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PCFF 2015 Day 6: Superb Shorts and Journeys to School

Posted on | February 21, 2015 | Add Comments

PCFF 2015 Day 3After week-day library screenings of past-festival favorites, the PCFF returned to Thayer Street for the first part of it’s weekend finale. Though there weren’t films at the Avon or Metcalf venues, Wheeler’s Gilder Center screened five features and one shorts collection. The Brown Granoff Center, meanwhile, had it’s PCFF debut, showing festival films for the first time.

I started my day at Wheeler, with the PCFF-collected Elementary School-Vol. 2 shorts group. Presenting audiences with the kind of big-screen experiences (foreign films, documentaries etc.) they don’t normally get to see is one of the festival’s strengths, and short films certainly make for unique viewing. Seeing a collection of short films is always a thrill because, unlike with features, you never know exactly what you’ll find. A mix of mystery, anticipation, excitement, and possibility awaits. So does the inevitable fact that you’re bound to love some of the shorts, but not all of them. In this group, Only Gilt could’ve used a more satisfying ending. I’ve Just Had a Dream suffered from a repetitive structure and a slightly stereotypical story. Overall, though, it was a diverse and captivating selection. Chikara- The Sumo Wrestler’s Son is an almost transporting documentary that gives us a look into the gritty, grimy world of kids sumo wrestling. It’s observant and informative, even a little heartbreaking, and an absorbing look at a culture vastly different than ours. The animated Wind was lighter and funnier, but no less of an achievement. The four-minute film is a wonderfully crafted, clever, and darkly comic delight. Speaking of delights, The Revenge of Scooter was a charming piece of homemade sci-fi, with cardboard effects and tongue-in-cheek dialogue to match.

PCFF 2015 Day 3Following a hearty banh-mi sandwich from the Lotus Pepper food truck, I next visited the Granoff for the documentary On the Way to School. Directed by Pascal Plisson, the film follows four groups of children from Kenya, Patagonia, Morocco and India, as they make their perilous, tiresome, and lengthy trips to school. The film unquestionably achieves it’s central goal; I left the film with a newfound appreciation for my life and my daily journey to school (a five-minute car ride). But the doc sometimes feels more educational (and episodically structured) than one would like, while a little long in parts.

PCFF 2015 Day 3Though I can (and have) managed seeing five festival films in a day, I ended fairly early with the Party Mix shorts, curated by the New York International Children’s Film Festival. Apart from two weak shorts, it was a top-notch compilation. Interestingly, a theme emerged from the group: fantastical fables that mixed bed-time story enchantment with either wit or animated wonder. The Centipede and the Toad, The Princess, the Prince and the Greed-Eyed Dragon, and Tome of the Unknown all fit this description. Overall standouts included Portlandia: Rat’s Book, from the creators of the eponymous hipster-satire show, the brief but hilarious Carpark, and Rabbit and Deer, which used different animation techniques to alter perceptions of what an animated short can do. Oscar-nominated The Dam Keeper, with it’s sludgy pastel colors and bullying allegory story, was certainly the most poignant. 

And, unfortunately, tommorrow the fest will come to a poignant end. But that end is not yet here! Check back in a day or two for our final festival report.

Waking Life: An Ambling Animated Opus from Richard Linklater (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | January 27, 2015 | Add Comments

Waking Life (2001)Waking Life (2001, streaming on Netflix), Richard Linklater’s ambling animated opus, is the kind of film that will put some to sleep and enthrall others. It’s a brilliant, bizarre, and utterly one-of-a-kind trip.

Waking Life (2001)With a script by Linklater, the film has almost no “plot”, at least in the conventional sense. It’s a chatty, meditative, intellectual feast made up of bite-sized episodes of conversational philosophizing. The film follows a twentysomething drifter (Wiley Wiggins) as he navigates his own dream, listening in on the thoughts of a cast of diverse and unusual characters. A university professor expresses his frustration with the shiftless new generation. A monkey projects and narrates a film. Two friends discuss the possiblities of cinema, then turn into inanimate cloud-statues of themselves. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), from Linklater’s Before trilogy, talk about the last 6-12 minutes of brain activity a dead human has, after the body shuts down. The director Stephen Soderbergh shows up to tell a story about Billy Wilder. And Linklater himself has a fascinating and slightly disturbing story to tell about author Phillip K. Dick.

What makes Waking Life such an innovative, imaginative achievement is the format Linklater chose to make the movie in: rotoscoped animation. First, he filmed his actors the way he would, more or less, in a live-action film. Then a team of Austin artists (largely not computer animators), led by the pioneering Bob Sabiston, animated over that footage using some average Apple computers and a software called Rotoshop. The result is, at first, disconcerting and distracting, even irritating. But, soon enough, you latch into the free-flowing vibe, and marvel at the bizarre beauty that surrounds you. Animation styles sometimes change from scene to scene, while some shots have a bouncy, slightly wobbly effect. The general style is that of a Picasso painting, a Monet masterwork, some modern graphic novels, and maybe some drugs stirred together, and then splattered around with unfettered enthusiasm. It’s so completely different, so fresh, so unlike anything else.

