Saturday, December 13, 2008

Capsule Post #6- Iron Man, The Band's Visit, Tropic Thunder

December 8, 2008

Iron Man (2008) ***1/2

Directed by Jon Favreau

Plot: Based on the famous comic book character, Iron Man chronicles the transformation of multi-billionaire weapons mogul Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) into the film’s title character, consisting of ultra-sophisticated body armor which allows Stark to fly. While captured by terrorists who force Stark to build a powerful smartbomb for their use, he invents the prototype for Iron Man before being rescued. At a press conference, Tony announces that Stark Companies will no longer be producing weapons, much to the annoyance of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who is second in command. Eventually, the terrorists find the original Iron Man prototype and use it to build an even more powerful Iron Man than Tony’s. So who becomes the evil Iron Man? Is perhaps Obadiah a bigger threat than we may have originally thought?

Review: I said in my review of Zodiac how happy I am that drugs didn’t kill Robert Downey, Jr because he’s quickly becoming one of the very best actors of our time. Who would have thought that a popcorn flick like Iron Man would prove that sentiment true once again? Downey is truly wonderful, and yet, there’s something about his performance as Tony Stark that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is certainly a good thing! The supporting cast is better than you’d expect as well with such talents as Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard and especially Gweneth Paltrow as Stark’s love interest/personal assistant Pepper. Paltrow gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in Shakespeare in Love, and since then, she hasn’t really been able to find her footing regarding her career. Certainly, this role is a step in the right direction.

Sadly, what holds Iron Man back are its action scenes, especially its conventional, predictable final showdown. I had the privledge of watching this film on my parents’ 42’’ high-definition television, and even so, I didn’t enjoy the special effects much, and I certainly wasn’t all that exhilarated like I was watching The Dark Knight. The CGI effects look almost cartoonish, and the transition into all out mayhem was too abrupt, making the entire final act feel disappointingly absurd.

That being said, I loved all the non-action scenes. I thought the character of Tony Stark was brilliantly realized, and his inner conflicts came across very well. Once again, most of the praise ought to go to Downey. Also, there are quite a few laughs throughout, especially when Tony works through the kinks in the suit.

Ultimately, Iron Man can be described as having moments of greatness when not viewed as an action movie.

The Band’s Visit (2007) **

Directed by Eran Kolirin

Plot: Members of the Egyptian Police’s Ceremonial Orchestra, led by the stuffy Lieutenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Sasson Gabai), are forced to spend the night with an unconventional Jewish family in Israel because no arrangements are made for them to travel to a concert in which they are scheduled to perform. This one night (supposedly) impacts the members of the band, and of course, the band leaves its mark on the family and their small town.

Review: If I were a critic that was included on RottenTomatoes.com, I’d be one of the very few party-poopers that would have a rotten tomato instead of a fresh one on The Band’s Visit page. This film received an almost unprecedented 98% on that website! People that I know that have seen it really liked it. I think it’s important to put that out there before I share my thoughts.

The Band’s Visit comes off completely empty, giving me nothing at all to grasp onto and very little to appreciate. It’s certainly a visually interesting film—I love how the bright sky blue of the police uniforms contrasts against different backgrounds. Yes, there is some quality acting—most notably from the two leads, Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz. Unfortunately, the plot goes nowhere, and I can’t ultimately articulate what the characters learn from this one night experience. One thing is for sure—I certainly didn’t learn anything. Also, I have no idea what the film is saying about people from different cultures other than the fact that everyone should get along. That’s a moral lesson that has been played out more profoundly in countless better films.

Again, I’m in the minority, and though I can’t personally recommend The Band’s Visit, there’s perhaps a 98% chance that you will enjoy it. Still, I’m compelled to ask, “What exactly is there really to enjoy?

Tropic Thunder (2008) ****

Directed by Ben Stiller

Plot: Five very different actors travel to the jungles of Vietnam in order to film the memoir of veteran John “Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte). The production problems have made their way back to the studio brass who demand that mild-mannered director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) take control of the problematic larger-than-life personalities of his actors—hip hop rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff “Fatty” Portnoy (Jack Black), Australian “five-time Oscar winner” Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and young geeky character actor Kevin Sanduksy (Jay Baruchel). Cockburn’s plan is to put them through a type of bootcamp by leaving them in the jungle where they will face planned obstacles in order to better embody their characters. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Cockburn steps on a land mine. Now the five actors are truly required to survive both the jungle as well as each other.

Review: There’s quite a lot left out of my plot summary and for good reason. Tropic Thunder is pretty much a stomping ground for a bunch of sight gags, parodies and comic absurdities. Almost too much is thrown into Tropic Thunder—everything from a chubby, profane Tom Cruise to Downey’s character’s method acting which results in him looking and talking like an African American even when the cameras aren’t rolling to a battle on the grounds in front of an opium ring to a character giving hints as to his own sexual orientation despite the fact that most of the songs he releases are explicitly about a certain part of the female anatomy to an amputated soldier who might just be living with two very specific lies and much, much more.

