Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Starting over, catching up.

So Film Year 2008 is officially wrapped. Two months after the year itself came to a close. For the past three or so years, I've regarded the Oscars both as my Film Year capstone and my cue to compile and reflect upon the best films of the previous year. It's a pretty goofy deal, I guess, but its fun for me.

The post-Oscar period is notorious for being the time of the year when all the crap movies are rolled out by the studios. There are a couple movies in theatres I'd like to see right now: Coraline and The International. But beside those two, I have only Watchmen to look forward to in the next few weeks. And I'll be honest, I'm still fretting over the potential for severe disappoint that movie holds for me. I'll still go see it in IMAX, if I can help it.

I'm sure there are a few good limited releases coming up on the next few Fridays, but Savannah is a pretty small film market. We get the mainstream stuff pretty promptly, but the good small-budget and foreign stuff pretty much stays away. Woe is me.

There is a bright side to the big-screen drought, of course. It gives me a chance to catch up on my backlog of DVD movies. And, perhaps unwisely, I'll be spending a bit of time re-watching some of my favorites from last year--Flight of the Red Balloon, The Wackness, and Paranoid Park are near the top of my NetFlix queue, The Band's Visit has already been delivered. I guess all my blabbering about my favorite films only made me want to see them all over again.

I'll also be catching up on the movies I missed last year. I feel pretty darn good about the quantity and variety of movies I was able to see in 2008, but that doesn't mean I saw every film I'd hoped to. Which 2008 films am I still working on? To name a few:
  • Ballast
  • Trouble the Water
  • Che
  • Chop Shop
  • My Winnipeg
  • Role Models
  • Cadillac Records

And that's just a taste. Ugh. I've got my work cut out for me. But the uphill battle is nothing new. New, interesting films come out far faster than anyone can hope to watch them. But am I gonna complain about a glut of (potentially) good movies? No way. If my biggest problem is too much of my favorite thing, I think I'm doing all right.

[Quick note about the future of this blog. I'll keep posting as frequently as I can muster anything interesting to say. You can probably expect to find some brief notes about whatever I've been watching, a recommendation or two, perhaps the occasional slam, and a couple of heated rants and raves, no doubt. Whatever happens, I'll try to keep it consistent and fun. I hope you'll keep reading. Thanks.]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Final score: 19 out of 24

That's right, folks. Either I am more of an Oscar prediction expert than I thought, or the awards were just that predictable. I'd err on the side of the latter.

My five missteps were in the following categories:
  • DOCUMENTARY FEATURE. I gambled on Trouble the Water and lost. Obviously, I should have trusted my head and gone with the favorite (and, ultimately, the winner), Man on Wire. But goddamn it, I had a hunch! I knew the Academy would have at least a couple of surprises up their sleeves and I really thought this would be one of 'em! But hey, like I've already said at least twice before, Man on Wire is a great movie and deserved the win.
  • SOUND MIXING. Okay, I knew Slumdog was (unfortunately and wrongly) the prohibitive favorite in essentially every category it was nominated, but I genuinely believed Sound Mixing would be one of the categories to elude its manic grasp. I was even more convinced that another movie would win Sound Mixing once The Dark Knight took down the Sound Editing award, thus killing any chance of a sweep by Slumdog (big-ups, TDK). But lo and behold, "the Oscar for Sound Mixing goes to...Slumdog Millionaire!" BOO! Ben Burtt and the rest of the WALL-E sound team had to create an entire environment and lend audible emotion to a host of non-human characters. And Slumdog wins for recording the sounds of Mumbai streets? Nonsense.
  • ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. I was surprised enough when Dustin Lance Black took home the Best First Screenplay prize at the Spirit Awards the day before the Oscars. So when he beat out WALL-E, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, and In Bruges on Sunday, I was absolutely shocked. I maintain that WALL-E ought to have won, but I don't have a big problem with Black taking home the statue. The guy gave a good, important speech about the great, important film he wrote (he gave an even better one at the Spirit Awards), and since Milk had little to no chance at any other award beside Best Actor, I'm happy it was recognized here.
  • FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM. Wow. Biggest shock of my night, by far. Either Departures is incredible, or the Academy made a big mistake. Waltz with Bashir is a great movie, with an extremely important story to tell. I thought it was a lock for the win. I'll reserve judgment until I've seen Departures, but I'm afraid my dad may have been right; the Academy might not be open-minded enough to give an otherwise indispensable film its due just because it's animated.
  • SUPPORTING ACTRESS. Okay, so I started reading a few days before the awards that Penelope Cruz was favored to win this award for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Which I found incomprehensible; she didn't even deserve a nom, in my mind. VCB is not a good movie. And, though Cruz is a good actress, her performance in this film was equally lackluster. Taraji P. Henson was the cream of this category, but any of the other nominees were more deserving than Cruz. The award went to the worst of the five. Disgusting.

All in all, though I wasn't surprised by many of the winners, I was disappointed by the results of this year's Oscars. Only five of 24 categories went to the nominee I thought they ought to have gone to. (To wit, Sean Penn for LEADING ACTOR; Heath Ledger for SUPPORTING ACTOR; WALL-E for ANIMATED FEATURE; Man on Wire for DOCUMENTARY FEATURE; and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for VISUAL EFFECTS.) It almost goes without saying that I don't think much of Slumdog Millionaire. It is a decent film, at best, and even that minimal commendation deserves qualification. Suffice it say that I have fundamental problems with the movie. I promised myself I wouldn't rant about it here, but if you're really curious, it likely wouldn't take much prodding to get a rise out of me.

Thankfully, the ceremony as a whole was one of the best I've ever seen. I'd heard rumors that they had some new and unconventional ideas for this year's broadcast, and it was a bit different, but I loved it. I thought the way they moved from pre-production to principal photography to post-production, giving away the relevant awards as they went, was a wonderful way to structure the show. The award presentation for the acting awards was maybe a bit cumbersome and slow, but I think it probably meant a lot to the nominees.

And maybe I was just in a good mood, but I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. Tina Fey and Steve Martin were great, naturally. The Judd Apatow spin on Pineapple Express was hilarious, but I thought it even funnier when James Franco butchered the pronunciation of Spielzeugland only to have Seth Rogen crack up in a fit of embarrassed laughter. But my absolute no-contest highlight of the show was Japanese animator Kunio Kato's acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for ANIMATED SHORT, in which he thanked a number of people and things (including his pencil) and ended by saying, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." All with a heavy accent that turned every "th" into an "s". Hilarious. Genius.

Anyway, I'm bummed that the next Oscars are another year away. Even when the awards don't fall the way I want them to, I still love to watch. And if it was the recession which prompted the Academy to put on a cool new show like yesterday's, then I hope the economy continues to suck for a while. But next year, let's shoot for just the one song-and-dance number, okay?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The envelope(s(s)), please.

Finally, my Oscar predictions! There's a little more going on here than straight-up prognostication, but it's all pretty cut-and-dried.

All 24 Oscar categories are listed below. For each category, I've made three entries. First and foremost is the person or film which most deserves to win that award. Second is the most deserving candidate from each list of nominees. And third is my actual prediction; that is, the nominee I actually expect to take the award home.

I'll be keeping track of how accurate my predictions are over the course of the show and will report back with a final tally once all is said and done. Seeing as many of my personal picks conflict with my predictions, here's hoping I don't score too many points. If you've filled out a ballot of your own, leave me a comment to let me know how you fare!

Happy viewing, everyone!

Ought to win: Philip Seymour Hoffman - Synecdoche, New York / Sean Penn - Milk
Ought to win (of those nominated): Sean Penn - Milk
WILL win: Sean Penn - Milk


Ought to win: Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder / Emile Hirsch - Milk / Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Ought to win (of those nominated): Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
WILL win: Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight


Ought to win: Juliette Binoche - Flight of the Red Balloon / Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married / Meryl Streep - Doubt
Ought to win (of those nominated): Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married / Meryl Streep - Doubt
WILL win: Kate Winslet - The Reader


Ought to win: Samantha Morton - Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
WILL win: Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
[If Penelope Cruz wins for her unimpressive turn in the unimpressive Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I'll turn the TV off right then and there. Okay, I won't really, but I'll want to.]


Ought to win: WALL-E
Ought to win (of those nominated): WALL-E


Ought to win: Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): The Dark Knight
WILL win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Ought to win: Flight of the Red Balloon
Ought to win (of those nominated): Take your pick. All are decent, none extraordinary.
WILL win: Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: Don't know, don't care.
Ought to win (of those nominated): It's like I said; I don't know, and I don't care.
WILL win: The Duchess


Ought to win: Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): Gus Van Sant - Milk
WILL win: Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: Man on Wire / Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains / Waltz with Bashir
Ought to win (of those nominated): Man on Wire
WILL win: Trouble the Water
[I still haven't been able to see Trouble the Water (hence its absence from the first two slots), but I'm not afraid to call the upset in its favor.]


