pulls of the trick of making you forget that she’s singing, I loved that about her performance, “A Little Fall Of Rain” may be the realest moment of the entire film.
Then, of course, there’s Fantine. Ms. Hathaway doesn’t overact a second in this film, in fact you could say she underplays the role most people overplay, she’s amazing and her “I Dreamed A Dream” performance alone has sewn that Oscar up for her. That number is absolute emotional abuse, there’s no way not to cry as she sings, and to have Ms. Hathaway be by far the best thing about this movie and have the most lasting effect of anyone in it while only actually being in for the first third is a testament to her performance.
People who love the musical will probably love this. Probably. I love the musical which I why I liked this movie, and I’m pretty sure that if my connection to the musical were null I’d be giving this a C+ or something. I mean, visually it’s fantastic and all, and people who have no clue about the story will be allowed to follow it and get swept it, but there’s just no denying the fact that vocally it falls short more often than not. Having the actors sing live adds to the realism of it, granted, but when some of them make it kind of rough to follow the melody you can’t help but wonder if it didn’t hurt the movie; if you don’t know the music and the lyrics it may prove hard to follow, not to mention it sucks when the voices falter a bit.
Still it’s great to see these stunning emotions on-screen, to see them portrayed with such energy and passion and commitment, even if it’s just too over-the-top and flawed. It’s an epic film, that’s for sure, and it’s more than worth your time and money, it’s worth giving Anne Hathaway an Oscar, worth applauding for taking on the most beloved of stage musicals and doing something daring with it. It’s just not worth calling it a masterpiece or a great film or anything else. At least this time around this won’t take Best Picture or Best Director from worthier films and filmmakers, though the film (for sure) and Mr. Hooper (probably) will still take nomination slots from better names, but that’s something I can live with.
Grade: B+

Title: Les Misérables
Year: 2012
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson, based on the music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit
MPAA Rating: PG-13, suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Runtime: 157 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Metacritic: 63

I remember when I first decided to start a blog to review films I vowed I’d try to see as many films from any given year I could, so that I could get a real overview of the whole year in film and not try not to skip those films which I knew were just disasters waiting to happen. I also vowed that I’d see at least one more film each year than I had seen the previous one. In 2010, my first year doing this, I saw 210 films, which I thought was a pretty good number. In 2011 I saw 256 releases from that year, upping the quota from the previous year by a whopping 46 films. That number, 256, always seemed pretty huge and I doubted I’d be able to pass it this year. Well, Les Misérables (though I’m seeing it in January) is the 256th 2012 release I’ve seen, and I still have a few more films to go, so I guess 2013 will be the real challenge.

I take this walk down memory lane not just because I’m proud of the milestone (though I really am) but because in that first year I reviewed films the film that held the 13th spot (with an A) was Tom Hooper‘s The King’s Speech. When I give out grades and put a movie in my rankings I leave it there, rankings are my initial reaction to films, if I end up liking them more (or less) as time goes on or as I get to see it another time I don’t alter the rankings. In 2010 David Fincher‘s The Social Network had the second place in my yearly rankings, belowDarren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan, that order would be reversed if you asked me today, but the rankings show what I thought back then.

Well, back then I thought The King’s Speech was an A. I’ve seen it again and think it’s more like a strong A-, though I’m still absolutely enamored by the performance Colin Firth gave in it, my favorite from a lead actor in 2010. Maybe I’m a bit biased to downgrade it because of how infuriated I am that The King’s Speech took the Best Picture Oscar from The Social Network (a vastly superior film) and even more enraged that Mr. Hooper took the Best Director trophy from Mr. Fincher (a vastly superior artist). I honestly had cultivated a bit of dislike for Mr. Hooper and told myself I wouldn’t like what he did next.

What he chose to do next was Les Misérables. That made it harder for me to think of disliking. The musical and the book are absolute classics which I love, and then you had the fact that the cast was filled with people I respect like hell, especially Anne Hathaway, and then you had the fact that Mr. Hooper chose to record the singing live on set instead of adding enhanced vocals later on in post-production, a decision which I thought was incredibly daring and impossible not to admire, even if I wasn’t unsure how it would play out. So I went into it thinking I might actually like it, but I left feeling rather underwhelmed, to be honest.

I mean the film’s obviously well-made, and some of the performances here are just a thing of beauty, but I ultimately thought it was just too pompous and grand most of the time. Of course, an epic story in 19th century France about an ex-convict fleeing from a ruthless Police Inspector while agreeing to care for the young daughter of an ill factory worker, dealing with love and sacrifice and redemption while it’s at it, will always be a bit bombastic, but I don’t know, I just honestly thought this was too much.

And this really has nothing to do with my opinions of Mr. Hooper. Like I said, I actually thought I’d love this movie, and as many directorial missteps as one can point out here I still think there’s a lot worth applauding, and when Ms. Hathaway wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (and she will) I’ll be clapping for her, even if someone else is probably a tad more deserving (holla, Amy Adams) because she still delivers a tremendously brave performance here worth recognizing. The thing is, it’s just damn hard to translate a musical to the screen successfully.

I genuinely think this is a good film, though, just far from a great one. A problem I had with it was the unrelenting use of close-ups when the actors were singing. I get it that he does this so that we can connect with the emotions and feel the song, to kind of replicate the feeling of watching it live on stage, but it doesn’t really work. I mean, it works at times, sure, but not with every single number.

Considering how amazing the sets and the views are it feels a tad disjointed to have him shift into this low-angle close-up the second someone bursts into song, following them around, looking up at them. It’s supposed to get us into their plights but it took me out of the movie. By the way, that’s not to say that style didn’t work, it will provoke tears around the world, I just didn’t like it all that much.

As for the decision to have his actors sing live on set? Well, I respect the decision. I respect it because it took balls and few filmmakers would have gone for it, you have to give the man his kudos for that. I just don’t think it works well. Like the close-ups, it works well sometimes, mostly when you have Hugh Jackman as the escaped prisoner Jean Valjean, because this is a guy who’s spent more than his fair share of time doing musicals on Broadway and who knows how to do this, he knows how to sell the material. Most of the actors however either over-sell it or just plain don’t have the chops to sing such insanely demanding songs with a camera six inches from their face.

The actor who seriously didn’t do it for me? Well, that would (easily) be Russell Crowe as Javert, the evil Police Inspector. The producers obviously cast him in the part because of his looks and because he’s a big name that would draw attention to the film, but he just can’t sing. Or well, he can sing because he has a rock band in Australia, he just can’t sing these Javert jams, an added frustration because the Javert numbers are probably the best songs in all of the original musical. He’s by far the weakest link of this whole production, and I genuinely believe the fact that Les Miz isn’t being talked about as a stronger Best Picture contender is his fault; a great Javert would’ve made this a great film, instead we get one that’s acted nicely enough but that’s horribly sung.

As for the other actors, well I really do have to give a shout-out to Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit. Props to them. Mr. Redmayne is a relatively unknown actor with a lead role (especially compared to the heavyweights he’s up against, and especially since I’m not a fan of this character in the original musical) and he’s honestly great, like star-making-role kind of great, this guy’s going to be around for a while, just look at what he does with “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” number. And then Mr. Tveit absolutely owns the role of Enjorlas in a way that really surprised me, plus he has a brilliant pitch which helps a lot.

Those two were the ones I love, but also big props to Amanda Seyfried andSamantha Barks. Ms. Seyfried genuinely got into the role of Cosette and brought forward things about her character that were awesome to see, I thought her acting was flawless here, sincerely, and her voice was just impeccable as well. Then you have Ms. Barks, the girl who played Eponine in the stage production and who gets to reprise her here, and it shows that she’s done this before on-stage. It shows because she’s the one that most pulls of the trick of making you forget that she’s singing, I loved that about her performance, “A Little Fall Of Rain” may be the realest moment of the entire film.

Then, of course, there’s Fantine. Ms. Hathaway doesn’t overact a second in this film, in fact you could say she underplays the role most people overplay, she’s amazing and her “I Dreamed A Dream” performance alone has sewn that Oscar up for her. That number is absolute emotional abuse, there’s no way not to cry as she sings, and to have Ms. Hathaway be by far the best thing about this movie and have the most lasting effect of anyone in it while only actually being in for the first third is a testament to her performance.

People who love the musical will probably love this. Probably. I love the musical which I why I liked this movie, and I’m pretty sure that if my connection to the musical were null I’d be giving this a C+ or something. I mean, visually it’s fantastic and all, and people who have no clue about the story will be allowed to follow it and get swept it, but there’s just no denying the fact that vocally it falls short more often than not. Having the actors sing live adds to the realism of it, granted, but when some of them make it kind of rough to follow the melody you can’t help but wonder if it didn’t hurt the movie; if you don’t know the music and the lyrics it may prove hard to follow, not to mention it sucks when the voices falter a bit.

Still it’s great to see these stunning emotions on-screen, to see them portrayed with such energy and passion and commitment, even if it’s just too over-the-top and flawed. It’s an epic film, that’s for sure, and it’s more than worth your time and money, it’s worth giving Anne Hathaway an Oscar, worth applauding for taking on the most beloved of stage musicals and doing something daring with it. It’s just not worth calling it a masterpiece or a great film or anything else. At least this time around this won’t take Best Picture or Best Director from worthier films and filmmakers, though the film (for sure) and Mr. Hooper (probably) will still take nomination slots from better names, but that’s something I can live with.

Grade: B+


Q
I gave you a shoutout on my blog, it's a fashion blog and I wrote about Zero Dark Thirty and Jessica Chastain. Keep up the good work! Are you able to leave comments on your blog?
A

That’s awesome, thanks so much! And glad to meet a fellow Chastain lover. I’ve no idea how to enable comments on Tumblr, but I have my blog up on Wordpress as well and you can leave comments over there. Thanks so much again for the kind words! 


Title: Parental GuidanceYear: 2012Director: Andy FickmanWriters: Lisa Addario and Joe SyracuseStarring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee MadisonMPAA Rating: PG, some rude humorRuntime: 104 minIMDb Rating: 5.8Rotten Tomatoes: 19%Metacritic: 37
Parental Guidance is the kind of movie that just shouldn’t really exist. During December when some of the very best films of the year are being released to vie for some awards attention we sometimes get stuff like this, family movies that are just absolutely horrible and that, like is also the case with this one, still manage to make a nice buck. Plus, no disrespect to them, but Billy Crystal andBette Midler shouldn’t be the headliners of a movie in this decade.
The film, directed by Andy Fickman, who hasn’t directed a good film in his career so far (his last film was 2010′s You Again, which I gave a C- to), centers on the characters of Mr. Crystal and Ms. Midler, Artie and Diane, who go to Atlanta to look after their grandkids after their type-A parents leave town for work. What ensues then is that you have these old school grandparents with their set of strict rules colliding with 21st century kids and it becomes this trite and predictable movie about them learning to connect with each other and yadda yadda, you know how it all goes.
I just can’t tell you how much I disliked this film, especially when all the ones I’ve been getting to watch recently have been those end-of-year releases that are pretty amazing. Billy Crystal, of course, was born to play this role of the old man who’s nostalgic for the good old days and gets frustrated at how he can’t quite grasp the need for the iPhones and such. Fortunately for us, he’d been away from the multiplexes for a while now, so we hadn’t had to suffer with this schtick for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Billy Crystal, it’s just that he tires me (plus, he’s a Clippers fan) and I hadn’t missed not seeing him topline a movie in a decade at all.
Of course Billy Crystal is not the only thing that’s bad about this movie, but I do believe he’s the main thing. This from the fact that he’s also a producer here, and you just get the sense that he loves this kind of stuff. He loves the schmaltz combined with the tremendously worn-out jokes and the stupid scatological humor (one of the kids nicknames his character Fartie). All of that kind of felt like a Billy Crystal experience to me, you know, having there be a life lesson in there for the kids between every couple of vomiting instances or injuries to the groin. Ugh.
This is just bad, and yet these movies will always be here. Holiday family movies are usually this, dumb spectacles in which there’s poo so that the kids laugh and then it’s all wrapped up neatly in a corny life lesson so the adults can justify taking their kids to see it when they should’ve let them at home (with a babysitter, not with Billy Crystal) and gone to see Zero Dark Thirty instead.
Mr. Crystal, by the way, as much as I’ve trashed him a couple of paragraphs above, at least tries. He tries because, again, I think this is the kind of movie he loves to make. He’s always seem destined to play this kind of role, really, and now he’s finally the right age so he can go all-in and just sell it to paying audiences. But this whole schtick of the grandpa who doesn’t of every single that’s changed in America in the past quarter of a century is grown old, and the whole culture-clash storyline of this movie is one we’ve been seeing portrayed, in the exact same way, but with different cultural references, for decades now. We really shouldn’t pay to see a movie like this when so many better ones keep being ignored.
And I haven’t even touched upon what to me is the biggest offense I take withParental Guidance. And that’s the fact that it tries to convince us that Billy Crystal and Bette Midler could have fathered Marisa Tomei, who plays their daughter who asks them to come over and who has a different view on parenting. This is not just me being pissed of that Ms. Tomei, who I adore, has a part in this movie, but I mean seriously, there’s no way those two could have fathered a woman as beautiful. She deserves both a better agent to advice her against these movies and better-looking on-screen parents.
To be fair, there was one time in which I chuckled during this movie, it was when Mr. Crystal kind of went off on a teacher at his stuttering grandson’s speech therapy class. I chuckled at that, but that was the only time. And for a comedy that’s bad. Not to mention it’s at least 20 minutes longer than it has any right to be and it seems to run out of jokes at about the halfway point, though, for its intentions, that’s well enough since during the last act of it it’s only concerned with all the corny stuff about families bringing themselves together and whatnot.
If it wasn’t clear enough already: I seriously advice against seeing Parental Guidance. It’s not the worst 2012 release, but it’s a tremendously crappy one that’s out at a time in which pretty much everything else in theaters is more than worth your time and money. It has Billy Crystal in a role that he was born to play, sure, but that’s just not necessarily a good thing, and I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas and starts producing carbon copies of this every Christmas.
Grade: D

Title: Parental Guidance
Year: 2012
Director: Andy Fickman
Writers: Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison
MPAA Rating: PG, some rude humor
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 19%
Metacritic: 37

Parental Guidance is the kind of movie that just shouldn’t really exist. During December when some of the very best films of the year are being released to vie for some awards attention we sometimes get stuff like this, family movies that are just absolutely horrible and that, like is also the case with this one, still manage to make a nice buck. Plus, no disrespect to them, but Billy Crystal andBette Midler shouldn’t be the headliners of a movie in this decade.

