Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best of 2010

It’s that time of the year when movie lovers look over film’s shoulder at the year that was and count down their picks for its best movies. It’s been nearly a year since The Gibson Review first launched so I figured I’d count down the ten best - those films that were reviewed best by yours truly and some that weren’t featured on this site.

This time, I’m not playing favorites. There may come a time when Film Faves circles back to this year, but not today.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of this year’s movies (41 to be exact). But before I count down, I must first admit there are a few bright spots of the year that for one reason or another I have yet to catch, but fully intend to during the next couple months.

Those films are: Animal Kingdom, Blue Valentine, Buried, Catfish, Cyrus, Dogtooth, Fair Game, The Fighter, Four Lions, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The King’s Speech, Never Let Me Go, Rabbit Hole, Restrepo, Salt, Somewhere, The Tillman Story, and Waiting for ‘Superman’.

It may be said that no “Best of” list is complete without some of those movies. If that’s the case then you’ll have to accept this list as incomplete for the time being. Regardless, even though the former half of the year was quite lackluster, it still became a challenge to boil what I was able to see down to a list of ten.

Here they are:

10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
After seeing Tron: Legacy, my respect for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nearly doubled. Director Edgar Wright managed to create a film with more thrilling fight scenes than most of the year’s action movies. Adapted from Brian O’Malley’s comic series, Scott Pilgrim was a clever blend of video game, indie rock, and comic book cultures in a romantic comedy rich with substance and eye-popping visuals.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
This was a thrilling near-end for what is quite possibly the greatest children’s fantasy film series of all time. Rich with pay-offs of previous installments and mature content, Deathly Hallows emphasized how greatly these films have detailed this world of magicians and how the leads have matured into fine actors. Oh, and did I mention the franchise’s incredible assembly of the top British talents, most of which are crammed into this one film?

8. How to Train Your Dragon
I was fortunate enough to see this film at the theaters in 3D. Twice. How to Train Your Dragon (aka Dragon Movie! around my house) may be a familiar story, one that has parallels to last year’s Avatar – but it’s one of the best versions of this familiar story. And it is every bit the spectacle James Cameron’s sci-fi epic was and in half the time! I was greatly impressed by how well the flying sequences played in 2D; the jaw dropped often. If you missed it in 3D (which was superior to Avatar’s and one of only three of this year’s worthwhile 3D excursions), but have a decent HD home theater system then you owe it to yourself to check this out.

7. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller has its influences, but nothing else is quite like it. Mostly about a buttoned-up young woman’s attempt to lose herself, which results in her losing it instead, Black Swan is equal parts character-based drama, body horror, and mind-bender. Aronofsky adds some clever uses of mirrors and the colors white, black, red, and pink for character and symbolism. Natalie Portman gives a very convincing performance as a ballet dancer who just wants to be perfect, but is haunted by her insecurities and visions that may or may not be real. Black Swan just falls short of Aronofsky’s best work, but does pirouettes around others.

6. Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass is the year’s most exciting and enjoyable action film – and the most underappreciated film of the year. It is an unabashedly fun film that pulls no punches. It winks at other superhero movies, admits their ridiculousness, yet embraces them completely and gives them a wild, wet kiss. Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz gave stand-out performances (and sparked controversy) as the father/daughter crime-fighting duo Big Daddy and Hit Girl. These characters have the most memorable scenes, but those scenes feature some of the most brilliantly executed filmmaking I’ve seen this year: the hostage first-person-shooter scene, Hit Girl’s John Woo-influenced action scenes, and Big Daddy’s warehouse blow-out shown to us via Teddy-cam. Not only that, but this is a film that was self-financed and looks like a big budget studio film. Those who can’t stand a bit of edge to their action should look elsewhere. The rest of us should savor Kick-Ass.

5. Winter’s Bone
Winter’s Bone is a great character-driven mystery with excellent performances, featuring one of the year’s best characters, Ree Dolley (Jennifer Lawrence). Moody, yet as naturalistic as you’ll ever find, Winter’s Bone is so low-key it went under many people’s radar earlier this year. But it is as fine a film as you’ll ever see in 2010.

4. True Grit
When I screened the 1969 western starring John Wayne last August for The Gibson Revue, I selected it not only because it fit with the theme of a loner befriending others or that it, like Let the Right One In, was an adaptation of a novel. I selected it in part because I knew it, like the Swedish film, was being remade – and once I saw the original I knew the Coen Bros. were the right people for the job. Coincidently, the western fared better than the vampire story. It is one of the most beautiful and engaging films you’ll see this year, which had a decent crop of new female talent pop up, including Chloe Moretz and Jennifer Lawrence. Just as 2010 was tipping its hat and bidding us adieu, it gave us Hailee Steinfeld also.

3. Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is the year’s best sequel – and there were a lot of sequels! It’s extremely clever and side-steps the traps of other sequels, animated or otherwise, for a beautiful and thrilling story that fondly bids these characters a fond farewell. This is the film that will make you laugh and cry like no other. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Pixar can treat its next couple sequels of other films with the same brilliance.

2. Inception
Inception is best-remembered as a mind-bending thriller with ingenious stunts. It was also the first truly great original idea to hit theaters this year. Under the surface was also an intriguing message on storytelling, specifically in movies, by a man who is one of today’s most exceptional storytellers, Christopher Nolan. For several months, this was the best film of the year.

1. The Social Network
Timeless, yet era-defining, The Social Network is the film that is not only about the King Geek of an era ruled by geeks in nearly every way but also about how geek-kind was destined to rule our future. Our society has been defined by a technology created by geeks like Bill Gates and entertainment that is derived from geekdom’s literature, comic books. Mark Zuckerberg is just the latest geek to rule another aspect of society: social interaction. The Social Network is no “Revenge of the Nerds”-tinged biopic. Nor does it ever treat its audience as though its intelligence is inferior to its subject by spelling everything out. Nor is it a biopic that simply fires off a list of factual scenes. It is about how one man’s idea can change a world – and how it did. Featuring the year’s most nuanced and complex performance, by Jesse Eisenberg, with a superb script by Aaron Sorkin and magnificent direction by David Fincher, The Social Network is not just the best of a bunch of really good films – it is the greatest film, hands down; one that will surely be remembered for decades to come.

Honorable mentions must go to:

127 Hours
Easy A
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Kids Are All Right
A Prophet
Shutter Island
The Town

Those are the best movies of 2010. Do yourself a favor and hunt them down in theaters or wherever you rent movies these days.

If you agree or disagree with my picks, please leave a comment below or on Facebook or drop me an email at

Coens Kick Aside Dusty Classic with Grit

The Coen brothers are among the great auteur filmmakers of our time. They might occasionally lean too much on quirk and despicable characters as in Burn After Reading and The Big Lebowski – which formed my love/hate relationship with their work - but they are undeniably talented, which is why we now have such great American films as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and last year’s A Single Man. Now, the Coens can add True Grit, adapted from the novel by Charles Portis, to their list of great films.

True Grit stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, with appearances by Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. It is a film, like the brothers’ other work, that’s about faith, selfishness, and solitude. It relishes the American landscape and the English language. It is what one would call a “traditional western” where its only frills are its gorgeous Big Country photography, its 19th century manner of speaking (so foreign in an age of LOL text-speak), and its lack of larger-than-life performances. This is a western for fans of Unforgiven, Tombstone, or High Noon.

Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a tough-talking 14 year-old who can out-haggle and outsmart men three times her age. Ross is looking to hire someone to hunt down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires the reluctant and drunken Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). A proud Texas Ranger (Damon) also joins up to bring Chaney to justice for a crime committed in Waco.

Comparisons to the 1969 John Wayne original are unavoidable. After all, it was the film that won the acting legend his only Oscar. In a remake-happy film industry, it’s rare for one to actually avoid disgrace and improve on the original. The key here is the original, as an adaptation of a novel, had a lot of room for improvement. But fans of the ’69 Grit can rest easy knowing the Coens have avoided a moment-by-moment modern retread. In fact, they have succeeded at crafting something that is superior to the original in every way.

Jeff Bridges, complete with the trademark Cogburn eye patch that John Wayne originated as homage to his favorite creative partner, John Ford, gives his own version of Rooster. Where Wayne was hammy and larger-than-life, Bridges is mangy and at times incoherent. His Cogburn is not fall-down drunk, but his taste for the flask causes him to stumble on the job. Cogburn may be a drunken cowboy like last year’s Bad Blake of Crazy Heart, but he’s much more grizzled and intimidating enough to give a tough outlaw pause before filling his hands for a shootout.

But the true star of this film is not Cogburn this time around. At the year’s twilight, we are given quite possibly its best character, Mattie Ross. Like Ree Dolly of Winter’s Bone earlier this year, Mattie is stubborn, determined, and tougher than one would expect from a girl her age. Both set out in a dangerous locale on a quest related to their fathers. Both can fend for themselves, but whose headstrong ways back them into a corner, to paraphrase a line from True Grit. Ree and Mattie are kindred spirits separated by a lifetime and two of the most fascinating characters of the year performed by two of its best new talents: Jennifer Lawrence and Hailee Steinfeld. I was unable to resist watching Steinfeld with fixed attention, tickled by her gumption and fascinated by her ability to perform as expertly as the stars riding by her side. Like Damon in his role, Steinfeld blows her predecessor out of the water.

In True Grit, the violence is occasionally gory, the humor is dark and understated, and the imagery is striking. It is an old-fashioned revenge western featuring a character that demands your attention to her story’s end. It’s one with an edge, realism, and subject matter the potential of which had until now had gone unfulfilled. It is one of the best films of the Coen brothers’ unique career.


