Monday, January 28, 2008

Ben's Daily Movie News - New Website

To anyone who may be interested, I've got a new website up and running.

I've heard some requests from some of you (OK, one of you) for a site that keeps you up-to-date on the latest movie casting, rumors, and rumblings throughout the industry, and since I read all this stuff on a daily basis anyway, I figure I'll share the wealth. I'm not giving you everything; only what I deem relevant and interesting. If you're looking for casting rumors for the Bratz movie sequel, my new site is not the place for you. I'll compile the best stuff and put it all in one place so you don't have to go searching for it. Check it out - I'll be updating daily.

It's cleverly titled justnewmovies.blogspot.com

And to those of you who have no interest in that type of thing, fear not - my reviews won't stop on this page. I'm still planning on keeping up with this site to the same degree I always have. Until next time...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

There Will Be Rambo

There Will Be Blood
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano


Paul Thomas Anderson's (Boogie Nights) turn of the century epic about an oil man has Oscar predictors in a frenzy. The legendary Daniel Day-Lewis (who rarely comes out of retirement) deemed it worthy, and he brings the heat in this one. Adopting a slightly ridiculous manner of speech, he goes over the edge to bring us his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, the oil tycoon who makes any sacrifice to be the best at what he does. Naturally, he does a really good job, so he's probably going to win the Best Actor award against some pretty decent competition this year. If you've seen DDL in Gangs of New York, you know the kind of wild-eyed craziness he can bring to a role, and this is kind of similar in that regard.

Paul Dano was enjoyable to watch also. You may remember him as "Klitz" in The Girl Next Door or Dwayne (the kid who rarely spoke) in Little Miss Sunshine. I think this may be a career-defining job for the guy, getting to act opposite a legend and holding his own without a problem.

In my opinion, No Country For Old Men was a much better movie than There Will Be Blood. Maybe I just didn't "get it," but I can't for the life of me figure out why people are touting this as the best picture of the year. Obviously DDL's performance should be taken into account, but that's gotta be the only reason people are goin' crazy about it.

I will say that There Will Be Blood has the best catchphrase line I've heard in a long time. CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT. "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!" Before I saw the movie, I heard about this quote sweeping the online realms, so I was looking forward to during the entire movie. It finally came at the very end, and it didn't let me down. The line is used in such a demonstrative way; it's superbly funny. It's already spawned websites (http://idrinkyourmilkshake.com/) and I'm guessing it won't be long until the T-Shirts hit. If you aren't ever going to watch the movie, check out the clip below to see it in context (and no, I sadly did not create this picture to the right).



Overall, I definitely wouldn't recommend seeing this movie in the theater. Jared seems to think it's a dark comedy instead of a drama, and I tend to agree with him.


Rambo
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone


This was the most brutal film I can ever remember watching. Unlike the later films in the series which seemed to be violent just for violence's sake, this movie returns to its roots in First Blood and actually has something relevant to say. The violence is SO intense and realistic, and Stallone takes this as an opportunity to inform the world of real-life atrocities that are taking place in Burma. I can see why the movie used to be titled Rambo: To Hell and Back.

Surprisingly (to some), the plot is pretty reasonable and not nearly as ridiculous as some movies in its genre. I think Stallone was trying to make people uncomfortable - we all went in expecting gruesome violence as a kind of joke, a means to an end for a childhood hero. Well, he gave us violence - in excess. At times, the movie catered to our ridiculous notions of over-the-top action, giving us the satisfying feeling we sought when we entered the theater. But for most of the film, the laughs were kind of uneasy because of the knowledge he presents very early on that these types of things are actually happening in the world right now.

