Tag Archives: 2000’s

The Wackness (2008)

wackness The Wackness (2008)

 Director: Jonathan Levine

 Writer: Jonathan Levine

 Starring: Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen

 Runtime: 99 minutes

 Rating: 69%

 Views: 1st Viewing

The short career of director Jonathan Levine has been a very interesting ride thus far.  One is never certain what his next project is going to be, and who he’s going to be collaborating with.  Having finally seen all four of his features, I can safely say that The Wackness is his stand-out film.  The film is centred on a young man by the name of Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), who has just completed his final year of high school and will be leaving for college in the Fall.  Luke deals marijuana out of an ice stand he pushes around New York City to make money for himself.  He is also in therapy with Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), whom he pays with said marijuana.  Luke forms a rather strong bond with Dr. Squires and eventually his step-daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), and also begins dealing more pot in order to help pay for his family’s possible eviction.  The Wackness takes place over the entire summer of 1994, with Luke falling in love with Stephanie, having trouble at home, crafting a friendship with the much older Dr. Squires, and being a lonely and unique teenager in New York City.

From a distance, The Wackness just looks and sounds like yet another coming-of-age film.  Luckily, the film is unlike any other coming-of-age drama ever made in the way that it studies its characters and settings.  The characters of Luke Shapiro and Dr. Squires truly elevates The Wackness from standard teenage romp to something truly special and even touching in some moments.   The Wackness’ soundtrack is filled to the brim with 1990’s hip-hop, perfectly complimenting the mid-90’s New York setting, and the character of Luke.  Jonathan Levine’s script is laugh out loud hilarious in some moments, and 01genuinely insightful and inspirational in others.  Levine’s sensitive and subtle direction throughout the film adds perfectly his his script, crafting a very underplayed and character-based film.  Jonathan Levine’s career highlights include 2006’s brilliant slasher film All the Boy’s Love Mandy Lane (which has been bogged down by release problems for years), 2011’s 50/50 (well-acted and fairly well-written, 50/50 didn’t quite connect with me on a personal level), and 2013’s Warm Bodies.  This impressive filmography proves that the Levine is incredibly talented at both writing (he also penned Warm Bodies), and commanding his actors to great performances.  To add to Levine’s direction and script, the acting in The Wackness is another highlight of the film, particularly in the characters of Luke Shapiro and Dr. Squires.

Josh Peck’s performance in the film as Luke Shapiro is one of the greatest things about the film, and one can see that he has evolved greatly as an actor since his early roles in Disney’s The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh.  Luke Shapiro could have easily been a stereotypical 90’s hip-hop drug dealer, but there’s so much more to this character.  He’s sensitive, shy, and far more interesting than the film leads the audience to believe in the beginning.  Luke’s relationship with Stephanie Wackness_610is brilliantly portrayed, and feels incredibly real throughout their time together.  The end of the film features one of the most touching lines I’ve ever heard, delivered by Peck.  Academy Award winning actor Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Sexy Beast) portrays Shapiro’s incredibly troubled psychiatrist, and he delivers a phenomenal performance in the film.  Squires’ personal life is given quite a bit of screen-time throughout, and it’s every bit as interesting as Luke’s story.  At times the character seems rather uneven and over-exaggerated, which could possibly turn off some viewers.  Overall, Jonathan Levine’s very talented direction and screenplay combined with a phenomenal soundtrack and great performances by the principal cast make The Wackness something truly unique.  If you’re looking for touching coming-of-age stories, this one is for you.  8.5/10.

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Stardust (2007)

stardustStardust (2007)

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writer: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Claire Danes, Ian McKellen, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro

Runtime: 127 minutes

Rating: 76% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Director Matthew Vaughn started his career with 2004’s indie-crime film, Layer Cake, which was released to both widespread critical and audience acclaim, and has gone on to become a cult film in the same vain as Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Since Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most interesting directors, and easily one of the go-to filmmakers for action and crime films.  Stardust was Vaughn’s sophomore directing attempt, and Vaughn again manages to hit it out of the park.

Stardust is based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, and is about a young man called Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox).  Tristan’s father crossed over the wall into the10stardust-600 magical kingdom of Stormhold eighteen years previous, and met Tristan’s mother, an enslaved princess named Una.  The King of Stormhold is on his deathbed, and after deciding to let his sons compete for the throne, throws a ruby into the sky for his sons to retrieve.  The ruby collides with a nearby star, sending both crashing back down to the earth.  Tristan Thorn travels to the star, and finds a young girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who he precedes to take with him.  A group of three witches, led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) learns of the fallen star and decides to find the young woman and eat her heart, thereby recovering the three witches’ youth and magical powers.  With the assistance of his mother and a flamboyant pirate of the sky (Robert De Niro), Tristan must win his true love and save Yvain from certain doom.

