Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)


It seems impossible to discuss Martin Scorsese’s complex and thought provoking film in any real depth without giving away any spoilers. Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name, Shutter Island will likely be one of the most talked about films of 2010. Misrepresented in the trailers to appear to be a horror/thriller, it really becomes so much more. I viewed it to be a police procedural turned psychological conspiracy thriller. While I was accurate in my assessment, at the same time I was very wrong. The film opens on a ferry, with U.S Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) assigned to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from an asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. When they arrive on the Island they are met by an impatient, extremely on-edge unit of guards that drive them from the dock to the gates of the facility, and outline the protocol. When they begin the investigation they receive even less co-operation from the staff and orderlies, and the chief psychiatrist, Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley in a brilliant performance). We discover that Daniels had previously investigated the asylum and had uncovered a potential conspiracy involving unlawful treatment of difficult patients. We also learn that Daniels’ wife had been killed years previous in a house fire started by an Andrew Laeddus, who he also believes is a current patient at the asylum. Daniels had volunteered for this mission, with a personal agenda beyond the missing woman.
Through the first hour of the film I was reminded of The Wicker Man (1973), an investigator arriving on an island after the report of missing person and met with patronizing, uncooperative subjects. This is exactly what Scorsese and the script wants you to believe. It works so well that even when you are given the final reveal, and provided evidence that differs from this very probable narrative, you still don’t believe it, and the shock for the viewer is a jolt back to the actual reality, which is much the same for DiCaprio’s character. The truth has to be forced down our throats, as we, like Daniels, choose to reject everything explained by Cawley, based on the assumption that he is a man that divulges in evil treatment methods and is working against the investigation. But whose assumption is this? How sane is Daniels really? How do we explain the dreams he has? Why do the other patients seem amused by his presence, and even recognize him in some cases? Daniels is really the only one actively investigating everything, and we see no evidence that any of his theories actually exist. Even his partner Chuck (another amazing performance from Mark Ruffalo) seems to just observe Daniels and escort him through the investigation. On first viewing all of these subtle elements of the film are either ignored or missed. But the second viewing, once the final reveal has been absorbed and considered, is a real treat. It is essentially two films in one, a completely different experience with each subsequent viewing; hence a second viewing is essential to completely grasp the brilliance of the crafting.
As I have mentioned, all the performances are strong. DiCaprio had a great year, with excellent work in both Shutter Island and Inception. Ruffalo and Kingsley are both amazing. Shutter Island is beautifully shot, and Daniels' dream sequences are quite hypnotic. Despite a strong year for the cinematography and art direction categories at the 83rd Academy Awards, Shutter Island should have received some recognition. The editing is also fantastic, as the emotional responses by Ruffalo and Kingsley to DiCaprio’s actions are strong in establishing their roles in the film. The score is very strange, with the opening scenes accompanied by a haunting orchestra common to horror filmmaking. It works well to heighten our expectation of approaching suspense and associates the Island with a feeling of unsettling dread, a clever mislead. The use of Mahler throughout the film to accompany the WWII flashbacks is also beautifully done. The adapted script, which at first seems quite messy and full of inexplicable plot holes, reads much much better on the second viewing. Finally, with Martin Scorsese at the helm, it’s all handled masterfully. While it doesn't stand amongst Scorsese’s best, Shutter Island is destined to become a classic. I loved it!

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock, 2009)

The Blind Side is a genuinely heart warming, feel good American underdog success story. It’s the kind of film that finds success through word of mouth that suggests it is an entertaining and pleasant film experience. I am not denying that this is the case. It is just a very poorly made one, that conforms to genre cliché after genre cliché and is so glazed over that the emotional impact of the film is lost altogether. The Blind Side lacks any real emotional punch, while Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock) has the pleasure she has in her caring actions plastered over her face for the entire film, and the rest of her family shows joy at Michael’s ultimate success, but this is rarely matched by Michael’s character, who’s quiet demeanor doesn’t give away to much at all. Bullock’s performance is very solid and often keeps the film together when it teeters on being juvenile, and is arguably the best in her career. But to say that it is Oscar worthy is something else. It is not even deserving of a nomination, let alone the likely victory.
Almost every event is full of cliché and coincidence that allows for convenient storytelling. It is a film full of turns in the lives of the characters; new developments and surprises, but there is almost no drama, only a swift transition to the next episode of the story, without any real explanation or deliberation of how these events are resolved. It can almost be called a comedy, but with a series of irritating anecdotes. The decision to legally adopt the boy comes about when his surname can’t be traced in the records for a drivers’ license. It can’t simply be coincidence that two of the first people Michael meets at school happen to be the Touhy children. The film also looks good, but perhaps too good. The gritty project housing system is glazed over and home to the most stereotypical drug gang you will ever witness, and the Touhy house is displayed in perfect upkeep for the entire film. The slow camera pan was used for almost every single dialogue sequence reminding me of a midday Soap, and the silly montages, which show both his athletic and his educational developments, just couldn’t be taken seriously.
There exists no depth to any of the characters, and they all seemed strangely accepting to taking on his baggage in addition to their own lives, which seemed to be perfect. Racism as a theme is a very minor facet and is quickly brushed over in one of two conversations. Michael’s development from talented but raw footballer into one of the most sought after prospects in the college game is the centre of the story, and even his success in this serious life challenge is handled almost child-like. When the college coaches come a-calling to his house, the youngest son is speaking on his behalf, asking what the college is going to offer him. This might get a few laughs from a forgiving audience, but it is nothing short of ridiculous. This is a glazed over Hollywood fluff story full of cheesy dialogue, shallow characters and poor performances, and the total absence of drama. Pretty mediocre. 