Waking Life (2001)

As for the little episodes that make up the film, some are engrossing and profound, others exhausting and perplexing. There are some scenes of philosophers (mostly non-actors) talking so quickly about such highbrow, scientific ideas that just about anyone without a Phd. in everything will begin to lose interest. It’s also a little pompous that Linklater seems to assume everyone has something grand and genius to say about the universe. And for the first half of the film, the nameless protagonist doesn’t really respond to any of his dream-characters; he just sits, listens, and nods. For a while, this near-wordless blank-slate of a central character is a frustration. With so much going on around the character, it would’ve helped if Linklater had fleshed this guy out, and given us someone to hold on to. Though, that may be the point: we could kind of be following anyone. And  the film gets stronger as it progresses. The protagonist starts speaking, and says some  fascinating things about the consciousness and reality of dreams. Fascinating and more intelligible characters appear, and then disappear, because this is, alas, a dream. Eventually, we’re left with a lovely last shot that takes you up, up, and away.

Waking Life (2001)

Perhaps Waking Life shouldn’t be critiqued as a movie, but debated over as a deep-dive into a director’s brain. All the characters seem to express little thoughts, theories, and ideas Linklater has had, making them more jumping-off points for intellectual analysis than actual characters. Taken for what is, which is a peculiar and rather astounding trip through the mind, Waking Life is a marvel. Imperfect, not for everybody (probably not for most), scattered in every direction? Yes, yes, and yes. But our dreams aren’t supposed to make sense to us, let alone entertain the world. When the movie finishes, you don’t just walk away and move on with your life. It consumes you, fills your brain with new ideas, gets you thinking and dreaming and hoping for more movies like this one, movies so daringly free of constraint and convention.

The Zany Brilliance of an Underappreciated Animation Master

Posted on | October 8, 2014 | 1 Comment

What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones now at the Museum of the Modern Image

Generations have enjoyed the inventive, endlessly entertaining cartoon creations of Chuck Jones, the man behind Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. But the saying “You don’t know the name but you’ll know the work” unfortunately rings true about him. “What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones”, a new exhibition that opened at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image July 19 and ends January 19, finds the skill behind the slapstick. 

I recently got a chance to visit the exhibit, and can say it’s an illuminating, absorbing, and comprehensive must-visit that all animation fans will love.  Through a predictable but extensive collection of artifacts, writing, clips, quotes, and interactive touch screens, visitors learn Jones’ story starting with his groundbreaking work during Warner Bros.’ golden era of Saturday morning animation, onto his later work on How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Phantom Toolbooth, and, finally, his influence today. Prolific certainly describes the man; he directed over 300 films (most of them shorts, admittedly.)

Those who perceive Looney Tunes as a childish diversion (like I did) will reconsider after they’ve seen this show, which rightly heralds Jones as a true artist. The exhibit’s highpoint comes with a darkened screening room that shows some of Jones’ greatest work, with introductions from Pixar mastermind John Lasseter. The selected shorts, a kind of greatest hits collections, show impressive range, true skill, and infinite invention. It’s fun to see the advancements in his career by watching these films. Vintage Looney Tunes displays his knack for creating iconic characters (in Wagner spoof “What’s Opera Doc?” and Broadway comedy “One Froggy Evening”), while “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” shows his tender side, while remaining delightfully rewatchable. He was also a witty storyteller capable of clever, intellectual brilliance, as proved by the surprisingly sophisticated Oscar-winning geometrical love story “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics”.

Walking away from the show, you’ll be left with a deeper understanding of the painstaking work that goes into a 5-minute animated short, and discover one of foremost masters of the trade. Chuck Jones’ skill for creating layered plots and stunning visuals may be often mimicked today, but his hand-drawn style and simple comic timing may remains wholly unique.

For more info on the show, click here.

Poignant Family Dramas and a 3-D Food Adventure at TIFF Kids 2014: Flack’s Day 2 Report

Posted on | April 23, 2014 | Add Comments

Lauren and Harvey are on-the-run-siblings searching for a lost grandfather in Side by SideA heartrending family adventure, raining hot dogs, and shorts from up-and-coming (kid) filmmakers rounded out our second day (April 19) at the Toronto International Film Festival Kids. Here’s my thoughts on everything I saw.

Side by Side 4 1/2 Arthur Landon’s coming-of-age family adventure, is easily one one of my favorite films of the year so far. Lauren, a skilled runner, and her younger brother/obsessive gamer Harvey, are tired of their mundane and tragic lives. When their elder grandmother moves to a retirement home and Lauren enrolls in a distinguished running university, Harvey runs away. He’s soon joined by his sister-and a life-changing adventure begins. Filled with Scottish vistas and wonderful cinematography, Side by Side is a poignant drama that’ll have you laughing, crying, and smiling in equal measure.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) realizes his food making machine actually works in Cloudy With a Chance of MeatballsTIFF Kids isn’t just about “watching” movies; it’s about thinking, enjoying, and connecting with film on many levels. Storymobs, a Canadian organization where “great kids’ books meet flash mobs”, worked with families to create costumes and props for an exuberant reading of Judi Barret’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. During the final performance, kids and adults took turns reading, as the audience looked on with hunger. Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s zany 2009 blockbuster adaptation was screened (in mouth-watering 3-D) later that day.

Films like Side by Side and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are made for children but the Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase: Grades 7 and 8 featured films made by children. The featured shorts were all over the place, from a claymation commentary on global warming to a live-action zombie thriller. Some were made by schools, others by individual kids. The range of themes, stories, and mediums was incredible and a joy to watch. Precious Cargo, a touching tale about an elder man contemplating his future, had stunning cinematography and a thoughtful plot that could have you convinced the film was made by a professional. Safety Man and Man VS School were also standouts, with inventive, amusing stories signaling a bright future for film.