Going into a film like Stardust is always a very intimidating prospect, because most films in the fantasy genre simply don’t turn out very well in the end.  In the years 500fullfollowing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, many franchises and stand-alone fantasy epics were attempted, and mostly failed (with the exception of The Chronicles of Narnia), and Stardust looked to be no different.  Fortunately for audiences worldwide, Stardust is loaded with more than enough talent to make it work, and make it work well.  Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to pace a film of this proportion, and his direction is remarkable throughout.  His action scenes flow together incredibly well, and he commands his exceptionally talented cast to some very impressive performances.  Robert De Niro in particular puts in a very fun performance as Captain Shakespeare, the flamboyant sky pirate, easily giving the film it’s most heartfelt and tear-inducing moment towards the end of the film.

The only elements that don’t work for Stardust are its score, composed by long-time Matthew Vaughn collaborator Ilan Eshkeri.  It’s not that the score is particularly bad, just that it feels like and sounds very similar at times to Howard Shore’s score for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It took me out of the film in a few moments, and I felt that a less inspired composition might have worked far better.  Overall, Stardust is an incredibly fun and entertaining discovery for the fantasy genre, and a film that completely took many people by surprise.  A talented director and cast help this film rise from a mediocre and forgettable film to a cult favourite that will continue to entertain for years.  I highly recommend Stardust to anybody interested in epic fantasy films.  8/10.

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Last Days (2005)

ImageLast Days (2005)

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento

Runtime: 97 minutes

Rating: 57% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Last Days was Gus Van Sant’s last (and most puzzling) entry into his “Death trilogy“, following Gerry and the Palme d’Or winner ElephantLast Days is a semi-true story that follows the last few days in the life of a Kurt Cobain-esque rock star.  In reality, Gus Van Sant and Cobain’s widow Courtney Love had decided that making an actual biopic about the Nirvana frontman would be far too painful for Kurt’s family and widow.  Van Sant decided instead to make the film semi-autobiographical, and mostly fictionalized (though, the similarities are most definitely there).  We follow Blake (Michael Pitt) as he stumbles through the woods one early morning, mumbling to himself and seeming generally disconnected from reality and from himself.  Blake eventually makes his way to a mansion (presumably his), where he creeps around the house and discovers that his bandmates and friends are all crashing at the house, as per usual.  Blake has an interaction with a door-to-door Yellowpages representative, and later tries secluding himself from his friends in his own home.  After attempting to help a bandmate with a new song, going to a club late at night, and playing one last song in the woods, the rockstar’s body is found by a worker early the next morning.

Gus Van Sant’s Last Days is a very curious film, and one can’t help but think that this was a huge missed opportunity for the filmmaker, and for a Kurt Cobain bio-pic.  We spend almost the entire film following a wordless Blake around the woods, around his dilapidated (or nearly) mansion, and then around a club.  The director’s camera is fluid and incredible to watch follow characters as they live out their everyday lives (as with his previous film, Elephant), but it simply drags on for much longer than it should.  The movie almost seems directionless at some points, and at 97 minutes long is a chore to get through because of these long periods of time where literally nothing happens.

Michael Pitt’s Blake looks the part of Kurt Cobain, and for what he’s given to work with seems to do a phenomenal job portraying a rockstar with the whole world behind him.  Much like Kurt ImageCobain, this is a broken, hurt man who just doesn’t want or know what to do with the superstardom that he has unfortunately acquired.  Last Days doesn’t seem to fit in with the Death trilogy, simply because it seems even more disconnected that the previous two films (where Gerry was easily the standout).  The very end of the film is what kills any attempt to take Last Days seriously as a piece of art.  We see Blake’s soul climb out of his body, and climb up to the “nirvana” above him.  It feels tacked on, and far too heavy-handed, which fits in perfectly with Elephant.  Overall, Last Days is a curious film, but unfortunately not a good one.  A definite miss for Van Sant, who many people claim to be a great modern filmmaker.  5/10.

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Elephant (2003)

ImageElephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson

Runtime: 81 minutes

Rating: 72% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Gus Van Sant’s second entry into his “Death Trilogy” (which also includes 2002’s Gerry and 2005’s Last Days) has been a controversial film since its initial release in 2003 and its Palme d’Or and Best Director wins at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.  Elephant was a truly relevant film upon it’s release, coming just four short years after the Columbine High School massacre, and just one year after Michael Moore’s controversial Bowling for Columbine documentary.  Elephant is about a school shooting at its very core, but there’s much more to it than just a school shooting.  Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) are two high school students who one day decide to shoot up the school, with targets including the “jock” kids, and their principal.  Along the way, Gus Van Sant’s camera is never not moving, and we follow the lives of a regular day in a pretty regular high school (even if nobody seems to go to class in this school, as everybody just kind of roams around the halls throughout the film).

