Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ryan Reynolds Piles on Suspense in Buried

We all have our fears. Heights. Spiders. Clowns. Zombies. But few of us can ever imaging finding ourselves in Paul Conroy’s situation. Paul (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver contracted in Iraq. His convoy was attacked. When he awoke he found himself lying down in the dark. He finds a lighter and discovers he’s trapped in a coffin buried underground.

He doesn’t know where he is or how deep he’s buried. He finds with him a cell phone, a lighter, a flask, a pocket knife, a flashlight, and a couple glow sticks.

Paul uses the cell phone to call for help. Nobody answers and those that do either aren’t helpful or fail to listen. Paul becomes very afraid and frustrated. Can he get out on his own? If not, can anybody help him? And will the one responsible for his situation go after his family if a ransom isn’t paid that night?

Buried is an incredibly taut thriller directed by Rodrigo Cortés (The Contestant) with a simple pitch: one man in a box – nothing else – for ninety minutes. The trick is to make such restrictions interesting. Danny Boyle met a similar challenge, though to a lesser extent, in 127 Hours with creative camera work and flashbacks. However, in that movie the audience is visually removed on occasion from its static environment.

No so in Buried.

After an excellent opening credit sequence that recalls Hitchcock’s thrillers we experience darkness – and then stay in the coffin the entire time. No opening sequence. No cut-aways to memories of the past. Just Ryan Reynolds in a box with lighter and cell phone in hand.

It couldn’t have been executed any better.

Every trick and angle possible is used to prevent tedium, including a couple how’d-they-do-that shots. It also helps that Ryan Reynolds, playing a man with anxiety issues, who has to race against time in a life-threatening situation that includes irritating phone conversations and a demanding terrorist, gives a gripping performance. The burden is entirely on his shoulders and he proves himself capable. I kept looking for a lapse in logic or a false note in his response to his so-called “helpers.” Not a single one was found. Reynolds has left Van Wilder and Hannibal King in the dust and is ready to become an A-list star (he dons the emerald mask and ring in Green Lantern this summer).

Buried was released in select theaters last fall with plans to open wide later on. Poor attendance left the rest of the country in the cold. That’s too bad, because this is a film that will keep audiences riveted until the very last second. It also proves that Ryan Reynolds is more than good looks and a likeable personality; he can carry a film by himself. It would be unfortunate if the couch potatoes also ignored what is his best film to date and 2010’s most exciting thriller.


8/10


Should you see it? Rent


Buried is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Remember That Movie: Leon (aka The Professional)

This year Natalie Portman may win all the top acting honors for her role in Black Swan, the most critically acclaimed film of her nearly two-decade long career. By coincidence, I recently got around to finally seeing her very first film Luc Besson’s Léon, also known in the States as The Professional, from 1994. I thought it’d be worth taking a look at this film and how far its young star has come since.

In case you don’t remember, Léon opens with an incredible action sequence wherein a man comes out of nowhere and quickly takes out a dozen goons until he silently sneaks up way to his target, putting a knife to his throat, only to disappear into the dark.

The silent assassin’s name is Léon. He lives alone. He drinks lots of milk and takes great care of a single plant. He loves Gene Kelly musicals. And he sleeps in a chair with one eye open and a gun at his side. This duality of a man, who kills coldly for money, yet has compassion and love in him help make Léon a fascinating character. Then we learn he only takes jobs against drug-dealers and upholds a code against killing women and children. There’s more to this man than anybody who encounters him lives long enough to learn.

Natalie Portman plays Mathilda. Her family lives just down the hall from Léon, unaware of his day job. Mathilda’s father (Michael Badalucco) is a coke dealer and her mother and sister are cruel and selfish, which leaves her 4 year-old brother as Mathilda’s only solace in life. When her father is caught at a lie he and the rest of Mathilda’s family are brutally murdered while she is out grocery shopping. When Mathilda arrives, moments later, she seeks refuge from those responsible in Léon’s apartment. Mathilda soon discovers Léon’s secret life and tries hiring him to kill her family’s assassins. Léon refuses, already regretting having saved her. She instead talks Léon into making her his protégé, learning the skills of a hitman so she can eventually take them out herself.

