Monday, December 31, 2012

Twilight is Garbage and Other Thoughts

Off the Mark Thoughts Podcast

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who read the blog over the past month. These were fun posts to write, and more fun to discuss. As promised this post will be dedicated to my ranking for favorite acting/directing performances, and the podcast.

I was able to convince (bribe?) friend of the blog, Anthony, to join me to discuss the list and other things in world of movies. We break down my selections, discuss actors and directors and reveal Anthony's top-5 movies of the year. Here's an easy to follow guide to the podcast:

1. Intro
2. Nos. 20-16
3. Worst movies of the year
4. Nos. 15-11
5. Awards Talk
6. Nos. 10-6
7. Argofuckyourself
8. Nos. 5-1
9. Anthony's Top-5
10. Goodbye

We go off on a tangent a few times, but all in all we kept everything on target. Hope you enjoy, and I will try to bring you more of these in the future.

Now, I am proud to present the 2012 Off the Mark Thoughts favorite movie awards (trademark pending):

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
       Runner up: Daniel Craig, Skyfall (Leonardo DiCaprio, if he eligible)

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
       Runner up: Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom

Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
       Runner up: Ezra Miller, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Supporting Actress: Dame Judi Dench, Skyfall
       Runner Up: Emma Watson, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Director: Quentin Tarantio, Django Unchained
       Runner Up: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Perks of Being a Wallflower: Modern-day Breakfast Club


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

There are very few times when I completely fall in love with a movie. It doesn't matter how good the film is, or even if it was very popular, there's just need to be something special that grabs my attention and makes me think about it for days. I can never tell exactly what it is, but I know it immediately after the movie's over.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my new obsession. There is a certain charm and realness to the movie that occurs very rarely on screen, especially in a movie set in high school. The issues, while melodramatic in spots, are something that every one of us has gone through during our teenage formative year. There's love, heartbreak, friendship and insecurities. There is not a character that is not relatable on some level. And writer/director/author Stephen Chbosky's tone and dialogue flawlessly illustrates the roller coaster that is high school.

I wonder if my love of the movie was helped by the fact that I didn't read the book beforehand. There were some of aspects of the book that were not covered in the movie. They weren't included for a number of reasons: Time, not essential or to keep the cast small. I recommend reading the book either before or after you see the movie just so you get the full picture of Charlie's life. If I knew most of the story beforehand, especially the twist that happens 2/3 of the way in, I wonder if it would have had as much impact. I hope so, but I'll always wonder.

If we take the movie as just the movie and eliminate the book, I think it has the chance to be a modern day Breakfast Club. The issues are more relevant to the current generation than John Hughes' films was to his. Hughes' movie are deeper than most 80s teen movies, but they still spotlight the superficial issues of popularity and money.

Chbosky's Perks, on the other hand, digs a lot deeper and gets into sexuality, mental health and child sexual abuse. He does this while still framing it around the superficial aspect of Hughes' films. Perks, in many ways, is the dark version of those classics, and therefore more apropos of the current generation. For an apples to apples comparison of Hughes' films, see Easy A.

For the movie to reach into those dark places, the actors needed to be top notch, and he nailed just about every role. The riskiest choice he made was casting Logan Lerman as Charlie. Lerman hadn't shown much in the way of talent during his screen time in Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers. This is another instance where casting calls were essential to the movie as Lerman is absolutely heartbreaking as Charlie.

His choice for the title female character, Sam, was fortuitous one because without Emma Watson using what power she had in movie industry, the movie doesn't get made. As important as casting Watson was important to the success of Perks, the role itself was as important to Watson career. She needed to find a role that would both further her career and separate her from Harry Potter and Hermione. Sam was the perfect role. 

She broke out of the uptight English-school girl look and embraced a more sure of herself American high schooler (see the Rocky Horror scenes). While her accent wasn't perfect, it was so good that by half way through the movie I forgot what her normal voice sounded like. She proved that she wasn't just a part of an ensemble cast, but a future leading lady.