Gus Van Sant’s roaming camera during the first half of the film is incredibly beautiful, giving the audience an idea of what a regular day at this high school feels like.  None of these young teens have any way of knowing about the horrible events that are going to happen to them in a few short hours, and it makes this film (and the reality of shootings like Columbine) seem even more tragic.  As far as filmmaking goes, Elephant is a fascinating and incredibly well-structured film.  The school shooting scenes are over as quickly as they begin, and are never once easy to watch.  Van Sant follows the two shooters with as much care and thoughtfulness as did while following the lives of the students during the first half of the film.  The cast is mostly made up of non-actors, and the realism of these performances really comes through while watch the film, adding that much more to the experience.

Elephant is an incredibly troubled film when you really dig deep into its themes and motivations.  Van Sant never delves into why Alex and Eric decide to shoot the school up, other than showing us some fairly minor bullying at the beginning of the film.  Elephant isn’t about giving us the answers, and one can definitely understand why the answers aren’t provided.  We still don’t Imageunderstand why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold massacred their Colorado school in 1999, and we probably never will, which is why this works within the film.  The trouble with Elephant lies in the symbolism and some of the more subtle imagery Van Sant paints as Elephant wears on.  The first time we see Alex and Eric together, one of the them is playing a mindless first-person shooter video game on his computer, giving the indication that perhaps violence in the media is to be blamed for this.  In a scene soon after where the two boys are unpacking their brand new weapons, a documentary about the relationship between Hitler and Mussolini is playing in the background.  A lot of these things would feel like cute satire in most films, but Van Sant’s direction makes them feel unflinchingly serious in these scenes, to the point of distraction.  The point of all this is that Elephant is both heavy-handed and disconnected at the same time, and it simply doesn’t work.  I can’t recommend Elephant to anybody, unless they’re interested in truly great technical filmmaking.  It’s far too heavy-handed and flawed for me to look past, and I really expected more from a director and writer like Gus Van Sant.  6/10.

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Dogville (2003)

ImageDogville (2003)

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Paul Bettany, James Caan, Philip Baker Hall, John Hurt

Runtime: 178 minutes

Rating: 70% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Wow.  I can’t say that I went into Dogville knowing what to expect, but I left the film with an odd sense of joy, despite what the film is actually about.  Dogville is a very new, fresh, experimental film that will turn away many viewers simply because of how different it really is.  The brilliance of Lars von Trier’s writing shines throughout the film, and shows that his vision isn’t just a cute gimmick.  Dogville is a minimalist film shot on a soundstage, with little-to-no sets to speak of.  There are a few doors, there are a few windows, but that’s all that makes up the small town of the same name.  The sets are traced on the stage, creating something even more unique and minimal than a stage play.

Dogville is about Grace Margaret Mulligan (played wonderfully by Nicole Kidman), and the titular town she runs to in order to hide from gangsters who are pursuing her.  She is first greeted by Tom (Paul Bettany), who proceeds to show her around the town and to introduce her to its Imagevarious occupants.  The townsfolk eventually decide to vote on whether or not they should harbour Grace in their peaceful village.  Grace is given a two-week trial period in which she is to help each household with various everyday tasks, and to try to win over the reluctant settlers.  After a unanimously positive vote, Grace is allowed to stay in the town and continues working for each household.  She soon comes to find out that Dogville’s inhabitants may be more sinister than she initially suspected, and must find a way to leave the town.

Lars von Trier’s unique and visionary film is unlike anything ever captured on celluloid (or digital, in this case).  It features a cast full of famous faces including the legendary Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Philip Baker Hall, John Hurt as the narrator of the story, Chloe Sivigny, and Stellan Skarsgard.  The large cast of odd characters in the film interact perfectly with each other, with ImageNicole Kidman’s Grace, and with the unique set they’re giving to work with.  von Trier never makes the lack of sets or unique storytelling seem like a gimmick, and that is a massive benefit to the film.  The increasingly dark and disturbing script is told in 9 chapters (with a prologue), through a near 3-hour runtime, but Dogville never once seems overly-long.  John Hurt’s narration is brilliant, and never feels intrusive as narration sometimes can.  The direction, amazing cinematography (especially for what the film actually has to work with), and incredible ensemble cast makes Dogville a truly unique and unforgettable film, and one that I recommend to anybody who thinks they’ve seen it all in the world of film.  9/10.

