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Review: Hanna

Written by John Forbyn on . Posted in Film

Jason Bourne and Beatrice Kiddo have a Finnish baby daughter who, big surprise, was conceived as some sort of super soldier but is now being sought for elimination by the very agency who created her, thus prompting her to cut a bloody swath of independent vengeance up to the front door of the secret program’s director (directrice, in this case), eh? Well, we’ve already played it out in our heads, but, sure, we’ll buy it. Of course, we will. Formulaic, but it’s the formula for awesome, so sign us up.

No, Ludlum’s and Tarantino’s characters are not explicitly alluded to or literally borrowed from, but the flavor is inexcapably familiar. Here’s the good news, though: Hanna is significantly more than just a tundrafied teenager mashup of these new classics — it has a meaningful story all its own sneaked in between the fights.

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Review: Rango

Written by John Forbyn on . Posted in Film

“Well, well, well, the director of the first Budweiser frog commercial and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (listed in order of dramatic excellence), has combined the two and stuck them in a Western atmosphere for yet another CGI-candy-with-barely-enough-of-a-plot-to-hold-together-what-is-essentially-a-string-of-technical-showings-off, eh?”

That’s what you said to yourself upon your first exposure to a trailer for Rango, isn’t it? Well, that or “Yeah, I guess Johnny Depp hasn’t been a chameleon yet. :: audible sigh :: ”

Well, it turns out it was awesome.

We all know, as has been proven in a series of very scientific method-y studies, that 99 percent of CG animated films are cranked out by tremendously, really stupendously talented animators, illustrators, and virtual physics masters who, when some conscientious minority interrupts the sketching party with “Shouldn’t we have a bit of narrative in there, too?”, go “What? Oh, yeah… One of those… Sure, I guess.” BUT not Mr. Verbinski and friends.

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Review: Catfish

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

The Social Network should have won Best Picture. It was the right movie at the right time done the right way. But that’s a different conversation.

This conversation is about Catfish, the other Facebook movie that came out last year and didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. Presented as a documentary, it chronicles the story of a relationship between a boy and a girl, or rather a boy and an entire family, which happens to include a girl he falls for. The catch? Their whole relationship — Nev (the boy), Angela (the mother), Abby (the 8-year-old), and Megan (his huge crush) — all takes place over Facebook and phone calls. There are pictures, mailed packages, long conversations, and endless messaging, because Nev lives in New York and Megan’s family lives in Michigan.

But then Nev (and his filmmaker roommates) decide to fit a surprise visit to Michigan into a business trip. Nev wants to meet these people in person.

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Oscar the Grouch

Written by Meg Walter on . Posted in Film

Because sometimes Oscar is just mean. And so if the world were a fair place, and if I were in charge, the following films would win at Sunday night’s Academy Awards show (as compared to those that will):

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Females in Film: The Other Side of the Story

Written by Kristin Clift on . Posted in Film

Take a step back and examine your favorite movies. If you were me, you might be overly concerned with how obviously male-dominated the stories on the big screen are. But you’re not me. You probably haven’t even thought about it before. So, I want you to try out a fun test next time you view a movie that will help you become cognizant of the extraordinarily gender-imbalanced film world:

“The Bechdel Rule is a test for films, which follows three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two named women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something other than a man.”

Think about it. Soak it in.

Okay, now think about some of the popular movies that have come out over the last couple years and see if they pass. The Social Network? Fails. TRON: Legacy? Doesn’t cut it. 500 Days of Summer? Surprisingly, no. The A-Team? Not even close. Up? Fail again.

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Review: The King’s Speech

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

Every few years a film comes along, inspired by real events, that makes me ask the question, “Why don’t I already know this?” Sometimes a real life story can be so unusual, so inspiring, so unexpected that it seems as if it should be common knowledge. This year seems to be a particularly strong year for films based on true events. The Social Network, The Fighter and 127 Hours are all films vying for Hollywood’s biggest awards. This Christmas weekend the film festival hit The King’s Speech went into wide release, hoping to add its name to the aforementioned films.