Ought to win: I wish I knew.
Ought to win (of those nominated): See above.
WILL win: Smile Pinki


Ought to win: Rachel Getting Married
Ought to win (of those nominated): Milk
WILL win: Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: Flight of the Red Balloon
Ought to win (of those nominated): Waltz with Bashir
WILL win: Waltz with Bashir


Ought to win: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Ought to win (of those nominated): Hellboy II: The Golden Army
WILL win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Ought to win: Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): WALL-E
WILL win: Slumdog Millionaire
[Jon Brion (Synecdoche, New York) is, hands-down, the world's best active film composer. He'll probably never win an Oscar. Shame on the Academy.]


Ought to win: "Little Person" - Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): "Down to Earth" - WALL-E
WILL win: "Jai Ho" - Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): Milk
WILL win: Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: The "Puzz & Toosh" City Arts spot that ran before a number of SIFF movies. Pure genius.
Ought to win (of those nominated): Presto is fun and clever. But I haven't seen any of the others, so...
WILL win: La Maison en Petits Cubes


Ought to win: I have seen exactly zero Live Action Shorts this year. I miss you, Varsity.
Ought to win (of those nominated): ???
WILL win: Spielzeugland


Ought to win: WALL-E
Ought to win (of those nominated): WALL-E
WILL win: The Dark Knight


Ought to win: WALL-E
Ought to win (of those nominated): WALL-E
[Ben Burtt deserves this one. Here's hoping the Academy gets it right.]


Ought to win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ought to win (of those nominated): The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
WILL win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Ought to win: Doubt
Ought to win (of those nominated): Doubt
WILL win: Slumdog Millionaire


Ought to win: Synecdoche, New York
Ought to win (of those nominated): WALL-E


I first saw Synecdoche, New York last November at the Lucas Theatre in downtown Savannah, GA. Only one screening was scheduled, at 11:30am, and--despite my general distaste for waking up earlier than noon--I made a point of being there. It was playing as part of the Savannah Film Festival and was, by far, the most important screening of the week to me.

I watched the film with great interest and attention. As the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman (for my money, the best and most provocative screenwriter working today), I knew going in that Synecdoche promised to be, for lack of a better word, complex. I left the Lucas two hours later feeling emotionally overwhelmed, mentally exhausted, and oddly satisfied. The scope and vision was even greater than I'd expected; it seemed too much to absorb in one sitting. (Such is sometimes the problem with Kaufman's films: trying to make sense of what you're seeing and hearing can ultimately prove futile.) My mild discombobulation notwithstanding, I liked the film very much and thought it an extremely impressive cinematic achievement. I began recommending it to friends and family immediately.

A little more than a month later, I was back in Seattle where I saw Synecdoche for a second time at the Guild 45th. Again, I was awed by the territory explored and, again, felt a deep connection and satisfaction with the movie. But, even after two viewings, the entire weight of the movie had yet to fully set in. I knew by now that it was the best film I'd seen all year by leaps and bounds, but I could also feel that there was something more hidden beneath the surface; some sort of further emotional punch which could not be forced or even coaxed, but would reveal itself if given the opportunity.

Fast-forward six weeks or so. Shortly after arriving in Georgia, I signed up to receive emails from the Coligny Theatre on Hilton Head Island, SC. Toward the end of January, I received an announcement that Synecdoche would begin a one-week run at the Coligny that Friday. So the next week, after working for eight hours, I drove straight up to Hilton Head for the 7pm show.

Roger Ebert starts his review of Synecdoche with these words: "I think you have to see Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York twice." Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Ebert has been doing this movie-watching thing a lot longer than I have, but I needed three times. Upon leaving the Coligny Theatre after Round 3 of Synecdoche, I could hardly separate my own life from that of the film's protagonist. I had become Caden Cotard and Caden Cotard had become me. His life and my life were the same life. (And if you just took the two previous sentences literally, you'll likely need to watch Synecdoche ten times or more before it clicks.)

Great art and literature serve their highest purpose when they act as a mirror for the viewer. If you see a painting or read a book or watch a film and, from that, are able to reflect on some part of your own life, then greatness has been achieved. Synecdoche, New York is possibly the greatest artistic mirror I have ever viewed. The whole film is a reflection on human life; any human life, every human life, ALL human life.

When talking with people who have yet to see Synecdoche, I'm often asked what the movie is about. Never have I experienced such difficulties in describing a film.

A very brief description of what happens in Synedoche, New York:
A modestly successful theatre director, Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), seems to have slipped into a semi-surreal version of his life. He lives out the last half of his life in this surreality--being abandoned by his wife and child, carrying on dysfunctional relationships with other women, directing a theatre piece of ridiculous proportions--and we, the viewer, are taken along for the ride.

But while the events of Synecdoche are certainly important, they in no way provide an understanding of what the movie is about. The closest I've come to accurately describing the film is this: one man tries to sort out the details and meaning and truth of his life. Seriously, that's the best I can do. See it for yourself and try to come up with something better.

For almost five years, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue has occupied the top slot on my All-Time Best Films list (which, admittedly, exists primarily in my mind). I've seen some great films in the past five years, but nothing has even come close to Blue. Until now. I'm not ready to crown Synecdoche as my new Favorite Film but I'd be doing it a disservice if I failed to note that the matter is under consideration.

Synecdoche, New York is a film without parallel, the most complete document of the human experience I have ever witnessed, bar none. I don't know what more I can say.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Most beautiful film of the year. Period.

But if you rely solely on a clear-cut plotline to guide you through a movie, Flight of the Red Balloon might not be for you. Like a number of great films, Flight of the Red Balloon is much more about atmosphere and tone and feeling than it is about story. In fact, one could argue that there's not much story in Flight of the Red Balloon at all.

Flight of the Red Balloon is inspired and, to an extent, informed by Albert Lamorisse's 1956 short film The Red Balloon. Some say that Flight of the Red Balloon is "based on" Lamorisse's film but, while that statement is at least partly accurate, I find the language too strong. I've also seen Flight of the Red Balloon called a remake of The Red Balloon, an idea I believe to be ridiculous and a disservice to both films. Despite obvious similarities, both films are very much their own entities. If anything, director Hou Hsiao Hsien seems to have viewed Lamorisse's film as a jumping-off point.

The film is about Simon (Simon Iteanu), a 7-year-old boy who lives in Paris with his mom and who has a sometimes companion/shadow in the form of--you guessed it--a red balloon. His mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), is a puppeteer and a bit of a drama queen, though it's not difficult to sympathize with her. She is essentially a single mother (her husband is a writer living in Montreal, and relations between the two don't exactly seem warm), not only to Simon but also to her older daughter, Louise, who lives in Belgium. And beside her motherly duties, she's got a lot on her plate at work, where she is planning the production of her latest show. Enter Song (Song Fang), a Taiwanese film student studying in Paris, and Simon's newly hired babysitter.

Suzanne is constantly juggling the ins and outs of everyday life. Song and Simon spend their days exploring Paris together. The red balloon tags along. That's your story, in a nutshell. No, it isn't much, but it doesn't need to be.

Suzanne is a vibrant woman whose life is anything but routine. Rarely does a film allow a character's day-to-day activities stand on their own without supplementing them with some sort of unlikely, unnecessary drama. Suzanne's life is full of real problems and real joys; it is not dull, nor is it easy. No murders or affairs are required to make things interesting.

And Simon is an intelligent, inquisitive child. His interactions with those around him (Suzanne, Song, his piano teacher, the red balloon, his absent-but-not-forgotten sister) are genuine and remarkable. He is the picture of honest innocence, the heart of the film.

And Song, the foreigner, the outsider, the invited observer. In certain ways, Song is the audience's in-film proxy. A film student, she makes videos of her Parisian adventures with Simon. And she is present for many personal, emotional moments at Suzanne and Simon's apartment. Not unlike those of us sitting on the other side of the screen, Song is positioned to take everything in without becoming too deeply involved.

And then there is the red balloon. Almost a spectre, the red balloon floats or bobs into scenes then back out of them unassumingly, inviting the audience to watch and, if we wish, to guess at its significance. More often than not, the balloon seems to be a sort of imaginary friend to Simon. A comfortable companion that appears when it is needed, but can be fleeting. It sometimes seems that only Simon sees the balloon and that it is in some way the manifestation of his innocence as a child; it separates him from the grown-ups and their problems.

The dance between the red balloon and the city of Paris is a graceful one. Paris is perhaps the unsung character in this film. After seeing Paris, je t'aime in 2007 and Flight of the Red Balloon twice last Spring, I am convinced that the city is a place I must visit. I cannot begin to describe the beauty of the place, as portrayed in this film. Paris is Simon and Song's playground and, time and again, without fail, it captures the eye and the heart. If a place can be so enchanting on-screen, I can only imagine what it might make a person feel to be there.

Like the wedding in Rachel Getting Married, Flight of the Red Balloon makes the viewer want to be where the film is. To step into the scene is the only way the experience could be more real.