Mathilda is an interesting and somewhat controversial character. Here is a 12 year-old girl who smokes, cusses, hates her abusive family, forces her way into a life of brutal violence, yet is still a child. She watches Transformers cartoons and plays charades. She also precociously falls for her much-older protector (a source of discomfort in the States that led to the release of a different cut of the film dubbed The Professional). She’s lived a tough life that’s hardened her a bit even before her family’s murder.

Mathilda is not beyond compassion. In fact, the only reason she targets her would-be assassins is because they killed her little brother. “What the hell did he ever do?” she asks. Also, while assisting many of Léon’s hits, Mathilda torches the targets’ supply of drugs as a means of preventing other kids from growing up in environments like hers. Not to mention, she falls for the very person teaching her how to be a cold-blooded killer.

The chemistry between Portman and Reno is nothing short of fantastic. Reno starts their companionship with uneasiness, briefly contemplating killing Mathilda in her sleep, then becomes indifferent, playful, and then finally regarding Mathilda like a father would his daughter, which makes his discomfort over Mathilda’s advances all the more understandable. Regardless of the specifics of their feelings for each other, their bond grows so that it’s clear they would do anything to protect one another.

Luc Besson went on to direct The Fifth Element, arguably his most popular film, and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, which was a considerable disappointment. For the most part, he’s been away from the camera since only to return with an animated feature called Arthur and the Invisibles. He has mostly served as writer for such action films as The Transporter trilogy, Unleashed, District B13, and the La Femme Nikita TV series.

Léon was inspired by Jean Reno’s role in La Femme Nikita, also directed by Luc Besson. It also marked Reno’s English-language debut. Hollywood came calling afterward and, as is often the case with foreign stars that cross over to Tinsletown, Reno never found as good a role. He was constantly side-lined in such clunkers as French Kiss, Godzilla, Rollerball, and The Pink Panther remake, as well as more respectable fare like Mission: Impossible, Ronin, and Hotel Rwanda. Reno has yet to score a lead role like Léon since.

Natalie Portman, on the other hand, has been much luckier. This talented actress with the sunny-sweet disposition went on to play in everything from chick flicks and science-fiction sagas to character-driven dramas and bit parts in offbeat comedies. It’s hard to believe the same woman from Garden State was also the insecure ballerina in Black Swan or the protégés of V for Vendetta and Léon; such is the astonishing range Portman has developed over the years. This year she will further display her range by playing in last weekend’s sex comedy No Strings Attached, the superhero flick Thor, the mother/son dramedy The Other Woman, and the fantasy comedy Your Highness. On top of all that, Portman is considered a front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Black Swan. Portman has grown to be one of the most respected talents of her generation.

I should mention Léon also features another great performance by Gary Oldman, who starred as Dracula two years earlier, as the creepy and insane DEA officer Stansfield responsible for Mathilda’s situation. Gary Oldman continued his chameleonic career with great success in roles both villainous and virtuous (but usually villainous) in The Fifth Element, Air Force One, Hannibal, the Harry Potter series, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

These three leads come together for a great time in Léon, an excellent action film about love and compassion existing in a cold, brutal world. It is equal parts humorous, exciting, and intense. It is a must-see for any fans of action and crime films as it clearly influenced many films since. I can’t recommend it enough.


8/10

Should you see it? Rent


Léon is available on Blu-ray as Léon: The Professional, featuring two different versions in hi-def, and on DVD in three different editions, including the US release known as The Professional.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blue Valentine: A Match Made in Error


In Blue Valentine, we’re given a non-linear look at a marriage between two worn-out love birds played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. We see both the beginning and the end of the relationship. Yes, the relationship ends. We know the end is on the horizon after watching the film’s first few minutes wherein these two are so emotionally removed from each other they might consider themselves as roommates more than life partners.

No, this isn’t another fairy tale love story where the leads banter, cuddle, fight, make up, and live happily ever after. Thankfully, this is something quite different, an honest examination of what happens when two people rush into a lifetime of happiness before allowing the time to get to know each other.