My Rating: 2 Stars

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2010 Oscar Predictions

Here are my predictions for the 2009 Oscar winners:

Best Picture

It's incredible that the first year they decide to change the number of nominees in this category from 5 to 10, is in one of the weakest years of film in recent memory! In my mind only five of the films have any chance, and they happen to be the five best films of 2009 in my opinion.
The Blind Side should NOT be in this category. Precious has been lauded and pounded by both critics and general public, and while I haven't seen the film, it's brutal premise seems over-the-top, and the writing/directing amateurish. A Serious Man is another film I am yet to see, and while it received positive reviews across the board, it has flown under the radar, and considered a solid Coen Bros. film, and not of the quality of previous Oscar winners Fargo, and No Country for Old Men. Having said that, both of those films would be favorites hands-down to take the award if they were released in 2009. District 9, while I loved it and thought it was a fascinating sci-fi film, is just happy to be there. As is An Education, which is 90% a great film, let down by an unforgivable error at the conclusion. I would love to see UP win, because I think it is Pixar's greatest film along with Wall E, but it is unlikely that the Academy will select an animated film. It will have to be content with Best Animated Film. AVATAR is a groundbreaking visual masterpiece, and the highest grossing film of all time, but the script, the acting and the shallow characters failed to keep me interested in my second viewing. It will probably win, and this isn't right! That leaves three films: Inglorious Basterds, Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker. I would love to see Tarantino win his Oscar, but Up in the Air is a masterpiece and has lots of support. A victory here would not surprise me, and I would also be delighted to see Jason Reitman win. My pick, however, is The Hurt Locker, the outstanding tale of a bomb disposal unit in the Iraq War.

My pick: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Up in the Air

Best Actor

After winning the SAG Award and the Golden Globe (Drama), Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart is the frontrunner and likely winner. Colin Firth for A Single Man has apparently never been better, and both Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker and George Clooney for Up in the Air also have a shot after delivering memorable performances. An interesting category.

My Pick: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
Dark Horse: George Clooney (Up in the Air)

Best Actress

This category is a joke this year. Sandra Bullock, the winner of the Razzie Award for her performance in All About Steve, is the favorite for her 'solid' lead performance in the painfully bad, The Blind Side. Meryl is her only real contender for her portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia. This is a fine performance but is in the shadow of last years performance in Doubt, where she should have won. Will they forgive this mistake and award her this time? I really liked Carey Mulligan in An Education but she seems too young to win just yet. Gabourey Sidibe and Helen Mirren don't have much of a chance. Bullock is likely to win, which is just ridiculous, but i am going to go for Meryl.

My Pick: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
Dark Horse: Carey Mulligan (An Education)

Supporting Actor

This is probably the easiest to pick. Christoph Waltz for his menacing portrayal of Hans 'The Jew Hunter' Lander in Inglourious Basterds will win for sure. Matt Damon and Stanley Tucci have outside shots, but Waltz is as sure a bet as Daniel Day Lewis was for There Will be Blood!

My Pick: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Dark Horse: None

Supporting Actress

I am in strong support for the two Up in the Air girls in this category. Both delivered fantastic performances. Vera Farmiga is overdue for some recognition after some quality performances in recent years. Anna Kendrick is a major talent, and is just superb in Jason Reitman's film. The award is going to go to Mo'Nique though, for her menacing portrayal in Precious. She has won everything so far, and is likely to add an Oscar to her collection. Maggie Gyllenhaal has emerged as a potential dark horse alongside Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, but sadly I don't see anyone beating out Mo'Nique.

My Pick: Mo'Nique (Precious)
Dark Horse: Vera Farmiga/Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)

Best Director

James Cameron should not, repeat not, win this award for Avatar. Somehow he took out the Golden Globe. This award should go to either Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds or Jason Reitman for Up in the Air. Bigelow won the Directors Guild Award, and Tarantino and Retiman are very likely to take out the screenplay awards for their respective films, so I'm going to go with Kathryn Bigelow taking out the award to complement the Best Picture nod.