It was an impressive day at TIFF but there’s still more to come…

The Wind Rises (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | April 6, 2014 | Add Comments

Jiro Hirokoshi designs airplanes and finds love in The Wind Rises (2013)Ravishing fantasy adventures that appeal to young and old have always been Japanese animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki’s trademark. Films like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess MononokeKiki’s Delivery ServiceSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving CastlePonyo, and others have gained him international acclaim, a legion of fans, and an Oscar. Personally, I’ve always been a fan; his films’ childlike wonder and sometimes philosophical themes are a always a nice refresher from the crass glut of American CGI.

Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, is also his last (you may recognize the title; the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars). Moving away from make-believe worlds of wonder, the film is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer and engineer of many Japanese fighters during World War II. The film follows Jiro, from childhood and college, to designing and engineering, past earthquakes, death, and war. Dream sequences, a trip to Germany, failure, innovation, and romance are all on the menu in this epic wartime love story.

With such success with his “kids movies”, you might think Miyazaki would falter with a serious historical drama rated PG-13. And if you thought that…you’d be wrong. The Wind Rises is easily one of his best works, filled with character, depth, and subtext that will probably reward repeated viewings. Like always, the animation itself is the most impressive aspect of the film (and that’s not a bad thing). Miyizakaki, and his Studio Ghibli, have made visual leaps and bounds since My Neighbor Totoro, released 25 years ago. Backgrounds don’t look grainy, characters no longer have a cute simplicity, and fast-moving action has lost the blurriness of yore. Though the less complex technology worked with his previous films, it almost feels like Miyizaki couldn’t have made Wind Rises until now. The sumptuous, rich visuals have 3-D dimensional scope that wows you in every shot. The movie is like a thousand gorgeous paintings: it could be silent film and still be a must-see.

Perhaps that is what makes the rest of the film so impressive. The brain has as much to think about here as the eyes have to see. Miyizakaki’s script is thoughtful and ponderous, with a lot to say about life, love, and war. Most interesting is the exploration of the relationship between man and machine. Jiro builds planes of beauty and complexity, only to watch them be flown off to kill, kill, kill. By creating these planes, is he encouraging war? Or is he simply designing masterpieces of engineering? There’s so much to chew on here and the filmmakers want you bite it all off.

Wind Rises is also peppered with a strong cast of supporting characters: Jiro’s younger sister, his boss, his best friend, and, maybe most fascinating of all, an on-the-run criminal staying at a nice hotel. In telling the story of a man’s life, it’s inevitable for a film to drag a bit here and there. Near the middle, Wind Rises is a little slow but its meandering feel makes it a unique achievement. It’s like we’re living with main character, watching the world from inside his head.

What a way to go out! The Wind Rises‘ arresting animation and contemplative story make this a true masterpiece and one of the best animated films in recent years. Farewell Miyazaki and thanks for the ride.

2014 Oscar Nominations (Flack’s Predictions)

Posted on | January 16, 2014 | 3 Comments

Chiwetel Ejiofor leads an ensemble cast in Oscar favorite 12 Years A Slave (2013)

This past Sunday, 21 million viewers watched the Golden Globes. The show was filled with bad jokes, rambling speeches, and surprise winners (I scored a just-okay 11 out of 24 on my predictions). But while the Globes can be great fun, there’s one awards show that simply towers above the rest: the Oscars. This year, Ellen DeGeneres will host the 86th Academy Awards on March 2. But until then, I’ll be obsessing over one big question: who will win? And before that: Who will be nominated? That’s the question of the day and I’m here to give you the answers. Without further ado, here’re my predictions and thoughts for 10 main categories (all in random, order, except Best Picture)…

Best Picture (Ranked):

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. American Hustle

3. Gravity

4. Nebraska

5. Her

6. Captain Phillips

7. Saving Mr. Banks

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

9. Inside Llewyn Davis

10. Dallas Buyers Club

Thoughts: There can be 5-10 nominees here but 3 really stand out; 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity are as close to sure-things as possible, while Nebraska and Her should get plenty of votes to round out the top 5. After that, Captain Phillips is a likely 6th nom. But then it gets really murky… Here’s where the 5-10 nominees rule helps: to get nominated, a movie needs 5% of voters to rank a film as their top choice. With that in mind, Saving Mr. BanksInside Llewyn Davis, and The Wolf of Wall Street should manage, thanks to a small number of passionate fans. Don’t be surprised if there’s no 10th nom but Dallas Buyers Club can probably make the cut.

Alfonso Cuaron's technical precision will likely earn him an Oscar nom for Gravity (2013)Best Director:

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Spike Jonze, Her
Alexander Payne, Nebraska

Last year there were some huge surprises in this category and we could see some more of the same this time around. Cuarón, McQueen, and Russell have as much support as their films, but the Directors Guild (which, like the Screen Actors Guild, has some Oscar overlap) also nominated two surprises: The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Martin Scorsese and Captain Phillips’ Paul Greengrass. That puts them in a crowded field for the final two spots, along with Nebraska’s Alexander Payne and Her‘s Spike Jonze. Scorsese has years of respect and Greengrass’ taut, tense style has many fans but don’t count on either one to garner a nod: Payne and Jonze have distinctive auteur styles that would make them both perfect surprises.

Best Actor:

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Christian Bale, American Hustle

Who will win? Who knows! All Is Lost‘s Robert Redford has been largely absent from important pre-cursors (the SAGs, most notably) so Hustles Bale should make the cut. Otherwise, Ejiofor, McConaughey, Dern, and Hanks have battled tough competition (The Butler‘s Forrest Whitaker still has a shot) to become likely nominees.