The film, directed by Andy Fickman, who hasn’t directed a good film in his career so far (his last film was 2010′s You Again, which I gave a C- to), centers on the characters of Mr. Crystal and Ms. Midler, Artie and Diane, who go to Atlanta to look after their grandkids after their type-A parents leave town for work. What ensues then is that you have these old school grandparents with their set of strict rules colliding with 21st century kids and it becomes this trite and predictable movie about them learning to connect with each other and yadda yadda, you know how it all goes.

I just can’t tell you how much I disliked this film, especially when all the ones I’ve been getting to watch recently have been those end-of-year releases that are pretty amazing. Billy Crystal, of course, was born to play this role of the old man who’s nostalgic for the good old days and gets frustrated at how he can’t quite grasp the need for the iPhones and such. Fortunately for us, he’d been away from the multiplexes for a while now, so we hadn’t had to suffer with this schtick for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Billy Crystal, it’s just that he tires me (plus, he’s a Clippers fan) and I hadn’t missed not seeing him topline a movie in a decade at all.

Of course Billy Crystal is not the only thing that’s bad about this movie, but I do believe he’s the main thing. This from the fact that he’s also a producer here, and you just get the sense that he loves this kind of stuff. He loves the schmaltz combined with the tremendously worn-out jokes and the stupid scatological humor (one of the kids nicknames his character Fartie). All of that kind of felt like a Billy Crystal experience to me, you know, having there be a life lesson in there for the kids between every couple of vomiting instances or injuries to the groin. Ugh.

This is just bad, and yet these movies will always be here. Holiday family movies are usually this, dumb spectacles in which there’s poo so that the kids laugh and then it’s all wrapped up neatly in a corny life lesson so the adults can justify taking their kids to see it when they should’ve let them at home (with a babysitter, not with Billy Crystal) and gone to see Zero Dark Thirty instead.

Mr. Crystal, by the way, as much as I’ve trashed him a couple of paragraphs above, at least tries. He tries because, again, I think this is the kind of movie he loves to make. He’s always seem destined to play this kind of role, really, and now he’s finally the right age so he can go all-in and just sell it to paying audiences. But this whole schtick of the grandpa who doesn’t of every single that’s changed in America in the past quarter of a century is grown old, and the whole culture-clash storyline of this movie is one we’ve been seeing portrayed, in the exact same way, but with different cultural references, for decades now. We really shouldn’t pay to see a movie like this when so many better ones keep being ignored.

And I haven’t even touched upon what to me is the biggest offense I take withParental Guidance. And that’s the fact that it tries to convince us that Billy Crystal and Bette Midler could have fathered Marisa Tomei, who plays their daughter who asks them to come over and who has a different view on parenting. This is not just me being pissed of that Ms. Tomei, who I adore, has a part in this movie, but I mean seriously, there’s no way those two could have fathered a woman as beautiful. She deserves both a better agent to advice her against these movies and better-looking on-screen parents.

To be fair, there was one time in which I chuckled during this movie, it was when Mr. Crystal kind of went off on a teacher at his stuttering grandson’s speech therapy class. I chuckled at that, but that was the only time. And for a comedy that’s bad. Not to mention it’s at least 20 minutes longer than it has any right to be and it seems to run out of jokes at about the halfway point, though, for its intentions, that’s well enough since during the last act of it it’s only concerned with all the corny stuff about families bringing themselves together and whatnot.

If it wasn’t clear enough already: I seriously advice against seeing Parental Guidance. It’s not the worst 2012 release, but it’s a tremendously crappy one that’s out at a time in which pretty much everything else in theaters is more than worth your time and money. It has Billy Crystal in a role that he was born to play, sure, but that’s just not necessarily a good thing, and I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas and starts producing carbon copies of this every Christmas.

Grade: D


Title: West of MemphisYear: 2012Director: Amy BergWriters: Amy Berg and Billy McMillinStarring: Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, Jason BaldwinMPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent content and some languageRuntime: 147 minIMDb Rating: 7.4Rotten Tomatoes: 96%Metacritic: 78
By now we know the case of the West Memphis Three. We know how three teenagers were convicted and tried for the murders of three boys back in 1994, murders which were set to have been produced as part of a satanic ritual and which got one of the accused a death sentence and the other two life sentences. After having served over 18 years in prison, they were released. You’ve heard about this case as much as you have mostly because people ranging fromJohnny Depp to Eddie Vedder were outspoken about their beliefs of the innocence of these three men, and because three terrific HBO documentaries have been made about them.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills came out in 1996, then came Paradise Lost 2: Revelations in 2000, and then just in 2011 we hadParadise Lost 3: Purgatory, a film which was supposed to be  another installment with the three men in prison but was reshaped while in production, after the release of the West Memphis Three, to serve as a definitive closing chapter to their saga. It’s believed by many that had it not been for filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who were in charge of those films, the case of these three men wouldn’t be nearly as notorious and the support that raged for their innocence wouldn’t have been nearly as great, and there’s a good chance they’d still be in prison.
Now there’s a new film about them, directed by Amy Berg, who made theAcademy Award-nominated documentary Deliver Us from Evil (one of the very best docs I’ve ever seen), and produced both by Damien Echols, one of the actual West Memphis Three, as well as Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings films who’s another one of the big names who was out there supporting the innocence of the trio.
Let me just say this is certainly one of the very best documentaries of 2012. It tells the story we know so well by now, from the beginnings of the case, to the trials, to the eventual release, but it does so with truly unprecedented access. Not only because it’s told to us by the people who lived it, but also because we’re given this brilliantly detailed look into the defense, seeing how the research worked and how the process went down. Moreover, West of Memphis shines a light on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered children, making him a potential new suspect due to evidence and confessions made by those around him.
The Paradise Lost movies are, of course, tremendous, and a big part of me genuinely believes the West Memphis Three may still be in prison were it not for the attention those films brought to their case, but West of Memphis, giving us the whole story in two and a half hours and constructing it after the story’s ended and not as it’s happening makes for an equally compelling view of a crime that haunted the American South for two decades. It’s a story about a horrific failure in the justice system, about the police being incompetent and about prosecutors not wanting to listen to evidence found in a privately funded investigation. Using the word enraging to describe this doesn’t really cut it.
It’s made with so much love, and it’s so nuanced and has such a powerful kick that I believe this should be necessary viewing, really. And I genuinely mean that this is a film made out of love; you get to hear from people who spent two decades trying to free innocent men, and you do so knowing that their efforts paid off. That’s inspiring, knowing that it paid off, but it’s also horribly infuriating because yes, this story may have had a happy ending, but this story never should have happened in the first place.
Seeing Lorri Davis is one of the only truly happy sights of this movie, and goes to show you the love that went into it all. A New York landscape architect who became infuriated when she heard about the case in 1996 and started corresponding with Mr. Echols, the man the film focusses the most on. They eventually got married in 1999, and she started sending him books, which is the reason why when you hear Mr. Echols, who pretty much grew up in poverty, he sounds so articulate and smart. That the love and conviction of this woman paid off in her now living with her husband in freedom is fantastic.
Something that really gets me going about this whole saga is that the justice system allowed them to walk free only if they accepted an Alford plea, which means that they reassert their innocence while still recognizing that there’s enough evidence to convict them. It’s basically the prosecution saying “Yes, we were wrong, but look, even they acknowledge we had all the evidence to think we were right”. That this happens in a justice system, and, as evidenced by The Central Park Five, another incendiary documentary from 2012, that it happens so often, is something that is just tremendously horrifying.
Still, this is a film that’s enraging more than anything else. Yes, they were freed. But only after years of huge publicity to their case, and honestly, the amount of money that was spent in legal and forensic activities is one that only a case that was that notorious could have gotten. You can’t help but think about how many other gross miscarriages of justice will be left uncovered because they don’t have the outlet to be let known, and thus the funds to have the wrongs righted. Another thing that’s infuriating is the fact that even with new evidence that warrants a trial to find out the real killer, the justice system doesn’t want anything to do with it, it seems like they’re more than fine with a case as notorious as this being closed off in such a cluster-fuck way.
So, should you watch West of Memphis or the Paradise Lost films? Well, both, really. This one, because it’s shorter, tells the story more cleanly and more concisely, with the advantage of hindsight; the Paradise Lost flicks are as amazing and as a landmarks docs as they are because you get to know these people and these places in some great ways, and because they’re the ones that got this whole thing rolling. West of Memphis is great though, it has a ton of terrific research and it’s constructed tremendously and argued for brilliantly, certainly one of 2012′s best documentaries.
Grade: A-

Title: West of Memphis
Year: 2012
Director: Amy Berg
Writers: Amy Berg and Billy McMillin
Starring: Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent content and some language
Runtime: 147 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Metacritic: 78

By now we know the case of the West Memphis Three. We know how three teenagers were convicted and tried for the murders of three boys back in 1994, murders which were set to have been produced as part of a satanic ritual and which got one of the accused a death sentence and the other two life sentences. After having served over 18 years in prison, they were released. You’ve heard about this case as much as you have mostly because people ranging fromJohnny Depp to Eddie Vedder were outspoken about their beliefs of the innocence of these three men, and because three terrific HBO documentaries have been made about them.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills came out in 1996, then came Paradise Lost 2: Revelations in 2000, and then just in 2011 we hadParadise Lost 3: Purgatory, a film which was supposed to be  another installment with the three men in prison but was reshaped while in production, after the release of the West Memphis Three, to serve as a definitive closing chapter to their saga. It’s believed by many that had it not been for filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who were in charge of those films, the case of these three men wouldn’t be nearly as notorious and the support that raged for their innocence wouldn’t have been nearly as great, and there’s a good chance they’d still be in prison.

Now there’s a new film about them, directed by Amy Berg, who made theAcademy Award-nominated documentary Deliver Us from Evil (one of the very best docs I’ve ever seen), and produced both by Damien Echols, one of the actual West Memphis Three, as well as Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings films who’s another one of the big names who was out there supporting the innocence of the trio.

Let me just say this is certainly one of the very best documentaries of 2012. It tells the story we know so well by now, from the beginnings of the case, to the trials, to the eventual release, but it does so with truly unprecedented access. Not only because it’s told to us by the people who lived it, but also because we’re given this brilliantly detailed look into the defense, seeing how the research worked and how the process went down. Moreover, West of Memphis shines a light on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered children, making him a potential new suspect due to evidence and confessions made by those around him.

The Paradise Lost movies are, of course, tremendous, and a big part of me genuinely believes the West Memphis Three may still be in prison were it not for the attention those films brought to their case, but West of Memphis, giving us the whole story in two and a half hours and constructing it after the story’s ended and not as it’s happening makes for an equally compelling view of a crime that haunted the American South for two decades. It’s a story about a horrific failure in the justice system, about the police being incompetent and about prosecutors not wanting to listen to evidence found in a privately funded investigation. Using the word enraging to describe this doesn’t really cut it.

It’s made with so much love, and it’s so nuanced and has such a powerful kick that I believe this should be necessary viewing, really. And I genuinely mean that this is a film made out of love; you get to hear from people who spent two decades trying to free innocent men, and you do so knowing that their efforts paid off. That’s inspiring, knowing that it paid off, but it’s also horribly infuriating because yes, this story may have had a happy ending, but this story never should have happened in the first place.

Seeing Lorri Davis is one of the only truly happy sights of this movie, and goes to show you the love that went into it all. A New York landscape architect who became infuriated when she heard about the case in 1996 and started corresponding with Mr. Echols, the man the film focusses the most on. They eventually got married in 1999, and she started sending him books, which is the reason why when you hear Mr. Echols, who pretty much grew up in poverty, he sounds so articulate and smart. That the love and conviction of this woman paid off in her now living with her husband in freedom is fantastic.

Something that really gets me going about this whole saga is that the justice system allowed them to walk free only if they accepted an Alford plea, which means that they reassert their innocence while still recognizing that there’s enough evidence to convict them. It’s basically the prosecution saying “Yes, we were wrong, but look, even they acknowledge we had all the evidence to think we were right”. That this happens in a justice system, and, as evidenced by The Central Park Five, another incendiary documentary from 2012, that it happens so often, is something that is just tremendously horrifying.

Still, this is a film that’s enraging more than anything else. Yes, they were freed. But only after years of huge publicity to their case, and honestly, the amount of money that was spent in legal and forensic activities is one that only a case that was that notorious could have gotten. You can’t help but think about how many other gross miscarriages of justice will be left uncovered because they don’t have the outlet to be let known, and thus the funds to have the wrongs righted. Another thing that’s infuriating is the fact that even with new evidence that warrants a trial to find out the real killer, the justice system doesn’t want anything to do with it, it seems like they’re more than fine with a case as notorious as this being closed off in such a cluster-fuck way.

So, should you watch West of Memphis or the Paradise Lost films? Well, both, really. This one, because it’s shorter, tells the story more cleanly and more concisely, with the advantage of hindsight; the Paradise Lost flicks are as amazing and as a landmarks docs as they are because you get to know these people and these places in some great ways, and because they’re the ones that got this whole thing rolling. West of Memphis is great though, it has a ton of terrific research and it’s constructed tremendously and argued for brilliantly, certainly one of 2012′s best documentaries.