My Pick: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Dark Horse: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Up in the Air will dominate this category. While I loved the premise of District 9, the second half of the film let down what was so brilliantly developed in the first 30 minutes. An Education, whether it was adapted from real events or not, mishandled the final 10 minutes, and that was unforgivable. In the Loop has proven to be quite popular during it's short release in Australia, but is unlikely to challenge. Precious seems to be the most likely competitor, but word around is that the adaptation is tripe compared to the original work. So, Up in the Air by a long long way!

My Pick: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
Dark Horse: Neill Blomkamp and Teri Hatchell (District 9)

Best Original Screenplay

This is one of my favorite categories, with some genuinely great screenplays. The Coen Bros. must always be considered for their work. There are fewer more inventive filmmakers in the world at the moment, and A Serious Man is the latest in their odd resume. UP is a fantastic screenplay, creating an entertaining story for all ages, and managing to transform a grumpy old man and a young Asian scout, into the film's central characters! Kudos to Pete Docter on that one. The Hurt Locker is also a fantastic screenplay, but i think more praise should go to Kathryn Bigelow for this one, but if an Oscar sweep were in store for The Hurt Locker, then it might upset. My pick is for QT for Basterds. A brilliant re-writing of the conclusion of WWII, it is darkly comic, and appropriately dramatic and moving. It possesses a heart that many of his recent films have lacked. While it can potentially win both of the top awards, QT is going to have to be content with this one I think.

My Pick: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Dark Horse: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)

Best Animated Film

This will go to Pixar again, for UP. This is the right choice. It is one of the best films of the year, and one of the great animated films of the decade! I do feel for Wes Anderson and Henry Selick here. Fantastic Mr Fox was thought by many (including me) to be an outside chance for a best picture nomination. It is superb! I also loved Coraline. Both would have been a winner in a weaker year. The other two nominees have no chance.

My Pick: Up (Pete Docter)
Dark Horse: Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)

Best Foreign Film

Sadly I haven't managed to see any of the nominees yet, but Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) by Michael Haneke took home the Palme D'Or at the Canne Film Festival and won the Golden Globe for Foreign Language Film. Un Prophete (France) and The Milk of Sorrow (Peru) appear to be it's closest challengers. But if this is Haneke's greatest film, as many critics are saying, then this must win, and it's strange to think why it wasn't given a Best Pic Nomination if it really is this good!

My Pick: Das Weisse Band (Michael Haneke)
Dark Horse: Un Proffete (Jaques Audaird)

Best Art Direction

My Pick: Avatar
Dark Horse: Nine or Sherlock Holmes

Best Cinematography

This potentially could go to four of the nominees. It is very likely that Avatar's beautiful 3D will take out the award, but Robert Richardson's work in Inglourious Basterds deserves the award, especially for that stunning final sequence at the theatre. But Christian Berger's black and white cinematography in Das Weisse Band also has a shot. The hand-held camerawork in The Hurt Locker paints a gritty portrayal of the situations thrown at the characters in the film, and works brilliantly, but I don't think it will take out this award, likely film editing though.

My Pick: Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds)
Dark Horse: Christian Berger (Das Weisse Band)

Best Costume Design

I'm not sure about this one at all.

My Pick: Coco Before Chanel
Dark Horse: Nine

Best Film Editing

Spectacularly done in The Hurt Locker. Also can't fault Sally Menke for her work in Inglourious Basterds, especially that final sequence.

My Pick: Bob Murawski, Chris Innis (The Hurt Locker)
Dark Horse: Sally Menke (Inglourious Basterds)

Best Music (Original Score)

My Pick: Up
Dark Horse: Fantastic Mr Fox

Best Sound Editing

My Pick: Avatar
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds

Best Sound Mixing

My Pick: Avatar
Dark Horse: The Hurt Locker

Best Visual Effects

Avatar, maybe!

My Pick: Avatar
Dark Horse: None

Newest Alfonso Cuaron Project!

There has been recent word on the next project from one of my current favorite directors, Alfonso Cuaron, director of Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Children of Men (2006). Currently in pre-production, it is called A Boy and his Shoe and is set for release in 2012 after several pushbacks. The production company is Esperanto Films, which is co-owned by Cuaron. It tells the story of a young French girl who moves to Scotland with her family, and crosses paths with two young traveling Scottish boys, forever changing all of their lives. The talk is that it is a touching road film that journeys through England, Scotland and France, with surprising twists in the lives of these troubled characters. Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist), and Daniel Auteil (star of Cache) have been linked to the project and appear to lead the cast, with casting still underway for the younger performers. It sounds intriguing and if Cuaron can re-create the magic of his previous works, it looks to be a winner.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shutter Island

Really looking forward to the release of Martin Scorsese's new film, Shutter Island. Leading a stellar cast are Marty's new favorite son, Leo Di Caprio and Ben Kinglsey and Mark Ruffalo. Based on the 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, it tells the story of two U.S Marshals that are investigating the disappearance of a patient from an Island asylum, and uncover a secret conspiracy that keeps them trapped there. The release date has been delayed for various reasons, which doesn't bring great confidence, but Martin Scorsese rarely directs a bad film, and the trailer looks awesome. The wide release is upon us; this Thursday 18th February!

