Tuesday, January 31, 2006

1st Annual Golden Gallo Awards

The Oscar noms are out. The Razzie noms are out. And of course the winners of the Golden Gallos.

The Golden Globe Awards are silly. The Academy Awards are serious. Is Woody Allen justified in not wanting to attend either ceremony? Probably. In honor of movie award season I, as part of the Wannabe Film Critic Association, having nothing better to do with my time, have decided to honor a group of films by handing out my own worthless batch of pitifully meaningless awards.

I know what you’re thinking. What makes Mr. Gallo qualified to hand out his own batch of worthless awards? Well, having lived through 4 different presidencies, 2 Gulf Wars, the live O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase, 3 endless Lord of the Rings films, 5 Batman films and the cancellation of the E! Network’s Taradise, I can only say that I am a culturally and socially seasoned young man. The Oscars award the best in film and the Razzies award the worst. The Golden Gallos cover this that and everything in between. Now let’s get to the good stuff.

Here is a list of the winners of the 1st Annual (and by annual I mean if I even feel like doing this again next year) Golden Gallo Awards. May I have the envelope please? Please hold your applause until the end. In no particular order the awards go to…

The “I Did Everything for this Movie” Award: Robert Rodriguez for SIN CITY

Best Performance by a Female Wax Figure: Paris Hilton, HOUSE OF WAX

Best Performance by a Male Wax Figure: Burt Reynolds, THE LONGEST YARD

Most Exciting Domestic Quarrel: MR. & MRS. SMITH

Best Revamping of a Dying Franchise: BATMAN BEGINS

Best Ending to a Seemingly Endless Franchise: REVENGE OF THE SITH

Best Performance by a Scientologist: Tom Cruise, WAR OF THE WORLDS

The “What the Heck Were They Thinking” Award: THE MAN

Most Random Attack from CGI Deer: THE RING 2

Best Missed Opportunity to Use Lionel Richie’s “Hello” – The Thing meets a blind girl in a bar in FANTASTIC FOUR

Best Use of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” – Andy gets comfy in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN

The Completely Unbiased Best Use of Extras Award: WAR OF THE WORLDS

Best Opening Credit Sequence: CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Best Closing Credit Sequence: THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN

Best Music Montage Sequence: WEDDING CRASHERS

Best Comeback from a Previously Horrid Attempt at Filmmaking: West Craven, RED EYE

Best Misuse of a Pop Singer’s Name: Steve Carell shouting “Kelly Clarkson” in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN

Best Misleading Marketing Campaign: THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE

Scene Stealer Award: Anna Faris, JUST FRIENDS

Film Least Deserving of an Award, Even a Golden Gallo: CRY_WOLF

The Trailer is Better Than the Movie Award: FLIGHTPLAN

Most Surprising Use of the “69” Position in a Mainstream Film: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

Best Gratuitous Use of Bathing Suits: INTO THE BLUE

Best Head Explosion in a Domestic Drama: THE UPSIDE OF ANGER

The B.O. Box Office Award aka The “Who Financed This?” Award: A SOUND OF TUNDER

Worst Movie With a Cast Member of TV’s Lost: THE FOG

Best Movie With a Cast Member of TV’s Lost: CRASH

Most Disturbing Car Crash: STAY

Best Film Most Likely to be Forgotten by the Academy: JARHEAD

Most Disturbing Scene Involving Dirty Syringes: SAW II

Film Most Likely to Cause Suicide in Adults: CHICKEN LITTLE

The “Or How I Learned to Love a Bomb” Guilty Pleasure Award: THE ISLAND

Best Documentary About Penguins: MARCH OF THE PENGUINS

Corniest Line of Dialogue from Memoirs of a Geisha: “I want a life that is mine!”

The Ishtar Big-Budget Stinker Award: STEALTH

Coolest Movie Poster Award: LORD OF WAR

The Grease 2 Unnecessary Sequel Award: SON OF THE MASK

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It Award: GUESS WHO

The Jaws 3D “I Only Wanted To See It Cause it Was in 3-D” Award: THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY & LAVA GIRL

Golden Gallo Lifetime Achievement Award: Dakota Fanning

Award Least Likely to be Given Out for Real and Broadcast Live on TV: GOLDEN GALLO AWARDS

Congratulations to all the winners. Kind of. Their dedication, or for some their lack their of, towards the medium of filmmaking has made this world a better place. It also gives me something to do. See you all at the movies.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is “Bubble” in Trouble? Steven Soderbergh’s Experiment Gets Everything Right

What is a bubble? It actually has more connotation than one would think. You think of the childhood fun of blowing bubbles and chasing them around the yard. They would come in all sizes. Some would last longer than others. Some seemed to just float through the air for all of eternity. Some would find a rough surface and pop. Others would just land and dance magically in the breezy air. And how has the word bubble come to be used in our every day vernacular. “Oh he lives in a bubble.” A bubble can be an entire world encased with anything anyone could possibly want to be able to live. In director Steven Soderbergh’s daring experiment known as “Bubble” he paints simple, mechanical everyday working life and what happens when something unpredictable comes in to burst the routine.

