Wrecked

YEAR: 2011

WRITER: Christopher Dodd

DIRECTOR: Michael Greenspan

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $4,821

 

Adrien Brody is a man who awakens to find himself in the passenger seat of a wrecked car at the bottom of a steep cliff. his leg is injured and there is a dead guy in the back seat.... it sounds like one of those brain teaser questions. you know the ones with answers like, "the doctor is his mother" or "he was standing on a block of ice.".... so, what happened? well, that's what we are going to find out over the course of the movie.

what i really liked about the film was how simple it is. the movie is basically brody and the forest. there are some flashbacks/flashes, but mostly we are in the present, in the woods crawling around as brody makes his way about trying to figure out who he is, what happened and just trying to survive.

before we even get to the crawling/limping around in the wood though we are in the car with him and we are there for awhile. the director michael greenspan and the screenwriter christopher dodd (i assume it was part of the script) make a pretty ballsy decision to spend the first 30 minutes of the film in the car with pretty much one solitary character.

while you might expect five or ten minutes like this, just to set up the character and the situation, 30 minutes is really taking a chance - and it is a chance that really pays off. i didn't even realize it was half an hour before he got out of the car until i went back after and checked the time. it really feels that it is as long as is has to be. and not as long, or should i say short, as they assume our attention span is these days.

to trust himself, the script, brody's ability to carry it and to not speed things up for a short-attention span audience i gotta give greenspan a nod to, what i like to call, some big cojones film making (check out my discussions of Hunger and Greenberg for definitions of "big cojones film making").

the end of the film does present us with answers and a bit of a twist on our assumptions, but not so much so that it feels ridiculous or forced. which is another way in which i meant the film is simple. amnesia/who-am-i films often feel the need to present us with this big elaborate story that the main character slowly figures out over the course of the movie with a bunch of twists and turns.

not to say that is always a bad thing, but in the context of this slow and quiet, basically one-man-play, it works so much better the way they did it. Wrecked isn't Unknown. and i appreciate the restraint. it makes the "ah ha" moment at the end of the film completely satisfying.

The Trip

YEAR: 2010

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: $1,090,768 (as of July 17th, 2011)

 

When The Observer asks steve coogan to tour the finest restaurants he asks his girlfriend to go with him. she can't, so he calls a bunch of friends and asks them to go. but none of them are available so he calls rob brydon and asks him.

now, if the names steve coogan and rob brydon mean nothing to you, than i can understand why maybe you haven't been as excited about seeing The Trip as i have. however, that shouldn't stop you from seeing it now.

the film is a very simple road/buddy movie in which steve and rob travel through the north of england while - among other things - eating great food, checking out the countryside and trying to one-up each other with their michael caine impressions.

i will admit that while i have been familiar with steve coogan for many years - since i discovered his brilliant tv show I Am Allen Partridge and then in films like 24 Hour Party People and Hamlet 2 to name a couple - i only became familiar with rob brydon when i saw him and coogan in Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story. in that film they have some great moments playing off each other and The Trip just lets them take that to the next level.

the film began its life as a series on the bbc which director michael winterbottom took and edited down into a 100 minute film. he took out much of what wouldn't be understood by a north american audience - like references and the like. and i think he did a good job with it.

i haven't seen the tv series, but i think the film stands on its own and the characters are defined enough that any audience, even those with no reference point to coogan and brydon, will get it. although, there are moments that might go by without recognition as they did for me (there was a Flight Of The Concords reference i missed and a couple celebrities mentioned that i had no idea who they were).

so much of the film is the two of them improvising while sitting and eating or sitting in the car. and while the first big laugh comes with the battling michael caines, the funniest scene has to be the two of them riffing on the line "we rise at dawn!"

beyond the laughs, the film is about these two friends who are about the same age, but at two different places in their lives.

brydon has a wife and a kid. coogan has an ex-wife and a kid. he still dates and chases women and is on a break from his girlfriend and lives alone in a lonely apartment. brydon is well-known in the U.K. and is content with his career. coogan is better known internationally but is still looking for more fame and recognition. you get the idea...

for those who are a little more in-the-know about these guys and the history of their work, their careers, etc, their relationship in the film might bring with it even more recognizable layers and understanding. but for the rest of us - like i mentioned earlier - it isn't an issue. you don't sit there thinking you are missing out on anything. the film is put together really well and the ideas are simple and universal.

