Film Review – Submarine

Submarine (2010, dir. Richard Ayoade)
Starring Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine

The directorial debut of British comedic actor Richard Ayoade has drawn unfair criticism for “being too much like Rushmore or Amelie”. Its easy to see how you could mistake this film for something like that, but after viewing the film it becomes apparent Ayoade has made an homage to French New Wave cinema. Ayoade takes those hipster affectations he’d being excused of exploiting, and actually frames them in a poignant look at the hyper-urgency of the adolescent mind.

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Film Review – The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terence Malick)
Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Sean Penn

“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” – Stanley Kubrick

In the first hour of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life we see the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies, the violent volcanic upheavals of land masses on a young earth, and the evolution of animal life. This massively cosmic scope is sandwiched in the middle of an equally intimate examination of a young boy in smalltown Texas during the 1950s. Malick presents all of this in the form of a prayer, beginning with The Mother (Chastain), a red-haired aging woman who receives a letter that her son has died overseas in the Vietnam War. She must relay this news to The Father (Pitt) and the entire scene is done with as a little dialogue as possible. We also have the surviving eldest son, Jack (Penn), in present day still struggling with childhood anger towards his father and the loss of his brother. All of these plot pieces are purely interpretive though. What I stated in the most obvious, traditional narrative way of describing the film, but much more in happening underneath it all.

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Best Television 2011 – Jan thru June

When I’m not watching movies…I’m probably working my way through a television series. These are my favorite television programs that I have watched the first half of this year. It’s a mix of both old and new, from the States and the U.K.

Game of Thrones Season 1 (HBO)

Hands down the highest quality drama on tv the first half of the year. I remember seeing the teaser commercials for this, didn’t really know much about George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, I’m not the biggest high fantasy lit fan, so I came into it with moderate expectations. How those expectations were exceeded. This is the first drama since Lost that has gotten to me so emotionally. Martin and the people at HBO understand you have to give a damn about your characters and then the worldbuilding can happen. This series, based on the first of four books, follows the members of the Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen. There’s a lot of political intrigue, espionage, a whodunit style story, and just basic character development that adds up to a television series that makes me blot out all other distractions when I watch it. HBO proves once again that, if you have a property you want to develop for television and want to have creative freedom to make it the best, you go to them. Never in a million years would the networks have the guts to take the risk on a show that is this amazing.

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Film Review – The Fighter

The Fighter (2010, dir. David O. Russell)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams

What is interesting about David O. Russell’s current film, The Fighter, is how the way the story is told parallels the situation our lead, Micky Ward (Wahlberg) finds himself in. He is the younger half-brother of  Dicky Eklund (Bale), a former big time boxer whose career fell apart after he became addicted to heroin. The opening scene of the film is about Dicky’s pomposity and grandiose nature overshining Micky. This is the situation Micky finds himself in consistently. Despite Dicky’s failings as a son and a father, everyone seems to love him and give him an infinite number of chances. Even Micky’s boxing career seems to be one big stepping stone in Dicky’s comeback. While The Fighter treads into dark territory it still comes off as the feel good movie of the year, in an honest way with its audience.

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Film Review – 127 Hours

127 Hours (2010, dir. Danny Boyle)
Starring James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Clemence Posey, Lizzy Caplan

Aron Ralston couldn’t be contained and he wasn’t going to let anyone hold him back from exploring deep canyons or scaling perilous cliffs. That rush of adrenalin as he tackled the impossible was everything, and like most addicts, he damaged a lot of relationships for the sake of his rush. Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) takes Aron’s story of survival and will and transforms it into something transcendent that becomes incredibly philosophic. The film succeeds based on two factors; the acting of James Franco and what is essentially a masterclass in film editing as storytelling.
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2010: The Year in Television

Looking back at 2010 there were a lot of highlights from television. Here’s the ones that standout as the most memorable for me:

The Lost Finale (ABC): After six years, Lost came to an end with a three hour finale that didn’t seek to solve the myriad of mysteries built up during the show’s run. Instead, the creators chose to focus on emotional closure. There are some valid criticism of the show’s six season, but overall I felt very satisfied by the way things ended. It definitely evoked some of the same feelings I had years ago reading The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Despite my own personal views on religion, I found the “spiritual” ending to not come off as hackneyed. It was also the hardest I’ve ever cried while watching a single episode of television.

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Film Review – Black Swan

Black Swan (2010, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

With Darren Aronofsky you know you will get something ambitious, whether its ambitious in its drama (Requiem for a Dream), its scope (The Fountain), or its simplicity (The Wrestler). Are they always winners? Nope, but they always bring forth a completely unique vision and experience. With Black Swan, Aronofsky is bringing together elements from all his previous work. You have the severe schizophrenic breakdown of a character, you have a hallucinatory transformations, and you have the destruction of the physical body for the sake of one’s art. The film also breaks the boundaries of genre by being both one of the best dramas and one of the best horror films of the year.

Nina Sayers (Portman) is one of the many dancers that perform at New York’s Lincoln Center. The prima ballerina of the company (Ryder) is on her way and out and the manipulative director, Thomas (Cassel) is looking for his new “little princess”. A re-interpretive staging of Swan Lake is in the works and Nina finds herself in competition with the new girl, Lily (Kunis). Lily works against the conventions of the ballerina, staying out late, dropping ecstasy, and being very laid back with her work ethic. Nina must also contend with her mother (Hershey) who is babies her daughter and attempts to mold her into the dancer she failed to be. Nina is suffering from strange abrasions on her back and is beginning to have intense nightmares about the ballet. All of this is leading down a dark and destructive path….or is she merely fighting against those who have constrained her since she was a child.

Everything about this film clicks, the performances are pitch perfect and the direction from Aronofksy hits on all cylinders. There is the return of the shaky handheld cinematography of The Wrestler that adds that vérité feel to the story. In direct contrast to the realism of cinematography there is amazing use of makeup and CG effects. The films does a great job in balancing the psychological horror, and will make you question deeply what events actually happen to Nina and which are the product of a fragmented mind. I was most impressed with how Portman manages to infantilize Nina’s behavior in very subtle and nuanced ways. She doesn’t babytalk, but the way she interacts with her mother and her director bring out her childlike mentality. Her rebellion against these forces of control is played naturally and its horrific outcome resonates in the mind for a long time after.