Friday, January 29, 2010

Fun things for movie lovers

First, I have no connection to either of the things I'm about to tell you about, I've just become kinda addicted, and thought I'd exorcise my addiction by passing it on to other movie lovers.

Swap a DVD
is a website that lets to get rid of old DVDs, or just whatever DVDs you no longer watch. It's a partner to Paperback Swap and Swap a CD, so you can get rid of all your stuff if you're in a cleaning frenzy. The basic premise is you post a list of the DVDs you don't want. Once someone requests a DVD and you mail it off you have a credit to request any DVD in their list, and someone will mail it to you for free (the cost of a DVD is what you pay to mail one to someone else, so around $2). You can set up a wishlist to keep track of DVDs you want to get once they're entered into the system. I've been getting quite a few lately - I had a few leftover DVDs from college that were no longer of much interest (Girl, Interrupted can only be seen so many times), and I've even gotten a few TV series that I love to rewatch in return. The nice thing is you can also buy credits, but it's the same as the average cost of mailing a DVD, so for about $2 you can get a brand new (to you) DVD in the mail. I've heard it's great if you have kids who love a DVD for a while, and then don't watch it anymore.

The second thing is more of a fantastic time waster for the movie lover. Flick Chart creates your own personalized list of favorite movie by posing competitions between lots and lots of movies. You just pick the one you like better. The nice thing is you can check that you haven't seen the movie and it gets removed from your list. It's not perfect until you've had all the pairings compete, but it did make me think about which movies I actually like (versus the ones I know are good). Here's my top 20 list, also not perfect, but definitely includes my favs. Enjoy and go waste some time thinking about movies.

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
2. Toy Story 2
3. A Knight's Tale
4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
5. Dead Poets Society
6. Jerry Maguire
7. Wall-E
8. Juno
9. The Dark Knight
10. The Notebook
11. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
12. Saving Private Ryan
13. Stranger Than Fiction
14. To Kill A Mockingbird
15. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
16. Closer
17. Fargo
18. X-Men
19. The Lion King
20. LA Confidential

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DVD Round-Up: District 9, Music Within, The Maiden Heist,

I'm a bit behind in reviewing my DVD viewing, mostly because I haven't seen anything so amazing, I want to shout the news. However, I have seen a few I enjoyed, so here they are.

District 9 came out last summer and is another good version of a short film being extended into a feature film (the best recent example I can think of is Frozen River). It's a documentary-style film for the first 45 or so minutes, following a civil servant, Wikus Van De Merwe, in South Africa whose job is to go get the signatures of aliens who are being moved from their current squalor situation to a different one further from the human population of Johannesburg. The aliens arrived 20 years ago, starving, and unable to space travel any longer. They've been living in South Africa, existing on cat food and garbage, and being exploited, studied, and basically cast into the most subservient roles in society. Then the movie takes it's action movie turn. Our hero becomes infected with a strange liquid while touring the shacks of aliens. He starts changing physically and comes under the jurisdiction of a military-type company who wants to exploit him for the alien weapons. When he escapes, the only place he can find help is in the home of Christopher Johnson, a "prawn" who has been trying to find a way off earth. Lots of action sequences follow as the human military tries to capture Wikus, Johnson tries to get his space ship running, and Wikus tries to become human again. Most of the movie is really interesting, with some extended sequences that go on a bit long. The main character, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, is compelling enough to keep you interested, and the novelty of the story makes any sci-fi fan come back for more. Overall, good movie, 3 of 5 stars.

