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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Time for the big move…

Posted by goldwriting on January 24, 2009

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[photo credit]

Just a quick note to let everyone know the site will be down tonight (1/24) at midnight for about an hour or so. We are moving onto a new server and planning out a whole new design flow, which I am extremely excited about. Tonight is only the server migration, but the new design will be unleashed in the near future. The site will have more content, more functionality and even more movie linkage (if that is even possible). Thanks for reading and hope you all are having an amazing weekend!

Coming Soon: Defiance

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The 81st Academy Award Nominations: The Big Show Goes Small

Posted by goldwriting on January 22, 2009

oscarDo you know how long I have been waiting to duel with someone. Seriously! I have the sword and everything.

For movie fanatics all over the world, this is the morning we wipe our crusted eyelids, roll clumsily out of bed and collapse on the couch to see the live announcement of the Academy Award nominations. It is more than a testament to the passion we have for cinema, it is a statement of how much we want to quickly and violently debate the fairness of the Academy’s choices. So, let the debate begin…

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

What can anyone do to stop the steamrolling power of the Slumdog? Pretty much nothing. Sweeping every category it was nominated in at the Golden Globes, Slumdog has all the momentum and all the passion of an Oscar winner. It’s uplifting, full of hope and adversity, and overall everything the Academy voters love to rally around. When it wins for Best Picture it will also help paint the picture of the Academy as a more international accepting body of voters. I give great credit to Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon for both being incredible films, but I don’t see them climbing over Slumdog for a win. Milk to me is over-nominated and I would have gladly let this one go in favor of The Dark Knight or Revolutionary Road. My disappointment over the snubbing of The Dark Knight isn’t truly due to thinking it would win the category, but because it would have given some validation to the comic book genre and really helped to boost the idea that these are not just costumed vigilantes on a violence bender, they are incredibly complex and moving stories available to be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. As for The Reader, Ricky Gervais must have been right when he told Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “See, just do the Holocaust movie and awards just come rolling in.”

Best Achievement in Directing

David Fincher: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard: Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant: Milk

Stephen Daldry: The Reader

Danny Boyle: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

This is the first time since 1944 where there is an exact match between the Best Picture category and the Best Director. Commonly the two awards go hand-in-hand, but there is usually one oddball or mismatch between them. Not this year and my feelings remain pretty much the same from the previous category. Danny Boyle will walk away the winner.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Richard Jenkins: The Visitor (deserves to win)

Frank Langella: Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn: Milk

Brad Pitt: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke: The Wrestler (most likely winner)

Now here is some excitement and tension for the night. The inclusion of dark horse Richard Jenkins throws a distinct wrench in the celebratory plans of Mickey Rourke, who took the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. Jenkins hands down deserves the nomination and I am pulling for him to win. All these performances were incredibly strong, which could split the voting and leave Jenkins available for the sneak attack. The big money is on Rourke because of his Cinderella-esque return to the limelight, but I’m personally hedging my bets and putting some small change on Jenkins. Sean Penn can proudly stand here as the one thing I agree with in terms of nominations for Milk. He was the lightning rod for this film and it all hinged on his stellar performance. Langella and Pitt both were terrific, but the momentum and buzz are not behind them this year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Josh Brolin: Milk

Robert Downey Jr.: Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt

Heath Ledger: The Dark Knight (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

I was thinking about just leaving this area with one word, “Duh”, but that would steal my opportunity to praise and shout for the nomination of Michael Shannon. He was the most outstanding and powerful part of Revolutionary Road and I am thrilled he got the nod here. Yet, with that said, let me now return to my previous thought…

“Duh.”

Ledger takes this.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married (deserves to win)

Angelina Jolie: Changeling

Melissa Leo: Frozen River

Meryl Streep: Doubt

Kate Winslet: The Reader (most likely winner)

Who is Melissa Leo and what is this film, Frozen River? Pulling a repectful Jenkins-like move, Leo throws this semi-strong category into a whirl. Hathaway and Winslet are the two obvious front runners, with Hathaway almost sure to take the Independent Spirit Award the night before the Oscars and Winslet still fanning herself off after the double grab at the Golden Globes for both her roles this year. Holocaust subject matter aside, I think Hathaway was stronger in her role as an ex-junkie struggling with reintegrating herself into her own family, where as if Winslet had been nominated for Revolutionary Road instead of The Reader I would be more inclined to begrudgingly hand it to her. Streep can’t be totally counted out, especially since all four of the main actors from Doubt got nominations, but I think she will fall by the wayside here. Maybe when she lands there, she can bring Jolie a drink, she’s been down there all year.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams: Doubt

Penelope Cruz: Vicky Christina Barcelona

Viola Davis: Doubt

Taraji P. Henson: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei: The Wrestler (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Even though Vicky Christina Barcelona took home the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, I think Penelope is the only one is this category you can count out of the running. The two Doubt women, Davis and Adams, were both sensational, but they might end up splitting that audience in half. This leaves Henson and Tomei to battle it out, with Tomei a touch ahead since I think she only lost out on the Globe because she was battling Winslet on her night-of-all-nights. If Henson pulls it out here, she will most likely be one of very few of the thirteen nominations for Button that will result in a win.

Best Animated Film of the Year

Bolt

Kung Fu Panda

Wall-E (deserves to win, most likely winner)

I’m still baffled by all the acclaim for Bolt, but it really doesn’t matter this year. Wall-E lost out on a Best Picture nod most likely because everyone just wanted to give it this award and be done with it. Plan on Pixar walking away once again, proud of its tiny trashman.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Roth: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

John Patrick Shanley: Doubt

Peter Morgan: Frost/Nixon

David Hare: The Reader

Simon Beaufoy: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

There’s a good chance Slumdog will continue its reign here, but it’s a strong category so anything could really happen. The Reader has pulled in lots of support and you can count on a huge studio push for the win, but the rest of the pack are no slouches either. Shanley wrote the play for Doubt as well as the screenplay and he was already heaped with acclaim for the stage version (surprisingly, the same holds true for Morgan with Frost/Nixon). Hare succeeded greatly with taking an incredibly minute starting point, a much loved, but much thinner short story, so his skill and credit comes from the expansion and illumination of tale we are lucky to not have missed. Anyone’s game, but I’ll lean towards the Bollywood train based on sheer momentum.