Here is the link to the trailer:

Friday, February 12, 2010

10 Greatest Television Shows

I’m sure that everyone has noticed the descent in the quality of television (especially free-to-air) in the 21st Century, but amongst the utter crap that we are offered, there IS some television genius, however this is supplied mostly through HBO. Here is a countdown of the top 10 shows recent to our TV screens.

Honorable Mentions: The Office (British), Nip/Tuck, M*A*S*H, Dexter, Mad Men

10. Weeds (Showtime) 2005-Present How cool is the idea of a financially struggling single mother of two turning to dealing marijuana to the neighborhood potheads to make ends meet? Well this is the idea behind Weeds. When her business starts to boom, she invites her family and close friends and associates into her empire, and the fun really starts. Weeds is a very satirical look at the rich, snobby suburbs of California, and the idea that the housing, and their residents grow up to all be the same. But Nancy Botwin (played superbly by Mary Louise Parker) is certainly different. After the death of her husband, Nancy must take care of her two young boys, and compete in a competitive market with drug lords and gang leaders that don’t appreciate her attractive form of competition. The supporting characters (Nancy’s accountant Doug Wilson, and Nancy’s brother-in-law Andy) are utterly hilarious, and the film perfectly balances the comedy with many dramatic arcs that often dismantle their lives. I have so far only seen the first three seasons of this fantastic show, but I hope that it remains at a high quality.

9. Peep Show (Channel 4) 2003-Present
If you have not had a chance to watch this absolutely hilarious British comedy, you are missing out. This is one of the most pleasant surprises I have experienced with television. The show’s central characters are Mark (a socially awkward loan manager) and Jeremy (an unemployed, immature, musician wannabe), who share an apartment and we see a document of their bizarre daily lives. Of course there are work colleagues, close friends and love interests that join in the fun. The show mostly uses point-of-view shots of the characters when they are conversing, and utilises voice-over to divulge what the characters are ‘really’ thinking. It is a very interesting approach. Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb) are a great comedy duo, with the best support given by Matt King as Super Hans (Jez’s band mate, and drug riddled friend, who often pops in to cause some trouble). The first four seasons see Mark question his sexuality after feeling a manly attraction toward his successful boss, and then agree to marry his long-time crush Sophie, which ends disastrously! Jez and Super Hans attempt to run a pub at one point, with gut aching results. The show is now a cult classic, and while the series are only 6 episodes each, not a moment is wasted. Every episode delivers! While beyond the 4th season is still a mystery to me, all indications are that it becomes even more out-of-control.

8. Arrested Development (Fox) 2003-2006
It was certainly sad to see this show end after just three seasons, but what a treat they were. Failing in the ratings, Arrested Development flew under the radar but received much critical acclaim and numerous awards. Most the cast are now embedded in the memories of popular culture, and appear in just about everything. I think that this will likely be the highlight of all their careers. The central character is Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who takes over as president of his father’s business, once he is jailed for shady dealing in the Middle East. His role is to keep the dysfunctional family together, while trying to keep the business afloat. The best support comes from, well everyone, but personally I love Michael Cera (as Michael’s son George Michael), Will Arnett (as his brother Gob), and David Cross (as Michael’s brother-in-law Tobias). The writing is tight and the hilarity is so subtle that jokes are often missed, until you catch them on repeat viewings. The pseudo-doco style with voice-over and flashback keeps the story interesting and the 22 minutes seem to fly by. Keep an eye out for a feature film release soon.

7. The Shield (FX Networks) 2002-2008
One of the most realistic police dramas on television, The Shield features an ensemble of characters that work with the LAPD in the Farmington district of Los Angeles. The central character, and leader of the Strike Team unit is Vic Mackey (Michael Chicklis), whose struggle to balance familial crisis and the covering up his teams’ illegal activity within the department, leads the drama. Chicklis is fantastic, as is his partner Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins). There are many sequences of tension between the two during the series. Other memorable characters are Detective Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and his partner Detective Claudette Wyms (C.C.H Pounder), who encounter a series of serial killers and often work with the Strike Team to find leads. The series also focuses on the uniformed police, painting an accurate portrait of the workings of the LAPD. The series reached a peak in Season 2 as the Strike Team rob an Armenian mob, and then launder the money to evade arrest. But subsequent seasons, and roles for Glenn Close and Forrest Whitaker, have revealed exciting new directions for the characters. One of the best shows ever to play on Ten.

