December 1, 2009

NaFF Films Nab Independent Spirit Nominations

2009 Opening Night Presentation, (500) Days of Summer is nominated for Best Picture. Additionally the film was nominated for Best Screenplay and Joseph Gordon-Levitt was nominated for Best Actor. Audience Award Winner That Evening Sun picked up two nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mia Wasikowska - note: she'll be playing Alice in Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland) and Best Supporting Actor (Ray McKinnon). Finally, Dia Sokol - whose directorial debut Sorry, Thanks made its Southeast US Premiere at the fest, is nominated for the Piaget Producers Award for two of her other films Beeswax and Nights & Weekends

If there's a surprise snub in all of this its the fact that Film Independent was aware enough of That Evening Sun to nominate two of its actors but they failed to nominated Hal Holbrook in a career-capping performance that some think may bring him an Oscar nomination.

Still, all in all a pretty good showing for NaFF's class of 2009.

November 18, 2009

Oscars Announce Short List of 15 for Best Documentary Consideration

The Academy has announced the short list of 15 films selected to contend for Best Documentary at the 2010 Oscars. Two of the fifteen films - Garbage Dreams and Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders - are on the list! Those who attended the 2009 NaFF got an early look at two great documentaries.

Our best wishes to the filmmakers and fingers, toes, legs, and elbows are all crossed that come nomination day, they will find themselves on that even shorter list.

November 10, 2009

As We Near the End of the Decade...2000

Now seems as good a time as any to start reliving the decade that was the Aughts. There were up years and down years. There was, of course, the attacks of 9/11/01 and the two still-unfinished wars to follow - and those events have shaped not only the decade's politics, but its films as well. But, before all those things happened, we entered the century with hope. We were riding a (soon-to-burst) tech bubble. The internet could do just about anything, couldn't it? This was a time before Facebook, YouTube, and even MySpace was yet to become yesterday's news.

It was 2000 - and here are my Ten Favorite Films from that years.

#10 - Best in Show

Christopher Guest had just finished building his gigantic cult following with Waiting for Guffman a couple of years before, so there were many people salivating for what would come next. What came next was the subtle, sly, funny-as-hell Best in Show, a movie that just keeps getting funnier over time (and has helped dog shows improve their television ratings). Nearly all of the cast from Guffman return and the now-famous Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge join the crew of varying dog owners, all striving to win Best in Show at what is clearly a parody of the Westminster Kennel Club show. Everyone is great, but Fred Willard steals the show as the clueless color commentator with lines like: "I went to one of those obedience places once... it was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts." Wouldn't you just love to hear that on a live television show? Anywho - as we go along reviewing the decade, you'll note that the #10 slot each year will tend to be reserved for a film that I continue to enjoy years down the road. Best in Show is a perfect example.

#9 - Beau Travail

One does not often get the chance to see a female French director's adaptation of a Herman Melville story set in the West African enclave of Djibouti, so when one is given the chance, one should take it. So I thought when Claire Denis' enigmatic offering arrived in 2000. Based on 'Billy Budd', Denis' film is a visual stunning examination of the French Foreign Legion, an all-male society - its rituals, its pecking orders, and the cruel punishments levied upon those who break its ranks. Clearly Denis appreciates and respects the physicality of the life of a soldier. The daily routines and workouts are filmed in an almost elegiac manner. The story (what there is of it, plot is not the top priority here) takes off when private Sentain (Gregoire Colin) saves the life of a fellow soldier after his helicopter crashes into the Gulf of Aden. Instead of praise, Sergeant Galoup (Denis Levant) doubts his charges benevolence and begins to punish and persecute him for standing out. What ensues is a game of wills. But Denis doesn't fall into the traditional traps of a thriller - there's no good (indeed, Sentain only did what he did out of sense of duty, not out of kindness) or evil (Galoup merely wants to maintain order and if Sentain gets too much praise, he could upset the order of command). It's a mysterious film with a mysterious ending. One that I can't get out of my head nearly a decade later.

#8 - The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

I'm not Jewish, nor am I a baseball fan, so it's testimony to Aviva Kempner's film that I count The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg - a documentary about a Jewish baseball player and champion slugger - among my favorite films of the decade. I'll readily admit, I had no idea who Greenberg was going in. And if you don't know who he is, here's a short intro: Greenberg, a Hall-of-famer, began his career in the midst of the Depression. Proudly Jewish (if not terribly observant), Greenberg challenged a nation filled with anti-Semitism (some from his fellow players and fans of the Detroit Tigers, for whom he played) and stereotypes. He would twice win MVP and threatened to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. The movie is great for introducing you to the man and giving you the context in which his achievements occurred. Perhaps the most revealing moment: his final year in the majors was 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. The fact that there is archival footage of the two of them on the diamond together is something to celebrate. Said Robinson of Greenberg: "He gave me encouragement, Mr. Greenberg is class. It stands out all over him." A man worthy of celebrating, a film worthy of him.

#7 - The Wind Will Carry Us

At the end of Abbas Kiarostami's quiet rumination on the simple life, a grizzled old doctor tells the protagonist (an engineer far from his urban home), "Observing nature is better than playing backgammon or doing nothing." He then defines death as the moment "you close your eyes on the beauty of the world." Indeed, after watching Kiarostami's films from this period (including the 1997 gem A Taste of Cherry), you feel as if you are alive and that your eyes are open. That said, some may find themselves lulled to sleep by Kiarostami's pacing. I however find that the pacing is exactly the point the doctor is making. Slow down and appreciate what surrounds you. Our protagonist - the engineer - is part of a team sent to the remote village of Siah Dareh to observe the mourning rituals of the community. But since, the woman expected to die isn't yet dead, he interacts with the villagers and instead of observing death, he learns how to live. Honestly, it couldn't be more simple. But it's from that simplicity that beauty blooms.

# 6 - Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky's fever dream of a movie is one of the darkest portraits of addiction ever put on screen. The next year, Jennifer Connelly would win an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind (blech) by saying things like, "I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible" (again, blech). She should have won for her work here. Which only proves that Oscar voters would rather here treacly inspirational lines what watch you do lines (and then there's that final scene which I can't bring myself to describe other than it involves a large plasticine phallys). Anyway, the imagery is intoxicating. The acting is astonishing (Ellen Burstyn also should have won), the score by Kronos Quartet is unforgettable, and you really feel like you need a shower when it's over. Seriously, this movie would probably do more to prevent kids from doing drugs than DARE. I've never gone back to watch it because it's so dark and yet, I can recall nearly every scene and image. A remarkable feat.