Best Original Screenplay

Courtney Hunt: Frozen River

Mike Leigh: Happy-Go-Lucky

Martin McDonagh: In Bruges

Dustin Lance Black: Milk

Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon: Wall-E (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Again, this is a category where Milk really doesn’t fit. I don’t see it as an original story since it was a biopic and mostly a dramatization of the documentary, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. It’s a good film, but not what I consider an original story. Then there’s that mystery movie, Frozen River, once again. I really need to see this. Wall-E deserves writing acclaim without a doubt since the first twenty minutes were done beautifully with virtually no dialogue at all. That’s talent, people. Happy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges are getting more acclaim since both movies had their main actors recognized with Golden Globes this year, but I think this one will still end in the incredibly cute storage bin of our friend, Wall-E.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely winner)

The Dark Knight

The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

The Duchess is a period drama and those tend to do well in this category. As for the rest, they are all incredibly picturesque and beautifully designed films, ranging from the aging, earthy tones of Button to the stark and stunning colors of Road, any of these films deserves the accolade on this night. Just for the sake of picking a winner, I’ll toss my tiny iota of support behind Button. (Sorry, Dark Knight, I still love you.)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish the difference between Best Art Direction, which is how the film and its universe looks, and Best Cinematography, which is how the film is shot, which in turn show you how the universe looks. It’s a fine line, but this year I think the inventiveness of movement and pacing coupled with the saturated colors of India are going to bring Slumdog yet one more statue for the night.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Australia

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely to win)

The Duchess

Milk

Revolutionary Road

Except for The Duchess, these are all dramas set in fairly contemporary time periods, so the costume design was more about complementing the world and environment, whereas in Duchess gets to really show off the fashions of its 18th century era; big hair pieces, huge dresses and rib-crushing corsets. I’ll lean towards Button due it sheer volume of nominations and its clarity of vision inside the entire project, but this is truly a toss-up.

Best Documentary Feature

The Betrayal

Encounters at the End of the World

The Garden

Man on Wire (most likely to win)

Trouble the Water

I can’t put “deserves to win” here since I have seen absolutely none of these. I love documentaries, but I happen to miss this grouping completely. I’ve heard amazing things about Man on Wire from both friends and industry readings, so I’ll go with that one.

Best Documentary Short Subject

The Conscience of Nhem En

The Final Inch

Smile Pinki

– The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306

Umm…[tries to read tea leaves]…uh…The Witness? Yeah, that’ll win.

Best Achievement in Film Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Frost/Nixon (deserves to win)

Milk

Slumdog Millionaire (most likely winner)

Although the editing in Slumdog was sensational, I am happy to announce I think there is actually a better choice in this category. Frost/Nixon tackled a nearly yawn-inducing subject, one last interview with an old and broken man, and turned into a harrowing, sweat-filled ride towed along by brilliant pacing. Do I think it will actually win, nope, but it most certainly gets my vote for most deserving.

Best Foreign Language Film

The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Class

Departures

Revanche

Waltz with Bashir (most likely winner)

Bashir took home the Globe and you can expect it will do the same here. Nothing but praise has been heaped on this oddly animated drama and I am itching for my chance to witness it myself.

Best Achievement in Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (most likely to win)

The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (deserves to win)

The real choice here is what you find more impressive, making something look incredibly realistic with a mixture of CGI and practical makeup or making something fantastical come to life with prosthetics and makeup? The former would give you Button as the winner and the latter would give you Hellboy II, while the only makeup worth celebrating in Dark Knight is the insanely creepy and dripping face of the Joker. I would like to see Hellboy win here for the amazing work not only on the main character, but also the underworld villain Prince Nuada and his sister, Princess Nuala.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)

Alexander Desplat: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

James Newton Howard: Defiance

Danny Elfman: Milk

A.H. Rahman: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Thomas Newman: Wall-E

While this might be the happiest group of characters Danny Elfman ever scored for, I think he will lose and quickly return to his gothic roots. Slumdog has a good chance due to its unique international flavor and the Golden Globe A.H. Rahman is already carrying, but the other three are very much in the running.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

Peter Gabriel: “Down to Earth” from Wall-E (most likely winner)

Gulzar: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win)

– A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam: “O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire

There is a distinct lack of the man commonly referred to as “The Boss”! Why Bruce Springsteen didn’t get a nomination for the Golden Globe winning song he wrote and performed for The Wrestler is beyond me. Also surprising is the exclusion of Academy golden oldie, Clint Eastwood, and his warbling diddy for Gran Torino. With those two oddly out of the limelight, Gabriel could indeed walk away with it for his heartwarming tune, but Gulzar’s tune is the ending credits number and backs up a huge Bollywood dance number, which helps lift the audience to their feet after all the yearning and struggling they just witnessed. I’m going to put my mark there, while internally wishing I could actually dance like that.

Best Animated Short Film

La Maison en Petits Cubes

Lavatory – Lovestory

Oktapodi

Presto (most likely winner)

This Way Up

Presto is the only one I have seen since it was shown before Wall-E in the theater, but the whole thing is done with no dialogue and is gut-wrenchingly funny. Plus, it’s a Pixar joint, so just give it the gold and be happy they want to make more.