On the whole, Flight of the Red Balloon seems to have received a favorable critical review. But many of the "average viewer" comments I've read have been less than flattering. People just don't get it. They're bored by the film and don't understand why nothing happens. Such is the nature of Flight of the Red Balloon and films like it (Kieslowski and Wenders have made similarly "boring" films, I think). If you watch a movie like Flight of the Red Balloon with the intention of "getting" it, you've already missed the point. This is not a movie you understand, but a movie you feel. It's not about the things that happen to the characters as much as it's about observing their lives and feeling what they might feel. Or feeling something completely different! It's beauty in cinematic form and if it doesn't make sense to you--if you don't feel it--you're out of luck. You either feel this film, or you don't; no amount of explanation can change that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

#3 - MILK

I think my dad said it best: Milk is not a movie about gay rights. Milk is a movie about human rights.

Yes, Milk is about a gay man (Harvey Milk) who rose to a position of prominence and esteem (City Supervisor) in a major American city (San Francisco). And yes, he championed a number of gay causes along the way. But there is so much more to Milk than that most basic of plot outlines. Milk is a humanist film, first and foremost; at its heart is the idea that we, people, all ought to be fair to each other, up to and including the provision that we all be allowed to be ourselves. Milk goes further than the simple request that we all tolerate one another, it implores us to love our fellow humans.

If you've already seen Milk, you don't need me to tell you that it is an excellent film on every front. It is well shot, the time period is seamlessly represented, and the script is utterly smooth. Never while watching this film will you find yourself preoccupied by poor camerawork or a glaring anachronism or a scene which just doesn't work. In this sort of movie, the filmmaking ought to be invisible and in Milk, it is.

Props to Gus Van Sant for that achievement. I've watched roughly half of Van Sant's filmography and, for better or worse, all of his films have Gus Van Sant written all over them. All of them except Milk, that is. Truth be told, I wasn't sure he could make a movie without making it his movie, but he pulled it off here with aplomb. And he couldn't have picked a better spot to remove himself from the equation.

With the impeccable filmmaking and iconic director successfully (and wisely) disappearing from sight, the film's actors effectively become its face. Thank goodness for perfect casting. Honestly, the male actor categories of practically every film award show in existence could be filled out with the cast of Milk. I've already sung the praises of Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin in previous posts/comments, so I won't repeat myself here. But those are only a few of the many great performances laid on the line in Milk. Other notables include: James Franco as Milk's lover Scott Smith (obviously...he is terrific), Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg, Joseph Cross as Dick Pabich, and--though it pains me to say it, as the character was so obnoxious--Diego Luna as Jack Lira.

As with any great film (or other piece of art), summing it up in words is practically impossible. Milk is a movie you must see for yourself to truly understand. I saw it twice in theatres myself and each time I wound up in tears; not just watery eyes, but true tears rolling down my face. It's like that. The nearest I can come to doing this movie justice is to quote the ultimate Humanist: Kurt Vonnegut. In Milk, Harvey repeats what becomes a sort of mantra, a phrase the real Milk was known to say in speeches: "You gotta give 'em hope." Vonnegut, in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, wrote something similar: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

I think kindness and hope go hand in hand; both are certainly present in Milk. Even Brolin's Dan White, our protagonist's eventual killer, is treated fairly and with a certain kindness and understanding by Van Sant. In less capable hands, all of this beautiful compassion could have easily imploded. Van Sant does the ideas of hope and kindness and love and compassion justice. What an incredible achievement.

If you haven't seen Milk yet, do so. If you've avoided it because you're afraid to watch two men kiss or lay together, it's even more important that you see it. Milk isn't my favorite movie of the past year, but it is the film I want everyone to see. We owe it to ourselves, as human beings, to open our eyes to the potential for hope and kindness. These are the ideas which can carry us into the future, together. Writers like Vonnegut, filmmakers like Van Sant, and men like Harvey Milk are but a few of the bright lights to have lit our world; let's follow them forward.


Two and a half months ago I flew back to Seattle to visit friends and family before the holidays. Of course there are perks inherent to returning to your former-theatre-employee stomping ground; notably, (nearly) free movies. So when I had eight hours to kill in the University District before meeting up with my dad, I naturally headed straight for the Metro to catch an afternoon movie. My film of choice: Rachel Getting Married.

So, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, I joined the four or five retired women already in the auditorium midway through the trailers. I was by no means certain that I'd be able to remain conscious for the duration of the film, let alone focused enough to properly take it in. Regardless, my course was set...I'd walked into a dark room where a film was to be projected; there was no turning back. I am happy to report that I do not regret choosing Rachel Getting Married as the first screening of my triumphant (if temporary) return to free-moviedom.

At RGM's core lies a pretty basic story. Kym (Anne Hathaway) is a recovering drug addict. She has just been released from rehab and the first order of business is attending her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding, a rather large and lively gathering of family and friends. From this deceptively simple premise, RGM launches into an exploration of the interpersonal relationships between Rachel and her family (especially important are the relationships between Kym and Rachel, and between both sisters and their father). The beautiful wedding goes forward as planned while emotional confrontations occur and recur both behind-the-scenes as well as in plain view of all the guests. Some tragic family history comes to light before film's end and, though the conclusion of RGM doesn't offer the degree of closure some viewers might crave, it is appropriate and (in my eyes, ears, mind and heart) realistic.

The movie is attractive in an almost magnetic way. Notably, there are a number of car-crash style "this is ugly but I can't look away" moments. Even more alluring, however, is the overwhelming sense of involvement this movie lends itself to. It must be noted that part of what involves the audience is the way this film was made; to wit, it was shot in close quarters using handheld HD-video cameras. I know some people hate the so-called "shaky cam" style of cinematography, but the sheer intimacy of this film could never have been achieved without it.

More than anything, RGM is a great story and an unfiltered look into the sometimes painful experiences that come with being part of a family. What makes the movie unique is its execution. The intimate cinematography. The organic integration of music. The naturalistic, emotionally-charged performances.

I admit, I've heard the very aspects I champion above derided as elements of what amounts to an extravagant "Jonathan Demme music video". And I know that some people may see this film and experience none of the magic I have. But maybe long, narrative music videos just work for me. Or perhaps I just happened to be in the right mood to receive this film positively. Twice. Honestly though, I believe genuine emotional truth exists in this movie. And even if the style of filmmaking isn't your cup of tea, I believe that truth will filter through to you.

For those of us who can embrace theses unconventional yet valuable modes of moviemaking, however, Rachel Getting Married is an absolute gift, a film you will wish you could be part of it. It is completely absorbing, completely heartrending, and completely wonderful; a true experience.

Monday, February 16, 2009

#5 - WALL-E

I don't think WALL-E really requires an introduction anymore. It seems like everyone and their brother has seen it by now (rightfully so) and that most of us agree that the movie is nothing short of terrific (again, rightfully so). As such, in the interest of saving you from my habitual long-windedness and me the trouble of rehashing the same praise hundreds of critics have already bestowed upon the work of genius that is WALL-E, I shall do my best to keep this post short and (hopefully) sweet.

WALL-E is superior to the average motion picture for myriad reasons: gorgeous CGI, relevant subject matter, and expressive, endearing, well-developed characters are just the beginning of the list. But what makes WALL-E a truly great film has nothing to do with technology or topical content or even the undeniable cuteness of its anthropomorphic robots. WALL-E's ace-in-the-hole is its story and the skillful execution thereof.

In the latest issue of TIME magazine, film critic Richard Corliss notes on his annotated Oscar ballot that WALL-E's screenplay is the "best silent film script since 'Sunrise'". The great compliment doesn't make complete sense, seeing as WALL-E isn't truly a silent film, but Corliss' heart is in the right place. Sunrise, in case you're unfamiliar, is a 1927 silent film by the German director F.W. Murnau and is viewed by many cinephiles (this one included) as one of the best films ever made. For an esteemed critic to liken any film to Sunrise is a pretty big deal. WALL-E has earned the comparison. Its story is straight-forward yet original, and the themes explored are universal; anyone who has felt love can understand what moves WALL-E to such extreme measures.

Bringing a relatively simple story to dynamic life on a movie screen is impressive enough. Accomplishing such a task when your film's central characters are incapable of talking to one another (at least in the most conventional sense) is even more remarkable. Excepting pre-recorded audio and video, human beings do not enter WALL-E until the 39-minute mark. Yet for 39 minutes, we, the audience, understand each and every emotion and idea expressed by WALL-E, his cockroach pal, and EVE. All via a combination of beeps, chirps, facial expressions, and body language. Two robots, one insect, full emotional comprehension. Incredible.

Corliss makes one other note about WALL-E on his annotated ballot: "Should've been up for Best Picture". There's no need for qualification here, Corliss said it all.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


(For your viewing pleasure, I recommend hovering over the arrow in the bottom-right corner of this video and clicking "HQ". After you've pressed play. You won't be regret it.)


Sounds dirty, right? Well it's not what you think. In fact, the word isn't dirty at all, at least not explicitly.