I really admire Stallone for taking this tactic with his movie. After the success of Rocky Balboa, people thought he was just cashing in on his franchise to make a quick buck. Stallone really put some time into writing this, and figured out a way to make everyone happy: action junkies and cinephiles alike. From what I've heard, he hasn't completely put the character to rest yet - although the ending to Rambo would be a good one if necessary. But I think we may see Rambo one more time on the big screen if Stallone has his way. Only time will tell. Until next time...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RIP Heath Ledger

I normally don't do posts like this, but I feel like I need to at least mention this news. Heath Ledger died today at age 28. An overdose is the suspected cause of death. He split from partner Michelle Williams last year, and is survived by his two-year-old daughter.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22788914/

Everyone who has seen the trailer for The Dark Knight knows that film was going to be a high point in his career. Such a shame that the man won't be around to receive all the praise he would undoubtedly be getting for his performance. RIP, Heath. The Patriot was awesome. Until next time...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield

Wow. I saw the midnight showing on Thursday night and the more I think about it, the more I loved this movie. If you haven't seen it yet, do so right now. I'm not joking. Turn off your computer and check this out in a theater while you still can. This is not a film to be viewed sitting on your couch at home.

Cloverfield
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: A cast of unknowns


The question most of you probably want answered is: Did Cloverfield live up to the hype? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Join me as I tell you why.

Let's talk about the marketing real quick before we get to the heart of the review. It all started with the cryptic trailer that first ran in front of Transformers last summer. The film title wasn't officially known at that point - at the end of the trailer it merely showed the release date and that was it. "1-18-08." So began one of the more excessive (and effective) viral campaigns in recent memory. Sites were popping up on a weekly basis promising more information about the film, and Paramount was controlling it all through their marketing directors. Some of these sites were official; others (such as the Ethan Haas sites) were elaborate fakes by fans (who were possibly paid by the studio) just to keep people's interest piqued and keep them speculating. This tactic definitely worked for Paramount: I haven't seen an online campaign like this since Snakes on a Plane, but unfortunately SoaP didn't quite turn out as the studios hoped (it had a lot of online hype, but not many people saw it in the theater). Cloverfield also did an exceptional job with their trailer. Without ruining the movie by showing us numerous clips in the trailer, they concentrated on one iconic scene: and they couldn't have chosen a more iconic scene than the head of the Statue of Liberty rolling down the middle of the street. Nice touch. I was pleased to discover that the entire contents of the trailer had been shown within the first twenty or thirty minutes of the movie, leaving the rest completely unknown to the viewer. They especially did a nice job of not showing us the monster in the preview (duh), which just fueled speculation even further on the monster's origins and what it would actually look like. The most ridiculous description I heard before seeing it was that the monster was a giant whale that shot barnacles as projectiles. It's safe to say that wasn't the case (sorry, Joe). And yes, you do get to see plenty of the monster by the end of the flick, so don't believe the rumors that they never fully show him to you.

Stylistically, nothing like this has been done before. I'm not talking about recently - I'm talking about EVER. Cloverfield is a breakthrough in movie history, and people are going to be talking about it for years to come. Yes, yes - movies like The Blair Witch Project have utilized the hand-held camera approach in similar ways, and God knows the Bourne franchise loves them some shaky cameras, but no one has been brave enough to try something like this with the intentions of making a successful movie (let alone a monster movie!). As most of you probably know by now, the film follows a group of twentysomethings in Manhattan. Rob is moving to Japan, but is in love with his longtime friend Beth. His brother Jason, Jason's fiance Lily, and Rob's best friend Hud throw him a going away party, where we spend the first half hour being introduced to the characters and their personalities. Then a giant monster attacks the city, and we follow them as they fight for survival in the streets of New York. The original thing about Cloverfield is that the entire film is made to look like it is composed of shots from their personal video camera. The only cuts in the movie are made when the camera operator Hud "pushes the record button" to stop the camera, and then it jump cuts to where he "pushes the button" again to catch us up. One of the downsides to this movie is also one of it's greatest strengths [much like Superman and his sense of right and wrong]: the camera work is a little overkill at some points, which can be pretty nauseating. Most of the time, though, I think it's good enough to handle. Perhaps that's just another sign of our generation being used to that type of shoddy camera work - I don't think our parents would handle it nearly as well as we will, since they don't have the experience with online videos that we've had in the past few years.