Best Live Action Short Film

Auf der Strecke (On the Line)

Mannon on the Asphalt (most likely winner)

New Boy

The Pig

Spielzeugland (Toyland)

I’ll go with Mannon on the Asphalt because it makes me think of a montage of skateboarders faceplanting.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

The Dark Knight (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Iron Man

Slumdog Millionaire

Wall-E

Wanted

The fact Wanted can now call itself an Academy Award nominated film just tickles me. There was some great sound work by all the nominees in this category, but here I will lovingly and joyously put my ballot into the box of Dark Knight. From the sounds of the jet engine of the Batmobile to the bone-crushing thud of Ledger’s head hitting the interrogation room table, this was a symphony of audio accomplishment.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight (deserves to win)

Slumdog Millionaire (most likely winner)

Wall-E

Wanted

Evidently Iron Man didn’t mix as well as they edited. Odd. Anyway, I’d still like to see Dark Knight get this, but I think the voting block might split this one up. There might still be enough uber-love for Slumdog to pull this one through for them as well.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely winner)

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

This is the one category where Button truly deserves to win, hands down. The character of Benjamin was so incredible and adorable, I couldn’t felt any more sympathy and yearning for him if he were sitting right in front of me. The only reason it worked was the sheer realism of this aged and decrepit child, so without any reservations, this one goes to them.

If you made it all the way down here, thanks once again for reading and I would love to hear your thoughts. Tell me I’m right, tell me I’m wrong, make me believe I missed out on something truly great or just let me know what you thought of that box of Raisinets you got at the movies (Were yours stale? Mine were last time, but I can’t stop getting them).
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Doubt: Titans Clash Over Sheer Intensity

Posted by goldwriting on January 16, 2009

doubt I was told by a reliable source that black is the new black this year.

Rating: 7 out of 10

There are numerous ways to tell a story. You can paint a picture which conveys one image, but a library worth of emotion. You can write a piece of music which seeps in behind the eyes and speaks even more directly to the heart. Hell, some people can even tell a story through the presentation of a seven course meal with a well thought out menu. Yet two of the most popular ways to tell a story are on stage and on screen and every now and again one story takes that perilous walk from one to the other. Sometimes the results can be fascinating, like opening up a whole new way to think about the characters and the story as a whole, but on other occasions all you do is sit back and wish you’d seen it in its original form. Sometimes, just sometimes, where you’re born is where you’re meant to stay.

As you might guess, that is how I feel about Doubt.

Doubt is a story about a power struggle between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, an overbearing, discipline-driven nun and Father Brendan Flynn, a younger, more socially-forward pastor that the Sister unwillingly works for. Sister Aloysius is alerted to a possible inappropriate situation going on between Father Flynn and a young boy in the church and she goes on a hell-bent tirade to root him out, no matter what the cost or the complete lack of proof she has. With conviction and passion on her side and logic and the absence of proof on his side, these two deeply entrenched personalities battle over truth, what you are allowed to do to get it and finally, if you really need it at all.

The story originated as a play written by John Patrick Shanley and he went on to write the screenplay and direct the film himself. In most cases you don’t get that lucky, to have the original creator still in such control over the new permutation, but Shanley made sure he kept the tone and power of the story intact during its newest transformation. In a certain respect that might be part of the problem. In the original play only four characters were in it: the nun, the father, the younger nun and the mother of the boy in question. With the film, many more people had to be created to fill out the world they lived in and on occasion it worked perfectly, creating fluid movement between the scenes with the major characters, but every now and again you could feel the presence of a band-aid type of moment, only there to hold things together while we got to something actually important. Also, I haven’t read the play or ever seen it on stage, but the character of the boy’s mother only has one scene in the film, albeit an incredibly powerful one, and it feels like she could have been made much more integral to the film. The dialogue is intense, pointed and incredibly crisp, but that much is to be expected coming from such an accomplished playwright as Shanely. As a play, Doubt had already taken home the 2005 Drama Desk Award, a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Not too shabby.

In some of the transfers from stage to screen, the studios and directors will reach out to those actors already familiar with the material and bring in the original cast members (as was done with Frost/Nixon with Langella and Sheen), but Shanely made a specific choice to not invite his stage cast into the film project because he knew with the growth of the world he had to create for the film, those actors would have a harder time adapting to the new version of the story and they would feel out of place with the rest of the cast. So he brought in new blood to the project and I can truly say he chose incredibly well. Philip Seymour Hoffman took on the role of Father Flynn and he attacked it with the passion and sensitivity we have all come to know and expect from him. There is an honesty about him, even when he is playing a villain, that makes the audience side with him on nearly anything. Standing across the religious ring from him was Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius. She channeled every child’s worst nightmare of their Catholic school upbringing into this devout and devious despot. From the moment she lets her brain lock onto the possibility of Father Flynn’s misdeed, she tenaciously grabs hold, sets her head down and barrels over anyone and everything in her path. Like most movies born on the stage, this has some truly amazing scenes and one particular fight between Hoffman and Streep is stunning in the level of intensity, power and outrage they both escalate to. Shyly trying to not impede on the performances of her cast mates is Amy Adams as the young and innocent Sister James. She has the unwanted joy of lighting the match which burns through this entire piece and the second she lights it her face and heart drops knowing it will lead to something awful. Adams is still climbing the ladder of her already illustrious career and few are doing it with such variety and skill as her. It’s understandable that she would feel somewhat intimidated by tangling with Hoffman and Streep, but her talent holds up quite well in such company. Rounding out the original four characters is Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller. Davis only gets one scene in the entire film, so maybe it was the knowledge of that which made her decide to knock it completely out of the park. She shared time in that scene only with Streep, but instead of letting the audience revel in Streep’s already well-known talent, Davis injects herself with bravado, self-righteousness and gives Streep her only ass-whooping of the film. With only words, Streep looks like she has been bowled over by a cement truck by the end of a scene where the two characters simply walk down a small path. Davis went along to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama and it was well deserved.

