2012 Nashville Film Festival In Review

The Nashville Film Festival gets better every year.  It’s always a difficult task deciding which films to see and which to pass on because you just never know what’s going to hit big.  Granted, not every film is a 500 Days of Summer, the opener from 2009.  And thankfully, not every film is a The Deal, the utter catastrophe that opened the festival in 2008.  But every year there are several films at the Nashville Film Festival that end up being really good films and earning accolades throughout the rest of the year.  Here are a few of the better films that I was able to see at NaFF2012.

Qwerty is a pleasant and quirky little film about a girl and a guy who are both struggling through life and are only able to get through it with the help of each other.  It’s a fun movie with that far exceeds its meager and humble production value and the fact that it was shot in the beautiful city ofChicago only adds to its charm.

For the last few years, the best films have been the documentaries.  2011’s Buck and If A Tree Falls went on to accumulate a laundry list of awards throughout the rest of the year.  Likewise, this year there was a gauntlet of docs that show a lot of potential for increased success in the near future.

Last Call At the Oasis is a documentary about water.  It’s about the diminishing supply of water, the dangerous chemicals in water, the process of treating water and the growing idea of drinking bottled recycled water.  It’s a well-executed film with many expert opinions and sharp, clever graphic teaching aids, but it could benefit from narrowing its message down to a couple of the points listed above instead of trying to hit on all of them.  This is a documentary that we could see more of.  However, it really needs some editing work.

Love Free or Die is about Gene Robinson, the first openly gay ordained bishop in theEpiscopalianChurch.  It’s directed by Macky Alston and documents Gene, who becomes a sort of vehicle of change for theEpiscopalianChurch.  Gene Robinson, it turns out, was a fore-runner for so many other homosexual priests that are now allowed to be ordained, in theEpiscopalianChurch, as well as preside over gay weddings in states where they are legal.  The film documents specifically Gene’s shunning from the Lambeth conference and through the voting of this particular issue in theEpiscopalianChurch’s annual conference.

Affair of the Heart is an entertaining documentary about Rick Springfield, who still tours frequently to hefty crowds.  What makes the film so good is that it takes a few of his most avid fans, expands on their back stories and follows them as they jump from concert to concert throughout the country.  The film delves deep into their psyche; why Rick Springfield means so much to them and also the degree of obsession that many of them have.  The obsession is justified for some while others seem a little over-the-top.  Affair of the Heart was easily one of the most fun films I saw at the festival.La Comianeta documents the migrating of decommissioned school buses from theUnited States toGuatemala.  Those drivers that make the journey to and fro must endure serious danger of being killed by gangs or cartels along the way.  Once they arrive inGuatemala, the buses are fixed up, given a paint job and then used to take people to and from work.

Beauty is Embarrassing was easily my favorite film at the festival.  The film tells the story Wayne White, a very talented and creative artist who moved to East Tennessee from North Alabama at a very early age and eventually made his way up toManhattan and worked on the Pee Wee Herman show.  The film gives us insight into his childhood, his parents and his family.  Wayne White speaks with a vulgar hilarity, yet with a very kind-hearted Southern draw that makes him incredibly likeable.

The Nashville Film Festival is something that I increasingly look forward to every year and the free Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams given out to patrons was the proverbial cherry on top. Can’t wait until 2013!


Nashville New Releases – March 30, 2012

Mirror Mirror
Julia Roberts is coming off quite an alarming string of duds and that string may only be getting longer if Mirror Mirror, as self-aware as I’m sure it is, bombs like I think it will.  Roberts plays the evil queen to the virtual unknown, Lily Collins’ Snow White.  The trailer paints the film out as a silly take on the classic Snow White tale and especially cashes in on all of the dwarf jokes.  However, Mirror Mirror is not the only Snow White reboot coming out this spring.  Snow White and the Huntsman gets a June 1 release and it stars Kristen Stewart who essentially plays a warrior-like Snow White and Charlize Theron as the especially evil queen.  Of the 2 films, Mirror Mirror, by far, looks like the lamer of the two, but I imagine that it will bring in more of the little kids.  The Huntsman is sure to carryover the Twilight freaks.  I wouldn’t expect Mirror Mirror to still be playing in theatres by June 1, but if it were, then Huntsman would be sure to push it out for good.  At this very moment, Mirror Mirror has a 52% on Rottentomatoes.