#5 - Dancer in the Dark

Everyone's favorite pixie, Bjork, stars as the 2000 version of a woman to be punished by the world. In this case, she's a single mother going blind, who endures terrible things in an attempt to save enough money for her son to get surgery that will prevent him from suffering her fate. But oh, what things she must suffer (don't they all in a Lars von Trier film?). So, to escape the cruelty of the world around her, she dreams that life is a 1930's era musical. With music and lyrics by BJork (it was a Best Original Song nomination that brought her to the Oscars in the now infamous swan dress), the film is an astonishing accomplishment. The same scene can induce cringes of pain followed almost immediately by rapturous joy. It's half Dogme; and half Warner Bros. If you haven't experienced it, you must. There's certainly been nothing quite like it before or after - although you might notice the influence of this film on Lee Daniels' upcoming Precious.

#4 - You Can Count on Me

Ken Lonergan, a renowned playwright and screenwriter, directed (so far) only one film - this 2000 gem starring Laura Linney (nominated for an Academy Award for the role) and Mark Ruffalo (should have been nominated for an Academy Award for this role). The story is simple: Linney is Sam, a struggling single mother trying to make ends meet when her prodigal brother Terry returns to their small New York town. You immediately get the sense that she loves him, but that she knows trouble follows him. She doesn't mind caring for him, but now her little boy is old enough to be influenced by his uncle, so she's wary. The siblings lost their parents in their teenage years to a car accident, so their bond is different from others; and that bond is so palpable that you can practically reach out and tough. The performance here are that remarkable. Lonergan is a master at dialogue, keeping it natural, never going over the top (he wouldn't write, "I need to believe in something extraordinary" - blech). In a scene near the film's end, Terry says to Sam: "Remember what we used to tell each other when we were kids?" Sam responds, "Yeah." And that's it. We're not privy to it, and that's fine (well, it's likely right there in the title, sure). Because that's how people talk to one another. And this whole movie is actually about how people live, act, breathe, behave and live. The characters become friends and while the film is not a tear-jerker in the traditional sense, you're sad at the end simply to see them go. If you've not revisited them or if you've never called them up, do so. You'll thank yourself and you'll thank a higher power for the incredible work of Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.

#5 - George Washington

If you saw Pineapple Express last year, then you might be surprised that this 2000 film is by the same director, David Gordon Greene. This film burst onto the scene in 2000 at the Toronto Film Festival and was later released in New York, LA, and few other choice locations. Those who were able to catch it fell in love with it. I had to wait, finally catching it on video (the store nearest my home only had it on VHS, oddly) a couple years later. Boy howdy, am I glad I did. I have to borrow from my friend Roger Ebert here when he says:

"There is a summer in your life which is the last time boys and girls can be friends until they grow up. The summer when adolescence has arrived, but has not insisted on itself. When the stir of arriving sexuality still makes you feel hopeful instead of restless and troubled. When you feel powerful instead of unsure. That is the summer "George Washington" is about, and all it is about. Everything else in the film is just what happened to happen that summer.

This is such a lovely film. You give yourself to its voluptuous languor. You hang around with these kids from the poor side of town while they kill time and share their pipe dreams. A tragedy happens, but the movie is not about the tragedy. It is about the discovery that tragedies can happen."

It's hard for me to come up with any other way to put it. Tim Orr's cinematography is some of the finest I've seen in a film of this type. The cast of non-professionals are all perfect for their parts. It's simply a rare breed of a film. Criterion has since released a collectors' edition on DVD. If you've not seen this one, get thee hence. It's a perfect rainy afternoon movie.

#2 - Yi Yi (A One and a Two)

Even typing the title of Edward Yang's masterpiece, I get a little wistful. There's little other way to describe it other than to call it a family epic. But don't get too caught up in the term "epic". That implies grand scenery or glorious battles. There's plenty to look in Edward Yang's urban elegy, but the battles are interior. At the opening of the film, we attend a wedding with the Jian family - a fairly typical Taipei family. But like all typical families, they're struggling to keep things together. The patriarch, NJ, is dealing with work setbacks and the stirred up feelings of running into his high school girlfriend. His wife, Min-min, feels guilty over her mother's stroke and falls into depression. Their teenage daughter, Ting-ting, is torn between her growingly-troubled best friend and an attraction to a scrawny kid named Fatty. Finally, the youngest of the Jian clan, Yang-yang, is a curious eight-year-old who serves as the cypher for the audience. A lot of what is seen is from his point-of-view. And what a character Yang-yang is (is it coincidence that he's named for the director? I think not). He tells his dad, "I can't see what you see and you can't see what I see. So how can I know what you see?" To remedy that situation, he begins taking pictures of the backs of people's heads and giving them to them. Because what can't you see more than the back of your head? That's a perfect reflection of the way children think. And that's what makes this a perfect film. Every character thinks, acts, and screws up just like a human being. When the movie came to an end (three hours later), I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I was weeping. And yet, it's not a terribly sad ending by any means. It's simply so beautiful that it's practically overwhelming. Sadly, Edward Yang has left us. He died in 2007 at the age of 59. Yi Yi was his final gift to us. And I'm so grateful.

So, what could be better than this Taiwanese masterpiece? How about another Taiwanese masterpiece?

#1 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Yeah...2000 was a hell of year for Taiwanese cinema. Along with Edward Yang's quiet family epic, came this true epic of Martial Arts mastery that still sends shivers down my spine and almost makes me believe that if I just concentrate enough, I could start running across the rooftops of my neighborhood or flying through the bamboo in my neighbor's back yard. Few films have been as transcendent as Ang Lee's rapturous ode to chaste love and the ability to wield a sword and kick some ass. The fight scenes between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi are stunners. The cinematography is a glory - almost every shot seems to be a thank you to God, Mother Nature, or Chinese architecture. Tan Dun's score is still a stunner to this day. This is easily one of the few films that I could watch on an endless loop. There are films that I'm a total geek for (Heathers comes to mind); and there are films whose artistry I appreciate. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the few movies where the two feelings collide. No foreign language film has come near it's remarkable $128,000,000 box office take; and I doubt one ever will again. The film was a zeitgeist that others attempted to capture and never quite could (both Hero and The House of Flying Daggers were great, but could never quite live up to their predecessor).

