Cinema Psycho

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Archive for February, 2011

Due Date overdue to rent; plus some pre-Oscar thoughts

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 25, 2011

OK, not that I particularly care about Due Date. But has anybody seen these TV ads they’re running for its DVD/Blu release? They basically show the usual brief clips from the film. Then there’s this voiceover, accompanied by images of a Redbox outlet, a mailbox with a Netflix envelope in it, etc.: “It’s not available from Blockbuster or Redbox, Netflix doesn’t have it yet, but you can buy Due Date and laugh TODAY.” Every time I see this ad, it strikes me as a tiny bit more egregious. So because you assholes have kept your movie from rental outlets for 28 days, you actually expect us to BUY IT??? Bullshit!

Let’s back up a minute. For those who don’t know, several studios (including Warner and Fox) have implemented this new policy that makes most of their home-video releases unavailable to rent for 28 days. Which means you have to either buy the movie, or simply wait four weeks to rent it. As a Netflix customer, I’m generally against this practice, although most of the movies by those studios aren’t that great anyway – the few that are really good I usually see in theaters, the rest I either skip entirely or wait for HBO. So most of the time, I don’t really care about this either way. But I think it’s a stupid practice, and the fact that these morons at the home-video arms are actually proud of this idiocy kinda makes steam come out of my ears. The average, non-film buff moviegoer doesn’t want to wait a month to rent a new release, particularly one that’s been heavily advertised; nor do they want to spend $20-30 (or more) on a brand-new copy of a middling movie like Due Date that they’ll probably watch once and then never again. Sure, the 5 people who actually both saw Due Date in theaters and liked it will probably pick up a copy, but they would have anyway. Then after a month goes by, people will have moved on to something else that’s just been released on disc. The result? Fewer rentals and no dramatic increase in sales. It’s just fucking stupid. So why run ads that basically say to customers, “fuck you guys. You want to watch our movies, you buy or you wait.” Most people will have no problem waiting, or simply not renting at all. So you studio hacks know what you can do with your 28 days.

Anyway… as I’m writing this, it’s just a couple of days until the Oscar ceremony. I’m looking forward to it, as I do every year – it’s the movie buff’s Super Bowl, after all. And once it’s over, I’m sure we’ll all feel a little relief that it’s finally done with and we can all move on. That’s pretty much how I feel every year, around midnight or 12:15 or however long it takes to finally get it done. The odd thing for this year is that I both saw and liked so many of the nominated films that I’m not really rooting for or against anyone. Check out my Top 10 list below and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not that I don’t care, but whether The King’s Speech wins or The Social Network or Black Swan or Inception (long shot, I know), I’m pretty much good with it. Even True Grit could win and I’d probably shrug and be like, “OK, fine. Could have been worse.” There are so many good-to-great films up for the big prize that I’m not really as invested as I usually am. Therefore, I intend to spend the day doing what we all should do on Oscar day: simply celebrating the best of the year in film. That’s the great thing about the entire awards process, but particularly the Oscars, that we get to celebrate quality work. Whether you agree with the nominations or the winners, at least we’re all talking about it, right? At least for one day, movies are at the center of the universe – the way it should be all year long.

Seriously though. I know there are millions of people in the world who just don’t care one bit about the Oscars. I’m related to some of them, in fact. And I feel sorry for them. Because whether you love movies or not, whether you’ve seen the nominated films or not, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not just an awards show: it’s THE Awards Show. If movies are the absolute barometer of Who We Are and Where We Are – and I believe they are – then the Oscars are the apex of that, the biggest party ever thrown for the absolute best of our culture. And if you don’t care about that, well, you just don’t know what to care about. Sure, I know it’s all political and biased and there have been years where I thought it was all bullshit. But you know what? It still matters to me, and it matters because I love movies. I don’t care about the Super Bowl, the World Series or American Idol. I care about movies, and that’s why, triumph or travesty, Oscar day is my favorite day of the year.

