In anticipation of Indiana Jones: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ coming to select IMAX theaters on September 7th, after 31 years for a one week only event followed by the Blu-Ray release of ‘Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures’ on September 18th. We had an exclusive chance to talk to the sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects director Dennis Muren from the Indiana Jones movies at the one an only SkyWalker Ranch in San Francisco, California. They were able to tell us some secrets about how it all came together back when it was made, their memories of it all and what were some of the challenges they had to face.Read More
Happy 2012! A whole year has gone by and with it all of last year’s memorable and very forgettable movies. But now we enter the televised film award season recognizing the best of the best for your personal viewing enjoyment. But forget the Oscars, the Golden Globes or any other film organization.
I have compiled the Best 11 movies of 2011 (a mix of the finest commercial and independent fare), so that you can buy that movie ticket without having to clutch it to dear life, or, watch that movie on your streaming or DVD player without feeling you wasted your 2 hours of your existence. Why 11? Just to piss off the rest of the people who create Top 10’s and to give a nod to the year that just left us.
So trust me on this. Relax and have some peace of mind that these films will either change you or just remind you why going to the movies can be a soul-satisfying experience.
And we begin with #11. Authentic, visceral, funny, melancholic, disturbing and powerful is how I would describe Tate Taylor’s ‘The Help’. An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. What you need to know is that a best actress award will come out of this film at the Oscar’s and it’ll be between Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who bring home the gold. The cast ensemble is the second best of the year and it’s ardent, sensitive subject matter of racism is sure to trigger emotions you didn’t think could rise from you in a movie theater.
Talk about a film that came out of nowhere to leave me dumbfounded at how crazy good it was. This crime thriller, full of twist and turns, brought back Matthew McConaughey to a place of respectability again amongst the garbage he’s been starring in since ‘Fool’s Gold’. The Lincoln Lawyer’s plot which is about Mick Haller (McConaughey), a bad-ass, but sleazy defense lawyer who works out of his Lincoln towncar. When a wealthy Realtor (Ryan Phillippe) is accused of raping a prostitute, Haller is asked to defend him. But his client has a foolproof plan to beat the system. It’s up to our protagonist to get over his crisis of conscience and see if he can see the difference of right and wrong in his profession.The reasonthis film comes in at number 10 is because compared to most movies this year, you can’t seem to unglue your eyes from this engrossing “did he or didn’t he do it?” storyline. It is so well paced and acted that the flaws are almost non-existent. There’s enough action,tension and mystery here to satisfy eventhe most stubbornof spectators. PS: Look for one of the best scenes in the film with scene-stealing star Michael Peña who goes toe to toe with McConaughey. It’s a memorable one.
I have some major beef with those people who have knocked on this film simply for Mel Gibson’s off-camera deeds. If one would just judge the work, one can see that ‘The Beaver’, is by far, the most underrated movie of 2011. The Beaveris a powerful dark dramedy about a man on a journey to re-discover his family and re-start his life. Plagued by his own demons, Walter Black (Gibson) was once a successful toy executive and family man who now suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter can’t seem to get himself back on track…until a beaver hand puppet enters his life. Gibson delivers what I can only describe as one of the most visceral and compelling performances of his career. It is my belief that his performance was as equivalent, if not better, than Michael Fassbender’s in ‘Shame’. This to me is at least worthy of a nomination. Jodie Foster is also on her directing A game too. Her choice of a story is outside of the box weaving it in with a tragic sense of farce that somehow connects with anyone searching for who they truly are inside. If you like first-rate acting and the antithesis of the banal Hollywood fare, then this film must be placed high on your choices to watch.
Without question, one of the most hyped films of the year is ‘The Artist’. It deserves its label for reviving the obsolete format of silent films with a retro-fresh perspective, and by possessing the most charming performance of any actor this year by Jean Dujardin. But even though a film like this was given the greenlight for cinephiles to indulge in, after the first half hour the novelty begins to wear off exposing the screenplay to a story we’ve seen before. Similarities linger from ‘All About Eve’, ’42nd Street’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Veronika Voss’, and most recently, ‘Burlesque’ amongst others – a veteran star sees their success flutter away while the new kid in town embarks their march into stardom. Nevertheless, ‘The Artist’ provides an experience that is unique and unlike anything you’ll pay to see in a theater this year. Will it win Best Picture at the Oscars? Most likely. Does it deserve it? No. Novelty is king this year.