One of the key reasons I think Cloverfield succeeds is that it doesn't star a bunch of famous actors. If you think about it, this would absolutely kill the movie. There's no way that it would have the same effect if we saw Tom Cruise running around in this situation (Don't believe me? Go back and watch War of the Worlds again). You know what I mean. The suspension of disbelief is so much easier to attain than if, in the back of our heads, we were all saying "Oh, Jared Leto [or insert actor here] looks so much different than in other movies I've seen him in." Plus, with the home video aspect, it makes it that much more believable that these characters are just normal people that actually live in New York and have been caught in this catastrophic event. It all works so perfectly together, it's just insane.

I have to mention the sound before I go any further. INCREDIBLE. I don't know if the Academy would give any Oscars to this kind of movie, but they definitely should in this category. It would be well-deserved. I was blown away by it, and there isn't even a musical score in the whole thing! Obviously they wanted to keep the reality level high and not add a score to what's supposed to be a home movie. I didn't miss the music that much, and with the absence of music the other sounds were brought to the forefront, making them amazingly real. Kudos to the sound people who worked on this film.

(Spoiler Alert)

Some might see this as a monster movie dressed up in a new style, but Cloverfield is so much more than that. In our YouTube-obsessed society, the relationships of the characters in this movie hit home with us in ways that big budget blockbusters could never dream of evoking. Watching these people through the lens of their own camera places them on an equal playing field with us (the audience) because we all come across video like that on a daily basis, either through filming it ourselves or watching our friends' videos online. Michael Bay movies could never get that type of intimacy with their characters, simply because of the way they are presented visually on the screen. In the scene where the Statue of Liberty head lands in the street, do people run away screaming? No, they bust out their cell phones and snap pictures of it, just like all of us probably would if we were there. In Cloverfield, we feel like we've stumbled into Rob's party ourselves, an uninvited guest just checking things out and riding along with Hud, our narrator. When things get crazy, we feel like part of the group, trying to survive and making sure all our new friends are present and accounted for. We feel the losses that the main characters feel, even if we don't have a lot of backstory in order for us to relate to them.

In reality, we all can relate to these characters, whether we want to admit it or not. While we all may not be rich, white, upper class Manhattan-ites rubbing shoulders in a high rise overlooking the big city, we DO know what Cloverfield is really about. It's about 9/11. This whole movie is about September 11th, 2001. And you know what? I'm OK with that. For a while, I was disgusted with movies that depicted those events on screen.* I thought they were released "too soon." But now, almost seven years later, I think we can finally accept that time in our history and examine how it continues to affect us today. This film perfectly encapsulates those feelings that we had back in 2001: feelings of anguish, fear, shock, disbelief, and pent-up anger at those responsible, among others. Cloverfield captures our society's anxiety with relentless zeal and doesn't apologize for it. We can "relate" so easily to the characters in the movie because they don't really DO anything for the first half hour - except party, have fun, complain about relationship issues, and other things that aren't remotely important in the scheme of things. We do this crap every day. And then, out of nowhere, they are shocked by the most inconceivable of events taking place on their turf, with no preparation time or countdown: it just - happened, and there's no going back. Sound familiar? I also enjoyed Hud posing his theories about what the monster could be and where it could have come from, asking if the government was responsible (a pretty obvious metaphor for the conspiracy theories that state the U.S. government planned 9/11).

Apparently, some people have questioned the logic of Rob and his crew going back in after Beth when they realize she's trapped in the middle of the fray. I don't really find this questionable at all. You have to take their circumstances into account. Even if Rob wasn't a stand-up guy who just wanted to save the woman he loved, in their situation, the group needed a mission. Their world had been rocked, and they couldn't trust anything anymore. Taking on the "Find Beth" task gives them reason again, gives them a hope and a goal to move toward in a world that suddenly makes no sense to them. That's why Marlena stayed with the group instead of breaking off with the masses when she had the chance. What a great shot - Hud zooms down the block, focusing on the throng of people mindlessly being horded by the military in one direction, brilliantly summing up our nation's state of mind right after the 9/11 attacks. Marlena knew she would be better off with a goal to achieve instead of immediately allowing the reality of their situation to sink in.