George Washington Winsterhammerman works at Jeffers Corporation. He is a visioneer--specifically, a Level Three Tunt. Like I said, it isn't an expressly dirty word, but it certainly is a degrading title.

[A note about Jeffers Corp.: "[T]he largest and most profitable corporation in the history of mankind," Jeffers Corp. is the omni-present, wildly oppressive, and apparently all-powerful company for which George--and seemingly every other employed soul in the film--works. Separation between Jeffers and the government is slim-to-none and it seems entirely possible that Jeffers is the only remaining company on Earth. What they actually do is never revealed or even hinted at.]

George leads what ought to be a satisfactory life. Attractive wife, check. Low-maintenance son, check. Bigger-than-necessary house, check. Boat, check. Gainful, ostensibly enviable employment, check. But George is not satisfied. And he certainly is not happy. And, worst of all, he's afraid he might explode. That's right, explode.

You see, Jeffers Corp. has run into a bit of a problem--an epidemic, if you will. People working for the company have begun to explode. As the rash of explosions spreads, George begins to wonder if he might be at risk. With this absurd premise as its jumping-off point, Visioneers tracks George's attempts to make sense of his life while simultaneously avoiding combustion (both figuratively and literally).

Written by Brandon Drake and directed by his brother Jared, both Washington natives, Visioneers was also shot in and around the Seattle-area, so it stood to reason that the film should make its debut at SIFF. I was fortunate enough to catch the World Premiere last June and was completely taken with the film. Like Shotgun Stories in '07, Visioneers was the cream of SIFF 2008.

When I first began to read about the film, and saw its trailer, I was sure that it would be hilarious but expected little more than laughs. I was happily surprised when, just a few minutes into the film, I found myself completely absorbed by the story; even the absurdist elements of the story became completely believable. Of course the film was as funny as expected, but it was also so much more. I found myself empathizing with George and saddened that simply having dreams beyond corporate conformation resulted in his being cast out and misunderstood not only by his company but by loved ones as well.

It's incredible to me that this is the first film under the belts of both Drake brothers. It can't be easy to execute a script of this nature so well that the audience not only laugh their heads off, but also buys the film's most outlandish metaphors. The Drakes certainly owe a lot to their able cast. Comedy god Zach Galifianakis is absolutely on-point as George Washington Winsterhammerman (and not at all over-the-top), as is Judy Greer as his loyal, if misunderstanding, wife. Supplement that pair with a number of underrated bit players and a handful of all-but-forgotten Seattle-area comedians and you've got yourself an unexpectedly apt troupe. All I can say is that everything came together as well as anyone could have hoped. The resultant movie is an incredibly dynamic absurdist dramedy which absolutely must be seen.

Here's where I tell you the (until further notice) bad news. Visioneers, as of this writing, is still without a distribution. As such, you can't see it. To my knowledge, only two of my readers (a couple of my dearest, I must add) have seen this film. But I sincerely believe that Visioneers has a good shot at getting somewhat significant distribution.

I assure you, fans: should you ever get the chance, you'll be glad you saw Visioneers. So you cross your fingers and I'll cross mine. With any luck, this movie will find its way to a theatre near all of us soon.

#7 - DOUBT

Great writing + great acting=Doubt.

As noted on the poster itself, Doubt is "based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play" of the same name. Written for the screen and directed by John Patrick Shanley (who also penned the original material), Doubt is an ethically complex and ultimately ambiguous story.

Set during the mid-1960s in a Bronx Catholic church and school, the narrative tracks the criss-crossing paths of two authority figures within the respective institutions. Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a young, forward-minded priest at the parish. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is an old-school nun who serves as the school's principal. By way of contrasting visual cues and via oral exchanges, it is made clear early on in the film that Flynn and Aloysius have different ideas of how representatives of the Church ought to behave and how the church and school ought to be viewed by its congregation and students. Aloysius' disapproval of Flynn's is apparent if initially unspoken.

The quiet friction between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius quickly escalates to the point of confrontation when Aloysius learns from Sister James, a young, green teacher at the school, that Flynn may or may not have engaged in sexual conduct with Donald Miller, the only black student at the school. Without making specific accusations, Aloysius solicits information from Flynn regarding his relationship with the boy. Flynn becomes agitated, but successfully deflects Aloysius' insinuations. The conflict between the priest and nun does not end their, however, and a resolution of sorts is reached by the film's end.

But, in keeping with the film's aforementioned ambiguity, the film produces far more questions than it does answers. The film hinges on the interplay between two opposing states of mind: doubt and certainty. The conflicting concepts apply to different characters at different points during the story. While Flynn seems certain of his innocence at some junctures, during others he appears to be filled with doubt. Aloysius, stubborn as she is, clings to certainty with utter confidence for the majority of the film, but ultimately falls victim to crushing doubt.

More significant than the mentality of any given character is the mindset of those of us sitting in the theatre, taking it all in. After 104 minutes of deciphering which character is right and which is wrong, what is true and what is false, it is the audience who falls victim to the uncomfortable vacillations between certainty and doubt. While I have my own ideas of which character is 'most right', I've spoken with others who feel exactly the opposite. And I think it's fair to expect that most if not all viewers of Doubt would concede while they trust their own judgment, they could be wrong.

The play upon which Doubt is based was apparently a one-act affair. Per Wikipedia: "In interviews, the cast said the second act was what took place when the audience left the theatre and began to discuss their differing opinions of the events - some agreeing with Aloysius and other siding with Flynn." Leaving aside the debatable idea of a second act taking place after curtain-fall, I believe that this concept holds some water. Having taken part in some discussion of the play's cinematic iteration, I can see how one might view such talks as a kind of extension of the story. It's certainly not a brand new idea, but that doesn't make it any less valuable.

Anyway, let's talk cast for a moment. I'm not at all surprised that four actors from this film have been nominated for Academy Awards. Streep and Hoffman are both deserving of wins, even if Hoffman should actually have been nominated in the "Leading Actor" category. Amy Adams' performance as Sister James was beyond convincing, though not award-worthy in my eyes. And Viola Davis' turn as the mother of the allegedly molested student was impressive as well (but is a nomination really warranted when the actress is only given a few minutes of screen-time and a one-dimensionally-written role to work with? William Hurt didn't deserve the nom for his similarly minimal role in A History of Violence, and Davis doesn't really deserve one here either). A dynamic script like Doubt's deserves dynamic actors and Shanley found a quartet of capable conduits in these four players.

I have a problem with Doubt. It has to do with its origins and, possibly, with its director. While I love Shanley's writing (specifically, the way the information contained within and communicated via the dialogue), I wonder if this story might have been made into a better film with someone other than its creator at the helm. Plainly said, Doubt feels like a play. Plays are great, don't get me wrong, but theatre is limited in ways that cinema is not. If you're going to make a play into a movie, why wouldn't you take advantage of those things which distinguish one artform from the other?

Shanley is a writer first, a director second. Beside Doubt, he has directed one film, 19 years ago. That film: Joe Versus the Volcano. I actually like Joe Versus the Volcano quite a lot, but it's not a great movie and I doubt that it could have prepared Shanley for the direction of Doubt. So when it came time for Shanley to make this much more serious film, he naturally fell back on his familiarity with theatre.

Shanley had an opportunity to hit Doubt out of the park. Quite unfortunately, he missed. But when you write a script as strong as Doubt's, and have equally strong actors to bring it vividly to life, even a near-miss can be worth the price of admission.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I've already received a bit of flak for bestowing what I believe to be justified praise upon Iron Man, so I already know that this pick won't be popular with my entire readership (however few of you there may be, thanks for reading!) But of what worth would a list of this nature be if it didn't generate a dissenting opinion or two? And anyway, it's my list, right? I've gotta be honest with my people if I'm going to earn their confidence! With the noble pursuit of trust-via-integrity in mind and heart, I proudly present Iron Man, number eight on my Best Films of 2008 Countdown.

I feel that it's safe to assume that Iron Man was viewed by many--if not most--viewers as the second-best superhero movie of the year, after The Dark Knight. As a firm believer in the idea of "to each man[or woman], his[or her] own opinion", I'm willing to accept Iron Man's relegation to the position of second fiddle. But I certainly disagree with the conception that TDK is a superior film. For my money, Iron Man is the best comic book adaptation to hit the silver screen since Batman Begins and Sin City were released three and a half years ago. And given the fact that practically every third movie released between April and October these days began its life as a comic, that's saying something.

What I think sets Iron Man apart from other, lesser films adapted from comics is that it harnesses everything that a comic can and should possess--entertainment, provocation, well-developed characters, strong visuals--and wraps it all up in a slick, unassuming package. Where TDK might be pushing the superhero movie toward greater moral and literary complexity, Iron Man has perfected the genre. Without trying to do more than it needs to, Iron Man lets the cinematic experience take center stage while deftly (and wisely) keeping the actual filmmaking hidden from view.