2000 was a great year for movies, producing a great number of classics and the second-tier of good films was quite hefty as well. Other films I enjoyed from 2000 include: Before Night Falls, Billy Elliot, Chicken Run, Chuck & Buck, Nurse Betty, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Traffic.

Over the coming weeks, I'll recap my Top 10 of each year of the decade, culminating with the Top 10 of 2009 and then a final list of my best of the decade.

What are some of your favorites from 2000?

September 16, 2009

Toronto is Getting Really Busy

Normally at this point, things would be slowing down with me. But, things are reversing course. Today was insane. Had a meeting with The Weinstein Company that was quite successful, I can't divulge the news yet, but I will at the appropriate moment.

In the meantime, I've seen some great movies over the past couple of days.

I'll give you details in the coming days. But suffice it for the moment that Jason Reitman's Up in the Air is definitely a big-time Oscar contender.

September 14, 2009

More from Toronto

Sunday was the aftermath of the great bathroom flood of Ought Nine. So, I had to spend the first part of the day repacking 10 days worth of clothing and replacing damaged supplies (nothing too significant). Plus, had a couple of meetings - so only two movies to report on.

A Brand New Life - Ounie Lecomte - South Korea / France

Based partially on her own experiences, Ounie Lecomte's directorial debut is a beautifully realized story of loss and growth in childhood. Set in 1975, A Brand New Life introduces us to Jinhee, a young girl who loves her widowed father very much. Her father buys her a new dress and tells her it's time to take a trip. She's unaware that the trip is to an orphanage and that she will stay there until she finds a new family. Where many films could have collapsed into stark territory or turned their lead character into a saintly force fighting the demons of darkness and depression, Lecomte instead opts for realism and real emotions. Young Jinhee doesn't adapt easily at first - she fights the authority of the directors and lashes out at her peers. Eventually, she is taken under the wing of an older Sookhee, who teaches her the necessary things to do to impress potential parents. At first, Jinhee will have nothing to do with it, because she's sure her daddy is coming back to get her...but eventually, she learns the territory. Like absolute best deserts, this film is simple, sweet, and actually a little good for you. It never cloys or attempts to be overly cute. It's just an honest story about lifes massive shifts and how we has human beings adjust. Quite lovely.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl - Manoel de Oliveira - Portugal

Oliveira remains a mystery to most American movie-goers. I'm hardly an expert, having seen only four or five of his many works (his first came out in 1931 and at 101 years old, his latest is due out next year). This slight comedy of morals is a nice, if curious, addition to his oeuvre (when you've been making movies for nearly 80 years, you get to have your own oeuvre in my book - hell, it's practically a canon at this point!). Once again, a very simple tale of a young accountant who becomes infatuated with the blonde who lives in the apartment across the street from his office and the drastic effects it has on him. While set in present day, Oliveira's characters and actors seem to be in a film from the early part of the 20th Century, which adds to the charms of this dryly witty little film (it runs a scant 63 minutes). With such short length, it seems a bit of a lark, and it comes across that way. P&I crowd seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. It's light on its feet and fun for the more astute crowds (I don't see The Hills demographic getting into this one...)

Ran into Harmony Korine. I'm seeing his film Trash Humpers on Thursday. More meetings today along with a great selection of films.

More tomorrow!

Let me know if there's anything on the Toronto schedule you'd like me to see and I'll try to add it in before the end of the festival and let you know my thoughts...

September 13, 2009

Toronto Saturday

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire - Lee Daniels - USA

When you see precious, it's kinda hard to believe that Lee Daniels is basically known for that movie where Helen Mirren had an affair with Cuba Gooding, Jr. Okay, most of you probably don't remember that movie and Lee Daniels is probably the better for it. So, let's pretend he's starting out with Precious. Were it the case, it would be an incredible start, because it is an incredible movie. It is imperfect - Daniels makes some stylistic choices that take me out of the movie - but man can he handle actors. 17-year-old newcomer Gabby Sibide is heartbreaking and so right for the difficult part that it's hard to imagine Sapphire didn't have her in mind while writing the novel. Her face carries emotions in a way many polished actresses only wish they could. The few moments in the film where she experiences joy would brighten the entire theater (and we were in one of Toronto's dingier theaters for this Press & Industry screening). Mo'Nique, who won Best Actress at Sundance for her work here, is definitely on her way to an Oscar nomination. There is no doubt at all. None. Book it. She is utterly phenomenal as Precious's abusive mother. Her Oscar clip (God, I hope they bring those back) is a scene in the social worker's office. Despite all the evil that she has committed on screen against her daughter, she leaves nary a dry eye in the house. The best compliment to Mr. Daniels' ability to work with actors - folks, you won't believe it: even Mariah Carey is good! And that is probably the only time you'll ever see those words come from my keypad. If you've read the descriptions of Precious, you've probably heard about its bleakness. At the beginning of the film, we find out that Precious, at the age of 16, is pregnant with her second child as a result of her father's rape. This is hardly the setting for comedy. What is most amazing is that in this bleak and abusive landscape, Daniels leaves a glimmer of hope and moments of honest-to-God joy. This is a film that should be required viewing.

The Ape - Jesper Ganslandt - Sweden

Were it possible, I managed to follow Precious with a movie in a circumstance even more bleak (man, I can pick 'em). In Jesper Ganslandt (Falkenberg Farewell) a man awakens on his bathroom floor, his face and clothes streaked with blood. In a panic, he promptly washes the blood away and strips off his bloodied clothes. He bears no wounds. He then pops the Blue Tooth in his ear and bicycles to the auto repair shop, picks up his car and heads off to his job as a driving instructor. Obviously, the man has done something terrible - but what? The remaining 80 minutes or so is simply following the man (Olle Sarri - he was in Lukas Moodyson's brilliant 2000 film Together and he is very good here) as the clues slowly begin to reveal themselves as to what happened and as he descends further into a personal hell. Audience responses ranged from walking out in disgust to other claiming it to be sheer brilliance. I land somewhere between. I wasn't disgusted by it at all; but I wasn't completely enamored with it. The premise is interesting and it does make for a tense ride. However, there are a couple of plot holes that result from the structural set up and it can get a bit repetitive for my tastes. It does a good job of maintaining one's interest, though. I'd give it a mild recommendation.