When it finally DOES sink in - whew. I wouldn't want to have that conversation with my mom on the phone like Rob did in the subway. That could have easily been a cheesy scene, but the filmmakers used it to its full potential as the first time the characters had a chance to take a breath and realize the enormity of their situation. That's why they had to keep moving. They couldn't allow themselves to be brought down with the heavy reality of what had happened. And talk about intense - that scene in the tunnels had everyone in the theater on the edge of their seats. That was like I Am Legend intense, and I loved it.

Another aspect of the movie that I thought was a great touch was the framing of the tape used in the video camera. If you've read this far, then you know that in the beginning of the movie we first see Rob and Beth after their night of passion, unofficially introducing their characters as the main ones and giving the audience a chance to get to know them so we can "pull for them" to be together later on. Well done, screenwriter. Right before the party scene, we find out that tape is being recorded over, and the party scene and everything that takes place after it tapes over Rob and Beth's adventure at Coney Island that took place a few weeks before the monster attack. While we don't necessarily catch too many glimpses of what happened that day with our two main characters, all we needed to see was shown to us: the introduction in the beginning (with Rob saying "this is going to be a good day") and the ending, which I thought was the only good way to end a film like this. After all the main characters died and the camera stops recording, we get one final look back into Rob and Beth's day of paradise with them on the Ferris Wheel and Beth delivering her last words "I had a good day." In my opinion, it couldn't have ended better. I know it sucks that all the main characters had to die, but that's the way good monster movies should work. No one survives. The monster represents all those things we talked about before (fear, anxiety, etc), and no one is ever going to be really free of those things. So that was the way it HAD to end, and I'm glad they went with that type of ending and didn't go for the typical Hollywood B.S. that someone survives. Seriously, they were asking a little much for us to believe that Hud, Rob, and Beth all survived that helicopter crash at the end, so they were already pushing their luck.

While I'm on the topic of the ending, I think it's worth noting that there is a little controversy brewing online about whether or not the monster's origins were shown in the final Ferris Wheel scene between Rob and Beth. If you'll recall, Rob points the camera out over the water and holds it there for a little while. I scanned the water as I was in the theater, hoping for some kind of motion indicating the monster's arrival to the shores of the city. I didn't see anything. Now I'm reading online that something dropped from the sky and there was a splash in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Could this be the monster? No one really knows. I'll have to check for it the next time I watch the film. And - if you stay until after the credits, there's one more little garbled audio transmission that supposedly says "Help us," but if you play it backwards, it really says "It's still alive." I have no idea how people got their hands on that audio clip to reverse it since the movie just came out in the freakin' theater like three days ago, but somehow they did. Phil McCarty posted it here, if you want to hear it for yourself. This obviously leads to possibilities of a sequel, but that's another story.

Never has a film so well captured both my attention and my subconscious simultaneously. This movie resonated with me in a big way, and hopefully it did for you too. Not since Shoot 'Em Up has a movie told us it what type of film it was going to be and then made good on that promise in such an explosive way. Dare I say, we have a new classic on our hands. Until next time...

*Side note: I'm not sure if I would have accepted Cloverfield as much as I did WITHOUT the presence of those other movies that I hated for coming out so early. So, to United 93 and World Trade Center: I guess I owe you some thanks for blazing the trail and receiving my wrath, paving the way for movies like Cloverfield to be acceptable in my mind.

Ben's Top 10 of 2007

Everyone else is doing these year-end lists, so I figure I'll jump on the bandwagon and throw my two cents in before it gets too far into '08. Keep in mind, these were my personal favorite films of the year, not necessarily what I thought were the BEST films of the year (although many of them fall into that same category).