It should also be noted that Mirror Mirror is not based on the 2003 Gregory MacGuire novel, Mirror Mirror, which is a disturbing and twisted take on the Snow White tale.  Casting for that movie might include Lars Von Trier as director, a young Shelly Duval as Snow White and a 90-year-old Tilda Swinton to play the evil queen.

Wrath of the Titans
Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans and if you need anymore information than that then you might just check out Rottentomatoes where you’ll find a 22% the day of its release.  The cast itself is strong and includes: Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson, but the film holds no anchor in this society’s pop culture.  It’s not relevant in the least, but the film itself will almost definitely rely on special effects, an aspect of film that will draw in a vast number of fanboys.

Look for both films to bomb and The Hunger Games to rule the Box Office for a second week in a row.

Check out theatre times for these new releases as well as other films currently playing in the Nashville area.

Craig’s Examiner Movie Page


This Weekend at the Belcourt – March 30-April 1

The Turin Horse is a 2011 Hungarian film directed by Bela Tarr and is a fictional take on the fate of the horse that was protected by Friedrich Nietzsche, which caused that illness which stuck with him until his death.  Another fascinating aspect of the film is that it was shot in only 30 takes.  The Turin Horse won the Grand Prix and the Berlin Film Festival as well as Official Selections at the Telluride,Toronto and New York Film Festivals.

Bullhead is a 2011Belgium film directed by Michael R. Roskam about a cattle farmer roped into dealing with a sketchy beef trader.  Bullhead was nominated for Best Foreign film at the 2012 Academy Awards.

 Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 Japanese documentary directed by David Gelb about the 85 year old, Jiro Ono, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest Sushi Chefs in the world.

Diary of A Country Priest – April 1 at 7:00 pm
This 1951 French film directed by Robert Bresson stars Claude Laydu and a priest struggling with keeping his own faith during a deathly illness while tending to the needs of his flock.  The film is based on the 1937 novel written by Georges Bernanos. Diary of A Country Priest won the Grand Prize at the Venice International Film Festival.

Army of Darkness – March 30 & 31 at midnight
Army of Darkness is the final film in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead trilogy, a series that goes from horrifyingly scary with The Evil Dead and eventually ending with the outright absurd comedy, Army of Darkness.  Bruce Campbell returns as the main character from the other films, Ash, and is now trapped in the Middle Ages battling claymation zombies and skeletons and must fulfill a quest in order to return to his present time.  What started out as a legit horror series, albeit with its own type of humor, ends with Army of Darkness going all in, lock, stock and smoking barrel with this slapstick medieval quest film that has virtually no ties to its preceding films save for the main character and his trust chainsaw.  Not to take away from Army of Darkness as a stand-alone film.  The film has its own band of trusted fans and has a strong presence in the world of cult films, hence the midnight showings.  When looking at Army of Darkness by itself, one can appreciate its humor and style, but when the 2 preceding films of the trilogy have such a strong standing, for some, it’s hard to do so.

A Trip to the Moon & The Extraordinary Voyage – March 31-April 2
A Trip to the Moon was made in 1902 by George Melies.  This weekend, the Belcourt will be showing the hand-colored version, which was found in 1993 and which took 11 years to restore.  It’s absolutely mind-blowing to consider that, just 7 years after the very first motion picture was made, Melies created a color, science fiction film about astronauts boarding a rocket to fly to the moon.  The Extraordinary Voyage documents this exhaustive and expensive restoration of A Trip to the Moon from its original production, rediscovery, restoration and the premiere of the revitalized film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  The Extraordinary Voyage will be play following A Trip to the Moon.

Hugo – March 31 at 10:00 am
In keeping with the screening of A Trip to the Moon, Hugo will be playing this Saturday at 10:00 am as a part of the Saturday Kids Shows, which screens a movie appropriate for children every Saturday at 10:00 am through the month of May.  Hugo is directed by a legendary film director in his own right, Martin Scorsese, and is a fictional story surrounding the filmmaker, George Melies and his groundbreaking film, A Trip to the Moon.  Hugo won 5 Oscars at the 2012 Academy Awards including: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Art Direction and Visual Effects.  It’s a wonderful movie for all ages.