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Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

ImageYi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

Director: Edward Yang

Writer: Edward Yang

Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang

Runtime: 173 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Edward Yang’s last and probably most widely-recognized film is one of great and subtle beauty.  It’s a film that not everybody will love, but one that has to be experienced because of the sheer number of small, elegant, beautiful moments contained within.  Yi Yi is about family and about everyday life.  The story revolves around a very conventional Taipei family, namely a father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu) who is unhappy with his job, and seemingly his life, his young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who is having trouble at school and who is being picked on by both his teacher and the girls in his class, and his daughter Tiny-Ting (Kelly Lee) who becomes intertwined in a love triangle involving her best friend, and her friend’s boyfriend.  After NJ’s mother-in-law goes into a coma following a stroke, his wife Min-Min leaves for a Buddhist retreat after experiencing a mid-life crisis, leaving NJ and his children to take care of their grandmother.  An old flame of NJ’s, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko) returns to the city and tries to come into his life after thirty years apart, leaving NJ even more confused about where his life is going.  The story also explores the life of NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di, who is married at the beginning of the film.  Edward Yang’s sensitive and Ozu-esque direction makes what could be an impossibly confusing multi-character story very easy to follow, flowing almost perfectly at times.

Yi Yi won the Best Director award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason.  ImageEdward Yang’s camera is mostly still throughout the film, but manages to capture so many amazingly small moments through the movie’s 3-hour runtime.  The direction is very similar to that of Yasujiro Ozu‘s (a famous Japanese director whose career spanned nearly four decades between the 1930’s-1960’s) in that both filmmakers are able to capture the true beauty of day-to-day life.  The film moves at its own pace, which may turn off viewers who aren’t quite used to this style of filmmaking.  This is truly a film that you let play out in front of you, one that you must experience and take in very slowly.  Yi Yi isn’t a film that you immediately adore, but rather one that you come to appreciate and love after wrestling with its themes and images and pacing.  I will admit that I wasn’t immediately sold on the film after my initial viewing of it.  It’s pacing and length definitely hurt the end product for me, as did the fact that this is a film where you must work for any sort of reward.

There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end of Yi Yi, especially concerning the characters of Yang-Yang, Ting-Ting, and A-Di.  The film explores their day-to-day lives with such precision Imageand detail, and then essentially drops them in the last 30 minutes of the movie.  Yi Yi isn’t about giving the audience answers, or exploring what happens to these characters after the events take place, but rather about exploring the wins and losses that everybody experiences in their daily lives.  The big and small moments that happen to us every single day of our lives is what Edward Yang is trying to cover with his film, and he is very successful in this exploration.  Family dynamics, love, heartbreak, and death are all things that every human being has to go through at some point in their lives, and Yang makes every minute look beautiful and memorable.  8/10.

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Dancer in the Dark (2000)

ImageDancer in the Dark (2000)

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

Runtime: 140 minutes

Rating: 68% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Dancer in the Dark is a film I’ve heard a lot about over my years of being an avid movie-goer.  I’ve heard it compared to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, I’ve heard it praised as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, and I’ve heard others disregard it as being art-house trash. Whatever Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is, it’s an incredibly original and fresh film, and a powerful one at that.  The film follows Selma Jezkova (played by pop diva Bjork), a young single mother who has recently located to from Central Europe to America in hopes of a new, fresh start.  Selma is plagued by a disease that will eventually (within the runtime of the film) permanently rob her of her eyesight.  Since the disease is hereditary, her young son will someday have to face the disease too, unless Selma can gain the money for the boy’s operation.  Selma takes a job at a local factory, and comes to learn that her new start in America may not be everything she was hoping for.  She copes with this realization by disconnecting herself from reality, and with her near-obsession of Hollywood musicals.

Bjork’s Selma Jezkova is both a beacon of hope because of her golden heart, and a devastatinglyImage flawed main character.  Her disconnection from any sort of reality is flawlessly pulled off by non-actor Bjork, who gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on-screen.  Selma’s interest in musical films adds so much more to this disconnection because she expects her life to play out like a Singin’ in the Rain or Sound of Music-esque film.  When things get difficult or stressful in any way for Selma, she imagines everybody surrounding her to begin bursting out in song and dance.  Unfortunately for Selma, her naivety and desperation to save her young son gets her into the worst situation one can possibly get into, and things get very bleak for the young woman.  Bjork’s portrayal of Selma Jezkova earned her the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been universally praised by critics worldwide for good reason.

Von Trier’s exceptional direction makes Dancer in the Dark a near-perfect film in a lot of ways.  The performances of the supporting cast are nearly as good as Bjork’s.  Catherine Deneuve plays Kathy, Selma’s closest friend, David Morse plays Bill, a man who shares financial and marital secrets with Selma, who also confides in it, and Peter Stormare plays Jeff, a love interest of sorts for Selma.  The interactions between Selma and these characters are perfect in almost every scene.  One thing I didn’t know about before going into the film is that Dancer in the Dark is actually a musical (or anti-musical) of sorts.  There are expertly shot song and dance sequences that give the film a sense of magic, and really helped the flow of the film.  The main sequence “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars that year, with good reason.  Hours after completing the film, I had the soundtrack on my iPod, that alone is a testament to how great (even if slightly ironic) the songs in this film are.  Had the film not contained these musical numbers, Dancer in the Dark might have been a much slower, much less interesting film.