10. Disturbia
Director: DJ Caruso
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse
This was the coming out party for LaBeouf, the movie that showed us he can actually act (not that playing a "slacker" is much of a stretch for him, but still). I really enjoyed this movie, way more than I probably should have. The suspense was great, the acting was exactly what it needed to be, and it was a respectful - yet updated - homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window. I still haven't seen any of DJ Caruso's other films, but I'm looking forward to his upcoming projects (Eagle Eye, Y: The Last Man).


9. Live Free or Die Hard/Transformers
Director: Len Wiseman/Michael Bay, respectively
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, and more
I cheated a little bit because these are technically two different movies, although I see them as one since they were the two big summer movies of the year. The acting here was kind of suspect, but it made up for it with big time action that was exactly what we paid for. I've still never seen as much debris in a movie as I did in Transformers (with no explanation of how they rebuilt an entire city or a mention of how many innocent people must have been killed in that final battle), and I kind of hope that we see John McClane smash through onto the big screen again soon. If they waited this long between sequels and LFoDH was still good, then why NOT do another one? Count me in.

8. The Bourne Ultimatum
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon
I will drive out to Hollywood and stab someone in the neck with a pencil if they make another one of these films. The trilogy is near-perfect as it is, capped off by the best film in the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum. There are rumblings that they are going to make another one, which would completely undercut the brilliance of the third movie. Damon was awesome, both in ass-kicking and the overall complexity he brought to the role. This was MUCH better than The Bourne Supremacy.

7. Resurrecting The Champ
Director: Rod Lurie
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett
This was one of those movies that no one saw and no one talks about. I loved pretty much everything about it. The acting was the best I've ever seen from Samuel L., and Hartnett wasn't bad either. It was one of the best "journalism" movies I've ever seen, second only to Shattered Glass, which was phenomenal. I'm really surprised that Samuel L. Jackson didn't get any award nominations for his performance.

6. Into the Wild
Director: Sean Penn
Starring: Emile Hirsch
A really gorgeous film, both visually and topically. A 22-year-old burns all his belongings and takes off, hoping to make it to Alaska. Sean Penn was surprisingly adept behind the camera, and Hirsch (future Speed Racer!) was incredible in front of it.

5. No Country For Old Men
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
This one tops most of the real film critics' lists out there, and for good reason. If you don't look at it as a metaphorical tale in which Bardem is Death/Evil, Brolin is Man/Good, and Tommy Lee Jones is Society trying to make sense of it all, then you'll probably hate this film. It doesn't move too quickly and the ending is questioned by many, but after a little reflection I realized it was the only true way it could have ended, and that makes the movie much better off because of it.

4. 3:10 To Yuma
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster
Westerns made a comeback in 2007, thanks in part to this excellent piece of filmmaking. The performances were great, the script was perfect, and the execution was all I could have hoped for. One of the best westerns I've ever seen.

3. Gone Baby Gone
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan
Ben Affleck's directorial debut was stunning on multiple levels. For one, it was good to see that he can actually make a decent movie. This was definitely one of the best dramas of the year.

2. Juno
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera
The first attempt from screenwriter Diablo Cody promises good things for her in the future. Ellen Page and Michael Cera were perfectly cast, Reitman's directing was spot-on, and the movie managed to be funny and heartwarming at the same time.

1. Wristcutters: A Love Story
Director: Goran Dukic
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon
The best independent movie I've laid eyes on. I don't know more than two people who have seen this, and they were in the same theater with me when I saw it. The most metaphorical film on this list (aside from No Country), but maybe that's why I liked it so much. I've never seen anything like it. By far my favorite movie of the year.