Midnight In Paris

YEAR: 2011

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

BUDGET: $30 Million (estimated)

GROSS: $33,637,833 (as of July 3rd 2011)

every time i see those classic white title cards, the same ones he uses for every single film, i can't help but be excited with the anticipation of what is to follow. i am a huge woody allen fan and even though he has been hit and miss since the late 90s, he had been pretty much all "hit" in the 20-30 years prior to that that i know there is always the chance of something great. just look at Vicky Christina Barcelona!

his films are like an old friend. you know those friends that you can go years without talking to but the moment you see each other again its as if no time had passed. well, it had been a couple years since i'd seen a woody allen movie, but the minute Midnight In Paris started it was "hello old friend."

the film begins with a lengthy montage of paris images taken over the course of a complete day from light to night with music playing over top. when i say lengthy, i mean it goes on for the whole instrumental tune and probably 30 seconds to a minute longer than most directors, and definitely most studios, would allow. but it is perfect.

like new york in Manhattan and barcelona in Vicky Christina Barcelona, paris is as important to Midnight In Paris as anything else. in those films (and many others of his) the cities are characters. from the way he shoots the films (often framing the characters so as to put the scenery/city as the main focus) to the way the characters talk about the cities and their surroundings.

then there is the talking. there is no way you can listen to a woody allen movie and not know it is a woody allen movie. his style is so wonderful and specific and the instant i heard it in this film i had yet another "hello old friend" moment.

as i have also said in the past, this specific writing style isn't conducive to all actors. the dialogue and style of conversationalism that allen creates just leads to some actors seeming very forced or uncomfortable. thankfully he has usually been good at finding performers that get it and i was very happy to see that owen wilson was one of them. wilson, and everyone else in the film, give very good performance and do justice to a film that feels like it is a movie that woody has been leading up to making for a long time now.

without giving anything away, the film covers people and ideas that his characters in the past have only talked about. whether it was alvy singer in Annie Hall or Isaac in Manhattan to name just a couple, he has often talked about, quoted, argued over and complained about many of the people that make appearances in this film. from gertrude stein to luis buñuel. in Husbands And Wives he plays professor gabriel roth, who says, at one point, that he often thinks about moving to paris.

given all that, i only wish he had made this movie earlier so that he could have acted in it. but, regardless, you can add Midnight In Paris to the "hit" column.

El Rey De La Montaña (King Of The Hill)

YEAR: 2007

WRITER: Gonzalo López-Gallego (screenplay), Javier Gullón (screenplay & story)

DIRECTOR: Gonzalo López-Gallego

BUDGET: ?

GROSS: ?

nope, this isn't a spanish live action movie based on the animated tv series. There is no football or chubby little kids or neighbors who talk in a mumbled speech. however, what happens to the characters in the film, while it might seem very surprising to most everyone, would probably not come as a shock to dale gribble - the most paranoid character on the show - who always thinks people are after him.

El Rey De La Montaña (King Of The Hill) begins with a man stopping to get gas. he goes to the bathroom while he is filling up his car and in the bathroom he meets an attractive woman and they have sex. i know, it sounds like a good thing right? well, in this case it begins a chain of events that lead to him, and said woman, running through the woods being stalked by unknown snipers.

who are these snipers and why are they after them? we don't know (i guess calling them "unknown" snipers in the previous statement kind of implied that didn't it?). eventually we get a little info about what is going on, but it really is just cursory. and that's enough.

this is a thriller that gets its thrills from throwing these characters into a very scary situation and putting us there with them. until near the end of the movie we are just as scared and confused as they are. where do we run, how can we hide, what do we do? that is what creates the tension and it works.

for awhile i thought that maybe we would never know who the snipers were or why they were doing what they were doing. and part of me was kinda hoping that was the case.

many times films spend the bulk of their time building questions and giving away very little, only to throw it all at you near the end. i just find that, often, when not done properly, this leads to disappointment when the explained is bigger than the movie or when the explanation seems to negate a lot of what we had seen throughout the film and looking back it feels like they were even hiding the clues from us and the big "surprise" was all that mattered.

however, in the final act of El Rey De La Montaña (King Of The Hill), we do get a look at it from the sniper's side - and while this threatened to diminish the movie for me, it ended up being alright. just like the rest of the film that was simple and didn't rely on lots of back story or character development beyond what they go through because of the situation they are in, so too is the "sniper's story/explanation."

once you see the film you will probably immediately recognize the scenario/story from a number of other films that have done it (i would name them, but in so doing it would be a little spoiler). and i would have to say that El Rey De La Montaña (King Of The Hill) is the one that has done it best!