Dancer in the Dark is truly one of Lars von Trier’s best films yet, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen from the early 2000’s.  It’s a bleak, dark, and powerful film with elements of the fantastic, and von Trier’s excellent direction and Bjork’s phenomenal performance makes this a film I believe every fan of dramatic cinema should see.  9.5/10.

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Bloody Sunday (2002)

ImageBloody Sunday (2002)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Paul Greengrass

Starring: James Nesbitt, Allan Gildea, Tim Pigott-Smith

Runtime: 107 minutes

Rating: 92%

Views: 1st Viewing

Paul Greengrass’ television film was perhaps the directors first landmark film, and an incredibly important one at that. The film is set in a small Northern Ireland town called Derry on January 30, 1972, the day now known to many as “Bloody Sunday”.  The movie of the same name accurately portrays the tragic events that took place that afternoon, where thirteen (later fourteen) people marching for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association were killed by the British Army, with many others being injured.  The events in the film are shown with incredible realism in a gritty documentary style.

The documentary style of Bloody Sunday works incredibly well, especially since it captures both sides of the story.  Both the British Army and members of the NICRA are given almost equal sceen-time, and it gives the audience a real sense of what was going through the minds of both sides.  Not everything about the events on January 30th are known even forty years later, but Greengrass’ film seems to do an incredibly accurate job of portraying the facts.  Since there are no central characters in the film other than James Nesbitt’s Ivan Cooper (the leader of the NICRA), there isn’t opportunity for the audience to attach themselves to characters in the film.  Instead, the cold hard facts are laid out in front of the viewer over the 100 minute runtime.  The last half of the film is incredibly tense, violent and heart-wrenching, showing exactly how important this film really is because of its portrayal of the Bloody Sunday events.  One of the films biggest flaws is the style of editing used throughout the entire movie, constantly cutting between sides and between characters, giving no sense of location or time, and making it very difficult to follow at times.  The editing is crude and raw, and really distracts viewers from the events that are unfolding.  This style of editing and the disassociation with any characters in the film leave me respecting the film more than actually enjoying it.  I recommend it to those interested in a gritty, raw portrayal of British and Irish history.  7.5/10.

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United 93 (2006)

ImageUnited 93 (2006)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Paul Greengrass

Starring: J.J. Johnson, David Alan Basche, Liza Colon-Zayas

Runtime: 111 minutes

Rating: 91%

Paul Greengrass’ Academy Award nominated United 93 certainly isn’t a film for the faint of heart, nor is it a film that pulls any punches.  Released on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, United 93 depicts the events that took place aboard the plane of the same name.  United Flight 93 was to be the fourth plane used in a series of deadly terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.  Two of the hijacked planes hit the famed World Trade Center, with the third hitting a section of the Pentagon in Washington.  The first half of the film takes place in flight control centres around the country as the terror attacks and hijackings are happening, and the second act takes place as United 93 is in mid-air.  The passengers aboard the plane decide to take action against the four men who have taken control of the flight.

Anybody reading this post right now certainly doesn’t need a history lesson about what took place on that fateful day.  Greengrass’ film assumes that the audience knows everything they need to know going into the film, and that was most definitely the best possible choice for the director.  From the very beginning United 93 is a procedural of sorts, not focusing on any specific characters or locations, instead jumping between numerous flight control centres as the events of the morning are unfolding.  They must face the reality that three planes in the air have been hijacked and are heading towards their targets, and that is handled with incredible care and maturity.  This act of the film uses real news/archival footage from September 11th, and it works incredibly well to set up the atmosphere for what is to come in the second act of the film.

The second half of the film is where United 93 /really/ shines.  The cast is entirely made up of non-professional/unknown actors, and it definitely works to the films benefit.  Nobody on flight United 93 is made out to be some kind of superhuman hero.  These are real, desperate people in the most desperate of situations, and they provide for some of the best scenes put to film in the 2000’s, which is a huge compliment.  Both sides of the cast (the hijackers and the passengers) do an amazing job here, both having brilliant moments throughout.   United 93 is the furthest thing from an exploitation of 9/11.  Paul Greengrass earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director in 2006 due to his incredibly subtle, caring, sensitive and yet incredibly reality-based direction, and really deserved to be beside names like Martin Scorsese (who took the award home), Clint Eastwood, and Stephen Frears that year.  This is how every film depicting ugly moments in our history should be.

The fact that the audience watching the film knows exactly what is going to happen no matter how far the passengers get only makes this tale more tragic.  United 93 is a brilliant portrait of a very unfortunate day in American history.  It is handled with incredible care by a talented writer/director, and by an incredible ensemble cast.  It’s definitely one of the greatest treasures of mid-2000’s cinema, even though it isn’t necessarily an easy watch.  If you, like me, were turned off by the thought of the film being overly-patriotic or insensitive, have no fear!  United 93 is a film the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  9.5/10.