Best Actress: 

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Judi Dench, Philomena
Amy Adams, American Hustle

The SAGs honored Meryl Streep’s performance in the unloved August: Osage County but she won’t be so lucky here: unlike Streep, these 5 picks have support for their roles and their films.

James Gandolfini's performance in Enough Said (2013) will likely grant him an Oscar nom

Best Supporting Actor:

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Another group that’ll be hard to challenge. The only uncertainty is Gandolfini. Besides his performance, there’s been no awards talk for Enough Said. Daniel Bruhl has been getting a lot of love for his role in Rush, another largely unloved film, and could beat Gandolfini to make the cut. Still, Enough Said‘s late star should claim a spot.

Best Supporting Actress:

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Some awards analysts have struggled to predict five nominees in this small field of competition. Blue Jasmine‘s Sally Hawkins could land a nod but Julia Roberts is a safer choice.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Richard Linklater & Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

Not much to talk about here: almost everyone agrees on these 5.

Best Original Screenplay:

Spike Jonze, Her
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

Each of these films has been getting high acclaim for their sharp dialogue, thoughtfully written characters, and bold originality. Gravity and Enough Said are strong contenders but there’s not much gravity to either one. Enough said.

Best Animated Feature:

Frozen
The Wind Rises
Ernest & Celestine
Despicable Me 2
Monsters University

This normally predictable field of big-budget CGI kiddie comedies has found some surprising resistance in recent years by hand-drawn foreign fare. Expect the trend to continue here, with The Wind Rises especially likely to give the popular Frozen a run for its frontrunner status.

Arcade Fire's Her (2013) score will probably earn them an Oscar nodBest Original Score:

Steven Price, Gravity
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave
John Williams, The Book Thief
Alex Ebert, All Is Lost
Arcade Fire, Her

Steven Price and Hans Zimmer are probable predictions but Thomas Newman’s score for Saving Mr. Banks might beat out Arcade Fire, Alex Ebert, and the beloved John Williams for a spot.

Those are all my predictions for the main nominees but you can tune in tomorrow morning to hear the new Academy president Cheryl Boones Isaac announce the nominees, along with Thor star Chris Hemsworth. Expect more Oscar coverage to come!

The Summer So Far Part 2: Even Farther

Posted on | July 11, 2013 | Add Comments

Johnny Depp and Arnie Hammer in The Lone Ranger (2013)I had a lot of fun writing my triple movie summer report (read it here, if you haven’t already!). Now, the sequel to that article has arrived: a double film review. You can expect at least one more of these before summertime’s up but until then enjoy my thoughts on Pixar’s new family comedy Monster’s University and Disney’s epic new fantasy western The Lone Ranger.

The Oozma Kappa team in Monsters University (2013)First up, lets head to college! Following the dismal Cars 2 and the mediocre Brave, I was hoping for a grand Pixar comeback in the old tradition with their new prequel, Monsters University. And, the comeback is an entertaining one, despite not being as sublimely perfect as previous classics like Walle, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy.

The plot is nothing new: two guys (I mean monsters) who hate each other become best friends amidst exciting adventures and pop culture references. We’ve seen variations of this in Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, and the original Toy Story just to name a few. Even Ratatouille (which starred a rat!) featured the storyline. The spin, on Pixar’s sub genre of mismatched animated buddy comedies, is that Mike and Sulley are off to Monsters University college. The film is a prequel and replaces John Goodman’s Sulley with Billy Crystal’s Mike for main character spot. The pair learn to be friends while participating in a Scare Games Contest with loser fraternity team Oozma Kappa. Will they be able to help out Oozma, win the Games, and become friends? We know all the answers but the ride is fun.

The script doesn’t have the multi-layered depth that Pixar normally brings to the table but there are still hilarious sequences (a swearing in ceremony gone wrong and the first Scare Game). Debut director Dan Scanlon doesn’t have the “Pixar touch” that John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird do, but he still knows how to impress audiences with crackling humor, detailed animation, and rousing action.

As usual, the animation is top notch. The most visually striking element is the diversity of the new characters, whether major or minor. And of course, there’s a few delicately subtle in jokes that fans of the original Monsters Inc. will love.

I’m sounding a little harsh on the film but I actually loved it; it’s got everything you want in a family film! The story is a bit simplistic and a few characters are a bit underdeveloped but it’s plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Will it live on to be a classic? Not as much as something like Up will. But if you enjoyed Monsters Inc., you’ll enjoy this. It may be lacking a bit of magic, but it’s still a delightful blast.

Johnny DEpp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013)Next…To the west!!!  Hi-Ho Silver! The Lone Ranger is back…Albeit more bloated, bloody, and blockbusterized than you might have remembered it. But, nonetheless, it’s back! And, oh kemosabe, what a deliriously ridiculous mess it is.

The story is fairly simple: John Reid goes from mundane lawman to masked avenger as he tries to find and kill the men who killed his brother. Along the way he gets help from the mysteriously strange Tonto.

The director, producer, screenwriters, composer, and star (Johnny Depp) of the vastly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise have reunited for a total reboot of the old Lone Ranger radio series and TV show. They’ve scrapped most of what made the Lone Ranger the Lone Ranger. They’ve traded in family friendly Saturday morning entertainment for bloody battles, physical comedy, new villains, and a slightly altered plot. But the most substantial change here concerns the character Tonto. The always in danger throwaway sidekick has been promoted to main character status with the help of Johnny Depp.