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The next movie I saw on DVD is Music Within. It originally arrived on my Netflix queue because I like its star, Ron Livingston, and his story seemed compelling from the preview on another disc. Livingston plays Richard Pimental, one of the writers and proponents of what would become the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pimental returns from Vietnam, where he went because he couldn't afford college, with severe hearing loss. He has trouble getting and holding jobs due to his disability. He is able to go to college thanks to the GI Bill, and meets Art, a brilliant man with severe cerebral palsy who also has difficulty getting around a college university in the late 1970s and early 1980s (he's played by the wonderful Michael Sheen). Pimental has learned to read lips, and because of that is able to understand Art better than most hearing people. While they spend a lot of time arguing, and Pimental has to overcome a particularly dysfunctional childhood that led to dysfunctional romantic relationships. It's an inspiring look at a time and situation that few born after 1980 would be really aware of. I grew up aware of the ramps, and the handicapped accessibility, or lack thereof of most buildings. A good family friend was once responsible for helping the NYC transit system become completely handicap accessible (I now know they were complying with the newly passed Americans with Disabilities Act). This movie, while inexpertly written, shows glimpse into how that all came about. 3 of 5 stars/lambs

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The last movie I've seen recently was a straight to DVD release that I saw advertised in Entertainment Weekly when it was released. The Maiden Heist would likely have bombed at the box office, but the stars and story make for a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon. It's a simple story of 3 museum security guards (luckily not the same ones as A Night at the Museum), played by William H. Macy, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Walken, who are each in love with a piece of art at the museum they protect that will be sent away in a new exhibit. Rather than move to Denmark, the site of the new exhibit housing their loves, they decide to steal their pieces. Their inexpert thievery and individual idiosyncrasies (Freeman is gay and lives with lots of cats, Macy likes to pose naked with the object of his affection, and Walken's wife, Marcia Gay Harden is awesome) makes for some very funny scenes and stories. It's almost an over the top farce, but still remarkably enjoyable. It's predictable, but watching four Oscar-worthy actors perform outside their normal roles is lots of fun. 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Things I learned from the SAG awards this weekend.

I enjoy watching the Screen Actors Guild awards because they don't bother with anything beyond the actors. They line up as many actors as possible, and rarely because they're promoting a new movie, just popular actors. The speeches tend towards the sincere and self-deprecating, but attempt at as much humor as possible. This year, I keep thinking about some of the things I learned from this year's ceremony.

1. Betty White has touched all kinds of people, has a racy mind, and is probably an incredibly good person and fun to be around.

2. The SAG voters only chose 1 (yes only 1!) category different than the Golden Globes - Tiny Fey took the actress in a comedy instead of Toni Collette, which I agree with, though maybe it is time to share the wealth. There are of course categories from each ceremony not included in the other, but all the winners of individual SAG awards also won a Golden Globe last week.

3. Julianna Marguiles taught me how to finally pronounce Matt Czuchry's last name - Zoo-Cray. Since he also appeared in Gilmore Girls for several seasons, I've often wondered how it was actually pronounced.

And for some fun, here's the trailer for Marguiles' new movie that I thought looked interesting, and very well cast.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My best of 2010

I waited a little while to be sure I'd seen all the movies I thought I might want to include in my top 10, but I think I've mostly arrived at what I liked best of the 55+ movies I saw this year. I've made each title a link to my review over the past year. I'm not actually ranking them by number as each is good for different reasons. My favorite movie this year was The Blind Side, but Avatar was the most beautifully made, and Inglorious Basterds and The Hurt Locker were the best their respective genres have ever produced. So here is my grouping of the 10 best. Enjoy.

The Hurt Locker
The Blind Side
Sherlock Holmes
Inglorious Basterds
Up in the Air
Julie and Julia
(500) Days of Summer

Honorable Mentions: Precious (even though I haven't seen it yet), District 9, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Taken, and The Proposal

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Golden Globes Predictions 2010: And winners

The start of the big awards season has arrived. I love it. I thought I'd share all my predictions for winners of Sunday night's awards. I'm really excited to see Ricky Gervais host it given how funny and off the cuff he was at last year's award just presenting. Should be lots of fun to watch.