Honorable Mentions: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, 300, I Am Legend, Air Guitar Nation, 1408, Casino Royale, Blood Diamond

Until next time...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Some Movies That Need The Trehern Touch:

or Movies I've seen recently...
Dick Tracy (1990)
My favorite movie when I was a kid. I went to see it with my dad when I was five years old. I remember it, believe it or not, and this break I watched it for the first time since then. I still thought it was really good. The acting was great, especially Pacino and Beatty, and the set art took you away to some made up urban city. It was truely one of those escape movies. Plus, the kid from Hook was in it, and he's always a hoot. Madonna was ridiculously hot in this movie, and I usually don't like her. Not much more to say, just that this is a movie you need to see at least once. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
One of the few movies I saw in theaters this winter season, it was lackluster at best. it started out pretty raunchy, but soon led into the political storyline, which was midlly exciting. The Afghan attacks seemed a little CG, and the Tom Hanks character was, in my opinion, mentally retarded. Positives in this film?: Wilson's good looking secretaries and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who I really don't like, but did in this movie. I then watched MI:III and didn't like him all over again. He's just got that snobbish air about him. Oh well.
The movie ended terribly as well.

Over the Top (1987)
This movie was awesome, and it really got me pumped for the upcoming Stallone classic Rambo. If you've never seen this movie, its one of those rise to the top sports movies that make you feel good about yourself. It's basically Rudy, Remember the Titans and We Are Marshall COMBINED! I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was the first obscure sports movie that started the craze leading to such movies as Dodgeball, Balls of Fury, etc. Also, the music is all done by Giorgio Moroder, who also did exceptional music composition for The NeverEnding Story; its got that 80s synthesized feel I enjoy so much. I wouldn't be opposed to watching it during the incomprable and face-melting event: ULTRAMAN WEEKEND 2008! Pencil it in.
Live A Little, Love A Little (1968)
This movie was AWFUL. I really like Elvis movies, and I never put them down, but geez E, the directors really screwed you over in this one. The movie had little to no plot, and the character acting was subterranean. Elements missing from this movie was Elvis winning the big race (he didn't do anything along these lines), a funny side kick (the
other husband from Bewitched, who I wanted to kick in the face), and a drop dead hottie as his leading lady (the lady in this movie was insane, and pretty much a "But-Her-Face"). This movie had none of these positive elements. I got this movie for my mom, but I corrected the mistake by buying Tickle Me instead; hopefully that one is better. Elvis may have lived and loved a little in this movie, but I died a little after watching it.

3 Godfathers (1948)
This movie was excellent for the following reasons: it was a western, it had John Wayne in it, it had Ward Bond in it, it was directed by John Ford and it took place at Christmas time. Should I go on? The 3 Godfathers narrates the story of three criminals who have just robbed a bank in a small town in the west. The sherriff, who met them at the beginning, is now hot on their trail, cutting them off before they can get any water out in the desert. Dying of thirst, John Wayne, Pedro Somethingorother and Harry Carey Jr. rescue a newborn baby from its dying mother (who incedently is the daughter of the sheriff). It's a really good holiday classic.

Anecdote: My dad and I wanted to watch it this Christmas season, but we only had it on videocassette. Try as we may, we could not sync up our HDTV to our VCR. Dispair entered the usually joyful rooms of the Trehern household. But, what's this? A Christmas miracle! When we checked the On-Demand option of TCM, 3 Godfathers was the first in the western section. Hoots and hollers echoed throughout Timber Woods as the Trehern boys and girls triumphantly broke open bottles of egg nog and munched on dark chocolate M&Ms. Truely, it was one of the greatest Christmas moments of my life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

This is a short film that I made in 2005 for extra credit for a film class I was taking. Boze, Jared, and I wrote it, and we shot it in a couple of hours in my apartment. Obviously it's pretty shoddy when it comes to technical aspects of production (lighting, cameras, sound quality, etc.), but Branz demanded I put it on this site, and I like to make my readers happy. Needless to say, I'd like to think I'm better at making films at this point in my life, so consider this an insight into some early work. Enjoy - if you can decipher the dense dialogue, hah. Until next time...