But the star of the film — and a name you will be hearing for many years — was Ezra Miller. If you haven't seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, go see it now; it is the definition of a breakout role. 

Miller's Patrick was the heart of the movie. He made you laugh and cry, but most importantly, he made you wish that he was your friend. He should be recognized in some way for this role, and if that means all he gets is better roles, I think he'll take it. Patrick will be one of those characters we remember for a long time, or at least those of us that have seen the film.

And if you haven't seen it yet and it's still playing in theaters near you, go see it immediately.

Release date: September 21st.

Reason for ranking:
Perks is one of the few movies that turned me into an unpaid marketer. This is a movie I will randomly watch on a boring night, and one that I won't turn off when it comes on TV. It is now on a list of about a half-dozen films that I can unequivocally say, 'I Love,' with a capital L.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lincoln: An Entertaing History Lesson



Period pieces are always hard to execute correctly. They are either too traditional and boring, or they have too much of a modern flair and completely miss the point of being set in the past. But when a film does everything correctly, it can be one of the most powerful movie going experiencesyou can have. Add the best actor of our generation, and Lincoln may be the best period piece ever created.

Much of my excitement prior to the film's release came from my love of history. I've watched countless documentaries on WWI and II, the American Revolution, and the Roman Empire. But there was always a blind spot in my knowledge of history: the American Civil War. And as luck would have it, around the time that Lincoln was released, I had recently started to watch the History Channel's documentary on the war. With the details of the time period fresh in my mind, I bought my ticket to see Lincoln.

Lincoln was everything I wanted it to be and more. My biggest fear going in was that Hollywood would try to keep Lincoln out of the dirty politics that surrounded the passing of the 14th Amendment, but right from the opening act you saw that Lincoln was going to do anything in his power to pass the amendment, including hand out government jobs for votes.

This was a very important feature that was needed in the movie, and I don't think the role of a toeing the line Lincoln could have been played better by anyone other than Daniel Day-Lewis. He should hands down win the Oscar for Best Actor, but I could also see the Academy not wanting to give him the award a third time, too. Day-Lewis is equal parts charming, powerful and vulnerable. His intensity throughout the movie almost convinced me that he was Lincoln. He was that good.

While we're on the topic of awards, Tommy Lee Jones should win best supporting actor. Thaddeus Stevens is a complicated character — both in the movie and history — that was both Lincoln's ally and enemy, and to play him correctly, Jones needed to match Day-Lewis' performance in every scene. Stevens had to be Lincoln's equal, and Jones had to be Day-Lewis'. It should be a clean sweep in the male acting categories, but we'll see if politics gets in the way.

It should come as no surprise that Steven Spielberg captured a time period so perfectly. Lincoln is to post-civil war America, what Saving Private Ryan was to WWII Europe. It felt like I was watching the events through a mirror, and that these were the real people not actors. The authenticity of the sets is the number one reason why I adored this movie.

Between the portrayal of historical figures, the realistic sets and the events taking place on screen, my inner history geek was in heaven. My only complaint is that the movie could have ended prior to his assassination (spoiler?), and probably should have. But the events surrounding that night in Ford's Theater are too known to ignore, and Spielberg did what he should and not show the actual shooting, but rather the reaction to it. This movie will be one that I will make sure my children watch when they begin to learn U.S. History.

Release date: November 16th

Reason for ranking: Epic. A very well done movie that teaches you American history and you are none the wiser. Should be required viewing for kids when they learn about the Civil War.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Skyfall: Bond as it Should Be

No need for an introduction. The tile should say it all.



Now this is a Bond movie.

I have been a fan of the James Bond series since I first stole my grandfather's VHS of From Russia With Love and saw Sean Connery fight a blonde Robert Shaw on a train. Something about the suave and quick-witted spy captured my attention at a young age and held through the good (GoldenEye) and the bad (Quantum of Solace) and everything in between.