Unlike most superhero movies, Iron Man is less about the titular crime-fighter than it is about the people behind the mask. Iron Man is littered with strong characters, each of them very much their own individuals and each commanding presences, regardless of how much time they spend on-screen. Chalk it up, in part, to great acting (and casting). From Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane to Terrence Howard's Rhodey to Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts to Shaun Toub's Yinsen to Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson...the list goes on.

Of course the greatest performance of all is Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark. As I contended in a reply to a comment of Jason's on a previous post, Downey, Jr.'s turn as Stark did more to separate the Man from the Superhero than any performance in a superhero movie ever has. The resultant balance between Man and Superhero added a level of dynamism to Iron Man that I had never before seen in this sort of film. This balance made it possible for the film to be about more than a dude in a high-tech metal suit fighting terrorists and defeating his respective supervillain. Without Downey, Jr.'s nearly flawless work, Iron Man could not have been the movie it was: a movie about the Man-Behind-the-Mask and the people (and comically expressive robots) who have his back.

But there is another man to thank for the film's success. The Man-Behind-the-Scenes. That's right, more shameless props for Jon Favreau's directing. I realize Favreau's not Martin Scorsese or David Lynch, nor do I ever expect him to reach such cinematic heights; he's just not that kind of director. But he does have a knack for making crowd-pleasing movies that also have a sense of style and originality. He makes Old Hollywood-style movies for the modern viewer and does so with great poise.

I give Favreau more notice than most people think he deserves, because for every five comic book adaptations, four are terrible. Look no further than The Incredible Hulk to see just how wrong they can go. Without Favreau at the helm, it's my belief that Iron Man could have turned out just as poorly. Like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk was cast with some talented actors (Edward Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth, and, to a lesser extent, Liv Tyler), but it didn't have a competent filmmaker calling the shots and wound up being, well, embarrassing. The same unfortunate fate has befallen a number of other comic book adaptations over the past several years. But where others fell pathetically flat, Iron Man soared; Jon Favreau deserves a big hunk of the credit for making that happen.

I do not expect to convince any non-believers of the merits of Iron Man, but I do think that even those who weren't as impressed by the movie as I was must realize that transforming a storied comic book franchise into a good film is no small feat. Turning it into a great film is all the more impressive and, as superhero movies go, Iron Man is nothing short of terrific.

Friday, February 13, 2009


"Summer 1994. The girls were fly. The music was dope. And Luke was just trying to deal."

So reads the tagline of The Wackness. And, really, little more could be said to sum up The Wackness's basic story. It's a coming-of-age film, as you might have guessed, but it's a somewhat unconventional buddy movie, as well. Then again, it's also a story of young love and the first broken heart that inevitably follows. And it's a sort of period piece, too. As you can see, despite being a fairly simple film on the surface, The Wackness transcends easy categorization.

As previously noted, the tagline really says it all. The film follows Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) as he navigates the sweltering summer months following high school graduation. He lives in Manhattan with his parents, who seem to be struggling to maintain their standing as Upper East Siders. He has a crush on a decidedly more affluent classmate, his psychiatrist's stepdaughter, incidentally. And he sells pot to seemingly every weed-loving soul in his general vicinity (hence: "Luke was just trying to deal." Double entendre. Get it?)

One of Luke's many customers is his aforementioned shrink, played by Ben Kingsley. The two form an unlikely friendship and Luke spends the majority of his summer splitting time between pursuing Stephanie, his crush, and hanging with her stepdad, Dr. Squires. And that's basically the gist of it. But The Wackness isn't really about plot points so much as it's about what happens between plot points. It's an unexpectedly atmospheric movie, rife with great dialogue (as well as spot-on monologues) and honest interactions between real, flawed, human characters. It's beautiful.

But none of this really explains how a movie about a pot-dealing New York City teen completely obsessed me for the two or three weeks it played at the Varsity. Now, I can't really explain why this movie so violently seized my attention while only temporarily amusing my contemporaries, but I can tell you what I loved so much about this movie.

First off, I absolutely adore New York City. It's an unbelievable place and is beautifully shot in this movie. Director Jonathan Levine clearly feels as passionately about NYC as I do, because he certainly didn't shy away from making the city central to the film. The greatness that is New York fills each frame and really transports you to the scene instead of leaving you on the outside looking in. And I, for one, think his conception of 1994 Manhattan was pretty rad. (But I can't attest to its accuracy.)

Secondly, the acting in this movie was terrific. Of course one always expects Ben Kingsley to do good work, but his turn as "weird old guy" Dr. Jeffrey Squires went well beyond my personal expectations. Squires, despite being well into middle-age, is just as desperate to make sense of life as Luke is, and Kingsley really sells that facet of his character. Kingsley's Squires by no means thinks himself superior to the much-younger Luke; they're both fighting the same uphill battle together. And Josh Peck was amazing! I'd never really heard of the dude before this movie, but I guess he made a name for himself on a very popular Disney channel show called Drake and Josh (leave it to Disney to conjure up yet another unbelievably creative television show title). It suffices to say that Peck is a professional; his portrayal of Luke Shapiro carries The Wackness from start to finish without nary a misstep.

Last but not least, THE SOUNDTRACK! Oh my god, the music in this movie is out of control. Just a few minutes into the film the first few bars of Nas' "The World Is Yours" give way to an incredible dream sequence on board a subway car. I can still recall the smile that spread across my face when I saw that scene for the first time. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Luke is a loyal fan of New York hip-hop, so the movie is littered with choice cuts from classic records like "Illmatic", "Ready to Die", and "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", among others. The interplay between image and music is on-point, throughout.

I know that few people loved this movie as much as I did, so I fully expect some second-guessing here. But I could really care less. For whatever reason, this movie meant (and means) a lot to me. So bring on the tongue-lashings, if you must. On the off-chance that my feelings are hurt, I can take comfort in knowing that all I need is to pop in The Wackness once more and all will be well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pre-Countdown Special: SHOTGUN STORIES

Early June in Seattle means one thing to me: SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival, to the uninitiated). I've been completely hooked since my first SIFF back in 2005. Given a chance to see a grip of films before they officially hit theatres, and a handful which might never see U.S. distribution at all, I simply cannot resist.

So it stood to reason that I would find myself sitting in the darkened downstairs auditorium of the Harvard Exit theatre on the afternoon of June 13, 2007 (my last afternoon as a 21-Year-Old, incidentally). I was one of maybe 20 people in attendance for a film which I nearly decided to skip altogether. 92 minutes after the lights had gone down, the movie was over and I was in awe. I had just seen what, up to that point, was undoubtedly the best film of 2007. That film was called Shotgun Stories.

Because I saw Shotgun Stories in 2007, I included it on my "Best of '07" list. But now that the 2008 film year has come to a close, Shotgun Stories is cropping up on a number of "Best of '08" list. Why, you ask? A technicality, of course; why else do things happen? Shotgun Stories received its criminally limited "theatrical release" on March 26, 2008 so, technically, it's a 2008 film. What does this mean to you and me? It means that I'm going to plug this great movie one more time.

"Tell me more about this Shotgun Stories, Colin." Okay, fans, I will.

Shotgun Stories revolves around a feud between two sets of Arkansan half-brothers. Both broods are the offspring of one man, but were born of two different mothers. The film follows one of these sets: an impoverished trio of brothers who were abandoned by their father at a young age and left to be raised by a resentful mother. Their counterparts knew the same deadbeat dad to be a true and good father; they are the family he chose to keep when he left his other sons in the lurch.

The film's plot hinges on said mutual-father's death. At the film's outset, our protagonistic trio learns from their still cold-hearted mother that their flake of a father is dead. They drop in on his funeral uninvited and share their bitter memory of the man with the family who loved him. A scrum naturally erupts between the rival clans and an unfortunate chain of events is set in motion.

The heartrending downward spiral this film follows must be seen to be properly understood; suffice it to say that you'll be neither bored nor at peace with the way it all goes down.

Shotgun Stories is one of the most "American" movies I've ever seen. I'd compare it favorably with influential New Hollywood classics like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Like those fine films, Shotgun Stories explores the all-too-often destructive force of American masculinity (among other things). It's not a subtle or shy film, by any means, but it's not unrealistic either. The film grants you admission to the lives of a bunch of poor white Southerners trying to do right by themselves, even if proving one's worth means tearing families apart (one's own included).

I cannot put into words the many things this film has to say, so I'll stop trying. What I will say is that it's an incredible achievement for first-time director Jeff Nichols. He deserves so much more credit than he has received. And the acting in this film is unbelievable. The film features a number of fine performances from actors both professional and non-professional (including some wonderful work by a Little Rock punk rocker by the name of Alan Disaster; he plays Shampoo in the movie).

