Loft

YEAR: 2008

WRITER: Bart De Pauw

DIRECTOR: Erik Van Looy

BUDGET: €3,200,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $7,075,161 (Belgium)

i found Loft during one of my browsing-through-netflix movie days. Except for the very brief synopsis i knew nothing about the movie besides the fact that it was a dutch-language belgium film. then it started playing and although there were subtitles, i understood what the characters were saying. did i speak dutch all of a sudden? was i like george in that episode of Sienfeld when he stops having sex and becomes a genius and is able to learn portuguese in a few minutes? nope, i hadn't somehow osmosised the dutch language into my vocabulary... they were speaking french. for some reason, netflix is presenting this dutch-language film, dubbed in french with english subtitles. go figure.

now back to Loft...

Loft is a mystery/crime/thriller about five married friends who share a loft that they use as a place to take their mistresses and female encounters. one day they find a dead women in the loft... what happened? well, i could tell you, but i won't.

the story is told mostly through flashbacks as the men are questioned by the police and the film does a nice job of revealing enough, but not too much too soon. and i will admit that i had certain suspicions, but until all was revealed, i wasn't able to figure out how it had played out. you will be trying to figure it out though.

the story is well put together and it isn't, as is sometimes the case with mystery/thrillers, so convoluted that when certain things are revealed you feel cheated. although, i wasn't sure who had done it, or why, as the pieces came together, i saw that the clues had been there and i had ignored them (actually, i had picked up on a few of them, but then dismissed them and allowed myself to be misdirected). the film builds nicely and the director does a good job of creating an ambience of tension with the score, the editing and the cinematography.

ridiculous language/dubbing issues aside, Loft is worth a look next time you are browsing through netflix wondering what to watch. although, if you could find it in it's original language with subtitles than of course go for that one.

p.s. it looks like there was a 2010 remake of the film made in the netherlands. and an upcomming, 2012, american remake that is being directed by the director of the original film, erik van looy

Drive

YEAR: 2011

WRITER: Hossein Amini (screenplay), James Sallis (book)

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn

BUDGET: $15,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $21,417,373 (as of September 25th, 2011)

i'll admit that i haven't been as frequent a visitor to the local cineplexes this year as i was, say, last year. i say that because that might help explain why it has taken till now to find a film that has definite "top 10 of the year" potential. sure, anything is possible - and i do plan on catching up on movies i missed via the dvd route, but if Drive doesn't make my "best of the year" list this year i will be very surprised.

ryan gosling plays a nameless hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire. he is a man without a past (at least not a past that we are ever told about). he is quiet and a loner. and then he meets his neighbor, carey mulligan, and her son. a bond begins to grow and when her husband gets out of jail and an event occurs that could threaten carey and her son, the driver must take matters into his own hands to protect them.

if the story and the characters sound simple and archetypal, that's cause they are. this is a "super hero" story. and it's funny (not funny ha ha, funny interesting) because just a day or so after i wrote this discussion i heard an interview with the director nicolas winding refn, in which he called the film a super hero story and a fairy tale.

while i get what he was saying about the "fairy tale" i personally kept coming back to the "super hero" thing. and even Unbreakable. now, while Drive doesn't take the same ode to comic books approach that Unbreakable does, both films are playing in that obvious and archetypal playground and doing it really well.

both films are genuine and earnest about it also. they aren't doing the ironic, winking or self-referential regular-guy-turns-super-hero thing like Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or Super (all films that i like by the way).

i didn't think of it till a few days after i saw the film, but as the whole super hero thing and Unbreakable connection continued to play in my head another moment stuck out. in Drive's final act, as he goes after one of the bad men, he does so wearing this full prosthetic, pull-over face that he had used for some driving scene in a movie he was working on. you with me here? a MASK of course! this "ah ha" moment lead back to unbreakable and the poncho/CAPE that bruce willis is wearing when he finally realizes his climactic hero moment.