A big shock here is the performances, which are rather good. The always great Depp is hilarious and suitably kooky (or should I say all out crazy?). But Tonto isn’t nearly as interesting as Jack Sparrow and when you compare the jokes of Pirates to Lone Ranger, this seems like a serious drama. The title character is played by Arnie Hammer who surprises with a fine turn. I was expecting him to be bland and boring but he actually isn’t bad. The rest of the cast suffers from an over abundance of characters but the supporting ensemble is okay, though not particularly memorable.

Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if two different versions of the script got mixed up and put in the same pile. That would definitely explain two things: tone mix-ups and the length.

The main people at fault here are the screenwriters of which there were four. They should have definitely cut out half the script. Things to snip? Some excessively gorey moments, way too long action scenes, the flashback framing device, and Helena Bonham Carter and her leg. At 2 1/2 hours, watching the movie actually felt like work: your mission objective for today is to try to sit through this movie!

The other major mistake is the wild shifts of tone. The movie is trying to be a family action comedy but slips into areas of bloodshed filled thriller, romantic old town drama, black comedy, and even bizarro experimental western. If the film makers could’ve stuck to ONE goal the film would have been breezy entertainment instead of drawn out boring.

Is there anything good about this movie? Yes! It doesn’t fail because of the all action-no story trap that most blockbusters fall into. No, there’s something much more intriguing going on here. It’s not a particularly good movie but I’m definitely glad I saw it. As previously mentioned, the leads are appealing. On top of that, the effects are sometimes dazzling, the action scenes occasionally thrilling, and the musical score consistently heart thumping!

As for director Gore Verinski…well he proves he just needs to rein in his vision a bit more. Th screenwriters, editors, and Disney executives are the real issue, though. I also feel that Verbinski might’ve been a bit stressed by the ballooning budget, Johnny Depp’s could have been fatal horse accident, the tragic death of a crew member, and a release date that was moved three times (a record?). It also seems the film might not have stuck to his original vision. The man seems like a savvy director. Next time, he should make an action movie by himself and then sell it to a studio.

The most fascinating movie debacle of the year, The Lone Ranger is a frequently too violent, often overlong, sometimes fun, occasionally genius, and always interesting summer movie. If only Helena Bonham Carter could’ve used her leg to blow up half the running time…

Mike Wasikowski voiced by Billy Crystal in Monsters University (2013)So far it’s an iffy summer for the movies, with only two out of five films I’ve seen being ones I could honestly recommend. More on the summer later but first: the Chatham Orpheum Theater and Jaws.

The Top Ten Films of 2012…and more! (Flick’s List)

Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 4 Comments

We’ve never done it before, never, not for any other year. But all of the other critics do it and we believe the time has come. It’s time to list the top ten films of the year. Below, you can find my top picks. So, what’s the “…and more!”? Well that would be some awards that will be given to the Worst Film of the Year, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. Enjoy! I hope to be posting more posts in the rest of the new year!

First, a word or two describing the year. 2011 was widely considered a terrible year for movies. Personally, I think there were some great spectacles, but, similar to this year, there were also many disappointments. All in all, I would say this year was a better year than last. That is not to say that there were no disappointments. In fact there were several films that I was highly anticipating, that dropped my excitement on the floor.

This was not the year of the spectacle. Many of those let-down films that I mentioned are big, explosive blockbusters. The summer was an unfortunate time for films, but the fall and winter films took the torch to a higher level. So what was this year? This was the year of the small (some large) films that put storytelling first. They didn’t use action sequences and laugh-out-loud jokes to carry the film on their shoulders. No, they used them to build your interest in the story. The films weren’t afraid to have A+ list actors sit in a room and talk for 150 minutes. The films weren’t afraid to build tension during cinematic reincarnations of events that we already know will turn out this way or that way. The films on my top ten list all did one thing in common: they told stories of different scales with one common goal. That goal was to keep the audience wanting more. I’m not saying that we need another sequel. What I mean is these were the films that I responded to…and will treasure over time. But before my list…The other lists!

The Other Top Ten Lists

Below are links to other critics thoughts on the year in film. Some are ten best lists while others are just thoughts and some are both, plus some are even audio. Enjoy!

David Edelstein (New York Magazine/Fresh AirRead the list from New York Magazine here. Listen to his thoughts on Fresh Air here.

A.O. Scott  (The New York Times)

Manhola Dargis (The New York Times)

Stephen Holden  (The New York Times)

Michael Phillips (The Chicago Tribune)

Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film)

David Denby (The New Yorker)

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker)

Adam Kempennar and more (Filmspotting) Listen to Part 1 here. Listen to Part 2 here.

Bob Mondello (All Things Considered)

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) Read his thoughts here.

Empire Magazine 

Total Film Magazine 

Ty Burr (The Boston Globe)

Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe)

Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times)

The Top Ten Films of the Year

10. Frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s ode to classic monster movies beautifully blends sentimentality with purposefully cheesy scares. It features a wonderful opening scene that I won’t spoil here. All I’ll say is that, of every moment in the film, the opening showcases Burton’s wildly funny imagination the best. The rest of the film isn’t quite up to your average Burton par, but it’s still enjoyable fun.