In the end my reason for thinking it most likely works better on stage is due to the rest of the world feeling somewhat forced. The original four are still the only truly interesting characters and when we are away from them, we just end up wondering where they are. Also the tone and pacing is still very much that of a play and the film runs incredibly fast, so the ending feels a touch abrupt in my book. Shanely also mentioned in an interview that he wanted to make sure the audience left with a sense of doubt about whether the alleged event of Father Flynn ever really took place. Unfortunately for me, Hoffman’s performance never gave me too much feeling on his guilt and Streep’s inability to see any logic outside of her own made her seem too oblivious and misguided to be on the right side of the argument. There were some quick shots later referred to in an effort to shed a cracked light on Father Flynn, but it was too little too late for me.

Recommendation: This particular film with lose nothing in the shift from big screen to TV, so feel free to wait on that account. If you are a connoisseur of acting, this is a great example of some true pros at work, but if you’re looking for a more well-rounded plot, this might not fit the bill.

Reviews Coming Soon: Seven Pounds, Yes Man, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and many more…

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Revolutionary Road: Could Lead to Oscar Blvd.

Posted by goldwriting on December 23, 2008

revolutionaryroad “Let’s take a cruise together.”

“Umm…actually, I have this thing about boats. They’re not really my thing.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Throughout movie history there has been a wide variety of classic couples, people you yearned to see on screen together again and again: Bogart and Bergman, Gable and Leigh, and Lancaster and Kerr to name only a few. But in 1997 another young couple cemented their right to being included on that list, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in James Cameron‘s  record breaking film, Titanic. Even though the pair were one of the very few things in Titanic not awarded with Oscars or Golden Globes that year, they still lived on inside the hearts of the audience members who went back to see the romantic duo lean over that railing and declare their reign over the world. It only took eleven years for them to find a project to work on together again, but DiCaprio and Winslet have proven it was worth the wait.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a young passionate couple who meet, connect and yearn to spend their lives striving for the limits of experience. The story takes a only a brief look into their initial introduction to each other, instead opting to quickly jump years forward into their marriage only to find the passion has dissipated and their struggle now is against their suburban mundane existence. The couple, once wild and free, now find themselves deciding whether to stay in their current situation and try to make the best of it or to risk it all and run away to Paris in hopes of rekindling their love of life and their love for each other. It’s a war of contentment and  security versus passion and fulfillment and both sides fight dirty.

There was always one big threat looming over this film, that we, the audience, would look up at the screen and only see the Leo and Kate we remember from Titanic. The love struck duo fated to be together, but torn apart. All we would see would be longing glances full of love and hope and the rest of this new story would be lost in those memories. So, with that looming in front of director Sam Mendes, Mendes made a brilliant choice to jump very quickly into the deeply troubled marriage, nearly opening the film in a vicious fight on the side of the road. The anger and vitriol spilled on each other in that opening argument is more than enough to wipe away all previous visions of wistful gazes and romantic cuddling. DiCaprio rages against the self-imposed cage he’s stuck in, giving us the intensity and raw aggression we’ve come to expect from him (from performances such as The Basketball Diaries, Gangs of New York, The Departed, etc.). Now tie that aggression with the always impressive strength and surety of Kate Winslet and you’re locked and loaded for a true battle of the wills. Only actors who are completely trusting of each other could reach the fever pitch Leo and Kate achieve, which allows not only for touching moments of love, but also incredibly sharp attacks that cut deeper than any knife ever could.

Behind the dynamic duo there is a bevy of talented actors, including Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour, and heading into this film they had to know they were only bringing the trimmings and decorations to a party made for Leo and Kate, but one person decided to crash the party and steal some of the spotlight for himself. Michael Shannon plays John Givings, Kathy Bates’ son who happens to be on a short term visit from the local insane asylum. Now he doesn’t bash into the scenes ranting and raving, but his particular type of craziness allows him to cut through the bull and call people out on what is really going on underneath their shiny plastic veneer. Shannon has only three scenes in the film, but during each one of them you can’t take your eyes away from him. He is not only the spark-plug for those moments, but he becomes the lightning rod for the entire movie during a dinner scene which will go on my list as one of the best scenes on film in the last five years. The only shame in Michael Shannon’s performance is that he didn’t get a nomination for it. Here’s hoping the Academy voters are smarter than the Hollywood Foreign Press.

As much as I can rave about the wonderful acting on display in this film, those jewels are only achievable through the eyes and sensitivity of a talented director like Sam Mendes. Mendes keeps his tradition from American Beauty alive of painting picturesque communities of sterility and perfection, but all the while hinting and flashing light on the cracks growing underneath. There is always a deeper truth underneath the veil his characters show to the world and that’s where his real talent lies, making those people remove the masks in a believable and truthful fashion. I was on the lookout for subtle preferential treatment for Kate since she’s married to Mendes in real life, but both parties refused to pull any punches, once again proving the entire team’s commitment to powerful and honest filmmaking. Also proving that point is the completely anti-Hollywood ending, which I obviously won’t go into, but according to screenwriter Justin Haythe there was some push for it to be softened or changed, but Sam locked arms with him and demanded that it stay true to the original novel it is based on. If more people showed even half as much commitment to all the other film projects out there, the quality level we would reach would be unimaginable.

Recommendation: I’ll put this as plainly as I can: Before seeing this I was a locked in vote for Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture of the Year, now I’m not so sure. My new fear is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is going to make this choice even harder, but for the moment I am blissfully unaware of that option.

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Slumdog Millionaire: Rising From the Ashes

Posted by goldwriting on November 27, 2008

slumdog-millionaire You gotta get on that train, kid. Trust me. It was in a movie much older than this one.

Rating: 9 out of 10

The last two months of the year always bring out the heavy hitters from both the studio pipeline and the independent circuit. It can almost become a test in itself to keep perspective about what constitutes a good or possibly great film. The bar of quality can get subconsciously raised so high that everything starts to either blend together or pale in comparison to one overwhelmingly powerful piece of cinema. Yet no matter how hard the struggle may get, everyone wins in the end because the audience is presented with a plethora of great films to enjoy.