The Case for Best Picture – 2012

In an effort to keep myself from dying of boredom this Oscar week I have made a break down of each Best Picture nominee’s chances of actually winning Best Picture.  Each film has a section of those statistics that give it even the slightest chance of taking home the Oscar as well as statistics showing its chances of losing.  All of these assumptions are based on past Best Picture winners compared to the other Big 4 category nominations (Director, Editing, Screenplay & Actor) and the 5 Major Guilds (PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG).
 1) The Artist
Why It Will Win
– Must win either Director or any 2 of Editing, Original Screenplay and Actor.
– The Artist won the DGA, which has an 80% match to Best Picture. 
– Gladiator (2000) won Best Picture with just an Actor win and Director, Editing, Original Screenplay nominations.
 – Rebecca (1940) won Best Picture with only nominations for Director, Editing, Screenplay & 3 Acting noms; no wins…but that was Adapted Screenplay…
 – Won 41% of Precursor Best Pictures
How It Can Lose
– by losing Director, Editing, Actor and Original Screenplay but that still won’t shut it out completely.  It will just crack the door open for a Hugo or The Descendants upset, which won’t happen. 
2) The Descendants
How It Could Win
– Needs to win any 3 of Director, Editing, Screenplay & Actor, which is possible.
– Crash (2005) won Best Picture with Editing & Screenplay wins & a Director loss.
– Rebecca (1940) won Best Picture with only nominations for Director, Editing, Screenplay & 3 Acting noms; no wins.
– Won 22% of Precursor Best Pictures
Why It Will Lose
 – by losing any 2 of Director, Editing, Screenplay and Actor
3) Hugo
How It Could Win
– It must win Director to have a shot, but that would just constitute a split.  Winning Editing & Screenplay, however, would put things in its favor.
– Braveheart (1995) won Best Picture with a Director win & Editing, Screenplay nominations with no Acting nominations.
– Won 8% of Precursor Best Pictures
Why It Will Lose
– by losing Director & Adapted Screenplay
– No film has won Best Picture without winning PGA, DGA ACE or WGA      
4) Moneyball
How It Could Win     
– Needs to win Adapted Screenplay.  This would give it roughly a 1% chance.
– Driving Miss Daisy (1989) won Best Picture without a Director nomination, but won Adapted Screenplay with 3 Acting nominations and Editing.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director nomination & a Screenplay win.
5) The Help
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning
Why It Will Lose
– No Film has ever won Best Picture without Director and Editing nomination
6) Midnight in Paris
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without Editing & Acting nominations.
– No film has ever won Best Picture by losing PGA, DGA & Editing
7) War Horse
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director, Editing, Screenplay & Acting nomination.
8) The Tree of Life
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without an Editing, Screenplay & Acting nomination.
– No film has ever won Best Picture without PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG nominations.
9) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
How It Could Win
– Statistically unprecedented.  This film has no chance of winning.
Why It Will Lose
– No film has ever won Best Picture without a Director, Editing & Screenplay nomination.
– No film has ever won Best Picture without PGA, DGA, ACE, WGA & SAG nominations.
– Did not win a single precursor award of any kind
The Artist is going to win.  All of this is just to keep my interest until the show is over.  The following points should raise red flags during the show if they do or do not occur.  The right combination of the red flags below could derail the train that is, The Artist, so keep your eyes open for any of these tell-tale signs of Oscar chaos.  Perhaps this will help many of you maintain an interest during the show.
1) The Artist losing Director, Editing, Acting and Original Screenplay.
2) The Descendants winning any 3 of Director, Editing, Adapted Screenplay & Actor
3) Hugo winning Director, Editing & Adapted Screenplay
4) Moneyball winning Adapted Screenplay.