Grade: A-


Title: Zero Dark ThirtyYear: 2012Director: Kathryn BigelowWriter: Mark BoalStarring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Ehle, James GandolfiniMPAA Rating: R, strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for languageRuntime: 157 minIMDb Rating: 7.4Rotten Tomatoes: 94%Metacritic: 95
Finally I get to watch Zero Dark Thirty. Let me tell you something out front, I don’t intend to get into any of the hot topics that have been surrounding this movie, at least not spend the whole review talking about. I won’t talk about whether it’s pro-Obama, or whether it’s pro-torture, or whether it got improper access to classified information. On the one hand I don’t think I’m really classified to talk about those things with any kind of credibility (though, obviously, that hasn’t stopped most people with an internet connection to do so) and on the other hand I’m here to talk about the merits of Kathryn Bigelow‘s latest as a film. And as a film this is an undeniable masterpiece.
I mean, sure, it’s impossible to talk about Zero Dark Thirty without real life circumstances and events getting in the way, if only because the film is about one of the most important events in recent memory, the manhunt for, and eventual demise of, Osama bin Laden. But all this talk about the torture stuff and the trials about it having unwarranted access to classified information only to paint the Obama administration in a good light I think is a bit unnecessary. What we should all be focussing on is simply on what a stunning achievement of filmmaking this is, how gripping and tense this film is, how absolutely smart in its portrayal of such a momentous event it is, how great its eye for detail is.
The film comes, of course, from director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriterMark Boal, the team who, just a few years ago, picked up Oscars for their work in another gripping piece of drama dealing with war, The Hurt Locker. That film is, of course, an absolute tour de force and ranks amongst the very best we’ve seen in the past decade or so, and thank God it took the Oscar out of the hands ofAvatar, but I do believe this one’s the better movie. It’s a milestone movie for Ms. Bigelow and for the post-9/11 society, it’s crafted with an utmost level of professionalism that’s impossible not to respect it like hell; it’s super easy to ignore how hard it is to tell a two and a half hour story with an ending we already know, and to do it with such a level intellectual stimulation would normally seem impossible.
What I love so much about the story of how this got made was the fact that Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal had already written and were prepping a film about the Battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was supposedly hiding and eventually got away. And just as they were about to begin filming the news that bin Laden had been killed broke and they went back to drawing board, with Mr. Boal keeping simply the research and contacts he had made for that initial movie and then starting from scratch to make this new film about a very recent development.
So we get this decade-long tale, this elite team of both intelligence and military operatives all of them working in unison, under top secret status, all over the world, in order to find and eliminate the man who orchestrated the most horrible event in the history of the United States. All of this seen mostly through the eyes of Maya, a young CIA officer who spends her career trying to find bin Laden, a strong, single-minded woman who experiences a hell of a lot in order to achieve her mission. She’s played by Jessica Chastain here, and if you thought Ms. Chastain’s star couldn’t shine any brighter after her insanely successful 2011, wait until you see her here, her performance is absolute dynamite.
I could spend ages talking about the merits of this film, it really just absolutely floored me and chilled me to the bone. I mean, take Argo for instance, an unbelievable film that I loved and that I also gave a perfect grade to. That film’s amazing, and was also about real life events much like this one, but Ben Affleckwould have never dared taken with Argo the road Ms. Bigelow took with Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is an easy-going film in which you know how to feel when you leave, in Zero Dark Thirty nothing is digested easily, every single thing, as seen by the many issues it has brought up, can be potentially controversial. It’s a film that’s raw, disturbing, and 100% necessary.
I say disturbing because that’s what this movie is. As the film begins we see darkness and then we hear telephone conversations from those trapped in the towers 11 years ago. You feel that. Then we’re in Pakistan, as Maya’s working at the U.S. Embassy over there, learning the tricks of the trade from a CIA operative played by Jason Clarke. Those tricks of the trade, though they’re called enhanced interrogation techniques, are torture. She’s there to do her job, she’s obsessed with it, she may have to do some amoral things to get the job done, but such are the things are done when working under such extreme conditions and circumstances.
Seeing Ms. Chastain at work here is amazing, and if she takes the Oscar next month then it would be a deserved accolade. She’s so versatile and can do so much with so little. Much like with Jeremy Renner‘s character in The Hurt Locker, Maya is a character who we get to know entirely through the stuff she does in the movie, we don’t get any kind exposition to her past, we must get to know this conflicted character simply through her actions. I love that this character exists in an American movie nowadays, and I love that she got to be played by such an immensely talented actress.
The rest of the cast, by the way is chockfull of amazing actors in supporting roles. You have Kyle Chandler as the CIA big dog in Islamabad, Joel Edgerton andChris Pratt are part of the Navy SEALs who take part in the climax, Jennifer Ehle is a CIA operative, Edgar Ramirez as a colleague of Maya’s, James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta. With actors like these it’s no surprise that even the smallest character will have its grip on you.
Zero Dark Thirty is a masterful procedural in which the people doing the hunting are mostly in boardrooms or staring at computers and not necessarily in the field (another daring decision of Ms. Bigelow’s in not going the Argo route). It’s a film about revenge and about morality and about America during its darkest hour and how it chose to climb out of it. It’s a vital film, the most important one on this topic we’ve ever had, with a lead character that has no backstory and that’s a different kind of heroine than we’re accustomed to.
I said I wouldn’t talk about it. But screw it, here are my two cents. I don’t think Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal glorify or even justify torture. It’s a morally ambiguous film, absolutely, but because of that it’s never clear what it says about something like torture. It gives it you straight, no holds barred, which is why some scenes will be so uncomfortable to witness, but it says so little about it that what you think it does say will probably be what you say about it yourself and not because of the movie.
There’s not one interpretation of facts in this fictionalized account of events, no explicit commentary on neither events nor the real direction of any kind of moral compass. As a society with so many quick outlets with which to let your voice out, be it Twitter or Facebook or whatever, people are fast to pass judgement on a work of art, call it this or that. And it’s precisely because Zero Dark Thirty is neither this or that is that it’s a masterpiece. It’s objective, which is what most fuels debate and controversy, if it shows something it’s because something happened. Every single nation in an event like this, in the history of mankind, has used torture, it’s just that some were better at hiding it or externalizing guilt than others.
You will react to the many, many issues this film poses (and torture is not even the biggest one of them) in a different way than I will or than the person sitting next to you will. That’s because we go to a movie, whether it’s Zero Dark Thirty or The Lorax, with opinions and baggage of our own, and we have those opinions and baggage as we watch it, and we’ll have them as we walk out of it.
Zero Dark Thirty is an impeccably crafted film, with a stunning central performance, a brilliantly researched script, and it’s a film that isn’t afraid to hold a mirror to the face of a nation. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t tell you just what you see in the reflection of that mirror, though it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s an undeniably dark sight, but rather that you’ll figure just what your see in the mirror for yourself, and you’ll probably do so through opinions you had before this film was ever made.
Grade: A+

Title: Zero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Runtime: 157 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 95

Finally I get to watch Zero Dark Thirty. Let me tell you something out front, I don’t intend to get into any of the hot topics that have been surrounding this movie, at least not spend the whole review talking about. I won’t talk about whether it’s pro-Obama, or whether it’s pro-torture, or whether it got improper access to classified information. On the one hand I don’t think I’m really classified to talk about those things with any kind of credibility (though, obviously, that hasn’t stopped most people with an internet connection to do so) and on the other hand I’m here to talk about the merits of Kathryn Bigelow‘s latest as a film. And as a film this is an undeniable masterpiece.

I mean, sure, it’s impossible to talk about Zero Dark Thirty without real life circumstances and events getting in the way, if only because the film is about one of the most important events in recent memory, the manhunt for, and eventual demise of, Osama bin Laden. But all this talk about the torture stuff and the trials about it having unwarranted access to classified information only to paint the Obama administration in a good light I think is a bit unnecessary. What we should all be focussing on is simply on what a stunning achievement of filmmaking this is, how gripping and tense this film is, how absolutely smart in its portrayal of such a momentous event it is, how great its eye for detail is.

The film comes, of course, from director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriterMark Boal, the team who, just a few years ago, picked up Oscars for their work in another gripping piece of drama dealing with war, The Hurt Locker. That film is, of course, an absolute tour de force and ranks amongst the very best we’ve seen in the past decade or so, and thank God it took the Oscar out of the hands ofAvatar, but I do believe this one’s the better movie. It’s a milestone movie for Ms. Bigelow and for the post-9/11 society, it’s crafted with an utmost level of professionalism that’s impossible not to respect it like hell; it’s super easy to ignore how hard it is to tell a two and a half hour story with an ending we already know, and to do it with such a level intellectual stimulation would normally seem impossible.

What I love so much about the story of how this got made was the fact that Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal had already written and were prepping a film about the Battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was supposedly hiding and eventually got away. And just as they were about to begin filming the news that bin Laden had been killed broke and they went back to drawing board, with Mr. Boal keeping simply the research and contacts he had made for that initial movie and then starting from scratch to make this new film about a very recent development.

So we get this decade-long tale, this elite team of both intelligence and military operatives all of them working in unison, under top secret status, all over the world, in order to find and eliminate the man who orchestrated the most horrible event in the history of the United States. All of this seen mostly through the eyes of Maya, a young CIA officer who spends her career trying to find bin Laden, a strong, single-minded woman who experiences a hell of a lot in order to achieve her mission. She’s played by Jessica Chastain here, and if you thought Ms. Chastain’s star couldn’t shine any brighter after her insanely successful 2011, wait until you see her here, her performance is absolute dynamite.

I could spend ages talking about the merits of this film, it really just absolutely floored me and chilled me to the bone. I mean, take Argo for instance, an unbelievable film that I loved and that I also gave a perfect grade to. That film’s amazing, and was also about real life events much like this one, but Ben Affleckwould have never dared taken with Argo the road Ms. Bigelow took with Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is an easy-going film in which you know how to feel when you leave, in Zero Dark Thirty nothing is digested easily, every single thing, as seen by the many issues it has brought up, can be potentially controversial. It’s a film that’s raw, disturbing, and 100% necessary.

I say disturbing because that’s what this movie is. As the film begins we see darkness and then we hear telephone conversations from those trapped in the towers 11 years ago. You feel that. Then we’re in Pakistan, as Maya’s working at the U.S. Embassy over there, learning the tricks of the trade from a CIA operative played by Jason Clarke. Those tricks of the trade, though they’re called enhanced interrogation techniques, are torture. She’s there to do her job, she’s obsessed with it, she may have to do some amoral things to get the job done, but such are the things are done when working under such extreme conditions and circumstances.

Seeing Ms. Chastain at work here is amazing, and if she takes the Oscar next month then it would be a deserved accolade. She’s so versatile and can do so much with so little. Much like with Jeremy Renner‘s character in The Hurt Locker, Maya is a character who we get to know entirely through the stuff she does in the movie, we don’t get any kind exposition to her past, we must get to know this conflicted character simply through her actions. I love that this character exists in an American movie nowadays, and I love that she got to be played by such an immensely talented actress.

The rest of the cast, by the way is chockfull of amazing actors in supporting roles. You have Kyle Chandler as the CIA big dog in Islamabad, Joel Edgerton andChris Pratt are part of the Navy SEALs who take part in the climax, Jennifer Ehle is a CIA operative, Edgar Ramirez as a colleague of Maya’s, James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta. With actors like these it’s no surprise that even the smallest character will have its grip on you.

Zero Dark Thirty is a masterful procedural in which the people doing the hunting are mostly in boardrooms or staring at computers and not necessarily in the field (another daring decision of Ms. Bigelow’s in not going the Argo route). It’s a film about revenge and about morality and about America during its darkest hour and how it chose to climb out of it. It’s a vital film, the most important one on this topic we’ve ever had, with a lead character that has no backstory and that’s a different kind of heroine than we’re accustomed to.

I said I wouldn’t talk about it. But screw it, here are my two cents. I don’t think Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal glorify or even justify torture. It’s a morally ambiguous film, absolutely, but because of that it’s never clear what it says about something like torture. It gives it you straight, no holds barred, which is why some scenes will be so uncomfortable to witness, but it says so little about it that what you think it does say will probably be what you say about it yourself and not because of the movie.

There’s not one interpretation of facts in this fictionalized account of events, no explicit commentary on neither events nor the real direction of any kind of moral compass. As a society with so many quick outlets with which to let your voice out, be it Twitter or Facebook or whatever, people are fast to pass judgement on a work of art, call it this or that. And it’s precisely because Zero Dark Thirty is neither this or that is that it’s a masterpiece. It’s objective, which is what most fuels debate and controversy, if it shows something it’s because something happened. Every single nation in an event like this, in the history of mankind, has used torture, it’s just that some were better at hiding it or externalizing guilt than others.

You will react to the many, many issues this film poses (and torture is not even the biggest one of them) in a different way than I will or than the person sitting next to you will. That’s because we go to a movie, whether it’s Zero Dark Thirty or The Lorax, with opinions and baggage of our own, and we have those opinions and baggage as we watch it, and we’ll have them as we walk out of it.

Zero Dark Thirty is an impeccably crafted film, with a stunning central performance, a brilliantly researched script, and it’s a film that isn’t afraid to hold a mirror to the face of a nation. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t tell you just what you see in the reflection of that mirror, though it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s an undeniably dark sight, but rather that you’ll figure just what your see in the mirror for yourself, and you’ll probably do so through opinions you had before this film was ever made.

