Friday, December 28, 2007

There Will Be Blood - The 10 Best Movies of 2007

If we have learned anything about the 2007 movie season, it's that many movies - ranging from 300, to Grindhouse, to No Country For Old Men - gave a literal meaning to the phrase "bloody hell." Throats were slit, bullets went flying, and blood was spurting everywhere like confetti at Times Square on New Year's Eve. But but behind the gore of the movies of 2007, some gave a meditation on our nation's violent nature, or how a person's life and soul could be lost through a killer's murder spree. So what do some of my movies on my top 10 list have to say about our violent nature? Listen up.

1.) Eastern Promises - No other movie this year has left a lasting impression on me more that David Cronenberg's crime thriller about the Russian Mafia and how the diary of a dead Russian prostitute could bring the crime ring down. Viggo Mortenson gives the performance of the year as Nikolai, a member of the Vory V Zakone caught in an ethical trap between loyalty to the crime boss, Seymone (played the wonderful Armin Mueller-Stahl) and to a London hospital midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts is superb) who reads the horrifying diary. Mortenson fighting off two thugs in a Russian bathouse naked is by far the most memorable scene this decade, but the final frame where the young girl speaks about why she left Russia to sell her body in London with Nikolai seated, staring on, as if the young girl was his conscious, is flat out haunting.

2.) Into the Wild - Remember the name Emile Hirsch. His portrayal of the true-to-life story of Christopher McCandless and his tragic journey into the wilderness of Alaska to connect with nature and with himself is a bona-fide contender to rival Johnny Deep and Daniel Day-Lewis for the Best Actor race come Oscar time. Credit also cinematographer Eric Gautier for capturing the Alaskan wilderness with intense beauty and terror and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam for his haunting original songs. Did I mention that it's Sean Penn who wrote the screenplay and directed this visual and emotional knockout of a epic drama? Penn's direction and passion to tell Chris's tragic - yet inspirational - story of man vs. nature vs. self, will have conservative types praising his American masterpiece, if not in secret.

3.) Ratatouille - You'd think that the tale of Remy, a rat who dreams of becoming the best chef in Paris, France, by controlling the actions of a garbage boy named Linguini, would spell desperate and disaster, right? Not unless you're the wizard animation studio, Pixar, who have a knack at turning the most bizarre cartoon story-lines into a work of art and an animation master writer/director in Brad Bird at the helm. Oh, and the great Peter O'Toole voicing one of the most moving lines of dialogue i've hear all year as a ego-driven food critic helps pay dividends. More than just a first-rate family film that will even have adults watching again and again and another homerun for Pixar Animation Studios, its also a beautifully written, directed, and acted love letter to Paris, France.

4.) 3:10 to Yuma - What exactly does Christian Bale have to do in order to garner an Oscar-nomination? His strong performance as a farmer with a bum leg helping a banking company to send a condemned robber-barron/murder Ben Wade (another award-caliber performance from Russel Crowe) on the train to Yuma to hang for his crimes is the best i've seen out of Bale. And Ben Foster is scary good as Wade's sadistic, right-hand man killing machine. Fresh off his acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, director James Mangold brings the grittiness and suspense of a western movie back, along with the look and feel of one. It's a piece of old nostalgia and an ode to a genre of filmmaking that has long since been forgotten.

5.) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Who knew Johnny Depp could sing? And who knew that a musical could fuse graphic bloody violence, song and humor, acting, and tragedy into one amazing show so beautifully and hauntingly? Tim Burton has prided himself on making bizarre, gothic movies as a pathway to the soul, but here, he, Depp and his wife, Helen Bonham Carter, have out done themselves in Stephen Sondheim's musical about a barber returning home from 15 years of false imprisonment who seeks revenge on the judge who took everything from him (including his wife) and on mankind, and the landlady who loves him, psychopathic murder he may be and turns the slaughtered customers into meat pies. It's Burton's best work since Big Fish and Depp's ticket to a possible Best Actor Oscar win.