Best Motion Picture - Drama - Predicted: The Hurt Locker, Actual - Avatar (not surprised or dissappointed)
Avatar (2009)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
Up in the Air (2009/I)

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - Predicted - Julie and Julia, Actual - The Hangover
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
The Hangover (2009)
It's Complicated (2009)
Julie & Julia (2009)
Nine (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama - Predicted - Jeff Bridges, Actual - Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart (2009)
George Clooney for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Colin Firth for A Single Man (2009)
Morgan Freeman for Invictus (2009)
Tobey Maguire for Brothers (2009/I)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama - Predicted - Sandra Bullock, Actual - Sandra Bullock
Emily Blunt for The Young Victoria (2009)
Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009)
Helen Mirren for The Last Station (2009)
Carey Mulligan for An Education (2009)
Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - Predicted - Robert Downey Jr., Actual - Robert Downey, Jr.
Matt Damon for The Informant! (2009)
Daniel Day-Lewis for Nine (2009)
Robert Downey Jr. for Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt for (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man (2009)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy --Predicted - Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia), Actual - Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
Sandra Bullock for The Proposal (2009/I)
Marion Cotillard for Nine (2009)
Julia Roberts for Duplicity (2009)
Meryl Streep for It's Complicated (2009)
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Predicted - Christoph Waltz, Actual - Christoph Waltz
Matt Damon for Invictus (2009)
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger (2009/I)
Christopher Plummer for The Last Station (2009)
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones (2009)
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Predicted Mo'Nique, Actual - Mo'Nique
Penélope Cruz for Nine (2009)
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Mo'Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
Julianne Moore for A Single Man (2009)

NOTE: I finally went 4/4 for acting nods. It rarely happens.

Best Director - Motion Picture - Predicted - Kathryn Bigelow, Actual - James Cameron
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008)
James Cameron for Avatar (2009)
Clint Eastwood for Invictus (2009)
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture - Predicted - Quentin Tarantino, Actual - Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
District 9 (2009): Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
The Hurt Locker (2008): Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds (2009): Quentin Tarantino
It's Complicated (2009): Nancy Meyers
Up in the Air (2009/I): Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

Best Original Song - Motion Picture - Predicted - T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham, Actual - T-Bone and Ryan
Avatar (2009): James Horner, Simon Franglen, Kuk Harrell("I See You")
Brothers (2009/I): U2, Bono("Winter")
Crazy Heart (2009): T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham("The Weary Kind")
Everybody's Fine (2009): Paul McCartney("(I Want To) Come Home")
Nine (2009): Maury Yeston("Cinema Italiano")

Best Original Score - Motion Picture - Predicted - "Where the Wild Things Are", Actual - UP
Avatar (2009): James Horner
The Informant! (2009): Marvin Hamlisch
A Single Man (2009): Abel Korzeniowski
Up (2009): Michael Giacchino
Where the Wild Things Are (2009): Carter Burwell, Karen Orzolek

Best Animated Film - Predicted - UP, Actual - UP
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Coraline (2009)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Up (2009)

Best Foreign Language Film - Predicted - Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos), Actual - Das weisse Band (The White Ribbon)
Los abrazos rotos (2009)
Baarìa (2009)
Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (2009)
La nana (2009)
Un prophète (2009)

Best Television Series - Drama - Predicted - Dexter (though House will probably win), Actual - Mad Men
"Big Love" (2006)
"Dexter" (2006)
"House M.D." (2004)
"Mad Men" (2007)
"True Blood" (2008)