I’m sure you see where this is going in terms of how I feel about this next movie. If not, please go back and read the first part again. Slowly this time.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal, a young boy growing up in the poverty stricken parts of the big cities in India. Through a twisting and winding series of events he finds himself as a contestant on their country’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. His fame and wonder grows as he answers question after question correctly until he is on the brink of completing game and winning the grand prize. As most good stories do, this film begins with a question; how does he know all the answers? Is he cheating? Or is it written?

Simon Beaufoy, the writer of the screenplay, got the story from a novel called Q&A by Vikas Swarup. It’s true I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how close the movie follows along or how much was creative license, but either way, the structure of the film is a beautiful example of intelligent and well-planned storytelling. Each question in the movie leads to another flashback, a new vignette into the history of where Jamal came from and the struggles he went through to get where he is. It allows the audience to get pieces of information that are only pertinent to the scene in front of it without having to wallow through sixteen years of a childhood. It also breaks the film up nicely and serves as a nice reminder when the footage you are watching is particularly harsh that he does make it through somehow, since we see him on the game show. The true power of the story is the celebration of love, destiny and the belief it is still possible, no matter what the costs. As mentioned previously, some of the footage, mostly in the first thirty minutes, can be very hard to sit through due to a few scenes of child abuse, alluded to and shown. The tolerance level gets pushed nearly too far, but at the last possible second the film turns the corner and those previous scenes now become the anchor to where it goes from there.

Danny Boyle, who directed this fine feature, is no stranger to telling love stories in the most chilling or tragic of circumstances (take a glance back at The Beach) or pushing cinema to new levels of uncomfortable (try some of the key scenes from Trainspotting or 28 Days Later). No matter if it’s love or death, Danny Boyle always comes to the plate with something visually interesting and compelling, never failing to leave a lingering impression which sparks conversation even weeks afterward. Beyond those intense scenes in the beginning, there are numerous moments throughout the film which stand out. I won’t go into them all here for the sake of saving surprises for the theater, but believe me, they are there. Another talent Boyle has is working with the actors, which should always be the main role of the director. The performances here from Dev Patel, who plays our lead Jamal; Freida Pinto, who plays the romantic interest Latika; and Irfan Khan, who plays the police inspector, are all incredible and worthy of mention. Dev is definitely the heart and soul and drives the film, but his skills are only exemplified by the support he receives in each and every scene by the other cast members. Dev has only one credit outside of this film, but I have no doubt it will be filling up nicely after this film makes the rounds. The same holds for Frida, who actually only has this single credit to her name, but with her presence, talent and striking beauty, she will be gracing the silver screen for years to come, if we’re lucky. Irfan was quite busy before this movie came along and that doesn’t look to be slowing down for him any time soon.

Now although everything up to this point has been glowing and full of praise, this film not perfect. I had one main issue coming out of the theater and it has to do with the character of Salim, Jamal’s older brother, played by Madhur Mittal. There is an obvious triangle in the film between Jamal, Salim and Latika, but even before that appears, Salim constantly jumps back and forth between an undying loyalty and love to his younger brother and in the next scene betraying him in the worst ways imaginable. Some might argue it is an issue of control and Salim’s constant battle to keep it over Jamal, but I’m not sure it is supported by the story. Whatever the case may be, the audience is never granted with any explanation of Salim’s motives and I feel it harms our ability to emotionally connect with his character. It is not a deal breaker by far in this film, but since everything else in the movie was done so well, this little fact stuck out for me.

Recommendation: This is a true must-see film. If you miss it in the theater or it doesn’t play anywhere near you, rent it the first chance you get. Strap yourself in and ride out the tougher stuff in the beginning of the film, you will not be sorry. Also, not to plug another film, but if you like great films with themes of undeterred love, check out Brick; it’s in my Top Ten Movies of All Time. Lastly, if you’re a fan at all of Danny Boyle, I would be remiss in forgetting to mention the under-appreciated and terribly under-marketed Sunshine, which was without a doubt one of the best Sci-Fi films of last year, if not the last five years.

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Funny, Yet Not Smith-y.

Posted by goldwriting on November 2, 2008

I’m sure you know my companion here. He’s in every comedy this year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

It’s been a long time coming. Finally someone tackled the incredibly hard genre of porn parody in the mainstream film world. This area has been begging to be cracked open and poked fun at for decades, almost since the inception of porn itself. The missing link in this universal quest was waiting for the right director to come along, one with enough guts to get down and dirty with the humor, one with enough skill to handle the depravity of the comedy without losing the audience, and finally one with enough of a following that it wouldn’t matter if he videotaped a poster of dogs playing poker for two hours. That director has come and he bears the name Kevin Smith…or does he?

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the childishly charming story of two best friends who find their wallets bone dry and no prospects for paying their long overdue bills until Zack has the brilliant epiphany of shooting a porno starring themselves. Leading this adult-themed romp, Zack and Miri pull together a cast and crew of porn outcasts and misfits, along with some familiar faces to the comedy world, and form a family they didn’t know they were missing until it was already there. Along the way Zack and Miri also deal with the most common question between two best friends of opposite genders: Will sex change us?

