Monthly Archives: January 2011

Super Mario Bros.

Brooklyn plumbers Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) are about to be shut down by a shady construction company, and when the firm’s henchmen see that Luigi has fallen for a young student named Daisy (Samantha Mathis), they kidnap her — and take her to another dimension. Vowing to track her down, the boys soon find themselves trapped in a bizarre parallel world ruled by a dinosaur-like despot named King Koopa (Dennis Hopper).

Matt
Rating: 4 out of 10

There are some truly, horrifyingly terrible moments in this movie that make my skin feel like it’s tightening slowly over my skeletal system. On the other hand, there were some truly funny scenes, and scenes so bad they were laughably enjoyable.

There’s a difference between a movie that is just pure crap, like “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie,” and one that is hilarious, like “The Room.” “Super Mario Bros.,” which boasts a shockingly talented cast for a children’s movie of this low caliber, is somewhere in between the laughably-bad scale.

This film has none of the charm of the famous Nintendo title. Yoshi, a green little smiling dinosaur in the game, looks like a mini T-Rex. And it’s pretty violent for a kid’s flick. Yoshi gets stabbed in the neck, a lady get electrocuted, and people are getting warped by all kinds of weaponry.

There’s a plot in there somewhere about a our world and a parallel universe where it developed from lizards instead of apes, and the Mario Bros. get sucked into it by a magic vortex, meet the evil King Koopa who wants to merge the worlds and turn all the humans back into apes. There’s also some king who was morphed into a fungus that helps the brothers along the way. All in all, this is a wretched turd.

Stephen Spielberg, a commentary

Steven Spielberg is under appreciated: A Commentary

Brian

It seems in today’s age of blogging, internet movie sites and message boards that fans of films have become extremely fickle. We no longer watch movies as a complete piece of work and then decide if we like it. Nowadays, we pick one scene and beat it to death, blaming it for ruining the entire film.

The phenomenon now even has its own catch phrase: “nuke the fridge.” It refers to the one scene in a film that was so unbelievable that it crushed an entire movie. In the case of “nuke the fridge” it’s referring to the scene in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” when Harrison Ford hid in a refrigerator to avoid an atomic blast. Other films have been said to have a “nuke the fridge” moment, such as when Jar-Jar Binks showed up in Star Wars Episode I or when Peter Parker breaks into a dance in “Spider-Man 3.” I bring this up because no filmmaker since the internet age hasthe brunt of criticism more than Steven Spielberg. It’s fitting that the majority of his most successful films were at a time when his only critics were actual film critics. Movie audiences flocked to his work and didn’t dissect every single moment or they would have realized most of his popcorn films have “nuke the fridge” moments in them and yet we consider these flicks classics. Here’s a list of what could be considered “fridge” moments from his earlier work:

1. Jaws: The shark diving on the boat and causing it to sink.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The spaceships fly around the town like kids riding big wheels.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The boulder that chases Indy through the cave.

4. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom: Ripping the heart out of a guy’s chest.

5. E.T.: Elliott releasing frogs all over the classroom.

All these scenes could be considered movie killers by today’s standards, and yet each of these films holds a special place in my heart. They’re not just great movies but they have been ingrained in our popular culture.

Steven Spielberg may be the greatest American film director in history. There are other filmmakers that may be more artistic, more daring, and even more influential, but there are none that can weave a story as well as he can. His films are captivating from beginning to end. Think back on watching Jaws and how quickly the time watching it lapsed between when the first victim swam out into the water and when Chief Brody and Hooper swam back to shore at the end. It takes a great director to take you out of your body and make you feel like you’re experiencing the story. No one has ever done that better than Spielberg. I suppose why I feel he’s under appreciated is that film buffs love to praise people like Terrence Malick for creating realism but then bash Spielberg for creating the unbelievable. All films were not made to create a sense of real world believability. Some are meant to take us out of our day-to-day lives and show us fantastic worlds and stories that we could never experience without the imagination of great filmmakers.