I went into Blue Valentine expecting a three-hankie weepie that would leave me feeling a bit depressed, but enriched and satisfied by having experienced a reflection of the challenges of love and marriage. It wasn’t a three-hankie weepie. And it wasn’t as enriching or satisfying as I hoped. But it did leave me feeling a bit down.

Does that sound like a knock on the film? It is and it isn’t. The film tells its story by cutting from the present to the past. Doing so prevents the viewer from being fully engaged in the relationship. Instead, we are merely detached observers, like strangers outside a window. Because of this, Blue Valentine prevents the audience from experiencing the emotional wringer that the characters go through; we are unable to feel the frustration of Ryan’s Dean or the silent misery of Michelle’s Cindy. Therefore, Blue Valentine suffers from an emotional impotency that keeps it at an arm’s-length from greatness.

On the other hand, as a chronicle of the blooming and disintegration of a relationship, Blue Valentine is quite effective and features first-rate performances by its leads. Consider yourself lucky if you find yourself unable to relate to these characters. This is a film about what actually ends up happening to some of us and how some of us just don’t know how to improve on mountains of pain.

Dean is an impulsive young man who thinks guys are more romantic and faithful than women. Cindy is an aspiring doctor who was just impregnated by her insensitive jock boyfriend. The two meet, spend time with each other, and fall head-over-heels for each other. One thing leads to another and in a matter of a couple weeks, the couple decides to start a family and marry. The problem is – and becomes the thing that prevents the relationship from surviving down the road – there is nothing aside from their fondness for each other’s company that Dean and Cindy seem to have in common. Before they can learn this, they dive in head-first for the long-haul.

And what a load they haul! Each of them carry with them baggage from their parents’ marriages, which affects how they behave in their own marriage. But neither one knows how to communicate their way through the grime that is spoiling their love for each other. And that’s what Blue Valentine seems to be pointing out: if you don’t take the time to get to know each other and how to effectively communicate then your love won’t survive the challenges that will come down the road. Your marriage will either end or end up subjecting a child to a loveless marriage. At one point, in an attempt to charm Cindy, Dean warbles ‘You Only Hurt the Ones You Love’. This film effectively illustrates how true that song can be.

There are three or four sex scenes in Blue Valentine – none of which are depicted in a provocative or exploitative manner. Each one fits into the fabric of what we are seeing. One scene may depict the couple expressing their passion for each other, while another may depict frustration and indifference that comes toward the end of a relationship. No scene is so graphic as to justify the MPAA’s initial NC-17 rating. While watching Blue Valentine, I kept looking for something that might resemble the scene in question, something that could be reasonably argued as too graphic. There is nothing more graphic than any other sex scene in any other film. In fact, the same sexual act is depicted in last spring’s Ben Stiller film, Greenberg, the only difference being in Blue Valentine the woman clearly enjoys what’s happening. Is the line drawn between an ‘R’ and an ‘NC-17’ defined by a woman enjoying sexual pleasure? The fact that Greenberg features the same sexual act in question with that one notable difference and still eluded its own ‘NC-17’ controversy would indicate it is. Thankfully, Harvey Weinstein, formerly of Miramax and now of The Weinstein Company, which distributed Blue Valentine, was able to convince the nation’s movie nannies to change their rating to ‘R’. It is a film that teenagers, not long from meeting their own blue valentines, could learn a thing or two from.

Controversies aside, if you prefer your love stories to follow a formula and end happily then Blue Valentine is not for you. But if you enjoy movies that depict the realities of love and the struggles of sharing a life with another person, Blue Valentine is worthy of your attention and may give you an experience unlike any other love story. Just don’t be surprised if it fails to bring on the waterworks.


7/10

Should you see it? Rent


Blue Valentine has expanded to a theater near you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Golden Globes Do Right in End

The 68th Golden Globe Awards were held early Sunday afternoon, the first major movie awards ceremony of the season before the Academy Awards. It proved to be a night of fewer surprises and injustices as compared to Globes of years’ past. Below is a rundown of the film categories, their winners, and my brief thoughts.

