The First Seven Minutes of Drive

January 31, 2012

I got this off of the /Film blog and had to post this myself. Drive was my second favorite film of 2011 and this opening sequence was definitely one of the reasons why I loved the film so much. Just within these opening scenes, you can feel the style and the tone of the film, plus witnessing incredible Ryan Gosling playing the most bad-ass character in his career. If you haven’t seen the film yet, check out the clip below and pick up the DVD or Blu-ray.


Alcatraz – “Cal Sweeney” (S01E04)

January 31, 2012

There was something about Lost that annoyed me sometimes, and that was when the episodes wouldn’t spend enough time from what was happening on the island. Instead, they cluttered the episodes up with flashback stories of a specific character. But with Lost, whatever was happening on the island would keep on trucking forward. In Alcatraz, you know the action will end within the episode.

Because of this, once again this week’s episode of Alcatraz felt uneven. The present was full of police procedures trying to capture our prisoner of the week, Cal Sweeney, while the past was unraveling more of the mystery surrounding what the hell happened. Tense scenes like when Sweeney was surrounded by the police with what they believed was a hostage situation resolved itself way too quickly and neatly, but that’s what happens when you cram in too much in one episode.

The episode had a few major points that progressed the mystery that is embedded inside of the show. First, we see Lucy Banerjee dining with the Warden and speaking of how traumatic memories are reinforced in criminal behavior. She theories if somehow those memories could be removed, will their criminal behavior vanish? Interesting stuff. Next, after they captured Sweeney, Madsen confiscated another large key. Hauser gave this one to a team of scientists and, placed next to the one they took from Sylvane, hope to discover what they’re meant for. The final scene of the episode revealed the Warden using those two keys, along with a third, to open a secret door on Alcatraz.

– It was fun seeing Sweeney go all Anton Chigurh on his victims with the cattle gun.
– The dinner scene worked very well in this episode and might’ve been the best scene of the series to date.
– Seriously, what was behind the door that the Warden opened? Could it be the Smoke Monster?!

HBO’s Premiere of “Luck”

January 30, 2012

HBO’s newest drama series is titled, “Luck.” Set in present day, the show surrounds itself with horse and the life of gambling at the racetrack. For those who never stepped foot at a racetrack before (myself included), it took a while to understand all the motives and regulations for what the characters were trying to achieve. But aside from the vernacular, Luck is shaping up to be one hell of a show.

Dustin Hoffman plays Chester “Ace” Bernstein who has just been released from prison after a three-year sentence. His friend, Gus Demitriou, drives him back and will now be the front to Ace’s plans, since he has to be cautious not to violate his parole. There isn’t much more information to Ace’s plan aside from his eye on a particular horse. We’ll see what his whole deal is soon enough.

The bulk of the episode concentrated on four gamblers, Jerry, Lonnie, Marcus and Renzo who are punching in their ticket for the multi-million dollar jackpot of the Pick Six. If they predict the winners of six consecutive races, they have the chance to win the jackpot. The most vital of the group is Jerry, whose reputation in poker doesn’t live up to his talent at picking horses at the racetrack.

Jerry’s most controversial pick was the fourth race when he singled in Mon Gateau, a 12-1 odds horse that hasn’t run in two years. But Jerry likes Mon Gateau’s trainer, Turo Escalante. Even though the jockey didn’t follow Escalante’s advice to win, Mon Gateau pulls off the upset. Escalante cashes in his winnings and eventually so do the four gamblers who win the grand prize of the Pick Six.

While I am unfamiliar with the world of the racetrack, the show kept my attention especially during the racing scenes. There are a number of characters that are seemingly connected, so that’s going to be fun to watch. Dustin Hoffman will certainly be able to capture our undivided attention in upcoming episodes, and I look forward to being amazed by Nick Nolte. With only eight episodes to go, I can’t wait to see where Luck takes me.

Top Films of 2011

January 27, 2012

So here it is, my ten favorite movies of 2011. Overall, the films of 2011 were very good, but not great. There were plenty of films that stood out as being better than average, but the year lacked that one or two films that you would really remember as being “the movie of 2011.” If I had to pick one, it might go to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, just because it marked the end of the franchise. If not, then possible 2011 will be remembered for releasing the polarizing, abstract film The Tree of Life by Terrance Malick. But neither of those films cracked my Top Ten List.

1.  A Separation

My favorite film of 2011 wasn’t a product of the incredible movie industry in America. A Separation is an Iranian drama set in modern day and focuses on a family with many tough decisions to make. First and foremost, does the family leave the difficult living standards of Iran to provide their young daughter a better future? The parents both want to, but the father is caring for his elderly father with Alzheimer’s. To admit that this is the least of their future problems displays how powerful this film becomes. A Separation is one of the best family-drama films I have ever watched and is the best film of 2011.

2.  The Descendants

This film had something that no other film I watched had: complexity. Most of the best films of the year were fairly simple and straight-forward, but not The Descendants. There were layers upon layers of conflict and consequences, and incredible depth within each character. George Clooney gave arguably his best performance to date, and newcomer Shailene Woodley complimented his performance very well. This is just a story about a normal family going through a lot of shit, and as a viewer you hope they can remain intact at the end. A brilliant film by Alexander Payne.