6. OZ (HBO) 1997-2003
This giant of modern television is arguably the grittiest of HBO’s shows. This is a big call! We are thrust into the world of Oswald State Penitentiary following a new inmate, Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen, in one of the most daring performances on television), and revealed an experimental prison system known as Emerald City, run by Tim McManus. Emerald City allows the prisoners to mingle freely in a large living room type set-up, and allows the various gangs to plot attacks on their enemies in a power struggle within the prison. These gangs (The Arians, the Muslims, the Mafia, the Latinos and the African Americans) each have a domineering ruler, and peace is sought through McManus and the Warden, Leo Glynn. The first season is perhaps the best, with the last two episodes featuring a riot within the prison. These are perhaps the best two episodes in television history! But what make this show so impressive are the cameo appearances of established actors, who appear for one episode and are then killed off. No character is safe, and the creators hold nothing back. As the rivalries build, friendships develop and then are destroyed, and the staffs lose control of their authority, there is plenty of meat for violent entertainment. OZ delivers on all counts. In a near-perfect story arc that ties all loose ends, the six seasons of OZ should not be missed.

5. Entourage (HBO) 2004 - Present
The male Sex and The City has been quickly gathering momentum ever since the show hit the third season, and is now one of the most popular shows on television. Entourage tells the story of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), a young, up-and-coming actor trying to find his place in the business. By his side are his manager Eric, his driver Turtle, his semi-famous actor brother Johnny and his bloodsucking agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven). We see the group battle production agencies to secure roles…and shop for Ferraris. It is great fun! The boys live the life any man would dream of, including VIP access to any club, unlimited golf membership, attending parties at the Playboy Mansion, and hanging out with celebrities. Almost all of the situations are memorable and the quotes repeatable. Johnny Drama’s reminiscing on his acting past is always a highlight, as are Ari’s crude rants to his assistant Lloyd, his colleagues, and his trophy wife. The best moments came during the series when Billy Walsh (an Independent, Sundance winning director) directs Vinny in the ‘worst’ film of the year, Medellin, which ultimately destroys Vinny’s career temporarily. Later seasons have seen Eric progress from being Vinny’s manager to running his own company, and sees Turtle become a music talent agent! Even Johnny sees a hiatus, when his show Five Towns brings success. Appropriately dramatic, but consistently funny, this glorified examination of the celebrity and the film business is addictive television, and one to enjoy with mates again and again.

4. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) 2000 - Present
Through the antics he displays in his Seinfeld follow-up, Curb Your Enthusiasm, the quirky Larry David has become one of the most loved and hated performers on television. He is doing enough for Woody Allen to cast him in his most recent film, Whatever Works! The film thrives on confrontational comedy. Larry lives a pretty relaxed life. Living lavishly from his Seinfeld riches, he spends most of his time annoying his wife, and socialising with his friends! He has a set of social rules that he believes every normal person adheres too, and when they don’t, the awkward fun of this show really begins. It has been called a ‘hilarious tribute to horrible behaviour’ and each season has consistently kept it ahead of all other television comedy. Each season has a story arc that runs throughout, we see Larry attempt to pitch a show starry an ex-Seinfeld cast member, but through a series of incidents the show is banned from all networks, we see him invest with his friend Ted Danson in a restaurant, we see him star in Mel Brooks’ Broadway Musical, The Producers, with David Schwimmer, donate his Kidney to a suffering Richard Lewis, adopt a Hurricane-affected family and in the recent Season 7, write a Seinfeld reunion show. Larry’s ability to say what we all think, but dare not say, brings about some fantastic sequences. Some cameo appearances are instant classics, while Cheryl Hines (as his wife Cheryl David) and Jeff Garlin (as his obese manager Jeff Greene) are superb as Larry’s sanest advisers. The show works on improvisation, and only a simple base for the scene is developed prior to shooting. Larry’s quirks and society damning rants never get old, in fact, I bet after watching this you begin to question what goes on around you yourself.

3. Six Feet Under (HBO) 2001-2005
The wonderful Six Feet Under is the heartbreaking story of the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home. In the opening episode Nathaniel Fisher (played by Richard Jenkins) is killed in a car accident, and the family business is left in the hands of his two sons, Nate (Peter Krause), their semi-estranged son that had been living in Seattle for years, and David (Michael C.Hall), original partner of the business with his father. Nathaniel’s widow Ruth (Frances Conroy), and daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) also live at the Funeral Home. Each episode begins with the imaginative death of a person, which then becomes the focus of the business for that episode. Each family member is often moved or enlightened by the life lead by the deceased, and often affects how they live their own personal lives, which are often in turmoil. Six Feet Under is often darkly comic, but the dramatic tension can prove to be almost unbearable. While the experience is incredibly rewarding, it can leave you feeling miserable and depressed. Why watch it then? The ensemble cast is uniformly outstanding, the complex plotting of the relationships is perfect, and the every nuance of plot development is resolved at the conclusion of the 5th Season. The first two seasons are perhaps the best, which deal with Nate’s fatal brain disorder, but overall, with the exception of the next show on this list (but for a different reason), it is unquestionably the most moving drama in television history!