Should you see it? Buy tickets.

True Grit is now playing in theaters.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Taking It Down a Notch

Hey folks!

Plans have changed for the upcoming Gibson Revue: Winter Movie Marathon.  It will still be held at 12:30p on Saturday, January 15, 2010.

The difference is that due to some complications that come with screening movies in a public event, I have been forced to scale it back down.  Instead of being held on campus with a crowd of folks from both The Evergreen State College and all over the South Sound area, it will once again be an intimate gathering with just you devoted readers at my house.

This means the event is once again free of admission!  And there will also be free food! 

So, how can you resist?

Once again, join me for an afternoon of three movies - all love stories from the male perspective - with audience/host discussion and breaks after each film.

Annie Hall - the legendary and hilarious romantic comedy starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 1hr. 33 mins.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - the brilliant sci-fi romance starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.  1hr. 48mins.

(500) Days of Summer - 2009's indie romance nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical by the Hollywood Foreign Press, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.  1hr. 35mins.

Please RSVP at or on Facebook.  Thanks and I look forward to seeing you then!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Golden Globes Prove Laughable with Comedy Noms

Last week, the Hollywood Foreign Press (via a couple famous celebrities) announced their nominees for next month’s Golden Globe Awards. In the past, the Globes have earned credibility as an indication of the best picture nominees for the Academy Awards. But in recent years, the awards show has received some derision as nothing more than an industry frat party. This year’s nominees didn’t help.

At a glance, one may not think twice about this year’s nods. The Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3, and The Kids Are All Right all received attention. But let’s take a look at what is nominated alongside The Kids Are All Right for best musical or comedy:

Alice in Wonderland



The Tourist

Some may argue a couple of these are enjoyable. With the exception of Red, most critics would disagree. The Tourist was nearly universally disparaged; Burlesque was often compared to the campy Showgirls; and Alice in Wonderland was deemed appallingly dull (full disclosure: of the films nominated, I’ve only seen Alice and The Kids...). However, the one achievement these movies made this year – with exception to Burlesque and The Tourist, two recent bombs that were criticized for their acting and writing – was financial.  Alice earned big 3D dollars at over $1 billion, Red nearly tripled its own budget, and The Kids Are All Right proved to be the indie smash of the year.

Better received comedies – both by critics and the average Joes that saw them – like Easy A, Cyrus, Four Lions, Get Him to the Greek, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were completely snubbed, save for Emma Stone’s nomination for best comedic actress. Even if they were considered, The Kids... would still be deemed the front-runner (at a 94% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the best-reviewed comedy of the year). But the question remains: why were these films of favorable repute snubbed?

Cynics argue that as a show, the Globes wanted to get a star-studded ‘cast’ to appear, hence the nominations for Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) and Johnny Depp (The Tourist, Alice in Wonderland). We may never know the real reason for sure and, if The Kids... loses in an upset, we may not have any credible authority to indicate what the best comedy of the year truly was.

However, best musical or comedy wasn’t the only category with snubs this year. Movies like Korea’s magnificent mystery from Bong Joon-ho, Mother; and Sweden’s sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were ignored in favor of a couple lesser-known or liked films.

Last year, the Golden Globes seemed to honor the movies that were popular over those that actually deserved to be described as “the best”. It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, and last year’s musical lemon Nine were all nominated for best musical or comedy, as well as the year’s indie (500) Days of Summer – all lost to the popular hit The Hangover. 2010 lacked any comedy phenom, but if box office returns are to be viewed as any indication then Alice in Wonderland could be slapped with a label most agree is better suited toward The Kids Are All Right. After all, Avatar joined The Hangover as the highest-grossing films of their categories - and both won.

At any rate, movie lovers can rest easy knowing that whatever happens during the Golden Globes won’t necessarily mean squat come Oscar time. As last year’s Best Picture win for The Hurt Locker showed us, popular movies may get noticed more these days during awards season, but the ones that truly deserve the crown may still earn it.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below or on Facebook. Or you can now drop an email at
You can view a complete list of this year's Golden Globe nominees here.

TRON: Legacy - Dazzling Fun, Little Else

In 1982, Disney released a computer-generated special effects extravaganza that sent audiences into the world of technology, a world that at the time was still in its infancy. Accounting and security programs were sentient beings that lived on a physical plane of existence divided by blue and red neon highlights and used discs with their identity and information as weapons. It featured religious allegories with programs created in the user’s image and the idea of the existence of these creators as a persecuted religious concept. Unfortunately, TRON failed to use these ideas to say anything interesting. In hindsight, TRON is a cheesy, dated experiment with great unrealized ideas and bad dialogue.