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Munich (2005)

ImageMunich (2005)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner, Eric Roth

Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush

Runtime: 164 minutes

Rating: 78% Fresh

Steven Spielberg’s 2005 effort Munich revolves around the events that took place at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.  During the events, a Palestinian terror cell known as Black September took eleven Israeli athletes hostage, eventually killing them as well as a German police officer.  This is where our main character Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana) comes into play.  He is hand-picked as the leader of an elite assassination squad whose mission is simple: Track down and kill those responsible for the Black September killings.

Spielberg’s 160+ minute film seems like more of a passion project for the legendary director than some of his latest efforts, and it really benefits the film.  This is a Spielberg the likes of which we’ve never seen before.  Munich is dark, violent, bleak, and gives the audience very little to chew on in the way of clear-cut answers.  Looking at Spielberg’s filmography up to this point, there’s almost literally nothing one can compare Munich to, which is part of what makes this film so special.  There’s a scene in the film where the crew raids a compound where three of the targets are hidden.  The scene is incredibly to the point, and easily one of the bloodiest and most gruesome scenes ever to be found in a Steven Spielberg film.  Tony Kushner’s incredible script and John Williams’ noticeably darker score only adds to the atmosphere, really stressing the bleakness of the film.

The cast includes of host of familiar faces, including Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, and Geoffrey Rush which sounds like the most unlikely cast ever assembled, but they /really/ work effective in this case.  Bana in particular shines in the lead role, and is never painted as some sort of hero, because he simply isn’t one.  One of the coolest parts of this film is that the crew uses an assortment of inventive execution methods, which all have varying results.  These weapons only further the fact that these men aren’t heroes, rather a team simply doing their job the best they can.  The atmosphere in the film is incredible, using songs from the 1960’s and early 70’s and costumes of the era to make it really feel like 1972, something that can make or break a period piece.

There /were/ things that simply didn’t work within the film, however.  At one point, Bana’s assassination attempt on one of the targets is accidentally thwarted by a group of drunk American’s.  This had absolutely no place in a dark film like Munich, and really takes the audience out of the moment.  It doesn’t do anything to add to the suspense of the film, because the suspense is already there.  There’s also a moment where Bana is on the phone with his infant daughter, and both the direction and score start to feel more like a conventional Spielberg-ian film.  This certainly wasn’t a bad or even distracting scene, but it’s one that doesn’t have a place in this film.  Overall, I think I can safely say that Munich is easily one of the best Spielberg films I’ve ever seen (this coming from a fan of his work), and one of the best films of the 2000’s.  I highly recommend that everybody see Munich9.5/10.

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Top 10 Blindspots (2000’s Edition)

As you read this blog, you’ll probably notice that I love making lists, especially lists about films.  In fact, sometimes I get so carried away with them that I enjoy making the lists more than I enjoy watching the actual films!  If you have any suggestions for top 5 or top 10 or top 100 or top 1,000,000 lists, feel free to comment and recommend some topics!

A “Blindspot” in the film world is a film that you’re ashamed of never having seen, every film enthusiast has these, no matter how big or small they may be.  It’s nearly impossible to see every single well-regarded film from every single director or actor or movement in film or genre.  Since I’ve been going through a bit of a 2000’s phase lately, these are my top 10 blindspots of the 2000’s (2000-2009):

MV5BMTg1NzI5ODgxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTcxMjk3NA@@._V1_SX214_10. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Starring: Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna

Runtime: 106 minutes

Rating: 91% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: This Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay welcomed a new name in director Alfonso Cuaron, who would later go on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and the upcoming Gravity.  It is almost universally beloved, with many people calling it the greatest (and sexiest) road trip film of all-time.

9. Hunger (2008)MV5BMTc4NTQwNjIzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTg0NjQwMw@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon

Runtime: 96 minutes

Rating: 90% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Praised by critics for being its gritty portrayal prison conditions, as well as being one of the most moving and claustrophobic films of that year.  Not only did it mark the directorial debut of British director Steve McQueen, but also introduced Michael Fassbender to a wide audience.  I think the reason I haven’t yet seen it is because McQueen’s 2011 follow-up Shame was so emotionally draining that I’m afraid of going through that again with this film.

MV5BMTIxNDMwNTQ3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDU4MzQ5._V1_SX214_8. Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Director: Lars von Trier

Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

Runtime: 140 minutes

Rating: 68% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Bjork’s performance in von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is praised as being one of the greatest performances of the year, winning the Cannes award for Best Actress, and being robbed of any nomination at all by the Academy.  von Trier’s film is said to pack a gut-punch even harder than Requiem for a Dream, which like Hunger, is probably one of the main reasons I haven’t braved this film yet.  Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves was an incredible viewing experience, and I can’t wait to see this and compare the two films.