Everyone seems to be making a lot of hubbub about the distribution strategy put forth for Bubble by Soderbergh and the film’s company. Bubble is being simultaneously released in theaters, on DVD and on pay cable all at the same time. What nerve! How are theater owners supposed to make money if you can rush off and by the DVD? Well first of all the film is being shown in about 20 theaters so they probably won’t make money anyways. This film isn’t a summer blockbuster folks. If anything, this bold experiment is simply there to get the film to be seen. Is going to the theater to see movies on the way out? Hardly. Really, Bubble’s release strategy is simply a gimmick. Remember 3D? Remember Odorama? Remember electrified seats? They simply existed as testament in the, “We’ll do anything to get people to see our movie” category of moviemaking. Now back to what Bubble is all about.

On the surface, Bubble isn’t about very much. The first time actors play workers who are employed at a small town factory assembling toy dolls. We have Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) a middle-aged woman caring for her elderly father. Martha drives her young co-worker Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) to work every morning. The two have an easy, working friendship despite their age difference. Their lives are plain and they share more in common than you’d think. They are in their own little world. Their own bubble if you will. Enter Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) who without batting an eyelash seems to disrupt the humdrumness of Martha and Kyle’s lives, in very different ways. The acting by these first time performers is flawless. The film handles everything from dialogue to looks and gestures with simplicity. It fully captures what it is like to be in a routine and just be REAL. The filmmaking is as simple as the story and characters. Soderbergh moves his camera very little as if not to disturb Martha and Kyle’s lives. As if not to burst the bubble. These people’s lives are very fragile, like a bubble, and anything could easily agitate it.

An unspeakable event occurs that disrupts these simple lives and makes you question what these people are all about. Soderbergh handles the material extremely well, whether it’s his symbolic use of filtered lighting (a Soderbergh trademark) or capturing the unpredictability of what life throws at us. And it’s exciting to see a filmmaker not forget his independent roots. Bubble has so much to say and is brilliant in its execution. The viewer is simply fascinated by something so everyday. In any other movie what happens in Bubble would just simply be boring, but here we have an intriguing look at fragile lives in a very fragile world.

Whether you see the film in the theater, on DVD or on TV, just see it. That’s Soderbergh’s point. I hate to burst your bubble, but this film doesn’t signify the death of movie going. It embraces it. GRADE: A

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Truman’s Show: Philip Seymour Hoffman Brings “Capote” to Life

Philip Seymour Hoffman is always good. Remember Boogie Nights? Amazing. Remember The Talented Mr. Ripley? Amazing. Remember Twister? Oh yeah he was in that. He was the “suck zone” guy who freaked the heck out of Jami Gertz. Oh what the hell? Amazing. Anyways, Mr. Hoffman gives the performance of his career as quirky author Truman Capote in the subtlety fantastic Capote. He’s always great but here he simply shines. As does the film.

The audience is introduced to a shocking murder in the Midwest, as is Mr. Capote and his friend Harper Lee. (Catherine Keener) She would eventually write the seminal literature classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Two men murder a family in the middle of the night. One of whom Capote becomes very attached to in prison. Capote refuses to see a monster. He wants to see a human being. Capote’s visits to this criminal named Perry, played well by Clifton Collins Jr., have two motives. He wants to know everything about the unspeakable crime that was committed because he wants to believe that a person can be redeemed and he also wants information for a book he is writing. Perry believes that Capote’s help will possibly get him out of jail. Is Capote trying to help release this man and clear his name? Or does he just want juicy info for his nonfiction account of the murders? The two men have a similar relationship to that of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins (or is it Antony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow?) in The Silence of the Lambs. Foster desperately needs Hopkins in finding another criminal. Here, Capote needs his inmate for another reason; he needs to find his muse.