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My Top 10 of 2010: The Year of Dreamers, Schemers and Crazy Mixed-Up Kids

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 14, 2011

And now, without further ado, here’s my Top 10 of last year. Hope you enjoy, and keep in mind these are personal favorites. As always, your mileage may vary. And here we go:

10) Splice –yes, I’m aware this is on some critics’ Worst lists. They’re wrong. For my money, Vincenzo Natali’s Cronenberg-on-acid tale of scientific progress gone horribly wrong was the freakout flick of the year (far more disturbing than anything in The Human Centipede, that’s for sure). Warner Brothers was foolish enough to release this in early June against the summer blockbusters, but I’m just thankful that it even got a wide release. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are riveting as the “nerd” couple who can’t resist going just a little further until it’s too late to turn back, and Delphine Chaneac gives a truly incredible performance as their genetic offspring Dren. Much more intelligent than its advertising would make you think, Splice is not an anti-science movie but a testament to the horrors of simply going too far.

9) The Ghost Writer – say what you will about Roman Polanski, the man knows how to make a thriller. This complex story of an undistinguished ghost-writer hired to craft the memoirs of a popular British politician (Pierce Brosnan’s smooth, crafty performance is obviously loosely modeled on Tony Blair) but finds himself in over his head is Polanski’s best film since The Pianist. It’s a bit old-fashioned in its deliberate pacing, but I found that to be a breath of fresh air in the current climate of quick cutting and hurried storytelling. The acting is first rate all the way, especially impressive delivered by a cast full of severely underrated actors doing their best work in years – Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall and even Jim Belushi! But it’s the master behind the camera who keeps the film humming with suspense and intrigue. Whatever one may think of the director, there’s no denying that The Ghost Writer is a work of absolute class.

8) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – another awesome movie that was mostly ignored by audiences this past summer, Edgar Wright’s exuberant tribute to the obsessions, follies and foibles of youth was the comedy of the year. I actually admired these kids and their seemingly unstoppable passions for love, music and even video games – life without enthusiasm for the things you care about is no life at all. Whether or not Scott and Ramona are a good match is beside the point; it’s the idea that he has to try or always regret not trying that matters. His challenge to defeat her seven evil exes is the perfect metaphor for overcoming the baggage that another person always brings to the relationship, whether they intend to or not. It’s been quite awhile since I was in my early twenties, but I found myself enthralled by these kids and their constantly changing universe. If you remember what you were like at that age, they shouldn’t be hard to relate to at all. It doesn’t hurt that the cast is fucking hilarious – and yes, that definitely includes Michael Cera. Boundlessly inventive, relentlessly enjoyable and drop-dead funny, Scott Pilgrim is a movie for young people of all ages.

7) 127 Hours – Danny Boyle proves himself once again to be a world-class filmmaker with the true story of a guy stuck in a hole. That’s the basic idea, but of course it’s so much more than that thanks to the talents of Boyle and James Franco (whose Oscar nom is well-deserved). It’s an impressionistic, hallucinatory trip through the mind of one man who discovers what’s important to him while under severe physical pressure. Franco’s Aron Ralston is a bit of a callous daredevil. a guy who’s more interested in exploring caves than in the people closest to him, until he finds himself up against an immovable object. The sacrifice he’s forced to make is brutal, but it makes him a better person. It’s the kind of “inspirational” story that’s made up a thousand lame TV-movies, but Boyle makes us believe it by getting us so far into Ralston’s head that we suffer his ordeal right along with him. The multimedia experience that takes place within his mind, complete with Scooby-Doo references and Coke commercials, only makes us relate to his struggle all the more. 127 Hours isn’t just the “guy forced to cut off his arm” movie that the media portrays it as – it’s a film about a guy who loses a body part but finds his soul.