The Fast And Furious Series

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: 2001, BUDGET: $38,000,000, GROSS: $144,533,925

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS: 2003, BUDGET: $76,000,000, GROSS: $127,154,901

TOKYO DRIFT: 2006, BUDGET: $40,000,000, GROSS: $62,514,415

FAST AND FURIOUS: 2009, BUDGET: $85,000,000, GROSS: $155,064,265

FAST FIVE: 2011, BUDGET: $125,000,000, GROSS: $186,165,450 (as of May 22nd, 2011)

WRITERS:

1) Ken Li (magazine article "Racer X"), Gary Scott Thompson (screen story), Gary Scott Thompson & Erik Bergquist & David Ayer (screenplay)

2) Gary Scott Thompson (characters), Michael Brandt & Derek Haas & Gary Scott Thompson (story), Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (screenplay)

3) Chris Morgan

4) Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters)

5) Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters)

DIRECTORS:

1) Rob Cohen / 2) John Singleton / 3,4,5) Justin Lin

 

LET US BEGIN

i had seen The Fast And the Furious in the theatre when it came out and i had liked it. i thought it was a fun, summer car/action movie and i remember seeing ebert and roeper on The Tonight Show at the time arguing about the film (roeper wasn't impressed and ebert argued that it was, and i'm obviously paraphrasing here, a fun summer action/car movie).

but that was it. i hadn't seen any of the sequels that followed and hadn't been that interested in seeing them - until the trailer for the fourth film a couple years ago. i thought that the trailer was pretty cool. but, given that i hadn't seen the two previous films, i had to watch those before checking out number four (i have a bit of a problem/obsession with the need  to watch things in order). needless to say, i didn't get around to watching 2 Fast 2 Furious or Tokyo Drift at the time, so i never got to see Fast & Furious 4. but then a few months ago i started seeing the trailers for Fast Five...

and those looked even cooler than the ones for the fourth film. so, this time i went and got my hands on the first four films leading up to checking out Fast Five when it came out a month ago. and this is what i saw...

 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

watching this one again years later, i will say that it basically holds up. it is by no means a great movie. but it is a fun time with cool cars and, now having seen all five films, it is the second best of the series. what also surprised me a little, after seeing all the films, is how important vin deisel is to the franchise.

as i rewatched The Fast And The Furious i was struck by the dichotomy of the thoughts i was having. the fact was that, while mr. diesel was not giving a great performance, he was definitely carrying the film and a strong presence on screen (and i don't think it is only because he is a big guy). he was the leader of the crew and the leader of the film... and his value to the films and the franchise was only made more evident as i went on to watch the next couple films in the series...

 

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS

although he really has never come close to matching what he did with his first film, Boys In The Hood, i keep being at least a little curious to see what john singleton does (although less and less so as he keeps disappointing). and 2 Fast 2 Furious did nothing to improve his post-Boys In The Hood track record... this thing is awful! the film feels forced – and this is something that i noticed not only in this one, but in all three of the middle films in the series.

look, we all know that these films are about the cars and the driving and the action therein – and that’s cool. but just don’t make it so obvious that you don’t care about anything else. at least make it look like you tried to have an original thought and write a good script. instead this film and the two that followed are all generic stories fitted into the Fast & Furious universe with excuses for car action that don’t always feel plausible.

In 2 Fast 2 Furious, walker’s character is caught by the cops and brought back in to go undercover. He brings in an old friend, tyrese, and you got yourself a buddy action movie. the cars come into play cause they go undercover as drivers and we even get a big car action sequence as the criminal boss man sends all his potential drivers out to retrieve a package in order to test their skills. okay, ill give it to them. the car stuff is plausible here. but that doesn’t save the film from being predictable, and poorly written. some of the dialogue and plot points felt so over used and obvious.

i heard that the studio had also commissioned a script for a scenario in which vin deisel returned for the second film. i wonder if that one was any better?

