Monthly Archives: January 2009

Review: My Bloody Valentine 3-D

Ever wonder how many different ways a person can be killed by a pick-axe? This year’s first horror remake (to be, like most years, followed by many other rubbish horror remakes) has that simple answer. That’s really the only meaning you may get out of “My Bloody Valentine 3-D.” Otherwise, you’re in for a lot of mindlessly hilarious fun – even if you’re the stuffiest of moviegoers.

In what seems to be a rehashed “Scooby Doo” plot, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” tells of the ludicrously named town of Harmony, which happens to be the murder capital of the world. The people who survive the attacks by the stab-happy miner Harry Warden (Richard John Walters) are just stupid enough never to move away. Warden was the lone survivor of a mine accident and after years in a coma he wakes up and kills everybody in the town, with the exception of some dimwitted teenagers named Tom (Jensen Ackles), Axel (Kerr Smith) and Sarah (Jaime King). They’re saved by the sheriff, and Warden’s supposedly buried in the mine and all seems just fine.

Ten years later, the dopey teens have grown up into fully matured morons and are still wasting space in Harmony. Everyone’s seemingly happy until the murders start again. No one knows for sure if Harry has actually returned or if it’s just some copycat trying to re-terrorize the community. Has Harry risen from the dead? Or has someone else put on the mask and picked up the axe for a killing spree? One thing is for sure: this movie is really stupid.

But luckily for its audience – it’s stupid on purpose! “My Blood Valentine 3-D” is a throwback to the slasher films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, in that it hardly takes itself seriously. The script is trash, the acting is hammy, the music is clichéd, and the 3-D is as far from dazzling as you can get but that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The filmmakers never intended to make something new, or highbrow – like “Halloween” or “The Exorcist.” This is more in the vein of cult hits like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Child’s Play” in terms of novelty over intellectual innovation. What the movie doesn’t deliver in substance, it makes up for in bloody, “gore-ific” fun. The best way to enjoy the movie is with a group. This is one movie you are allowed to talk during as it is perfect “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-esque fodder.

The major problem with this movie experience is that it really only works once. The price of the ticket is higher than the usual pocket-emptying charge at the multiplex – a whopping $12.75 for one admission. The movie doesn’t have the lasting power of a novelty horror flick like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Child’s Play.” For one thing, it lacks neither an iconic nor terrifying villain (Harry Warden is no Freddy Krueger and will never hold a candle to Michael Myers).

After seeing this, it won’t be the first on your list to buy when it is released on DVD as it will be way too expensive and won’t come with the theater experience. This is a fun movie, but really only has the power for one (or maybe two, depending on how heavy your wallet is) theatrical viewings. Look for this one a few years down the line in the cheap Walmart $3.99 bin.

Overall, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” is certainly fun, but will never be known as a great horror flick (or even a good movie). If you have an appetite for blood, and love to see how many ways a person can be mutilated – this is the movie for you. We’ll definitely be seeing a sequel (the end of the movie shamelessly suggests this) so you may not want to miss out if you’re a true horror fanatic. Call your friends, don’t forget to ask for the 3-D glasses and have a bloody good time!

Grade: C+

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Originally published in Framingham State College’s The Gatepost

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Best of 2008

Well, what a year! 2008 had its bad sides (the recession, etc.) but it did have a lot to offer. We, the filmgoing public were given some of this decade’s best films this year. Here’s my annual best of list, again late since I wanted to catch a few films that were technically ’08 releases but didn’t make it to my area until the new year. I didn’t do a best of TV list since the only show I watched was “30 Rock” and I can guarantee that was the best show on TV. So enjoy my list, and please don’t gripe about the soundtracks – sometimes the best albums are soundtracks and this year was gracious for film score lovers like me. Also, I won’t be having a worst-of list since I didn’t see enough bad films this year besides the two worst: “Hancock” and “Hounddog.” Enjoy, and let me know what your favorite film of the year was! Here you go…

Top Ten Albums

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10. Seeing Sounds by N*E*R*D.

That’s right, a white kid from the suburbs loves N*E*R*D. This album was my summer CD, the perfect blend of pop with accessible hip hop to make those long car rides in the hot sun just bearable enough. Also, kudos should go to N*E*R*D for originality in a field where copycat-ism destroys respectability. “Spaz” was their hit from its use in a Zune commercial but the song that really stands out is “Sooner or Later” in which Pharrell Williams’ melodical genius really comes out.