The Trotsky - Jacob Tierney - Canada

Thank God for Canadian teenagers who think they are the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. After the darkness of most everything I'd seen up to that point, it was a nice break to sit back and enjoy a goof-ball comedy. Everyone knows that high school is incredibly political; not everyone has used it as a jumping off point for an examination of a budding communist who, based on his predecessor's life, attempts to turn the Student Union into a...well, a Student UNION. Starring Jay Baruchel (he was the lead actor in Judd Apatow's briefly lived Fox series "Undeclared"), The Trotsky is an enjoyable goof on high school, communist ideology (no it doesn't completely poke fun at it, but it does poke fun at the naivete with which many young people enter into it), parental relations - and Canada. The only problem the film may have is that it is SOOOOOO Canadian that I don't know if it can have a life outside Canada. Jokes that had the locals in stitches (they make fun of a host of eTalk; Ontario gets an elbow to the rib; as do French Canadians) went right past my head. Okay, the French Canadian jokes didn't. I've been coming to Toronto long enough to know a few French Canadian jokes. Anyway, while nowhere near a masterpiece, The Trotsky is at least a pleasant diversion, if a little overly simplistic.

Face (Visage) - Tsai Ming-liang - Taiwan/France

Umm...You know that scene in Poltergeist, when the oldest daughter gets home from a date or something and the house is really going ape-shit and she screams in desperation and fear: "WHAT'S HAPPENING?" At about the 40 minute mark of Tsia Ming-liang's Face (Visage), that's about as close as I can possibly get to describing how I felt. And then, there were two hours left. I will try to break down the goings-on as best as I can understand them. In Face, a Taiwanese movie director (Lee Kang-sheng - in basically every Tsai movie) is directing a French film in Paris based on the story of Salome. In his real life, his mother, back in Taiwan has passed away and he must return to mourn her and tie up loose ends - like the fact that her body refuses to move on to the next world. Fanny Ardant is his French producer on the Salome film, and she travels to Taiwan with him to make sure he gets back to the complete his project. There's some singing, some dancing, and some utterly stunning visuals (it's never less than interesting to look at, even in the multiple moments when there's next to nothing on screen), multiple references to Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, and Fellini, and Matthieu Almeric - possibly my favorite French actor - arrives for a quick bit of fellatio with Lee (literally, that's the only thing he does in the entire film).

It's quite impossible to say I hated the film. I can certainly say I didn't love it. But Tsai seems to have started spiraling out there. While always strange and narratively challenging, his previous works (What Time is it There?, Goodbye Dragon Inn, The River, The Hole) were centered and usually came with wonderfully satisfying conclusions. More recently with Face and his previous work The Wayward Clouds, he seems to have lost that center, leaving us no reference point for the absurdity. Tsai has a bit of a cult following and I think they will enjoy trying to fit the pieces of this mind-bending puzzle together, others will find it frustrating to no end. I've basically decided to sit back and let the visuals please the eye and move on. I may revisit it to see if there's anything I missed - this is probably NOT the best choice for the capper after four movies consecutively.

In other news: ran into NaFF juror Elvis Mitchell, we'll be meeting later this week. Ran into Variety reporter Joe Leydon who has covered NaFF and helped out at the fest and festival volunteer extraordinaire Zan Bruckner on there way to Robert Duvall's World Premiere of his new film Get Low. And when we got back to the hotel after a late dinner, we found our room completely flooded and most of our toiletries ruined! Hoo-ray!

So, tomorrow will be a light day as we recover, move to a new room, take meetings, and then later in the afternoon, catch a couple of movies.

For those who haven't already heard, from Venice:

Golden Lion to: Lebanon directed by Samuel Moaz (I'll be seeing that Wednesday morning).

Best Actor to Colin Firth for Tom Ford's A Single Man, the story of a gay college professor trying to put his life back together after the death of his partner.

Best Actress went to Ksenia Rappoport for The Double Hour.

For more on the Venice Awards...

BUZZ: Early word from many is that their favorite movie so far is the Jason Reitman comedy Up in the Air. After good reviews at is premiere in Telluride, Reitman looks to be on his way to Awards-season glory and it seems likely that his stars - George Clooney and Vera Farmiga - are as well. I may get to check it out Wednesday, so I'll let you know what I think.

September 11, 2009

Toronto is Underway

Getting settled in took a bit longer than expected on Thursday (flying to Miami from Nashville to get to Toronto is a bit draining), so didn't get to catch any Thursday screenings, but got underway after a good night's rest today.

Samson & Delilah - Warwick Thornton - Australia

This Aboriginal tale is a bleak film about present-day circumstances for the original settlers of Australia. Filled with some beautiful cinematography, some devastating moments of violence and despair, and some unique use of music and sound, it certainly marks a huge step forward for Aboriginal filmmaking in Australia, but it's challengingly slow pace will limits its appeal to those accustomed to slower movies.

The White Ribbon - Michael Haneke - Austria

Michael Haneke has become one of my favorite working directors - in part, because he refuses to give into his audiences' whims. There is little in his films that doesn't challenge viewers to dig deeper. One must almost lean closer to the screen to see past the action to what is really happening. The White Ribbon is no exception. It's bleak and beautiful. The black-and-white cinematography is a marvel and the acting perfection. Like his masterpiece, Cache, it's dense and ambiguous. It frequently misleads you into seeking answers to questions he isn't really asking. The ending left many at the press & industry screening asking one another how they interpreted it. I obviously don't want to go into too much detail, but it's disturbing and fascinating to discuss and to ponder.

On a local note of interest: Got to sit next to Toby from the Belcourt! We both decided that the film needed to sit with us for a while before drawing final conclusions. To me, that's usually a sign that I'm going to end up thinking very, very highly of the film.

It's never less than fascinating even when it becomes a tad frustrating. Certainly one to catch. Presently, Sony Classics has it listed for the final weekend of the year.

September 4, 2009

Fall Movie Season Begins, Part 1 - A Look Back

September is the official beginning of the Fall Movie season, but as usual, Hollywood is pretty much only releasing a few crappy films in the first couple of weeks (the best offering seems to be the mixed reviews for Mike Judge's Extract). So, in light of that, I thought I would take a look back at what the year has offered so far. Essentially, these are the films that were released (or that I saw that will be released later this year) that may have a shot at my year end Top 10 list. Keep in mind these are in alphabetical order, not preferential order, and second viewings could knock some out or make others rise.