Yeah, maybe Steven Spielberg lost some of that magic touch since he won an Oscar for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ 14 years ago, but that doesn’t mean he forgot how to make an Oscar worthy film. Enter ‘War Horse’, the closest thing to a dramatic masterpiece we’re going to see from a director all year. The story of a horse and his young owner, which has hues of ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, doesn’t possess the most stellar acting or dazzling dialogue, but darnit, it does possess beautiful cinematography and one hell of a feel good, tearjerker story that will squeeze those tear ducts to oblivion. It starts slow, fleshing out the characters, and builds up to an emotionally rousing crescendo, like a Beethoven symphony. I mean even Whoopi Goldberg (an Oscar winner mind you), said: “Someone needs to give that movie an Oscar”, on her way out of the screening in New York I attended. What must be witnessed here is how Spileberg made that horse seem human!
You’re really going to enjoy ‘The Ides of March’. It’s such a satisfying political thriller, that it will from now on be discussed in the same breath as ‘A Few Good Men’, ‘The Firm’ and ‘All the President’s Men’. You’ll see an all-star cast in George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman giving us first-class performances that will leave a lasting impression on you long after you leave the theater. This is arguably the best ensemble of actors of any movie this year, and boy, do they deliver the goods. The characters they inhabit are placed during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, when an up-and-coming campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling) finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate’s (Clooney) shot at the presidency. This movie is all about skillful acting, astute plot twists (this one had three!), cerebrally stimulating dialogue and an enthralling story. Clooney, who directs it, is now officially a bonafide helmer with a reputation of creating artistically-crowd-pleasing movies. All in all, you will not be dissapointed with ‘TheIdes ofMarch’, a piece of cinema that is a must see for anyone looking to see the best of the best films this year.
Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ is probably the sleeper surprise hit of the year because you expect one thing and end up getting something better. How often does that happen for the price of your ticket? It also somehow manages to linger in the crevices of your mind for days. The more you think about it, the more you end up loving it. The catch here is that ‘Hugo’ is a fairytale for adults, but one that doesn’t ignore the kiddies. The 3D experience is absolutely sick and one of the year’s best. You only have to see the opening sequence to understand how masterful Scorsese truly is. If you’re a film fanatic, one who appreciates silent films and the importance of film preservation, then you are in for a treat that you’ll cherish for a long time.
Just when I thought animated films couldn’t get any better, ‘Rango’ had to go out and prove me wrong. This odd and eccentric project, led by the voice of Johnny Depp, was challenging to be, arguably, the best film of the year upon its release in March. The opening sequence, where Rango performs a brilliant and audacious acting monologue, a la Sanford Meisner, instantly set it apart from any other computer generated movie ever created in its genre. It began to play above the level of any Pixar before it. Here is its plot – after a car accident, the chameleon Rango winds up in an old western town called Dirt. What this town needs the most is water, but they also need a hero and a sheriff. The thirsty Rango instantly takes on the role of both and selfishly agrees to take on the case of their missing water. Also credit to the writers for injecting a Latino flavor that was palpable right from the beginning. ‘Rango’ is not for kids, it is really adult fare with a nod to children. With a script that is cerebral, original, accompanied by highbrow humor, and splendid voice performances from a top notch cast, this movie is one of the best animated films I have ever seen.
And you thought he had lost it. If ‘Matchpoint,’ ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ and the underrated ‘Cassandra’s Dream,’ weren’t enough to get you to believe in him again, then perhaps ‘Midnight in Paris’ will. Allen is in rare form, back to the man that created the seminal films ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Hannah and her Sisters’. This is one of his finest works, an ode to the most romantic city in the world, Paris, where Allen seems re-inspired. He stupefies us with an ingenious and simple plot full of love, nostalgia, and of course, wit. There are no outstanding performances, or awe-inspiring directing, just actors who are able to breathe life into the words of Allen’s brilliant script. This tale centers around Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood writer who is struggling on his first novel. While in Paris with his demanding wife Inez (Rachel McAdams), his obsession of 1920’s Paris comes to life every night at midnight where he befriends the greatest writers, artists and legendary figures of the 20th century. This is a beautiful film that will capture your imagination, seize you in its philosophical message and have you buying a ticket to Paris as soon as possible!
I have to go back to Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator to the Gallows’ from 1958 to know what it feels like to experience the coolest movie I have ever seen. ‘Drive’ is not just cool, it’s uber-cool. It’s a sophisticated action movie drenched in sexiness and artistic violence. Have you seen a man get sliced up to classical music or a protagonist without a name? The hardcore boys will love it and so will the sassy girls that will beg to go see ‘It’ man of the moment – Ryan Gosling. After a slew of fantastic performances this year (Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March), this film consecrates him as the new Brad Pitt in Hollywood, and, director Nicolas Winding Refn as the new Quentin Tarantino. Also watch for Albert Brooks’ (Broadcast Network), supporting performance, as it should strongly compete with Nick Nolte for the honors at the Oscars. The plot revolves around a Hollywood stunt performer (Gosling) moonlighting as a wheelman who discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong. I would catalog this film as an instant cult classic you’ll be talking about for years.