9. The Amazing Spider Man

It’s not the best action film of the year (save that for my next pick), but it’s one spot away (second place!), and an entertaining film at that. It was the only summer spectacle that not only met my expectations, but also took them and threw them out of the window. The film features several mind-blowing action sequences (large poles falling down, a scientist turned lizard, etc.) that may not have revolutionized visual effects, but certainly filled the spot of “Lack of Massive Summer Blockbuster”.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit into two films scared some people out of their minds. But that shock was much smaller than a baby Hobbit compared to the level of surprise when Jackson announced that there would be not two films, but three. Whatever you think about Jackson’s decision, we can only judge the first film. So…let’s judge! Despite that looming dread in the back of my head (“There’s two more coming! Two more coming! Two more coming!”), I managed to enjoy most of the film It’s worth the extra money for the IMAX and 3-D, and despite the overly lengthy battle sequences (“Just throw the rocks already!” raced through my mind), this is an enjoyable romp through the mystical world that Tolkein and Jackson have magically created.

7. Moonrise Kingdom

An extraordinary achievement from a director who managed to blend story with humor, style with substance in this indie wonder. Wes Anderson is the man I am talking about. Anderson only overdoes the story with style a few times, and even those segments are entertaining because of the style overdose. Mostly though, he creates cinematic feats of marvel without using $250 million. Anderson has the ability to create entertaining moments out of small two person conversations, and that is unfortunately a rare however delicate skill.

6. Argo

A tense, politically personal thriller-drama that’s expertly crafted. The entire first three and a half quarters of the film are fabulous. Is it possible to have your heart racing, as you’re laughing? Director and star, Ben Affleck proves it is. The amazingly funny scene stealers are Alan Arkin and John Goodman, although Affleck does underuse them somewhat. The only major weakness of the film is the climax. Affleck makes the final moment so obviously fictional that I shivered in my seat. Other than that though, high marks to Mr. Affleck!

5. Life of Pi

While it doesn’t quite rise to the full potential that Yann Martel’s stunning novel gives, it is still a visual masterpiece and for what we have here, Ang Lee and his screenwriter, David Magee, do a good job with keeping everythng straight. The 3-D is the best I have ever seen and this is a competitor for my favorite visuals in a film of this year. (The only other close contenders areThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Amazing Spider Man.)

4. Les Miserables

Forget what they said. The critics were wrong. “A tasteless bombardment” and “I screamed a scream as time went by” were two of many criticisms that critics threw at this film. But, I heartily disagree. The only reason why you could possibly not like the film is because of the camera-on-a-rope effect that is slightly overdone and, of course, if you don’t like the music, then you won’t like it anymore after sitting in the dark for nearly three hours. But I love the music and the film. Tom Hooper’s decision to actually sing live (on set), was a great one because it pulls out the true emotion in the actors which forces us to feel like we’re sitting just above a Broadway stage. All of the actors are wonderful, especially Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. And while Russel Crowe doesn’t have quite as perfectly rounded a voice as Jackman and Hathaway, he can sing. I dreamed a dream that time went by and this remained…CLASSICCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!!!!!!!!

3. Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man is in my opinion the best doccumentary of 2012. There were many other good ones, but this one prevails. It takes the story of an American musician who, ironically, failed in America but was a big success in South Africa and then…He shot himself in front of an audience at the end of a performance. But the film searches for the musician who went by the name Rodriguez. The story is fascinating and as a South African record store owner and music journalist come closer and closer to the truth, the pulse pounding kicks in. And boy does it kick hard. The film doesn’t only tell a fascinating story, but it also tells it well. On top of it all, Rodriguez’s music is wonderful and fortunately director Malik Bendjelloul isn’t afraid to incorporate Rodriguez’s music into the story, this giving the film a breaking-the-boundaries-of-doccumentaries feel. When the credits roll you are left with Rodriguez strumming his guitar and singing his pesimistic, yet amazing lyrics. “Sugar man” he sings. “Oh my gosh!” I respond, in awe of a riveting tale.

2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg has a wide range: sci-fi ’70s action films to Indy & co. adventures to gritty warfare violence. But I didn’t think he could do this. Here, Spielberg manages to shift the focus in key moments from Lincoln to other vital characters. He also manages to do what, judging from the trailer, everyone thought impossible: turn Lincoln from giant legend statue to intimate, understanding, man. Best of all is Daniel Day-Lewis’ unflinching portait of Lincoln that is without a doubt mesmerizingly real. The screenplay by Tony Kushner, I agree with the critics, does feel more like a play than a film. That doesn’t mean that Spielberg loses sight of his usually cinematic camera angles. In a year of films that ranged from the plain awful to the cream of a very good crop, Lincoln managed to battle it’s way to second place. It is a sincere and beautiful film, not because it involves $250 million effects (which it doesn’t), but because Spielberg and his team took their time. In doing so they have created a film that is beatiful because it is so unlike anything else. It is a real masterpiece.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Raw. It’s definition: “a material or substance in it’s natural state; not yet processed or purified”. That’s how I would describe Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is directed by a debut director and it stars an adult who is a debut and…Quvenzhanè Wallis. Possibly the best performance of the year, as it is unrivaled in realistic feeling. By the way, she was five when she shot it and had never acted in anything before. And the film was shot with just under $2 million. And yet Zeitlin manages to capture truly wonderful acting in order to ground the film in raw, stark reality. The first time I watched the film, I was under impressed, but the second time, the film was totally different to me. Now, I can’t wait to see it for a third time.

The Year Roundup

I hope you enjoyed my list of the top ten films of the year. But no worries: it’s not time to say goodbye yet! Oh no! To give light to other films that didn’t crack the top ten, but were brilliant or horrible in their own way, I have decided to list off some achievements. Let’s start with the worst of the worst.