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy - Predicted - Glee, Actual - GLEE!!!! So happy.
"Entourage" (2004)
"Glee" (2009)
"Modern Family" (2009)
"The Office" (2005)
"30 Rock" (2006)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television - Predicted - Grey Gardens, Actual - Grey Gardens
Georgia O'Keeffe (2009) (TV)
Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
"Little Dorrit" (2008)
Taking Chance (2009) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television - Predicted - Brendan Gleeson, Actual - Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon for Taking Chance (2009) (TV)
Kenneth Branagh for "Wallander" (2008)
Chiwetel Ejiofor for Endgame (2009)
Brendan Gleeson for Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Jeremy Irons for Georgia O'Keeffe (2009) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television - Predicted - Jessica Lange, Actual - Drew Barrymore (well deserved - she has consistently given good performances, but this was really over the top and Jessica Lange won the Emmy instead.)
Joan Allen for Georgia O'Keeffe (2009) (TV)
Drew Barrymore for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Jessica Lange for Grey Gardens (2009) (TV)
Anna Paquin for The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009) (TV)
Sigourney Weaver for Prayers for Bobby (2009) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy - Predicted Alec Baldwin (though I want Matthew Morrison to win), Actual - Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock" (2006)
Steve Carell for "The Office" (2005)
David Duchovny for "Californication" (2007)
Thomas Jane for "Hung" (2009)
Matthew Morrison for "Glee" (2009)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy - Predicted - Courtney Cox, Actual - Toni Collette
Toni Collette for "United States of Tara" (2009)
Courteney Cox for "Cougar Town" (2009)
Edie Falco for "Nurse Jackie" (2009)
Tina Fey for "30 Rock" (2006)
Lea Michele for "Glee" (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama - Predicted - Michael C. Hall, Actual - Michael C. Hall
Simon Baker for "The Mentalist" (2008)
Michael C. Hall for "Dexter" (2006)
Jon Hamm for "Mad Men" (2007)
Hugh Laurie for "House M.D." (2004)
Bill Paxton for "Big Love" (2006)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama - Predicted Julianna Margulies, Actual - Julianna Margulies
Glenn Close for "Damages" (2007)
January Jones for "Mad Men" (2007)
Julianna Margulies for "The Good Wife" (2009)
Anna Paquin for "True Blood" (2008)
Kyra Sedgwick for "The Closer" (2005)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television - Predicted John Lithgow (though maybe it's NPH's year!), Actual - John Lithgow, can't wait to finally see this season.
Michael Emerson for "Lost" (2004)
Neil Patrick Harris for "How I Met Your Mother" (2005)
William Hurt for "Damages" (2007)
John Lithgow for "Dexter" (2006)
Jeremy Piven for "Entourage" (2004)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television - Predicted - Jane Lynch!, Actual - Chloe Sevigny
Jane Adams for "Hung" (2009)
Rose Byrne for "Damages" (2007)
Jane Lynch for "Glee" (2009)
Janet McTeer for Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Chloë Sevigny for "Big Love" (2006)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

DVD Review (without a DVD): The Hurt Locker

I really wanted to see The Hurt Locker. I actually missed my chance on a plane (yes, it was showing on a plane in October!) because I fell asleep too soon. And when it was released this week, I already had my quota of DVDs from Netflix and want to see them all, so I used something I hadn't really taken advantage of before - Amazon Video on Demand via Roku. It was $3.99 but I got to see it on my TV when I wanted to, the day it was released. All movies need to have this available - lots don't, the digital rights are tied up somehow.

Anyway, perhaps because I was so thrilled that something slightly complicated worked so easily, I really, really enjoyed The Hurt Locker. It's been out in the world for so long that I'd heard good things, but this was the first way I actually had access to it - it was nominated for LAST year's Independent Spirit awards (it was first shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2008!). Most people know it's about a group of soldiers in Iraq, and directed by Kathryn Bigelow (James Cameron's ex-wife) and that it's on lots of best-of lists. That was all I knew when I saw it. Here's a bit more: Jeremy Renner (I loved him on the now canceled "The Unusuals", he's on the right side of the photo) is the lead actor playing a bomb tech brought in to lead a unit. He's a bit of a loose cannon, though it's not explained why, which is a nice change. He's just been very successful bomb tech (obviously, he's still alive) and has used his methods of basically not being afraid to get him there. The unit he's joined, with Anthony Mackie (left in the photo), who likes to follow all protocols and make sure everyone is very safe (hard to fault him there - they're in Iraq disarming bombs) and Brian Geraghty who seems to be suffering a lot of stress, possibly because he works with bombs. The trio is called in to disarm IEDs and remove explosive things from all over Baghdad. It's got to be the worst job in the army - so stressful and if you mess up, you'll die, and likely you'll kill all the people around you. But Renner has found an inner strength to survive doing the job, and his team struggles to find their own methods to do the job.