7. V for Vendetta (2006)V-for-Vendetta-poster-2006-4

Director: James McTeigue

Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea

Runtime: 132 minutes

Rating: 73% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: V for Vendetta seems to be a very divisive film among movie-goers, but one thing is for certain here: Those who love it /really/ love it.  It’s one of the internets favorite films of the 2000’s, and the reaction you get from telling somebody that you haven’t yet seen it is like telling somebody that you can’t stand looking at kittens.  V for Vendetta is definitely more of a hit with audiences than critics, but that certainly isn’t the reason I haven’t seen it yet.  I think that at the moment I’m more interested in reading the graphic novel beforehand.

MV5BMTYzNjQzNzQ2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg2MTgyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang

Runtime: 120 minutes

Rating: 97% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Ang Lee’s masterfully directed kung-fu epic garnered /ten/ Academy Awards nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing.  It won four of those ten awards, and was almost universally acclaimed among audiences and critics, specifically Ang Lee’s direction and the performance of Michelle Yeoh.  This is one I’ve been meaning to catch up with for years now.

5. Brick (2006)brick_movie_poster_painted_by_jam_bad

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss

Runtime: 110 minutes

Rating: 80% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Rian Johnson’s feature-length debut was celebrated by critics for being a great send-up of the film noir genre, and a perfectly executed high school film.  Johnson would go on to direct The Brothers Bloom, which had its moments, and 2012’s acclaimed sci-fi film Looper.

MV5BMjA3MTkzMzI3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzYwMzQ4MQ@@._V1_SX214_4. Memento (2000)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Runtime: 113 minutes

Rating: 92% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Christopher Nolan’s sophomore effort used incredibly original story-telling and editing methods, again playing with the tropes and themes of a film noir.  It was nominated for Best Writing and Best Editing at the Academy Awards, and is beloved by any Nolan fan, often regarded as his best film to date.  I think my lukewarm reaction to Nolan’s Inception (despite loving his previous films) kind of turned me off from Memento for a little while.

3. Amelie (2001)amelie_ver1

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz

Runtime: 122 minutes

Rating: 90% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Amelie is perhaps the most well-known film of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) career, featuring a celebrated performance by Audrey Tautou, and expert direction by Jeunet.  It’s celebrated for being a charming, original, and just generally feel-good film, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Writing, Best Foreign Film, and Best Cinematography.  I’ve seen part of this, but lost interest mid-way through for reasons that had nothing to do with the actual film.

MV5BMTMwMTY0Nzk3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQwMTMzMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_2. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Director: David Lynch

Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller

Runtime: 147 minutes

Rating: 81% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is perhaps his most loved and most successful film to date, being nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, and winning the same prize at the Cannes film festival.  Naomi Watts’ performance is said to be incredible, and the film a very atmospheric and confusing ride.  It placed rather high on the recent Sight & Sound list, being one of the only inclusions from the past decade to make the list.  That alone makes it a must-see film.

eternal_sunshine_of_the_spotless_mind_ver1

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, David Cross, Kirsten Dunst

Runtime: 108 minutes

Rating: 93% Fresh

Why is it a blindspot?: Yeah, I really have no excuse for never having seen this film.  It’s one that has always eluded me for one reason or another.  Eternal Sunshine won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Charlie Kaufman‘s incredible script, and Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for the film!  On most lists I’ve seen around the internet, Eternal Sunshine is more often than not the #1 film of the list.  Luckily, I recently picked it up on blu-ray and plan on watching it very soon!

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24 Hour Party People (2002)

Image24 Hour Party People (2002)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Steve Coogan, John Thomson, Lennie James, Paddy Considine, Shirley Henderson

Runtime: 117 minutes

Michael Winterbottom isn’t a name I hear very often, but I am very familiar with his two most popular films A Cock and Bull Story (which I haven’t yet had the chance to see) and 2011’s The Trip, which was one of my favorite films of that year.  I had always heard that Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People is one of the most underrated films of the 2000’s, and I must say that I was fairly disappointed when the credits rolled, especially after adoring The Trip.

24 Hour Party people is about legendary head of Factory Records, Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan), a punk rock/new wave music label in 1980’s and 90’s Manchester.  Along the way, he signs artists like Joy Division (later New Order), A Certain Ratio, and Happy Mondays, and many ups and downs with all parties, including the suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis.  Tony Wilson and company experience success with the rise in popularity of punk rock and rave culture, and eventually the group opens a club of sorts.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the film lived up to its true potential for quite a few reasons: The supporting cast was muddled, with many characters coming and going as the script saw fit, and Steve Coogan, while being a very versatile leading man, just didn’t have a whole lot to work with in the film, especially comedically.  He manages to carry many of the films darker and more serious scenes, but one actor alone couldn’t make 24 Hour Party People live up to the hype for me.  I understand that his character is meant to be more of a spectator to the events going on around him (“I’m a minor character in my own story”), but it really detracts from the film and makes it feel like there is no weight to any of the dark situations he’s encountering.  Giving the film a central character with some sort of real development or maturity would have greatly benefitted it in the end.