Worst Film: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

I love Dr. Seuss’ playful and funny books, his wit and his humor that travels to all ages. But this animated film is the opposite. Here we get a piece of tasteless trash. A despicable film this is. Not only does it not do justice to a timeless book, it seems as if the filmmakers are prurposefully trying to make this a terrible experience for the audience: it’s unbelievably that bad! The songs are tastelessly antagonizing the already boring film. Am I overwhelming you with terribly awful adjectives? I am sorry, but this film deserves them. There is however one redeeming element to the film: it’s a very short 86 minutes!

Thoughts on Performances of the Year:

This year was a great one for performances. They ranged from debut breakouts that include Suraj Sharma to Ben Affleck sporting a ’70s hairdo to Hugh Jackman singing at the top of his lungs. Some actors and actresses starred in many films like the Hemsworth brothers, Liam and Chris. (Liam appeared in three films: The Hunger Games, The Expendables 2, and Love and Honor. Chris on the other hand, tied his brother’s amount of films and appeared in The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Red Dawn.) But my favorite actor and actress of the year both appeared in one film. The actor nearly didn’t get the part, not because he wasn’t offered it, but because he dismissed it. Once he accepted, he researched the role for one year. The actress had nothing to research. She did the audition. Two days later, her mother gets a phone call. She got the part. Both performances are massively different, but both are, in my opinion, truly wonderful works of acting. Here they are.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

I have never seen an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. This is the only film I’ve seen him in, but while and after watching him, I could feel Lincoln. Lincoln is one of the most loved American presidents of all time. He is one of the most famous people of all time. He died one of the most tragic deaths of all time. How do you translate all of that into one film, more precisely one performance? You don’t. You focus on one task out of a trillion and make that performance a nail biting “How did he pull that off?” craze. In a year of great male performances, this one arose from the rest because of Day-Lewis’ sheer skill.

Best Actress: Quvenzhanè Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

“Come on! She was five years old when she shot the film!” If you haven’t seen the film, that is what must be racing through your mind. That’s exactly what I thought when I heard the buzz. There were definitely many great performances from adult women this year, so why did this youngster surpass them all? I highly doubt that Wallis was aiming for perfection. I think she was just doing her best. But there is a raw intensity that she posses. It’s far too raw for some; many people don’t enjoy watching something so real. But I love it. I love the overwhelming expressions that spread across Wallis’ face as her character, Hushpuppy, experiences many things that your average 5 year-old wouldn’t be able to handle. This is barely a performance: to me it registers more as a 5 year-old being put on camera, acting as she always would. This is probably part of Wallis’ genius.

Thoughts on Directors: I’ve already talked about the great performances of the year, but now the question has come: how are these films crafted so greatly? They are directed by a great director. Also, the entire film. From the special effects to the score to the cinematography; it comes down to the director to make the final decision. The greatest directors of this year are the ones who have been able to take the stories and make them something of their own. They put their style into it. Lincoln wouldn’t have been the same if it was directed by Benh Zeitlin or Terrence Malick or Martin Scorsese or Tim Burton. As you read those names you must be thinking “I can’t even imagine the film with those directors at the helm!”. That’s my point! Spielberg makes Lincoln his own film. But what about some other directors who are just starting out. Take for example Malik Bendjelloul (Searching For Sugar Man) or Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man). Are they just as good? Judging from this year, yes. But my No. 1 pick just barely manages to rise above the rest.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Although Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to beat out Lincoln for my favorite film of the year, Spielberg managed to beat Zeitlin for my favorite director. Why? Because, with Lincoln, I sense Spielberg is moving into a new phase of his career. Is this enough for me to award him as being the best director of the year? No. But this phase, judging from this film, will be a wonderful one, an absolutely great one. Spielberg garners great performances from his actors, but so does Zeitlin! Yes, but I think Wallis is more responsible for her performance than Zeitlin. I think Spielberg is very much responsible for not only Day Lewis’ performance, but the entire ensemble’s performance. Spielberg has so much to deal with: keeping John Williams’ score hearty and exciting, but reserved, keeping the editing in sync with the film’s long, slowly drawn out pace, not allowing for Janusz Kaminski to get too fancy with the camera work, and of course getting the most emotional, dramatic, yet real performances out of the talented cast. And he pulls it off. Every nitty-gritty trick, it’s all there.

With that, I hope you’ve enjoyed my year end-wrap up extravaganza. It was probably the hardest post to write out of any that I have written. It’s also just about the longest (or pretty close) post I ever wrote. But, I think it was worth it. Was it? (Comment below! COMMENT BELOW!!!!!) Until the next post…”That’s all folks!” (Trust me, that’s really all there is left to say.)