Grade: A+


Title: This Is 40Year: 2012Director: Judd ApatowWriter: Judd Apatow, based on characters by himselfStarring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi, Tim Bagley, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd, Rob Smigel, Annie MumoloMPAA Rating: R, sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug materialRuntime: 134 minIMDb Rating: 6.4Rotten Tomatoes: 50%Metacritic: 58
I am, like so many others, a devout member of the church of Judd Apatow. What the man has done to change the comedic landscape of our time during the last decade or so really is amazing. From having his hand in some of the most adored cult TV shows in recent memory, from The Ben Stiller Show to The Larry Sanders Show to, of course, the short-lived masterpiece that was Freaks and Geeks, to revolutionizing comedy in the mid 00′s with films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad.
When I say that this guy revolutionized comedy I’m actually not being hyperbolic or anything. Think about it, before he came along the whole style of R-rated comedy wasn’t really viable to be commercial hits and now it’s pretty much the norm, to the point in which many comedies of that kind that come out people attribute to him even when he doesn’t have a hand in them at all. Not to mention that people like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill and Lena Dunham, four of the most successful comedy actors around, wouldn’t be here were it not for him, and you could argue that the stars of Steve Carell and Will Ferrellwouldn’t be as bright without his contribution to their careers.
So, you see, Judd Apatow is the man. But because he’s either writing or producing or having cameos or supervising or counseling on so many projects all at once (the masterpiece that is Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO wouldn’t have happened without him), we tend to forget that he’s only directed three feature films prior to his latest, This Is 40, which is out now. First came The-40-Year-Old Virgin, which has made over $175 worldwide and started the whole thing, then it was Knocked Up which just really cemented him as the top dog in comedy and made a huge and unexpected $220 worldwide, and then we had Funny People, which people like to signal out for not having been commercially successful or as big a critical hit as his previous films.
I actually like Funny People, at nearly two and a half hours it may be a bit too long, but all of his films are, and I think how he handled the dramatic stuff in it showed this tremendous maturity from a man who had made a living making stuff about grown-ups who behaved like children. It was a film about something, it may not have had the constant hilarity of his other efforts, but quality-wise it was right up there because of how carefully crafted it was and how real it all felt. I genuinely believe Funny People was a natural and important next step in the evolution of Judd Apatow, and awaited dearly for what he decided to do the next time he sat on the director’s chair.
Well, that’s finally happened, nearly three and a half years later, and we get This Is 40, which is being advertised as the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, seeing how it follows the lives of Pete and Debbie, the supporting characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in the 2007 movie. We now follow their lives, dealing with turning 40, with their jobs, with their kids, and, let me tell you something, I loved every damn bit of it.
I would agree that this one’s too long and could have easily been about 15 minutes shorter, and the fact that it is that long makes it feel either aimless at times or as though Mr. Apatow is being over-indulgent at others. But that doesn’t deny the good things that are here, which obviously start with the script from Mr. Apatow which is typically funny and is also full of some seriously perceptive moments that are just acted tremendously well by his cast. That cast, by the way, doesn’t only have Mr. Rudd and Ms. Mann (who’s his wife and who’s just ridiculously awesome), but also has people that range from Albert Brooks to Melissa McCarthy to Megan Fox in supporting roles (and Mr. Apatow and Ms. Mann’s daughters playing Pete and Debbie’s daughters, too. It’s like a family movie!).
So yeah, it may hang around the 50% mark on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t even crack a 60 on Metacritic, but count me among those who loved the hell out of this movie. What I believe separates Mr. Apatow from the rest of people trying to copy him is that his comedy moments not only are just hilarious but they also make a lot of sense in the dramatic narrative of his movie, they’re not just there as isolated moments to make you laugh, but they also mean something in larger picture, in the story he’s trying to tell. He’s always trying to expand what comedy means even when he’s already at the top of that particular ladder, and the way he writes achieves that, not to mention that every character here, even the smallest supporting roles, is written in such a rich way that you can’t help but love them.
Mid-life crisis, the stress of work, the chores of parenthood, the problems with intimacy, those are the problems that just accumulate for Pete and Debbie here. Which, as we all know, can make do for some very funny moments, but in reality those are some deep things with a sad underscore that threatens to debilitate marriages in every society around the world, the fact that Mr. Apatow can make that as funny as it is here without ever once compromising the bigger issues at hand is a testament to his wonderful git as a storyteller.
Plus, what also makes this so great to watch is that you can just feel how personal this all is. Not just because this is his actual wife and daughters we’re seeing on-screen, and because Mr. Rudd is obviously a sort of alter ego to Mr. Apatow himself, but because this feels like the story of himself, a guy who lucked out and who’s happy but who still has the same conventional worries that most of us have. There’s a level of immaturity (obviously) and neediness and just an amazingly vulnerable look at middle-age relationships. There’s a wonderful moment when Debbie asks Pete if he even likes her anymore, and you have to wonder if Mr. Apatow isn’t taking us into his own bedroom with that.
Whatever the case is, kudos to him for delivering such a (painfully) honest film. For making us care and empathize with characters that are merely decent enough people. Sure, the fact that they’re played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, two of the most insanely likable people in show business, helps (and they are just perfect here), but the fact remains that Pete and Debbie are just a tad over-entitled and in need of constant reaffirmation and at times a bit cruel. But that’s life. That’s what Judd Apatow movies are all about, they bring you so close to a reality that it’s impossible not to notice the flaws in these people, and he makes you connect with them in such a way that you can’t not accept their imperfections.
I loved this. I continue to think he’s the king of comedy and I continue to think the guy is just making all the right moves as a director, continuing to explore new territory and think outside the box even when he’s already the best in the game. He makes comedies that mean something. That’s something that only the best of the best have done, which is why it’s so fitting that Albert Brooks has a supporting role here. He knows what looking into characters and not situations will not only bring out the really funny stuff but it will also provide some really amazing emotions to explore.
I’m 21, by the way, so I’ve still got about halfway to go before I can really relate. And yet this film made me relate, I laughed at all the big hilarious moments, and I laughed at all the moments that elicit laughs not necessarily because they’re funny (though they often are) but also because they are painfully funny and you laugh as a defense mechanism in a way. Of course we love our parents and our spouses and our kids, but Mr. Apatow is just so damn good at knowing how to explore the emotions that lie beneath that love, whether they’re good or bad.
Grade: A

Title: This Is 40
Year: 2012
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow, based on characters by himself
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi, Tim Bagley, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd, Rob Smigel, Annie Mumolo
MPAA Rating: R, sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material
Runtime: 134 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Metacritic: 58

I am, like so many others, a devout member of the church of Judd Apatow. What the man has done to change the comedic landscape of our time during the last decade or so really is amazing. From having his hand in some of the most adored cult TV shows in recent memory, from The Ben Stiller Show to The Larry Sanders Show to, of course, the short-lived masterpiece that was Freaks and Geeks, to revolutionizing comedy in the mid 00′s with films like The 40-Year-Old VirginKnocked Up and Superbad.

When I say that this guy revolutionized comedy I’m actually not being hyperbolic or anything. Think about it, before he came along the whole style of R-rated comedy wasn’t really viable to be commercial hits and now it’s pretty much the norm, to the point in which many comedies of that kind that come out people attribute to him even when he doesn’t have a hand in them at all. Not to mention that people like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill and Lena Dunham, four of the most successful comedy actors around, wouldn’t be here were it not for him, and you could argue that the stars of Steve Carell and Will Ferrellwouldn’t be as bright without his contribution to their careers.

So, you see, Judd Apatow is the man. But because he’s either writing or producing or having cameos or supervising or counseling on so many projects all at once (the masterpiece that is Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO wouldn’t have happened without him), we tend to forget that he’s only directed three feature films prior to his latest, This Is 40, which is out now. First came The-40-Year-Old Virgin, which has made over $175 worldwide and started the whole thing, then it was Knocked Up which just really cemented him as the top dog in comedy and made a huge and unexpected $220 worldwide, and then we had Funny People, which people like to signal out for not having been commercially successful or as big a critical hit as his previous films.

I actually like Funny People, at nearly two and a half hours it may be a bit too long, but all of his films are, and I think how he handled the dramatic stuff in it showed this tremendous maturity from a man who had made a living making stuff about grown-ups who behaved like children. It was a film about something, it may not have had the constant hilarity of his other efforts, but quality-wise it was right up there because of how carefully crafted it was and how real it all felt. I genuinely believe Funny People was a natural and important next step in the evolution of Judd Apatow, and awaited dearly for what he decided to do the next time he sat on the director’s chair.

Well, that’s finally happened, nearly three and a half years later, and we get This Is 40, which is being advertised as the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, seeing how it follows the lives of Pete and Debbie, the supporting characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in the 2007 movie. We now follow their lives, dealing with turning 40, with their jobs, with their kids, and, let me tell you something, I loved every damn bit of it.

I would agree that this one’s too long and could have easily been about 15 minutes shorter, and the fact that it is that long makes it feel either aimless at times or as though Mr. Apatow is being over-indulgent at others. But that doesn’t deny the good things that are here, which obviously start with the script from Mr. Apatow which is typically funny and is also full of some seriously perceptive moments that are just acted tremendously well by his cast. That cast, by the way, doesn’t only have Mr. Rudd and Ms. Mann (who’s his wife and who’s just ridiculously awesome), but also has people that range from Albert Brooks to Melissa McCarthy to Megan Fox in supporting roles (and Mr. Apatow and Ms. Mann’s daughters playing Pete and Debbie’s daughters, too. It’s like a family movie!).

So yeah, it may hang around the 50% mark on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t even crack a 60 on Metacritic, but count me among those who loved the hell out of this movie. What I believe separates Mr. Apatow from the rest of people trying to copy him is that his comedy moments not only are just hilarious but they also make a lot of sense in the dramatic narrative of his movie, they’re not just there as isolated moments to make you laugh, but they also mean something in larger picture, in the story he’s trying to tell. He’s always trying to expand what comedy means even when he’s already at the top of that particular ladder, and the way he writes achieves that, not to mention that every character here, even the smallest supporting roles, is written in such a rich way that you can’t help but love them.

Mid-life crisis, the stress of work, the chores of parenthood, the problems with intimacy, those are the problems that just accumulate for Pete and Debbie here. Which, as we all know, can make do for some very funny moments, but in reality those are some deep things with a sad underscore that threatens to debilitate marriages in every society around the world, the fact that Mr. Apatow can make that as funny as it is here without ever once compromising the bigger issues at hand is a testament to his wonderful git as a storyteller.

Plus, what also makes this so great to watch is that you can just feel how personal this all is. Not just because this is his actual wife and daughters we’re seeing on-screen, and because Mr. Rudd is obviously a sort of alter ego to Mr. Apatow himself, but because this feels like the story of himself, a guy who lucked out and who’s happy but who still has the same conventional worries that most of us have. There’s a level of immaturity (obviously) and neediness and just an amazingly vulnerable look at middle-age relationships. There’s a wonderful moment when Debbie asks Pete if he even likes her anymore, and you have to wonder if Mr. Apatow isn’t taking us into his own bedroom with that.

Whatever the case is, kudos to him for delivering such a (painfully) honest film. For making us care and empathize with characters that are merely decent enough people. Sure, the fact that they’re played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, two of the most insanely likable people in show business, helps (and they are just perfect here), but the fact remains that Pete and Debbie are just a tad over-entitled and in need of constant reaffirmation and at times a bit cruel. But that’s life. That’s what Judd Apatow movies are all about, they bring you so close to a reality that it’s impossible not to notice the flaws in these people, and he makes you connect with them in such a way that you can’t not accept their imperfections.

I loved this. I continue to think he’s the king of comedy and I continue to think the guy is just making all the right moves as a director, continuing to explore new territory and think outside the box even when he’s already the best in the game. He makes comedies that mean something. That’s something that only the best of the best have done, which is why it’s so fitting that Albert Brooks has a supporting role here. He knows what looking into characters and not situations will not only bring out the really funny stuff but it will also provide some really amazing emotions to explore.

I’m 21, by the way, so I’ve still got about halfway to go before I can really relate. And yet this film made me relate, I laughed at all the big hilarious moments, and I laughed at all the moments that elicit laughs not necessarily because they’re funny (though they often are) but also because they are painfully funny and you laugh as a defense mechanism in a way. Of course we love our parents and our spouses and our kids, but Mr. Apatow is just so damn good at knowing how to explore the emotions that lie beneath that love, whether they’re good or bad.

Grade: A


Title: Jack ReacherYear: 2012Director: Christopher McQuarrieWriter: Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel by Lee ChildStarring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Jai CourtneyMPAA Rating: PG-13, violence, language and some drug materialRuntime: 130 minIMDb Rating: 7.3Rotten Tomatoes: 61%Metacritic: 49
Tom Cruise is staging a comeback as of late. Sure, he’s never really been away for that long, but it seems now that he’s just seriously trying to retake the title of world’s biggest action star that once so certainly belonged to him. That started, of course, with last year’s stellar Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry in that franchise and also the best one in the series which I ranked as the 21st best film of 2011. He was then seen in the disappointing Rock of Ages this year, but that wasn’t his movie so I don’t count that towards his comeback track record.
The next three projects he has lined up, however, are all full-on Tom Cruise blockbusters that will see just how much the public is ready to embrace him yet again as the bonafide action star he was about a decade ago. 2013 and 2014 will both see him take on sci-fi flicks, Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion and Doug Liman‘s All You Need Is Kill, respectively, but first off Mr. Cruise closed 2012 with a straightforward action movie called Jack Reacher, based on the bookOne Shot by Lee Child, the ninth in the series that follows the adventures of the film’s title character.
Now, if you’ve read any of the books (I haven’t) you may be saying or thinking what most fans of the book are clamoring: Tom Cruise just doesn’t fit the bill of the Jack Reacher character. After all, in the novels he’s described as being this huge 6’5” imposing giant, while Mr. Cruise is famously a short guy, standing at about 5’7”.
Fans have been seriously outraged about the casting the decision but I (though, again, without having read the books) think it’s irrelevant, even more so when you consider Mr. Child himself approves of Mr. Cruise’s casting. He said that a tall actor would bring 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher and that Mr. Cruise would do 100% Reacher with 90% of the height, saying that the physical height in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force which Mr. Cruise portrays in his own way.
Having seen the film I think I must agree with Mr. Child’s assessment. I’ve always been a big fan of Tom Cruise action movies because he just sells you the character through cheer charisma, that’s what’s allowed him to headline movies for three decades, and Jack Reacher is no exception. It’s not an unbelievable film by any means, but it works far better than it probably would have with any other actor in the lead role; Mr. Cruise is what keeps us engaged and what makes this film end up being better than your typical action thriller sort of movie.
The film’s set in Pittsburgh where suddenly, with six shots, a sniper kills five random people sending the city into a state of terror. The police quickly seem to have solved the case but the accused man says he’s innocent and asks that they get Jack Reacher, a drifter and former Army Military Police officer, and a guy who knows the accused. Except Reacher is not necessarily a guy who’d want to get the accused freed, but rather he wants him convicted for a killing spree he went on during a tour in Iraq. It’s just that, precisely because he knows him so well, Reacher knows the man wouldn’t have missed a single shot.
So, paired up with defense attorney Helen Rodin, played by Rosamund Pike, and begins his own investigation. Soon enough Reacher is getting closer to the unseen enemy who’s pulling the strings, getting tangled up with the Russian mob and their leader, a man simply known as The Zec. And this whole thing kind of worked for me, to be honest. I mean, sure, this cool and calculating character is one Mr. Cruise can probably do in his sleep by now, but I liked how this film felt like it was one he could have done in any of the other decades he’s spent making movies, it has this throwback kind of vibe of a straightforward action movie that doesn’t rely on gadgets or huge CGI creations.
I have to give it to Mr. Cruise and to Christopher McQuarrie (best known as the Oscar-winning writer of The Usual Suspects, making his sophomore directing effort here while also handling screenplay duties) for just making that kind of movie, an action movie that simply goes on about its business and executes it well. Mr. Cruise plays this guy who lives off the grid and by his own code of honor, and the rest of the cast is in fine shape. The most genius casting move was the casting of filmmaker Werner Herzog as The Zec, the kind of role that simply requires him to be himself and own it (and he does), then you also have Robert Duvall having so much fun as a shooting range owner, and the likes of Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo popping up here and there.
It’s true that it’s hard to enjoy this movie in the escapist way we’re supposed to when it opened just a few days after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. This is a film that opens with the shooting of people and that has a lot of bullets and rifles in it. Perhaps the timing hurt it a bit, but look past that, or see this one later on, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It has a director who stages things nicely and who happens to be a highly accomplished writer who lends this film banter that’s far better than what you get in your typical action movie, it has cinematography fromCaleb Deschanel that’s great, and a performance by Tom Cruise that’s what makes this one good. This is a good second step in his comeback, here’s hoping the rest of it gets even better.
Grade: B

Title: Jack Reacher
Year: 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel by Lee Child
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney
MPAA Rating: PG-13, violence, language and some drug material
Runtime: 130 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Metacritic: 49

Tom Cruise is staging a comeback as of late. Sure, he’s never really been away for that long, but it seems now that he’s just seriously trying to retake the title of world’s biggest action star that once so certainly belonged to him. That started, of course, with last year’s stellar Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry in that franchise and also the best one in the series which I ranked as the 21st best film of 2011. He was then seen in the disappointing Rock of Ages this year, but that wasn’t his movie so I don’t count that towards his comeback track record.