A Cinematic Valentine’s Tradition

My wife and I have had this Valentine’s Day tradition for the past 3 years where instead of going out to a fancy dinner, we stay home and watch movies.  (I know.  I’m a genius.)  Since Valentine’s Day usually falls within a couple of weeks of the Academy Awards and since we’re huge movie fans and obsessed with seeing as many of the Oscar-nominated films as possible, Valentine’s Day gives us a good excuse to stay in and watch a couple of the more obscure films nominated for Oscars each year. 
The tradition is still a relatively new one, but we’ve only been married 4 ½ years.  It all began in 2009 when we were busy packing up our townhouse for a move.  Most of the downstairs consisted of stacked boxes full of our stuff, ready to move.  We had been packing all evening and instead of going out, we decided to order Italian food in, light some candles, spread out a blanket, set up a picnic in our living room, Yada Yada Yada and watch what’s left on our list of nominated films.  Along with choosing to watch those films of little consequence, we inadvertently chose the films that were more of a depressing nature, and a tradition was born. Here is a run-down of how our Valentine’s Days have shaped up over our first few years of marriage. 
On the inaugural “Valentine’s Packing Picnic with Oscar” in 2009, we chose two films.  The first was the brutally stark and depressing, Frozen River, which stars Melissa Leo who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  If you like films about poor people doing bizarre things for the betterment of their family, including but not limited to smuggling a newborn baby in a car over a river that has frozen over, then this just might be the film for you.  It was a downer to say the least, but that didn’t put a damper on the romance of the evening.  Nay, I would say that it made it all the more fun. 
For our second film that evening we decided to watch Vicky Christina Barcelona, one of the better Woody Allen films from the first decade of the 21rst century and one that centers on a love triangle of sorts, but also with many beautiful shots of Spain.  Penelope Cruz was nominated for and won Best Supporting Actress.  The film also stars the great Javier Bardem and the not-so-great-but-Woody’s-obsession-at-the-time Scarlett Johansson.  There’s something about people sitting around, drinking wine, talking and making bad decisions that I thoroughly enjoy.  Valentine’s Day 2009 was a supporting performance kind of night and we all know how important performance is. 
For the 2nd annual “Oscar Valentine’s Movie and a Blanket”, we decided to do the very same thing, but this time in a different house.  We got our usual Italian and made up our usual picnic, and watched In the Loop, an Adapted Screenplay nominee from that year.  It’s a very smart, darkly funny satire about the relationship between American and British politics and stars Tony Soprano, the girl from My Girl and Gabe from The Office.  It’s a neat, light little film that keeps you laughing and keeps you on your toes, though on your toes, may not be where you’d like to end up.
In 2011, the 3rd Annual “Oscar Italia Movie-palooza”, we went back to the ways of Supporting Actress and watched the grim, independent film, Animal Kingdom, which is an Australian crime drama film about a family that sort of runs the crime in their area.  It’s a good film and stars the fighting teacher that married way up from Warrior and Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  It’s violent, sad and an all-around bummer of a film with a hint of Reverse Oedipus Complex; the key ingredients for a night of romance.
This year, the “Oscar Fest Movie Food Candle Magic Carpet Ride” will change course just a tad.  We will explore the far-away lands of the non-nominated films, though it could be argued that both films on the agenda deserved a nomination in certain categories.  The movie playlist this year consists of Contagion, the very depressing and unromantic disaster thriller directed by Stephen Soderbergh starring lots of famous people getting all sick and stuff followed by 50/50, a serious comedy starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt about just one person getting sick.  Here’s to hoping my chances are greater than 50/50.
Let’s be real, nobody likes to get out on Valentine’s Day and when I say “Nobody”, I mean me and hopefully my wife or else I’ve got a lot of making up to do.  If you already have a Valentine’s Day tradition of dressing up and going out into the cold night and waiting for a table, then consider shaking things up for once.  A change from the usual plan implies that some thought went into it.  Likewise, bringing home dinner and movies shows that you put forth some effort: 
If you’re just now realizing that it is Valentine’s Day, then I’ve got good news.  This really doesn’t take much thought or effort at all.  It just looks like it does.  And honestly, it’s the impression of thought and effort that you’re really going for anyways.
Enjoy the time together, enjoy the food, enjoy the films, but most importantly, enjoy the rewards that you will reap, my friends.  And…..ACTION!

2012 Oscar Nomination Reactions

The Oscar nominations announcement is always a blur and it’s usually not until the ride to work when some of the shockers start to sink in.  We learned or were reaffirmed that the Academy will nominate those physical/transformation roles (Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close).  We also learned that the Academy loves George Clooney, Stephen Daldry and Max von Sydow.  Here are some of my immediate reactions to the 2012 Oscar Nominees.
Best Picture
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the obvious “sore thumb” on this list.  Judging by how the graphic screen was setup during the announcements, I was sure that, after announcing the first Best Picture nominee, there would be 8 nominees in total.  It just fit the screen.  However, after they called out 8 films they replaced the top-middle graphic square with another title; one none other than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  It’s as if they planned it that way to shock us.  The film carried a good amount of buzz during the early awards season, but the negative reviews quickly poured out upon its release.  The film only gets a Best Picture and Supporting Actor nomination.  No Adapted Screenplay.  No Score.  No lead actor or actress nominations.  It doesn’t belong here.
I predicted every nomination in this category correctly.  Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life is the stand-out here, but it’s a well-earned nomination.
Demian Bichir for A Better Life bumps Leonardo DiCaprio.  That’s fine with me, although I would’ve thought Michael Shannon or Michael Fassbender would’ve been included, instead.
Tilda Swinton gets bumped for Rooney Mara.  So many assumed Tilda was a lock, but Mara’s performance was physical and demanding.
Supporting Actor
Albert Brooks in Drive dominated the precursor awards, but gets cut for Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, who didn’t win a single precursor award.  The Academy is just jumping at its chance to nominate this legendary actor. 
Supporting Actress
Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs squeezes in over Shailene Woodley.  It could’ve gone either way, though Woodley gave a great performance in The Descendants.
Adapted Screenplay
The Ides of March is a shocker.  It was a highly-anticipated film, which turned out to be only decent with some really good acting.  George Clooney earns the nomination here for the script, which just goes to show that the Academy loves George Clooney.

