GREEN ZONE: The Film Babble Blog Review

GREEN ZONE (Dir. Paul Greengrass, 2010)

Going in to this movie I knew precious little about it. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even given the movie poster more than a passing glance. I only knew it was a Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass/war movie. But in the first five minutes I knew exactly where it was going to go.

In those five minutes, Damon, as a US Chief Warrant Officer in 2003 war torn Iraq, pulls up with his crew to a location that Intel tells them houses Weapons of Mass Destruction. They find the rotting remains of a toilet factory instead. He goes back to his superiors and tells them that the WMDs weren’t there (or any of the other locations they’ve been to) and the Intel is bad. They sternly tell him to stand down.

From that description, do you see where this is going? Do you see shoot-outs, shady informers, sleazy politicians, and compromised journalists? Do you see a climax involving Damon, aggressively and a tad bit violently, confronting the sleazy politician (played by Greg Kinnear) over the government conspiracy spreading lies in a public place/photo op? That’s what I call that “THE FUGITIVE ending” and it, like everything else in this less than thrilling thriller, you’ve seen before. Many many times before.

This is a standard issue liberal-minded political action drama that made me wish Damon and Greengrass had just made another BOURNE movie. In last year’s THE INFORMANT! (one of last year’s best films and a role he should’ve been nominated for IMHO) Damon really pulled off something different; a fully realized character that was almost unrecognizable. In this and play it safe parts like INVICTUS, he’s just plain old Matt Damon going through the motions.

We never get any sense of who the character Damon is beyond his military conviction. There is no phone call from back home or any line that tells us who he is outside of this plot.

The lack of such insights makes one really appreciate the newly Oscar Best Picture approved THE HURT LOCKER so much more. The compelling drive of that vital Iraq war film really reduces such a lackluster work as GREEN ZONE to the soulless shaky cam rubble it is.

I could be wrong but I swear Matt Damon did not smile once in the entirity of that movie. That might sound like a minor quibble but when he flashes that sharp glaring grin it can be quite stinging. Since I didn’t smile once either I can’t really blame him.

More later…

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Oscar Postpartum 2010

In the happiest moment of the evening, the Dude finally abided.

Well, my biggest prediction this year was that I was going to get more wrong than the last few years and I was right about that. I got 13 of 24 which is pretty poor although I did get all the major categories correct (BEST PICTURE, BEST DIRECTOR, BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESS, and both of the SUPPORTING ones). I was way off in all the tech awards but hey it was fun throwing those darts just the same. The ones I got wrong:


ART DIRECTION:
AVATAR. What I predicted: SHERLOCK HOLMES. I really thought they’d throw HOLMES a bone. Just one.

COSTUME DESIGN:THE YOUNG VICTORIA. I said COCO BEFORE CHANEL because it seemed like the most costumey. I haven’t seen either movie actually.


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: THE HURT LOCKER


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: PRECIOUS. I said UP IN THE AIR. Seems like a no brainer now.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: MUSIC BY PRUDENCE. I had picked CHINA’S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE. This resulted in one of the only surprising moments on the entire telecast: Elinor Burkett pulled what many are calling a “Kanye” Oscar moment mash-up.


MAKEUP: STAR TREK. I thought STAR TREK was going to win one of the 4 awards it was nominated for just not this one. Still it seems deserved.


SOUND MIXING and SOUND EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER won both of these which I really didn’t expect. Last year I also chose wrong but made the statement that I should’ve have known not to vote for the same movie in both sound editing and mixing. Since that’s what happened here I guess I really learned nothing.


ANIMATED SHORT: LOGORAMA. I liked LOGORAMA but really thought WALLACE AND GROMIT INA MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH’ had the edge. Sigh.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Argentina) Another I haven’t seen. I’m brobably going to see THE WHITE RIBBON, which I wrongly predicted, this week since it just came to my area.


As for the show itself, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had their moments. I agree with Jon Stewart that Martin had the best line of the evening:


“Anyone who has ever worked with Meryl Streep always ends up saying the exact same thing: ‘Can that woman act? And, ‘What’s up with all the Hitler memorabilia?”


Some other highlights included a tribute to John Hughes by way of a snazzy montage and a bevy of the actors who came of age in his films: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Macaulay Culkin, Anthony Michael Hall, Jon Cryer, Ally Sheedy, and Matthew Broderick.

Shouldn’t she be wearing pink?

Ben Stiller had a great deadpan presenter bit – he was made up like one of the Na’vis from AVATAR. Pretty funny stuff.

“This seemed like a better idea in rehearsal.”

Okay so I’m pretty Oscar-ed out. Stay tuned for more new movie reviews – a slew of DVD reviews and some major new releases (HOT TUB TIME MACHINE!) that are coming your way.