2. The Wire (HBO) 2002-2008
The focus of The Wire is the Baltimore Police Department trying to crack down on the increasing murder and drug trade rates in the city. We are immediately introduced to many characters that I’ll admit are hard to grasp or recognise for the first few episodes. But so much time is spent developing chemistry between the groups that by the fifth or sixth episode you feel like you have known them for life. The homicide and the narcotics unit are the two most central to the show, but in addition we also see the story from the other side of the law, in Season 1, a drug trade run through the projects, and in Season 2, a mob squad moving illegal goods through the Baltimore docks. Equal time is spent on both parties as they try and outsmart the other. A strike team is assembled featuring members of the different departments that work exclusively on the case in question, arranging surveillance stakeouts, and wiretaps on the suspects.
The show is incredibly realistic! Nothing can be run without the permission of the Majors and often the Court. Chain of command must be adhered to, and this often leads to frustrating moments as the team is let down by the decisions of their superiors. And while the tension is expertly built, the show has light moments of comedy too. All the characters are memorable, especially McNulty, Bunk, Freamon, Kima and Daniels from the detective squad, and Omar, who becomes a feared ruler of the Baltimore streets. In a world where the detective drama seems to rule the television screen, this is the BEST! No question. Words can’t describe how perfect this show is, just watch it and find out!

1. Seinfeld (NBC) 1989-98
The greatest show of all time is without a doubt Seinfeld. The show about nothing! Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, it has became one of the most popular and beloved sitcoms in TV history, and re-runs are still abundant today, years after the completion of Season 9. With the exception of the rusty 1st Season, 2-9 have been equally exceptional, with the team rarely delivering a poor episode. The characters of Jerry, George, Kramer, Elaine and even Newman are now embedded in the conscience of popular culture. Tackling every eccentricity of life, the events and situations critiqued in Seinfeld are hilarious. Just about every nuance of life experience has been tackled in Seinfeld and you commonly find yourself saying, ’remember in Seinfeld when Kramer…’ Commonly we see a different story arc for each character that often reconvenes at the conclusion of the episode. Some are set all in the one location and shot in real-time, such as the S2 classic, The Chinese Restaurant, or The Dealership in Season 9. While many consist of heavily dialogued situations in Jerry’s apartment or the coffee shop, others are set in elaborate locations! Incredibly quotable, every episode is capable of being re-watched over and over again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Advanced Screenings of The Hurt Locker

Having just briefly discussed the current mediocre state of the franchise film industry, I discover that there will be advanced screenings of The Hurt Locker playing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Event Cinemas in the city. These are no doubt some trial screenings to gauge the popularity of the film and the potential success it will have in such a foreign environment. The fact that it is nominated for 9 Academy Awards might also be a reason. In previous years, the Best Picture winner has become much more popular following it's success at the most-watched award ceremony. No Country for Old Men was only playing for a session or two a day, and then following its win, it began to draw half a cinema of patrons and began playing three/four times a day. Slumdog Millionaire played for months and months purely through word of mouth, and the resulting growth in awareness and popularity. If Inglourious Basterds wins Best Picture, cinemas are not going to be able to make money from the victory, but DVD sales will soar no doubt. The Hurt Locker is a fantastic film, and I believe worthy of the top honor. Anyone that hasn't managed to see a screening of this film (it's original release was in 2008) should make an effort to see it. It's a gritty war portrayal of a bomb disposal unit stationed in Iraq, and the courage/de-sensitization it takes to be one of these men. Other film releases today include Valentine's Day, The Wolfman (the re-make of the classic horror tale starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins) and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Happy viewing!

The Future of Australian Cinema

It has come to my attention that the business focus of large income, franchise cinemas in Australia has taken a very disturbing turn. We find ourselves in a capitalist world where the primary goal is to generate and increase revenue, and heavily promote the consumption of food and beverage items to further enhance the overall cinema experience. It is true that most people are dumb enough to fall into this trap and overindulge all for the benefit of sitting in recliners in a relaxing theatre and then having to survive an awful film like Transformers 2. The goal of going to the cinemas, it seems, is not about appreciating art, or the experience of viewing a great film, but to consume as much as possible. Why do we require all these items to enjoy a film? Can we use it as a distraction? Wow, this film sucks, hey at least we got to have a beer and a sundae.

To take a look at the quality of films being shown at a prominent city cinema, we rarely see anything beyond the mainstream, wide distribution, blockbuster crap. An idea has been thrown around between myself and few of my close colleagues, which suggests that we make one of the cinemas the home of all the independent films normally snubbed by large cinema franchises. We can play 2 to 3 films for a couple of sessions a day, for up to three weeks depending on their popularity and the revenue they bring. The five nominated Razzie films; Transformers 2, Land of the Lost, GI Joe, All About Steve and Old Dogs, all received lengthy time at Event Cinemas and Hoyts, while only half of the ten Best Picture nominees have currently been shown in these cinemas. This is a very disturbing observation. But will the cinema become obsolete within 10 years? With an ever increasing number of people choosing to download films from the net rather than spend the money to see a film on the big screen, it spells doom for the Australian cinema industry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigalow, 2009)

You don't have to be a hero to do this job. But it helps.