Let’s begin with Best Foreign Film. As host Ricky Gervais put it with such funny-‘cause-it’s-true frankness, it’s “an award nobody in America cares about.” I generally find that to be a sad fact about American audiences, but in this case there wasn’t anything to really cheer for. The year’s notable hits The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mother were snubbed, while A Prophet, released in the States early in 2010, was a nominee last year thanks to its releases throughout the world. This left us this year with a list of films few American moviegoers are aware of. The Dutch film In A Better World took the prize.

The Best Animated Film category was full of great competition (including Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon), but with Toy Story 3 in the mix, none of them stood a chance.

The Best Screenplay award may give us a clue as to what will be nominated for the adapted and original screenplay awards by the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences. 127 Hours (adapted), Inception (original), The Kids Are All Right (original), and The King’s Speech (original) were all nominated. But it was Aaron Sorkin’s incredibly intelligent and carefully-crafted adaptation of The Accidental Billionaires into The Social Network that took the prize. No surprise there.

Let’s move on to the acting awards.

While Mark Ruffalo was unfortunately overlooked for his performance in The Kids Are All Right in favor of Michael Douglas’s return as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s adequate Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps for the Best Supporting Actor award, those that were included – newcomer Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Jeremy Renner (The Town), and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) – lost out to Christian Bale in The Fighter.

The Best Supporting Actress award was a tight competition full of praised performances, including Jacki Weaver for the Australian crime film Animal Kingdom and Helena Bonham Carter as the supportive Queen in The King’s Speech. Melissa Leo, who plays a tough-talking and manipulative mother in The Fighter won the honor.

The comedy/musical awards were probably the most contentious of this year’s awards. This is not unusual as last year’s acting and film categories for comedy or musical were also a bit dubious. Robert Downey, Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) beat out Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer) and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) in a role that hardly required more than to look dashing and clever. This year, Johnny Depp was nominated for two films that are generally regarded as among his worst, Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist. Also, comedic performances by Jonah Hill for either Get Him to the Greek or Cyrus and Michael Cera for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – three comedic films better-received by critics than most of the ones nominated – were passed over. Paul Giamatti took the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical prize for Barney’s Version, a little-seen drama about the life of a foul-mouthed TV producer.

Despite the inclusion of Angelina Jolie for The Tourist and Anne Hathaway for Love & Other Drugs (two films whose performances were panned), the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical was a decent competition, even though it would’ve been nice to see Marisa Tomei rewarded with a nom for her performance in Cyrus. Annette Bening was deservedly handed the prize for her dramatically-grounded performance in The Kids Are All Right. I actually favored Julianne Moore’s work in that film, which was also nominated, but Bening is enjoyable enough to watch in that film that her win was acceptable.

I’d like to get the Best Picture – Comedy or Musical debacle out of the way and move on to the rest quickly. The Kids Are All Right, perhaps the only film of this year’s nominees deserving of the award, won. For more of my thoughts on this award go here.

The Best Actor – Drama race was incredibly tight. Ryan Gosling may have been the underdog for Blue Valentine and James Franco (127 Hours) and Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) were granted well-deserved nominations for this award. But the race seemed to come down to either Jesse Eisenberg for his complex portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or Colin Firth for his inspirational performance of a stutterer who became king in The King’s Speech. I lean more towards Eisenberg’s surprisingly skilled work as one of the year’s best characters, but Colin Firth, having lost last year, took the award instead.

The Best Actress – Drama award was a tough competition, with the exception of Halle Berry for Frankie & Alice, a film that won’t be released until February, but already has received poor reviews. Newcomer Jennifer Lawrence could’ve taken it for Winter’s Bone, as well as Michelle Williams for her equally brave performance in Blue Valentine. But Natalie Portman took the honor, as expected, for Black Swan.

The Best Director category was full of exceptional work, but it was clearly David Fincher’s for the taking for his tireless efforts on The Social Network.

That leaves us with Best Picture – Drama and it could go to no other film than The Social Network, as it did. Some say The King’s Speech is a worthy contender, however it seems to me that is more a matter of personal preference than objective greatness. That’s because The King’s Speech is an inspiring crowd-pleaser – and a great one at that – and therefore is more appealing to audiences. But The Social Network, like All the President’s Men and Network is about something much more than the triumph of the human spirit. Sure, it’s about some supergeek who alienated those around him on his road to success, but it’s also about how one idea forever changed how we interact with each other, socially and professionally. More importantly, its story was executed by means of the most brilliant filter of creative minds assembled on set in 2010. It is the best film.

