Archive | December, 2011

I’d Like to Thank You for the Year

29 Dec

Most people will tell you that Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks.

After all, it’s right there in the name of the day.

But at the end of the year, as songs like “Step into Christmas” are on repeat play, I can’t help thinking of one line in that song: “I’d like to thank you for the year.”

So in the spirit of showing even more appreciation, I’d like to say a few thank-yous to some (but not all) of the people, places, and things that made 2011 so much fun.

This list is in no particular order. Continue reading

Quiet on the Set

27 Dec

The next time someone says to you, “They sure don’t make movies like they used to,” you can direct that person to my review of J.J. Abrams’ Steven Spielberg homage, Super 8.

Or, you can tell that person to see The Artist, an affectionately made tribute to the early days of filmmaking, when the addition of sound changed the industry forever, that’s made in the same style as one of those silent films from the 1920s.

(Yes, 2011 is apparently the year of the throwback.)

If you’re thinking Super 8 + Hugo = The Artist, I guess you’re not too far off. Just throw in a splash of Singin’ in the Rain, too. Continue reading

Cold Case

27 Dec

In just about two minutes, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo announces its arrival with an opening credits sequence that’s reminiscent of Fincher’s Fight Club, except much, much darker (and a bit kinkier too).

As the sounds of Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Karen O’s take on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” play, it’s clear you’re in for a distinctly ominous movie.

And sure enough, with its story of murder, rape, violence against women, graphic scenes of torture, a plot involving Nazis, and a lead heroine who is so anti-social and prone to revenge that she’s a ward of the state, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no one’s idea of a feel-good movie.

And yet, it’s a pretty damned good one. Continue reading

A Cinematic Call to Arms

26 Dec

Generally, when it comes to movies, I’m not a fan of the bait and switch.

How frustrating it is to go to a movie expecting to see one thing, and having the film be something else entirely.

But in the case of Hugo, I found the bait and switch a pleasant, and exciting, surprise.

Yes, that’s right: Hugo is not the children’s movie it’s being marketed to be. Rather, it’s a film that celebrates filmmaking and makes a strong case for preserving the films of our past, the ones that laid the foundation for the movies of today.

The filmmaker behind this cinematic call to arms is none other than Martin Scorsese, who has made one of the most beautiful films of his career, and surely one of the best of this year. Continue reading

Skin Deep

25 Dec

In the film Shame, Michael Fassbender plays a man with a real problem: He’s addicted to sex.

In all forms.

Gotta have it.

Each night he’s with a different woman, never forming any emotional connection with them, and he’s always on the prowl for his next encounter.

In fact, the guy’s so hungry he can seduce a woman just by looking at her the right way.

Could be worse, I suppose.

And yes, it could be better.

But first, Fassbender’s character, Brandon, has to realize that what he’s doing is wrong. That happens when Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives and he begins to develop a conscience about what he’s doing. Suddenly he has to hide his addiction (not to mention his porn magazines, videos, and web sites), or else he’ll be exposed and he’ll have to deal with it.

That’s right: It’s good, jolly stuff, just in time for the holidays. Continue reading

Psycho Prom-Queen Bitch

19 Dec

In the new film Young Adult, screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron have created one of my favorite movie characters in recent memory.

Mavis Gray is the girl you totally hated in high school but secretly wanted to be, and who surely hated you too (even if she barely knew you existed).

She’s the pretty girl who dated the hottest guy.

The one who told you she was going to leave town the second graduation happened, and did.

The one who got the big job as a writer — excuse me, author — and the condo in the big city (i.e., Minneapolis).

The one who ruled the school and made your life a living hell. Continue reading

Where’s Ethan?

17 Dec

Here’s what I know about Tom Cruise: You just can’t count the guy out.

He’ll make an awful movie like Knight and Day, and you’ll be tempted to say his career is over, but then he’ll make a movie like Tropic Thunder that is so entertaining, and he’ll be back without even skipping a beat.

After Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the latter is true again.

The film — a big improvement over the third Mission Impossible film — finds Cruise back at the top of his action hero game, effortlessly saving the world again, and looking like he’s actually enjoying himself in the process. Continue reading

This Is Why I’m Lucky

9 Dec

As I’ve previously written on this blog, I’m a lucky man.

But I fear I wasn’t specific enough.

So … now that I’ve returned from five days in Park City, Utah, where I was for a conference, I thought I needed to be a little bit more specific about why I feel so lucky … Continue reading

She’s Got a Friend

2 Dec

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe, then the most wanted woman on the planet, flew to England to make a film with Laurence Olivier called The Prince and the Showgirl.

The hope was that the film would give Marilyn some credibility, but she was an insecure, nervous wreck and didn’t feel up to the task.

Reliant on drugs, dependent on her acting coach, and getting little support from her new, third husband (Arthur Miller), Marilyn frustrated Olivier and the crew, and nearly derailed the film entirely.

That is, until she struck up a friendship with a production assistant named Colin Clark. The story of Clark’s relationship with Marilyn, brief though it may have been, is the basis of the new film My Week with Marilyn. Continue reading

It’s Easy Being Red

2 Dec

It may not be easy being green, but according to the new documentary Being Elmo, red isn’t such a bad color.

The film, a look at the man behind the second-most popular Sesame Street character of all time (after Kermit, of course), tells the story of how Kevin Clash grew up in Baltimore dreaming of being a professional puppeteer, and eventually made his dreams come true when he got a gig working on Sesame Street under the tutelage of Jim Henson and Kermit Love.

Being Elmo uses archival footage and photography to show how Clash’s skill and ambition were evident early on, and how he gained recognition working first on local television and later on Captain Kangaroo and other films before moving on to the Street.

Like the show Clash works on, Being Elmo presents a cleaned up version of what is likely a more difficult story.

For example, it’s glossed over that Clash sacrificed his relationship with his own daughter to instead be a friend to millions of children around the world. Here, that’s treated as dedication to his craft rather than irony. And it’s spin like that that prevents Being Elmo from being a truly insightful film.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is a completely enjoyable portrait of the man who took Elmo from random puppet to multimillion dollar enterprise, and one of the most valuable and beloved properties in the entire Children’s Television Workshop family.

It’s a local boy makes good story that will have you smiling, and will make you appreciate Elmo as a character and an achievement in puppetry even more.

Actually, I found Being Elmo to be more enjoyable than The Muppets movie itself. Now that is irony.

I’m giving Being Elmo a B+.