Before even breaching the doorway of the theater any audience member who knows the name Kevin Smith is prepped and ready for dirty jokes, loads of sarcasm and possibly male nudity, but after the past year of R-rated comedies and the explosion of Judd Apatow, none of those previous shock factors hold much weight anymore. What Kevin Smith had to rely on in this film was his own personal style of witty dialogue and banter, exemplified early in Smith’s career with Clerks, where Dante and Randal debate over the righteousness of killing unionized Storm Troopers in The Empire Strike Back. That conversation would never appear in any other director’s works, let alone in their heads. Unfortunately Zack and Miri didn’t reach quite the same level of kitsch or intellectual playfulness we are used to from Smith. There are certainly moments of it sprinkled throughout, but the overall feel was a let down from his normal style. This could be the result of what every director goes through while they try to expand their market and skills (and this will only be further detailed in 2010 with the release of Smith’s first horror film, Red State), but the main difference now is when Smith first erupted onto the scene he was the lone torch bearer for the R-rated comedy world and now Apatow has taken the flame and run with it. With Zack and Miri lacking the spark and wit usually associated with Smith, it is too easy to mistake this for any new director being towed along in the Apatow wake. Now don’t take this to mean I didn’t like the film, I most certainly enjoyed myself, but it just left me wanting more of the Kevin Smith-ness I yearned for (which was easily solved by a quick jaunt home and a return viewing of Dogma…God bless that movie!).

Adding slightly to the Apatow undertone is the casting of Seth Rogen as Zack, who has been pleasurably riding along with Apatow and his crew since the days of Freaks and Geeks. This is not a slight on Rogen at all, because he has certainly done his homework and made all the efforts to be where he is today, but a large number of his big projects, especially in recent film history, have been under the banner of Apatow films, if not directed by the man himself. So audiences have certainly come to know Rogen and the style he brings to any raunchy or over-the-line comedy, but I didn’t quite feel he brought anything new to the table this time. He proved once again he can believably deliver heartfelt dialogue and make the audience care, but that was a doubt he previously shattered in Knocked Up. I laughed at the moments he wanted me to, yet I still felt he won’t be overly remembered for this performance. Skipping up alongside Rogen is Elizabeth Banks as Miri. Banks is also not a stranger to fans of Apatow with her side character turn in The 40-Year Old Virgin, but she has been equally busy in recent history on a number of other projects as well. In this movie she tries to show us the internal struggle of a woman fighting to keep her most important friendship strictly platonic, while also filming a porn flick to save her from being evicted. What woman hasn’t gone through that? She has her share of moments, but again doesn’t leave anything completely memorable for the exiting audience. On other parts of the casting front we see some familiar names from Smith’s View Askew-niverse; Jason Mewes, or more commonly known as Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, and Jeff Anderson, who has been delighting audiences as Randal since Clerks. Mewes plays Lester, the low budget porn actor with incredibly useful talents and a well versed knowledge of any and all sexual techniques. Half of his dialogue, funny as it may be, comes off like a recital from urbandictionary.com. Anderson joins in as Deacon, the cameraman-cum-editor who finds himself in the most precarious of positions. Also well known to comedy fans is Craig Robinson, who in this film plays Delaney, Zack’s co-worker and newly crowned porn producer, but to most of the television audience out there he is better known as Darryl, the big, bad plant worker from The Office. Craig is on a hot streak right now many actors spend their lives dreaming for and the best part of it is, we the audience get the benefit of watching his comedic genius even more. Popping in to give the movie some realistic porn flavor are Katie Morgan and Traci Lords, the former a current adult film star and the latter one of the few to retire and make a mainstream transition.

There is one more person worth mentioning and I made sure to save the best for last, even giving him his own paragraph. Justin Long, a terribly underrated actor, turns in the most hilarious performance as Brandon, the gay porn star who first inspires the wild idea in Zack’s head. He only has two scenes in the film, one of which you must stay halfway through the credits to watch, but trust me, it is totally worth the wait. I shudder to think how many takes were blown when other actors lost their composure watching Long in this role. He grabs a hold of this utterly ridiculous persona and never lets go, practically daring the other actors to break character. His performance alone raised the score of this movie a full point in my book.

Recommendation: True die hards of the Kevin Smith clan might not be blown away by this, but it could possibly reach a broader audience previously turned off by Kevin’s normal banter and intentionally clever writing. It doesn’t end up on the bottom of my Smith totem pole (you’re still safe down there, Jersey Girl), but it does make me readjust what I expect to see from him in the future. Same skill, less nerdy wit.

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Eagle Eye: I Think I’ve Gone Blind (SPOLIERS)

Posted by goldwriting on September 28, 2008

What do you mean those Indy fans are still pissed off? Man, they are persistent.

Shia LeBeouf is the boy with the golden ticket. We’ve watched him rise from talent on the TV screen in Even Stevens, make a breakthrough performance in The Battle of Shaker Heights (one of the winning films from the ambitious Project Greenlight) and land squarely in the middle of some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and Transformers. His star is shining bright in the Hollywood skyline and nothing seems to be slowing him down…

except for the fact his acting skills are getting completely lost in terrible, and I mean truly terrible, scripts. Let’s give his newest visual extravaganza a look see.

Eagle Eye is the story of Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf), a young, brilliant son who never applied himself to anything and is scraping by in a droll existence dodging his landlady and bluffing money in poker games in the back room of his copy store job. This is also the story of Rachel Holloman (played by Michelle Monaghan), a pretty, young and bitterly divorced woman who’s trying to vicariously live out her wild youth through her friends, while dedicating her only strength and passion to her young son. These two seemingly total opposites are “activated” and sent kicking and screaming through a dangerous series of hoops by an unknown voice on their phones, who can seemingly track them absolutely anywhere. Jerry is forced into it because he’s been framed as a terrorist, while Rachel runs the gambit to save the life of her son. Together they try to stay alive long enough to figure out what it is they are supposed to accomplish.

*There you have the basic set up. From this point on, there are spoilers because it is impossible to write about the issues with this film without giving away the plot twists. You’ve been warned.*

There is no person on the other end of the phone. It’s a computer called Aria who was designed and built by the Department of Defense and is now on the warpath to eradicate the chain of command, all the way up to the President, because they disobeyed a tactical recommendation she gave them. So after all the hype and excitement around the movie, it turns out to be nothing more than a poor remake of WarGames. This is only made more offensive by the fact that I loved WarGames as a kid and amazingly enough the film still holds up today, which many from that time period don’t, especially when they have to do with computer technology.