it's funny (again, not ha ha!) cause in the interview winding refn talks about his love for john hughes and such films from the 80s that were able to pull of corny and sweet. now, i wasn't thinking john hughes or pretty woman or any such films watching Drive. But it is impossible to miss the 80s reverence in the film. from the bright pink and cursive writing of the credits to the casio keyboard pop music of the soundtrack. ya, it is a little corny at times but winding refn knows it and owns it and is able to make it work.

if i was going to make any director comparisons it would have been michael mann. but not for the Miami Vice-like music and pink writing (actually, doing some web surfing made me realize that Miami Vice didn't have the cursive writing, but GTA: Vice City did - which is an ode to the 80s and Miami Vice so it counts right?). the mann comparison is most evident in how the film is able to capture l.a. at night and winding refn's use of quiet and his ability, one minute, to slow the pace of the film within an action movie and then, the next minute, create intense action and/or tension.

Drive is a film that, not only rises above the "action" genre, but above most other films you will probably see this year.

The Final Destination Series

FINAL DESTINATION: 2000, BUDGET: $23 million GROSS: $53,302,314

FINAL DESTINATION 2: 2003, BUDGET: $26 million GROSS: $46,455,802

FINAL DESTINATION 3: 2006, BUDGET: $34 million GROSS: $54,098,051

THE FINAL DESTINATION: 2009, BUDGET: $43 million GROSS: $66,436,248

FINAL DESTINATION 5: 2011, BUDGET: $47 million GROSS: ?

 

WRITERS:

1: Glen Morgan/James Wong (screenplay), Jeffrey Reddick (screenplay & story)

2: J. Mackye Gruber/Eric Bress (screenplay & story), Jeffrey Reddick (story & characters)

3: Glen Morgan/James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

4: Eric Bress, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

5: Eric Heisserer, Jeffrey Reddick (characters)

 

DIRECTORS:

1,3: James Wong / 2,4: David R. Ellis / 5: Steven Quale

 

up until a couple weeks ago i hadn't seen any of the Final Destination films, but with the fifth one on the horizon i decided this was going to be my next series discussion so i started watching them all leading up to number fives release.

i remember when the first one came out in 2000 and i saw the trailer and i thought, "huh, that looks like a kinda interesting premise, maybe i'll check that out." well, i didn't, but why that is important is that skip ahead to 2002 and the release of the second film and there i am watching the trailer for that one and thinking, "hold on a second. isn't that the exact same premise/story/idea as the first film?"

the same thing happened with the release and trailer of the third, fourth and fifth films, but i didn't believe my eyes. as much as each film, based on the trailers, appeared to be the exact same thing, just with different actors/characters, i couldn't imagine that was actually the case. as lazy as hollywood is and as unoriginal as much of what they give us is, this seemed to take it to a whole other level. so i went in to this marathon viewing of the entire series really curious to see how different the films actually were and how wrong my trailer assumptions had been. now, having seen all five films i can tell you that i was soooo NOT wrong! and when trying to think about how to discuss the films, the first thing that came to mind was mad libs!

the film Final Destination __(film number)__, begins with a __(type of huge accident)___. after witnessing the accident we are brought back to the present moment and see that it was all just a premonition seen/felt by the main character __(name of premonition-having main character)____. however, as the their premonition begin to occur for real they start to freak out and warn people what is about to happen. no one believes them, but in their freak-out they end up saving a few of the others from certain death.

in the days that follow the first couple of survivors end up getting killed by some pretty random chains of events, like ___(random chain of events, another random chain of events)___. at this point the remaining survivors figure out that death is coming after them in the order in which they were supposed to have died in the __(type of huge accident)___. the rest of the film is them racing around trying to stop it from happening while figuring out how to get around deaths plan as more of them are killed in even more random and gruesome chains of events, like __(random and gruesome chain of event, another random and gruesome chain of events)___.

as i watched all five films i had taken notes about things to talk about. things like how the second film makes reference to the accident in the first one. and how, the way the characters figure out how to get around death's plan isn't the same in all the films. also, in some of the films the "premonition" character gets clues as to who the next victim will be and how they will die, but in the other films there are no hints at all. i was also going to mention that the fourth film, called The Final Destination seemed very much like it had been set-up as the last film in the series (the opening credits recap all the various ways people had died in the previous three films. the use of "The" in the title The Final Destination). and there was some more. but to be honest after watching all five movies i couldn't get over how they were basically all the same film.