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9. Airstream by David Wilcox

My favorite singer/songwriter of all time has been in a sort of a lull, and at first I really didn’t like this album. His work in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s are the most beautiful in songwriting I’ve ever heard. You probably aren’t familiar with him unless you’re really good friends with me. I rarely talk about him with others because most of the people I try to introduce him to never really get what I see in him. Nevertheless, this album grew on me and, with the exception of one really cheesy song I learned to love it. Wilcox has been waning in his recent years, as he really doesn’t write about the sadnesses of life and rather just celebrating his happiness (I’m all for that Dave, but I miss the good old days). The song “Never Change” is a gigantic step forward for him considering his recent work and shows a wonderful soul side I’ve never heard from him.

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8. 19 by Adele

A sexy, cool delivery of classical singing style and definitely one of the best vocal discoveries of the year. It’s very refreshing to see a real woman become a pop superstar rather than the boring, oversexed blonde bimbos. Also: she can sing. I’m a bit biased since I think she’s gorgeous but she really has a masterful voice and when she reaches a bit outside her range she achieves heartbreaking beauty. The gravel she has in her voice is utterly haunting.

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7. Do You Believe in Gosh? By Mitch Hedberg

The album we never thought we’d hear, a posthumously released recording of Mitch Hedberg. It’s nowhere near “Mitch-All-Together” but it offers something none of his released work has ever done. We get to get inside his seemingly impenetrable genius as he works through some of his jokes. His brilliance permeates throughout the entire concert, especially the Headless Horseman bit: “I’d hate to be the Headless Horseman’s dentist…” Mitch has always been eerily simple, taking stuff that seems ordinary and making it extraordinary. I just wish we hadn’t have lost him, he had so much more to give us and this CD proves he was one of our best comic minds.

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6. Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack by A.R. Rahman

One of the best films of the year has a soundtrack that emits pure fun. Mixing current pop hits with Bollywood music is inspired, making the film (and soundtrack) accessible to consumers. Rahman has a great talent with film music, and I would love to hear his work with other filmmakers, in other styles. Part of the reason “Slumdog Millionaire” was so much fun was the music – each track perfectly selected within the film (something that Danny Boyle is always excellent at). Also, even though remixes are usually the opposite of cool, the other version of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” by DFA is just flat out awesome.

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4. WALL-E Soundtrack by Thomas Newman, featuring Peter Gabriel

Simple beauty can describe Thomas Newman’s best film score next to “Finding Nemo.” The soundtrack is a joy to listen to, as it takes actually audio from the film that is music related such as the scenes that include songs from “Hello Dolly” or Louis Armstrong’s version of “La Vie En Rose.” Peter Gabriel is not a name synonymous with film (except for “Say Anything”) and will get his first Oscar nomination with the song “Down to Earth.” I’ve never been a Peter Gabriel fan, and now I am – that’s impressive. The song also brings me right back to the end of “WALL-E,” one of the most creative and lovely closing credits I’ve ever seen.

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5. Synecdoche, New York Soundtrack by Jon Brion

My goodness, what a magnificent soundtrack and all around album. The film is without a doubt one of the more depressing yet oddly exquisite films I’ve seen and the soundtrack is just plain moving. It starts a bit oddly (like the film), remains delightfully quirky and then ends with bittersweet and painful delicacy. The song “Little Person” is sublime, and Jon Brion’s work along with Deanna Storey’s soft vocals make it one of my favorite songs of all time. I see it as a song that you would find wandering in an old abandoned warehouse, a lost 45 if you will. One of my favorite things about filmmaking is the filmmaker’s use of song as a real, deep device – much like “Little Person” and “Song for Caden” in the film. Jon Brion is a brilliant composer, and like his works with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “I Heart Huckabees” he never ceases to impress.