Capote eventually decides that the story he is writing will become his life and perhaps the best thing he’s ever written. There’s not too much else in terms of plot, but what’s so amazing about the film is the way the material is handled. We never get to see the horrible crimes until just the right moment. And when we do it’s almost unbearably disturbing. The viewer gets to understand Capote in certain ways: his strange voice, his eccentric social behavior. But what is really going on inside his head? Seymour knows and by the film’s end the audience wants to know as well. And before we know it we, along with our hero, are faced with a decision. Are we to believe that Perry can ever be deemed fit to enter society again? Or does he deserve to succumb to the harsh American justice system?

The film never delves into overly dramatic moral issues. This isn’t an anti-capital punishment fable. There’s no preaching of any kind. What we have instead are characters who just are the way they are and it’s up to the viewer to decide for him or herself what is morally right and wrong. We have a beautiful film with beautiful images. The film wants to coexist in a world where evil and good can run into each other at any given moment. And I believe any viewer comes out smarter having seen it. GRADE: A-

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?: Eli Roth Tortures His Audience More Than He Hoped in “Hostel”

“Hostel” has a couple things going for it: Quentin Tarantino’s name (he gets an executive producer credit & his name above the title) and its R-rating. One thing guaranteed when it comes to horror and the Restricted rating is gore, gore, gore. Unfortunately it takes so long to get there we could have turned on FOX and been completely satisfied by now. I appreciated what director Eli “Cabin Fever” Roth is trying to do: he wants the audience to cringe and squirm and look away. However, he’s having us do that for all the wrong reasons.

The film is definitely a step up from Cabin Fever a film that utterly confused and bored me. Was it being played for laughs or was it serious? It had pointless and stupid written all over it and of course with a follow up being released barely a week into the New Year, I certainly planned for the worse. Hostel could easily be retitled American Die, after all those teen sex comedies, because the film has more T&A than anything past 11 on Cinemax, and the main characters are obnoxious party boys who are looking for… you guess it, T&A. Paxton and Josh are backpacking through Europe and pick up an Icelander named Oli on the way. They go here, they go there chasing female tale like a bunch of ravenous wolves. It’s not so much that these characters are annoying or clichéd its that I picture the entire audience for this film are alive in the main characters. And seeing as though this film made oodles at the box office, I’m slightly disturbed. The main guys land at this strange hostel in Gowhackastan where the hotties are hot and there are no dudes around to cramp their style.

The film makes its biggest mistake by killing off the wrong characters at the wrong time. The more tolerable of the American twosome, Josh, bites it first and he’s the only character even worth being invested in. It’s the annoying jerk, Paxton that gets to escape. But perhaps that’s the film’s point. The characters don’t just simply die. You see, in this filthy place, rich sadists pay to torture others, cut them open, and do whatever they please with them. Perhaps by keeping the more loathsome of the two alive we get to see him suffer a lot more. These characters barked up the wrong tree and boy do they get it. Or do they?

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the numerous TV ads toting this film as the most disturbing film you’ll see and that ambulances had to be called at test screenings. I think viewers were dying of boredom. We don’t get a single drop of blood for an hour into the film! This would be fine if we were watching a smart, psychological thriller that doesn’t linger on blood and guts. But this film is being marketed as the most disgustingly vile piece of celluloid to hit the big screen since Showgirls! Maybe I’m just desensitized to graphic violence but there’s nothing to get too worked up about in Hostel. We get typical slashes and gashes but for a genre of film that relies on the fear of the deformation of the human body it’s an awfully long haul to the good stuff. Don’t torture yourself, rent High Tension instead. At least that film didn’t use Quentin Tarantino’s name in vain. GRADE: C

Sunday, January 22, 2006

American Woman: “The New World” is an Un-Disneyfied Romantic Epic for the Art House Crowd

Director Terrance Malick certainly has painted his film The New World with all the colors of the wind. But you won’t find a talking animal sidekick anywhere. Who doesn’t think of the animated Disney film when mentioned the name Pocahontas? The story is of Captain John Smith and his settlers exploring the “new world” and finding no gold and plenty of local “savages.” In this beautiful rendition, we get plenty of beautiful shots and symbolic editing, sparse dialogue and poetic narration. That old Disney movie can walk the plank with Captain Hook. Malick, who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated World War II drama The Thin Red Line, has merged art house pathos with majestic epic storytelling to create a moving film about two very different worlds.