Thirty-eight years later, a sequel is born, TRON: Legacy, full of whiz-bang special effects of the 3D digital age that makes the original look ancient. The sequel, directed by newcomer Joseph Kosinski, tells us that a few years after the original, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the cocky yet easy-going vindicated game-developer-turned-industry-leader, was trapped in the ‘grid’, having been betrayed by his own program, Clu, while building a new, perfect technological world. Meanwhile, in the real world, his disappearance is an unsolved mystery, leaving some to posit Flynn simply walked away from success in self-exile, as well as his bewildered little boy suffering from abandonment issues.

That little boy, Sam, is now a rebellious technological genius in his late twenties (played unexceptionally by Garret Hedlund). He receives a page (remember pagers?) from his dad’s abandoned arcade. One thing leads to another and soon he, too, finds himself in the grid, coming face-to-face with neon red sentries and dumped into technological gladiator games. Before long, Sam – and the audience – is caught up to speed, meets his father and is plotting to get them both back home.

TRON was a movie that had a lot of interesting ideas about a fictional technological world that a sequel, nearly thirty years later, had the potential to run wild with. If you’re hoping for a film that expands on the original’s ideas and religious allegories, you’re out of luck. The Matrix redux, this is not. You won’t see today’s programs, apps, social networks, or other forms of technology represented in sentient form or as part of some expansive universe. Nor will you see religious allegories treated with more than a cursory interest.

But as a simple, straight-forward sci-fi spectacle, TRON: Legacy delivers. It still makes flimsy attempts at themes of the dangers of today’s technology ruling our lives, with religious symbolism threaded in. However, unlike with The Matrix, that’s not what one should come to TRON: Legacy expecting. This movie is all about the dazzling special effects – and you will be dazzled – and cool action. It doesn’t even seem to pretend its intentions are to be anything more. This may disappoint anyone who remembered the original with anything other than rose-colored glasses and hoped for more.

Light cycle races and gladiator-style disc fights will no doubt entertain, especially in 3D, which the film was shot in and lacks the adjustment period last year’s Avatar required. Also, some of the performances help keep TRON: Legacy from being a dull special effects money-waster, chiefly by Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, and Jeff Bridges.

Olivia Wilde adds to the film’s eye-candy and fills the role of the butt-kicking babe so often seen in these films by memorably playing an ally program with a secret. Sheen, however, as Castor, is clearly having fun as a sort of dance club owner who knows the location of a key character. Decked out in such brilliant whites that you’d think he were a David Bowie iPod app, Sheen is over-the-top fun in a world dominated by sincerity.

Jeff Bridges reprises his role as a bearded Kevin Flynn, all full of Zen-like easy-going just this far away from rolling a doobie. He manages to refrain from cartoonish hippy-dippiness, making Flynn a man who understands the stakes and his mistakes; more Jedi than Lebowski.

Bridges also does double-duty as enemy program Clu with impressive de-aging CGI. This character was speculated to be the crack in the film’s showy effects, but turned out to be competently executed and believable.

As a simple sci-fi action film that Legacy strives to be, it still falls short, sometimes lacking sense. A key character’s sudden switch of alliances and a dinner scene are examples of things that become equally perplexing simply because not enough effort is made to make sense out of them.

TRON: Legacy may not be the brilliant sequel that many hoped would deliver on the original’s ideas in a way great science fiction stories can. It takes a more straightforward route – and fails to excel at that, as well – thereby making it inferior to the year’s other video game-influenced film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But for those looking for pure escapist spectacle, TRON: Legacy abides.


Should you see it? The film literally explains it's intended to be seen in 3D, so buy tickets – it’s worth it.

TRON: Legacy is now in theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Winter Marathon

The wrinkles are currently being ironed out as preparations for the 2nd biannual Gibson Revue movie marathon are under way.

Due to campus needs, there has been a change in the location of the event.  It's still being held at The Evergreen State College campus.  Instead of Lecture Hall 2, as previously announced, I will be hosting the event in Seminar II B, room 1105.  If that sounds a bit more complicated it's because it is.  But fear not! A map can be found below to help you find your way on campus.

The Winter Marathon is still taking place on January 15, 2011.

Featured are three films, love stories from the male perspective, with a short audience/host discussion and break after each film.

The films and start times are:

12:30p - Annie Hall, Woody Allen's legendary comedy that the AFI ranked as the 31st greatest American film and 4th greatest comedy of all time.  Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carole Kane, Paul Simon, and a slew of cameos.  1hr. 33mins.

3p - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the modern classic about the desire to forget a former lover.  Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo.  Directed by Michel Gondry.  1hr. 48mins.

5:30p - (500) Days of Summer, 2009's indie romance about how love can blind us to the reality of a relationship.  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Moretz.  Directed by Marc Webb.  1hr. 35mins.

Admission: $10 at the door, cash only.