There are lots of smaller scenes that have little to do with their bomb job that give depth to the story of the war, without ever mentioning the reasons, the patriotism, the enemies, the allies, etc. In reality, this story could take place during a war waged for any reason in almost any place. Obviously, it takes place in a city in a desert, but all the specifics of the war are left out of the story. Our bomb trio meets up with a group of British soldiers, but the only thing to identify them as from an allied force is that they have British accents, and mention they're on the same side. I really liked this fact about the movie. It's about the soliders, not the war. Yes, you're scared almost every time you see them go out to disarm a bomb, and most of the tension of the film comes from that idea, and not the overwhelming stress of winning or losing the war, but rather a small, specific, extremely important task. The directing of the movie is terrific, giving lingering views of everything they do without ever losing focus on the story. In addition, the acting is extremely capable, believable, and draws you in to care about each one.
Very good movie - go get the DVD. 5 of 5 stars/lambs
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fun Monday Night TV

I was really excited about the return of "Chuck" on NBC on Monday night, and enjoyed the new direction the show is going, with a slightly more capable lead character with a haircut. Why do shows use haircuts to change a character, that seems silly. But the show is still really good, and remarkably funny for a spy show.

The second best thing on Monday night this week was a surprise musical number by Neil Patrick Harris on "How I Met Your Mother". The show itself is getting much much closer to actually meeting the title mother, but this episode will be remembered for NPH's ode to his suits. Here's a link to the episode. It's at about the 18 minute mark if you want to check it out. My favorite is still his appearance on Sesame Street.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Releases: Up in the Air and It's Complicated

I'm oddly conflicted about probably the best movie of the year. To explain, I spend my days right now staring at satellite and aerial photos of deforestation in Central Africa (the topic of my dissertation), particularly dealing with cloud cover issues. So seeing all those images in Up in the Air that were taken from planes showing all the different landscapes across the US gave me terrible anxiety because I was avoiding my work by going to the movies. However, I love to travel, particularly mastering the art of easy travel. So watching George Clooney explain to his new protege about how to avoid wasting time traveling was like watching my hero explaining his superpowers. This is to explain I have a very odd connection and avoidance of this movie. Hopefully by the next time I see it, I'll have finished my degree and not have to worry about those anxious moments watching clouds (I'm aware that's an incredibly odd reaction, but someone's gotta study this stuff) and just think of it as watching a movie about a traveling superhero. The plot is pretty clear from the commercials, and luckily they don't give much away that is important to the story. George Clooney works for a firm that is hired by big companies to come in and fire people. He flies all over the country doing it. Up-and-comer Anna Kendrick thinks the company can save it's extensive travel budget if they start using technology and start firing people over computers (sort of like "Skype-Fire"). Clooney thinks this is a terrible idea because they have to help the people they fire get through the moment of being fired, and this requires a personal touch. His boss (perfectly incompetent Jason Bateman) thinks he needs to prove it to Kendrick, so they go out on the road together. The extensive cast of people being fired makes this movie feel uncomfortably real (apparently many of them are recently unemployed people getting a chance to redo their final interviews) and adds moments that strung together with Clooney's journey (emotionally, not physically, though they do hit a lot of cities) make for a terrific movie. J.K. Simmons plays a man being fired, and he goes from being hurt to angry to ashamed to hopeful in the course of just a few minutes and a few words from Kendrick and Clooney. Jason Reitman is a terrific director and as long as he keeps making movies that suit his style, he'll hit it out of the park every time. Just to be fair, Vera Farmiga has a terrific role as Clooney's girlfriend who's as emotionally distant as he is. 5 of 5 stars/lambs