More later…

Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2010!

This is an incredibly obvious statement, but when it comes to Oscar predictions there are 2 paths to take – what one thinks will win and what one wants to win. Sometimes a gut feeling is difficult to differentiate from a personal preference so on a few I’ve decided to denote the ones I’m the most up in the air about (no BEST PICTURE pun there – really).

1. BEST PICTURE:

THE HURT LOCKER

My gut has been sayng, no, shouting AVATAR, but I just have to go with my personal preference *. Many critics have been saying that it’s a coin toss between the 2, while others say that the vote will be split and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will pull a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and shock everybody with its dark horse win. Despite recent controversy, I intensely hope the modestly budgeted, little seen THE HURT LOCKER gets the gold Sunday night.

* Of those 2 front contenders that is – my favorite film of the year – A SERIOUS MAN – was nominated, but in this particular race it’s by far a long shot.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow – Roger Ebert said of Bigelow on Oprah Tuesday: “If you vote against her , you’ll be going against years of precedent that say the winner of the Director’s Guild Award will win the Oscar.” So there’s that, but since even her ex-husband James Cameron thinks she should win she really is a shoo-in.

3. BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges

Everybody I see online seem to be calling it for Bridges – consider me among them. It would be so nice for the 5 time nominee to abide this time.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Sandra BullockTHE BLIND SIDE was the only one of the 10 BEST PICTURE nominees that I didn’t see so I admit I’m jumping on the bandwagon here of all the folks who say its Bullock’s year. It does really feel like she’s got the momentum and support so like Bridges it’ll really be surprising if she doesn’t get it.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz

A personal preference AND a gut feeling. Although he had relatively little screen time, Waltz’s cold blooded yet sophisticated Nazi was as cutting and memorable as a supporting part can possibly be.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo’Nique – Walking out of PRECIOUS last year, my first thought was that Mo’Nique was definitely going to get an Oscar. That thought has never waivered.

And the rest:


7. ART DIRECTION: SHERLOCK HOLMES
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: AVATAR
9. COSTUME DESIGN: COCO BEFORE CHANEL

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: THE COVE

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: CHINA’S UNNATURAL DISASTER: THE TEARS OF SICHUAN PROVINCE

12. FILM EDITING: THE HURT LOCKER
13. MAKEUP: THE YOUNG VICTORIA
14. VISUAL EFFECTS:
AVATAR

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: UP

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART

17. ANIMATED SHORT: WALLACE AND GROMIT INA MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH’


It would be easy to just go with Wallace and Gromit sight unseen, but after viewing all the animated shorts last night at the Carolina Theater in Durham it’s impossible to deny that it’s infinitely the most superior offering. LOGORAMA is kinda cool too though.


18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE NEW TENANTSMy gut feeling is the Cheronobyl tragedy THE DOOR, but I’m pulling for the dark comic THE NEW TENANTS. It has a great absurd edge to it and great turns by its spare cast including David Rakoff, Jamie Harrold, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Kevin Corrigan.


19. SOUND EDITING: STAR TREK

20. SOUND MIXING: AVATAR

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: UP IN THE AIR by Jason Reitman

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: UP

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: THE WHITE RIBBON


By the way, I don’t consider myself any kind of expert – I’m just a guy who loves movies and loves to write about them. My biggest prediction this year is that I’m going to get more wrong than usual. Tune in Monday to find out how many.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2009

All this last month readers have been asking me for my top 10 movies of 2009. I’ve mentioned before that some major prestige films don’t get to my area until late January or early February or later, and that’s not considering many Foreign films that aren’t released in these parts until months after the Oscars so it’s usually a month or so into the year before I post my picks. So since there’s no way I’m going to catch up anytime soon and because tomorrow the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced, now is as good a time as any for my list for what I think was a great and diverse year for film:

1. A SERIOUS MAN (Dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen)

“The greatest films are the ones that leave you not able to explain, but you know that you have experienced something special. I’ve always had this feeling that the perfect response to a film or a piece of work of mine would be if someone got up and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s right.’ That’s the feeling you want – ‘That’s right’ – and it comes from four or five layers down, it comes from the inside rather than from the outside.”
– Robert Altman

I’ve been plowing through the new book: “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” since I got it for Christmas and I was struck by the quote above. It made me think of A SERIOUS MAN, though the latest Coen Brothers cinematic conundrum is anything but Altman-esque. With Michael Stuhlburg leading an equally unknown cast into the academic abyss of late 60’s suburban Minneapolis, it’s the Brothers’ most personal work to date. Whether it’s a post modern riff on the story of Job or a series of nonsensical jabs at everybody’s existential expense, it’s a perplexingly pleasing parable. Read my original review here.