 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT

Tokyo Drift is kind of the odd man out of the franchise. not only do neither of the series stars appear in the film (vin deisel has a 30 second uncredited cameo at the end, but that’s it), but there is no story connection to any of the other movies. in fact, chronologically, this movie actually takes place after the fifth film and probably any sequels that will come in the future (there is no way to know this, but for the fact that a character that appears in the fourth and fifth films actually dies near the end of the third one).

what you have here, with Tokyo Drift, is your standard “fish out of water” story: kid from the states is kicked out of so many schools that his mother sends him to japan to live with his dad (who of course was never there for him growing up). he has to adjust to a new country, and a new culture and a new kind of fast driving – drifting. and of course there is a girl and fighting over her, etc... did you see the Karate Kid remake with jaden smith? well, think of Tokyo Drift as the Karate Kid remake, just with fast cars and the yakuza instead of karate and an evil sensei! it is still better than the second film though!

as for car action: i will say that the use of the drifting as the driving style was a nice change of pace from the previous two films. these drivers are incredible and watching them drift around tight corners and along mountain roads is very cool. however, remember earlier when i mentioned how the films felt like excuses for the car action? well, the climax of Tokyo Drift is the most laughable example of this.

in said climax, the main character proposes a race to the yakuza boss. he will race his nephew and the loser must leave the country. the yakuza boss, angry at his nephew, agrees and tells his nephew to race! it makes no sense and isn't believable at all, but hey, they had to get a big car climax (like all the films have) and this was he best they could come up with!

 

FAST AND FURIOUS

for this one they went with a "revenge" storyline. vin deisel is back and on the hunt for the man who killed his girlfriend (michelle rodriguez) and nothing/no one will stop him (think Taken and Edge Of Darkness and about 100 other movies). paul walker is also back and hunting down the same guy for the fbi (cause we all know that the fbi regularly hires cops who, in the past, have aided in the escape of criminals they were undercover to apprehend).

of course the big drug guy just happens to be looking for drivers to traffic his heroin across the mexico-usa border and will select his final driver from the winners of a street race. this films excuse for car action harkens back to the second film and how that bad guy needed drivers and tested them out via a car action sequence as well. so, although it is plausible, the originality factor is zero - maybe it was meant as an homage? well i guess in a way it actually was, because it is almost as bad a film as he second one.

it is nice to have vin and paul back together again and mr. deisel does bring a weight to the film that is missing in the previous two. but it just really wasn't good. in fact, it is actually pretty boring between action sequences.

 

FAST FIVE

given how the series had been going and given how disappointing the fourth film had been, i was maybe not expecting as much from Fast Five as i had been before seeing the previous films leading up to it. but, this one turned out to be a good flick and the best of the series.

for this one they went with a "heist" movie premise and the classic "one last job then we're out" story - but unlike the other generic story lines of the previous three films, this one worked. it was like they actually put a little thought into this one

they brought back all the main characters from the previous four films, which was fun to see. the heist planning and executing (two things that are very important in the heist movie genre) were exciting and well done. casting dwayne johnson as the counter point to vin deisel on the other side of the law was a great choice also - and their big fight scene was great (so much better then the boring fight between the two wrestlers in The Expendables). and finally, the must-have climactic car action sequence in Fast Five is by far the best in the entire series.

this is a really good summer car/action movie - and as the previous three films proved - those aren't as easy to make as you might think. after three weak films, the franchise had fallen into a rut, but Fast Five has pulled them right out of it.

 

FAST AND FURIOUS 6?

everything about the fifth film seemed to suggest it was the going to be the last one. they brought back all the characters from the previous films. the heist in the film is supposed to be "their last one." even the credits at the end of the movie show images from the various characters over the course of the series as if to wrap things up. it all pointed to an end - until halfway through the closing credits. i won't tell you what happens, but let's just say that as i left the theatre a sixth film seemed very likely (and i have since read that it is pretty much a certainty). and i wouldn't be surprised if more are to come after that. let's just hope we don't have to wait another three films before we get a good one again!

Defendor

YEAR: 2009

WRITER: Peter Stebbings

DIRECTOR: Peter Stebbings

BUDGET: $3.5 million (estimated)

GROSS: $37,606

 

the last decade has seen the the super hero/comic book movie seemingly take over hollywood. every year they are releasing and rebooting more super heros and every company that can is delving into whatever comic vault they can find looking for a comic hero that they can turn into a movie (and hopefully a franchise of course).

as we all know, when a certain genre of film starts to get really big, what the next thing to happen is (after everyone trying to make a movie in said genre). first you get the parodies: Superhero Movie. then you get films that some might call post-modern parodies (although, i appreciate that that term, "post-modern" is somewhat overused and/or used incorectly).

these are films that take a reflective and self-aware look at the genre, deconstructing it while playing within it (the little pretentious man inside of me got very excited as i wrote that). the "everyman" superhero theme is a big one here and films like Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World come to mind. and then there is the film, Defendor.