6) Toy Story 3 – I can’t imagine a Top 10 list without Pixar’s latest masterpiece on it, but it’s a testament to how good the film year was that this didn’t place even higher. And it easily could have. Seriously, who doesn’t love this movie? Both hugely entertaining and masterfully brilliant, this third and probably final chapter of the rightfully beloved series is not only a satisfying conclusion to the story, but a terrific entry in its own right. I love the characters both old and new, and the comic revelations given to each of them (particularly Buzz). I love Michael Keaton’s vocal work as Ken. I love that it turns into a prison break movie, with all the plot contrivances and genre trappings inherent to that kind of film. Hell, I love everything about this movie! Much credit to director Lee Unkrich, screenwriter Michael Arndt and the entire Pixar team for making Toy Story 3 such an absolute joy to watch.

5) Shutter Island – I know there are people who consider this to be a minor Scorsese film. I absolutely do not share this view. It’s easy to see it as a simple genre exercise, at least on the surface – Marty definitely knows his noir as well as his Val Lewton horror. But if you watch it closely, it’s clear that there’s much more going on than Scorsese having fun with genre tropes. The ending which disappointed many audience members (who apparently weren’t paying attention) is representative of the film’s intentions as a whole. Rather than being a simple murder mystery, it’s an exploration of a damaged psyche that may or may not be beyond repair. The conversation between DiCaprio and Ted Levine about the nature of violence (one of my favorite scenes of the year) seems superfluous to some, but in fact it’s what the film is all about. Expertly directed and acted by an exemplary cast, Shutter Island is a haunted ode to the heartbreak of mental illness. It’s the only film on this list I’ve seen twice at this point (once in theaters, again on DVD) and it worked superbly on me both times. An unappreciated masterpiece.

4) The King’s Speech – Movies about the British Monarchy generally don’t do anything for me, mainly because I’m an American and I think their political system is even dumber than our own. I don’t really care about these inbred creatures of inherited power. This movie made me care, at least about Bertie, aka King George VI, whose speech impediment nearly prevented him from leading the country during the great crisis of World War II. Played with gut-wrenching precision by Colin Firth (in a performance that richly deserves a Best Actor Oscar), Bertie is a man with power over everything except his own voice, and his inability to speak is devastating to witness. The brilliance of The King’s Speech is in the way it juxtaposes Bertie’s personal struggle with the issues in the larger world around him, and we come to understand that he needs to overcome this affliction not just for himself, but for the good of the entire country (and possibly even the world). It’s an individual’s triumph that affects history itself. In that sense, it is the story of stutterers in general writ large over the canvas of world affairs, and it makes the subject important even to those who don’t suffer from it. There’s no “why do we care?” aspect to the story – we should care anyway because we are human beings, of course, but we also care because we know what’s at stake. Cheap shots from idiot comedians aside (amazing that there are still ignorant douchebags who think that stuttering is funny), that is. There is no greater Hell than having something to say and not being able to say it, or not being listened to because you repeat a few syllables here and there. The King’s Speech dramatizes this personal Hell, and does so brilliantly, from the excellent cast led by Firth, the fantastic Geoffrey Rush and a luminous Helena Bonham Carter to the intelligent, compassionate work of screenwriter David Seidler and director Tom Hooper. There are no easy fixes or third-act miracle cures, no bullshit Hollywood stuff here – there is only hard work and the support of friends and loved ones for Bertie, and he was one of the lucky ones. One of the few films that can be called truly Great, in both execution and intention.