Some snacks and drinks will be available free of charge.

18 and over only!

Mark your calendars and take note of the location change.  I look forward to seeing you all there!

Holiday Movie Guide

Getting into the Christmas spirit and looking for something to watch during the holiday season? Here is a list of a dozen movies and TV specials to help pass the time during the wet and chilly month.


Scrooged (1988)
An updated re-imagining on A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray as a TV executive that exploits the holiday season in order to boost ratings. If you enjoy Murray’s droll performances of the ‘80s then this must not be passed up. A Christmas Carol has been retold many times in different ways, but Scrooged must be the best update; after all, there are now cable channels devoted entirely to exploiting the holiday spirit. Directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon series).

Gremlins (1984)
A young man is given a strange creature for Christmas that, if not cared for in very specific ways, can sprout mischievous and vicious monsters capable of tearing an entire town to pieces. Guess what happens. You may have forgotten this classic ‘80s farcical creature feature takes place around Christmas. You may have also forgotten that it was produced by Steven Spielberg and co-starred a young Corey Feldman. But don’t forget to give this one a shot, especially if you have kids. Directed by Joe Dante (The ‘burbs).

Love Actually (2003)
It’s Christmastime in London! Here are ten separate but intertwining stories of love during the holidays. Love Actually is one of my favorite movies of 2003 – and it’s easy to see why with a cast of British actors that rivals any single Harry Potter film, including Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln, with Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elisabeth, January Jones, Laura Linney, Denise Richards, and Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by Richard Curtis, screenwriter of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Home Alone (1990)
Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) acts out the night before a family Christmas vacation to France. The next morning, in a rush out the door, his family forgets him. Now, two bungling burglars are trying to break into the house and Kevin must defend it. While the slapstick that the movie is best remembered for may not occur until the third act, Home Alone still proves itself to be more than a pop culture nostalgia trip. It’s still a rather solid family film, which isn’t a wonder since it was directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) and written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club).

Elf (2003)
A baby is raised in the North Pole by Santa Clause and his elves. As an adult his differences seem to become suspicious, which leads to a quest to meet his human dad in New York City. This fish-out-of-water tale is another from 2003 (which also brought us Bad Santa) and arguably the best holiday film of the year, as well as possibly Will Farrell’s best comedic performance. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man).

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, discovers Christmas Town and aims to usurp Santa’s role with hilariously demented results. This stop-motion musical is now a Christmas staple, having been annually re-released in 3D for years. The songs are irresistible (composed and sung by Danny Elfman) and the visuals are spectacular. Directed by Henry Selnick (Coraline).

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The Griswolds have a family Christmas get-together full of hilariously disastrous events. Arguably the best and funniest of the National Lampoon Vacation films, full of memorable moments like the cat and the tree, the septic explosion, and the squirrel. Also written by John Hughes, directed by Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon).

A Christmas Story (1983)
A little boy wishes for a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas and spends his time dropping hints to his parents and fantasizing about the gun. No film captures the childhood holiday experience quite like A Christmas Story. It may take place in the ‘50s, but what boy hasn’t dreamed of a toy for Christmas and done everything in their power to convince their parents of getting it? This is one that stacks up there with A Christmas Carol and A Miracle on 34th Street as required Christmas viewing. Directed by Bob Clark (Porky's).

TV specials

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
An impoverished otter and his mother hope to buy gifts for each other for Christmas. Unfortunately, Emmet’s oddjobs and Ma’s work as a laundress doesn’t earn them enough money. Both decide to compete in a local talent contest in order to earn more money, but sacrifices will need to be made to do so. It may be a bunch of puppets with visible strings, but this is a very charming, simple tale that’s great for the family. Directed by Jim Henson, with voice work by him and Frank Oz.

A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)
Jon Arbuckle packs his pets Odie and Garfield up to spend Christmas at his grandma’s house. Garfield decides to find Grandma a present. Fans of the daily strip or the late-80’s cartoon Garfield and Friends will enjoy this as it is better than most of today’s Garfield direct-to-video features. This can be found included in the Garfield: Holiday Celebrations DVD.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Dr. Seuss’s classic tale comes to life in this classic cartoon. No, this isn’t the mediocre live-action Jim Carrey vehicle. This is the essential anti-consumerist classic co-directed by legendary Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones and voiced by the Mummy himself, Boris Karloff.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charlie Brown is depressed during the holidays by everybody around him demonstrating selfish or materialist behaviors. He’s continually frustrated when asked to direct a Christmas play that can’t seem to make it through rehearsal. Perhaps the greatest Christmas TV special in the history of dime-a-dozen holiday specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas is simple, amusing, and takes a jab at the ever-growing commercialist tendencies of Christmas.

That should help make your spirits bright and scratch that Christmas movie itch.

What movies do you like to watch during the holidays?  Leave a comment below or on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.

