Sunday, November 30, 2008


Sergei Bodrov shows the rise to power of Genghis Khan in the Kazakhstan film "Mongol," visually impressive and depressing, pretty well acted, and well directed. It's a very grand spectacle, as both a foreign film and as a sort of short epic, historical and also quite personal. Also, it's quite violent and shattering. I was left really in need of some cheering up after this film. I was also left with a typical ending of a film with a sequel (well, actually, two sequels coming soon): no proper ending to suit. That added to my already steady qualms about the film. Tadanobu Asano, who I've learned from IMDB is a supposed cross between Johnny Depp and Toshiro Mifune, plays Temudjin, the man who would eventually become Genghis Khan. He's mistreated quite a bit in his life, always on the run, three times imprisoned, and he lost his father at age 9, where the film begins. In the beginning, he picks his bride, Borte. He tells her he will come back in 5 years, but he in fact comes back later. He still gets to marry her, but he soon loses her to the clutches of the angered man who Temudjin's father stole Temudjin's mother from. As a result, he asks for help from his acquaintance that he made his blood brother, Jamukha (Honglei Sun), to start a war over his wife. This is one of the many battles in the film, which are some of the weakest parts of the film, what with too much over-the-top action and blood spurting that doesn't look so realistic. When "Mongol" in fact succeeds is in the moments of contemplative landscape that are offered quite regularly by Bodrov here, and they set the scene: no lack of bleak set pieces to depress, and a rare smattering of green pieces to delight us for a little bit. When the film veers into its violent moments, the screen shakes with cruelty, but the audience is left only depressed and a little bit disturbed. But really, the hits outnumber the misses on the most part, and the cinematography makes you forget most of the other problems. B+

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Family Man

Nicolas Cage is one in a million when it comes to playing nervous guys. He easily can become a ball of nerves, like in "Matchstick Men" or this film, Brett Ratner's homage to the classic Christmas drama "It's a Wonderful Life." Nic Cage plays Jack Campbell, an investment broker who came oh so close to marrying Kate (Tea Leoni), but instead decided to go to Wall Street. Hence, guardian angel Cash (Don Cheadle) sends him into an alternative universe where he did marry Kate. To his at first horrifying dismay, he is now a tire salesman, he has kids, and he bowls with his friends, especially Arnie (Brett Ratner regular Jeremy Piven). This is all set up so that Jack realizes how much he could have had. Cue ending where he tries to find Kate. "The Family Man" is smart, funny, and a Thanksgiving favorite (for what reason I don't know). The chemistry between Cage and Leoni is very, very taut and well-done. But its real success sprouts from the comedy, especially when Cage shuns suburbia with the outburst on funnel cake, and also, when he finds a bottle of liquor in his desk, he remarks "I must of needed this every single day." Priceless. But the movie unfortunately stumbles quite a bit. It's also aimed slightly more at kids and adults than it should be. All jokes pertaining to Jack and his daughter were not very funny at all. Plus, during the end, during his big meeting with his past love, he actually thinks that he can have kids that he had in a dream. The exact same kids. Not likely. But getting beyond small problems and overall desperation to appeal to a wide audience, "The Family Man" really works, as it is a throwback to the great natures of the old filmmaking days. B

The Incredibles

Most Pixar films have been made better by a single performance. In "Ratatouille," it was Peter O'Toole as critic Anton Ego, and in "The Incredibles," it is Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible. The genius of his performance is a man whose ambitions are too big for the small cubicle, car, or shirt (take your pick) he is stuffed into. But he is not your normal suburbanite. He's a man truly having nostalgia: he was a superhero, but he was relocated to suburbia. As was his wife Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) and his kids, Dashiell (Spencer Fox) and Violet (Sarah Vowell). It is a family of supers. So, when Mr. Incredible gets fired from his job after he launches his boss (Wallace Shaun) a locker, he gets the chance to go back to the good old days and gets to help debunk a learning robot. But he soon finds this is the scheme of his biggest fan, turned bitter after Mr. Incredible wouldn't let him be his sidekick. He is name is now Syndrome, and he used to be Buddy Pine. The actor playing him, Kevin Smith regular Jason Lee, seems to have a blast in his ridiculous villanous role. His scheme: to make himself look super by staging and then fixing disasters. Also, he wants to make everyone a superhero, so then, to quote him "no one would be [super]." This film's set-up feels great, but its execution suffers, as it is targeted at both adults and children, so the jokes are aimed at both, 75%-80% of them at the younger ones. What I am getting at is that Bob Parr's size and other features tend to be less exaggerated later on then earlier. The film has a good ending, but the film isn't the comedic powerhouse it could be. B+