6.) No Country For Old Men - Beyond Joel and Ethan Coen's tale of drug money, the regular Joe who takes it out of greed, and the trail of blood, violence, and dead bodies it leaves across West Texas, the film forces us to stare face to face with the dehumanization of our society that is no country for anyone, nevermind old men, but one for which murder, greed, and despair have taken over. Brilliantly shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, and first-rate acting by Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly MacDonald, Josh Brolin and an unforgettable turn by Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh who rival Hannibal Lecter himself in movie villainy, the Coen Bros have not only returned to form, but they've made their best movie since Fargo and the criminally underrated O Brother, Where Art Thou?. You don't want to miss this cat-and-mouse thriller that has horrible outcomes for all the main characters involved.

7.) Grindhouse - What sick, twisted minds would - or for that matter - could, come up with a three hour love letter to a double feature of hardcore action, rampant sexuality, grizzly violence, and the feeling of sleazy, cheap entertainment? Try Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who both made their own feature-length movies back-to-back, with fake trailers in between. Rodriguez's half, Planet Terror, is campy, out-of-control fun with the look of a grindhouse picture (the picture was digitally scratched for effect and a reel is missing), with Rose McGoawn putting asses in the seats as go-go dancer with a machine gun for a right leg, but it's Tarantino's half, Death Proof that has the soul of a grindhouse, presents us with the most exciting car chase since The French Connection, and the comeback performance of the year in Kurt Russel as a womanizing stalker/serial killer with a sweet 1970's Dodge Charger as his weapon of choice. This three-hour thrill ride is the shot of adrenaline movies have been needing for far too long now.

8.) Zodiac - A friend had told me she had seen David Fincher's crime drama about the true story of the serial murder that captivated - and scared - the city of San Francisco and said that it totally confused her. To be perfectly honest, it confused me as well. After a second viewing, I had come to realize that Fincher is one clever filmmaker. The film was never meant to make its audience find out who the real killer was. Fincher's purpose was to show how three men - a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, a city detective, and a cartoonist - had become obsessed with the elusiveness of the Zodiac killer and how it took over their lives. Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, and Mark Ruffalo turn in strong, haunting performances as the three men who's job is to find the murderer becomes an obsession and ultimately ruins their lives as a result for the Zodiac.

9.) Juno - How much do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. I love it's hilarious and bittersweet screenplay by newcomer Cody Diablo, who is bound to receive an Oscar. I love how Ellen Paige blends Juno's biting sarcasm and heartbreak about being pregnant into something of an art form. I love how the film's fresh and sharp dialogue can cut like a razor to where you can see and feel the marks it left. I love how the films original songs sound and feel unique as if the songs themselves reflected Juno's conscious. I love how director Jason Reitman allows Michael Cera, Jason Baitman, Jenifer Garner, and Ellen Paige to be both comic whimsy and surprisingly human with its characters. It makes one wonder, though: Why can't Hollywood make more movies that are as funny and touching, in the area of the teen years, ans Juno?

10.) The Great Debaters - Don't write off this inspirational sports drama/coming-of-age/true story about Melvin Tolson and his African-American debating team from Wiley College beating the Harvard debating team on national radio as a movie running on the same, tired cliched coattails of other great sports films. Instead, this move documents the growth of James Farmer Jr. and his other teammates and how they become apart of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Kudos to director Denzel Washington (yes, Denzel Washington) for making the cliched tactics of spots movies into inspirational and moving pieces of work. You won't know what hit you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Random Notes: The Holiday Special

First, I would like to say that I hope that everyone had a great Christmas day and that you all got what you wanted for the holidays. I know I did, but more on what I got later. We're a few days away from the end of another crazy and unpredictable year, and there's so much I wanted to comment on about what's been happening, so without further ado, here's Random Notes: The Holiday Special (listed in order of importance).

1.) Chargers wrap up AFC West for 2nd straight year: After beginning the season 1-3, the inconsistency of Philip Rivers as quarterback and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, the boos and calls for Norv Turner's head from the fans, and the lack of stellar performances from the team in general, San Diego got their act together and clinched the AFC West title for a second straight year. My boys have won five straight ballgames, including the Monday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos, 23-3, and with a win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Chargers will have clinched the no.3 seed in the playoffs. With Rivers playing well, LT having another record-breaking season, a wide receiver that can actually catch the ball (think Chris Chambers), and a defense that's allowed fewer than seventeen points during their streak, the Chargers could make some serious noise heading into the post-season. Well done Chargers, keep it up! GO BOLTS!!!

