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By Anna

1. The Social Network

Fittingly fast-paced, The Social Network brings clever dialogue, great direction, editing, and a pithy soundtrack making it the best film of the year. Aaron Sorkin’s a Shakespearean master in this film, and the cinematography takes itself seriously in a film that might not otherwise be concerned with perfect camera angles—everything fits.

2. 127 Hours

Speed-induced. From beginning to end, director Danny Boyle doesn’t take us out of the action, but makes each thought and action real. Because of James Franco’s apparent propensity to his character, the film needs few others. 127 Hours shows us what film is capable of by giving us a story of a man whose most heroic actions cause him to disparage the title of hero and become selfless—sacrificing part of himself to do so. Boyle trusts his audience to get what he puts in front of them and satisfies every feeling he evokes.

3. Toy Story 3

As anyone who has gone off to college may know, the transition from being well fed and taken care of to being on your own is easier said than done. This is just what the gang finds out in Toy Story 3, but they grow closer to each other and the audience than ever before. It’s hilarious and heart wrenching with enervating suspense to boot.

4. The Kids Are All Right

Taking its audience through all the emotions of a lifetime, it’s no wonder I couldn’t pull myself together for a couple days after I saw this film. It is so well executed and acted (by all) that you feel a part of their family—understanding the fun, pain and anxiety of what can happen to any family.

5. Inception

When I first saw Inception, I thought it was the best movie I’d seen in years. Then I started to think about it more and more and realized it was a great movie, but couldn’t be the best, because it lacked that old fashioned storytelling rule: show, don’t tell. However, it’s in my top films of the year list because it’s an amazing idea, executed to the fullest extent of filmmaking possibilities, and leaves you just plain awestruck.

6. The Town

My initial review of The Town stays the same: it uses the emotional scenes not only to develop characters but to also build suspense to the next action scene. The audience wants action, and director Ben Affleck delivers without letting go of his mission of declaring war on the system.

7. Greenberg

Though this is the last on my list and the most likely to drop behind the following unseen picks, it’s still noteworthy because Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig, under Noah Baumbach’s direction, are infelicitous and ingenuous. Rhys Ifans role should also be noted in this quirky, lovable film.

Films I haven’t seen yet, but could very likely take a top spot (in no particular order):

  1. True Grit: If it’s better than the original film (for which John Wayne won his only Oscar), then damn if it won’t near the top of my favorites for the year. I only expect the best from Joel and Ethan Coen.
  2. The Fighter: We know what Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are capable of alone, but their being together can only mean greatness.
  3. Winter’s Bone: Nature v. nurture. This film by Debra Granik looks beautiful and thought provoking.
  4. The King’s Speech: A stuttering royal who is going to be king under the direction of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter? I’m in. Did I mention the royal was Colin Firth?
  5. Exit Through the Gift Shop: Banksy, Banksy, Banksy. You’ve got me more than intrigued.
  6. Somewhere: Each of Sofia Coppola’s films are more than magnificent, I expect nothing less from Somewhere.
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By Anna

I blocked so much of E.T. out as a kid—the “bad guy” scientists and the decrepit grayness E.T. became as he struggled to survive on earth.

I know, that’s practically the whole film, but what I remembered was the tenderness E.T. showed toward Elliot, Gerti and Mike.

Since most children’s first experience with death is the death of a pet, E.T. fits perfectly in relaying the message that even though those we love have to leave earth, they are always in our hearts and minds. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s a comfort to kids, and adults—earth slowly kills us all.

The film opens in the wooded forest of Northern California with E.T. being left behind as his family flees the humans hunting them. No one speaks for the first eight and a half minutes as John Williams’ score floods the green vegetation and ears of the audience.  This first eight minutes is a perfect snippet of the entire film’s simplicity: from Elliot showing E.T. who Boba Fett is to Elliot and E.T.’s final bike flying together. The story is basic, yet affects all of us on the deepest level. It is love and mystery that keeps humanity alive beyond reasonable understanding in a world that is full of violence and hate.

From E.T.’s first breath on earth all he wanted was to explore and find a place of safety (and maybe Reese’s Pieces), and Elliot gave him this.

Steven Spielberg created a masterpiece because he used a simple storyline and instilled the knowledge of E.T. and Elliot’s love in his audience, without having to explain anything—and we are enraptured by it.

Ebert’s review of E.T. was formatted like a letter to his grandchildren. He watched E.T. with them and was astonished at their critique of the film: “…the adults don’t take him (Elliot) seriously. A kid knows what that feels like.”

With childlike astonishment we watch, laugh and cry. In the end we remember truly what it was like to be a kid—riding around our neighborhood on bikes, and with tears, we watch E.T. leave earth.

By Anna

It takes a lot of patience and a lot of guts to follow (and watch) two boys from middle school age to college. If nothing else, that’s what makes Hoop Dreams a great film—persistent and patient filmmaking.

But Steve James’1994 Hoop Dreams is great for more than filmmaking. It’s got a little of a devil-may-care feel as it runs at 171 minutes with little mood-manipulating music. The documentary is raw and gets the audience into these boys’ lives so much that the viewer knows them.

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee for almost six years as they attempt to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NBA. As the young boys try to make it into a high school (and then college) with a good basketball program in Chicago, everything gets in their way: hormones, parents, drugs, school, injuries, and death.

Gates

Gates has a natural ability and can dunk the ball at 14. At St. Joseph’s High School he had a kid, injured his knee, and took the ACT four times to finally get the 18 he needed to attend Marquette University. His brother, Curtis, went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was “uncoachable” and ended up dropping out. He wants a better life for his brother. Almost 10 years after the film’s release, Curtis was murdered.