woody harrelson plays arthur poppington. a man who comes to believe he is a superhero, Defendor. he has tasked himself with fighting the evil in the city as part of his large quest in search of "captain industry" - the man who killed his mother.

while films like Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass seem to be winking at us the whole time, as if to let us know how smart they are and how aware they are of what they are doing, Defendor never does that. and i say that to point out differences, not to, in any way, diminish those other films (Scott Pilgrim was on my best of the year list last year and Kick-Ass just missed the list).

what was unexpected about Defendor was how genuine it was. while there are some very funny moments, the movie is also quite dramatic, touching and real. from the questions of arthur's mental health, his friendship with a teenage girl and even down to the color scheme which plays in the darks and greys and cloudy skies. and these aren't comic book greys, or gothem city darks. it is just a cloudy city.

this is a concrete world. a world outside our window - not inside a comic book. and although there is the superhero element to it, peter stebbings (the writer and director) is more interested in the "hero" part then the "super.

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.

Tulpan

YEAR: 2008

WRITER: Sergei Dvortsevoy & Gennadi Ostrovsky

DIRECTOR: Sergei Dvortsevoy

BUDGET: €2,150,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $156,331 (as of August 30th, 2009)

i was trying to think of a way to describe Tulpan and the thought that first came into my head was that it was like Seinfeld. how can a film that takes place on the dry and dusty kazakhstan steppes be anything like Seinfeld you ask? well, one way to describe Tulpan would be to say it is a film about nothing - at least on the surface.

remember that episode of Seinfeld when george is pitching the idea for a show about nothing to nbc executives and he asks them what they did that day? one of them responds to the effect of, "i got up. brushed my teeth and had breakfast and came to work." and george enthusiastically responds, "that's a show!"

if george had been talking to the characters in Tulpan, they would have responded in russian and kazakh and they would have said something like, "got up. herded sheep, got water and supplies from the old truck that came around. protected ourselves from a dust tornado that swept over the deserted land. made food using elementary tools. sat around and had a meal with family. went to bed all aligned on the floor of our yurt." and george would have responded, "that's a movie!"

the camera takes us into their world almost as a documentary would. i don't mean that in the way that the camera work is, as some assume when the term documentary-style is used, all hand held. but rather in how the story is told.

the film is like a "day in the life" of these characters (actually it is more like a couple days). some scenes linger longer than they would in most films and some scenes portray very simple and daily tasks that might be easily cut out of other films. but not this one. because that is who these people are. that is how we get to know them and care for them and experience a culture and connection with their environment that many of us have never seen or experienced or considered.

on the surface Tulpan is such a simple film in its production and storytelling. but it is also completely engaging in the experience that when the main character has his big revelatory moment i felt the smile on my face and throughout my entire body.

Narc

YEAR: 2002

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Joe Carnahan

BUDGET: $7,500,000 (estimated)

GROSS: $10,460,089

about 3-4 years ago on the podcast/website i talked about a film called Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane. it was director joe carnahan's first film, and with Smoking Aces having just come out, i decide to go back and see where he had started. however, none of that would have happened if it hadn't been for his second film - and the first one of his i saw - Narc!

it was because of Narc that i recognized his name when Smoking Aces was released and it was because of Narc that even though i wasn't that enthused with Smoking Aces, i wanted to see what else he had done. i recently watched Narc again to make sure it was as good as i remember it from back when i saw it in the theatres years ago. and it was!

The film is about the investigation of the murder of an undercover police officer. the investigation is stalled and the higher ups are desperate to put the case to bed. the investigation is passed to the cops partner (ray liotta) and an undercover narcotics officer (jason patric) who had recently been let go from the force after an incident during his last operation.

the film reminded me a little of the movie Training Day (it was released prior to that film though) in how the main characters are presented - at least initially. like ethan hawkes character in Training Day, jason patric appears to be the moral center of Narc. and like denzel, liotta is the larger-than-life, do-what-needs-to-be-done cop. however, unlike Training Day, Narc isn't as black and white (no pun intended).

although carnahan may present the characters to us that way in the beginning, you can't take them for granted. because the truth isn't so easy. using the cinematography, the colors, the characters and a strong script, carnahan creates a film that lives in the grey. whereas Training Day likes to think it presents the grey. but really, when it comes down to it, it's pretty black and white.

and one can't talk about this film without mentioning ray liotta's performance. he has done some great work, but this is one of, if not his best. he owns the screen. he is a force and a physical presence. not to dismiss jason patric, who is also great and more than holds his own against the force of liotta's character.

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