2.) Sweeney Todd: Raising the Bar on Bloody Hell: For the holiday season, if you're looking for a film that is safe, enjoyable and fun for the whole family, read this review of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street no further, and watch Alvin and the Chipmunks or some other crap. For those who want to watch Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton raise their game to the next level, make their best movie since Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, Ed Wood, and have a bloody good time witnessing it, then step right up and watch one of the year's very best movies and a sure-fire contender come Oscar time. Depp, who has never sung a note before (the movie is 90% sung), plays Benjamin Barker, a barber who's freedom, his wife and his baby daughter were stolen from him by Judge Turpin (a creepy Alan Rickman). The bastard makes some trumped-up charges to send Barker away for 15 years in prison and send himself into rape mode on his wife. Barker returns to London to learn through the landlady, Ms. Lovett (the wonderful Helen Bonham Carter) that his wife killed herself and Turpin plans on marrying Johanna (Jayne Wisener), Sweeeney's daughter. And off to the bloody races we go from there. Todd vows vengeance on Turpin and his protector, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall), and on mankind (as he sings in his solo Epiphany), while Ms. Lovette makes meat pies downstairs of the men that Sweeney murders. Sweeney Todd is not only the best bloody time you'll have at the movies all year, but it's a movie that will stay with you, long after the credits roll. Depp's fusion of acting and singing to tell the tragic tale of Sweeney Todd might finally win him the Oscar for Best Actor (that is, if the voters don't faun over Daniel Day-Lewis's turn as an oil tycoon mad with money, greed, and oil in P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood). And Burton's magnificent direction, along with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, and production designer Dante Ferretti, make this tale of love, loss, and revenge the stuff of nightmares for some, but a wet dream for goths and emo kids.
***1/2 stars out of ****

3.) Benazir Bhutto Assassinated; World Leaders Mourn, Condemn killing: Terrible, terrible news to speak of.
From Moscow to Washington to New Delhi and points in between, dismay and condemnation poured forth Thursday over the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, along with concern for the stability of the volatile region. World leaders lauded her bravery and commitment to democratic reform. In India, which has fought three wars against Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Bhutto is irreplaceable, and noted she had striven to improve relations between the two nuclear-armed countries.

"I was deeply shocked and horrified to hear of the heinous assassination," Singh said. "In her death, the subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country."

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, who met Bhutto earlier on Thursday in Islamabad, said he was "deeply pained" by the assassination of "this brave sister of ours, a brave daughter of the Muslim world"

"She sacrificed her life, for the sake of Pakistan and for the sake of this region," he said. "I found in her this morning a lot of love and desire for peace in Afghanistan, for prosperity in Afghanistan and ... Pakistan."

That's all we know at the moment. I'll try and add as many updates as I can.

4.) Another Spears is pregnant: No, its not the once pop-princess, now has-been, trailer trash , wannabe Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan party girl Brittney. It's her sister, Jamie Lynn of Nickeloden's hit tweener show, Zoey 101.

Another Spears baby is reportedly on the way and it's not Britney's.

Jamie Lynn Spears, the 16-year-old "Zoey 101" star and sister of Britney, told OK! magazine that she's pregnant and that the father is her boyfriend, Casey Aldridge.

"It was a shock for both of us, so unexpected," she said. "I was in complete and total shock and so was he."

Spears is 12 weeks along and initially kept the news to herself when she learned of the pregnancy from an at-home test and subsequent doctor visit, she told the celebrity magazine, which hits stands in New York on Wednesday and the rest of the country by Friday.

What message does she want to send to other teens about premarital sex? "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait," she told the magazine. "But I can't be judgmental because it's a position I put myself in."

After she found out from a doctor that she was pregnant, she said, "I took two weeks to myself where I didn't tell anybody."

The only thing I can say about this story is this: Congratulations to the Hilton family: they're no longer the most dysfunctional family with a vapid, media seeking whore for a daughter.

5.) Christmas Gifts: My Christmas seriously kicked every manner of ass. For X-mas this year, I received the following items:
From my mom - jeans from Quicksilver and LRG, a new sweater, a wine-colored jacket, two new shirts, a $25.00 gift cars from Starbucks.
From my dad - A Chargers jacket with removable hood, an iPod Nano 8G, and the first season of the HBO original series, Entourage.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Into the Wild & No Country For Old Men

Here are my reviews of Into the Wild & No Country For Old Men, two of the best movies of the year. Enjoy!