Without further ado: here are some of my favorites so far:

(500) Days of Summer, Marc Webb - US

It's been a while since I've seen an American romantic comedy that I've enjoyed as much as this exuberant, silly, "meta" take on the genre. On one hand, (500) Days is an honest depiction of the ways we fall in (and out) of love; on the other, it's an amazing critique of the way movies shape (and screw up) our perceptions of what love should be. The are some "have-its-cake-and-eat-it-too moments in the film (the younger sister is meant to be a poke at the cliche of the too-wise-for-their-own-age younger sibling, but in the film she simply comes off as a cliche); but there is so much joy to be had in the film that its flaws are easily overlooked. "You Make My Dreams Come True" is worth the price of admission alone.

Afterschool, Antonio Campos - US

Opening at the end of October through IFC Films, Afterschool is probably the exact opposite of (500) Days of Summer. Where (500) Days is light and joy in spite of the darkness; Afterschool is little but darkness. Robert is an uncomfortable sophomore in an East Coast boarding school. His only socialization with classmates is his required involvement with the AV club, shooting stock footage for the annual video yearbook. Otherwise, his life is spent online - YouTube, porn, violence captured on cell phone cameras. In the midst of his work capturing the schools imagery his camera captures tragedy - two twins OD in the girls bathroom. From there, we get a searing portrait of the generation gap as brought to you by social networking. But it's much more than that. Antonio Campos' film questions our ability to perceive reality - suggesting that we only believe what we see on a 2.5 inch screen.

Best Worst Movie, Michael Stephenson - US

Don't know if this one is going to get a theatrical release or not, but I am telling you it's possibly the funniest documentaries that I have ever seen. In 1990, Troll 2 was unleashed upon the world to a resounding thud. A young family's vacation plans are ruined by, what else, vegetarian goblins (because there are no trolls in Troll 2 you see) who turn humans into plants and then eat them. The child star of that craptastic classic, Michael Stephenson, decided twenty years later, to revisit those times on the set. Interviews with the cast, the Italian couple who wrote and directed the film, and the fans who have turned this one-time crown-holder for Worst Film of All Time on IMDB's poll (it's currently #84 thanks to a resurgence largely due to this documentary) make up this celebration of creativity - even when it fails miserably. It's a great joy from beginning to end. Not only one of the funniest documentaries I've seen; easily one of the funniest movies of the year.

District 9, Neill Blomkamp - South Africa / New Zealand

Sci-Fi/Horror blends rarely come this thought-provoking and cheer-inducing. If you're looking for intriguing futuristic premises, you've got 'em. If you're looking for fantastic parallels to present-day situations, you got 'em. If you're looking for a little bit of cheeky humor, you've got it. If you're looking for incredibly special effect, you've got it. If you're looking for bloody gore, you've got it. Okay, I'm probably over-doing it, but this movie does have a little bit of everything. And thanks to the deft hand of novice director Neill Blomkamp, it all comes together perfectly. Kudos as well to a great lead performance from Sharlto Copley as an inept civil servant turned fugitive. As the summer came to a close, one film swept in to save us from the overblown, spirit-crushing pyrotechnics of Transformers and GI Joe, and proved that summer can come with a slice of (and a splattering of) brain.

Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani - US

With only his third feature, Bahrani is quickly becoming one of the leaders in American independent cinema. He has done so through his honesty, his insight, and his slight, gentle hand. His first two films, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop were both nitty-gritty, neo-realist takes on the immigrant experience in America. Goodbye Solo loses a bit of the hand-held, you-are-there stylings, but it still tells an honest, touching story and still tells (at least in part) the immigrant experience. This time the immigrant is Solo, a Senegalese cab-driver in Winston-Salem, NC. One night, a elderly passenger ,William (a perfectly cast Red West), hops in his cab and offers him $1,000 to drive him into the Appalachians a couple of weeks and leave him there. From there a unique bond is formed between these two men - one, the image of the generation America is saying good-bye to; the other, the face of a new America. The fact that these two men grow to rely on one another turns a movie about despair into a beautiful tale of hope.

The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow - US

Finally, someone has made a movie about the Iraq War that is worth seeing. Unfortunately, after a long series of dreadful melodramatic polemics, no one was terribly interested in seeing it. The Hurt Locker is as intense as war films get. It will leave your nerves jangled as you follow Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty through their missions in Baghdad disarming IEDs and other incendiary devices meant to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Bigelow has always been a director ready to tussle with the boys. I've loved her work since the bizarre and luridly entertaining Near Dark. The fact that it was a woman director who captured the masculine energy of the war and managed to do so without creating a false or manipulated emotion only proves that one should never paint a female director into a corner (after all, how many decades have men been directing so-called "Women's Pictures"?). Bigelow should join Wertmuller and Campion in the Kodak Theater as only the third woman director to curry an Oscar nomination for her direction. Intensity knows no gender, and The Hurt Locker is viscerally intense.

In the Loop, Armando Iannucci - UK

Where was this film while Bush was still in office? Only a little bit less than timely, In the Loop is one of the finest political satires to come along in more than a decade. And while I went there, Iannucci's film doesn't really bother to poke directly at Bush or Blair - but rather at the gigantic political machines and the manipulations that occur within them. Dialogue has rarely been this smart and the performances from James Gandolfini (the closest thing to a huge star in the film) to the utterly brilliant Peter Capaldi are priceless. It's truly a movie that begs for a second viewing (if not more) if only to try to capture the whiz-bang dialogue that keep your brain constantly on its toes trying to keep up. It's not often that a film released in summer makes you feel dumb because IT is so smart. But I'll take a missed reference or two and a missed line or two - because I missed them from laughing so hard at what had come previously. Intelligent comedy seemed to be as rare as reasonable criticism of health care reform, but In the Loop has brought it back from the brink of death.

Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantion - US

Phew! I'm still reeling over this one. There are flaws and I still believe that Tarantino caves into his worst instincts a time or two - but, when he's on his game, he's on it in ways he hasn't been since Jackie Brown. Christoph Walz, Melanie Laurent, and Diane Kruger lead a magnificent cast of European actors (who greatly outact their American counterparts - sorry, Brad), proving that Quentin knows how to get most things right - and if casting Europeans were the only thing he got right, that would likely be enough. Thankfully, there so much more he gets gloriously right.