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3. Modern Guilt by Beck

The best time I had with a CD this year, and probably my favorite Beck album (or at least tied with “Midnight Vultures”). Each track shows how Beck has changed as an artist through his career, from the artfully cool beat of “Gamma Ray” to the eccentricities of “Orphans” (which opens the album impeccably). My favorite track turned out to be the title song “Modern Guilt” where Beck not only proves his lyrical strength but also his singing prowess and. He also employed two great talents, the chameleon that is DJ Danger Mouse and the peerless Cat Power. I used to be an on/off fan when it came to Beck but right now I can’t wait for his next work, which seems to come more often than not. A melodically supreme work, this one will still get a lot of play for years to come.

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2. In the Ever by Mason Jennings

The best male folk performance of the year, for me. Mason Jennings (no relation to any of the famous Jennings family) released this album in May and it tragically slipped under the radar. He wrote the best song of the year: “I Love You and Buddha Too,” – a George Harrison-esque ode to the idea of a just being plain spiritual rather than just one Supreme Being. For someone like me, who really has no faith in any particular religion it’s terrifically refreshing to hear. The rest of the album is something of a tribute to his favorite folk/rock musicians and much like Jennings’ contributions on the “I’m Not There” soundtrack you can hear his influences coming through (like Harrison, Townes Van Sandt, Jonathan Richman) but Jennings infuses his own style. Jennings has a unique voice, one that’s not perfect but again refreshingly original.

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1. Volume One by She & Him

A miracle of an album. I’ve always had a thing for modern actresses who sing (like Maggie Gyllenhaal) and once I heard Zooey Deschanel was going to be making an album, with M. Ward of all people – well, let’s just say I was excited. The resulting piece is a one-of-a-kind throwback to the girl groups of the 60s mixed with the soul of Dusty Springfield. M. Ward’s musical work on the album is that of Phil Spector proportions, something that deserves more attention than just Zooey’s adorable singing. The album begins strongly, with clever yet beautiful lyrics and the end of the album is spookily dreamlike. If Volume Two is anything like its predecessor I’ll be happy. While Zooey’s acting talents weren’t available this year (“The Happening” and “Yes Man” turned out to not feature her best work) this gem will be one of most lasting achievements. I listened to this album the least (that’s usually true of my favorite albums each year) so that when I do listen to it I get to re-discover each and every time why I love it… and I do love it.

Top Ten Songs

10. Chasing Pavements by Adele

9. Define Dancing by Thomas Newman

8. Aggressive Expansion by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

7. Down to Earth by Peter Gabriel

6. Modern Guilt by Beck

5. Never Change by David Wilcox

4. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? By She & Him

3. Take it Back by She & Him

2. Little Person by Jon Brion, sung by Deanna Storey

1. I Love You And Buddha Too by Mason Jennings

Top Ten Films

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10. The Visitor

Thomas McCarthy’s follow-up to his enchanting “The Station Agent” was a superb blend of politics and character drama. Richard Jenkins starred as a man, lost in his own home who finds through comfort in the strangest way – African music. A great soundtrack added a lot to the film, but it was truly the coming together of McCarthy and Jenkins that brought one of the most lived-in characters on the screen to life. Jenkins controls his audience but never forces feelings against them. When his character Walter Vale finally breaks out of his shell and finds happiness, he delivers what feels like a genuine euphoria. The film is on DVD now, and I 100% suggest it for those who love a great, yet unorthodox love story.

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9. Aleksandra

A film that is technically a 2007 release, but still isn’t available on any American region DVD formats. I saw this Sukurov film at a screening and was floored. It tells the story of an old woman , Aleksandra (played with perfection by famed Russian opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya), who visits her son in the middle of a war. The film has no plot, yet is absolutely enthralling because of Vishnevskaya’s buoyant performance. The film is an anti-anti-war film. It makes few political statements, yet relies on the cinematography of scarred Chechnya and on the few lines uttered by Aleksandra. She rarely speaks above a whisper, yet her words are essential. As Alexandra wanders around her son’s military base, she seems to speak for those who have been lost, uttering to herself, “I can’t see a soul.” I pray the film finds its way to America (I asked for a region-free DVD player for Christmas with this film in mind).

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8. The Wrestler

A moving film that shows that even though you think old wounds may have healed, you can never be ready for what will happen when they come back to haunt you. Mickey Rourke is an acting prize fighter in the film, in one of the most bizarre comebacks ever. He wasn’t born to play the role, but damn if he’s not the only one who could play a beaten star of the 1980s who will do anything for a shot back to stardom. The film offers a familiar story, but it’s Rourke’s addictive performance that makes it so grand. Marisa Tomei also shows she’s no one-trick pony with a strong performance that will garner her Oscar attention. An instant classic, to be studied in acting classes for years.