But this movie belongs to Michael Shannon's Son Hayes, the eldest of the abandoned brothers. Son is the film's somewhat enigmatic, undeniably tragic lead and no one could have owned this role the way Shannon owns this role. The dude was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Revolutionary Road, a role in which his character does a fair bit of talking (and yelling) despite minimal screen-time. Well Son Hayes has the vast majority of Shotgun Stories' screen-time all to himself, but Shannon often needs say nary a word to communicate what's on Son's mind. It's easily one of the best acting performances I've seen in years, if not ever. Michael Shannon's performance alone makes this film worth a watch.

But the movie also features great music, beautiful photography, terrific writing...the list goes on. Shotgun Stories is a complete film which must be seen to be fully appreciated. Which brings me to the most vital point in this post.

I encouraged many people to see this movie during its too-short theatrical run, but precious few were able to make it happen. But fear not, dear fans, for the miracle of home video has come to the rescue. That's right, Shotgun Stories is finally on DVD. So skip down to Scarecrow, bump it to the tip-top of your NetFlix of Blockbuster queue, or just buy the thing outright! I don't care what it takes, so long as you see this movie. I am confident that you will be captivated, moved, hurt, heartened, etc, etc, etc.
If you hadn't guessed it by now, I love this film, and not for no reason. Don't you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself? Oh, yeah: you're welcome.

PS: Check out the song "Decoration Day" by Drive-By Truckers for a great companion piece to Shotgun Stories. Even director Jeff Nichols acknowledged it as a big influence on the story.

[Countdown starts tomorrow at #9! Get psyched!]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best of the Rest '08!

In advance of my no doubt eagerly anticipated "Best Films of 2008" Countdown, here is an inevitably incomplete list of some other very good movies I saw this year. Each movie listed, though not 'great' in my eyes, is nonetheless more-than-recommendable. If you're trying desperately to catch up on the cream of last year, or simply desire some fresh flicks for your Netflix queue (or your Scarecrow account, if you're so fortunate), this might be a good place to start.

I'll stop well short of claiming that you'll like every movie on this roster of B-teamers (but then, not all good movies are 'likable', nor should they be). I will say that all are worth a look for one reason or another.

For your consideration, a mere smattering of the cinematic treats 2008 brought us:
  • The Band's Visit (...nearly made the Countdown)
  • Boy A (...also nearly made the Countdown)
  • Choke (If not for one specific line in this movie, I wouldn't dream of mentioning it here. But man, that line..... Megaen knows what I'm talking about.)
  • The Class
  • The Counterfeiters
  • The Dark Knight
  • Defiance (...still in theatres nationwide. Give it a chance, it's not your average Holocaust movie.)
  • The Edge of Heaven
  • The Fall
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Frownland (Viewer beware: this movie is very odd. Jason, Dad: I think you'll really appreciate it. But first you'll have to find it.)
  • Frozen River
  • Gran Torino
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • In Bruges
  • Kung Fu Panda (WALL-E, it ain't. Cute, clever, and funny, it is.)
  • Let the Right One In
  • Man on Wire (Probably the best doc I saw all year. But I have yet to see Trouble the Water.)
  • Mr. Lonely
  • Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant's second-best movie of 2008. That really says something about Mr. Van Sant's filmmaking chops. Bravo, Gus.)
  • Pineapple Express
  • Ploy (Great Thai movie I saw at SIFF. I really hope it makes its way to the US in one format or another, but I'm not holding my breath.)
  • The Reader
  • Religulous (How could I not love this movie?)
  • Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (Already seen Alive? Think you don't need to see another movie about the same story? Think again. This doc is very touching and gives Man on Wire a serious run for its money in the unofficial "Favorite Documentary" category.)
  • Teeth (As a man, I had a naturally defensive reaction when I saw this film a year ago. But I can't deny this movie's merits; it's definitely worth checking out if you can handle it.)
  • Waltz with Bashir (This movie shouldn't be missed by anyone. So good for so many reasons. I can't wait to watch it again.)
  • Wendy and Lucy (Definitely among the most heartbreaking films of the year. If you're a dog person, you can't miss this one.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nomination Breakown, Pt. 2: My Picks

What a hypocrite I would be if I were to unceremoniously criticize the Academy's nominees without providing some of my own in return. Listed below are my answers to the 81st Annual Oscar nominations.

As you'll soon see for yourself, I altered the categories a bit to suit my perspective. For one thing, my acting nominations are not split into "Leading" and "Supporting"sub-categories. I've never really bought the whole "supporting actor/actress" thing. Separating one performance from another based upon screen-time differential or perceived role significance is silly; great acting is great acting. So four categories become two, Best Actor and Best Actress. (Yes, I've kept Actor and Actress separate. Call me sexist if you must; it makes sense to me in this context.) Similarly, Best Screenplay is one category; no more of that Original vs. Adapted nonsense. Since my noms are highly unlikely to become awards, I see no good reason to attempt spread the nominations among increasingly specific categories ("And the award for Best Hair Lighting by a Ugandan in a Comedy set in Antarctica goes to...").

Also, if I feel that any given nominee has turned in a memorable effort in more than one film during the past year, that nominee's nom will reflect as much. (You'll see what I mean.)

Okay, here we go...

  • Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married
  • Jon Favreau - Iron Man
  • Hou Hsian Hsien - Flight of the Red Balloon
  • Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York
  • Gus Van Sant - Milk & Paranoid Park
  • Andrew Stanton - WALL-E


  • Josh Brolin - Milk
  • Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder
  • Robert Downey, Jr. - Iron Man
  • Colin Farrell - In Bruges
  • Andrew Garfield - Boy A
  • Emile Hirsch - Milk
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Synecdoche, New York & Doubt
  • Bill Irwin - Rachel Getting Married
  • Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
  • Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
  • Sean Penn - Milk
  • Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
  • Michael Shannon - Shotgun Stories & Revolutionary Road


  • Juliette Binoche - Flight of the Red Balloon
  • Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married
  • Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
  • Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Catherine Keener - Synecdoche, New York
  • Melissa Leo - Frozen River
  • Samantha Morton - Synecdoche, New York & Mr. Lonely
  • Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long
  • Meryl Streep - Doubt
  • Catinca Untaru - The Fall
  • Michelle Williams - Wendy and Lucy & Synecdoche, New York


  • Brandon Drake - Visioneers
  • Charlie Kaufman - Synecdoche, New York
  • Eran Kolirin - The Band's Visit
  • Jonathan Levine - The Wackness
  • Jenny Lumet - Rachel Getting Married
  • Martin McDonagh - In Bruges
  • John Patrick Shanley - Doubt
  • Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon - WALL-E

Okay that's all for now. Please feel free to weigh in on my picks. Who am I giving too much credit? And who have I snubbed? Tell me what I got right, and tell me what I got wrong. (I know what you're thinking: "Got wrong?! Your taste in movies is impeccable, Colin, you'd never get something like this wrong!" I appreciate your honesty.) Seriously, be blunt with me. I can take it.

Regarding the absence of a Best Picture category: well, something much better than a simple list is forthcoming. Assuming I find the time and dedication, it is my intent to spend the last 1.5 weeks leading up to the Oscars counting down my favorite movies of 2008. As of now, I've got nine worthy films on my list. What does that mean to you? Nine straight days of cinematic praise, one movie at a time, that's what! I think (and hope) it'll be a lot of fun.

But don't wait for the countdown to check in again. There'll be more from me between now and the day I reveal the 9th-best film of 2008. So stay tuned!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nomination Breakdown, Pt. 1: The Academy's Picks

Generally speaking, I don't watch TV with much more than a passing interest. Excepting 30 Rock and Seahawks games, I greet the vast majority of television programming with little more than indifference.

There are, of course, exceptions. Twice a year, every year, I put the rest of life on hold to sit in front of a television. Two television events--both annual, both longer than they need to be--demand my attention year in and year out, whether I wish to give it or not. It is a sickness for which I have found no cure. I am compelled to watch.

One of these magnetically irresistible events is the Super Bowl. In 17 hours or so, the game will be over and the winning team will have been crowned Super Bowl Champions. The losers, they'll quietly make their way to the sidelines of history. Despite the fact that my team had a truly awful year during which postseason dreams were few and far between, I'm more than a little excited to see if the Arizona Cardinals can do tomorrow what the Seahawks were (in my humble opinion) screwed out of doing three years ago: beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The beauty of the Super Bowl is that little doubt can be cast on the qualifications of any team which has survived a 16-game season with an admirable record intact, only to win its way through the playoffs. Whether or not you like the two teams in the game, you can watch knowing that each dog has earned its place in the fight.

My other annually televised indulgence? The Academy Awards, of course! I can't remember the last time I missed the Oscars. Two years ago I called in sick to work--a loss of at least $50 in pay--just so I wouldn't miss a moment of the action. Put simply: when the most prestigious film awards are presented each Winter, a cinephile like myself takes notice.

Unfortunately for us film-fans, it would be practically impossible for each of our favorite movies from the past year to receive the recognition we believe they are due. Given the backlash and second-guessing that all subjective awards inevitably arouse, I do not envy any award-nominating body their responsibility/privilege.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, though? Well, I have no sympathy for them. The Academy has a remarkable knack for dropping the ball when it comes time to choose which films should be honored as the best of the year.