Lake Tahoe, Fernando Eimbcke - Mexico

A deadpan comic delight from the director who previously brought us the witty Duck Season a couple years back. This time we follow Juan, a teenager seemingly like any other - lost in a sea of hormonal confusion, but clearly with something on his mind. In the opening scene, he crashes his parents' car into a pole. It won't re-start. So, after a quick call home to his little brother, he sets off into town to find the one part he needs to get the car restarted. The journey (filled with quirky characters) is the spine of the story; but with a single quick trip home, we realize that Juan isn't only lost as all teenage boys are - he's lost in grief. It's a coming of age tale that is also one of the most poignant portraits of loss you're likely to see this year.

O'Horten, Bent Hamer - Norway

By the time I realized O'Horten was playing in town it was on its last day. Forgive me Nashvillians, if I'd known earlier, I would have told you to run to the theater for this hilarious piece of Scandinavian comedy. If Lake Tahoe was deadpan, then O'Horten seems to have been directed by Bob Newhart on a roofie. It is deadpan. But (as you might be able to tell), I love deadpan humor. O'Horten is the simple story of a retired train conductor trying to figure out what to do with his life after giving up the only thing that's ever shaped his identity. In many ways it's a companion piece to Lake Tahoe - two people on opposite ends of life on a journey to find out who they are. When both become available on DVD, they might make an enjoyable double feature at home.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Hayao Miyazaki - Japan

Sure Ponyo is geared toward a much younger age than Miyazaki's previously US-released efforts (Howl's Moving Castle and Oscar-winning Spirited Away), but when it comes from the imagination of Japan's master of animation that matters little. One of my favorites of his works is the similarly kiddie-oriented My Neighbor Totoro, so calling up my inner five-year-old wasn't difficult for me. Ponyo is full of wit and is so lovingly dubbed by John Lassiter's Disney crew (including Matt Damon and Tina Fey) that it should have been a much bigger cross-generational hit. Too bad Americans don't seem willing to stretch themselves to try. Sure he's got his fan base, but nearly everywhere else in the world, his films are massive hits. Here, they are still only celebrated by his passionate cult. I'm glad I'm a part of it. You should be, too.

Silent Light, Carlos Reygadas - Mexico

I actually saw this film two years ago. Shortly after Toronto, it got picked up by Tartan USA, a studio that then immediately fell on hard times, leaving this gentle, beautiful portrait of life in the Mennonite communities of Northern Mexico (it's considered the first feature film in the Plautdeutch language) to languish on the shelf. It finally got a release earlier this year, arriving in Nashville only a couple of months ago. If you saw it, then you'll understand why it still lingers with me a full two years after I first saw it. From the nearly real-time opening shot of the sun rising over the plains to the nonchalance occurrence of something seemingly miraculous, Silent Light never fails to hypnotize. When the patriarch of the family opens up about the affair he's been having with another Mennonite woman, it threatens to not only tear him apart spiritually, but it threatens to destroy his orderly family and community life. In most films, this would be the stuff of sturm and drang. In Reygadas's hands, it becomes a cultural study filled with spiritual and philosophical inquiries into the meaning of love the depth of the human soul. I don't mind telling you that the film is bookended with a sunset - slow, lingering, and appropriate. It's the perfect way to ruminate over the subtle beauty of what you've just encountered.

Star Trek, JJ Abrams - US

I've called up my inner five-year-old, so why not call up my inner geek? I really enjoyed Abrams re-boot of the aging franchise. I liked that he cast a lot of basically no-named actors to star in the iconic roles, severing ties with the familiar completely. Yet, I also liked the way he used Leonard Nimoy to link it back to its famous past. If you haven't seen it yet, I really shouldn't go into any further detail lest I ruin some of the enjoyable trickery Abrams manages to pull off. But the biggest trick of all is that he actually manages to turn these characters into human (and Vulcan) characters that you actually care about. No small feat. And there's the requisite kick-ass effects and action, of course. Abrams is fast learning that whiz-bangery is fun, but without a human core to give a rat's patoot about, you don't really have a movie.

Still Waiting, Hirokazu Kore'eda - Japan

Since my last post was a rave on this one, I don't really feel the need to repeat it all. Suffice it to say, I love this movie. Watch it now if you haven't already.

Up, Peter Docter - US

With the addition of five additional Best Picture slots, everyone is putting money on Up to join Disney's Beauty and the Beast as only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. I say, Cheers to that. Up was a vibrant lesson in how to make a film. I only wish there were more live action filmmakers that could bring the humor and humanity to the screen with the vitality that Pixar does.

Last, but definitely not least is:

The Vanished Empire, Karen Shakhnazarov - Russia

The Vanished Empire is about as under-the-radar as a film can get. It actually opened in New York on the same weekend as the afore-mentioned Lake Tahoe. It didn't appear in competition at any of the tip-top-tier festivals (I saw it as a juror at my alma-mater, the Indianapolis International Film Festival - I will always love 'em, but Indy is not yet Toronto, Berlin, or Cannes). It did get a theatrical release, but has - to date - only grossed about $8,000. And yet, it will likely rank as one of my favorite films of 2009. Set amidst the youth culture of the 1970s Soviet Union - a time of black market western music and fashion. The Vanished Empire actually refers to a discovery made by the main character's archaeologist grandfather, but the comparisons, of course, are to the eventual collapse of the socialist state. What makes the film work is that those metaphors aren't made blatant by Shakhnazarov. They're wonderfully backgrounded while the story centers on love triangles, generational misunderstandings, and the general stuff of human drama. Subtlety, honesty, and complete political upheaval - the stuff great movies are made of.

Sooo...that's how the first half (plus) of the year stacks up for me.

Coming up next, we'll talk about what I'm looking forward to seeing at the Toronto International Film Festival and further down the line - leading up to a preview of the end of the year and some early Oscar trending...

We're finally entering the time of year when the movies begin to appeal to adults. Let's hope for a great season.