The New World is presented in a way that is much different from a typical romantic epic. Instead of getting cheesy dialogue we get whole scenes with hardly a word. I don’t think there’s any dialogue in the film until about 10 minutes in. Malick (who also wrote the film) lets the main characters give poetic commentary while scenes play out with gestures, facial expressions and stylish jump cut editing. All of this stuff wouldn’t seem to make sense if this were Titanic or Troy or any other big epic film. But because we are in the world of the Native Americans it really works. You are transported back through time to a world unseen by Caucasian eyes. In the lead as Capt. Smith is Colin Farrell in a fairly poignant and restrained performance. His eyes say a lot. The Natives are at first fascinated with this strange man, as if he were from another planet, soon he's welcomed into their tribe. There he becomes infatuated with the young Princess Pocahontas. Fifteen year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher brings the character to life. She’s wonderfully naturalistic. Scenes with her and Colin Farrell are splendid. They explore each other in sensual but not sexual ways. Anyone hoping for hardcore White on Native action should continue brousing the Internet.

I was surprised at how much time Malick spends giving us what are, in most films, normally second unit shots. Perhaps nearly 40 percent of the film is composed of shots of birds and trees and flowing rivers. These images come together to represent nature and how these Natives have been able to both respect the land and use it to survive. This is juxtaposed with the White settlers who don't want to pilage (how nice of them), but eventually want take over everything. The camera seems to be placed at a different angle for every shot and so much is said with either the slightest movement, without any words at all. James Horner’s haunting score adds to the images wonderfully.

The acting is superb and the film is just one marvelous production. The film is long without ever seeming so. This is a film that you can see for entertainment and still spend hours dissecting it. I’m anxiously awaiting Malick’s next film 7 years from now. Malick has created a brilliant artistic vision about true life people without ever having to tell us its "based on actual events." GRADE: A-

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Monkeys, Cowboys & Terrorists, Oh My: Best Films of the Year

2005 could simply go down as the worst year for the best movies. Was this the year no one went to the movies? With the “box-office slump” taking front-page news throughout the year movie executives, critics and myself wondered what exactly was everyone’s deal? I hardly had to worry about long lines and finding seats. And I believe the only sellout film I’ve seen was this past November when I saw Just Friends (ahh, life’s little mysteries) This year gave us thrills, chills and definitely a lot of spills (Fantastic 4? Chicken Little?). I laughed a lot this year at the movies and my eyes got a little glassy at times. I saw over forty films in the theaters this year, many of which I saw twice or thrice or more (Revenge of the Sith wins with 4 total theatrical viewings). For all the good and bad movies I saw there are plenty that I didn’t see. Since being a professional film critic isn’t exactly the easiest of gigs to get I had to shelve out dollar after dollar after dollar to see these films and I didn’t mind at all. The ones I didn’t see are because I don’t live down the street from an art house. That being said I looked long and hard at the films I did see and did my best to pick what I believed to be the year’s best movies. I loved A LOT of movies this year and my Top Ten could become a Top Twenty with a snap of a finger. So, now I give you without further delay what I believe to be the top films of the year, in a very particular order, from one to ten of course, 2005’s Best Films of the Year:*

1. Munich
This is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films. It is the perfect blend of Spielbergian thrills and heart wrenching drama. It works on so many levels and is completely relevant in any time period with any audience. This revenge tale is told with sophistication and is exciting from start to finish.

2. King Kong
Peter Jackson has certainly been the king of movies lately. His Lord of the Rings trifecta certainly hasn’t slowed him down. This adventurous remake pays tribute to the 1933 original and expands and even improves on it. We have an emotional thrill ride that is definitely worth sitting in the theater for 3 hours to witness it.

3. A History of Violence
David Cronenberg, obsessed with bodily deformation and sexual violence, certainly doesn’t skew far from the track in this thrilling story about a small town man who becomes a big time hero. The moral of the story is you can’t escape your past and you certainly can’t escape Cronenberg’s masterful direction.

4. Match Point
This certainly is a year for seasoned directors. Woody Allen leaves Annie Hall in the dust with this psychological drama set far away in England. Socioeconomic class and sensuous affairs play a part in this intriguing story of lust and love.

5. Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee turns stereotypes on their heads and kicks ‘em to the curb in this absorbing romance set in Wyoming during a period of nearly twenty years. This romance is between two male ranch hands who end up handling more than sheep while on a summer sheep drive. Because of this love that dare not speak its name we end up with broken hearts and broken families and one of the year’s most emotional rides. Splendid performances from everyone involved push this film towards classic cinema status.