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott-Thomas has been having a great year in 2008. The first production I saw her in was Anton Chekov's "The Seagull," on Broadway. She played Arkadina, Konstantin's dramatic and troublemaking mother, in such a fine performance that I was blown away and was looking for more. I got more of the same greatness in "I've Loved You So Long," where Scott-Thomas sticks to her chops and pulls off a magnificent acting job as Juliette, fresh out of prison after 15 years, and into the home of her sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein). She moves in for a while to adjust to real life again, life outside of jail. We soon find out her crime, and even later, how and why she did it, but it would spoil most of the film to tell about. To describe Juliette, I would say quiet, sad, and gruff. He sister: exactly the opposite. I also note that this is a cinematic year for black sheep in families: Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" and Scott-Thomas in this primarily. Anyways, Juliette slowly but surely adjusts and slowly but surely bonds with Lea's adopted daughters from Vietnam, P'tit Lys (Lise Segur) and Emilia (Lily-Rose), primarily P'tit Lys, as she somehow has both a relationship as a mother and sister figure. We are like P'tit Lys: the plot unravels for us just as it does for her. We find out a little faster, though. There is not much else to describe here: the film is basically just about Juliette and Scott-Thomas' comeback as an actress. The film's also about the acceptance of a prisoner back into society, and it gets deeper than just what crime they committed, saying that one who commits a crime shouldn't just be pinned a terrible person just because of what they did. As for how good the film is, there is a big hole where the depth should be. There is not enough information on the characters: a character's death is quizzical, with no information as to why they passed away. The film itself is too climactic and is also not climactic enough: its final scene is way too heavy-handed, while its other scenes sometimes just don't have enough purpose here. The score consists of a few notes played over and over and over again. Maddening. Also, against Scott-Thomas, although Marion Cotilliard picked up Best Actress last year for "La Vie En Rose," the Academy doesn't usually reward foreign films. The reason Cotilliard got a statue was because she played a pop icon who sang, as opposed to the contemplative fictional role where Scott-Thomas acts. Plus, the performance might take back seat to such a great performance by Melissa Leo in "Frozen River," the best performance of the year so far. Scott-Thomas, though, is fabulous, transcending languages. B

I've Loved You So Long has an unsettling twist that is worthy of a PG-13 rating.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Warren Beatty's 1981 film "Reds" is arguably one of the best epics of all-time. It is one. It isn't the same kind as "Lawrence of Arabia." Instead, it is more of a performance-driven romantic drama, headlined by a spectacular performance by Warren Beatty as communist John Reed, a man who is so heavily devoted to his party that he seems rarely to have time for his wife, Louise Bryant, played quite as splendidly as he by Diane Keaton, who got a Best Actress nod as well as his Best Actor nod. Also making an appearance is Maureen Stapleton, in an Oscar-winning turn, as Emma Goldman. But the one who steals that show is Jack Nicholson, in his best performance since "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as Eugene O'Neill, who he portrays as a heartbroken lover of Bryant, and the scene where he finds out she chose Reed over him is one of the movie's highlights. The other highlights include Beatty and Trevor Griffith's screenplay, filled with hilarious lines that Beatty and Nicholson recite to the max, and fantastic cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (winner of an Academy Award for his great job) that captures the barren snowscapes of Russia and the beauty of Provincetown. The great thing about this movie is that it is long, but not unbearably long, and it is watchable. I know a little bit about this because I've seen films that are a half an hour shorter that seem much, much longer in mental time. This film is just about perfect, making the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution interesting and also adding quirks such as the humorous song "I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard," that is a real charmer. As for other notables, a supporting performance by Paul Sorvino as Louis Fraina as the leader of the Communist Party in America (Reed headed the Communist Labor Party), and also an uncredited cameo by Gene Hackman. Bottom line: this film will go down in history as a great epic, with the likes of "Schindler's List," and "Lawrence of Arabia." A