August 28, 2009

How to make this weekend nearly perfect (i.e. Still Walking)

If you have a cable system that has IFC in Theaters VOD, then you have the opportunity to make this a great weekend. One of my favorite directors has made one of my favorite films of 2009. Indeed, I highly suspect that it will find a place very, very close to the top of my year-end list.

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walkingis a rare jewel of a film. It depicts family life in as honest a way as I've ever seen it portrayed in cinema. There's such simplicity to Kore-eda's filmmaking and such sublime subtlety to the performances that you may believe that the whole incident was some sort of happy accident. Indeed, Sam Adams, at The Onion's AV Club says, "The movie seems like a perfect found object, as if it had always existed and was just waiting to be uncovered."

Kore-eda is best known in the States for his films After Life and the brilliant 2005 drama Nobody Knows, about a young boy keeping his siblings together after their flighty mother abandons them. Still Walking fits more into the Nobody Knows camp, but unlike that film - where a sense of dread seemed to soak every event, even the joyous ones - the family in Still Walking is trying to find joy in the wake of tragedy.

I don't want to get plot heavy at all when talking about this film. I'll simply leave it to this: three generations of a family gather on the 14th anniversary of the death of the eldest brother in the middle generation. The event still haunts each member of the two older generations in unique ways. Don't dare imagine that you completely understand the motivations behind any of the characters - just as humans do in real life, these characters will surprise you with their compassion and with their anger.

The final scene is likely to draw a tear from your eye, and like the characters and their motivations, the tear may surprise you. Is it a tear of joy? A tear of knowing sadness? Is it that rare tear that is brought forth only by those works of art that approach perfection? Or is it all three. I'm going with the final choice.

Do yourself a favor and spend a Sunday afternoon with this joyously dysfunctional family. Still Walking will leave a lasting impression on you. And you'll thank for the recommendation.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, it was only after about two dozen emails and phone calls that I finally had to cave in and accept that I wasn't going to be able to program this film for the 2009 Nashville Film Festival (the US premiere was already promised to Tribeca one week later).

Here's a trailer.

August 24, 2009

Vote For NaFF!

You can help the festival by taking a few minutes to complete the Nashville Scene's Best Of Poll.

We are encouraging our supporters to vote for the Nashville Film Festival in two categories:

Best Festival
and Best Place to Spot Nicole Kidman

You can toss us in anywhere else you think appropriate, too, if you'd like.

Also, please support NaFF Sponsors in the appropriate fields as well. They'll certainly appreciate it! And make sure to let them know you voted for them because they support the festival...that will help us in continuing to maintain the grow sponsorship support (absolutely vital to pulling of the festival every year).

But, please, follow this link and vote for us.

More 2009 NaFF films to hit theaters

There were some films that played the 2009 Nashville Film Festival that we all knew were moving on to theatrical release: (500 Days of Summer), Big Man Japan, and I'm Gonna Explode to name a few.

But nearly all the competition films were accepted with no distribution deal in hand. Since then, quite a few have made their way into theaters or are getting ready to.

Both Weather Girl and Pressure Cooker had picked up deals between acceptance and screening at the fest and have since made their way to the big screen (Pressure Cooker has already played again in Nashville). No word yet if Weather Girl will arrive in town before its television debut on Lifetime later this year.

Since then, several others have been announced.

This Friday, We Live in Public begins a national tour at the IFC Theater in New York.

Later, narrative competition entries Afterschool (distributed by IFC) and Kisses will make their public debuts.

Here's the complete list of films to get US theatrical or TV (these are marked TV or VOD) distribution deals since the festival.

Narrative Competition:

The Baby Formula
Mothers & Daughters (IFC Festival Direct VOD)
The Narrows
Weather Girl

Documentary Competition:

Ask Not (PBS - TV)
Garbage Dreams
Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes (PBS - TV)
Living in Emergency
Pressure Cooker
An Unlikely Weapon
We Live in Public

Music Films / Music City:

Gogol Bordello Non-Stop
Rock Prophecies
Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love

That's a total of 16 films that have gone onto some form of national release!

So, if you missed these films, there are more chances to check them out.

August 21, 2009


So, last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Red Carpet screening of Quentin Tarantino's latest film Inglorious Basterds. In attendance were Al Gore (host of the event), producer Lawrence Bender, Eli Roth (actor in this case, director usually), and French actress Melanie Laurent (more on her later). The red carpet also included some local luminaries - Sheryl Crow, Kathy Mattea, Mindy Smith, Rep. Jim Cooper - but the star of the evening was clearly Quentin Tarantino (even though he was in Los Angeles).

Inglorious Basterds is an audacious, outrageous jaw-dropper of a movie. Will it piss some people off? Most definitely. It will likely leave some scratching their heads. What makes the movie so fascinating in the end is that it is ultimately a movie about World War 2 movies. There are so many movies about the war that many people alive today only know it as an experience viewed on the screen. Hell, one of my classes was solely devoted to the films of WWII. Obviously, Tarantino is one of those people who really only knew the war as a big-screen fantasia. In that light, is his revenge fantasy really any different than say, Saving Private Ryan? The answer is a definite yes. But is it worth of some of the claims of insensitivity that have been levied against the film? No. Not really. Tarantino's band of angry American Jews (the Basterds of the title) are really nothing more than a variation on the Dirty Dozen (and are really only a small part of the film). And if that's not reference enough, there are at least a couple hundred more references to previous films and directors.

If there is a criticism to be levied against the film it's that it really isn't terribly emotionally involving. The whole thing is such an intellectual exercise that it comes off a bit cold. Where it does get truly engaging is when the true stars of the film get to play off one another. Austrian actor Christoph Walz bounds from obscurity to international superstar with his turn as the charming and vicious Hans Landa (nicknamed the Jew Hunter). Even when given pieces of dialogue that border on stereotype, he dances through the lines with such effortlessness that he creates a character that one might believe based on reality (as Ralph Fiennes' Amon Goethe was).

Also bursting through to stardom is French actress Melanie Laurent. As Shosanna Dreyfus, the one surviving member of a family of Jewish dairy farmers massacred by Walz's soldiers in the opening scene, Laurent plays the revenge-minded femme fatale. The varying degrees of sadness, fear, and righteous anger play across her face with such grace. It's actually somewhat amazing that this performance hasn't gained more award traction.