Original Screenplay
Margin Call is the surprise nominee in this bunch and I think it’s well-deserved.  I predicted this as an outside shot only to be shocked when it got called.  Diablo Cody’s Young Adult gets the boot.
Original Score
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, was one of the best of the year and one that was an absolute lock on every Oscar Fanatic’s prediction chart.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 had the best score of the year, though its exclusion isn’t that shocking.  Howard Shore for Hugo gets in and John Williams gets 2 nominations in this category with the inclusion of The Adventures of Tintin, which is sort of a head-scratcher.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which had some of the best camera work of the year, gets left off for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or War Horse….whichever you want to say.  Personally, I could’ve done without War Horse on this list, i’m fine with either one.  YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT!  I DON’T LIKE LOOKING UP AT THE CHARACTERS THE WHOLE MOVIE.  WHAT A BEAUTIFUL RED SUNSET….AS THE SUN SET ON THE FILM, but really I thought there was some nicely shot scenes.
Film Editing
Moneyball gets in over Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  It’s essential that a Best Picture nominee get a Film Editing nomination so it makes sense.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has the best editing of the year, but it’s not nominated for a Best Picture.  It will be interesting to see how this category pans out.
Sound Editing
Train Wreck.  The train wreck in Super 8 earns the film a nomination if not a win.  Hugo is included here, which really makes me think it could make a huge push to contend with The Artist for Best Picture.
Sound Mixing
Super 8 is left out of this category as well, but Moneyball, a Best Picture nominee, is included.  Hugo and War Horse are Best Picture nominees with both sound nominations.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is nominated for both sounds, but not Best Picture.
Art Direction
This category continues with its tradition of not nominating a film nominated in the “Contemporary” category of the Art Directors Guild (except for Black Swan in 2010).  Midnight in Paris is the odd selection here, but I think I would put it in “Period” due to its non-fictional, yet fantastical flashbacks.  Very interesting choice.
Costume Design
Nothing really surprising, though it could be argued that there were films left out.  Jane Eyre’s inclusion shows that the Academy really loves adapted and period pieces when it comes to costume.
Harry Potter is a much-deserved nomination with the finale of that wonderful series.  We also see that the Academy likes to reward those transformational performances with Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady.
Visual Effects
Real Steel’s inclusion is sort of baffling to me, but it’s not all that surprising.  I guess the Academy needed more robots fighting each other.
This might be the first time Pixar didn’t even get nominated.  Also, the highly touted and appreciated The Adventures of Tintin gets the cold shoulder.  In their stead are 2 obscure films called A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is the most impossible of all the Mission Impossibles.  With a Ziplock bag of loose-leaf Twizzlers and other sundry Christmas stocking candies in pocket, I attended the screening of the 4th installment in the Mission Impossible series with a fair amount of anticipation due in large part to J.J. Abrams’ previous addition to the series.  Ghost Protocol is as humorous and light-hearted as its predecessor is dark and serious, though certainly to the benefit of both films.  There’s an element of comedy thrown into the mix along with the action; a combination one might find in Pixar’s The Incredibles, which was also directed by Brad Bird.  Bird’s resume’ up until now has gained its notoriety from Pixar films as he’s also directed Ratatouille and the highly reviewed, The Iron Giant.  