The Golden Globe Awards went off in predictable fashion, with not a divisive win to be found. While the nominations were occasionally questionable, it could be said this year’s Globe winners were more in line with the days of old, when they served as an indication of what was to come at the Oscars and what were truly the best in film at the time.

The films that took home the most Globes and, it’s safe to conclude, are most worthy of your time before the Academy Awards are The Social Network (3, plus a win for Best Score), The Fighter (2), and The Kids Are All Right (2). It’s a safe bet that these films, as well as Black Swan, The King’s Speech, and Toy Story 3 can be expected to pop up in the 10-film Best Picture category when the Oscar nominees are announced next week.

It’s worth noting that Ricky Gervais hosted for a second time this year and was quite amazing. He spent the evening skewering the celebrity presenters and nominees in a hilariously mischievous fashion. Some may be too sensitive to such audacious teasing, but it gave the predictable show and its well-to-do culture a much-needed kick in the pants. You can view highlights of his jokes here.

The Academy Awards will be held on February 27th.

 
What do you think?  Did you feel the better films went home empty-handed?  Who did you wish took home an award?  Write below in the comments, on Facebook, or email at thegibsonreview@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Film Faves: 1999

Another year has arrived and so it is time for another edition of Film Faves, as promised.  For those of you who may not remember or are new to this feature, Film Faves counts down my favorites in a given film subject every month.  It is not intended as an objective "best-of" list; it is all about the pure enjoyment of cinema.  Unlike the Top Ten lists with Honorable Mentions that you'll find at other sites, Film Faves features just twelve of my favorites - and ends there. 

Last year, I counted down the previous decade with my favorites from each year (2009 - 2000).  This month, I'll continue the year-by-year march into the 1990s, starting with the year 1999.

I contend that the year 1999 was the best year for movies in the '90s.  This isn't because I happened to graduate from high school that year (hence the "thegibson99" moniker on Facebook and MySpace).  It happens to be thought by many to be "The Year That Changed Movies."  This is because it saw a higher quantity of significant films released than any other year in recent memory.

Let's take a look. 

The top grossing film of the year was Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, quite possibly the most anticipated film of the entire decade, which also turned out to be its biggest disappointment.

The foreign film to see that year was Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother, which gave the beloved auteur his first Oscar.

Disney also continued its climb out of the trenches of previous years with its take on Tarzan.

The roster of films from 1999 is full of so many notable and worthwhile films that it was very difficult for me to watch every movie I wanted to for this article, let alone create a list of just twelve favorites.  This roster includes one of the biggest lists of successful comedies in one year, including:
10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie, Analyze This, Blast from the Past, Bowfinger, Election, Galaxy Quest, Mumford, Rushmore, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.

It also includes one of the longest lists of notable dramas and thrillers in one year:
Any Given Sunday, Boys Don't Cry, Buena Vista Social Club, The Cider House Rules, Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Go, The Green Mile, The Hurricane, The Insider, Man on the Moon, October Sky, Ride with the Devil, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Thomas Crown Affair remake, Three Kings, and Varsity Blues

And there was still room enough for twelve more notable films, which I'll get to soon.

But no year is perfect and 1999 had its share of crap films:
The 13th Warrior, Bicentennial Man, Chill Factor, Cruel Intentions, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Dudley Do-Right, End of Days, Entrapment, The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill, Inspector Gadget, The Mod Squad, My Favorite Martian, The Other Sister, Stigmata, Three to Tango, Wild Wild West, Wing Commander, and The World is not Enough were all released that year.

But what matters isn't whether or not a year was impervious to dreck, it's whether or not the quality films outweighed the crap.  And 1999 is definitely best remembered for quality.

Without further ado, here are my favorites from the year...