3) The Social Network – I’ve kept pretty quiet about David Fincher’s film about the founding of Facebook, and I think it’s been misinterpreted in a lot of different ways by different people. I don’t think Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have made a brilliant film about Facebook (for the record, I am not on Facebook nor do I care to be) – instead they have made a brilliant film about Mark Zuckerberg, who I find to be a fascinating character as played by the exceptional Jesse Eisenberg (in a riveting performance that apparently has nothing to do with the real Zuckerberg). I find him to be kind of a flawed hero. I certainly don’t consider him to be an “asshole”, as many viewers apparently have. He’s clearly suffering from some form of social disorder, which operates alongside his vast intelligence and causes him to speak the truth as he sees it to everyone around him at all times. He sees himself as challenging an unfair, unequal social system, and while I may not approve of some of his methods (particularly regarding screwing over his best friend), I get where he’s coming from. Facebook was his way of distinguishing himself, making himself seem special and important. Who wouldn’t let that go to your head at his age? If he had a bruised ego, it was because he actually was the smartest person in the room at all times, and he was the only one who recognized that. His treatment of Erica seems abhorrent to some, and I get that. But who hasn’t had those kind of dark nights of the soul? Look at it this way – she broke up with him simply because he had the nerve to speak to her honestly and directly. Why wouldn’t he be pissed off and hurt? From his point of view, the creation of “Facemash” was his way of levelling the social playing field, tearing down the pedestal. What he essentially did with Facebook was to reject the old social system (as represented by Harvard) and create his own, an online mirror version with himself at the top of the pyramid. I think that’s brilliant! If his intentions weren’t always the most admirable, that only serves to make him more human. Who cares if he pisses off the Winklevii of the world? They’ll get along just fine, believe me. Zuckerberg’s problem is not that he doesn’t understand the social system – it’s that he understands it too well. And guess what, he used its flaws to his advantage. Good for him, I say. Who among us wouldn’t jump on an opportunity the way he did? If he hadn’t, someone else would have. That’s the way of the world. That’s what The Social Network is all about – it’s all right there in the title. And it’s as perceptive and insightful a film about that subject as you’ll ever find.

2) Black Swan – I’m now convinced that Darren Aronofsky is a great director. I’ve liked most of his films, even really liked some (particularly Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler), but this is the first one that I’ve outright loved. I don’t think I’m going overboard when I call Black Swan a stunning piece of filmmaking. Natalie Portman (“and the Best Actress award goes to…”) is absolutely spellbinding as a ballet dancer gradually cracking under pressure, particularly the self-imposed variety. I’ve seen this misinterpreted as well – one critic even thought the problem was supernatural in nature, if you can believe that. Nope, poor Nina is losing her mind, but at least she’s doing so in the most fascinating way possible. By attempting to shape and twist herself into something she is clearly not meant to be (the dark character of the title), Nina loses her grip on reality and her own sense of self. I’ll be honest, I know next to nothing about ballet, nor do I particularly care about it one way or the other, but Black Swan’s powerful, hallucinatory spell is undeniable. Some have complained about its “stereotypical” female characters, apparently not understanding that the entire film (and everyone in it) are seen from Nina’s warped point of view. Of course they seem like monsters to her – she’s insane, remember? Hellooo, McFly? Given how tightly wound she is, one has to wonder if Nina wouldn’t have eventually imploded regardless of what part she was after. But at least this way, she self-destructs in spectacular fashion, even in a kind of bizarrely beautiful way, fully befitting someone in the theatrical profession. Subtlety isn’t Black Swan’s purview: it’s blissfully, deliriously over the top, and I loved every minute of it. Someone on IMDb listed it as one of their “Most Depressing Movies”; I found it to be absolutely exhilarating.

And now, my favorite film of the year is… (drumroll please)

Inception – Christopher Nolan’s ambition is equalled only by his skill and confidence. I already wrote quite a bit about this in a previous column (check under July 2010), so I’m not going to go into it too much. I will say that yes, I still think it’s the mind-blower of the year, and there were some serious contenders to the throne. As far as I’m concerned, Inception is the movie that other movies want to be when they grow up. What more is there to say? And yes, this would make for an awesome double feature with Shutter Island. I’m going to have to try that sometime.

inception1.jpg

So that about covers it. Done and done. I’m happy to say that I saw every one of these films theatrically – I did see some very good films on DVD in my “catch-up month”, but none of them quite made the list. This, for me, was the best of the year in film. Feel free to agree or disagree. Regardless of opinions, if you haven’t seen any of the films on this list, I hope you’ll make the effort to do so. Some are still in theaters, the rest are available on DVD/Blu-Ray. I hope you’ll find them as rewarding as I did. Now on to 2011!

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