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7. The Band’s Visit

Another film that uses music as a tool to show how people can come together and find comfort in their own lives. Director Eran Kolirin’s joyous piece about a small Israeli orchestra who get lost on the way to their gig in Egypt found its U.S. release this year and won praise at 2007’s Cannes Film Festival. I fell in love with this film. Each character, even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant was endearing and interesting and above all a joy to watch. It featured my favorite scene of the year in which the two conflicting band mates, leader Tewfiq and the crooner Haled finally connect in a breathtaking metaphor as father and son. The film is simply unforgettable, and subtly intoxicating. Watch it, I know you’ll love it.

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6. Happy-Go-Lucky

A deceptively simple slice-of-life tale that stars the immensely talented Sally Hawkins as a woman who just can’t seem to grow up. At thirty, she’s finally taking driver’s lessons and is stuck with the same friends from high school. She just can’t seem to be mature or take anything seriously. Is she tragic, or does she remind us to not take things so seriously and let life happen? The film is wonderfully ambiguous, and Hawkins is phenomenal – a performance you cannot take your eyes off of. Writer/Director Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins create this bizarre dialect for the character of Poppy that’s both annoying and funny – but above all strangely genuine. This film won’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly worth it for Sally Hawkins – one of my new favorite actresses.

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5. Slumdog Millionaire

America is ready for Bollywood and Danny Boyle is the man to bring it to the masses. A marvelous mixture of Boyle and the fun of an Indian film is “Slumdog Millionaire” – a story of a young man who will do anything for the one he loves, even going on his least favorite television show (the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”). The story is rich delving into the bonds of brotherhood, the beauty of a first love, and above all how ones’ life is formed by their home and their story. Dev Patel stars as Jamal, the protagonist who has lived a life of sacrifice and pain but also love. It’s a wonderful film that will now reach even more unaware audiences after its Golden Globes sweep last Sunday. The film also ends with a dance number that is far from awkward and has a terrific soundtrack (although I’ve mentioned that already) that deserves a spot on your Ipod. Could this be Danny Boyle’s best film? Certainly. It is also one of the best of the year.

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4. The Dark Knight

The biggest film of the year may seem overhyped at this point but cannot be ignored. You know you saw it more than once and that wasn’t because you had extra money to burn. This movie grabbed audiences across the globe and is still amazing its viewers. This can be attributed to a performance by an actor that will go down as one of the best villains to be portrayed on screen. Heath Ledger’s terrifying performance as the Joker is a nightmare… in a good way! His Joker isn’t just one step ahead of Batman, he also keeps the audience guessing. Nolan is definitely the Caped Crusader’s best cinematic interpreter, and although Christian Bale’s gruff Bat was the blunt of many jokes he’s still the best Bruce Wayne we may ever get. I can’t wait to hear what Nolan has planned next!

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3. Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman is responsible for some of the best screenplays in the past ten years, and for his directorial debut he brought us this operatic masterpiece. This film is certainly not for those looking for explanations – this one is certainly his most cerebral and depressing if not self-reflexive work. The film, about a theater director (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) looking for the meaning of his life in his majestic theater piece that replicates New York City infinitely (bear with me) was the best independent film of the year and for Kaufman fans a sign that he is not ready to quit. I’m glad he’s tried out the director’s chair and I hope he gets another chance (although his best work has been under the eye of more trained directors). The best part about the film: the divine Samantha Morton. Morton plays Hoffman’s character’s secret lover, a woman who just wants to be loved. A tremendous film, and definitely the most ambitious Kaufman work to date.

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2. Milk

My favorite message film of all time, how about that? Also, it has Sean Penn in a transformative role that (gasp!) makes me not like Sean Penn – but love him. He becomes Harvey Milk, and for once we get to see a role from him that doesn’t feel self indulgent or out to win awards. The film is a powerful message to those who have felt the angry fist of ignorance against any and all minority groups, most especially the homosexual community. It also teaches us that winning isn’t everything and that one person can make a difference. Sounds corny, right? Well, the magic of Gus Van Sant’s film is that those ideals don’t feel so corny when used in the story of a truly great man who actually fought for what he believed in and won. The film is tremendously moving, and better than most biopics I’ve ever seen. This film has a power that is rare in film and should not be ignored by anyone. Take a friend to see “Milk” tonight.