1999:

12. The Blair Witch Project

This film may be remembered as being annoying for anyone who doesn’t like their characters to bicker so much – no matter how distressing the situation – but The Blair Witch Project is a precursor to an era now dominated by reality TV, pseudo-documentaries, and “found footage” films that often fight comparisons with it. Not only that, but The Blair Witch Project’s marketing campaign was quite the monster that effectively convinced many moviegoers of the film’s authenticity. As an entry into the horror genre, the film actually got a few things right: convincing characters, effective tension-building, and that rare (but highly effective) element of never actually showing us what the characters see. Despite your feelings on this film, these are the elements of a great horror movie.

11. American Beauty

American Beauty was the winner for Best Picture and out of those films that weren’t overlooked (The Insider, The Sixth Sense, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile), it was definitely the superior film. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really the best film of the year and has since become one of those Oscar winners that fail to resonate years later. That said, I contend it was the superior film of those nominated because it had the best-written script, best performances, and a direction that was rivaled only by M. Night Shyamalan (more on his film soon). Kevin Spacey gave one of the best performances of his career as a go-nowhere loser who has lost whatever magic existed in his relationships with his daughter and wife and is stuck in a telemarketing job where even people he doesn’t know hates him the moment he opens his mouth. Annette Bening reminds us why we like her with her performance as one of the film’s most despicable and unlikable characters, a woman who has become embittered by the disappointments of life. I could go on about the cast, but I won’t. It’s unfortunate that most of the supporting players have since entered “Where are they now?” status. But don’t hold that against this film. Look closer.

10. Notting Hill

This sweet romantic comedy from the king of sentimental romances, screenwriter Richard Curtis, wonderfully taps into the Fantasy Encounter we all imagine with celebrities and became an underrated addition to its genre. Julia Roberts, in a perfect bit of casting, stars as superstar actress Anna Scott, who drops by the struggling little book shop owned by Hugh Grant. What follows could only happen in our dreams (not those kinds of dreams!). Notting Hill is disarming, charming, magical, and witty.

9. The Iron Giant

This animated film is one of those hidden treasures of the medium. Starring the voice talents of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., and a pre-Pitch Black Vin Diesel as the Iron Giant, it is a film set during 1950s rural Maine at a time when atomic paranoia was at its highest. A fatherless child befriends an alien robot and hides it from a suspicious government agent. The Iron Giant is charming, playful, and moving. It is a film that is full of wonder and great visuals for kids and a dose of substance for adults.

8. Magnolia

I reviewed this film last year as part of the Remember That Movie feature. I’m glad I did, because it helped me see Magnolia for what it does well: believable characters, performed by an incredible cast, interconnected by how they treat those closest to them. It’s a story that would be unbearably dull if not for Paul Thomas Anderson’s expert direction. See the film for its brilliant opening ten minutes, at the very least.



7. The Sixth Sense

The other best picture nominee – and probably the most enduring was also M. Night Shyamalan’s only great film; it all went downhill from here (Unbreakable is an outstanding, if lesser, follow-up to this film). The Sixth Sense is most notable for introducing the Big Twist, the final plot device from which everything else falls into place. Unlike many of the Twist films that followed – including many of Shymalan’s own work – The Sixth Sense also had a great story and excellent performances by its leads and actually holds up today. As a result, it is one of the best ghost stories in modern history.

6. Dogma

Dogma used to make me laugh a lot more than it does now. Maybe its irreverence surprised me at the time, but has since worn off. Despite whatever makes my favorite Kevin Smith film less comedically effective, Dogma is still creatively interesting in its examination of organized monotheistic religions (Catholicism in particular). From a black 13th apostle to the inspirations for Bluntman and Chronic as prophets and an atheistic abortionist as the descendent of Jesus Christ, Dogma is still worth checking out for its ideas. And anybody who’s seen the film knows, an idea is more important than beliefs.

5. Being John Malkovich

If I were to have to the power to revise the nominees for the Best Picture of 1999, I would include Fight Club, The Matrix, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, and Being John Malkovich. This quirky black comedy must be acknowledged for its absolute brilliance and originality. John Cusack plays a puppeteer who takes an office job and discovers a portal at work that transports people into the mind of the actor John Malkovich. Bizarre? Yes. But absolutely fascinating. The film manages to introduce philosophical questions about identity and what makes us who we are, along with characters who are as peculiar and realistically flawed as any of us. How many comedies can effectively manage that while also being funny and entertaining?