The next three projects he has lined up, however, are all full-on Tom Cruise blockbusters that will see just how much the public is ready to embrace him yet again as the bonafide action star he was about a decade ago. 2013 and 2014 will both see him take on sci-fi flicks, Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion and Doug Liman‘s All You Need Is Kill, respectively, but first off Mr. Cruise closed 2012 with a straightforward action movie called Jack Reacher, based on the bookOne Shot by Lee Child, the ninth in the series that follows the adventures of the film’s title character.

Now, if you’ve read any of the books (I haven’t) you may be saying or thinking what most fans of the book are clamoring: Tom Cruise just doesn’t fit the bill of the Jack Reacher character. After all, in the novels he’s described as being this huge 6’5” imposing giant, while Mr. Cruise is famously a short guy, standing at about 5’7”.

Fans have been seriously outraged about the casting the decision but I (though, again, without having read the books) think it’s irrelevant, even more so when you consider Mr. Child himself approves of Mr. Cruise’s casting. He said that a tall actor would bring 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher and that Mr. Cruise would do 100% Reacher with 90% of the height, saying that the physical height in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force which Mr. Cruise portrays in his own way.

Having seen the film I think I must agree with Mr. Child’s assessment. I’ve always been a big fan of Tom Cruise action movies because he just sells you the character through cheer charisma, that’s what’s allowed him to headline movies for three decades, and Jack Reacher is no exception. It’s not an unbelievable film by any means, but it works far better than it probably would have with any other actor in the lead role; Mr. Cruise is what keeps us engaged and what makes this film end up being better than your typical action thriller sort of movie.

The film’s set in Pittsburgh where suddenly, with six shots, a sniper kills five random people sending the city into a state of terror. The police quickly seem to have solved the case but the accused man says he’s innocent and asks that they get Jack Reacher, a drifter and former Army Military Police officer, and a guy who knows the accused. Except Reacher is not necessarily a guy who’d want to get the accused freed, but rather he wants him convicted for a killing spree he went on during a tour in Iraq. It’s just that, precisely because he knows him so well, Reacher knows the man wouldn’t have missed a single shot.

So, paired up with defense attorney Helen Rodin, played by Rosamund Pike, and begins his own investigation. Soon enough Reacher is getting closer to the unseen enemy who’s pulling the strings, getting tangled up with the Russian mob and their leader, a man simply known as The Zec. And this whole thing kind of worked for me, to be honest. I mean, sure, this cool and calculating character is one Mr. Cruise can probably do in his sleep by now, but I liked how this film felt like it was one he could have done in any of the other decades he’s spent making movies, it has this throwback kind of vibe of a straightforward action movie that doesn’t rely on gadgets or huge CGI creations.

I have to give it to Mr. Cruise and to Christopher McQuarrie (best known as the Oscar-winning writer of The Usual Suspects, making his sophomore directing effort here while also handling screenplay duties) for just making that kind of movie, an action movie that simply goes on about its business and executes it well. Mr. Cruise plays this guy who lives off the grid and by his own code of honor, and the rest of the cast is in fine shape. The most genius casting move was the casting of filmmaker Werner Herzog as The Zec, the kind of role that simply requires him to be himself and own it (and he does), then you also have Robert Duvall having so much fun as a shooting range owner, and the likes of Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo popping up here and there.

It’s true that it’s hard to enjoy this movie in the escapist way we’re supposed to when it opened just a few days after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. This is a film that opens with the shooting of people and that has a lot of bullets and rifles in it. Perhaps the timing hurt it a bit, but look past that, or see this one later on, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It has a director who stages things nicely and who happens to be a highly accomplished writer who lends this film banter that’s far better than what you get in your typical action movie, it has cinematography fromCaleb Deschanel that’s great, and a performance by Tom Cruise that’s what makes this one good. This is a good second step in his comeback, here’s hoping the rest of it gets even better.

Grade: B


Q
Hey there! Long time reader, and I may have commented before. I just read your review of On The Road, and I really enjoyed it! I enjoy your personal writing style, and how you don't shy away from your emotional attachment and reactions to certain films (Perks and On The Road mainly), which both happen to be films and books I also read about the age of 15 and fell in love with. As a fellow reviewer/amateur journalist, it's nice to see others enjoying what I love and thinking deeply about it. RTRx
A

Thanks for the tremendously kind words! Will definitely head on over to your blog to check out your reaction to On the Road.


Q
Nice review of "Not Fade Away". You may like my Dec 31st post about it.
A

Thanks! Will definitely check your post about it.


Title: On the RoadYear: 2012Director: Walter SallesWriter: Jose Rivera, based on the novel by Jack KerouacStarring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence HowardMPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content, drug use and languageRuntime: 124 minIMDb Rating: 6.2Rotten Tomatoes: 45%Metacritic: 54
It’s been a long time since I’ve gone into a movie feeling both such a tremendous level of excitement while also feeling dubious and guarding myself for potential disappointment. I know it’s said a lot, perhaps too much, but Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road is the type of book that changes lives if you read it at just the right time and age. It did for me, I remember having read this, Stephen Chboksy‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay during the same year and all three of them, paired up with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, remain amongst the most influential pieces of literature I’ve encountered in my life.
Seeing one of those books you have such a substantial connection to come alive on screen can be a daunting proposal. After all, the chances that you’ll like them are always pretty much slim to none, because books are personal experiences, you imagine the places and characters and emotions a certain way that’s wholly unique to you and that would be damn hard for another person to replicate.
Of course, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was adapted into a movie in 2012, and I gave it a perfect grade, an A+, and (with about 10 2012 releases I’ve still got left to catch up with) it stands as the 10th best film I saw from that year. Granted, the fact that it was such a perfect adaptation probably has more than a little to do with the fact that Mr. Chbosky was one of those rare authors who not only penned the adaptation of his novel for the screen, but also directed it.
The Catcher in the Rye probably won’t get a big screen adaptation any time soon because of how explicitly reluctant J.D. Salinger was to have that done. Mr. Chabon’s novel, which to this day remains my favorite book of all-time, has flirted with adaptation for years now, but nothing ever really comes out of it no matter how big the names surrounding the project are. On the Road just got made, I’ll talk about just how successfully so in a while, but it’s important to note that having this seminal beat generation novel on the screen was no small feat.
After all, way back in 1957 Mr. Kerouac wrote a letter to Marlon Brando asking him to play Dean Moriarty while the author himself would play Sal Paradise. The letter was never replied and further negotiations with Paramount went dead. Flash forward to 1979 and you have Francis Ford Coppola buying the rights, and he spent years and years trying to come up with a script and to make it happen; one iteration had Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke as Dean and Sal, the other, with Joel Schumacher attached to direct, had Colin Farrell and Billy Crudup.
So, really, it’s been over half a century since someone first had the idea of turning the novel into a film. Then in 2008 Walter Salles, fresh off the success of his brilliant The Motorcycle Diaries, was approached to direct until the economy collapsed and financing fell through. Then at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, he got a green light, and Mr. Salles made Searching for On the Road, a documentary in which he makes the same road trip as the one in the novel, talking to Beat poets who knew Jack Kerouac along the way, to understand the men and the time that were such an integral part of the novel he’d have the huge challenge to adapt.
Mr. Salles then had to convince the cast he had lined up back in 2007 to still be on board three years later: Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty and Kristen Stewart as Marylou. They all said yes, though of course arranging for Ms. Stewart’s schedule to work out was a task considering how huge she had gotten in those years because of Twilight. The rest of the cast started shaping out with some incredible names which included Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams and Kirsten Dunst.
The film, which premiered at Cannes this year to mixed reactions, is one I love. I say that with both some and none trepidation at the same time, if that makes any sense. It’s not a perfect adaptation, possibly because this is a novel that can’t really have one, and it’s not one mostly because it’s just too hard to really capture the fizzing energy charge of the book, but I loved just how much respect and love was shown to the source material by everyone involved here. You get it that this was a labor of love by the cast and crew, and because of that I kind of loved this whole thing quite a bit.
Sal, the aspiring writer; Dean, the charming ex-con; Marylou, Dean’s seductive wife. These characters mean something to me, their bond means something to me, their desire to escape the conventional constrictions of life means something to me, their decision to head off on the road to discover life and themselves means something to me. The fact that it so clearly meant something to Mr. Salles, Mr. Riley, Mr. Hedlund and Ms. Stewart means the world to me.
I have avoided reading reviews for this one, but I think it won’t be that cool to love this movie. I think people will say, with varying degrees of consternation, that this adaptation doesn’t have the voice of Jack Kerouac and that the voice is what the novel is all about. Maybe. But, like I said, reading the book is an intensely personal experience and everyone has a truly unique vision and connection to it.
What I mean by that is that it’s impossible for anyone to deliver the version of On the Road you imagined, but at least you have to take comfort, and love, the fact that you know Mr. Salles was one of those people influenced by the book and that, at the very least, this is his vision of it. It’s a beautifully romantic vision of it, romantic about youth, poetic about freedom, always genuinely sensitive to its characters. If it doesn’t capture the people who inspired the book, I honestly believe it captures that youthful yearning they represented, and thus I believe Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and company would love the heck out of this movie.
Another sign that this vision was made out of love is that those big names like Mr. Mortensen’s or Ms. Adams’ most definitely represent actors who signed on to play these supporting roles just because the book means so much to them as well and they wanted to be a part of this. That love is felt through this whole movie, seriously finely written by Jose Rivera and just stunningly shot by Eric Gautier, both of them also collaborators of Mr. Salles’ in The Motorcycle Diaries. That cinematography, by the way, is a big reason as to why this worked so well for me personally. The sceneries of the novel were obviously a huge part of it, and how they’re shot here, in such a fluid and seemingly random way, really does feel like how the Beats would have experienced it.
As for the central performances, Sam Riley’s good, but Mr. Hedlund and Ms. Stewart are just awe-inspiring to watch. Ms. Stewart, cast after Mr. Salles saw her in the great Into the Wild, absolutely lets herself go in this role, losing herself in the seductive Marylou, showing us, yet again, just how good an actress she can be when she’s not busy being a vampire. Mr. Hedlund, in the most difficult role to playm is amazing, you believe him as Dean Moriarty, you believe his great presence, how beloved he is by everyone, the sexual magnetism, the irrevocable energy. I was left sincerely impressed by what this young actor did here.
I will have no beef if you hate it or love it because I recognize how it could so easily evoke both of those reactions because of how different our experiences with the source material are. I personally loved the hell out of this movie. I thought that, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it so perfectly captured youth, the innocence of it, of these amazing people just living on the edge of it, experiencing all the things they want to experience. Perhaps it’s not exactly my vision of the story, which is why I’m not giving this one a perfect grade, but it’s a vision I respect and adore because of how evident it is that it was made with as much love and respect as I, or any other fan of the novel, could have hoped for.
Grade: A

Title: On the Road
Year: 2012
Director: Walter Salles
Writer: Jose Rivera, based on the novel by Jack Kerouac
Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard
MPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content, drug use and language
Runtime: 124 min
IMDb Rating: 6.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Metacritic: 54

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone into a movie feeling both such a tremendous level of excitement while also feeling dubious and guarding myself for potential disappointment. I know it’s said a lot, perhaps too much, but Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road is the type of book that changes lives if you read it at just the right time and age. It did for me, I remember having read this, Stephen Chboksy‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay during the same year and all three of them, paired up with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, remain amongst the most influential pieces of literature I’ve encountered in my life.

Seeing one of those books you have such a substantial connection to come alive on screen can be a daunting proposal. After all, the chances that you’ll like them are always pretty much slim to none, because books are personal experiences, you imagine the places and characters and emotions a certain way that’s wholly unique to you and that would be damn hard for another person to replicate.

Of course, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was adapted into a movie in 2012, and I gave it a perfect grade, an A+, and (with about 10 2012 releases I’ve still got left to catch up with) it stands as the 10th best film I saw from that year. Granted, the fact that it was such a perfect adaptation probably has more than a little to do with the fact that Mr. Chbosky was one of those rare authors who not only penned the adaptation of his novel for the screen, but also directed it.

The Catcher in the Rye probably won’t get a big screen adaptation any time soon because of how explicitly reluctant J.D. Salinger was to have that done. Mr. Chabon’s novel, which to this day remains my favorite book of all-time, has flirted with adaptation for years now, but nothing ever really comes out of it no matter how big the names surrounding the project are. On the Road just got made, I’ll talk about just how successfully so in a while, but it’s important to note that having this seminal beat generation novel on the screen was no small feat.

After all, way back in 1957 Mr. Kerouac wrote a letter to Marlon Brando asking him to play Dean Moriarty while the author himself would play Sal Paradise. The letter was never replied and further negotiations with Paramount went dead. Flash forward to 1979 and you have Francis Ford Coppola buying the rights, and he spent years and years trying to come up with a script and to make it happen; one iteration had Brad Pitt and Ethan Hawke as Dean and Sal, the other, with Joel Schumacher attached to direct, had Colin Farrell and Billy Crudup.

So, really, it’s been over half a century since someone first had the idea of turning the novel into a film. Then in 2008 Walter Salles, fresh off the success of his brilliant The Motorcycle Diaries, was approached to direct until the economy collapsed and financing fell through. Then at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, he got a green light, and Mr. Salles made Searching for On the Road, a documentary in which he makes the same road trip as the one in the novel, talking to Beat poets who knew Jack Kerouac along the way, to understand the men and the time that were such an integral part of the novel he’d have the huge challenge to adapt.

Mr. Salles then had to convince the cast he had lined up back in 2007 to still be on board three years later: Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty and Kristen Stewart as Marylou. They all said yes, though of course arranging for Ms. Stewart’s schedule to work out was a task considering how huge she had gotten in those years because of Twilight. The rest of the cast started shaping out with some incredible names which included Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams and Kirsten Dunst.

The film, which premiered at Cannes this year to mixed reactions, is one I love. I say that with both some and none trepidation at the same time, if that makes any sense. It’s not a perfect adaptation, possibly because this is a novel that can’t really have one, and it’s not one mostly because it’s just too hard to really capture the fizzing energy charge of the book, but I loved just how much respect and love was shown to the source material by everyone involved here. You get it that this was a labor of love by the cast and crew, and because of that I kind of loved this whole thing quite a bit.