The film pretty much unravels from the moment you are told everything is being run and designed by a rogue artificial intelligence. The trailers were specifically designed to hide this fact, giving off more of a “big brother” fright tactic, and I applaud that marketing plan, except the only time that works is when the true plot twist in the theater is more interesting than the one we already imagined. This is not the case with Eagle Eye. No computer system would ever create such a convoluted and hole-ridden assassination plot. Computer systems are based on logic, even the ones we give personalities to, but Aria decides to make Shia and Michelle run rampant through downtown streets in numerous cities, dodging death and destruction at every turn, only so they can get into Aria’s control panel and undo a biometric lock put in place by…wait for it…wait for it…Shia’s twin brother, Ethan Shaw. We’re supposed to believe that once this lock is removed, Aria can proceed with her plan to destroy the chain of command. Not bad, as long as the audience chooses to notice that by this point in the movie the plan had no way of stopping, even if the lock was still in place. All the pieces were already in motion and Aria was pretty much unnecessary to the assassination.

Seriously, I could go on and on about the plot holes and logical misfires in this script. They range from a cell phone which can be triggered to only light up in short bursts and used to relay Morse code (I don’t know about you, but one click on mine and it stays lit for at least three seconds, no matter what) to the fact that only one mini-mart shop in all of Washington D.C. has a security camera not hooked up to any external network. The amount of disbelief needed in this film to make it enjoyable is staggering, almost more than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Transparent Ego Issues. No one actually tried to make sense of anything in the film and it runs on the belief if you move the camera around fast enough no one will notice. Well I noticed and I’m nowhere near the only one.

D.J. Caruso, the director of this silver screen misfit, is teetering on the brink of becoming Michael Bay, which I’m sure to some people is not a bad thing. He could follow this path and keep making bigger and bigger movies with less and less attention paid to the story or plot, but there’s a certain amount of respect traded to the devil of special effects and deep pocket budgets. He won a ton of people to his side with his Rear Window homage, Disturbia, and gained Shia as his modern male muse, but this recent visual splatterstorm of nonsense has brought him back to square one. The cast of the movie, which also included Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson, kept up their end of the bargain, but no one could perform their way into anything meaningful inside the web of failed logic and shark jumping. The blame firmly rests on the shoulders of screenwriters John Glenn and Travis Wright, which is frightening since these two are currently writing the remakes of Clash of the Titans and The Warriors. If there is justice in the film world, let their directors know how to rewrite on set.

Recommendation: If you’ve read the whole review to this point, this part should be fairly clear. Feel free to make up your own mind, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m a writer myself and I know this review was rather harsh, but I call it like I see it, what I saw was a total mess.

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Babylon A.D.: A Future No One Wanted to See

Posted by goldwriting on September 7, 2008

No one knows it, but I’m watching The Fast and the Furious behind these lenses on repeat. Damn, I was good back then.

It can be tough to remind an audience of something they used to love long ago. Cut to eight years ago where fresh faced post-millennium crowds were stunned by the sheer machismo of a character known as Riddick and the actor who brought him life, known as Vin Diesel. Talk of the next big action star shot around town through phone lines, electric wiring and every wireless network available. Vin was handed the golden ticket, but unfortunately he chose to cash it in on the wrong show. After another huge boost from the Fast and Furious franchise, which he helped create, Vin walked away and jumped into XXX which turned out to be a huge disaster. Since then Vin has stumbled through the action world, briefly turning in a finely tuned family performance in The Pacifier, but never making it back to his once renowned action star fame. Here, in the dark, dreary world of Babylon A.D., Vin was set for a comeback. Poised on the edge of a Blade Runner-esque feature that looked to relaunch the man-myth in the same fashion as Pitch Black did all those years ago. Would it work? Would Vin muscle his way to the top once again?

Not this time.

Babylon A.D. is hamstrung from the start. Here’s a brief overview of the story: Vin plays a smuggler who’s pretty much left the game, but is dragged back in for one big score which could give him the chance at a new life. The deal is he has to transport a young girl into America in six days. Tons of people are after her for different reasons, which Vin tries to ignore at first, but finds himself tangled in her web. This last job forces him to make a choice between caring about himself or caring about others. On paper it all sounds fairly straight forward and easy to get across, but somewhere in the translation from page to screen this simple story became so convoluted and riddled with plot holes that the director himself went on a vulgarity laced tirade against the studio for ruining it. Matheiu Kassovitz railed against Fox Studios for cutting an extra seventeen minutes from the final cut and also not allowing him to shoot what he felt was an integral scene to the story. We as the audience will never know if those missing minutes would have turned the tide of the film, but when the credits to roll as it is the feeling of huge and important facts missing is inescapable. The most glaring of all is the big hook from the trailer where we see a rocket propelled missle explode within inches of the young girl, as if blocked by a force field, but where the field came from, how she created it or what it means about her powers is explained only in the most inept fashion. This would be the only moment the audience could emotionally connect with Vin Diesel’s character since he couldn’t understand any of it either.

In the acting realm, Vin didn’t do a terrible job. He brought back a little touch of the gruff, no nonsense brute we all came to love back in the day. Yet later in the movie he shows even he has an achillies heel, no matter how tough he may seem. A late in the third act crying scene was absolutely painful to watch and should have been cut from the first moment of rehearsal. Put him behind the wheel of a car or the trigger of a gun, but never, ever put Vin behind a sheen of fake tears. Michelle Yeoh tries to add some acting chops to the flick, but even she gets lost in the convoluted plot twists. Stuck smack dab in the middle of this bleak futuristic mess is Melanie Thierry, who plays Aurora, the mysterious explosion proof girl. Piercing blue eyes aside, she has the innocence and purity the role calls for, but not the experience and talent yet to pull the audience in with her.  Once again though, I hate to give her too much flack since everything really starts with the script and the writing just wasn’t there to support her.