3.  Drive

This might be the most memorable film of the year, in my opinion. Everything about this movie screams “style” all over the place, from Gosling’s metallic, silver jacket to the stoic, unknown character with the credits of “Driver.” There is so much explained with so little dialogue. Also, this film contains one of my favorite scenes of the year: the elevator scene.

4.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There’s no surprise that a David Fincher film would appear on my list. I was excited when this film was released and the film definitely met my expectations. Mara Rooney’s Lisbeth Salander took the world by storm and she has Fincher to thank for that. The 158 minute run-time breezed by, thanks to Steve Zaillian. Overall, this was a disturbing thriller that wrapped my mind around one of the most intriguing characters I’ve ever seen on the screen. I can’t wait for the sequels.

5.  Midnight in Paris

This actually might be my favorite film of the year, but ended up being fourth simply because there were better movies, imo. But what a joy it was to watch Woody Allen’s love poem to Paris. While I’m not a big Owen Wilson fan, he fit the part perfectly with his boy-ish charm and the way he wandered around the city like a lost puppy. Oh, and there’s what a fantasy aspect about the film that was the biggest surprise for me of the year. This was well done all-around.

6.  The Help

The Help does a lot of things right and was one of the two surprises of the year with a female ensemble cast (the other was Bridesmaids). The reason why this film is on my list instead of Bridesmaids is because there is a lot more meaning and power behind The Help than the raunchy-comedy. The Help features some of the best female performances of 2011 featuring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, and Emma Stone. In a male-driven industry, it’s quite a feat what The Help accomplished as a movie.

7.  Beginners

What first peaked my interest about this movie was the premise: a 75-year-old man admits he’s gay six months after his wife of 38 years passes away. What I didn’t expect was a delicate love story starring Ewan McGregor who was trying to put the past behind him to start over. There were so many small, quirky things I loved about this movie that made this such a gem to watch. Oh, and that Christopher Plummer guy was pretty damn good.

8.  The Artist

This is a joyful film from beginning to end, and the fact that it’s a black & white, silent film just makes it more impressive. The two lovely leads share great chemistry with each other in all of their scenes. I loved The Artist because not only is it a reminder and a tribute to how films were in the past, but it’s also a very heart-felt romantic-comedy.

9.  Like Crazy

Easily the most romantic film of the year, Like Crazy dealt with the ups and downs of young love trying to blossom into “happily ever after” through life’s many obstacles. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones are incredible throughout this highly-improved film. It’s this year’s Blue Valentine, but even more powerful.

10.  Hugo

Martin Scorsese’s first 3-D film shows his passion of the history of cinema and the importance of movie preservation. Aside from that, it’s a wonderfully imaginative film about a boy’s search to understand where he belongs. My favorite aspect about Hugo was when they explored the pioneers who realized you could capture dreams on screen. This was a very touching movie, but don’t mistake this for a children’s film.

11.  Moneyball

Moneyball is as much about baseball as The Social Network is about Facebook. With arguably the best dialogue in any film from 2011 (Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian), Moneyball showcases the business and aesthetic of the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane. The film explores themes of social classes and thinking outside of the box to achieve a similar goal. Anchored by a great performance by Brad Pitt, this film is great entertainment.

12. Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

One of the more pleasant surprises of the year was the fourth installment of the spy/action franchise, Mission Impossible. Going in I was interested in Brad Bird’s live-action directorial debut. Leaving the theater, I was left with such an experience that no action film has impacted me aside from The Dark Knight. The pacing was tremendous and there was a perfect blend of action and comedy. This should be the standard that all action movies will be compared to. Yes, this film is that good. In addition, this film had one of my favorite scenes of the year: Tom Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa.

Alcatraz – “Kit Nelson” (S01E03)

January 25, 2012

This week’s episode of Alcatraz dealt with a prisoner named, Kit Nelson, who was in jail because he was a child killer. So what does Mr. Nelson decide to do in the present? He goes and kidnaps a child. After Dr. Soto hears it over a police scanner, he knows exactly who is their next target.

Just like the first two episodes of the series, I enjoyed this episode but there is still a lot to be desired. Sure, it was creepy watching Nelson force his 11-year-old victim to dunk his head under water and eat cherry pie. It was also suspenseful watching Madsen and Soto chasing Nelson through the woods. But I feel like there is a lot more to explore and the show is taking its dear time with it.

I get that this is going to be a show like House with enough minor information to keep pushing forward the season-long story arc, but these stand-alone episodes are slowing down what could be a very good show. What’s keeping the viewers intact is the well-written stories of the prisoners. I prefer last week’s sniper to this week’s child-murderer, but both were well-acted and well-executed.

Again, I’m most likely going to watch the entire first season before making a decision to drop Alcatraz or not. I just hope they pick up the pace before it’s too late.

84th Annual Academy Awards Nominations Announced!