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1. WALL-E

The real hero of 2008 didn’t wear a cape and cowl nor was harrowed by 20 years of being beaten in a wrestling ring nor saved the homosexual community. Instead it was a small, seemingly insignificant, trash-compacting robot named WALL-E who stole my heart. It grabs you immediately with the only dialogue in the first 45 minutes: Broadway tunes? A little unorthodox, but really, have you ever seen anything like that? Speaking of seeing things, this also happened to be the most visually stunning film of our time – a grand achievement in diagetic scope and in CGI detail. By the time our little WALL-E is swept up into space we are entered into a classic adventure. “WALL-E” is touching and funny and moving and exciting and a million more things that it’s hard to describe. It’s a superb cautionary tale, while not being too preachy or boring. Many have said the first section of the film (sans dialogue) is boring, but for me it was just purely poetry. This film gets me very excited for the potential of what is to come in terms of film storytelling, science fiction, and visual effects in this here century of ours – still in its infancy but already showing beautiful maturity when it comes to filmmaking. Above all, watching it now for the fourth time I must say this is one of my favorite love stories ever. This is the one film I’ll watch more than any other ’08 release and I can’t wait for more of the magic that Pixar has to offer.

Thank you 2008, 2009 here we come!

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Review: The Wrestler

“Have you ever seen a one-trick pony, in fields, so happy and free? If you’ve ever seen a one-trick pony, then you’ve seen me.” That’s an excerpt from the new Springsteen song from the unbelievable new film “The Wrestler” – Mickey Rourke’s so-called comeback film. It’s an excellent song, depicting beautifully the feeling of Rourke’s character, an aging professional wrestler looking for meaning in his life at any cost. It’s certainly one of the best films of the year mostly because of its star’s glorious performance of blazing realism and grace.

Randy “The Ram” Robinson has been a hit with pro-wrestling fans for more than 20 years, and even in his old age he’s still able to take a beating every Saturday night. He disproves the myth that wrestling is 100% fake, as Randy is always in the arms of medics after almost every fight. Randy is quite tragic, always putting his career ahead of more important things and often using drugs to do so. He is estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood, a bit of a yawn but respectable) and more often than not the job doesn’t compensate well enough and Randy can’t pay the rent and sleeps in his van. But he is a wrestler – that is his identity and that’s all he knows how to be. He’s stuck, but seemingly content enough.

It’s not until a seriously dangerous fight in which Randy begins to realize his mistakes. He has a major heart attack and is told he can no longer fight. This destroys him especially since a major rematch has been planned with his old foe The Ayatollah, but his fighting instinct keeps him alive. He finds love in a similar soul, the middle-aged stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, who is finally taking risks with roles). She helps him connect with his daughter, and Randy’s life seems to be picking up. Unfortunately for Randy, his wounds begin to re-open and he finds that life is random and often too cruel for those who, as Randy puts it, “Burn the candle at both ends.”

It’s a classic story of the battered and beaten underdog getting another peek at stardom. It has the same feeling as Rocky’s return in “Rocky Balboa” but this film is so much more remorseful. It also happens to be unquestionably touching. “The Wrestler” is a much more interesting film than “Rocky Balboa,” in that it reaches to an audience that Rocky could never touch. Randy was eaten alive by the ‘90s, an era in which the affects of the drugs he took in the ‘80s have begun to take their toll – something that a certain niche audience may find to be autobiographical. Randy can’t escape the ‘80s, and his inability to quit the hard life will surely kill him.

Mickey Rourke is not only the best actor for the role – he’s the only one. There are several comparisons between actor and character and in many instances in the film Randy seems to be playing Rourke. In the role, Rourke is a powerhouse and one of the few miracles on the screen this year. He brings a sadness to the role that is genuine, and depressingly real (the comparisons between Rourke and his character are unfeigned) but Rourke also shows a mastery of the part – he definitely did his research.