i talk sometimes about "big cojones" film making. the idea of a film maker taking some real risks with story or characters or style. and how they trust the intelligence of the audience to go with them, when it's done well, and appreciate not being talked down. well the makers of the Final Destination series have shown big cojones, but in the complete opposite way!

rather than do something new or different or go against the grain in some way, they gave us the same film five times! actually, that is going against the grain. i can't think of any other film series that has produced such replica films. they made one movie five times and what makes me even angrier is that it worked. none of the movies were huge hits, but they all made a profit - obviously enough of one that they kept making them.

and its not like they tried to hide what they were doing either. The trailers put it all out there. like i said earlier, i hadn't seen any of them and yet i knew, based on the trailers, that the films were all copies of each other. they were brazen and incredibly obvious about it. now that takes balls!

i picture the film makers/producers/studio like the two old guys from Trading Places making a bet over how many of these Final Destination movies they can make before people realize what they are doing and stop going. then when we, the audience, have wasted our money and time watching the same thing for the fifth time we overhear them talking and laughing about it as one of them hands the other a one dollar bill! (if anything, this should make you want to avoid seeing anymore Final Destination movies and should make you want to go watch Trading Places again).

The Rocky Series

ROCKY: 1976, BUDGET: $1,100,000 (estimated), GROSS: $117,235,247

ROCKY II: 1979, BUDGET: $7,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $85,182,160

ROCKY III: 1982, BUDGET: $17,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $124,146,897

ROCKY IV: 1985, BUDGET: $30,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $127,873,716

ROCKY V: 1990, BUDGET: $42,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $40,123,474

ROCKY BALBOA: 2006, BUDGET: $24,000,000 (est.), GROSS: $70,261,813

WRITER: all films written by Sylvester Stallone

DIRECTOR: John G. Avildsen (Rocky, Rocky V), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky II, III, IV, Rocky Balboa)

 

LET US BEGIN

up until a few months ago i could have only said with certainty that, of the six rocky films, i had seen the first (Rocky) and the last (Rocky Balboa). as for the four in the middle, i knew i had seen at least one of them and probably parts of others. but i couldn't be sure what i had actually watched and what i thought i knew because of how those films have engrained their way into popular culture and been made reference to by many people i have known over the years. so, that being said, i came across the entire collection in a well-priced box set a little while back and decided it was time to watch all of them in order. and that is what i did...

but where to begin? rather than just discussing each film separately i feel that the series needs to be discussed as a whole. because it really is one complete story told in six parts. and, although some of those parts are a whole lot better than others, they all play their role in the Rocky saga. but lets start with the best of the six parts. Rocky

released in 1976, it was the first in the series and is the only academy award winning film of the bunch. now, whether it deserved to win that year, given the competition, is another story. but, it can't be denied that this is a great film and shouldn't be diminished because of how bad some of the sequels were, or because it has almost become a template for so many, much lesser, movies that have followed over the last three decades.

 

ONE COMPLETE STORY

the first indication of how attached all these films are to each other comes right when the second film begins. Rocky II begins right where the last film left off. (the films begin with the last scene of the previous film in order to set things up - like on tv when they do a "previously on..." recap). and this is how each of the next movies start also - except for the sixth film, Rocky Balboa.

what i really appreciated about the rocky story is the character arc over the course of all six parts. looking at each film on its own doesn't really do justice to the story and character stallone created here. there is a real growth to rocky over the course of the six films. he becomes champion, he loses the title, he deals with fame and money and heartbreaking loss and brain injury and coming to terms with getting older.... and stallone as an actor really does shine here.

say what you will about his acting abilities outside of the Rocky films, but rocky balboa is one character that he nailed. maybe because he felt so close to the character because he brought so many personal elements to it and the films (especially the first one which, like rocky's title fight, was like his big - and probably - last chance). but whatever the reason, the development of the character and even some of the subtle changes throughout the films are wonderful. he is a real person and stallone encompassed him brilliantly. it isn't all good though...