Since no one has the balls to say it, then I will. ‘Warrior’ is the best film of 2011, with ‘Drive’ right on its heels. It possesses the best combination of drama, humor, plot intrigue, superb acting and relentless fight action for your movie ticket. I swear I almost broke down in tears THREE times! No other movie has the privilege of boasting that this year. It’s the mounting, rousing crescendo towards the end that gets to you. Nick Nolte should get a nod for Best Supporting actor at the Oscars and win it. The movie is about the youngest son (Tom Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nick Nolte) who returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament — a path that puts the fighter on a collision against his older brother (Joel Edgerton). Mark Wahlberg’s ‘The Fighter’ has nothing on this film. Don’t believe other critics who say that this movie isn’t all that. It’s a crowd pleaser. If you’re looking for strong acting, a gritty drama, a good dose of movie violence and desire to shed a tear or two, then get ready to titillate your senses.
‘From Prada to Nada’ marks a special occasion in film history since its release signals the coming of a new type of cinema into the Hollywood landscape – Hispanic American films for the US Hispanic. Pantelion, a new movie studio joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s powerful Group Televisa, is the first major Latino Hollywood studio to enter into the foray of the $9 billion dollar box office US film industry. It’s purpose is to create culturally relevant Hispanic motion pictures, in English and Spanish, that include top-rated Latino actors, directors and writers. But it seems that this mission statement was only half met on their first cinematic effort.
‘From Prada to Nada’ is a modern twist on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It’s a riches to rags story of two spoiled sisters: Nora (Camilla Belle), a law student, and Mary (Alexa Vega), an undergrad party girl, living with their father in a luxurious mansion in Beverly Hills. Mary has become so “90210” she refuses to admit she is of Mexican descent. When dad suddenly passes away, their posh lives are turned upside down. They discover they have been left penniless and are forced to move into their estranged aunt Aurelia’s (Adriana Barraza) modest but lively home in the Latino-centric Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA. They are terrified to leave their world of privilege, and terrified of their new thug neighbor with a heart of gold played by Wilmer Valderrama; neither Nora nor Mary speak Spanish or have ever had to take on actual responsibility. The girls gradually adapt to their new environment; their BMW and Prius are traded for the public bus and a used car. As they embrace the culture that for so long they refused to accept, they both discover the true meaning of their Mexican heritage and romance along the way.
Though it might not seem it at a glance, ‘Prada’ is carrying around a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure to deliver a good film. Why? In part because historically, US Latino films have underwhelmed, disappointed and failed to meet the expectations of a hungry Hispanic moviegoing demographic, along with its press compeers. It seems that almost all Latino oriented films made never improve, better or advance the current state of Latino cinema in this country. Therefore, Hollywood producers take less risks in investing in movies that adhere to the culture, unless its obscenely stereotypical like Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Hispanic American movies made in the United States live in a type of limbo where it’s not gritty, political, or intriguing enough to attract critical attention, as its South American counterparts do, nor do their production values rival its Hollywood peers.
Even though it’s not as embarrassing as the disgraceful ‘Chasing Papi’, it doesn’t deliver anything that can make you feel proud of the future of Latinos in Hollywood. I must confess that Alexa Vega is very good and better than a lot of actresses out there, period. She’s charming and pretty and delivers. Unfortunately she can’t carry this film all on her own.
‘From Prada to Nada’ is a DVD movie that should’ve gone directly to DVD and not via a theatrical release. You can see what I’m talking about at a Netflix near you.
How many times are you going to hear someone say that there is a film out there right now that has better 3D special effects than Avatar? Most likely you won’t until you witness ‘IMAX: Hubble 3D,’ one of the most tantalizing 3D imagery ever put on celluloid. It is a truly eye-popping experience that will make you shake your head over and over again. This is a documentary done by NASA, not be confused for a fictional film. The images and scenes you will see here is real. None of it is fake.
The story crafted by the director/writer Toni Myers and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio is about seven astronauts who in May of 2009 traveled to space to repair and update hardware on the Hubble telescope. The images that were later captured, according to the documentary, were the farthest pictures ever captured by human machinery. It is from what they say, the end of the known universe.
The most boggling and staggering thing about Hubble is the 3D ‘voyage’ the director takes us on billions of light years away to what is presumably the actual end of the universe as captured by the Hubble telescope. This happens a few times and it feels like you’re on a ride at Epcot Center.
Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t the best narrator, I would have much preferred Morgan Freeman or Tom Hanks, even Tom Cruise, but he gets the job done.
Overall, ‘IMAX: Hubble 3D,’ is a technological advancement that is sure to be adopted by many studios from now on. I hope it is, because if this is the future of films, then we are in for an IMAX HUGE treat!