Walz, Laurent, Michael Fassbender, and Diane Kruger are proof of Tarantino's best instincts. Let's face it, Tarantino can get just about anyone he wants. Instead of casting big-time A-listers, he chose French and German actors to play French and German characters. The finest parts of the film come from that very choice.

Finally, without giving any plot away - only Tarantino would and/or could end a film with "I think this may be my masterpiece." That is probably an overstatement. But it's a ripping good time if you're prepared for it.

June 3, 2009

A Man of Fashion

When a reporter asks, "What do women want?", Valentino pronounces as confident and as matter-of-factly as a candidate running for office, "They want to be beautiful."

Matt Tyrnauer has crafted a unique documentary in Valentino: The Last Emperor. It's a warts-an-all, full-access documentary that is missing the warts because there really aren't any. Oh, there are diva moments - scuffles over runway design, and anger at the shifting sands of the fashion industry from beneath Valentino's feet. However, like royalty, Valentino hasn't the ability to succumb completely to such pettiness. Never impolite, but never humble (it seems most people around him are merely invisible to him), he meets these moments with the only thing he knows - beauty.

Tyrnauer follows Valentino and his business / life partner Giancarlo Giammetti throughout the 2006/2007 fashion season (it would turn out to be his 45th and last). We see the behind-the-scenes planning of a show in France; we join them (along with Joan Collins, Michael Caine, Gwyneth Paltrow and others) for a fancy banquet; we ride with the six exquisitely-matched pugs on their yacht; and we are there when it culminates in Rome for a 45th Anniversary celebration of Valentino's career.

The thing that becomes abundantly clear is that Valentino would not have been Valentino without Giammetti. His artistry may have been the same, but his business would have collapsed. Indeed, Giammetti estimates that if you add up the days the two have spent apart in the 45 years they've been together that you wouldn't make it to two months. There is an adorable segment where the two reminisce about La Dolce Vita and stroll the street where they met - but disagree about which bar it actually was. And this is the surprise of the film -
a man who is royalty in his profession, whose wealth separates him so complettely from the likes of us everyday folk, and whose attitude brings all that to the fore - a man such as this can be a very engaging subject. There an honesty in his arrogance. And, let's be honest, he can be arrogant because he is remarkable. The looks of Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow - he defined them.

Valentino can make confident pronunciations about what women want because for 45 years he's been delivering it. And Tyrnauer delivers a fascinating and surprisingly involving glimpse into this remarkable life.

May 30, 2009

Best Non-Festival Movie Weekend of the Year

So, on Thursday, I went where no one had gone before with Stark Trek. Friday, I was dragged to hell with Sam Raimi, and today I went Up with Disney / Pixar.

Not to mention that I was able to see I Love You, Phillip Morris Friday night thanks to the Nashville Screenwriters Conference,, and Nashville Pride - a movie currently slated for release in February of 2010.

All in all it made for a great movie-going weekend. Star Trek was a great franchise reboot (as I wrote earlier). Drag Me to Hell was good old-fashioned goofy horror done only the way Sam Raimi could do it. I Love You, Phillip Morris is an enjoyable blend of Catch Me if You Can and Brokeback Mountain starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor (who is fantastic, by the way), but the winner of the weekend is Disney / Pixar's Up.

Up is a remarkable achievement and is yet another fine feather in the Pixar cap. Carl (wonderfully voiced by Ed Asner) is a widowed balloon salesman belligerently holding on to the house he and his late wife Ellie purchased after their marriage as gargantuan condo buildings rise around him. Since his wife's passing, he's shut himself in - his biggest adventure is to the mailbox. But when Ellie was alive, the two dreamed of going on an adventure to Paradise Falls in South America - a place they both fell in love with as children thanks to the explorer Charles Muntz (viewed in a newsreel in the introduction). When an encounter with a construction worker goes wrong, Carl stands to lose the house and be shipped off to a nursing home. But Carl has an idea to save his home and fulfill his promise to Ellie to live beside Paradise Falls. And he has the balloons and the helium to do it.

The fantasy of it all (one does have to suspend disbelief significantly to go along with a house being lifted off its foundation by balloons and flying to South America) is grounded in one of the most romantic, tender-hearted tales told on the screen in some time. The montage that shows us the joys and pitfalls of Carl and Ellie's life together is one of the great moments of recent film history and tells a more complete story than 90% of the films Up is competing against for your box office dollars. It's this reality and this warmth that makes the goofiness that much more fun. When Carl arrives (along with an unwanted stowaway - a young scout trying to get his "Assisting the Elderly" badge) in South America the stage is set for full-fledged fun and wildly inventive action set pieces. There's so much eye-popping fun to be had that it nearly boggles the mind. But in the end, it's all about the simple message that life itself is the adventure.

The weather's beautiful right now and it's hard to pull yourself into a dark theater when it's so lovely outside, but Up reminds you that the beauty of an unfettered imagination is one of the few things that can rival the beauty of nature.

May 29, 2009

And so I'm back...from Outer Space

Yes, I've finally gotten back to the blog and you'll be hearing more from me again now that I've recovered from a pretty remarkable experience at the 2009 Nashville Film Festival.

And it took Star Trek to get me inspired to write again.

I finally got to see J.J. Abrams reboot of the legendary franchise (note: I tried to get this for the festival, but got the Heisman hand from Paramount - mind you, I think it was likely due to concerns over the pic being finished in time, so I'm not really complaining) and I was impressed.

Abrams is quickly proving himself to be the go-to guy for CGI extravaganzas. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Abrams understands something that others fail to get - the special effects should enhance the story being told. They should not be the entire purpose of the story.

The other thing that impressed me is the way in which he paid perfect respect to the history of the franchise (there are some great in-jokes involving the entire cast leaning one way when the ship is hit and the infamous "Red Shirt") while creating a work that was uniquely his own.

I truly enjoyed myself, was on occasion actually moved a little bit, and - in a sign that you've won me over - I really wanted to sit right back down and catch the movie again as soon as it was over. I didn't (I'm not that big of a geek), but I wanted to.

This weekend is a great time to be a film-lover. Disney / Pixar's Up opens with some of the strongest reviews in ages and Sam Raimi returns to horror with Drag Me to Hell - also receiving strongly positive reviews.

I plan on catching both before the weekend is up (no pun intended) and would love to hear what you think.

Next post, I'll be discussing reaction to the controversial Cannes Film Festival and even more controversial awards.

Have a great weekend.