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Pierce Brosnan is fantastic as James Bond in 17th James Bond film, which shows that the 90's were Bond's golden age. This film has it all: a great Bond, a very good plot, a unique villain, great action scenes, Moneypenny, Q, Judi Dench at her best as a female M, and the best villain sidekick in the series to date: computer geek Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming). The plot is a thing of beauty: Bond and 006/Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean of "The Field," "National Treasure," and the Lord of the Rings series) are on a mission when Alec is caught and, in order to finish the mission and make it out alive, Bond resets the 6 minute timers to 3 minutes and barely escapes, while Alec's face is mutilated and while he turns to the dark side. We rejoin Bond nine years later, sent on the scene to stop a crystal known as GoldenEye, which powers satellites to destroy cities. When he goes to find the villain, he finds the villain is Alec, now Janus, and he's supercharged and ready to take down Bond at all costs. And there are other dangerous sidekicks: Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) and Arkady Ouromov (Gottfried John). Also, there are other interesting Bond allies, Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) and Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), who each reprise their parts, JW in "Tomorrow Never Dies," and VZ in "The World is Not Enough." As for a Bond girl, there is Natalya (Izabella Scorupco). Desmond Llewelyn is brilliant in his antepenultimate film as Q in his small scene that is hilariously gimmicky, and Judi Dench's first film as M is also top-notch, showing that she can take on comical parts as well as more serious roles. Samantha Bond's Moneypenny is also good. But the film's-and the franchise's-strong suits are the action scenes, which here are very, very good, the best involving a tank piloted by the agent himself. These scenes are strong not only in their way of being action-packed, but also adding witty and inventive touches to them, possibly courtesy of Martin Campbell, who crafts a great film here. The gadgets are also strong in this film, the best being a pen that can turn into an explosive with three clicks. In other words, this is the definitive Bond film, which hasn't been matched so far yet. "GoldenEye" is my favorite Bond film, a fast-paced, well-done, well-written piece that showcases a new Bond. A-

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flick Pick Hall of Fame List

Just as a starter for a potentially bigger project. The following are people who have made the film business a great place, crafting, acting in, directing, and filming movies that are great:
Charlie Kaufman
Francis Ford Coppola
Paul Newman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Christian Bale
Gus Van Sant
Mel Brooks
Jim Carrey
Peter Weir
Robert Redford
Ralph Fiennes
Daniel Day-Lewis
Sidney Lumet
Jonathan Demme
Michael Palin
Terry Gilliam
Nicolas Cage
Robert Duvall
James Stewart
Jeff Bridges
Marlon Brando
Wes Anderson
Gene Hackman
Dustin Hoffman
Bill Murray
Jack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Robert De Niro
Al Pacino
Anthony Hopkins
Ben Kingsley
Tom Wilkinson
Sean Penn
Woody Allen
David Mamet
John Cleese
Peter Sellers
Samantha Morton
Tim Robbins
Morgan Freeman
Clint Eastwood
Jonathan Pryce
Clive Owen
Spike Lee
Casey Affleck
Don Cheadle
George Clooney
Brad Pitt
Jack Nicholson
Buster Keaton
Warren Beatty
William Holden
Kevin Spacey
Cate Blanchett
Harrison Ford
Steven Spielberg
Pete Postlewaite
Alex Gibney
Terrence Malick
Errol Morris
Alfred Hitchcock

More to come!