Over the past year, watching the films on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list, I’ve seen many of the war epics that Tropic Thunder is spoofing including Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and Bridge on the River Kwai. Therefore, I appreciate Tropic Thunder’s humor all the more because these films are so fresh in my mind. War is one of those subjects that filmmakers take so seriously that Ben Stiller probably couldn’t help himself when he thought of the jokes that ultimately appear in the film.

Any comedy needs to be judged by how much it makes a person laugh. I laughed over and over and over again, and much of the credit for this belongs to Stiller who co-wrote the screenplay and wonderfully plays this typecasted actor who recently was panned by critics for his embarrassing performance as a mentally handicapped kid who says things like, “Mama, I'll see you again tonight in my head movies. But this head movies makes my eyes rain!” There’s a hilarious discussion about how an actor can’t go full-out retarted and expect to win an Oscar. Just look at Sean Penn in I Am Sam. It’s best instead to play semi-retarted like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Peter Sellers in Being There.

The weakest element of the film lies in Jack Black’s overacting. Every single other actor in this film, maybe with the exception of Tom Cruise who doesn’t deserve his Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, uses comic timing and irony to make us laugh. Black instead throws his performance at us, and yes, I can understand that he’s playing a Chris Farley type actor. Still, I laughed least at Black’s attempts at comedy that come across way too broad.

Yes, Tropic Thunder is uneven and crowded with too much ambition. Could it have been funnier? Absolutely. Was it enjoyable? Extremely.

Richard Roeper's Best of 2008

December 13, 2008

Richard Roeper’s Best of 2008

I miss you Richard Roeper! By the time you left Ebert & Roeper, you had taken command of the television film criticism genre. Not enough credit was given to you regarding the many months after Ebert’s surgery when you had a new guest host week after week, and you were great with all of them. I look forward to the day when I will again be able to watch you regularly. I certainly don’t always agree with your taste in film, but I definitely respect your intelligence and especially your sense of humor.

Here’s Roeper’s 25 Best of 2008.

1. Slumdog Millionaire

2. The Dark Knight

3. The Wrestler

4. In Bruges

5. I’ve Loved You So Long

6. Gran Torino

7. Milk

8. The Visitor

9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

10. Doubt

11. Snow Angels

12. Frozen River

13. Frost/Nixon

14. The Reader

15. Seven Pounds

16. Iron Man

17. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

18. W.

19. Henry Poole Is Here

20. Burn After Reading

21. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

22. WALL-E

23. The Bank Job

24. Tropic Thunder

25. Che

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Golden Globe Nominations for 2008

December 11, 2008

The Golden Globe Nominations for 2008

First of all, let me say, “WHERE’S MILK???” It’s sure to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and if Frost/Nixon isn’t as great as everyone says it is, Milk just might be the favorite to win. Not even a nomination? I’ve seen it; it’s amazing! Also, Tom Cruise for Best Supporting Actor for Tropic Thunder? Really Hollywood Foreign Press? Seriously? It wasn’t a typo, or some elaborate hoax?

Also interesting is the fact that The Dark Knight did not receive a Best Picture Nomination which means one of two things. Either this is the final nail in the coffin regarding its chance at a Best Picture Oscar nod, or its omission here will increase its buzz and momentum resulting in a sure-fire nomination. If the second possibility doesn’t start to rear its head, then I think it’s safe to say that The Dark Knight won’t be one of the big five at the Academy Awards. Here are the film nominations for the Golden Globes:

Best Picture - Drama
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
The
Reader
Revolutionary Road

Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actress - Drama
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

Best Actor - Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio - Revolutionary Road
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Picture - Musical or Comedy
Burn After
Reading
Happy-Go-Lucky
In
Bruges
Mamma Mia!
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
Rebecca Hall - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
Frances McDormand - Burn After Reading
Meryl Streep - Mamma Mia!
Emma Thompson - Last Chance
Harvey

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy
Javier Bardem - Vicky Cristina
Barcelona
Colin Farrell - In
Bruges
James Franco - Pineapple Express
Brendan Gleeson - In
Bruges
Dustin Hoffman - Last Chance
Harvey

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola
Davis - Doubt
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder
Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Ralph Fiennes - The Duchess
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Sam Mendes -
Revolutionary Road

Best Screenplay
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
David Hare - The Reader
Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley - Doubt

Best Animated Film
Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E

Best Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Everlasting Moments
Gomorrah
I've Loved You So Long
Waltz With Bashir

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood - Changeling
James Newton Howard - Defiance
A.R. Rahman - Slumdog Millionaire
Hans Zimmer - Frost/Nixon