6. Walk the Line
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are simply sensational in this moving biopic about the late, great country star Johnny Cash. This film moves you and makes your legs ache from all that foot tapping. A wonderfully timeless story told in a wonderfully timeless way.

7. Crash
Superb ensemble drama dealing with racism in Los Angeles starring people you’d never expect. We get terrific performances from an outstanding cast and an extremely important message about tolerance. People’s true feelings are splashed up on the screen and they come flying back making you realize perhaps we should make this world just a little bit better place to be.

8. War of the Worlds
Spielberg returns to the genre that gave him a household name: horror. This is not a science-fiction film. This is not a fantasy. This is not an adventure. This is a flat-out scary thrill ride that pits human beings against a seemingly unstoppable enemy. This is one of the year’s best popcorn shockers.

9. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The year’s best comedy stars Steve Carrel as he tries to woe Catherine Keener while his friends try and help him out with his middle-aged sex crisis. Dialogue has never felt fresher or more hysterical. Great performances and a surprisingly moving love story definitely make this a step up from your average romantic comedy.

10. Good Night, & Good Luck.
This is one of the year’s best films made all the more better because of its limited budget. This film feels like it was made in the 1950s: from its stark black & white cinematography to its uniformly excellent cast. George Clooney directs this enthralling film about heroic journalist Edward Murrow’s attempt to take down Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

*Be sure to read my full reviews of all of my Top Ten Films of 2005

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Deconstructing Woody: Allen is Back in the Game with “Match Point”

Match Point is a winner. Perhaps it’s the change of setting for the director. Perhaps it’s a change of genre for the director. Perhaps it’s because his last few films were garbage. Anyway you look at it Woody Allen is in complete control of this wicked new entry. Allen spins a story of lust, love and some other stuff that I shouldn’t be telling you about unless you’ve seen the movie. So if I were you I’d stop reading and go see the film. I’ll try not to spoil anything for you.

Match Point isn’t a comedy although it has a chuckle here and there. It has what appears to be a straightforward tale told with a lot of juice. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (a British Joaquin Phoenix sporting a similar upper lip scar) is Chris, a tennis pro, who gets a job teaching tennis lessons at a ritzy club. Here he meets Tom (Matthew Goode) whose sister is Chloe played by Emily Mortimer (an older, British Kirsten Dunst). Tom is engaged to Nola (a role I’ve finally enjoyed Scarlett Johansson in). Chris and Nola definitely have the hots for each other. You see how this is all going to play out right? Hardly. This is a typical setup for any ordinary romantic comedy, a great Woody one in fact. This film decides to take a much darker road.

The tennis metaphor is well played in that winning the game has just as much to do with luck as good skill. We also get a reflective two-sided deal as tennis is game played by two people. This is reflected in everything from the characters’ wardrobes such as some sporting white shirts and black pants, while the other wears a black shirt and white pants. We are constantly getting subtle shots of characters facing each other with opposite shading. One shot of Chris and Tom has the corner of the room diving the screen with a shadow on Tom’s face with a light background while Chris’ face is in the light while his background is shadowed. Fine detail. And that tennis net plays an exciting role here as well.

This is the king of film that just gets better and better as it goes along. You get wrapped up in it and can’t wait to see how it plays out. It’s definitely more fun than watching a tennis match (sorry Anna and Andy fans). It’s a little twisty but not in a way that you expect. If you go see an M. Night Shyamalan movie you sit there waiting for the twist. When you see a Woody Allen film you expect nothing but to be entertained and he does that in such a splendid way. He has all his familiar touches from using golden oldies to underscore the drama to the same-fonted opening credits that he’s used since he first started making movies. Allen is an expert in making you believe everything that is going on. The way the characters converse seems real. He makes characters talk over others because that’s how we chatter in the real world. As the film proceeds, Allen seems to be entering new territory by surprisingly paying tribute to Hitchcock. Perhaps that’s why he has set his film in England instead of his native New York. Allen is a film lover himself and no one is more respected in cinema than the Master of Suspense.

Change can be good and change can be bad. In this film’s case change is definitely good. Everything you love about Allen is here and he delivers in spades. But there is something definitely new here as well. I commend Allen for doing something slightly against type and I applaud his artistic work. Here we have a fascinating tale told in an expertly particular way. It’s dramatic, sensuous and most importantly smart. It knows exactly what it’s doing. Allen’s films are definitely an acquired taste, but with a movie like Match Point, why wouldn’t you want to take a bite? GRADE: A