Yet as much fun as those early Connery — and especially the Roger Moore films — were, there was always something missing. Bond was too clean and lacked any true emotion in his movies. Maybe that's the way the character was intended to be, but as I grew up, the need for a more realistic Bond increased. The films needed to get grittier.

My desire for this type of Bond film hit a fever pitch when I saw Batman Begins and saw what Christopher Nolan did with that character, and I wondered if someone could see the same potential in Bond. My prayers were answered in 2006 with Casino Royale, which immediately landed in the top-5 of my favorite Bond movies. But my enthusiasm quickly burned out when I saw the Bourne inspired follow up, Quantum of Solace. It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed.

And that brings us to Skyfall.

This movie is the Dark Knight of the latest iteration of the Bond character. Every piece of this movie is near perfect. Javier Bardem is the best villain in more than 20 years — maybe even 30 years. He carries this air of invincibility through out the last half of the movie that should inhabit every Bond villain going forward. And his back story is one of the most personal to Bond and MI-6 that has ever been written. If there was ever a time for a villain from a Bond movie to be nominated for awards, now would be it. Can't say enough about Bardem.

Besides the villain, the choice for "Bond girl" in this movie was truly brilliant. It wasn't a supermodel, nor an A-list American actress, or even the return of Dr. Christmas Jones; it was Judi Dench as M. The lack of an emotional connection to his damsel in distress was always a weak point in the earlier Bond films. Casino Royale remedied that slightly with the Vesper Lind storyline, but that just felt like new wrapping paper on an old gift. But capitalizing on all the ground work laid in the first three films with Craig allowed the final hour of this movie to be fascinating when it could have very easily been boring.

There was very little I could find wrong with this film, even the choice for Q was a stroke of genius. This film was raw, gritty and everything I've been hoping a Bond movie could be. To say I'm excited for the next film would be the ultimate understatement.

Release date: November 9th

Reason for ranking: Bond. Really, that's it. My love of 007 is the only reason it ranked ahead of Django. And I didn't want to cheat and have a 3a. and 3b., so my tie-breaker was Daniel Craig.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained: Tarantino at His Best

Prior to the post, I would like to discuss the trailers that preceded Django Unchained. I don't know if it's the quality of the movies that were previewed or that the trailers themselves, but — of the ones I hadn't seen before — none of them made me want to see the films.

Bad trailers are nothing new, and most recently, the preview for Admission staring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd was — for lack of a better term — awful. At my showing for Django, I saw Movie 43, Oblivion, Dead Man Down, Pain and Gain and Zero Dark Thirty. Besides the last one, the others looked terrible. I have no idea what Movie 43 is supposed to be about (maybe that's the point), Oblivion looks generic, Dead Man Down has some good actors in it but nothing stood out, and Pain and Gain is produced by Michael Bay and has a roided up-looking Mark Wahlberg and The Rock as the stars.

My only question is, who decided these trailers were good and thought that the Django Unchained audience would be the best target? My thought is money has to be behind this, and the studios are sending the trailers to every movie in order to build an audience, instead of knowing it.

I digress:


Django Unchanied

If I'm going to properly begin this post let me start by saying: the n-word.

For all of the things that occur in this movie, the controversy over the use of the n-word is the most ridiculous. The film is set in the pre-Civil War South, and the people in that place, and of that time, said that word like we say bro or dude. If Tarantino didn't include it, he would be ignoring a big part of the movie's setting and tone. Racism occurred, and is part of Django's back story.

Outside of the controversy, this movie is pretty freaking great. It is classic Tarantino, and a whole lot of fun. The humor is on point, the blood is as cartoonish as ever and the performances are top notch. Christoph Waltz has to be the find of the century, and it's a wonder how he wasn't discovered earlier by Hollywood. His chemistry with Jamie Foxx is the best part of the movie.