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Juno

Juno
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman


If you've seen the preview, you know what you're getting yourself into here. If you've been forced to see it by your girlfriend/wife/fiance (Congratulations, JohnKaren!), then you'll probably hate the movie, but if you've seen the trailer and wanted to see it on your own (as I did), then I believe you'll get what you pay for.

The internet film community has been abuzz about Juno ever since it ran the festival circuit months ago, and I've been anxious to see if it lived up to all the hype. Jason Reitman, son of the famous Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghost Busters, Kindergarten Cop), scored with an excellent debut film in Thank You For Smoking. (Why didn't that movie make it on my list?) I knew he could make a really good movie, but one of the most publicly-overlooked aspects of film production is the script, and with Juno the scriptwriter was getting more publicity than anyone else involved with the project. Enter Diablo Cody, the blogger-turned-stripper who has become the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood seemingly overnight. After seeing the movie, I think she deserves all the praise she has been getting and I think she's a lock for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. She has crafted a fantastically realistic world with characters that feel so true-to-life that the movie could almost be a documentary.

Ellen Page is adorable as Juno MacGuff, the suddenly-pregnant main character of the film whose eccentricities border on those of my group of friends. Diablo Cody has a knack for writing dialogue, and Juno's unique verbal style shines above the rest. Page does a perfect job with the character; she was born for that role. Michael Cera plays his normal awkward character (really well, as usual) as Paulie Bleeker, the father of Juno's child. Jennifer Garner was acceptable as the hopeful-mother-to-be Vanessa, while Jason Bateman breezes through his middle-aged rock star wannabe character with ease. J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man series), is refreshing as the Juno's dad - the actors all did such a great job in this movie, you really believe they could be related. In other words, the audience didn't require a great deal of suspension of disbelief in this one.

The music was the one thing that I didn't particularly care for - I thought they went a little overboard with the whole "independent" vibe they were going for. But hey - apparently it's the best selling album on iTunes right now, so what do I know? I will give them one thing: that "Anyone Else But You" song by The Moldy Peaches is ridiculously catchy, if not way too indie for my tastes.

When it was all said and done, I liked Juno a lot. It was funnier than I thought it'd be, and the comic timing and delivery of the lines can only be attributed to the actors for that. I'd recommend it if you're looking for something a little more lighthearted than I Am Legend at the theater before it comes out on DVD.

(Spoilers 'til the end)

I just wanted to give my thoughts on the relationship between Mark (Jason Bateman) and Juno, because during one particular scene I was so uncomfortable that I resorted to physically shrinking away from the screen and squinting my eyes. Their relationship is definitely strange, but also (I believe) pretty easy to figure out. To Mark, Juno represents everything he wants (aka fun, music, movies, etc) but can't have because of his stifled marriage and, more importantly, his refusal to grow up. He sees her as a person, instead of a means to an end like Vanessa sees her. [This isn't to say that Juno and Vanessa don't have a good relationship. As proved in the mall scene, Juno is more than willing to allow Vanessa the joy of being a mother vicariously through her and ultimately Juno ends up giving up her son to Vanessa because she believes, among other things, that it was "always hers." It's the type of relationship they SHOULD have had.]

During Juno's relationship glitch with Bleeker (she finds out he's going to the prom with Katrina Whatshername), Juno reaches out to Mark as the replacement guy in her life to fill the void that Bleeker has left. This is an older guy who used to be in a band, has similar interests, cool guitars, etc. What's not to like about him? We get an insight into the possible undertones in their relationship when Bren tells Juno not to cross the line because Mark is married, but Juno blows her off. Soon after, Mark and Juno find themselves alone (again!) in the house and start dancing, reminiscing about Mark's prom. Juno finds herself in the place of a girl that Mark danced with years ago, mimicking this girl's dancing motions and hand placement for him as he relives his childhood experience through her, a similar tactic employed by Vanessa. This is Mark's last feeling of true happiness in the film: dancing in his room full of stuff that Vanessa doesn't approve of with a girl who is compatible with him on every level except age.