In the end Babylon A.D. came to the screen as a great concept, but terribly executed and we’ll never know if that was due to the unfinished and unpolished script, terrible directing by Kassovitz or another example of a movie studio sticking its fingers where they don’t belong. Whatever the case, it was a missed opportunity for Vin Diesel to recapture his former glory. Luckily for him, he already signed on to return to his star making character in Fast and Furious, the fourth part of the franchise, reuniting all four members of the original cast. If done right, Vin still might get the bump he was looking for.

Recommendation: Watch Blade Runner again, or Equilibrium, or Gattaca, or take a nap.

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The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Open with Extreme Caution

Posted by goldwriting on August 1, 2008

Yep, I have no idea where his front foot is either. It’s mummy magic.

Movies are almost synonymous with one type of food; popcorn. Summertime is equally synonymous with one kind of movie; popcorn cinema. This would be the type of movie where you walk in, sit down with an overly large tub of possibly-buttered delight in your lap and shut the brain off. Just watch the action, be wowed by the explosions and chuckle at the one-liners you would only joke about, but never believe you would actually hear someone say on screen. Now it may sound like I’m mocking these flicks, but I’m not at all, we eat these up with both hands every year and this summer is no different. How do you think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made such a ridiculous amount of money? So, tonight I bore witness to another lasting franchise in the candy coated adventure world and it’s new arrival, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

The first two movies were helmed by franchise creator Steven Sommers, but this time the reins were handed over to another Universal Studios master-at-arms, Rob Cohen. Rob is no stranger to the multi-sequeled storyline, but usually he’s at the front of it instead of coming in during round three. He launched such franchises as The Fast and the Furious, xXx and The Skulls. He also directed one of the more stand out martial arts movies of the early 1990’s, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. With all those credits on his rap sheet, you’d figure this project would be akin to giving a professional conductor one of Beethoven’s classics, a walk in the park. Yet this stroll down popcorn lane proved to be a more windy road than imagined.

The story takes place many years after the last chapter and Rick and Evie’s son, Alex has taken on the family business of digging up and uncovering the most dangerous of mummified enemies. This new foe happens to be an ancient Chinese emperor who once controlled the five elements and tried to take over the world, which seems to be a bit of a habit for these mummies. Once he is reawakened, the ride begins and we are off once again, racing around the continent to try and stop him from becoming completely immortal. The basic premise works and personally I was glad to move the location out of Egypt, since I felt they had played that tune as long as they could. Yet once you move below the basic storyline, all the connecting points seem to fall apart. I’m a huge supporter in the “willing suspension of disbelief”, which we all need to fully enjoy any movie, but this suspension was pulled just a few hairs past the limit. So many things take place which are never explained, never set up and sometimes never paid off. Once the momentum really got moving, every other scene was spent trying to figure out how we got there and what was going on. It had a little taste of Wanted, which also jumped absolutely huge logic holes for the sake of making something look cool on screen, but that film, under the insane vision of Timur Bekmambetov, pulled it off much better.

As for casting, back in the day this was going to be the bread and butter of Brendan Fraser’s career (who plays our dashing hero and young Indiana Jones homage, Rick O’Connell), but since the first movie I haven’t felt that same magic from his performance. Ever since then it has all felt like a shadow or almost a parody of the moments he created in the original. Also, in the first two he starred alongside Rachel Weisz, but she didn’t return to the sand and savagery this time and the studios were forced to either write her out or replace her. They chose the latter. In comes Maria Bello as Evie O’Connell, the spunky and adventurous librarian-cum-swashbuckler. I think Maria is a fantastic actress and I was wildly supportive of her turn in A History of Violence, but this was not a good fit for her. Her action scenes felt forced and overly silly, on top of her accent sliding in, out and completely off the British continent. From the original chapters, the only person to bring the exact same level, for better or for worse, was John Hannah, as Evie’s charmingly opportunistic brother, Jonathan. New to this series was Michelle Yeoh, an immortal witch hoping to stop the Dragon Emperor, and Jet Li as the Emperor himself. Michelle was fairly strong in her performance, but Jet Li spent most of the movie walking around as an animated Terra Cotta statue, so it’s a little hard to criticize any lack of emotion from the part.

It can be argued that acting skills and story structure have nothing to do with popcorn cinema, it is all about the special effects. We are there for the glitz, the glamor and the wonderment of things we have never seen before on screen. Unfortunately this visual extravaganza didn’t break down any walls in that realm. The statue effect on Jet Li’s character skipped back and forth between impressive and amateurish, while the practical effects and explosions failed to really pop the eyes open of the audience. The one thing standing out amongst the crowd was the Yeti creatures (don’t ask how or why they appeared, just let that one go). These imagined visualizations of the abominable snowmen provided not only some much needed freshness to the flick, but some decent comedy as well. Numerous times there was laughter peeling through the audience, but half of it was laughing alongside the movie, while the rest was laughing at it. Big difference, same result: entertainment. As many problems as this does have, I can’t say I walked out unamused. The plot holes and logic issues leave the script looking like a well used target down at the local gun range, but the jokes were plentiful and they kept coming until you gave in and laughed.

Recommendation: As I’ve said before, this is an action movie, so it can only be helped by seeing it on the big screen, but on this occassion I might just suggest waiting for TV distribution and sitting really, really close to the set.

p.s. I was once again reminded about why I choose to go to the Arclight Cinemas as much as possible. Tonight they gave out posters signed by Rob Cohen to people sitting in random seat numbers. Plus, if that wasn’t enough of a bonus for the night, Rob Cohen himself was there to introduce the movie. He mentioned that he made the movie for us, the fans, the general public, and not for the critics and bloggers (like myself). He said it’s about sheer entrainment, so whether you think it’s good or it’s bad, if you laugh at it during any point, his job is done. For me the job was done, but it might not have been the job he intended.

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