Remember That Movie: The Green Mile

Stephen King is best known for stories about the horrors we inflict on each other and the dark side of humanity. Perhaps that’s why so many were surprised that The Shawshank Redemption, a film about hope and friendship in the loneliest of places, surprised so many. That picture was directed by Frank Darabont, who seems to take great interest in stories about the good in us shining through the darkest of situations, which is perhaps why he’s adapted such works as the aforementioned Shawshank, The Mist, TV’s current hit The Walking Dead, and 1999’s The Green Mile.

In case you don’t remember, The Green Mile begins with an old man, Paul Edgecomb, in a nursing home, thinking about the past. He’s so afflicted by his memories that he begins sharing them with a friend (a.k.a. the audience). This, an old man remembering astonishing days of the distant, serves as the framework for a three-hour-plus story.

The memorable year is 1935. Edgecomb, played with nice guy authority by Tom Hanks, is in charge of a death row known as the Green Mile for its lime green flooring. He, with his staff of five, watches over the condemned during their final days and practices the electrocution of each and every inmate with great professionalism and care – despite having probably been through the whole she-bang several times before. The story centers on what happens during the stay of one particular inmate, John Coffey (say it with me now, “like the drink, only not spelled the same.”). Others come and go during this time, including a mouse. But the story implies, despite the amount of time it devotes to them, they don’t matter as much as Coffey, a towering gentle giant played by Michael Clarke Duncan. It doesn’t take long to suspect Coffey’s innocence, after which we learn that he has a magical gift, which he shares with Paul. This is what drives the major plot points of the rest of the movie.

I use the word ‘drive’ loosely since The Green Mile suffers from a complete lack of momentum. This is a deliberately paced character piece with a dose of fantasy to dazzle the masses. The problem is that not enough is done with the fantasy material. The film wants to be both a prison drama that showcases the characters and acting, as well as a fantasy with high-brow themes. It isn’t enough for it to settle on the relationships these inmates develop with the guards-as-caretakers/executioners – or even the contradictory nature of a job that requires one to sooth these men only to eventually march them to their deaths – or what happens when a bad seed is introduced on either side of the bars. These are the things that a movie like Shawshank would revel in.

Unfortunately, what works on the page doesn’t always work on screen. Coffey is the purpose of the story, but to make him and his themes effective the rest of the characters and their drama would have to be played down, making for a slimmer adaptation. There’s also a certain solemnity toward Coffey that the movie tells you to feel, but fails to come through. Not everything that happens to John Coffey makes sense or is explored as fully as everything else. If the film is in part about miracles happening in the face of human cruelty, then it why not have Coffey share his gift with the nastiest characters instead of the good guys? Otherwise he’s preaching to the choir.

That said The Green Mile is a fine film full of outstanding performances among a great cast. The film stars James Cromwell, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Jeter, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Sam Rockwell, Harry Dean Stanton, and Gary Sinise (who’s reunited with Hanks for an unfortunately disposable scene that serves only to reunite the Forrest Gump duo). Jeter gives probably the best performance of his career as a Cajun who befriends a mouse. He also has a most gruesome execution that is probably what gave the film its R rating. Rockwell, as a rambunctious killer, and Morse as Paul’s sidekick, Brutal, also offer impressive work. Kudos must also go to Doug Hutchison (unrecognizable as Horace in Lost), who plays the rotten guard Percy, a conniving, sadistic squirt with the temperament of a schoolyard bully. He’s incapable of compassion and serves as Rockwell’s mirror image. Hutchison gives a performance here that is vile in the best ways possible.

The Green Mile is a lengthy character piece that falls short of greatness due to its slavish faithfulness to its source novel. It isn’t Darabont’s best work (that may be that other character-driven prison drama based on a Stephen King story). The film was nominated for Best Picture, but was deemed the dark horse – rightly so, as there were movies that got the Oscar snub and more deserving of the honor. The Green Mile has weight, but is awfully sluggish and is that rare adaptation that could’ve benefited by being less faithful.


Should you see it? Rent

The Green Mile is available on 2-disc special edition DVD and Blu-Ray.

Note: if you get curious enough to check out The Green Mile, be sure to grab the Blu-Ray as even the special edition DVD divides the 3-hour feature between two discs shortly after the second execution.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boyle and Franco Put In a Solid 127 Hours

We live in a time of great modern technology, what with our iPods, Blackberries, streaming internet, and digital this or thats. We’re so connected to our own inventions we are almost completely removed from where we came from, the great outdoors.

127 Hours is a movie about a man who in some ways is the opposite of a culture that wants to know everything we’re doing every hour of every day. He distances himself from everybody and enjoys getting outside alone. He tries to conquer nature, even going so far as to video record his efforts. This man, Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, takes a trip to canyoneer in the dry crevasses of Utah, free of any cellular connection to anyone, and finds himself in a bit of a jam, wishing he hadn’t cut himself off from everybody so cleanly.