The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigalow, is a powerful and intense thriller and a scarily accurate representation of a bomb disposal unit stationed in Iraq during the Iraq War. The opening scene featuring a cameo by Guy Pierce is genuine suspense, and a jolting revelation into the conditions the soldiers were forced to risk their lives in. Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) takes leadership control of the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team, which includes Sergeant J.T Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). The role of the team is to secure the perimeter of an established or suspected bomb location. James’ role as team leader is to wear the protective military suit, approach the site and dismantle the explosive device, while his team scopes out the perimeter for possible sniper attacks on their often isolated position. Things get heated when Sanborn and Eldridge disapprove of James’ ‘careless’ techniques and disrespect for established protocol. In a series of stunning sequences, where the team is met with a more deadly situation than the last, the trio slowly begins to bond with the men finally accepting James as their leader. This applies in particular to the sniper ambush which leaves the men trapped under fire in the middle of the desert.
Jeremy Renner’s heartfelt performance as James is outstanding, as the pain and emotion of the American soldier trapped in this war oozes from his body. He is cocky and arrogant in the line of duty, but also shows care for his fellow team members and succumbs to tears when he accidentally shoots Eldridge in the leg. It was great to see him receive an Oscar Nomination for his lead. He receives great support from Anthony Mackie. There are short cameo appearances from Guy Pierce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes and Evangeline Lilly, but the film belongs to the trio of relatively unknown actors, who bring this gritty tale to life. Another fantastic feature of this film, which was also used by Fernando Meirelles to bring City of God’s barren environment to life, is the hand-held camera. Tracking the characters as they clear warehouses, and offers point-of-view shots when they approach combat situations. It is raw, energetic and ultimately incredibly suspenseful. Kathryn Bigalow is favorite to win Best Director at the Oscars for her stellar work in telling this absorbing tale, and this 'near-perfect film' should also challenge for the Best Picture Oscar with Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air

Overall: 4 1/2 Stars

Review: Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

Where the Wild Things Are is the long-awaited and expected film adaptation of the beloved 1963 children's illustrated book by Maurice Sendak. Best known for his work in the music video industry and for renowned feature films Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), the film is directed by Spike Jonze. The film’s central character is young Max (played with great enthusiasm by Max Records). In the brilliant opening sequences of the film we learn all about Max. We discover that he is a lonely boy with few friends and an estranged relationship to his mother and sister, but possesses a very wild imagination. After his igloo is destroyed by some of his sister’s friends, he unleashes his anger on her by destroying her room, as he does on his mother (Katherine Keener) by biting her when she invites her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) around for dinner. Distressed, and filled with childhood emotion, Max runs away from home. Hiding out in the woods, he finds a boat, which he sails through the night to a mysterious island, which he sets out to explore. It is here that he stumbles across the Wild Things and his life begins to change forever.
The Wild Things themselves are wonderfully realized. Utilising both a superb cast of voice talent (including James Gandolphini, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper and Forrest Whitaker) and a series of suited performers, the timing is perfect, and the interactions between them and Max are both humorous and emotional. The costumes are fantastic, and the otherworldly feel of the Island is effortlessly displayed through the films’ diverse locations. Max and the Wild Things chase each other through the dense forest, trek across the desert, compete in a dirt-clod fight in what seemed like a canyon, and finally farewell him from a beach. A key theme in Sendak’s fantasy, Jonze essentially turns the Island into another character in itself. The use of the hand-held camera for most of the film, and the grainy, sepia-like appearance of the image are also fantastic techniques that allows the viewer to feel, like Max, that they are encroaching on this world and don’t belong, but are riding the character of Max. The tracking shots that follow the characters in the various chase sequences are stunning and this beautiful imagery is well supported by a memorable musical score, which for me was one of the highlights of the film. This cannot be called a children’s film, but as Spike Jonze said himself, ‘a film about children’ and the combination of conflicting emotions and a vivid imagination.