The plot of The King’s Speech is fairly straightforward. The Duke of York (played by Colin Firth), or “Bertie” as he is called by his family, is second in line to the British throne. However, he has a speech impediment, a stammer, that prevents him from speaking in public and has made him an object of public mockery. He has given up hope he will ever overcome the impediment, having seen the best speech therapists in Britain. Of course, this shouldn’t cause a problem as Bertie is never expected to take the throne and his public engagements are limited.

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Review: Black Swan

Written by John Forbyn on . Posted in Film


Black Swan
— starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent  Cassell as professional ballet dancers whose lives revolve around staging the most guttingly pure and potent production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake — is the latest cinematic opus offered by Darren Aronfsky, a still-young director who is definitely keeping on his toes. And here’s the thing about Aronofsky (and I hope he would hear this as the high compliment I intend it to be): I am never in the mood to watch his films, yet they win me over every single time.

See, I’m a pretty stressed-out guy, frequently beleaguered by dragging around an interminable queue of ambitious projects and almost never disposed to sit down and contemplate a cinematic experience wherein the protagonists are coping with similar burdens times-one-thousand (and this is exactly what Aronofsky’s protagonists almost always are.) Yet, on every occasion where his films are put before me — because a friend is begging to pop the DVD in, or because it’s the only unwatched disc left in the house — I relinquish, looking forward to two or so hours of I’m-not-in-the-mood-for-this, but finding myself pleasantly ambushed instead by two or so hours of whoa-mood-or-no-mood-this-is-compelling-as-all-get-out.

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Top 10 Movies of 2010 — and Many More

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Beware, many lists to follow. I’ll start with what I’m sure you’re really here for:

Best 10 out of ’10

Honorable Mentions — The Other Guys; The Next Three DaysSaltKnight and DayThe Karate KidThe Good, The Bad, and The WeirdThe A-Team; Iron Man 2Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Let me note that all of these are very worth watching, even though they didn’t make it to my top ten.

10. Easy A — This one came as kind of a surprise to me as I was winnowing down the list. But the truth is, I enjoyed this film too much to leave it off. Out of all the comedies this year, this one had the cleverest writing, and I haven’t been so impressed by a “teenaged” female character since Juno. Emma Stone is comedically brilliant.

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Review: TRON: Legacy

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

When I was a kid, TRON stood out as one of those landmark movies that shaped the way I thought about some things. I imagined that if you could get inside a computer, that was pretty well what it might look like. And the film transported my young mind to an entirely different world. The emotional impact was deep enough that I’m pretty sure it had a hand in convincing me, much later down the road, that I wanted to be a computer engineer.

I was wrong, of course. I realize now that I was much more mesmerized by the aesthetics of that world than I was by any kind of actual science or technology. I haven’t seen the original in… who knows how long, and I certainly have no recollection now of what it was about. What stuck was the world, so completely alien, so mesmerizing back in the 80′s.

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Review: True Grit

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

The Coens are at the point now in their careers where they get to make a new movie almost every year. I think we should all take a moment to contemplate how fortunate we all are.

I’m not going to say that Joel and Ethan Coen are incapable of making a bad film. I’ve heard that Burn After Reading was terrible from every single person who’s seen it. We’re all human here on this little planet, and I’d almost be disappointed if they don’t squeeze out another stinker sometime or another. But True Grit isn’t that film. Nope, it’s just another jewel in their crown of daunting cinematic achievement.

If the Coens have a signature style that permeates their work, it’s gotta be the dialog. They’ve labored within a wide range of genres, but the one constant is that the dialog is always fresh, sharp, poetic… perfect. And very often exactingly funny. Not once in any of their films does a single line of dialog come across as on-the-nose, cheap, trite or out-of-place. It’s a style of writing that lends itself quite well to the Western genre, actually, with all its stoicism and gruff subtextuality.