4. Toy Story 2

Pixar took their flagship title to the next level both technically and creatively, making for the best animated film of 1999 – and one of the best films of that year, period. Woody discovers he’s an antique collectible while Buzz encounters a store full of doppelgangers and his arch nemesis, Zorg. The result adds depth, relatability, and hilarity to this world of wonderful characters. It was Pixar’s only sequel until last year’s nearly comparable Toy Story 3. Sequels are all we’ll see from Pixar for the next couple of years, but that’s fine as long as they bring as much top-quality storytelling as this one.

3. Office Space

Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will relate to Office Space. In spite of that, it bombed during its theatrical release, grossing just above its budget. This is sort of peculiar since it opened along with Jawbreaker and October Sky, neither of which was hugely anticipated. This leads one to blame the marketing, which leaned on the Beavis & Butthead connection (director Mike Judge also created the sometimes controversial MTV series) and perhaps put many off. Office Space has since sold very well in the home video market and become a classic comedy. Its legacy is well-deserved since it is one of the funniest and most quotable films of 1999.

2. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

To anybody who thinks of me as an art-house or awards-bait snob, I give you this, a film wherein coffee can get “a bit nutty”, a rocket incites various phallic expressions by random spectators, and a dwarf plays a miniaturized clone of Dr. Evil and is chased by a fat bastard who wants to eat him. The second film of the spy spoof trilogy went further than its predecessor in almost every way, but not always for the best. It was the first to lean too much on gross-outs (not nearly as much as Goldmember, which suffered as a result) and it unexpectedly laid waste to original hottie Elizabeth Berkley Hurley during the first couple of minutes; both of which were quite unfortunate. But The Spy Who Shagged Me also gave us the delicious Heather Graham as Felicity Shagwell (who arguably had better chemistry with Mike Myers), the glorious Mini-Me, and such great moments as the opening credit sequence, the tent scene, and the duet between Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, ‘Just the Two of Us’. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is a hilarious film that has endured thanks in part to its wonderfully cartoonish characters, including Dr. Evil who may be the most lovable villain ever put on film.

1. The Matrix

What is the Matrix? We all wanted to know in April of 1999. The Matrix may be the greatest film to come from 1999. Still capable of dazzling young newcomers, perhaps no other from that year had a bigger influence on film than The Matrix. It helped change how action was stylized for several years (often with poor results), as well as pushed the envelope for special effects. Any sci-fi film that rocks the filmmaking and pop culture landscapes inspires a bunch of knock-offs. What sets The Matrix apart is its mix of spectacular imagery and highly intelligent storytelling. This thing is rich with substance, dabbling in existentialism, religion, the hero’s journey, and romance. The less than crowd-pleasing sequels have tempted some to sour on the original as a bunch of philosophical hoo-haw. That’s unfortunate, because a great film should be recognized for what makes it great, not what came after or whatever minor shortcomings it has. The Matrix is certainly a great film made only better by its blu-ray release.


That about does it for the year 1999.  What are your favorite films from that year?  Vote on the poll to the right of the page.  Do you agree that the year 1999 is the best year for film in the 1990s or do you think another year was better?  Submit your feedback below, on Facebook or MySpace, or email me at thegibsonreview@gmail.com

Next time on Film Faves, Shakespeare dukes it out with Private Ryan and romance gets a bump from angels, email, and... hair gel.  It's 1998!

The Gibson Revue: A Final Reminder


This Saturday!
12:30p

My house


This is the final announcement!  The day is finally upon us.  The Gibson Revue: Winter Marathon, an event that demand and interest generated from last summer's movie marathon has inspired and been in the works ever since, is about to arrive.

This season the marathon will feature three love stories that are tied together by being from the male perspective, as well as other similarities. 


Annie Hall - 1hr. 33mins.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - 1hr. 48mins.


(500) Days of Summer - 1hr. 35mins.

Each film will be followed by brief audience/host discussions and breaks.

Free admission!