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The other film I saw this weekend is the Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin movie, It's Complicated which does a pretty great job of showing off what terrific actors the trio has become. Alec Baldwin is hilarious and has mastered slapstick comedy (both physical and dialogue as he demonstrates weekly on "30 Rock") and Meryl Streep is both funny and sympathetic as the divorced mother of 3 grown up children who is rediscovering her relationship with her ex-husband (Baldwin). Streep and Baldwin keep their rekindled relationship a secret from everyone (he's remarried) but of course get caught eventually by all - the scene is one of the funniest things I've seen this year. Steve Martin is also recently divorced and starts falling for Streep as he designs her new house. It's a really funny movie with many of the cliches of divorce present, but never overdone. John Krasinski plays the future husband of the oldest daughter, and often catches Streep and Baldwin, and his struggle to keep it to himself and prevent his future wife and sibling from finding out are hysterical. There's also a great scene where several adults get high and fun hijinks take place. It's not a movie for everyone, but I don't doubt that any adult child of divorced parents will see some of their life in the movie somewhere. Yes, Nancy Meyers movies always contain luxuriously wealthy people, and It's Complicated is no exception, but it's still a treat to see how the super wealthy live. It's basically what can happen to relationships when money isn't the major issue of the marriage or divorce.
4 of 5 stars/lambs

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Release: Invictus

Conversation from the two other people leaving the matinee I saw on New Year's Day:

Man: Was that a sports movie or a political movie?
Woman: It was a spirit of man movie.
Man: You don't believe in that.
Woman: Yeah, you're right.

To some degree that summed up the movie - it's both a sports movie AND a political movie of South African politics as Mandela took office. And if you're the kind of person who believes in the spirits of men stories being worthwhile, it's most definitely that. Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon and director Clint Eastwood deserve all the accolades coming to them, particularly Freeman. To portray a living person is difficult, but to do so when that person is internationally known to the point of representing an entire country would seem impossible, but Freeman does it in a way I've never seen in his career. He transforms his physical appearance in ways that cannot be prosthetic - a hunch, a curved neck, shuffling gate, and possibly prosthetic teeth. In most of his roles Freeman appears physically similar (as do most actors) so it was amazing to see his simple transformations to seem more like the diminutive Mandela than himself. Damon does it too - adding tons of muscling weight to appear as a professional rugby player (as his previous self, I'm sure he'd have been torn to shreds just filming all the rugby scenes). And finally, Clint Eastwood's directing is simple, direct and doesn't make the sports scenes either particularly clear or confusing (just right for a sport I don't exactly understand). Mandela is the star of the story, but with the directing, you're never sure exactly how it all turns out.
A quick summary of the plot now that I've praised the stars: Nelson Mandela is let out of prison in South Africa in 1990. He runs for president and is elected in 1994. He knows someone and something has to unify the country that has so recently ended apartheid and now is led by the formerly oppressed. Mandela has the foresight to know that petty retribution will not help either the country nor the black South Africans. The Springboks, the national Rugby team beloved by Africaans, and also hated by blacks, has a chance to go to the World Cup because South Africa is hosting in 1995. Mandela enlists the help of Francois Pienaar (Damon), the captain of the Springboks, to make sure they succeed in unifying South Africa behind their team. I won't spoil the ending, and it's a terrific movie that I'll enjoy forever. Miracle came to mind a lot and the quality of both is wonderful. 5 of 5 stars/lambs

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Friday, January 1, 2010

An Adrian Brody Two-fer: The Brother's Bloom and Cadillac Records

I'm not a fan of Adrian Brody, yes he did a good job in the Pianist and deserved his Oscar, I'm sure all can agree that doesn't automatically make one a good actor. I saw The Brothers Bloom because I do like Mark Ruffalo, and Cadillac Records for Jeffrey Wright and the music. Luckily, Brody does nothing to prevent either movie from being really terrific entertainment.