The comedy style that I speak of is one of a cartoon nature where a character disguised as a shrub freezes when his counterpart is looking in his direction.  As soon as the counterpart looks away, the shrub creeps ever closer.   Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise break into the Kremlin and sneak down a guarded hallway using an iPad-powered projection screen that reflects exactly what’s behind it, basically making everything behind the screen invisible and greatly resembling, logistically at the very least, the shrubbery scene described above.  As the guard looks away the 2 spies creep forward.  When he looks down the hall, they stop.  There is both suspense and humor in this scene and the effect not only works well here, but all throughout the film.
Speaking of the iPad, the Apple product placement in Ghost Protocol is relentless.  But then again, what other product could they possibly use?  A Blackberry?  Now THAT would be a mission impossible.  Imagine if they showed some hi-tech piece of spy equipment doing something you’ve never even dreamed of and at the core of its power source is a Blackberry.  It would be too unbelievable and the audience would never buy it.  However, if you put an iPhone in the shot, then the audience would be more than ready to accept the idea of it powering almost any computer nick-knack or hi-tech device.
The opening prison break scene is a great way to setup the tone of the film.  Ethan Hunt is in a Russian prison where we see him bouncing a rock off the cell walls as the other prisoners’ doors open and, skeptical; they escape and begin to fight each other.  The light-hearted tone of the film is established as we see Ethan look into the security cameras at the tech-savvy, Dunn (Simon Pegg) and mimes for him to open other doors.  As Hawk exits his cell he puts his rock, which has fulfilled its purpose of killing time, back into the hole in the wall where it belongs.
Easily the most nausea-inducing and suspenseful scene in the film is when Ethan scales 11 stories of the Khalifa Tower.  Already 100 stories up, Hunt makes the audiences suffer just so that his now disavowed IMF team can break the hotel’s firewall undetected. The feeling is not lost on those who watch this scene through the cracks of their fingers.  I don’t normally make noise other than laughing while watching films, but when Hunt fell several stories I uttered an audible gasp somewhat resembling a 3-year-old getting her ears pierced.  This was shot so well that, for a split second, I thought I was falling with him. 
I’ll close my review with what I think are some really good decisions made by the filmmakers.
Good Call
Good call not using the masks.  In the first 2 films, it seems that the filmmakers couldn’t wait to start the pomp and circumstance of ushering in the masks.  In true tongue-in-cheek fashion, the mask making machine breaks down so the team has no choice but to NOT use them.
Good call not having Jeremy Renner’s character be a mole or traitor, though the character is a rather effective red herring.
Good call taking what would have been a normal, mundane foot/car chase scene and adding a vicious sand storm to up the intensity.
Good call dressing Tom Cruise up in a BEAUTIFUL blue suit (costumes designed by Michael Kaplan) just to destroy with sand and car wrecks.  Great costume design all around.
2011 in film has been a year of nostalgia sentimentality and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol contributes its fair share with an emotional, yet fitting ending that addresses the fate of his wife from the 3rd film and neatly ties it into the underlying sub-plot of this film.  James Bond take note.  The last two Mission Impossible films have greatly increased the legitimacy of the franchise.  J.J. Abrams rightfully went dark.  Brad Bird, with a steady hand, brings some humor into the mix and it’s a brilliant follow-up.  It always helps when the underlying story is interesting, yet not overly complicated.  There’s nothing fancy about the plot of Ghost Protocol.  There is simply a nuclear scare involving the Russians and that’s all that I need.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