Agee

Agee worked at Pizza Hut for $3.35 an hour. He was recruited by predominately white St. Joseph High School, but couldn’t afford it after his sophomore year, so he attended public school (though St. Joe’s is still after him, but not for his skills this time, for his $1,300 in tuition he owes). Before his junior year, his dad left home and appears on and off screen and in his life until he was murdered in 2004.

Both attended St. Joe’s and hated academics. But they don’t talk about each other and, as far as we know, hardly knew each other. Gates started on Varsity as a freshman and Agee started on the freshman team.

Though Gates was the more naturally talented, Agee is the one to go onto the University of Illinois and succeed (even after having two kids of his own in junior college). Gates will finish at Marquette and become a real estate agent.

Spike Lee, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzeski all make appearances in the film (at the Nike Camp Gates attended), but nothing about the documentarian’s interviews with them or shots of them are glorified. They are not the story. Basketball isn’t even the story.

The story is found in the playground in inner city Chicago and in Agee’s mother’s words about wanting the best for her son no matter what she has to sacrifice (including having no electricity or water part of the time). And it’s compelling in the fact that after six years the filmmakers had a story, where they couldn’t be sure they would find one.

Like good art, Hoop Dreams has so much to offer that after every viewing the audience will walk away with more than they got the previous time.

Compiled by Ryan

The links:

-Arcade Fire have just released their Spike Jonze-directed music video for “The Suburbs.”

-Pavement will appear on an upcoming episode of Ace of Cakes.

-The creator of the Feed the Animals sample site has done the same for Girl Talk’s new album, All Day.

Several indie labels have left eMusic.

Jenna Fischer talks about her upcoming film A Little Help, which features original music from Jakob Dylan; you can also watch a trailer at that link.

-Alexander Payne is no stranger to adaptations, but his next project may take on a graphic novel.

By Nicolle

Britney Spears got married there. Katy Perry wrote a song about it. Friends’ Ross and Rachel woke up hitched there. The guys from The Hangover lost their friend on a rooftop there.

What is “there”? Vegas, course. Sin City, with its infamous motto of “What happens here, stays here,” is the place where crazy things happen – but you don’t have to tell anyone about them.

That is unless you get married, win a huge sum of money and try to get divorced and split the $3 million winnings, but a judge won’t let you because he’s sick of seeing Gen Y disregard the sanctity of marriage.

Unrealistic? Probably. But it’s the basis of the Cameron DiazAshton Kutcher rom com What Happens in Vegas. And while such a scenario is more than unlikely to happen in real life, what the characters inevitably learn along the ride is a lesson we could all stand to ingest.

After a wild night in Vegas where they end up hitched and win $3 million, main characters Joy (Diaz) and Jack (Kutcher) are forced to remain married for six months or receive none of their winnings.

(SPOILER) After six months of honesty, self-revelation and letting down their traditional relational defense mechanisms, Jack and Joy realize that they’ve fallen in love. Now, while I’d normally eschew such a predictable conclusion, this time I think the writers got it right. This lighthearted comedy unknowingly goes against the grain of usual rom coms and illustrates a different idea of the word “soulmate.”

The traditional definition of soulmate promotes an idea that there is one person on the planet for you. Once you find that one person (who you should fall madly, head-over-heels in love with instantly), you’ll experience no relationship difficulties, no hardships, no problems. Your feelings of passionate love will never dim, you’ll never want to look at another person of the opposite sex and life will be easy now that you’ve found your partner for life. “Soulmate” implies that if you miss that one person, you’re doomed to live a life alone, while all your soulmate-finding friends skip into the sunset of happily ever after.

That may be a little over the top, but you get the picture. The traditional definition of soulmate seems to necessitate a “right place, right time” idea of destiny, and places an extreme amount of pressure on any romantic relationship you have. Then, when that soulmate relationship falters due to normal relationship stresses, instead of sticking around to fight for what could be the best relationship for us, we feel we have the right to bow out because a relationship we have to work for isn’t what we signed up for.

Instead of searching for the person we think will make our romantic lives seamless, we should be paying attention to the people who challenge us to be better. The truth is, there are likely a lot of people with whom we are romantically compatible and with whom we could sustain a marriage. Because of that, the question we should be asking ourselves should morph from “Who’s perfect for me?” to “Who’s the best for me?”

If I think back to the guys I’ve dated and imagine myself married to any of them, I can come up with a ranked list of which fantastical marriages would be easiest. One of my high school boyfriends would be easier to be married to than the other because we share more of the same values. A marriage to one of my college boyfriends would be most difficult because the way his extroverted personality interacts with my introverted one is exhausting.

I’m not implying that we should date or marry someone for whom we have no romantic feelings, or that we should stay in a relationship just because we want to be married. What I do mean to say is that we shouldn’t necessarily be searching for someone who completes us perfectly, because our search will then be never-ending. Instead, we should be looking for someone who makes us better, who challenges us to be better versions of ourselves in constructive ways.

What we’ll find then is that while we’re focused on the betterment of ourselves and our significant others, we’ll become each others’ soulmates. In the process of putting our energy into our relationship instead of concentrating on whether we’ve finally met the perfect person, we’ll begin to grow into a version of a soulmate that redefines our traditional meaning.

A soulmate shouldn’t be something we search for. It should be something we strive to be as we interact, relate, learn, grow, understand, love and change with another person. It shouldn’t be accidental; it should be intentional.

While the fictional relationship saga of Jack and Joy wasn’t intentional, it does demonstrate that in our single-minded search for our soulmates, we run the risk of overlooking possible partners who have the potential to grow into the best relational match for us. And that’s the kind of revelation I hope doesn’t stay in Vegas.