Sal, the aspiring writer; Dean, the charming ex-con; Marylou, Dean’s seductive wife. These characters mean something to me, their bond means something to me, their desire to escape the conventional constrictions of life means something to me, their decision to head off on the road to discover life and themselves means something to me. The fact that it so clearly meant something to Mr. Salles, Mr. Riley, Mr. Hedlund and Ms. Stewart means the world to me.

I have avoided reading reviews for this one, but I think it won’t be that cool to love this movie. I think people will say, with varying degrees of consternation, that this adaptation doesn’t have the voice of Jack Kerouac and that the voice is what the novel is all about. Maybe. But, like I said, reading the book is an intensely personal experience and everyone has a truly unique vision and connection to it.

What I mean by that is that it’s impossible for anyone to deliver the version of On the Road you imagined, but at least you have to take comfort, and love, the fact that you know Mr. Salles was one of those people influenced by the book and that, at the very least, this is his vision of it. It’s a beautifully romantic vision of it, romantic about youth, poetic about freedom, always genuinely sensitive to its characters. If it doesn’t capture the people who inspired the book, I honestly believe it captures that youthful yearning they represented, and thus I believe Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and company would love the heck out of this movie.

Another sign that this vision was made out of love is that those big names like Mr. Mortensen’s or Ms. Adams’ most definitely represent actors who signed on to play these supporting roles just because the book means so much to them as well and they wanted to be a part of this. That love is felt through this whole movie, seriously finely written by Jose Rivera and just stunningly shot by Eric Gautier, both of them also collaborators of Mr. Salles’ in The Motorcycle Diaries. That cinematography, by the way, is a big reason as to why this worked so well for me personally. The sceneries of the novel were obviously a huge part of it, and how they’re shot here, in such a fluid and seemingly random way, really does feel like how the Beats would have experienced it.

As for the central performances, Sam Riley’s good, but Mr. Hedlund and Ms. Stewart are just awe-inspiring to watch. Ms. Stewart, cast after Mr. Salles saw her in the great Into the Wild, absolutely lets herself go in this role, losing herself in the seductive Marylou, showing us, yet again, just how good an actress she can be when she’s not busy being a vampire. Mr. Hedlund, in the most difficult role to playm is amazing, you believe him as Dean Moriarty, you believe his great presence, how beloved he is by everyone, the sexual magnetism, the irrevocable energy. I was left sincerely impressed by what this young actor did here.

I will have no beef if you hate it or love it because I recognize how it could so easily evoke both of those reactions because of how different our experiences with the source material are. I personally loved the hell out of this movie. I thought that, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it so perfectly captured youth, the innocence of it, of these amazing people just living on the edge of it, experiencing all the things they want to experience. Perhaps it’s not exactly my vision of the story, which is why I’m not giving this one a perfect grade, but it’s a vision I respect and adore because of how evident it is that it was made with as much love and respect as I, or any other fan of the novel, could have hoped for.

Grade: A


Title: The ImpossibleYear: 2012Director: Juan Antonio BayonaWriter: Sergio G. Sánchez, based on a story by María BelónStarring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom HollandMPAA Rating: PG-13, intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudityRuntime: 114 minIMDb Rating: 7.7Rotten Tomatoes: 79%Metacritic: 73
The Indian Ocean tsunami from December 2004 is one of the deadliest natural disasters the world has experienced, caused by the third largest earthquake ever recorded. The numbers speak for themselves: over 230’000 people dead in 14 countries, waves that were up to 30 meters high, an earthquake that lasted for nearly 10 minutes and that triggered other seismic movements as far away as Alaska, $14 billion donated in humanitarian aid. We know those facts, but what’s most amazing about that event are the human stories at the center of it, and inThe Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona‘s new film, one of the most inspiring ones is front and center.
It tells the real story of Maria and Henry Belon and their three children with whom they travel to Thailand to spend their Christmas break in a tropical paradise resort when the tsunami comes crashing down upon them. It’s a story of survival and heroism, about a family torn apart by one of the most devastating disasters the world has endured and about them having to find themselves again without ever losing hope. It’s a truly remarkable story and to see it on display in such a powerful film really makes for a compelling experience.
What makes it such a compelling experience, other than the amazing story, is the fact that the direction and two main performances on display here definitely rank among the very best of 2012. Mr. Bayona is honestly one of the most ridiculously talented young filmmakers out there, and the fact that this is only his sophomore effort (after the impeccable The Orphanage from 2007, one of the scariest films of the last decade) is mind-blowing when you consider just how many amazing things he still has left to deliver.
Then you have the actors playing Maria and Henry, and they just so happen to beNaomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Ms. Watts is just stunning here, and if she gets an Oscar nod I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. As we see Maria before the disaster during Christmas we see one of those modern women who has the wealth and the family but who’s still disappointed with life and looking for something more even if she can’t really pinpoint just what that is. During the disaster she finds it, she finds that connection to the world and to others and every single moment Ms. Watts is on screen is just full of heartbreaking honesty and intense emotion. She is, without a doubt, one of the very best actresses we have working today.
As for Mr. McGregor, he too is in damn fine form here. He’s an actor who, for the most part, chooses seriously varied projects that you get the sense really spoke to him, which in turn allows him to deliver really connected performances. The stuff he does in The Impossible is no exception, and it certainly ranks amongst his best performances, just a raw and finely nuanced performance that’s so pure that it never once falls under the melodramatic trappings that abound in a story like this. There’s intelligence here, there’s charm, there’s profound emotion, and how it’s all delivered really adds to the effect of it all.
Those melodramatic trappings I speak of in the paragraph above are of course pretty much the norm when you have a movie that deals with a real story like this. And seeing a director and his actors avoiding them so deftly is truly something to behold, and I was just tremendously impressed by this whole thing. I do have to say, however, that the screenplay of this film isn’t as great as the performances or the direction, and it does falter a bit and is probably what prevents me from giving this film a perfect grade. Not to say it’s bad, it’s far from that, I just thought it didn’t match the uniform greatness on display by the other elements at play here.
The disaster we see here was also seen in another great movie, Clint Eastwood‘s Hereafter (a film I have a great deal of affection for), and as majestic a sight as that was, the way it’s seen in The Impossible is far more impressive. Not only because visually the whole scene is just startlingly stunning, but because we see it through the eyes of characters that are portrayed with such depth by these great actors, we feel the plight of these people. Especially easy to connect to is Lucas, the eldest Belon son played so wonderfully by Tom Holland, the kid is just outstanding in this role.
I’ve heard people complain about this movie being about these wealthy and beautiful Europeans when not even 5% of those killed were foreign tourists. Well, here’s what I have to say about it. On the first hand, I would say that the story it’s based on was indeed experienced by a foreign couple on vacation, a statement you may rebuff by saying that that couple was actually Spanish and Mr. McGregor and Ms. Watts aren’t. But the thing is, what nationality they are from doesn’t matter, and Mr. Bayona has made it known that he doesn’t specify that a lot because it’s a universal story. I would also suggest that these are our lead characters because these are privileged people, and it drives the magnitude of the disaster home even more when you see that in those situations privilege is thrown right out the window.
Of course the real reason as to why we have beautiful people with recognizable names and lovely English accents is purely a commercial one. Because big name actors are what get the people to invest and to go to see the movie and because a film like this, though mostly made by a Spanish team, needs that to be made, and I’m more than fine with it. And so should everyone else really; the fact is that this film got made, it’s a damn compelling story and, if not anything else, I think it has changed disaster cinema for years to come.
That’s how amazing the scenes of the tsunami coming are, how intensely you feel you’re right in there as it happens, and how torn you are during its aftermath. The film cost less than $50 million to make, which is actually quite a lot for an European production, but the fact that many Hollywood films with budgets more than three times that amount can’t come close to replicating what you feel as you experience the disaster on-screen here speaks volumes about the level of mastery of their craft the filmmakers put on display here.
I honestly cannot put into words the things that you see in this movie and how jaw-droppingly well-made they are; the moment of impact, the insane amounts of water just trouncing over everything in sight, the realization that you just won’t be able to hold on to your family members and the immediate thought that you don’t know really know if they’ll be alive or not. You feel all of that in The Impossible more than you see it, it takes digital mastery to bring the visuals home, but it takes a skilled director and two ferocious performers in commandingly physical turns to make you feel it.
Sure, there is a happy ending here, you probably knew that. And, again, maybe that was made as a commercial decision because that’s what sells, and if so then I’m fine with that. Yes, the wealthy and gorgeous white people survive as countless faceless ethnic characters die or are barely registered in the backdrop. I don’t care about that, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a tremendously moving film about a family, and sure it may get a bit to sentimental at times because of the screenplay, but it’s all directed by a guy with a helluva future in him who makes the most out of it all and who has Naomi Watts at his disposal giving a stunning physical performance, conveying so much with just her face. It’s impossible to resist that.
Grade: A

Title: The Impossible
Year: 2012
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez, based on a story by María Belón
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity
Runtime: 114 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 73

The Indian Ocean tsunami from December 2004 is one of the deadliest natural disasters the world has experienced, caused by the third largest earthquake ever recorded. The numbers speak for themselves: over 230’000 people dead in 14 countries, waves that were up to 30 meters high, an earthquake that lasted for nearly 10 minutes and that triggered other seismic movements as far away as Alaska, $14 billion donated in humanitarian aid. We know those facts, but what’s most amazing about that event are the human stories at the center of it, and inThe Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona‘s new film, one of the most inspiring ones is front and center.

It tells the real story of Maria and Henry Belon and their three children with whom they travel to Thailand to spend their Christmas break in a tropical paradise resort when the tsunami comes crashing down upon them. It’s a story of survival and heroism, about a family torn apart by one of the most devastating disasters the world has endured and about them having to find themselves again without ever losing hope. It’s a truly remarkable story and to see it on display in such a powerful film really makes for a compelling experience.

What makes it such a compelling experience, other than the amazing story, is the fact that the direction and two main performances on display here definitely rank among the very best of 2012. Mr. Bayona is honestly one of the most ridiculously talented young filmmakers out there, and the fact that this is only his sophomore effort (after the impeccable The Orphanage from 2007, one of the scariest films of the last decade) is mind-blowing when you consider just how many amazing things he still has left to deliver.

Then you have the actors playing Maria and Henry, and they just so happen to beNaomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Ms. Watts is just stunning here, and if she gets an Oscar nod I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. As we see Maria before the disaster during Christmas we see one of those modern women who has the wealth and the family but who’s still disappointed with life and looking for something more even if she can’t really pinpoint just what that is. During the disaster she finds it, she finds that connection to the world and to others and every single moment Ms. Watts is on screen is just full of heartbreaking honesty and intense emotion. She is, without a doubt, one of the very best actresses we have working today.

As for Mr. McGregor, he too is in damn fine form here. He’s an actor who, for the most part, chooses seriously varied projects that you get the sense really spoke to him, which in turn allows him to deliver really connected performances. The stuff he does in The Impossible is no exception, and it certainly ranks amongst his best performances, just a raw and finely nuanced performance that’s so pure that it never once falls under the melodramatic trappings that abound in a story like this. There’s intelligence here, there’s charm, there’s profound emotion, and how it’s all delivered really adds to the effect of it all.

Those melodramatic trappings I speak of in the paragraph above are of course pretty much the norm when you have a movie that deals with a real story like this. And seeing a director and his actors avoiding them so deftly is truly something to behold, and I was just tremendously impressed by this whole thing. I do have to say, however, that the screenplay of this film isn’t as great as the performances or the direction, and it does falter a bit and is probably what prevents me from giving this film a perfect grade. Not to say it’s bad, it’s far from that, I just thought it didn’t match the uniform greatness on display by the other elements at play here.

The disaster we see here was also seen in another great movie, Clint Eastwood‘s Hereafter (a film I have a great deal of affection for), and as majestic a sight as that was, the way it’s seen in The Impossible is far more impressive. Not only because visually the whole scene is just startlingly stunning, but because we see it through the eyes of characters that are portrayed with such depth by these great actors, we feel the plight of these people. Especially easy to connect to is Lucas, the eldest Belon son played so wonderfully by Tom Holland, the kid is just outstanding in this role.

I’ve heard people complain about this movie being about these wealthy and beautiful Europeans when not even 5% of those killed were foreign tourists. Well, here’s what I have to say about it. On the first hand, I would say that the story it’s based on was indeed experienced by a foreign couple on vacation, a statement you may rebuff by saying that that couple was actually Spanish and Mr. McGregor and Ms. Watts aren’t. But the thing is, what nationality they are from doesn’t matter, and Mr. Bayona has made it known that he doesn’t specify that a lot because it’s a universal story. I would also suggest that these are our lead characters because these are privileged people, and it drives the magnitude of the disaster home even more when you see that in those situations privilege is thrown right out the window.

Of course the real reason as to why we have beautiful people with recognizable names and lovely English accents is purely a commercial one. Because big name actors are what get the people to invest and to go to see the movie and because a film like this, though mostly made by a Spanish team, needs that to be made, and I’m more than fine with it. And so should everyone else really; the fact is that this film got made, it’s a damn compelling story and, if not anything else, I think it has changed disaster cinema for years to come.

That’s how amazing the scenes of the tsunami coming are, how intensely you feel you’re right in there as it happens, and how torn you are during its aftermath. The film cost less than $50 million to make, which is actually quite a lot for an European production, but the fact that many Hollywood films with budgets more than three times that amount can’t come close to replicating what you feel as you experience the disaster on-screen here speaks volumes about the level of mastery of their craft the filmmakers put on display here.

I honestly cannot put into words the things that you see in this movie and how jaw-droppingly well-made they are; the moment of impact, the insane amounts of water just trouncing over everything in sight, the realization that you just won’t be able to hold on to your family members and the immediate thought that you don’t know really know if they’ll be alive or not. You feel all of that in The Impossible more than you see it, it takes digital mastery to bring the visuals home, but it takes a skilled director and two ferocious performers in commandingly physical turns to make you feel it.

Sure, there is a happy ending here, you probably knew that. And, again, maybe that was made as a commercial decision because that’s what sells, and if so then I’m fine with that. Yes, the wealthy and gorgeous white people survive as countless faceless ethnic characters die or are barely registered in the backdrop. I don’t care about that, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a tremendously moving film about a family, and sure it may get a bit to sentimental at times because of the screenplay, but it’s all directed by a guy with a helluva future in him who makes the most out of it all and who has Naomi Watts at his disposal giving a stunning physical performance, conveying so much with just her face. It’s impossible to resist that.