Spielberg also takes a lot of shit for trying too hard to appeal to a mass audience. I completely disagree. He really has a child’s wonder when it comes to the process of storytelling and it is easy to see on the screen. Whether Elliott is flying across the screen on his bicycle, Richard Dreyfuss is watching the landing of the first U.F.O., or Sam Neill is battling a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Spielberg knows how to capture our inner child and make us wonder about more than what is real. It’s not a marketing decision. It’s just how he sees the story.

127 Hours

From director Danny Boyle comes this harrowing tale of real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco), who literally cuts himself loose from danger — and lives to tell about it when sliding rock pins his forearm under a boulder during a climb in Utah. To stay alive, Ralston resorts to his basest survival instincts. The film scored Academy Award nominations in the Best Picture and Best Actor (Franco) categories.

Lauren
Rating: 8 out of 10

“127 Hours” is hard to watch and completely worth it. It made me cringe watching the opening scenes as Aron Ralston (James Franco) greedily chugs water, ignores phone calls from his family, and leaves his apartment without his Swiss Army Knife to go hiking in Utah. I knew he was going to go, not tell anyone where, fall, and that a boulder would trap the hand he’d lose on the trip. But a part of me still hoped for a different outcome.

It didn’t happen. About a half hour into the movie he fell, the boulder crushed his hand, and he was trapped. The real-life hiker filmed himself during his 127 hours in the canyon, and Franco and director Danny Boyle are among the few people who have seen these tapes. I’m sure the video helped Franco to pull off the amazing performance he gave expressing the frustration, fear, anger, desperation, and sadness Aron felt.

There’s a scene when he’s standing there, hand caught, nothing to drink, nothing to eat, where his mind rushes back to the bottle of Gatorade laying in the back seat of his car. Oh, what he’d do for that Gatorade. There’s nothing funny about this story, obviously, but the way Boyle tells the story I can’t help but laugh. Even though there were lighthearted moments I was just waiting. I knew what was coming. The hand had to go. And he had to be the one to slice it off.

From the time I heard about Aron when he had his accident in 2003 I always said there’s no way I could do it. I’d just die there in that canyon. I don’t think I would have had the strength to survive what he did (not that I’ve been there to begin with). But watching him, how he had given up and knew he was dead, I understand how he did it. Not the physical how, but the emotional how. The physical how, well, that’s another story. Watching him snap his bones and hack away at his half dead arm, blood gushing out, just to get to the nerves, which he plucked like guitar strings as he screamed in pain. It is graphic and slow but I felt the relief with him and could breathe again.

The movie ended with a little about Aron and his life since 2003, but I still want to know more. I wonder if he will ever show the real videos? Probably not. “127 Hours” is probably intense enough anyway.

The Kids Are All Right

Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), the children of same-sex parents Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), become curious about the identity of their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo) and set out to make him part of their family unit, often with hilarious results. But his arrival complicates the household dynamics, and nobody is sure how he fits in — if at all — in this Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning comedy.

Lauren
Rating: 8 out of 10

“This Kids Are All Right” is as good as the critics say it is (95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

The movie’s cast was excellent, with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a married, lesbian couple raising two teenagers and Mark Ruffalo as their sperm donor. Every character is likable at times and irritating at others. I didn’t always understand their motivation or agree with their choices but that’s the way we all feel about one another, isn’t it? These characters are all flawed and come across as real, genuine people muddling through a unique situation.

When the older of the two kids turns 18, she gets in touch with her mothers’ sperm donor and, along with her brother played by Josh Hutcherson, the family begins to get to know him.

It seems complicated and difficult but I was rooting for this family to figure it out and make it work the whole time.

The Social Network

Director David Fincher’s biographical drama chronicles the meteoric rise of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from Harvard sophomore to Internet superstar, examining his relationships with co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Winning Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director, the film also racked up Oscar nods in the same categories and for lead actor Eisenberg.

Lauren
Rating: 9 out of 10

Even after “The Social Network” ended I didn’t know if I liked or hated Mark Zuckerberg, but I loved the movie either way.