And food!

18 and over only, please.

Please RSVP at thegibsonreview@gmail.com or on Facebook as space is limited to just you special readers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Gibson Revue: Next Week!



Saturday January 15, 2011
12:30p

My house


It's only one week away!

Three love stories from the male perspective with brief audience/host discussions and breaks after each.


Annie Hall - Can you be neurotic and in a happy relationship?  The film Roger Ebert calls "everybody's favorite Woody Allen film", starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 
1hr. 33mins.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Have you ever wished you could erase a former lover from your memory?  From the neurotic mind of Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, and many other great talents. 1hr. 48mins.

(500) Days of Summer - Have you ever been dumped by someone you love and never saw it coming?  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. 1hr. 35mins.


Free admission!

Free food!

18 and over only!


Please RSVP at thegibsonreview@gmail.com or on Facebook as space is limited to just you special readers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The King's Speech Offers More Than Dull Discourse

With the beginning of a new year comes a month of movies that are either terrible or were previously released to a limited number of theaters to qualify for awards season and are only recently widening its reach to a theater near you. Many of the latter may contain a subject or tone as depressing as the quality of the former, thereby scaring off many moviegoers.

One film that defies all that is The King’s Speech, a film that deceptively appears to be a stuffy period piece but is actually a charming crowd-pleaser. And it just so happens to currently be listed alongside The Social Network as an Oscar favorite.

The King’s Speech stars Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who seeks treatment for her husband’s stutter. Her husband is Albert ‘Bertie’ Frederick Arthur George, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), son of King George V. He is required on occasion to speak publicly. Lady Elizabeth soon finds Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist with unique methods and a high success rate.

King George V eventually dies and there’s a bit of drama involving the oldest son, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), struggling with the choice between inheriting the throne and marrying the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, a suspected Nazi sympathizer. Meanwhile, a bromance blooms between Bertie and Lionel, wherein one helps the other find his voice, personal details are confided, and even a brief blow-up occurs between them. The titular speech, up to which the film is building, is the first wartime speech Bertie, at that point the newly anointed King George VI (spoilers for real life), must give to the nation after England declared war on Germany for invading Poland.

The King’s Speech seems mostly interested in suggesting – via a story about personal triumph – that behind the iron gates and closed doors of Buckingham Palace is a family no different than the common man, royalty aside. Siblings tease each other, daddy issues abound, children suffer from emotional abuse and the loneliness of a life devoid of friendships, and a wife will search for effective treatment of her caring husband’s ailment. It takes the mundane and finds the humanity within it, making for a film where the act of a man speaking into a microphone is the source of great suspense. Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) accomplishes all of this by never once resorting to cheap sentiment or betraying the truth of the characters or their situations in life. The Royal Couple and the Logues have great regard for each other – but they’ll never share a meal together, because it wouldn’t be proper.

One is hard-pressed to find a performance in The King’s Speech that is less than great; Bonham Carter, Firth, and Rush are particularly noteworthy. They bring to their characters and relationships an authenticity that never feels forced, allowing you to be convinced by most of what they’re selling without the irritation of awards-bait posturing.

Interestingly enough, the MPAA, the notoriously private ratings board that purports to be made up of morally-sound parents, slapped an R rating onto The King’s Speech. There are no sex scenes (suggested or explicit) or any violence; it is a rather tame movie. What it does have is a single scene in which the Duke utters a string of four-letter words for the first time in his life. It’s a humorous scene that is light in tone and the language is far from ‘strong’. It’s understandable that the film and critic communities balked at this decision since it unfairly gives audiences a certain perception of the content in The King’s Speech. Stories this inspiring and enjoyable should be seen by families – just as long as your kids are old enough for a period piece to hold their attention. It may be the best family film of the winter season.

For anybody looking for an enjoyable film with great chemistry and a mix of inspirational drama and witty humor, none of which panders or insults your intelligence, they could do far worse than The King’s Speech. It is one of the season’s smartest feel-good movies.


8/10

Should you see it? If you’re interested in seeing what the fuss is about before the Academy Awards airs, you’d best buy tickets, otherwise wait.


The King’s Speech is now in theaters.