2. UP (Dir. Pete Docter)

Last year the same #2 position on this list was held by a Pixar film (WALL-E) so I was tempted to go in another direction here. But, that would’ve been wrong because UP honestly deserves this space. The first 10 minutes alone deserve this space. This wonderful tale of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) – a crotchety old widower who attaches thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South Africa is a rambunctiously inventive and funny flight. And if you don’t cry at that sweeping opening montage, either you have a heart of stone or you’re Armond White. Read my original review here.

3. THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Every explosion has an emotional impact in this gripping war drama featuring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert who’d rather risk his life in Iraq than be home with his wife. Read my original review here.

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This indulgent alternate history World War II film is possibly over-stuffed with story strands but as I said in my original review: “the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact.” Read the rest of that review here.

5. BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders)

Though it was little seen, this is hands down the funniest film of 2009. Forget THE HANGOVER, this blaxploitation homage/satire/greatest hits has more laughs per minute and is sure to be one Helluva a future cult classic. Read more here.


6.
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Dir. Wes Anderson)



Wes Anderson’s stylistic whimsy works wonders in this friendly, fuzzy, and ferociously witty film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. So does George Clooney’s charm which I enjoyed more here than in a certain air-born live action film that is sure to get more acclaim awards wise. Read my original review of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

7. BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jane Campion) An unfortunately overlooked period piece centering on poet John Keats’ (Ben Whishaw) doomed courtship of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). A beautifully moving work with first rate performances including a scene stealing Paul Schneider as Keats’ writing partner Charles Armitage Brown. With hope the Academy will take notice. Read my original review here.

8. DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp) Without a doubt the most frighteningly original (and strikingly satirical) work of science fiction of the year. A misadventure in alien apartheid leaves a wet behind the ears field operative (Sharlto Copley) with his arm mutated to that of a “prawn” and he…oh, just go watch it. Read my original ravings here.

9. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! (Dir. Sacha Gervasi)

This documentary about a Spinal Tap-ish band of aging Canadian heavy metal rockers may have you snickering at first but before you know it they win your heart over with their “never say die” determination. As I said in my original review: “Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it.”

10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (Dir. Werner Herzog) Speaking of “never say die”, Nicholas Cage re-ignites the crazy edge of his persona in this twisted and surrealistic corrupt cop crime caper while he re-ignites his “lucky crack pipe” yelling “I’ll kill all of you…to the break of dawn! To the break of dawn baby!” Read about more craziness and how this does and doesn’t relate to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 BAD LIEUTENANT here.

Spillover:


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)


ZOMBIELAND (Dir. Ruben Fleisher)


THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat)

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci)


A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford)


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Dir. Spike Jonze)


AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes)

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill)


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert Siegel)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Dir. Marc Webb)

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones)


ABEL RAISES CAIN (Dirs. Jenny Abel & Jeff Hocket)


TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray)

I didn’t write reviews of these but they are also strongly recommended:


SUMMER HOURS (Dir. Olivier Assayas)


GOODBYE SOLO (Dir. Ramin Bahrani)

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) Yep, that’s right.


More later…

THE HURT LOCKER: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)

“The rush of battle is a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This quote from Chris Hedges’s book “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” opens what is already being called one of the best war films ever. I think it’s too early to tell if it’s worthy of the canon that includes FULL METAL JACKET, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and GLORY (just to name a few), but it’s definitely on the short list of great films about the war in Iraq. This is a very short list indeed because previously such movies either failed to connect with the masses or have been misguided messes; see REDACTED or STOP LOSS. Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER is too powerful to be ignored with a tense sense of self that lingers long after it’s over.

Set in 2006, we get to closely know the actions of a squad of army technicians sent to defuse explosives seemingly hidden in every nook and cranny in the streets of Baghdad. Jeremy Renner portrays
Sergeant First Class William James, a loose canon whose order-ignoring
ferocious focus frustrates his fellow team members (including Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) to no foreseeable end. The only star power present comes from brief appearances by Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly as Renner’s stateside wife. In each tension filled heart pounding scene, the danger that comes with every step can be felt intensely. As one of the only stylized elements of the film, the explosions that inevitably come are admirably not exploitatively presented.

However, the 3-4 amazing combat sequences that make up the bulk of the material do not add up to a masterpiece. I could’ve done without most of the downtime barracks bits; Christian Camargo as a Colonel attempting therapy on Renner is stiff as is a lot of the surrounding dialogue. These are small complaints as THE HURT LOCKER has more than enough of a gripping hold on its searing subject. Its coda, (don’t worry no Spoilers!) which brings home the film’s opening quote as we grasp the true nature of our protagonist, is one of the most satisfying dramatic conclusions of any movie in recent memory. Maybe not an instant modern war classic, what matters is it’s a damn good movie.

More later…