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin should never stop working together. The story of how Facebook was created by a Harvard undergrad and his friends could be told in a magazine article or story on the news, but it was was turned into an engrossing, funny, interesting movie that I think anyone would like.

The cast of young, mostly unknown, actors is amazing. And, I know people talk about Justin Timberlake being able to do whatever he wants, but I think he really can. He was great as the creator of Napster.

I don’t know how accurate the story is or who I side with, but hey, they’re all rich, so who cares.

Academy Award Nominations Announced

Matt

The weird little naked, bald man is back. Oscar is his name, and we’re happy to bring you the nominations from the major categories.

I think this year was highly predictable, not surprising in any way, shape, or form — with one big exception. Why on earth was Christopher Nolan snubbed for “Inception” in the best director category? Look, I get it if “Inception” wasn’t your thing, but that is one of the most visually striking films that is also extremely difficult to tell visually. Personally, I think it was a phenomenal film, and I happily gave it a glowing review. Ethan and Joel Coen were nominated for “True Grit,” which was a good movie. But what was harder to make and more engaging? “Inception.” Ben Affleck’s “The Town” – which garnered Jefferey Renner a supporting actor nomination – was a better film that “True Grit.”

Black Swan” should win best picture, but “The King’s Speech” is the critics darling of the year and I expect it to win. Christopher Nolan should have at least been given a token best director nomination. The Nolan snug is rock solid evidence that “Inception” has no shot of winning best picture.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our Oscar predictions will come later. For now, they nominees are…

Best Picture

Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Director

Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky
The Fighter – David O. Russel
The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper
The Social Network – David Fincher
True Grit – Joel and Ethan Coen

Best Actor

Javier Bardem – Biutiful
Jeff Bridges – True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
James Franco – 127 Hours

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale – The Fighter
John’s Hawkes – Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner – The Town
Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech

Best Actress

Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine

Best Supporting Actess

Amy Adams – The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdon

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

In this silent 1920s masterpiece, an insane asylum inmate explains to his psychiatrist how he came to the institution, telling the shrink the story of the evil hypnotist Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his unwitting pawn, the sleepwalker Cesare (Conrad Veidt). This stark expressionist film from German director Robert Wiene astonishes with the power of its sets and visuals, and the creepy plot easily raises hackles on the back of one’s neck.

Victor
Rating: 10 out of 10

So you want a classic? Well, I have one for you. An oldie but very goody indeed. It is the 1919 German psychological horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a very influential silent film full of dynamic terror and suspense. I say influential because upon watching it again I was reminded of how many current directors were and are still following the dramatic and visual uniqueness of this film. Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Martin Scorcese and even John Carpenter (In The Mouth of Madness, anyone?) to name a few. They owe a great deal to this movie.

It involves a mental facility patient named Francis who tells his Doctor about his chilling run in with a Carnival sideshow menace, Dr Caligari, and his attraction, the Somnabulist, Cesare. What makes this story fascinating is the use of the flashback to tell the story. It is one the earliest uses of this technique and it is very effective. This practice of the flashback reveals layer upon layer of German expressionist drama. Say what you will about this film being identified as everything from propaganda, wartime angst to social commentary, but it is still bold with it’s bluish and sepia toned nightmare. The more we witness the horror of Francis’ tale unfold the more we begin to sympathize with him — but in turn question his sanity. The ending will no doubt be seen as a classic and much used plot device, but this is the 1920’s so it was very fresh then.

Before I conclude I must talk about the visual impact of the film. It is nightmarish, bizarre and disorienting. There are stark angles. There are slanted streets and windows. Characters sit on very high stools and patterns and shadows are deep and trance-inducing. The camera work is of course a bit crude but it is intense and very sublime as we delve deeper and deeper into the madness that Francis reveals to his Doctor. I recall my film professor giving us this film to watch and absorb for homework. Let’s just say that it did not feel like homework. It felt more like a revelation. Highly recommended.