The role of the Ram is instantly iconic, as we haven’t really seen a lot of professional wrestlers as film protagonists and because of Rourke’s disquieting realism. It’s odd to think of Mickey Rourke and the phrase “acting masterpiece” in the same sentence, but he really does achieve excellence. As for his so-called “comeback,” those who saw his outstanding performance in 2005’s “Sin City” would call that a comeback in terms of performance. However, this film will open doors for Rourke that “Sin City” would never have even touched and it is safe to say this may not be his last shot at the big time. He’s not just a one-trick pony and is piledriving audiences with one of the year’s best performances.

Marisa Tomei is proving that she is not just a one-off Oscar winner with her choice to star in this film. In her role as a stripper, she looks pretty good for a 44-year-old, although doesn’t show a lot of range. However, when she puts on her clothes and we see her in the real world we get to see the real Cassidy (her real name turns out to be Pam) and we see a real woman – almost as crestfallen as her best customer (Randy). “Seinfeld” fans always thought Marisa Tomei was more into short, bald and stocky guys – but with Rourke she has inimitable chemisty.

“The Wrestler” will definitely be a hit with audiences when it makes its eventual wide release. Even though the film is excessively brutal and often hard to watch, people will find an underdog story that is both constructed and acted impressively and also timely. Right now, in this economy we may feel a bit beaten like the Ram but we need to remember that there’s always a chance for a comeback.

Grade: A

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Review: Frost/Nixon

During a potent time in our political history, films that focus on the scandal of political deceit and corruption are guaranteed to pop up in theaters and on DVD. In September, Oliver Stone released the somewhat flimsy yet bizarre semi-biopic “W.” which didn’t really have the oomph or the timeliness as it neither empathized nor abhorred President Bush (although it did feature a winning portrayal by Josh Brolin). A more direct film like “Frost/Nixon” is much more appropriate in a time as its subject matter makes us feel like history is repeating itself.

The impeachment of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, who won a Tony for the role on Broadway) and his subsequent downward spiral afterward is the story of “Frost/Nixon.” The nation felt betrayed, and the pride in our political system was in the toilet. Along comes David Frost (Michael Sheen), a British talk show host – and the last person anyone would ever think would restore American political interest. As the world watched – refreshed as Richard Nixon left the White House – David Frost saw his big break. Fired from a New York gig as a TV host, Frost was stuck in Australia interviewing the Bee Gees and offering gimmick rather than substance. Through several investors and donations from friends, Frost finally books Nixon. With the help of advisors Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and the fiery Jim Reston (Sam Rockwell), Frost gets ready for the interview of his lifetime.

However, he meets a formidable foe in Nixon. Langella is exquisite as Nixon, both portraying his every side of the infamous man from soft to hard to secretive to brazenly truthful and candid. During the interviews, Nixon becomes a performer – dodging near-embarrassing questions and painfully thwarting Frost’s efforts. Langella does this wonderfully by masterfully overpowering Sheen’s Frost, who is utterly unable to speak as his opponent walks all over him. However, when Frost finally finds Nixon’s weaknesses he finally takes control and doesn’t necessarily force an apology but rather gives Nixon the ability to confess and keep his self-credibility.

The film is fascinating from the first minute. Peter Morgan’s adapted script (from his own play) is pure dynamite, fully fleshing out characters who could just feel like caricatures. The actors have a lot to work with as Morgan is one of our best screenwriters (He also wrote “The Queen”). He does a terrific job intertwining humor and drama in his work and luckily for viewers he always does his homework.

Also doing their fare share of research are the perfectly cast actors. Langella has a lot of experience with the role and does an excellent job converting it to the screen. He doesn’t just throw on a Nixon voice and throw the peace signs up – he really helps us to sympathize. That might have been the problem with Stone’s “W.,” although liking Richard Nixon so long after his infamy is a bit easier than having compassion for our future ex-president.

Sheen is also impressive in his role (like Langella, he was in the original stage production). He has Frost’s mannerisms and voice down perfectly, but he injects a beautiful blend of charm and melancholy to produce a truly human character. Like his turn in “The Queen” two years ago, Sheen is a surprise treat but will likely be stuck behind the shadow of the tour-de-force that is Langella.