Grade: A


Title: BarbaraYear: 2012Director: Christian PetzoldWriter: Christian PetzoldStarring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock, Mark WaschkeMPAA Rating: PG-13, some sexual material, thematic elements and smokingRuntime: 105 minIMDb Rating: 7.2Rotten Tomatoes: 95%Metacritic: 88
I know it’s already 2013, but I still have about a dozen 2012 releases to catch up on before I finalize that yearly ranking and get cracking on my 2012 Best Of lists. One of those films is Christian Petzold‘s Barbara, which won him Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival and was selected as Germany’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Oscar race (it didn’t make the final shortlist for the award nominations, though), and it’s truly a very, very good film.
It stars Nina Hoss (in her fourth collaboration with Mr. Petzold) as the titular character, a Berlin physician during the Cold War who’s banished to an East Germany hospital as punishment for filing an exit visa. As her lover Jörg, who’s in West Germany, plots her escape, we see Barbara struggling through her time in East Germany, caring for a patient who escaped from a youth detention centre and falling for the chief physician at her new place of employ even if he appears to be a spy working against her.
Barbara is honestly, through and through, a film that’s just utterly moving and wholly compelling, both tough and caring in its portrayal of Cold War paranoia with a character who knows that the line between overly careful and utterly careless is a damn thin one in the world she’s now in. I love movies like this one that take on such an important moment in a nation’s history and exploit them in such thoughtful ways, because Barbara is always that, it’s smart and meditative, with a central character trying her best to wall herself off from the new reality that’s thrust upon her, constantly torn between her survival instincts and her desire for a better life.
The only two other films of Mr. Petzold I’ve seen also star Ms. Hoss, one isJerichow and the other Yella, two good films (the latter moreso than the former) though not quite as great as Barbara is. The thing is, the fact that they’ve worked together in the past (and done so to such nifty results) is absolutely important to this film because it’s their working relationship that really dictates whether this works or not. And that relationship is one that by now is so finely tuned that it allows Barbara to display every bit of emotion it has in it.
I loved how that worked here because this is the kind of film that really mostly consists of just one character, and Ms. Hoss is all alone in most of the frames. That she has the trust in her director, and that it’s a mutual thing, is brilliant; Mr. Petzold knows to simply allow Ms. Hoss to let Barbara’s humanity come through, and she knows to trust him with getting those tiny fleeting moments of dire emotion on camera. Because Barbara is really a film about fleeting moments and (sometimes nearly imperceptible) stings of feeling.
Mr. Petzold really is one of the very best German directors working nowadays and Barbara is just a confirmation of it. He makes smart movies that even though are dense never really feel dense because of how impeccably crafted they are, the tension felt through this movie, and how it marries the elements of both the personal plight of this character as well as the political overtones, are simply the work of a man who knows his craft. Not to mention that the visuals of his work are always so damn stunning.
Another thing I quite like about his work is how he refuses to follow clichés. Don’t get me wrong, he actually treads upon familiar ground a lot here, and the feeling of paranoia that seeps through this whole thing is Hitcockian to the bone, but in a way he takes those familiar cues and makes them all his own. Take the ending for example, it’s pure melodrama taken right out of the pages of Hollywood classics that came way before this one, but Mr. Petzold doesn’t make it seem melodramatic at all, there’s no pompous dialogue or intense music to tell you what to feel, it’s just a moment that exists, beautifully shot and acted, and it works magnificently.
It’s a pity that this movie didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, even if that’s an award that should go to the masterpiece that was Amour, but it’s a pity because that category helps shine a light on movies that, because they’re in another language, most general audiences many times wouldn’t give a chance to. Barbara deserves to be seen, if only to see a director and an actress just taking their time in portraying this lonely woman and showing us, ever so gradually, just what it is that makes her tick.
Even if you don’t think this movie is for you, I urge you to give it a chance. Sure, it’s a film that’s obviously very much dictated by the political factors in play, and motifs and metaphors are thus a part of the game this one plays, but if you take out the political stuff you could easily see this is a hospital romantic drama, as a German movie version of E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy, and most importantly it’s simply a film about rebellion. Yes, the circumstances are very much marked and a huge part of this movie, but they’re not the only thing in play.
Grade: A-

Title: Barbara
Year: 2012
Director: Christian Petzold
Writer: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock, Mark Waschke
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some sexual material, thematic elements and smoking
Runtime: 105 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Metacritic: 88

I know it’s already 2013, but I still have about a dozen 2012 releases to catch up on before I finalize that yearly ranking and get cracking on my 2012 Best Of lists. One of those films is Christian Petzold‘s Barbara, which won him Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival and was selected as Germany’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Oscar race (it didn’t make the final shortlist for the award nominations, though), and it’s truly a very, very good film.

It stars Nina Hoss (in her fourth collaboration with Mr. Petzold) as the titular character, a Berlin physician during the Cold War who’s banished to an East Germany hospital as punishment for filing an exit visa. As her lover Jörg, who’s in West Germany, plots her escape, we see Barbara struggling through her time in East Germany, caring for a patient who escaped from a youth detention centre and falling for the chief physician at her new place of employ even if he appears to be a spy working against her.

Barbara is honestly, through and through, a film that’s just utterly moving and wholly compelling, both tough and caring in its portrayal of Cold War paranoia with a character who knows that the line between overly careful and utterly careless is a damn thin one in the world she’s now in. I love movies like this one that take on such an important moment in a nation’s history and exploit them in such thoughtful ways, because Barbara is always that, it’s smart and meditative, with a central character trying her best to wall herself off from the new reality that’s thrust upon her, constantly torn between her survival instincts and her desire for a better life.

The only two other films of Mr. Petzold I’ve seen also star Ms. Hoss, one isJerichow and the other Yella, two good films (the latter moreso than the former) though not quite as great as Barbara is. The thing is, the fact that they’ve worked together in the past (and done so to such nifty results) is absolutely important to this film because it’s their working relationship that really dictates whether this works or not. And that relationship is one that by now is so finely tuned that it allows Barbara to display every bit of emotion it has in it.

I loved how that worked here because this is the kind of film that really mostly consists of just one character, and Ms. Hoss is all alone in most of the frames. That she has the trust in her director, and that it’s a mutual thing, is brilliant; Mr. Petzold knows to simply allow Ms. Hoss to let Barbara’s humanity come through, and she knows to trust him with getting those tiny fleeting moments of dire emotion on camera. Because Barbara is really a film about fleeting moments and (sometimes nearly imperceptible) stings of feeling.

Mr. Petzold really is one of the very best German directors working nowadays and Barbara is just a confirmation of it. He makes smart movies that even though are dense never really feel dense because of how impeccably crafted they are, the tension felt through this movie, and how it marries the elements of both the personal plight of this character as well as the political overtones, are simply the work of a man who knows his craft. Not to mention that the visuals of his work are always so damn stunning.

Another thing I quite like about his work is how he refuses to follow clichés. Don’t get me wrong, he actually treads upon familiar ground a lot here, and the feeling of paranoia that seeps through this whole thing is Hitcockian to the bone, but in a way he takes those familiar cues and makes them all his own. Take the ending for example, it’s pure melodrama taken right out of the pages of Hollywood classics that came way before this one, but Mr. Petzold doesn’t make it seem melodramatic at all, there’s no pompous dialogue or intense music to tell you what to feel, it’s just a moment that exists, beautifully shot and acted, and it works magnificently.

It’s a pity that this movie didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, even if that’s an award that should go to the masterpiece that was Amour, but it’s a pity because that category helps shine a light on movies that, because they’re in another language, most general audiences many times wouldn’t give a chance to. Barbara deserves to be seen, if only to see a director and an actress just taking their time in portraying this lonely woman and showing us, ever so gradually, just what it is that makes her tick.

Even if you don’t think this movie is for you, I urge you to give it a chance. Sure, it’s a film that’s obviously very much dictated by the political factors in play, and motifs and metaphors are thus a part of the game this one plays, but if you take out the political stuff you could easily see this is a hospital romantic drama, as a German movie version of E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy, and most importantly it’s simply a film about rebellion. Yes, the circumstances are very much marked and a huge part of this movie, but they’re not the only thing in play.

Grade: A-


Title: Not Fade AwayYear: 2012Director: David ChaseWriter: David ChaseStarring: John Magaro, Bella Heathcote, Will Brill, Jack Huston, Brad Garrett, James Gandolfini, Christopher McDonaldMPAA Rating: R, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual contentRuntime: 112 minIMDb Rating: 5.6Rotten Tomatoes: 79%Metacritic: 68
David Chase is a man known mostly, of course, for his work on television. He worked on The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, but of course he’ll be forever immortalized as the man who created The Sopranos. It really is hard to overstate the impact that series had on the current television landscape, being the biggest factor in having HBO become the absolute critical behemoth it still is, and really being the series that helped pave the way for the Golden Age of Television, without which shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad probably would have never come to fruition.
Throughout that impeccable 6-season run, which included 21 Emmy‘s and one of the most controversial endings in television history, every little aspect of the show was supervised by David Chase, the kind of showrunner that never compromised, giving you exactly what he wanted to give you with each episode, for good or bad. Well, now he’s making the jump from the small screen to the big one, delivering his feature-length writing/directing debut with Not Fade Away, a coming of age tale told through music basically, and, I guess unsurprisingly, the result is pretty damn good.
Also unsurprisingly, the film takes place in New Jersey, in the post-war 1960′s, and there we meet Douglas Damiano, the young, (unsurprisingly again) Italian-American musician who really wants that rock ‘n’ roll life. And that’s really what this is all about, seeing this character grow up through what happens to him as he chases his dream, how his band comes together, how they then subsequently have the inevitable fight. How Mr. Chase uses music as the backbone to his film, not only offering some really nice things to say about music itself, but using the whole gist of these guys wanting it but not being persistent enough to really get it, makes Not Fade Away feel utterly poignant.
I guess it is indeed easier to, as they say, write what you know, and Douglas is kind of like Mr. Chase in a way, this Italian-American kid who’s in a band who wants to make it big and then go to Hollywood to make movies. We see three key relationships of his, with Eugene, his band’s guitarist (played by Jack Huston, who’s the best part about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show made by key creative personnel from The Sopranos) with whom he quarrels because Eugene is fine doing covers and Douglas wants to be like The Rolling Stones and do original songs; with Grace, played wonderfully by Bella Heathcote, as the kind of dream girl Douglas had a crush on but then he sees how different reality and expectations can be when he’s finally with her, a stormy relationship in which they adapt to the sexual revolution that was just happening; and with his father, played by (who else?) Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.
So, yes, there’s obviously stuff in here that comes directly from Mr. Chase’s life, I have no doubt of that, but that’s just on the surface. Once you go deeper in Not Fade Away you’ll realize just how big a canvas he’s really painting on, the film tackling things from the assassination of JFK to the Beatles to the end of the hippie era, and how those social revolutions that were so important at the time came to influence an ordinary American family. Of course that kind of storyline we’ve all seen done before, but Mr. Chase’s take on it is so much better because it’s never mawkish or overly nostalgic.
Sure, the whole thing focusses on the “a change would eventually come” narrative beat that so many of these coming-of-age movies set during historical events use, but this never feels like it’s looking back on that time, it always feels very much grounded in a tangible reality. And I really liked that. Of course there are a couple of bits during which this falters, most directorial debuts (even from people who’ve been in the TV business for so long and with such success) have those, and you could indeed have a point by saying the middle part of the movie feels like it just meanders too much. The thing is, the positive far outweighs the negative here.
If you’re a music fan, by the way, you’re probably going to think like I did and loveNot Fade Away. Because there’s just sheer knowledge about music on display here, and a love of it, and a precise representation of how so many teenagers feel about it, and how they feel like they can make their own perfect songs just because they like music, and how that doesn’t really happen most of the time. You add that fact, that the whole narrative is really driven by the transforming power of rock music, to how lovingly detailed the shots of these streets and basements Mr. Chase grew up in are, and you have this whole world to sink into and love.
By the way, when I say that this film acknowledges the harsh reality that faces these kids when they realize that most dreams don’t really become a reality I don’t mean this is a depressing kind of flick. The final act of it is decidedly darker and drives that notion home, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mr. Chase really creates a terrific portrait of those dreams and he honors them in the best way. The ending I guess comments on that whole notion of how reality can squash even the purest of dreams, but it does so in a way that’s just as abstract as the ending of The Sopranos, a super daring and abstract final scene that has us (and not him) answering the question of what’s next for these characters. Like with his tale of mobsters, though, it’s tough to see many good things coming to these rock ‘n’ roll kids.
Grade: A-

Title: Not Fade Away
Year: 2012
Director: David Chase
Writer: David Chase
Starring: John Magaro, Bella Heathcote, Will Brill, Jack Huston, Brad Garrett, James Gandolfini, Christopher McDonald
MPAA Rating: R, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content
Runtime: 112 min
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 68

David Chase is a man known mostly, of course, for his work on television. He worked on The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, but of course he’ll be forever immortalized as the man who created The Sopranos. It really is hard to overstate the impact that series had on the current television landscape, being the biggest factor in having HBO become the absolute critical behemoth it still is, and really being the series that helped pave the way for the Golden Age of Television, without which shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad probably would have never come to fruition.

Throughout that impeccable 6-season run, which included 21 Emmy‘s and one of the most controversial endings in television history, every little aspect of the show was supervised by David Chase, the kind of showrunner that never compromised, giving you exactly what he wanted to give you with each episode, for good or bad. Well, now he’s making the jump from the small screen to the big one, delivering his feature-length writing/directing debut with Not Fade Away, a coming of age tale told through music basically, and, I guess unsurprisingly, the result is pretty damn good.

Also unsurprisingly, the film takes place in New Jersey, in the post-war 1960′s, and there we meet Douglas Damiano, the young, (unsurprisingly again) Italian-American musician who really wants that rock ‘n’ roll life. And that’s really what this is all about, seeing this character grow up through what happens to him as he chases his dream, how his band comes together, how they then subsequently have the inevitable fight. How Mr. Chase uses music as the backbone to his film, not only offering some really nice things to say about music itself, but using the whole gist of these guys wanting it but not being persistent enough to really get it, makes Not Fade Away feel utterly poignant.