In the early hours of the morning, Martha quietly leaves a peaceful farmhouse and flees through the forest.  This farmhouse is home to a cult that she’s been a member of for the last 2 years.  We are given glimpses of this past cult life throughout the film as a present day paralleling storyline unfolds.  After 2 years in the cult, Martha escapes and phones her estranged sister, Lucy.  Lucy is slightly bothered by the situation, but doesn’t press the issue.  She simply drives Martha 3 hours back to the lake house that Lucy and her husband, Ted, are renting.  Martha can function in the real world, but struggles to “find her role” and she’s lost a lot of her understanding of what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate.
At first, this cult seemed more like a commune of oddballs that live and work on a farm, but throughout the film’s duration we learn just how despicable and dangerous the cult actually is.  The cult flashbacks are placed sporadically and indistinctly throughout the unfolding of the present day storyline and this style of storytelling works really well here.  The more horrifying details we learn about this cult, the more Martha loses her grip on reality.  The audience gets an increasing realization of just how menacing this cult actually is.  Unfortunately, the more Martha loses it, the less responsive Lucy and Ted become.
This is the main problem I have with the film.  From the very beginning, Lucy and Ted’s lack of understanding and sensitivity towards Martha is unrealistic.  The film attempts to patch over this by creating a chasm between Martha and Lucy.  The film acknowledges a tense childhood between the two sisters, who never seemed to get along.  Unlike the audience, Lucy doesn’t get a first-hand glimpse of Martha’s horrible experience with the cult, hence Lucy’s lack of patience.  However, Lucy’s ignorance of Martha’s past should generate more concern for her sister than the character does in the film.  Martha Marcy May Marlene plays on this gulf between the sisters and, lazily in my opinion, uses it to manipulate the audience into buying that Lucy’s lack of concern for her sister is normal.  I venture to say that, regardless of the past, Lucy should have pressed the issue.  She should’ve asked more questions.  A normal sister would see how out of touch and disturbed Martha is and demand that she get some answers and the lame excuse of a controlling, abusive boyfriend certainly wouldn’t cut it. I daresay that a normal sister would promptly take Martha somewhere that could provide physical and mental therapy.  Plus, the only time Martha and Lucy don’t get along in the film is when the affects of Martha’s cult past clouds her judgment and causes her to react improperly.  Swimming naked in a lake may not warrant a serious discussion, but unabashedly entering a bedroom and lying in a sexually occupied bed would absolutely cause a normal human being to stop and get to the bottom of whatever is going on.  I find it somewhat patronizing that the filmmaker expects the audience to just go with it.  I am bothered by this plot device of the two sisters not really getting along.  It’s believable, but to then stretch that into explaining why Lucy and Ted never understand Martha is outrageous.  Please don’t think I suggest that someone who has been abused to such a degree can ever really be understood, but Lucy and Ted’s behavior is one of neglect.  They are unsympathetic and passive.  They don’t know what Martha’s deal is and they don’t really care to understand.  If they did, then they would ask.  I’m not buying that these two individuals wouldn’t delve deeper.
Another hold-up is that Lucy and Ted are renting the house for 2 weeks, yet on numerous occasions Lucy is shown gardening or planting flowers.  Who does that?  This scene merges with a similar gardening scene in a cult flashback.  I feel like the only reason they were gardening at the lake is so that there would be a common element between the two scenes.  I find it contrived.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a beautifully shot film whose look compliments its tone.  The scenes transitioned so well from flashback to present day that there were times I didn’t know which storyline we were in.  There’s a subtle similarity to both storylines that help to create a confusion between the two and that artistically mirrors Martha’s own struggle to separate the past from the present.  John Hawkes’ performance as Patrick, the leader of the cult, is good, though Sara Paulson, as Martha’s sister, Lucy, over-does it just a bit.  Elizabeth Olsen is the real reason to see the film and her performance is by far the best thing about it.  I would be on board for an Oscar nomination, though it is a fiercely competitive year for the female acting categories.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is good, but not great.  Director, Sean Durkin, shows promise, but the film itself has flaws.  Martha’s reality isn’t very realistic in that the people in her world are unbelievably unattached.
Check out my friends’ “Cinematrimony” podcast and great discussion of Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Matt and Francesca are always thoughtful, intuitive and, most importantly, humorous.