Another surprise is the painful performance by Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s overly loyal chief-of-staff Jack Brennan. Brennan doesn’t want to see his boss and ultimately his friend embarrassed by a person with the reputation of David Frost and Bacon delivers near-perfect concealment of a man’s true fear.

It’s an actor’s film for sure, one of the best this year for thespians. The film is possibly the timeliest in terms of political comparison and director Ron Howard presents one of his most compelling films to date. The film is hard to evaluate as I’ve never seen the stage play, but as a film it hardly fails. Howard doesn’t use nostalgia tactics to evoke a stereotypical 1970s period piece. It’s obvious he was concerned mostly by the dynamic between the two major characters, which makes the film so persuasive. The ability to debate is often hard for people, and the chance to catch some of the best rhetoric ever spoken on screen is a delight. “Frost/Nixon” is a great achievement for all involved, especially Langella who (despite years in the business) is not a household name.

Grade: A

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Review: Milk

How glorious it is when, during the height of Oscar bait season, a film like “Milk” comes along and sets a standard for modern filmmaking. Sure – it’s a biopic – which is one of the quintessential Oscar bait films, but luckily for film audiences this is one that isn’t trying to win awards but instead is that rare film that achieves something more than the traditional picture. “Milk” is unequivocally moving, and has a message stronger than any film in this century. As a film critic and as a human being I was proud to see this film and am privileged to write about it.

Even shots fired from a truly disturbed man could not break the spirit, and the vitality of the man that was Harvey Milk. Portrayed in what is easily his best performance, Sean Penn becomes Milk in Gus Van Sant’s best film to date. The film’s story is of Milk’s rise to fame in San Francisco as the first openly gay elected official. Against a prejudice nation of bigots, Milk fought hard to become a city supervisor and to bring rights to not only the gay community, but to every minority. That’s the magic of this film, in that it’s not just an inspirational film for gay and lesbian audiences. This could be about the injustices against any group that has felt the brick wall of the majority against human rights.

“Milk” is a consummate film, and most certainly the most important film of the year. From the exceptional soundtrack (it’s refreshing to hear a Danny Elfman score that doesn’t sound like every other Danny Elfman score), to first time screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s mixture of drama and humor, to Van Sant and cinematographer Harris Savides’ work with camera and their often inspired styles of shooting style, to the unmistakably best casting in any film this year.

The supporting cast is excellent, if not just as well cast as Penn as Milk. Josh Brolin plays Dan White, Milk’s co-worker/future murderer – a tragic character. White is a layered man, with secrets deeper than are revealed in the film. What isn’t portrayed through dialogue or extensive description, Brolin brings the heartbreak to a character who could have just seemed a crazed ass in the hands of another actor. Brolin uses a wide range of emotions, and shows extraordinary range. Also impressive is James Franco as Milk’s lover Scott Smith, showing a rare soft side and likeability as does the very talented Emile Hirsch as Milk’s young advisor Cleve Jones.

But the real reason this film will move you is Sean Penn. “Milk” does the impossible. It makes Sean Penn not likable, but lovable. Previous roles from Penn have been a little too difficult to swallow. Penn’s performances can often feel self-indulgent and a bit frustrating (like his Oscar-winning turn in “Mystic River” which was severely overrated in comparison to his much more deserving opponent Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation”). But the character of Harvey Milk brings out the soft, real side of Sean Penn. This is a restored, genuine Sean Penn. He rarely overplays the character, giving Milk a subtle beauty in every scene. In one particular scene, a drunk Dan White approaches Harvey and in his stupor he tries to understand the gay “issues.” Harvey tells him it’s not just an issue – “it’s our lives we’re fighting for.” That one scene will stay with you long after you leave the theater. It’s easily one of the better performances on screen this year.

It’s a real joy to see a message film of this proportion on the screen. “Milk” imparts that the simple, albeit often unfathomable lesson that one person can make a huge difference. Milk’s mark is still seen to this day, as the strides made in human rights for all have been remarkable tremendous. The rejection of Proposition 8 in California’s election last November reminds us that we still have a long way to go. A film like “Milk” has the power to make the ignorant enlightened; the naïve aware. No matter your position on the issues, there is no way this film should be missed. It’s independent filmmaking on a grand yet accessible way, and everyone should see “Milk.”

Grade: A

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