Arthur Christmas (Flack’s Holiday Recommendation)

Posted on | December 8, 2012 | 1 Comment

Poster for Arthur Christmas (2011)

4 1/2 Stars

Arthur Christmas tells the story of the Claus family. There’s the current Santa named Malcolm, the classic looking ho-ho ho man; there’s Steve, the modern and selfish one who’s next in line; and then there’s the Grandsanta, who’s been retired for a while but still quite lively. Of course there’s also (and surprisingly just one) Mrs. Claus and lots and lots of elves. Every year they go around delivering 2 billion presents around the world, despite some years with glitches. This year they succeed. “Mission accomplished!”, yells Santa! It’s Santa’s 70th year and he’s expected to retire (the balloons say “Congratulations Steve”, for goodness sake) but he doesn’t. And then Arthur the silliest, youngest, and most anxious (for Christmas) member of the family discovers one kid’s been missed! A girl named Gwen wants a pink bicycle and even wrote a nice letter about it but she’s now in danger of getting 0 presents! So along with Grandsanta, a stowaway wrapping expert elf, and all eight reindeer Arthur travels to return this present in a hobbly, wobbly sleigh. And let’s just say this one present isn’t delivered in the 18.4 second average a character mentions early in the film. On Arthur’s journey he encounters many obstacles. Lions in Africa, a government that thinks he’s in a UFO, reindeer that keep falling, and more are all big hurdles. We also get to see the spaceship Santa travels in. That brings in another problem: perhaps Grandsanta didn’t want to help Gwen out and perhaps he just wanted to prove to Santa and Steve that traveling in hi-tech sleighs and going down chimneys can still be done. But can they deliver the Christmas present before Gwen wakes up?

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

This is the perfect Christmas movie: it’s short, funny, and has mass appeal for the whole family. Once the journey gets going you can tell how almost every scene is going to play out. But the overcalculation never really bugged me. Anyone over the age of 9 will know how the story is going to turn out (if they’ve seen other movies) but that’s not the point. The film is so joyous that you’ll get too wrapped into the fun to care about the flaws.

The jokes are wonderful. There’s slapstick comedy, hilarious one liners, and terrific gags about the Santa buisness: in other words those of all ages will find something to laugh at! The script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith is incredibly well done. Aardman is a bit underappreciated, in my opinion. If you ask some one if they’ve heard of the company they’ll probably just say “Oh didn’t they do Wallace and Gromit!?” And the answer is yes, but not only. They’ve also made Chicken Run and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (among some others), which are also great holiday family viewing for once you get tired of ho-ho-ho films. Aardman is arguably the British Pixar. The animation is always amazing and the films themselves appeal to the whole family.

Here’s a link to our article about seeing the premiere of The Pirates! Band of Misfits and meeting Peter Lord (the director of Pirates! and producer of Arthur Christmas) at TIFF Kids (Toronto International film Festival Kids).

Long time Aardman fans might be a bit surprised by the fact that the film isn’t stop motion, the way their films are typically made. But the CGI didn’t bother me. It’s as sleek and different from clay puppets as can be but works well for this film (the visuals are much more complex and intricate than Wallace and Gromit, for example).

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta in Arthur Christmas (2011)

One last, great thing is the voices. James McAvoy as Arthur and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta are the two standouts but Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, and Ashley Jensen are terrific in supporting roles. As for the nameless elves there’s an unbelievable amount of star wattage. I couldn’t tell that many of these actors played minor elf roles (Andy Serkis, Robbie Coltrane!). Click here to see the full cast and crew.

The movie also has a great moral: when others give up on something you think is worthwhile accomplishing, don’t back off. “Be the change you want to see in the world as Arthur (I mean Gandhi) once said. Arthur is committed and even if he’s occasionally foolish he’s not one to back down from something that’s right. Anyone who watches this movie can learn something from this message.

Arthur Christmas in Arthur Christmas (2011)

My favorite character is Arthur Christmas because he (as mentioned in the paragraph above) is strong willed and smart. He may seem nonsensical and foolish but, more so than anyone else in his family, he proves that he cares that every child gets what they want for Christmas. James McAvoy is great as the voice behind the character.

My favorite scene is the opening. We get to see the visually astonishing sled spaceship for the first time as well as the process of delivering presents. Go to iTunes to watch the first 9 minutes and 47 seconds of the film for free and understand fully what I am talking about.

Arthur Christmas has been rated PG for some mild rude humor by the MPAA. I completely disagree. Everyone always complains about how few G movies are released. That’s a true statement and one way to solve that problem would be if the MPAA rated movies (that should be G) G. I would rate it, Arthur Christmas, G but note that there is some intensely perilous action sequences that may be frightening to younger viewers.

Arthur Christmas and Bryony in Arthur Christmas (2011)Who It’s For: Arthur Christmas is a must for those tired of the Christmas classics viewed time and time again, year after year. Original, beautiful, exciting, filled with adventure, and appealing to 5 year olds and 95 year olds this exactly what a great holiday family movie should be.

Don’t forget to check back for more holiday movie recommendations (with Who It’s For special paragraphs) from Flick and Flack coming soon!

PCFF Showing Outside Shorts This Thursday

Posted on | December 5, 2012 | Add Comments

Providence Children's Film Festival (PCFF) logoLooking for some great outdoor film fun? Well then jump like a piece of popcorn being popped over to Hope Street and more specifically, Seven Stars Bakery this Thursday!!! Some shorts will be shown outside of the much loved bakery by the PCFF (aka the amazing Providence Children’s Film Festival). While you’re there don’t forget to go into Seven Stars for a movie treat (foccacia bread is my favorite!). Most of the shops on Hope Street will also be open later than usual from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. The details are listed below.

December 6, 4:00-8:00pm

Outdoor Film Event at Hope Street Holiday Stroll
COST: Free
AGES: All ages
VENUE:
Outside at Seven Stars Bakery, 820 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906

Holiday stroll 4-8pm; Film shown 5:30pm-7:30pm.

Last but not least get ready for the 4th annual PCFF coming February 14th-19th, 2013! Many fantastic local and foreign movies are coming your way!!!

 

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