One interesting question is that of what the Wild Things symbolize? Some may see them as functioning as a replacement for different members of his family depicted in a way so that he finally feels comfortable in a family environment. Another read though, is the idea that each Wild Thing possesses the qualities of one of Max’s emotions, and Max must face these emotions individually and master them (become King) when they resort to conflict. To avoid initial destruction, Max introduces himself as a king with magical powers to gain their trust. He also invents a number of games, and separates the group up into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys to properly gauge their position and to keep harmony. The group is finally divided again when Carol discovers that Max is not really a King with magical powers, despite the ignorance of the rest of the group, and Max decides he best head back home. While the world of the Wild Things is an invention by Max he learns a very valuable lesson about life, and accepting his family for what they are. In the final sequence we see Max hugged by his distraught mother, seemingly only a short period after initially leaving home. I was read this book as a young child, as many of my generation, and those generations before, would have. This is a film for us. While I believe it as remained faithful to Sendak’s book, Jonze’s quirky changes and additions are typical of him as an auteur. The plot is far too complicated and violent for young children, but adults can surely appreciate the technical brilliance of the voice-cast, the costuming, the cinematography and that score.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is another stunning but remarkably odd film from ex-Monty Python Terry Gilliam. Gilliam, famous for blurring the boundaries of what his protagonist and the audience perceive as real and what is dream or imagination, in this film revolves the plot around a carnival sideshow that allows a customer to enter an imaginary world full of their wildest fantasies. Gilliam, whose resume includes the cult classics Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995) and an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), described the premise of the film as a "fun and humorous story about the consequences of our personal choices in life”.
Set during a seemingly hostile 21st Century London, a world where the idea of the imagination overwhelms the average person, The Imaginarium is fueled by the brilliant 1000 year old Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) when he enters a trance. During his immortal existence, Parnassus has made a number of deals with a man we know to be called Mr Nick (a symbol of the Devil or darkness), played superbly and with great fun by Tom Waits. Nick bestowed upon Parnassus this incredible power to curve the imagination of an individual, and he comes to collect his debt. In order to stop him from taking away his young daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) when she ages to sixteen, Parnassus must lure five souls to the path of light when customers enter the Imaginarium, with Nick attempting to lure them to the path of darkness.
Unfortunately the traveling show is in disrepair, is continually hounded by the law, and is not attracting customers, and with just three days before Valentina’s birthday, Parnassus begins to fear the worst. By chance they meet the mysterious Tony (played by Heath Ledger in the final role before his death), who helps Parnassus to modernize the Imaginarium and through his natural charismatic charm, begins to attract customers into the show. In several outstanding visual sequences, Tony's character accompanies women into the Imaginarium and presents them the path of light, while Nick appears to lure them into darkness. With Ledger’s premature death halting production, his role is cleverly recast for several key sequences and we see Johnny Depp (superb), Jude Law and finally Colin Farrell portray a physically altered version of his character inside the Imaginarium. Once the secret of Tony's former occupation is revealed and the reasons behind his pursuit are discovered by Anton (another employee of Dr Parnassus) the film becomes even more complex. While Tony is fueled by a desire to escape capture and to save Parnassus' daughter, Anton’s desire is to not only win back Valentina but through his jealousy reveal Tony’s secret. The trio enters the Imaginarium together and the film begins to spiral wildly out-of-control.
The conclusion is every bit as intriguing and frustratingly complicated as that of Gilliam's earlier masterpiece, Brazil, with nothing what is seems. Gilliam was faced with a massive problem with Ledger’s death, and while far from perfect the final cut is a remarkable work. Ledger delivers a quality performance, while Depp is certainly the best of the supporting roles. In true Gilliam fashion, this is a wild, visually spectacular and oddly hilarious ride.

Overall: 3 1/2 Stars

The 10 Best Films of 2009

A noticeably weak year for film, but there were still some gems. Surprisingly, three films on this list are animated films. Here are the 10 Best films of 2009!

Honorable Mentions:
20. Public Enemies (Michael Mann)
19. Whatever Works (Woody Allen)
18. Star Trek (dir. J.J Abrams)
17. Watchmen (Zach Snyder)
16. The Road (John Heathcoate)
15. An Education (Lone Scherfig)
14. 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb)
13. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
12. Coraline and the Secret Door 3D (Henry Selick)
11. Avatar 3D (James Cameron)

10. Da Weisse Band [The White Ribbon] (Michael Haneke)

9. Moon (Duncan Jones)

8. Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)

7. Antichrist (Lars Von Trier)

6. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)

5. Lat Den Ratte Koma In [Let the Right One In] (Tomas Alfredson)

4. UP (3D) (Pete Docter)

3. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)

2. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigalow)

1. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)

My 125 Favorite Albums of All Time

The slow construction of this list feels like years in the making, and while my knowledge of music is moderate at best, I can appreciate a quality album when one reaches my ears. The key to appreciating the work of an artist is to judge them by their creativity at different periods of their careers. Listening to music by the album, rather than simply making a judgement based on a hit single or a 'best-of' collaboration! These collaborations generally only feature the bands most popular songs, and leave out the hidden gems on their featured albums. Listening to a relatively broad range of music...with the exception of electro/pop, I have attempted to create a list that accurately weighs these albums in my collection in terms of being both entertaining and memorable and also musically outstanding. Originally seeking out the most acclaimed albums of a chosen artist, and based on my opinion of this album, I ventured out and listened to some other works, often finding myself disappointed that they don't quite match the precision of the appropriately acclaimed masterpiece. Some bands have had a massive impact on me at a particular time in my life, and my number 1 album I have listened to more than any other album on this list. But im not necessarily saying that it is the 'best' album on this list, but a master work that stands as both an outstanding release, and a personal favorite of mine. So, I pronounce the link to a list of 125 albums that have proven to have a massive influence on my lifestyle:

Happy Reading! Would really appreciate any feedback. If you share love for an album on this list, lemme know. If you recommend an album, would also love to hear!