The music in the film is terrific, as is the atmosphere of 1980’s Manchester.  Everything felt accurate and believable in this respect, even though I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the time period, and specifically of the punk rock movement in the city.  Despite sometimes being slightly confusing, the supporting cast did feature a host of familiar faces, including Andy Serkis, Rob Brydon, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, and Peter Kay.  The film was often very funny, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a full-blown comedy because of the various dark situations Tony Wilson and Factory Records deal with and live through.  I felt at times that the heavy stylization of the film’s editing often worked against the film, almost to the point of distraction.  The effects and editing techniques used here simply don’t seem to have aged well, and it was a huge turn off to me.  Though there were a lot of things about 24 Hour Party People that didn’t work for me, I still had a lot of fun while viewing this, and I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing it.  If it had been a more polished and consistent film, it could have been phenomenal.  7/10.

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Angels in America (2003)

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Angels in America (2003)

Directed: Mike Nichols

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Justin Kirk, Ben Shankman

Runtime: 352 minutes

Ah, my very first review for Matt’s Life in Film…No pressure or anything, of course!

I remember as a child watching Canada’s “The Movie Network” day and night, taking in any and all films that looked even remotely interesting to me.  I vividly remember seeing advertisements for HBO’s new mini-series, Angels in America.  Based on the previews, it looked like something a boy my age might enjoy (there were Angels, cool looking special effects, and a lot of drama.  What else do you need!?), but unfortunately Angels always played for too late for a 12-year-old boy to watch.  In many ways, I’m glad that this week marked my first viewing of the series.  As much as I may have enjoy parts of it as a kid, there’s no way I would have been able to grasp most of what the film challenges its audience with, or appreciate some of the great performances and moments within Angels in America.

The year is 1985, and the AIDS epidemic is in full-swing.  We follow Mormon and Republican law clerk, Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), his boss, the much maligned Roy Cohn (played brilliantly by Al Pacino), and Joe’s Valium addicted wife, Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) on one side of the story.  We come to find out early in the story that Roy Cohn has been infected with the AIDS virus, though he lies about it to his colleagues in order to preserve his position of power in the United States Department of Justice.  Joe and Harper Pitt are living in a loveless, sexless marriage, and both parties are unhappy with where their lives have led them.  Harper is made anxious by affection and many other everyday activities, and relies heavily on Valium to lift her spirits, and Joe is in the closet due to his religious views.

On the other side of things are Prior (Justin Kirk) and his lover Louis (Ben Shankman).  Prior has also been infected by the virus, and is quickly abandoned by his long-time partner because Louis is simply unable to handle it.  As Prior is slowly dying in the hospital, Louis is ravaged by feelings of guilt and confusion.  Prior is visited in dreams by an angel (Emma Thompson), who commands him to choose death and become a prophet in the afterlife.  Joe Pitt’s mother Hannah (Meryl Streep) and Prior’s former lover Belize (Jeffrey Wright) help Prior to decide between life or death, and Louis soon becomes involved with Joe Pitt.

Even after all of that is said and done, there’s a lot more to Angels in America than one person can describe with words.  As cliched as it sounds, this mini-series is something that has to be experienced to be believed.  It’s a beautiful period-piece, and captures its time period a  lot more accurately than I expected it to.  Playwright Tony Kushner (Academy Award nominated writer of 2012’s “Lincoln”) penned the amazing and intricate script for Angels, lending it immediate credibility.  Though AiA runs for six hours, there are very few parts of the story that drag or don’t work in the context of the film, and I was never bored or confused by what was going on within this world.  It was completely believable, and incredibly well-acted by most of the cast, including amazing performances by the legendary Al Pacino, newcomer Patrick Wilson, and Ben Shankman.  The one performance that just didn’t work for me, and the biggest flaw of the film in my eyes, was that of Mary-Louis Parker, who played Hannah Pitt.  While she is competent in some of her pivotal scenes, her line delivery never seems believable, making her monologues a bit of a chore to get through.  Not only does Angels in America feature an amazing writer and cast, but it was also directed by Mike Nichols, director of films like “The Graduate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, who definitely does the film justice with his years of directing experience.

This is a beautifully made film in every respect, and one that I’m glad I finally caught up with.  I highly recommend it to anybody with the patience to sit through six-hours of incredible dialogue,  moments that will stick with you long after the film ends, and incredible acting, writing, and direction.  9/10.

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