Best Original Song
"Down to Earth" - Wall-E
"Gran Torino" - Gran Torino
"I Thought I Lost You" - Bolt
"Once in a Lifetime" - Cadillac Records
"The Wrestler" - The Wrestler

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers' Ten Best of 2008

December 11, 2008

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers’ Ten Best of 2008

This list contains no surprises… at all… none… not one bit. All ten are films that are bound to appear on countless ten best lists, and all ten are films that should be awarded with at least one Oscar nomination each come January. Here’s his list:

1. Milk

2. Slumdog Millionaire

3. The Dark Knight

4. Frost/Nixon

5. WALL-E

6. Revolutionary Road

7. The Visitor

8. Doubt

9. Rachel Getting Married

10. Man on Wire

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The New Yorker Magazine's David Denby's Ten Best of 2008

December 10, 2008

The New Yorker Magazine’s David Denby’s Ten Best of 2008

Most of Denby’s choices are pretty conventional. However, his inclusions of Defiance and I’ve Loved You So Long have convinced me to include those as films from 2008 I’d like to see. I had not heard of The Class, which is a French movie nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Independent Spirit Awards. I’m adding that one too. Here’s his list.

1. Defiance

2. Rachel Getting Married

3. The Class

4. The Wrestler

5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

6. WALL-E

7. Milk

8. Trouble the Water

9. Revolutionary Road

10. I’ve Loved You So Long

Monday, December 8, 2008

Time Magazine's Richard Corliss' Best of 2008

December 8, 2008

Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss’ Best of 2008

Not sure what Corliss is smoking with this list. Anyway, here it is.

1. WALL-E

2. Synecdoche, New York

3. My Winnipeg

4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

5. Milk

6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

7. Slumdog Millionaire

8. Iron Man

9. Speed Racer

10. Encounters at the End of the World

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Top Ten Movies of November 2008 (and the three worst)

December 7, 2008

The Top Ten Movies of November 2008 (and the three worst)

Other than five films (No Country for Old Men, Juno, Paris Je T’aime, Sunset Blvd., Pulp Fiction) I’ve seen before, I watched 20 movies in November. It was a great month of film watching considering that there were only three that I didn’t like. Here are the ten best.

10. Look Back in Anger- Richard Burton plays one of the most conflicted characters I’ve seen in the movies. In a very sly way, this film makes the argument that we should not rush to pass judgment on people because they might just surprise you.

9. Somebody Up There Likes Me- Paul Newman steals this film with his high energy, brave performance. This biopic about Rocky Marciano inspires big time!

8. Broken Flowers- Jarmusch masterfully layers a sense of quiet on top of a man’s absurd journey which leads him to four ex-girlfriends in order to find out whether or not he has a nineteen year old son. Bill Murray gives a pitch perfect performance in this contemplative comedy.

7. The Exorcist- Exploitative, extreme and terrifying, this classic, bonechilling horror film earns every scream and every nightmare.

6. Snow Angels- David Gordon Green’s heavy film speaks volumes about the dark side of the human condition. Some might find Snow Angels depressing. I think it is wonderful for many reasons, most notably how fully realized these characters (and performances) are.

5. The Visitor- Richard Jenkins gives one of the best performances of the year as a lonely, lost professor that finds a new meaning in life when he chooses to fight against the unfair way a Muslim immigrant is dealt with in the United States.

4. The Shining- This stylish horror flick visually amazes and subconsciously haunts in equal measure. Both Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick are at their flamboyant best.

3. Reservoir Dogs- Tarantino’s voice comes alive in this humble, bloody gangster pic. This is one of the most viscerally fun movies I’ve ever seen.

2. The Hustler- There would be no Raging Bull without this masterpiece about a sad pool hustler who just can’t seem to get the breaks in life without profound consequences.

1. Adaptation- Truly unlike any film ever made, Charlie Kaufman’s unique voice remains strong in this whimsical mind-bending horror/drama/crime/comedy flick. Adaptation executes one of the very best gimmicks in all film.

And the three worst:

3. The Verdict

2. The Band’s Visit

1. Youth Without Youth

Roger Ebert's Best of 2008

December 7, 2008

Roger Ebert’s Best of 2008

Ebert decided not to rank his films this year. He also chose to highlight the twenty best instead of ten. Here are all twenty in alphabetical order (Note: I have either seen or plan to see all of them).

Ballast

The Band’s Visit

Che

Chop Shop

The Dark Knight

Doubt

The Fall

Frost/Nixon

Frozen River

Happy-Go-Lucky

Iron Man

Milk

Rachel Getting Married

The Reader

Revolutionary Road

Shotgun Stories

Slumdog Millionaire

Synecdoche, New York

W.

WALL-E