Into the Wild - Say whatever you want about Sean Penn's politics, but as he writes and directs the true story of Chris McCandless, the college student who went "off the grid" and spent two years traveling America and surviving the Alaskan wilderness before succumbing to his death via eating poisonous berries, his adventure drama celebrates the life of a then modern-day youthful and angry McCandless and the courage to find himself in the Alaskan Wilderness, and the beauty and terror of venturing into the wild to spiritually connect with nature. Emile Hirsch gives the breakout performance of the year, digging deep to show Chris' rebellious spirit and his painful demons. On his travels, Chris meets an assorted cast of characters, such as South Dakota farmer Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn), a married hippie couple (Cathrine Keener and Brian Dierker are excellent), and a veteran widower, Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook shines). All of these strangers, although they never meet, highlight Chris' secret desire to have a family he never had. His sister, Carine (narrated thought most of the move by Jena Malone) explains the secrets Walt (William Hurt) and Billie (Marcia Gay Harden) hid from them growing up and the constant war that was raged between them. Cinematographer Eric Gautier brilliantly captures the exquisite beauty and terror of the American wilderness and Chris' journey through it. Pearl Jam fromtman Eddie Vedder haunts the audience with his songs about the wilderness and Chris, as if he was his soul. But Penn's direction is simply breathtaking, and his passion to tell Chris' tragic - yet inspiring - story jumps right off the screen. Into the Wild is a story that comes from the heart.
**** stars out of ****

No Country For Old Men - For fans of Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo, Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, etc., good news: they're back. And in bloody, prime form. No Country can easily summed up by the opening monologue by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): he speaks about how his generation went from not being able to carrying a pistol to putting a teen to the electric chair for murdering his fourteen year-old girlfriend, saying, "he'd been fixin to kill someone for as long as he can remember. Said if I let him out of there, he'd kill someone again. Said he was goin' to hell. Reckoned he'd be there in about fifteen minutes." Behind the film's graphic and grisly violence, the Coen Brothers show us a soulless, violent America that is no country for anyone, let alone old men like Sheriff Bell. There are many elements that make this American crime thriller one of the year's best movies, most notably the performances from Jones, representing disillusioned men of the law, and Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, representing the average Joe stuck in the middle between doing the right thing and taking the law int their own hands when push comes to shove. But it's Javier Bardem who reigns over No Country as the psychopathic killing machine named Anton Chigurh. Not Since Hannibal Lecter himself has a movie villain been this diabolically evil and fascinating at the same time. From the cattle stun gun he uses to the sick game he plays where calling the right coin flip might save a person's life, Bardem's Chigurh represents the total evil in humanity. Joel and Ethan Coen, who both share writing and directing duties, are in top form. The scene in which Chigurh and a gas station owner are engaged in dialogue is as scary good and as amazing as anyone will ever see this year. Cinematographer Robert Deakins works with light and shadow with such ease, and gives the movie its suspense-filled atmosphere. The real bleak magic that oozes from No Country For Old Men is silence. It is the howl of the wind, the shadow from the mountains, and the blowing of the dry, desert that will send a chill down your spine. The dreadful feeling that tragedy is on the horizon hangs over the heads of Llewelyn, his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald), Sheriff Bell, and Anton himself; knowing very well that they can't stop what's coming.
**** stars out of ****

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Busy, busy, busy!

I know, I know.

It's been almost a month since i've posted anything about my life, what Bush scandal has me pissed off, which movie i've seen, or what new article for the Ranch Review I can post and show off my mad skills as a journalist.

I am sorry for the lack of posts, but the semester's just about wrapped up and there's a lot to be accomplished for my classes.

Anyway, It's December, we're a few weeks away from Christmas and saying good-bye to 2007 and ushering in 2008.

And yet.....

I can't explain why, but I usually find myself feeling depressed this time of year.

Maybe it's because of the screwed-up state of our nation that has me in a Christmas funk. Or perhaps it's the final year of high school and I realize that the friends i've made will be moving on, as will I. Maybe it's both. I don't know.

Anyway, this is where I am right now: somewhat in a melancholy funk.

I'll be back to doing more posts for the remainder of the month, including Charger's talk, NFL playoff predictions, movie reviews, politics, fuck-ups from the Bush White House, and top ten lists to celebrate the people, movies, and stories of 2007.