I don't think that Mark would have made a real move on Juno - he had the opportunity a couple of times when they were alone and didn't pull the trigger. He's not a bad guy or a pedophile or anything like that; he's just repressed and Juno was the only outlet for him. For proof that he wouldn't make a move on her, watch the scene again - it's Mark who stops the dance by revealing that he wants a divorce from Vanessa. "I thought you'd be cool with this!" he says, hoping more for an encouraging response from his newfound friend than a confession of love from her. He has found a kindred spirit in Juno and didn't want to give it up, although he knew it was necessary.

Agree or disagree and let me know what you think in the comments section. Until next time...

Trivia: The movie cost $2.5 million to make, and made over $52 million in its first month of release. Also, you can download the script for free at this link, which I would recommend if you want to see what a real film script looks like. It'll take a second to load, but it's worth a look.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Few Good Men, Primal Fear

A Few Good Men
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore


Hands down, this 1992 movie is the best court room drama I've ever seen. I watched it again over the break and it re-established itself as one of my favorite movies. If you've never seen it, or its been a few years, go rent it and you won't be disappointed.

If you're looking for an action oriented 90's flick, look elsewhere; in fact, this is one of the most dialogue-heavy movies I've ever seen. There's a reason for all the talking - the film was based on a Broadway play. After watching it, I've often wondered how I would react to seeing a stage play version of this story. I'm almost certain I would be let down because the performances in the movie version are so iconic that I couldn't imagine anyone else playing the roles.

I'm not a big Demi Moore fan (Indecent Proposal kind of sucked), but she held her own in this one against some big-time movie stars. Tom Cruise was fantastic as the arrogant lawyer Daniel Kaffee, and Kevin Pollack provided welcome comic relief in an otherwise-serious story about the death of a Marine private in Cuba and the soldiers charged with his murder.

Jack Nicholson. What is there to say about him? The guy has played some of the best characters to grace the screen in his 48 year career, and Col. Nathan Jessup falls into that category. I've seen this movie nine or ten times, and that final scene in the courtroom STILL gave me goosebumps when I watched it.

(If you've never seen the movie before, this is a section of the final scene of A Few Good Men. I'll leave it up to you to check it out if you want to ruin it for yourself.)



Plus, it gives people ammo to use on soundboards like this one to make priceless prank phone calls to unexpecting to people who have never seen the movie.



Primal Fear
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Richard Gere, Edward Norton


I don't know how many courtroom movies you guys have seen, but I've seen a surprising number in a genre that I'm not really that fond of. (Runaway Jury, Devil's Advocate, and The Firm are some that I didn't particularly care for, while I liked Amistad, The Client, and A Time To Kill a little more.)

Primal Fear, while having a questionable title, turned out to be a solid trial film. I'd put it right up there slightly under A Few Good Men as a favorite in the genre. There is a killer twist in the movie that separates it from the other courtroom movies of its kind, and Edward Norton's performance is amazing. This was his debut film, and it's easy to see why he soon began getting a lot of work in Hollywood. Great stuff from him. Richard Gere is the main character, a hotshot lawyer (is there any other kind?) named Martin Vail who defends Ed Norton in a murder trial. Richard Gere is one of those guys that is a polar actor. What I mean by that is he's either good or terrible in every movie he does. There's no middle ground with him. He's obviously done a lot of chick flicks (Runaway Bride, Chicago, etc.), but he's done some cool stuff too - the most prominent in my mind being 1997's The Jackal opposite Bruce Willis, and he was a decent Lancelot in 1995's First Knight opposite Sean Connery. Now that I think about it, those are the only other movies that I enjoyed with him in them. Anyway, my point is that his character in Primal Fear was a pretty good role for him. Frances McDormand had a small but crucial role as a neuropsychologist who examines Norton's character, and she was great. I liked her a lot in Primal Fear, and I guess 1996 was a good year for her because that and Fargo came out in the same year and she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in Fargo.

That's all for now, so enjoy the rest of your winter break. Until next time...