 

ROCKY IV

like i said before, i don't want this to be a discussion/recap of each film individually, but Rocky IV bares mentioning as not just the worst of the Rocky movies, but as an outright really bad film!

for those of you who don't remember (or have tried to forget) Rocky IV is the "cold War Rocky" as i like to call it. it is the one where he fights ivan drago the russian. the film begins with an american boxing glove and a russian boxing glove colliding into each other and exploding (and that is maybe the most subtle symbolism/moment in the film). and don't forget the end of the film where rocky - through his determination and his will not to get knocked out by the more powerful drago, actually wins over the tough russian crowd and knocks drago out. and if that isn't bad enough, he gives a final "why can't we all just get along" type speech and earns a round of applause from everyone - even the serious and tough government officials. just writing about it is making me laugh/cringe!

 

STALLONE WRITER AND DIRECTOR

stallone wrote all six films and he took over as director after the first one and directed the rest of the films save for the fifth. and what is interesting to see if you watch all the films back-to-back like i did, is stallone's growth as a director...

earlier, i made a little joke about the lack of subtlety in the opening sequence of Rocky IV (and the entire film in general). however, that can be said about much of stallones film making throughout the series. the films are very obvious - which is in interesting contrast to the rocky character that stallone created. while he is a big character there is also some genuine subtlety and nuance to his journey over the course of the series...

it almost feels like stallone's real interest was the rocky character and his evolution and journey and that the stories and situations around him were just a means to an end. at least for the middle films (which all came out three to five years apart). the first one stallone didn't direct and had obviously spent the most time writing and thinking about. it was his baby. his last chance - and it shows in how complete and great the movie is.

the next four movies all came out over the next 14 years (Rocky was released in 1976 and Rocky V came out in 1990). it then took 16 years (2006) before he made Rocky Balboa. and again, this time with the material and thinking about the character and himself later in his life made for another really good movie (the second best of the saga).

 

AN HISTORICAL THOUGHT

i hadn't thought about it till just now, but it is interesting to notice that the two best films in the series (the first and last film) are the ones where rocky doesn't win the fight at the end. which opens up a whole other conversation about when the films were made.

the first one came out in the 70s when auteur film makers ruled (coppola, scorsese, friedkin, lumet) and broke many of the standard rules of story, endings, film making, etc... look at the ambiguity at the end of The French Connection. does anyone really win at the end of Apocalypse Now? etc...

then came the 80s and the tone of america and of films changed. the cold war was heating up again. and after the recession of the early 80s, it was "morning again in america" to quote ronald reagan's 1984 campaign slogan. greed was good, america was strong and the "good guys" were heros and they always won. no matter the odds (look at the rambo movies, the chuck norris films...). ROCKY II thru V were released between 1979 and 1990.

then with the late 90s and 2000s we have entered what i see as a melange - excuse my french - period of film making with film makers working with and against conventions and long held ideas. and it is here that we get Rocky Balboa in 2006 going back to its roots and having rocky lose the fight, but emerge victorious by just going the distance.

it is as though in breaking with the classic hollywood formula of the victorious hero (that stallone had relied on for Rocky II, III, IV and to a certain degree V) stallone found a deeper truth of character and story.

 

RECAP

you can visualize the complete Rocky saga as a "V". the first film is one of high points of the "V". Rocky II isn't as good (therefore going down one side of the "V"). Rocky III is worse than the second and the fourth film - the worst of the series - is the bottom point of the "V" (you get the idea: Rocky V is better than the fourth and Rocky Balboa is the other high-water mark of the series).

watching all six films in a row over a short period of time did two things...

1: it had the effect of making the problems with the films more obvious: if you wait three or fours years between movies you might not remember that the last film followed the exact same underdog, train hard, montage, win fight formula as the one you are watching. and some of the obvious/hit-you-over-the-head dialogue and script devices might have been forgotten from the last movie.

2: it made it much more obvious what was so great about the series: If you had seen the films in the theatre when they were released it would have been 30 years from Rocky to Rocky Balboa. with that much time passing you are probably not going to notice how well rocky develops as a character or the arc he takes throughout the saga. watching them spread out makes each film much more of an individual entity and the over reaching story of this man that stallone is telling, probably can't be appreciated in the same way.