The Brothers Bloom finally puts Mark Ruffalo into a character different from others he's played - a scummy not so great guy, and he obviously revels in it. He plays Brody's older brother, Stephen, and the pair of them have been con men since childhood. However, now Brody, called Bloom - I never figured out the title, since they have no last names, one is Stephen (Ruffalo) and one is Bloom (Brody), but it doesn't seem important. Anyway now Bloom wants out of their life, and Stephen talks him into one more con with their silent partner in crime, Rinko Kikuchi (Oscar nominee from Babel). They decide to try to con a rich lonely eccentric woman, Rachel Weisz, who learns hobbies of all sorts and falls into their con with ease. However, this is the last time I fully understood what was going on. A complicated series of cons take place, some with Penelope's (Weisz) help and some for other reasons. It's a great movie with funny dialogue and a morose looking Brody all the way through. Ruffalo and his ideas for cons are funny, and the supporting cast is terrific - Rinko is wonderfully funny while saying almost nothing (maybe she doesn't speak English well, but they used it to perfection. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

The other movie I enjoyed despite Adrian Brody's presence was Cadillac Records the story of real-life Chess Records and its artists. Started by Leonard Chess, a Jewish man in Chicago in the 1950s trying to make a better life for himself, he starts a club where black musicians play, and he meets Muddy Waters and Little Walter, and goes on to set up a recording studio and does all he can to get their blues music on the air. It's mostly the story of Muddy Waters and the evolution of music from blues to rock and roll. Jeffrey Wright is Muddy, recording music and learning to love the life it provides. Chess does take some advantage of his artists, but placates them by providing new a Cadillac constantly. Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce) sign with Chess Records and obviously become stars. There's competition between artists for attention from the small studio and who makes the most money. It's really interesting from a historical perspective as I didn't know Chuck Berry spent so much time in jail, and how badly taken advantage of and abused many black musicians were (the Beach Boys stole an entire song from Berry and changed the lyrics, only compensating him later after he sued). The music is wonderful and all the acting is terrific. Even Beyonce stretches her acting chops a bit - not in who she plays, Etta James was a terrific singer, but had tons of attitude and a huge hurdle to overcome her start in life (a prostitute and white politician). Nearly all the characters are eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there's an obvious tone of too-little-too-late when it comes to really appreciating artists from the beginning as human beings not just commodities. Excellent movie. 4.5. of 5 (and available on Netflix Watch Instantly for those interested).

Oh, and a PS - Don't watch Two Lovers with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwenyth Paltrow - it's awful. Worst movie of 2009.

Films of 2009: Updated - total up to 50!

I saw quite a few movies in 2009, particularly considering how difficultly the year started. There are more and more movies that never make it to my local cineplex. I also have enjoyed lots of movies that are definitely of lower quality, but still lots of fun.

17 Again
500 Days of Summer
Angels & Demons
Away We Go
The Blind Side
Bride Wars
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
The Hangover
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
He's Just Not That Into You
Ice Age 3
I Love You, Man
Inglorious Basterds
The International
Julie and Julia
Monsters vs. Aliens
My Life in Ruins
My Sister's Keeper
New in Town
Night at the Museum 2
Phoebe in Wonderland
The Proposal
Public Enemies
The Soloist
Star Trek
State of Play
Sunshine Cleaning
The Surrogates
The Time Traveler's Wife
Transformer's 2
The Ugly Truth
Where the Wild Things Are
X-Men: Wolverine

Movie's I'll definitely see as soon as possible, so they definitely count.
The Informant
It's Complicated
Sherlock Holmes
The Princess and the Frog
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker

Addendum: Did you hear about the Morgans?, Inglorious Basterds, Funny People, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, Invictus, The Brothers Bloom, Two Lovers

My top 6 movies this year - I'm going to reserve the other 4 places for possible movies I haven't seen yet:

1. Inglorious Basterds
2. The Proposal
2. Up
3. Star Trek
4. The Blind Side
5. Taken