I guess it is indeed easier to, as they say, write what you know, and Douglas is kind of like Mr. Chase in a way, this Italian-American kid who’s in a band who wants to make it big and then go to Hollywood to make movies. We see three key relationships of his, with Eugene, his band’s guitarist (played by Jack Huston, who’s the best part about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show made by key creative personnel from The Sopranos) with whom he quarrels because Eugene is fine doing covers and Douglas wants to be like The Rolling Stones and do original songs; with Grace, played wonderfully by Bella Heathcote, as the kind of dream girl Douglas had a crush on but then he sees how different reality and expectations can be when he’s finally with her, a stormy relationship in which they adapt to the sexual revolution that was just happening; and with his father, played by (who else?) Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

So, yes, there’s obviously stuff in here that comes directly from Mr. Chase’s life, I have no doubt of that, but that’s just on the surface. Once you go deeper in Not Fade Away you’ll realize just how big a canvas he’s really painting on, the film tackling things from the assassination of JFK to the Beatles to the end of the hippie era, and how those social revolutions that were so important at the time came to influence an ordinary American family. Of course that kind of storyline we’ve all seen done before, but Mr. Chase’s take on it is so much better because it’s never mawkish or overly nostalgic.

Sure, the whole thing focusses on the “a change would eventually come” narrative beat that so many of these coming-of-age movies set during historical events use, but this never feels like it’s looking back on that time, it always feels very much grounded in a tangible reality. And I really liked that. Of course there are a couple of bits during which this falters, most directorial debuts (even from people who’ve been in the TV business for so long and with such success) have those, and you could indeed have a point by saying the middle part of the movie feels like it just meanders too much. The thing is, the positive far outweighs the negative here.

If you’re a music fan, by the way, you’re probably going to think like I did and loveNot Fade Away. Because there’s just sheer knowledge about music on display here, and a love of it, and a precise representation of how so many teenagers feel about it, and how they feel like they can make their own perfect songs just because they like music, and how that doesn’t really happen most of the time. You add that fact, that the whole narrative is really driven by the transforming power of rock music, to how lovingly detailed the shots of these streets and basements Mr. Chase grew up in are, and you have this whole world to sink into and love.

By the way, when I say that this film acknowledges the harsh reality that faces these kids when they realize that most dreams don’t really become a reality I don’t mean this is a depressing kind of flick. The final act of it is decidedly darker and drives that notion home, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mr. Chase really creates a terrific portrait of those dreams and he honors them in the best way. The ending I guess comments on that whole notion of how reality can squash even the purest of dreams, but it does so in a way that’s just as abstract as the ending of The Sopranos, a super daring and abstract final scene that has us (and not him) answering the question of what’s next for these characters. Like with his tale of mobsters, though, it’s tough to see many good things coming to these rock ‘n’ roll kids.

Grade: A-


Title: AmourYear: 2012Director: Michael HanekeWriter: Michael HanekeStarring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle HuppertMPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief languageRuntime: 127 minIMDb Rating: 8.1Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Metacritic: 93
Michael Haneke is, of course, one of those absolute masters in the art of cinema. The stuff he does with his films, putting forward a rather dark and often disturbing approach to deal with problematic issues of society, is just stunning to behold and puts him in that rare league of filmmakers that every single film he puts out I will be first in line to check it out. From The Piano Teacher to Caché toThe White Ribbon, seeing a Michael Haneke film is an experience that really gets to you.
His new film is Amour, which back in May won him his second Palme d’Or in three years at Cannes (The White Ribbon won the award in 2010) and, unsurprisingly, it’s just a seriously stunning piece of filmmaking, just breathtakingly masterful in every single aspect and easily one of the year’s very best. What is surprising, however, is how caring and tender his approach to this story is, how genuinely beautiful and heart-tugging a depiction of love and getting old this is. This is still a Michael Haneke film, though, so I don’t mean that in the most conventional sense.
The film focuses on Anne and Georges, a married couple in their 80′s, both retired music professors. I will pretty much rattle off the whole plot here because this is one of those movies that’s just so much more than the plot. Even the ending is given away during the film’s opening, with firemen breaking the door of their Paris apartment finding Anne lying in bed. Then you backtrack a little ways to see how the predicament that befalls on this couple comes to be.
One day at the breakfast table Anne becomes catatonic, suddenly quiet, not responding to Georges words. She comes out of it but doesn’t remember what went on, Georges claiming that she’s actually playing a prank on him and she saying that he’s just going mad. Next thing you know Anne has to undergo surgery for a blocked artery that goes wrong and leaves her partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise her that he won’t send her back to a hospital or to a nursing home, to which he agrees and continues to do so even after she suffers another stroke and after taking care of her takes a lot out of him. Their daughter, also a musician, wants Anne to go into a nursing home, but Georges refuses, never wanting to break the promise he made.
It really is just a remarkable film. So impeccably made in how it touches upon the fact of us having to face our own mortality, but it never once goes into the mawkish territory most movies that deal with the subject occupy, it’s just always searingly, heart-achingly honest about it. It’s a Michael Haneke film in how powerful and unrelentingly raw it is, but I just felt so much care from him in his script, so much love for Georges and Anne that I thought was something new for him, and I loved every second of it. It’s still his classic unsentimental style of portraying mundane reality, but this one is far from heartless.
The fact that this is such a perfect movie about love and death, however, isn’t solely because of Mr. Haneke. The actors he has playing the leading roles are just as big a reason, and they’re certainly two of the very best performances of the 2012 movie year. Playing Georges you have Jean-Louis Trintignant, an actor who’s been around since the early 50′s (but who hadn’t acted in films in nearly a decade prior to this), playing lead roles in both Costa Gavras’ Z and Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman. Playing Anne we have the wonderfulEmmanuelle Riva, an actress (and poet) who’s been around for nearly as long but who mostly focusses on her stage work, but has still found time to appear in films from the likes of Alain Resnais and Krzysztof Kieslowski.
As you can see, these are two great, great actors, French acting legends, both coming out after laying low recently to play these intimate roles the way only actors as accomplished as they are could. These are both really complex performances and they are both wholly heartbreaking to behold, especially Ms. Riva’s (who’s been garnering some much deserved Oscar buzz) as this woman who just knows that everything that was once so purely and unequivocally hers, her body and mind, is being taken away from her by life.
I didn’t hesitate when I gave you the plot for this one because it’s not about that. I mean, yes, as you see the firemen breaking down the door of the locked room in the big Paris apartment and finding this old woman in a dress, lying in a bed with flowers, you’ll know the movie will be about how we get to that horrible scenario. But it’s about so much more, it may seem super straightforward narratively (even though parts of it are truly harsh to watch), but how it deals with its issues of life and death and trying to hold on to the former while standing tall against the latter is something that defies whatever explanation you may attach to it.
It’s kind of neat to see Amour and examine it in comparison to the previous work of Mr. Haneke. Like I said, the script is far more tender than anything he’s delivered before, and this not the kind of movie in which a sudden burst of horrific violence that can’t be explained comes along and totally disrupts whatever kind of expectation you had about it like most of his films are. Amourseems naturalistic and not existential, simply a look at this relationship and not something abstract that feels like a puzzle. But you could make the argument that the disruptions that are brought upon Georges and Anne in the shape of their mortality and how close it suddenly feels to them are just as strong as the more shocking ones in his previous films.
Powerful really is the right word, because you wouldn’t think just watching an elderly couple trying to go about their routine business and having it become harder and harder every day would be such an intense experience, but in Amourit is. Its’ amazing seeing Georges try to cope with his dying wife and trying to maintain a normal daily life, and it’s amazing seeing Anne trying to cope with what’s inevitably to come sooner rather than later. This is a husband who made a promise to his wife, and they’re part of a generation and of a type of highly-cultured Paris folk where that actually means something, and he abides by the promise, even if it means he has to do it alone, firing a nurse that treated his wife badly and fending off the desires of their daughter (who’s, by the way, played tremendously well by Isabelle Huppert).
I’ve seen Amour once and I can’t wait to see it again. But the fact is that after that second viewing I’ll probably not revisit it for years, because it’s a tough film to watch. But I want to see it again because of that ending, from the opening scene you know just how it’s going to end but that doesn’t make you more prepared for when it eventually comes, and my guess is that you won’t really know how to interpret it. I know that I don’t, at least not yet, and I’m more than fine with it because I know that’s what Michael Haneke is all about, he’s about questions more than he is about answers, and if the result of that are films like Amour, I’m more than happy to be left perplexed for years to come.
Amour is, without a doubt, a masterpiece and one of the year’s highlights, coming from a master filmmaker and two acting legends that bring to life two of the most unforgettable characters of the year. It’s tragic, sure, but it’s also undeniably beautiful in what it says about life and just how genuinely fragile it all is. I’ve heard people say that the title is meant as irony because there’s no love here; I wholeheartedly disagree, this is a love story through and through, about love and made with love, though, of course, since it’s a Michael Haneke love story, people will no doubt find an easy way to disagree with the conventional meaning of that assessment.
Grade: A+

Title: Amour
Year: 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 93

Michael Haneke is, of course, one of those absolute masters in the art of cinema. The stuff he does with his films, putting forward a rather dark and often disturbing approach to deal with problematic issues of society, is just stunning to behold and puts him in that rare league of filmmakers that every single film he puts out I will be first in line to check it out. From The Piano Teacher to Caché toThe White Ribbon, seeing a Michael Haneke film is an experience that really gets to you.

His new film is Amour, which back in May won him his second Palme d’Or in three years at Cannes (The White Ribbon won the award in 2010) and, unsurprisingly, it’s just a seriously stunning piece of filmmaking, just breathtakingly masterful in every single aspect and easily one of the year’s very best. What is surprising, however, is how caring and tender his approach to this story is, how genuinely beautiful and heart-tugging a depiction of love and getting old this is. This is still a Michael Haneke film, though, so I don’t mean that in the most conventional sense.

The film focuses on Anne and Georges, a married couple in their 80′s, both retired music professors. I will pretty much rattle off the whole plot here because this is one of those movies that’s just so much more than the plot. Even the ending is given away during the film’s opening, with firemen breaking the door of their Paris apartment finding Anne lying in bed. Then you backtrack a little ways to see how the predicament that befalls on this couple comes to be.

One day at the breakfast table Anne becomes catatonic, suddenly quiet, not responding to Georges words. She comes out of it but doesn’t remember what went on, Georges claiming that she’s actually playing a prank on him and she saying that he’s just going mad. Next thing you know Anne has to undergo surgery for a blocked artery that goes wrong and leaves her partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise her that he won’t send her back to a hospital or to a nursing home, to which he agrees and continues to do so even after she suffers another stroke and after taking care of her takes a lot out of him. Their daughter, also a musician, wants Anne to go into a nursing home, but Georges refuses, never wanting to break the promise he made.

It really is just a remarkable film. So impeccably made in how it touches upon the fact of us having to face our own mortality, but it never once goes into the mawkish territory most movies that deal with the subject occupy, it’s just always searingly, heart-achingly honest about it. It’s a Michael Haneke film in how powerful and unrelentingly raw it is, but I just felt so much care from him in his script, so much love for Georges and Anne that I thought was something new for him, and I loved every second of it. It’s still his classic unsentimental style of portraying mundane reality, but this one is far from heartless.

The fact that this is such a perfect movie about love and death, however, isn’t solely because of Mr. Haneke. The actors he has playing the leading roles are just as big a reason, and they’re certainly two of the very best performances of the 2012 movie year. Playing Georges you have Jean-Louis Trintignant, an actor who’s been around since the early 50′s (but who hadn’t acted in films in nearly a decade prior to this), playing lead roles in both Costa Gavras’ Z and Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman. Playing Anne we have the wonderfulEmmanuelle Riva, an actress (and poet) who’s been around for nearly as long but who mostly focusses on her stage work, but has still found time to appear in films from the likes of Alain Resnais and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

As you can see, these are two great, great actors, French acting legends, both coming out after laying low recently to play these intimate roles the way only actors as accomplished as they are could. These are both really complex performances and they are both wholly heartbreaking to behold, especially Ms. Riva’s (who’s been garnering some much deserved Oscar buzz) as this woman who just knows that everything that was once so purely and unequivocally hers, her body and mind, is being taken away from her by life.

I didn’t hesitate when I gave you the plot for this one because it’s not about that. I mean, yes, as you see the firemen breaking down the door of the locked room in the big Paris apartment and finding this old woman in a dress, lying in a bed with flowers, you’ll know the movie will be about how we get to that horrible scenario. But it’s about so much more, it may seem super straightforward narratively (even though parts of it are truly harsh to watch), but how it deals with its issues of life and death and trying to hold on to the former while standing tall against the latter is something that defies whatever explanation you may attach to it.

It’s kind of neat to see Amour and examine it in comparison to the previous work of Mr. Haneke. Like I said, the script is far more tender than anything he’s delivered before, and this not the kind of movie in which a sudden burst of horrific violence that can’t be explained comes along and totally disrupts whatever kind of expectation you had about it like most of his films are. Amourseems naturalistic and not existential, simply a look at this relationship and not something abstract that feels like a puzzle. But you could make the argument that the disruptions that are brought upon Georges and Anne in the shape of their mortality and how close it suddenly feels to them are just as strong as the more shocking ones in his previous films.

Powerful really is the right word, because you wouldn’t think just watching an elderly couple trying to go about their routine business and having it become harder and harder every day would be such an intense experience, but in Amourit is. Its’ amazing seeing Georges try to cope with his dying wife and trying to maintain a normal daily life, and it’s amazing seeing Anne trying to cope with what’s inevitably to come sooner rather than later. This is a husband who made a promise to his wife, and they’re part of a generation and of a type of highly-cultured Paris folk where that actually means something, and he abides by the promise, even if it means he has to do it alone, firing a nurse that treated his wife badly and fending off the desires of their daughter (who’s, by the way, played tremendously well by Isabelle Huppert).

I’ve seen Amour once and I can’t wait to see it again. But the fact is that after that second viewing I’ll probably not revisit it for years, because it’s a tough film to watch. But I want to see it again because of that ending, from the opening scene you know just how it’s going to end but that doesn’t make you more prepared for when it eventually comes, and my guess is that you won’t really know how to interpret it. I know that I don’t, at least not yet, and I’m more than fine with it because I know that’s what Michael Haneke is all about, he’s about questions more than he is about answers, and if the result of that are films like Amour, I’m more than happy to be left perplexed for years to come.

Amour is, without a doubt, a masterpiece and one of the year’s highlights, coming from a master filmmaker and two acting legends that bring to life two of the most unforgettable characters of the year. It’s tragic, sure, but it’s also undeniably beautiful in what it says about life and just how genuinely fragile it all is. I’ve heard people say that the title is meant as irony because there’s no love here; I wholeheartedly disagree, this is a love story through and through, about love and made with love, though, of course, since it’s a Michael Haneke love story, people will no doubt find an easy way to disagree with the conventional meaning of that assessment.

Grade: A+