The Muppets – review

Every party needs a pooper.
Walter is a Muppet and Gary is his human brother.  The two are inseparable.  Gary is played by Jason Segel who also co-wrote this empty shell of a screenplay.  Walter is obsessed with all things Muppets and is a 3rd wheel when it comes to Gary and his girlfriend of 10 years, Mary, who is played by Amy Adams.  For their 10 year anniversary, Gary and Mary decide to take a trip to L.A.  As usual, Walter joins them as they tour the Muppets studio, which is now in derelict condition because the Muppets have disappeared into a forgotten oblivion.  Walter overhears a meeting with the eventual buyer of the studios, Tex Richman, who is played by a whopper of a miscast in Chris Cooper.  However, Richman has ulterior motives and unless the Muppets come up with $10 million soon, this evil businessman will demolish the studios to suck out the oil that lies underneath.  I, for one, am not drinking this milkshake.
From here The Muppets take us on a stuttering sequence of scenes gathering the long lost Muppets from their respected lands of exile.  For the last hour of the film, The Muppets try to convince the television studios to air a Muppets reunion that will help raise the $10 million, although they really could just pool several of the Muppets’ salaries together and easily come up with the dough.  The Muppets finally find a willing television studio and an old theatre to have the show.  What they don’t do is advertise.
For a film with no story, The Muppets sure does pretend to have several going on.  They spend a lot of time rehearsing, but unfortunately, we never get to see much of the actual show.  As the debacle that is the Muppet rehearsal unfolds the drama between Gary and Mary gets heated.  Mary is finally fed up with Gary always putting his emo brother, Walter, first and Mary leaves.  However, the split is quickly reconciled with some flowers resulting in a completely unnecessary storyline.  Equally pointless is a simultaneous sub-plot of the internal struggle of Walter, who is warmly accepted by the Muppets, but spends the latter half of the film moping backstage over his inability to find a talent for the show; a show we never see.  We finally see his talent during the encore, but this storyline is so underdeveloped that the culmination feels anti-climactic.   Again, this is a storyline designed to tile the editing room floor.  Let us not forget about Tex Richman, who finds new ways to fail at turning off the power in the theatre and shutting down the Muppets’ production.  It’s all so forced.
The writing is what really brings the film down.  The screenplay is retched and hollow.  And when can we stop giving corny dialogue a pass because it’s “sweet” and “hokey”?  When a writer consistently writes silly dialogue it’s because that writer can’t write, right?  How I Met Your Mother is an incredibly funny and well-written show starring Jason Segel, but Jason Segel doesn’t write it.  The Muppets needed a much stronger, smarter screenplay.  Not only is the dialogue weak, but there is no story here.  Ok, no good story.  There are actually about 3 or 4 pretty bad stories in there. 
How The Muppets Could Have Been Improved
Different Writer – Jason Segel is not the guy to write a Muppets movie. The Muppets’ humor, though simple, is smart and this film needed a much stronger screenplay.  It’s been 15 some odd years since the Muppets were last on screen.  That’s 15 years of material to go on.  Along those same lines, the film needed a better story. 
Less Sub-plots – The film is made up of several weak sub-plots.  Either Walter the Muppet or Mary the girlfriend had to go.  Find a different adversary than a rapping Chris Cooper.  These subplots feel like they’re only half-way developed; like there was little effort in actually creating them.  And the quick and easy appeasement of any kind of adversity in the film just seems so lazy.
More Muppets – An hour and a half long version of The Muppet Show of old wouldn’t work, but most of the screen time that is spent on the rehearsal and production is spent backstage or at least not on the performance itself.  What better opportunity is there to show the Muppets in action than during these two parts of the film?
I will say that the opening montage was good even if it felt a lot like Up and Kermit’s first song. was particularly touching.  Other than that, I felt bored and stir-crazy.    

The Artist – review

A film about a silent film actor would, of course, have to be silent.  George is an A-list actor in the late 1920’s, the silent era, and has a face that is made for the silver screen.  The film, The Artist is about this acclaimed actor’s descent into obscurity brought on by the film industry’s transition from Silent to Sound.  George disappears from the lime light just as Peppy, a doe-eyed fan of George’s, is bolstered into stardom by the actor himself just prior to his downfall.  Peppy’s star rises just as George’s plummets.
The Artist is a silent film, yet doesn’t wander into the realm of a “novelty”.  I wasn’t sitting in my seat thinking, “This film is silent.”, and I think that in and of itself is an accomplishment, especially this day in age.  It’s a silent film about a silent film star not willing to do films with sound.  It’s Meta in that the film itself is a representation of the subject.  The transition from silent to sound is somewhat comparable to the transition from 2D to 3D.  Though the movement to sound was quicker and more widespread than the 3D move, critics and actors alike wrote it off as a non-threat.  They scoffed at it as though it were a ridiculous idea and that it would take away from the film experience.  In order to make a successful film about a silent film actor not willing to concede to the sound movement, it’s obvious to me now that the film itself had to be silent.
In George’s refusal to act in a film with sound he, in a way, refuses to live in a world with sound as well.  There’s a great dream sequence where we, the audience, actually hear the sounds in the dream along with George.  In his dream, George lives in a world with only music and no sound effects or dialogue and he is just as surprised to hear these sounds in his dream as an audience would be in the late 20’s having never seen a film with sound. 
The Artist makes up for its lack of dialogue with incredible style and, though it’s a simple film, tons of imagery.  The cinematography is a beautifully crisp black and white with some wonderful well-framed shots.
The Artist has all of the feel and charm of a real old timey silent film.  From the mannerisms, movements and reactions of the actors to the scene transitions, The Artist is a true silent film and in no way a gimmick.  But what it represents and the story it tells without dialogue is the real achievement here.  To create such an in depth character study while at the same time telling a delightful love story with no dialogue is a fantastic achievement, indeed.