2011 Oscar Predictions

 

WILL WIN are in bold

DID WIN are  big

MY SCORE: 18/24

despite anne hathaway's efforts and enthusiasm, the 2011 academy awards will go down as one of the worst i have ever seen. not because of who won or lost, but i'm talking the show itself.

besides the funny put-the-hosts-in-the-movies opening, there was barely a laugh or moment of excitement to be found (except when i won the pool i was in of course). the remixed songs was fun and the bob hope part was nice (although, seeing billy crystal out there to introduce it just made it more obvious what a great host he was and how anne and james just couldn't match up). but other than that the show was pretty dull.

as for my predictions: i did ok this year. 18/24 isn't bad and i did get 2/3 in the shorts categories which is where many pools are often won or lost. however, there were a few categories that, looking back, i'm not sure what i was thinking. i think i got a little too into the idea that The King's Speech wave would sweep up other categories that i missed, the now-obvious, Alice In Wonderland in art direction and costume design. and those of you who listened to the prediction episode of the podcast know how close i was to going with the winners in editing, documentary feature and foreign film (but, alas i didn't). so 18/24 it is. one better than last year and my second best showing since i started doing the podcast. how did you all do?

 

BEST PICTURE
The King's Speech
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The Fighter

 

 BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams , The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Christian Bale , The Fighter
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo , The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

BEST ACTRESS
Natalie Portman , Black Swan
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Nicole Kidman , Rabbit Hole
Michelle Williams , Blue Valentine

BEST ACTOR
Javier Bardem , Biutiful
Jeff Bridges , True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth , The King's Speech
James Franco , 127 Hours

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Another Year , Mike Leigh
The Fighter , Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington
Inception , Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right , Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech , David Seidler

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
127 Hours , Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network , Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 , Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
True Grit , Joel and Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone , Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Biutiful
Dogtooth
In a Better World
Incendies
Outside the Law

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Inception
The King's Speech
True Grit

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
Black Swan
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Gasland
Inside Job
Restrepo
Waste Land

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan
Pamela Martin, The Fighter
Tariq Anwar, The King's Speech
Jon Harris, 127 Hours
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, The Social Network

ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP
Adrien Morot, Barney's Version
Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng, The Way Back
Rick Baker and Dave Elsey, The Wolfman

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon
Hans Zimmer, Inception
Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Coming Home” from Country Strong, Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from Tangled, Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from 127 Hours, Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING
Inception
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit
Unstoppable

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
Inception
The King’s Speech
Salt
The Social Network
True Grit

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Hereafter
Inception
Iron Man 2

Easier With Practice

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Kyle Patrick Alverez

DIRECTOR: Kyle Patrick Alverez (screenplay), Davey Rothbart (story)

BUDGET: $1,000,000 (estimated)

GROSS: ?

 

davey is an unpublished writer driving around new mexico with his brother giving readings of his short stories and trying to sell a few copies of his book. one night in his motel he gets a call from nicole. he doesn't know how she is, but they end up having phone sex - and so begins Easier With Practice.

as davey and nicole's phone relationship develops, he becomes more and more attached to her - even forgoing possible real girls and feeling like he is cheating on her if he does.

good performances, a good script and a nice soundtrack make this indie drama worth searching out. one of the things i appreciated about the film was that i wasn't sure where it was going. there were a couple times where i thought i saw where the story was heading and each time it didn't go there, or if it did, it went there and past it. the biggest example of this is the ending.

the obvious question that the film brings up is "who is nicole?" is she who she says she is? is she - as davey's brother jokes - an unattractive middle aged women with a bunch of kids who sells products over the phone? etc... (i'm sure we all have our own ideas of the possibilities right?).

well, for me this is the hardest part of the movie to get right. how do you end the film in an interesting and intelligent way, even though it might be exactly what some of the audience expects. well, they did it just right. the conversation that ends the movie is a really well written moment that feels original within a possibly obvious format and true to both characters involved.