One of the biggest challenges of shooting 127 Hours, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, is three quarters of the story takes place in one spot where Aron gets stuck, which can be difficult to make visually interesting. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) overcomes the challenge with ease. He starts out the movie with a great musical beat behind a lot of physical movement. The screen splits into crowds of people bustling to work or cheering together at sporting events as we simultaneously watch Aron alone in his apartment, getting ready for his trip. And when Aron eventually gets stuck, the camera hardly seems to stay still in any shot for very long. We get different angles, split-screens, point of view shots of his camera, point of view shots behind his camera as he’s recording messages to his family, and even what may be the world’s first CamelBak cam. All of these techniques are in service of pacing, character, empathy, and giving the audience a sense of Aron’s time running out.

As Aron thinks about his last interactions with the people in his life, we are also treated to flashbacks. Boyle is sharp enough to avoid the plain-jane trope of taking us completely away from the present for minutes on end to depict some chapters in Aron’s life that helped shape him or bring him to his current predicament. Instead, Boyle employs split-screens or makes memories appear in the canyon in order to keep us at Aron’s side and in his mind. While Aron’s self-created isolation crashes down on him, we are there keeping him company.

Boyle has repeatedly expressed an interest in themes regarding the necessity for others, appreciation for life, and man’s hubris ending in disaster. 127 Hours is no exception since it tackles these themes well, even if simply. Ralston initially tries lifting, hitting, and budging the rock that has rendered him immobile. He even tries creating a clever pulley system. All of this comes before he can admit his folly and be willing to get over his reluctance to free himself from himself, so to speak.

“I did this,” he says, “This boulder has been waiting for me… everything I’ve done has been leading me to this crack in the earth.”

To speak momentarily about the event this movie is most known for and what got the real Aron Ralston his fifteen minutes a few years ago, I will say it is in the film. Briefly. It is bloody, but not graphic. At least not as much as the hype would lead you to believe. What’s important is you feel the experience just as you feel his need for water. That being the case, we learn we may not be so different from him… and may even be willing to make the same sacrifices he does to stay alive. Regardless, its part in this film is too small to merit avoiding the film entirely, even by the squeamish.

Recently, I counted James Franco among my favorite Digital Age actors, noting a promising talent that has yet to have its moment to shine. 127 Hours is certainly Franco’s moment. This is a performance that will nominate Franco for many awards, but few wins. He carries the film as well as anyone could be expected to – and better than most would.

The same could be said of Danny Boyle’s handling of the story; it’s told as well as it possibly could be (it could’ve been a lot worse) with a fantastic soundtrack that cements Boyle as one of the great soundtrack directors and an ability to draw the audience into the situation. But 127 Hours won’t exactly move mountains.

One thing is for sure: as you watch Ralston run short on water and dream about ice cold bottles of beer and other beverages pouring into perspiring glasses of ice, you will be grateful for the ice cold soda by your side – and its free refills.


Should you see it? Rent

127 Hours recently widened to 433 theaters and may be playing near you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gibson Revue: Winter Marathon

It's official!

Join me, cinephiles, as I host this winter's 2nd biannual Gibson Revue.

On Saturday January 15, 2011

At The Evergreen State College, Lecture Hall 2
2700 Evergreen Parkway NW
Olympia, WA 98505

Featured are three love stories from the male perspective, with a short discussion and break after each.

12:30p - Annie Hall, Woddy Allen's legendary comedy that influenced hundreds of subsequent movies, including those in this marathon.  Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carol Kane, and Paul Simon.  1hr. 33mins.

3p - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the modern classic about the pain of lost love.  Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Michel Gondry.  1hr. 48mins.

5:30p - (500) Days of Summer, 2009's brilliant romantic comedy about the idealized perception of love and its clash with reality.  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Moretz.  Directed by Marc Webb.  1hr. 35mins.

Admission is $10 a person at the door, cash only.  That's three movies, with intelligent discussion and enthusiasms, snacks and drinks - all for only $10!

18 and over only!

So, mark your calendars and come on down for a good time with great movies.

The Expendables: Action's Biggest Failed Idea

Growing up in the eighties and nineties, action films seemed to almost always be about the three Bs: Big guns, Bulging muscles, and Babes. The bad guy always represented corruption (drugs, crime, financial power, or politics) or incited revenge (perhaps by wronging or endangering the good guy’s family). Sometimes that unlikely of evil, the terrorist, would rear its head. The good guys were guns-blazing anti-heroes, law enforcement, or martial arts experts. The movies themselves either became classics of the action genre (Die Hard, Predator, First Blood, Escape from New York, for example) or were clichéd formula pictures with forgettable titles that were mediocre at best (Hard Target, Hard to Kill, Eraser, The Specialist). Most of the time, regardless of quality, they gave us cool stunts or creative kills.