It will come as a shock to no one that Foxx was the perfect choice to play Django. His mixture of intensity and wit brought the character to life better than any other actor could have. My favorite Foxx moment was not during one of the action scenes or his tremendous banter with an on-top-of-his-game Leonardo DiCaprio, it was the quiet moment when he asks Waltz' Dr. Schultz to tell him an old German tale. The vulnerability of Django in this scene is a testament to both Foxx's acting and Tarantino great script.

Just like every other Tarantino film, the supporting actors give the movie personality. The last hour belongs to Samuel L. Jackson. He appears on screen and steals the movie. Kerry Washington looks heavenly, and the quick cameo by Don Johnson is exactly what you'd expect.

My only criticism of the film is that it's about 10 minutes too long. The scene between the climax and the conclusion is too slow and drains the momentum of the movie. I understand where Tarantino was going with it, but instead of slowing the movie down, he slammed on the breaks. But after this interlude, the movie ends exact how you were expecting it to 10 minutes earlier.

Release date: December 25th

Reason for ranking: Pretty much even with the next film on the list, but one key factor separates them for me personally; read the next post for the exact reason.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Avengers: A Surprisingly Entertaining Superhero Movie

Before the review, I have a couple quick announcements:

1. On December 31st, I will be post my favorite actor, actress, director, etc. of 2012.
2. Depending on scheduling, I may have a podcast up discussing the list, which will accompany the post on the 31st. Guest to be announced.

Now that that's out of the way, let's continue the list:   


The Avengers

Crossovers, whether it be in movies or TV shows, have the chance to be amazing or completely un-watchable. There are plenty of examples of success, albeit to varying degrees, on television. The most successful one that comes to mind is Buffy and Angel, which had a lot to do with the genius of Joss Whedon and his writing staffs. And on the complete opposite end of the scale are the crossovers that occur on the Disney Channel, which has a lot to do with these shows having completely different writing staffs.

Most of the time these collaborations, for better or worse, occur over a short period of time and have very minimal build up. So their success or failure, doesn't harm the individual shows. The Avengers, on the other hand, had a completely unique and insane build-up for a crossover.

It all started with an after the credits scene during Iron Man in 2008 that began a four-year build up, which culminated with a $220 million dollar gamble to combine four franchises in to one movie. And fortunately, for fans of the comics, the producers and Marvel Studios the gamble paid off big time. And it was no surprise that the master of crossovers, Joss Whedon, was at the helm.

Whedon's script took the best from each movie and combined it into a seamless 2-hour-plus narrative. The villain made sense, the reason for the Initiative was plausible and the conflict between the heroes seems genuine and not superficial. Instead of sculpting an all-star team, Whedon turned the Avengers into a dysfunctional family, which made the movie better because there was an emotional component that coincided with the main conflict, aka "kill the baddie". He made them seem human even if they may be gods.

This is just a fun, fun movie. Sure, it has the popcorn action moments (that are awesome), but it also has heart and comedy, which again is a hallmark of Whedon's scripts. Every actor plays their role as well as they did in the individual films, and even the change from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo felt like the right move. His style fits the script better than Norton, which helped the chemistry and contributed to the greatness of the film.

Release date: May 4th

Reason for ranking: There's not a better example of a movie being ranked high just because I enjoyed the film. In a "Best of" list, this may have come in lower.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I may have a thing for Jennifer Lawrence...shhh: Nos. 10-6

The Top-10.

Whether you admit it or not, we all make top-10 list in our head. Most people don't go to the extreme of writing them down and posting them on the Internet, but when prompted we can rattle off a list of 10 favorite somethings.

Sometimes we subconsciously make this list, and sometimes we verbalize it with friends over some beers. The least thought about top-10 list people create is on their iTunes account. Go ahead and look at your most played songs. I'll wait. In most cases (unless you use your account to DJ), the first 10 songs are your favorite 10 songs, which would make it...(drumroll)...a top-10 list.

As I reveal the remaing movie on my favorite movies of 2012 list, I expect that you will be surprised, confused and in some cases, questioning my sanity. With that said, I'm excited to reveal the 10 movies that will all be a part of my Blu-Ray collection in the near future.