Honestly, I tend to be pretty forgiving of the Academy's missteps. I'd even go so far as to say that the past couple of years of noms have been bordered on respectability. Please forgive me my past tolerance; the Academy has seriously upped the level of incompetence for the 81st Annual Oscars. I was wrong to grant them any leniency. Of the numerous great films released in 2008, precious few of them were adequately recognized by the Academy (many of the year's best weren't nominated at all).

But (more than) enough talk, right? Let's get down to business. Listed below are the nominees for eight of the highest-profile Academy Award categories, along with comments from the world's most respected occasional film commentator: yours truly. Get ready to hate me.


  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Doubt
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire

Let's start with those nominees which are doubtlessly deserving of the nod: Doubt. Done. Honestly, though I found the other four stories compelling enough, none of them blew me away. I suppose Slumdog Millionaire deserves a modicum of recognition for bringing a fresh, original, dynamic story into the fray, even if the end-result didn't do all that much for me. The Reader and Frost/Nixon are both impressive films, but the both stories were told in such conventional,formulaic fashion that their provocative content was rendered a little dry. Neither script seemed Oscar-worthy from where I was sitting. Which brings us to Benjamin Button. I'm sure turning Fitzgerald's short story into a filmable script was no easy task. But I just wasn't feeling this story. The pace was a bit off for my taste, and there were fundamental problems with the plot that simply were not reconcilable. For example: how does Benjamin start is life as an old, baby-sized human, then end his life as a young, baby-sized human? If he started in a baby-sized, old-man's body, shouldn't he have ended in an adult-sized, baby's body instead of shrinking back into babydom? It just doesn't add up.
VERDICT: Doubt deserves the nod. Slumdog Millionaire is an acceptable choice. And The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and Benjamin Button have no place on this list.


  • Frozen River
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • In Bruges
  • Milk
  • WALL-E

Okay, Academy. You're getting warmer. I can say without reservation that three out of the five nominees for Original Screenplay are Oscar-worthy. I'm not surprised to see Milk. The story is perfectly told and incredibly moving. It was the backbone for one of the best movies of 2008; you can't get much more Oscar-worthy than that. Another of 2008's best is represented here in WALL-E. I didn't necessarily expect it to receive this nomination, though it's certainly deserving. Animated films are too often eschewed in favor of the more traditional live-action stuff. When an animated feature turns out as well as WALL-E, no applicable category should be off-limits. The most unexpected nominee here (and maybe the best surprise on the whole ballot) has to be In Bruges. I overlooked the movie when it was first released but finally saw it in New York and was very happily surprised. The dialogue in this movie is incredible, and the story is certainly original. I call this movie a dark comedy, but there's a lot more to it than just guilty laughs. It's everything a dark comedy can and should be and that's thanks in no small part to a (presumably) well-written screenplay. Another nominee I was surprised and heartened to see in this category is Frozen River. Frozen River is a good movie, and well worth seeing, but an Oscar-worthy script? Not in my book. Kudos to writer-director Courtney Hunt (whose post-screening Q&A I saw at SIFF) for taking this movie as far as she has. The attention and acclaim is deserved, just not in this category. And then there's Happy-Go-Lucky, for which director Mike Leigh gets the writing credit. Full disclosure: my judgment of this nominees qualifications is based in large part on the widely-held assumption that though Mike Leigh's movies are tightly-scripted, much of the on-screen dialogue and interaction is at least partially improvised by the actors. And this movie's heart is the interaction between characters. I might be wrong, all the activity in this movie may come straight out of Mike Leigh's script and every bit of dialogue may be verbatim. But I can't be certain. Leigh probably should've been nominated for directing instead of writing. I could get behind that.
VERDICT: Milk, WALL-E, and In Bruges are all deserving of their noms. Frozen River and Happy-Go-Lucky, despite being good movies, are not.

[Let it be known that I have not read any of the ten nominated screenplays and, as such, probably shouldn't be commenting on the worth of any of them. Let it also be known that I don't really care.]


  • Amy Adams in Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis in Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

Only two decent choices here: Amy Adams and Taraji Henson. I had my doubts after Junebug as to whether Amy Adams was a legitimately great actress or just happened to find her way into a first role that really suited her abilities. I'm happy to report that the former is true. Amy Adams is a terrific actress and I fully expect her to continue the string of strong, diverse performances she has compiled over the past few years. I had never even heard of Taraji Henson before I saw Benjamin Button (not unlike Adams in Junebug...hmmm...), but she quickly made an impression on me. Brad Pitt's a good actor, but Henson's Queenie stole every scene she was in. I didn't love Button as a whole, but I did love Henson's turn. Tomei and Davis both had the bad luck of being good actresses in underdeveloped one-dimensional roles. Cruz had the bad luck of being cast in a dumb, pointless movie.
VERDICT: Amy Adams and Taraji P. Henson are entirely deserving. Viola Davis and Marisa Tomei are not. And Penelope Cruz, despite being a fine actress in her own right, got nominated for one of her worst roles and performances in recent history. Boo, Academy.


  • Josh Brolin in Milk
  • Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
  • Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
  • Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road

Some very solid noms in this category. Only one, Downey, is off-the-mark. Downey was solid in Tropic Thunder, in a very out-there role, but his performance was far from Oscar material. His Iron Man performance on the other hand, that may have been Oscar-worthy. Only one man in Tropic Thunder gave an extraordinary performance: Tom Cruise. Sorry Bob, Tom's weird role upstaged the hell out of your weird role. All of the other nominees are terrific choices, though. Shannon's performance in Revolutionary Road is the most complex and impressive piece of an otherwise disappointing puzzle. As strong as his work in Revolutionary Road is, it's nothing compared with his leading role in Shotgun Stories (I included this film on my Best of 2007 list, as I saw it at SIFF before its theatrical release last year. It's amazing And it's on DVD now. Go get it!) Brolin's Dan White was on-point and incredibly dynamic; the character's life falls apart right before the audience's eyes and Brolin is able to convey his immense desperation using little more than body language and facial expression. The actor's resemblance of the man he portrayed is equally remarkable. And Hoffman's portrayal of a Catholic priest of dubious morality is nothing short of commanding. But we've come to expect nothing less from the preeminent actor of our time. Given the impressive performances from Shannon, Brolin, and Hoffman, it's incredible to think that they're all considered underdogs behind Heath Ledger. But such is the case, and not for no reason; Ledger's turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight was as close to perfection as one could hope to get. It must be said that had he not met his untimely death more than a year ago, he likely wouldn't be running away with all the awards seemingly uncontested. It is strange that dying somehow made Ledger a sentimental favorite to win every award in sight; what good is winning if you're no longer able to receive the prize? Regardless, I believe his performance is deserving of everything he's won thus far and fully expect him to win the Oscar. It just bums me out that he never got to see it happen.
VERDICT: Ledger, Hoffman, Brolin, and Shannon all deserve the nods they received. Cases could be made for each of the first three to WIN the award, and a case could certainly be made for Shannon's Shotgun Stories role to at least get a nod for Leading Actor. Downey, Jr. is a great actor, but the role for which he is nominated is less than great. All in all, this is one of the strongest categories by a longshot.


  • Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
  • Angelina Jolie in Changeling
  • Melissa Leo in Frozen River
  • Meryl Streep in Doubt
  • Kate Winslet in The Reader

Like the Supporting Actor category, Leading Actress is another loaded category. I have yet to see Changeling, so I'll hold off on her role for now. As I mentioned earlier, I'm happily surprised that Frozen River is getting so much Oscar love. And while I couldn't endorse the nom it received for it's screenplay, I wholeheartedly support the nomination of Melissa Leo for Best Actress. She was absolutely perfect in this movie, totally nailing her role where most actresses would probably overdo it. I can think of number of "established" actresses right off the top of my head who might have been cast in Leo's role had Frozen River been a Hollywood production, and I expect a number of them would have unintentionally ruined the movie by bringing limelight somewhere it didn't belong. Bravo, Melissa Leo. I don't think you stand a chance of winning this award, but you deserve recognition for absolutely owning your part. Good on the Academy for nominating Kate Winslet's best role (The Reader over Revolutionary Road) in the appropriate category (Leading Actress, not Supporting Actress). The Reader belongs to Winslet's Hanna Schmitz; to call Schmitz a "supporting" character is absurd. Yes, the movie follows Hanna's teenage lover Michael (played perfectly by David Kross), but Michael and the movie both revolve around Hanna. The nomination is deserved, but of the four performances in this category which I've seen, this is the fourth-best. The best performances came from Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. I know Streep gets nominated entirely too often, but that's because she's a hell of an actress. And her turn as Catholic school principal Sister Aloysius in Doubt is among the best performances I've seen from her. If she doesn't take home this Oscar, it has to go to Anne Hathaway. Playing a recovering drug addict is almost hackneyed anymore, so it's that much more impressive that Hathaway turned this role into one of the best characters of year. I wish Rachel Getting Married had been nominated for more awards; it certainly deserves more recognition than it's getting. But I'll take a win for Hathaway in exchange for the multiple snubs it suffered at the hands of the Academy.
VERDICT: Of the four nominated performances I've seen, all four actresses more than earned their nomination. Changeling comes out on DVD in a couple weeks; if Jolie's performance was as good as the other four, I'll be blown away that the Academy got a whole category right.


  • Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
  • Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn in Milk
  • Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Jenkins got a lot of love for his role in The Visitor when the film first hit theatres. I finally saw it on DVD about a month ago and maybe I just don't get it, but the role totally fell flat for me. He didn't even seem like he was trying, really. Maybe I'll be able to relate to the character when I hit middle-age or something. But from where I sit right now, a man must do more than be quiet, look sad, and feel lonely to move me. Sorry, Richard Jenkins. I felt for your Burn After Reading character. Brad Pitt, I hated your Burn After Reading character. And I didn't like your Benjamin Button much more. I think Brad Pitt is a talented actor, but I don't think he showed much of that talent in this performance. There seemed to be so much depth to this character, but Pitt only tapped into it at a few points during this long movie. You can't win an Oscar if you're only intermittently convincing. Mickey Rourke is such an odd character, and I really felt like he was almost playing himself in The Wrestler. But at the same time, I was fully convinced that he was Randy "The Ram" Robinson. It was weird. Taken as a whole, The Wrestler didn't do much for me. But Mickey Rourke's performance was as impressive as advertised. He deserves this nomination, but not this win (though he may very well take home the Oscar, too). Playing Richard Nixon has got to be tough. The guy has been portrayed so many times by now that it's difficult to separate the man from the myth. Being born more than a decade after his impeachment, my image of Nixon is that which pop culture presented me with: a big-nosed rubber mask emphatically saying, "I am not a crook!" I've seen the clip of Richard Nixon actually uttering those words many times now, and each time I'm surprised at how inaccurate all the impressions and impersonations I heard growing up were. In any event, however distorted my image of Richard Nixon may be, I completely bought Frank Langella's depiction of the disgraced former President in Frost/Nixon. Not only was Langella totally unrecognizable under the makeup, but he truly seemed to embody the man's mannerisms, speech patterns and accent. I expect he nailed his personality and attitudes as well, though I'm much to young to know that for certain. Langella might have been the best actor in the category if not for another actor portraying a real person. Harvey Milk doesn't have the name recognition Richard Nixon does, but he was a famous man in his own right. After my first viewing of Milk, I got my hands on the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (a great movie, as acknowledged in the credits of Gus Van Sant's film). After watching the doc, and seeing Milk a second time, I was blown away by Sean Penn's uncannily accurate portrayal of the eponymous character. While Langella nailed Nixon, Penn practically brought Milk back to life. The performance is unbelievable, one of the best I've seen in a long time. Penn's got some stiff competition from Rourke and Langella, but if he doesn't win this award, something is wrong with the Oscars.
VERDICT: Penn's performance is almost without compare, the nomination obviously deserved. Langella and Rourke earned their noms, but both pale in comparison with Penn. And neither Jenkins nor Pitt really belong in the same company as the other three; at least not this year.


  • David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
  • Gus Van Sant for Milk
  • Stephen Daldry for The Reader
  • Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire

Okay, this is where it truly starts to get ugly for me. Excepting the Supporting Actress category, most of the acting noms are okay even if I probably would have done a few things differently in each category. And the Original Screenplay noms were decent, too. But I hold my Directing and Best Pic noms to a high standard which the Academy's picks, excepting one, simply don't meet. As was the case with Adapted Screenplay, only one of the five noms in this category is well-founded. (Strangely, the misses in this category mirror the misses in Adapted Screenplay exactly.) The deserving nominee in this bunch is Gus Van Sant. Milk is a great movie. The story is compelling and concise without being formulaic or predictable. The acting is absolutely spot-on, through and through. The use of archival footage and photographs is appropriate and effective (and, at the film's end, affective). And the subject matter is timely, vital, and heartwrenching. Van Sant has put together the complete package here. Perhaps most impressive of all is that he accomplished all of this without inserting himself into the movie in one way or another. Everytime I've seen a Van Sant film in the past, there's always some part of the movie when I catch myself thinking, "Oh yeah, I'm watching a Gus Van Sant movie." He has this weird knack, intentional or not, for putting his own stamp on all of his movies, occasionally marring the film in the process. Not so in Milk. He took himself out of this movie and let the story and the characters speak and act for themselves. The result is extraordinary. Yes, Frost/Nixon is a fine film. Yes, Ron Howard is a decent director. But I don't know that he's ever made a great movie and Frost/Nixon is not an exception. The same is true of The Reader and Daldry. A fine movie by a fine filmmaker. But not an Oscar-worthy achievement. David Fincher is different. I believe him to be a director with Oscar-potential. Just last year a terrific Fincher film, Zodiac, came and went with nary an Oscar nom. Fast-forward to the present and Benjamin Button and we're looking at 13 nominations including Directing for a film that's long in duration and ambitious in scope but ultimately fails to deliver the cinematic satisfaction it promises. The visual effects used to make the movie are sure cool, but I'd trade them all for a more concise, better developed plot structure. And then there's Danny Boyle, who has made some very interesting if not always well-received films over the past dozen years or so. I'm sure it was a great challenge to coordinate the making of a big piece of show like Slumdog in a chaotic city in a foreign country. But that doesn't make up for the fact that the film is little more than a piece of (arguably) exploitative entertainment. If you're going to be nominated for a Directing Oscar, the achievement ought to be not only impressive, but also valuable. I don't doubt the impressiveness of making Slumdog work. But I do doubt it's value. A year from now, I expect it to be all but forgotten.
VERDICT: Gus Van Sant deserves this nomination. Ron Howard, Stephen Daldry, and Danny Boyle do not. And though David Fincher has deserved this honor for previous work, he doesn't deserve it for Button.


  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader
  • Slumdog Millionaire

If you read my comments for the Directing category, you've already got a pretty good idea of what I'm going to say here. The Best Pic noms mirror the Best Directing noms, as is often the case. So instead of saying all the same stuff again and boring you further than you already are, I'll try to sum it up and keep it short. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a good, if overlong, movie. But the story is poorly developed and seems to have taken a backseat to the digital trickery employed in the making of this film. I think the movie had much more potential than was tapped. But unfortunately, we'll probably never know how good this film could have been. Button is good, but far from great. Movies must be more than just good to be worthy of a Best Pic nom. The Reader is in another "good not great" movie. The story is compelling and the acting is very strong, but an interesting story told in a stale, formulaic manner does not a great movie make. Bummer for Daldry, because I've read that it was his desire to do further work on the film than he was able, that the Weinsteins wanted the movie to contend for Oscars. The Weinsteins won and they got their Oscar noms, but I think Daldry could have made this good movie great and truly earned this nomination. As it stands, I believe it's the least likely film to win this award. Frost/Nixon, same deal. Good story+strong acting+less-than-fresh filmmaking=good, not great movie. The Ron Howard touch is a bit of double-edged sword, I think. While he guarantees a well-crafted, very "Hollywood" film, he does so at the cost of creativity and fresh perspective. And the result is not worthy of an Oscar nom. Which brings us to the media darling and this year's X-factor: Slumdog Millionaire. This is a good, entertaining, even provocative movie. But I think the credit it's been given for opening the world's eyes to life in the slums of Mumbai is far from deserved. The movie is a show, and an exciting one at that. But it makes slum life out to be something almost fun by glossing over the horrible side of poverty with pretty pictures, flashy cuts and an upbeat score. Juno made teen pregnancy look fun and easy last year. This year Slumdog makes Indian slumlife into some sort of crazy party; the movie ends with a mass dance scene, for crying out loud. City of God proved that you can make a movie about the ghetto look cool without glamourizing the sometimes horrifying reality of the place. Slumdog is no City of God, and it does not deserve its Best Pic nom. Milk, of course, does. I'll try not to beat all the dead horses too severely, but suffice it to say that I'm taking solace in the fact that the Academy got at least one of best movies of 2008 onto its list. Here's hoping it comes out on top when the awards are announced on the 22nd.
VERDICT: An enthusiastic YES to Milk. And nos to all the rest: Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire. Good movies, all. And all worth watching. But none worthy of the ultimate nomination.

Jeez, long-winded much?! If anyone made it clear to the bottom of this beastly first post, thank you. (Who am I kidding? If you read ANY of this, thank you.) You clearly love me or just have a whole lot of time on your hands. I hope it wasn't too painful.

I fully intend to post Part Two of 'Nomination Breakdown'--MY PICKS!--tomorrow (or the next day). And this time, no comments! Won't that be a relief!

Oh, last but not least: if you take issue with any of my opinions, please leave me a comment. I will reply.

Until next time...