Those kinds of action films went by the wayside in the sobering aftermath of 9/11. We wanted our heroes to be relatable everymen who became super (Spider-Man) or are at least relied less on brawn than cunning (the Bourne series). Martial arts heroes like Jet Li turned fighting into a beautiful dance instead of the rough-and-tumble blood sport of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Villains were either a terrorist of some kind that represented an immediate threat to a large population or someone who represented corruption in our government or military. It wasn’t enough to see muscles flex and things blow up; there had to be interesting characters and clever writing. Of course, these are the sort of things that made the action movies of old that we adore such classics (Die Hard is a great example of this). There have been few exceptions. Jason Statham has upped the insanity level of the genre, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has occasionally dabbled in rote revenge plots, and WWE star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin seems positioned to carry on the B-movie explosives of action’s past.

The Expendables, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, seems to be an attempt to bridge these two generations of action heroes for one big explosion reminiscent of the good ol’ days. The premise of taking a dozen action stars, old and new, and mixing them together for one film sounds too good to be true.

The result tells us it is.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a film starring Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, and Jet Li, with cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon? Word has it that Seagal and Van Damme were approached, but Seagal refused to be in a film with Van Damme while the Muscles from Brussels passed because he had better things to do. Chuck Norris was also approached, but unavailable.

As a result, we’re given a film starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, and two guys named Terry Crews and Randy Couture, with cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a bit underwhelming.

Too bad more of the real action stars of old couldn’t join the team. I couldn’t help wonder what some of the cast did to deserve being included in this film, especially Terry Crews and Randy Couture, neither of which have had a leading role in anything worthy of note, if at all. Mickey Rourke, one known more for acting than enacting brutal kills, is just as inexplicable. This leaves us with Jet Li, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and Sylvester Stallone who is the ringmaster of this bumbling circus. Schwarzenegger, having the state of California to repair, is understandably only in for a three-minute cameo. But Willis is deserving of a much larger role than he gets here. Li, Statham, Lundgren, and Stallone are the only worthy stars of this project given enough screen time and even they are let down.

Last spring’s The A-Team was somewhat exciting because its one saving grace was the chemistry among its action leads. The Expendables feels hollow, second-rate and like watching your favorite action stars be reduced to a direct-to-video action film; you know, like when direct-to-video guaranteed cheaply made and poorly acted schlock. Instead of stars of action’s past raising to their level those of action’s present, the former is instead lowered to the ranks of today’s WWE action star. In reading a recent article by Stallone about his writing process for The Expendables (which he wrote alone; the co-writing credit is to the writer of a story that Stallone bought with a similar idea), one is given the impression that not only does each character get a “moment”, but they all have dimension. That’s not the case at all. The Expendables are one-dimensional cartoons. We don’t care if they survive and because there are no stakes to the action, we have a feeling they all will. The team could’ve lived up to their name as a rag-tag group that courageously gets knocked off one-by-one. Instead all we get are weak attempts to make each member likable through piss-poor banter and action hero posturing.

The plot? Not that anybody cares, but it has something to do with the CIA hiring the Expendables to take down a corrupt leader of a small fictional South American island, a leader who is somehow in the palm of Eric Roberts’s hands. In a movie like this you don’t need much of a story – one would assume it’s about the cast – but it’d be nice to have a story we care about with a villain we love to hate (again, character). The Expendables completely lacks any of that so when we see bullets fly or things go BOOM! we can’t get excited about any of it. It feels too generic, too “been there done that”.

Speaking of which, in Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s prime the action and stunts were impressive. Here they feel rudimentary and fail to match the awesomeness of any one of these star’s mid-quality films. Go back and watch any of the classics mentioned above or even Demolition Man, Under Siege, or True Lies. To argue the action in The Expendables is acceptable by comparison is to lower standards, expect less, and be content with lazy filmmaking.

Many might say, “Leave it alone, it’s just a fun action film.” The problem is The Expendables is dumber than the talent deserves (especially Jet Li, who is known for his excellent kung fu films overseas). Stallone had his share of bad action films, but even he had First Blood and Cliffhanger, two films that could chew this movie up and spit it out. Judge Dredd, also a terrible movie, is more fun than The Expendables.

Stallone wanted to bring together the biggest names in action – past and present – to make a film that tried to remind us of a time when men were allowed to be gun-toting Neanderthals whose muscles were as big as the real estate they blew up to solve Third World problems. Had The Expendables been directed by a better filmmaker (let’s say John McTiernan of Die Hard) and better written (perhaps by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon) and featured a cast worthy of its premise, The Expendables would’ve been a booming victory cry. We are instead left with the scraps of an idea that reality tore the meat away from. It is the biggest disappointment of the year.


Should you see it? Skip

The Expendables is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.