January 24, 2012

The Oscar nominations were announced this Tuesday morning and Hugo leads all films with 11 nominations. Below are the listed nominations and then my comments follow.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011)
The Descendants (2011)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
The Help (2011)
Hugo (2011/II)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Moneyball (2011)
The Tree of Life (2011)
War Horse (2011)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)
George Clooney for The Descendants (2011)
Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)
Viola Davis for The Help (2011)
Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011)
Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)
Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)
Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)
Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)
Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)

Best Achievement in Directing

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)
Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)
Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)
Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011/II)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen
A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Hugo (2011/II): John Logan
The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris (2010)
Chico & Rita (2010)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Puss in Boots (2011)
Rango (2011)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Bullhead (2011): Michael R. Roskam(Belgium)
Footnote (2011): Joseph Cedar(Israel)
In Darkness (2011): Agnieszka Holland(Poland)
Monsieur Lazhar (2011): Philippe Falardeau(Canada)
A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi(Iran)

Just like every year when the Oscar nominations are announced, there are plenty of surprises when the majority of people believe the race is bland and stale. Starting with the screenplay categories, I didn’t see Margin Call (Original Screenplay) or The Ides of March (Adapted Screenplay) sneaking in. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which received plenty of love this morning by The Academy.

Once again, David Fincher didn’t get the recognition from The Academy that he deserves. One day, they’ll finally understand what brilliant work he is accomplishing year after year, but for now he’ll just have to remain frustrated. Meanwhile, the only surprise in the Best Director category was Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. Usually, being snubbed by the DGA is a big indication that you’re not going to be nominated for an Oscar, but this year proved otherwise.

In the acting categories there were plenty of snubs and surprises. The biggest snub was when Albert Brooks wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actor in his great performance in Drive. Instead, Mox von Sydow snuck in for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which was an indication for things to come. In the Actress categories, I was able to predict 9 of the 10 nominations, so there weren’t really any surprises. But in the Acting categories, I couldn’t believe that Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for Best Actor. Instead, Demian Bichir (A Better Life) and Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) were nominated.

Finally, there were 9 Best Picture nominations, and to keep the suspense up they didn’t announce the films in any order. They started out with a surprise right off the bat, with War Horse receiving a Best Picture nomination without any Acting, Writing, or Directing nods. The next surprise was The Tree of Life, which didn’t get any recognition throughout awards season from the Guilds. But the biggest surprise was the final film announced for Best Picture: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Seriously, where the hell did that movie come from?! Practically being invisible throughout all of awards season, that was the bomb that shook the Oscar world. This year’s The Blind Side? I think so.

My reaction to the nominees are divided. I wish The Academy would’ve rewarded excellent films like Drive and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with what they deserved. But as they went on to miss acting, writing, and directing nods, I knew Best Picture wasn’t possible. But I am happy that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy got lots of love from The Academy. But what it all comes down to is if any film can beat out The Artist. It’s very doubtful, but I’ll have my eyes glued on February 26th to find out.

Alcatraz Premiere: “Pilot” and “Ernest Cobb”

January 17, 2012

FOX has a new series on their network, a supernatural-cop drama called “Alcatraz” starring Sarah Jones, Sam Neill, and Jorge Garcia. With JJ Abrams’ name being flashed around the commercials, I’m sure FOX is trying to bank on his recent success from Lost. The idea is helped out by a Lost alum, Garcia, playing a major role in Alcatraz. So what’s the deal with this show?

The premise is that Alcatraz closed in 1963. The prisoners were supposed to be transferred out of the island, but that never happened. The mystery is, what did? Now, it seems that the disappeared inmates are appearing in present day with a mission. We have Rebecca (Jones), the ambitious detective teaming up with the knowledgeable Alactraz historian Doc (Garcia), working with Emerson Hauser (Neill) to track down each and every Alcatraz prisoner before its too late.

Spoilers below

Alcatraz seems like it’s going to be a very formulaic show, with each episode titled after the inmate they’re trying to track down and eventually lock up in the new Alcatraz prison. There is certainly a good amount of mystery surrounding the story-line to keep its audience coming back week-after-week, but is it engaging enough simply as a cop-drama?

Not for me, or at least thus far. The first two episodes were heavy on plot and the quick-moving investigation to capture the prisoners they were after, but I’m not focused enough on the main characters. I want to know more about Detective Rebecca Madsen. Linking her directly to one of the Alcatraz inmates (her grandfather!) is definitely a great plot-line, but I need more to root for her. I need to know more about her surrogate uncle and the show has to let us in on the secret of who Emerson Hauser is and what’s his deal.

Both episodes ended with a nice “whoa” moment, displaying how Hauser and his assistant Lucy Banerjee both have past lives from the 1960’s Alcatraz timeline, but my curiosity is stronger than my intrigue. Am I really prepared to invest a great deal of time to another supernatural show with multiple story-lines and dozens of questions that will slowly be answered? I think we all had enough of that from Lost, which is why I’ve been keeping myself busy with forward-moving dramas like Game of Thrones and Homeland. But I’m definitely willing to keep watching Alcatraz for now.

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