Apr 29 2011

Jesus of Montreal (1990)

Smart, engaging, funny, thoughtful, and doesn't collapse under its own weight. 4 out of 4.

There is a scene early on in Jesus of Montreal in which one of the characters performs a voiceover to a video depicting the Big Bang, and the inevitable end of the universe.  The presentation is both scientific and philosophical, and all in all, quite moving.  After he is done, the voice over artist turns to the sound technician and says, “Leaves a lot unanswered,” a question that not only addresses the cosmology at hand, but the nature of the human experience betwixt the beginning and the end.  In many ways, the scene sums up the film: curious, introspective, and reverent towards scientific explanations and religious experiences.

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Jan 7 2011

Black Swan

Dark, infectious, and one hell of a ride. One of the year's best. Deal with it. 4/4

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is something of a hallucinogenic fairy tale about madness, transformation, and the ballet.  Being an Aronofsky film, however, the film is less sweet and fluffy, and more akin to the Brothers Grimm style: dark, creepy, and grotesque.

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Oct 12 2010

The Social Network

This year has been a bad year for movies.  Yes there have been highlights; Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were great, and there’s about five others that were really good watchable movies, but beyond that the competition drops off really quickly.  Luckily, as we’ve exited one of the worst summers for film I can remember, we’ve begun to get back to the season where studios have deemed it is acceptable to release “good” movies.  While not quite Oscar season, we still have been treated to what some say will be an Oscar contender in The Social Network, the new David Fincher film written by Aaron Sorkin and based on the story of the creation of the ubiquitous facebook.

Let’s get this straight.  This is not really “the facebook movie.”  When I say that, what I mean is that despite its name, it’s not really about facebook at all.  To its great benefit, this film is about people, specifically a small number of characters, their friendship, and the way it was affected by greed, pride, and betrayal.  It takes the backdrop of an important event in recent history and uses it to feature universal human truths and emotions  in a way that every audience member should be able to relate to, not just the people of the “facebook generation” for which I unfortunately must count myself a part of.  facebook’s effect on the world and the way we communicate is only dealt with tangentially, as in moments when characters declare that “facebook me” became a common phrase across the Harvard campus. Continue reading

May 5 2010


This time around I have a slightly classic recommendation for you.  Movie experts have long praised Ran as not only one of the better foreign films, but one of the best films ever.  IMDB’s top 250 (hardly a home for sophisticated criticism, but still an easy place to start when looking to build the “canon” of film) places the film at #143 currently, which is nothing to sneeze at in terms of rankings.  And as someone who’s already seen Seven Samurai and Rashomon, it seemed time to take the next step in my education on the works of Akira Kurosawa.  For those who don’t know, Kurosawa is essentially the most heralded auteur in Japanese Cinema history.  He’s known for long, epic, period pieces primarily set in feudal Japan.  He’s not the most accessible filmmaker by any means, but a full viewing of his better films is always rewarding to those who have the patience.  Ran is no less trying when it comes to its commitment requirements, but I found it incredibly immersing and an amazing film overall. Continue reading

Mar 17 2010


Biopics have a fairly standard structure; whether it’s about an aging musician or a troubled athlete, the presentation is often the same, and as of late, has become a boring.  Bronson begins with a fistfight between a naked convict and a group of prison guards.  If that doesn’t grab you by the balls, I don’t know what does.

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Mar 3 2010

Un Prophete

Un Prophete, France/s entry to the Academy’s Best Foreign Film category, has been compared to The Godfather, a comparison that many will think presumptuous, undeserved or euro-centric.  Though the film’s protagonist is no Michael Corleone, the rise of the film’s titular character is just as majestic and engaging as his Seventies, American counterpart.

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a nineteen-year-old Beur (formal term for an Arab immigrant in France) living on the streets of France when he is arrested and given a six-year sentence.  He has no family, no friends in or outside of prison and is illiterate.  Needless to say, he has all the odds stacked against him.

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Feb 24 2010

Shutter Island

Let’s just be clear from the start.  It’s not often these days that a film causes me to constantly think to myself, This is so awesome. But sitting in a darkened theater, watching Shutter Island, the latest from Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Di Caprio, that is exactly what I was thinking.  Martin Scorsese is a master of the medium, so this is certainly no surprise, but seldom has his work been this much fun.  Not only does this film pay homage to the greats of the thriller genre while fleshing itself as a full-fledged entry itself, but it’s also an example of some of the finest filmmaking execution I’ve seen in some time.

As always, I’ll stay brief with my synopsis.  Di Caprio plays Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal who, alongside his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) goes to an island to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a highly secure mental institution for the criminally insane.  And let the eerie events ensue. Continue reading

Jan 13 2010


After seeing the film Inglourious Basterds, I found I had a craving for more films focused on antagonizing the Nazis.  As such, I thought it would be great to spotlight a recent film that many people missed, Valkyrie, and possibly compare it to Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece a bit as well.  Valkyrie, the collaboration between Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise, was meant to be Bryan Singer’s small film but became a bigger budget spectacle once Cruise became attached.  Turned off by the lack of accents (I’ll get to this later, don’t worry), many people didn’t end up seeing this movie, and it’s considered to be a box office failure.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth a rental.  Let’s take a look at it.

For a while I thought Bryan Singer could do no wrong.  First, he was responsible for the first two X-Men films, which at the time were among my favorite comic book adaptations ever made.  Then I went back and looked at his previous work, which of course included the classic The Usual Suspects and the lesser known gem Apt Pupil.  And let’s not forget he helped create and was very involved with one of my favorite shows, House.  While I hadn’t seen everything he’d done, everything I’d gotten a hold of seemed to be good.  I was disappointed when he left the X-Men series to do Superman Returns, but wasn’t as disappointed with the actual product as many were.  I think he achieved what he was trying to do, and it was overall an enjoyable film, just not really the film I wanted to see out of Singer or Superman. Continue reading

Dec 30 2009

World’s Greatest Dad

worlds greatest dad

Every year dozens of great films slip through the cracks as far as mainstream audience reception goes.  People are often unwilling to pursue smaller films to their smaller, more rare theatrical presentations, especially if it’s something they haven’t seen many advertisements or media coverage for.  The great thing about the home theater world we live in is that the experience of watching a film at home is almost as good, if not better than the experience of watching it in the theater.  It’s with this in mind that I’d like to highlight a film that just recently went to DVD and Blu-ray after its small theatrical release this year, hoping that some of you will pick up the dark comedic gem that is World’s Greatest Dad, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and starring Robin Williams.

As with several of my other reviews, I find myself torn about how much of the plot to reveal.  I prefer to view movies knowing as little as possible about them, particularly with regards to their story, and I feel that my readers would benefit from the same type of experience.  Therefore I must say that the big turning point of the film is at the end of its first act, and you won’t truly understand what it is that you are watching until this point.  But the setup is this: Robin Williams plays an unpublished writer who teaches poetry (also unsuccessfully) at the High School where his teenage son also goes.  His son is dumb, perverted, and completely cruel to him, and yet he tries the best he can to be a good father regardless.  The only people who seem to have any appreciation for him are the art teacher at school who he’s having a secret fling with (but might lose to a handsomer, more successful teacher), and his son’s best friend, who’s unhappy home allows to see the effort with which Robin Williams’ character puts forth in his parenting. Continue reading

Dec 2 2009

The Road

Film Duel is our written review format in which Benn and James each review a film, and then comment on each others’ reviews to give a proper balance and really fill out the commentary as well as possible. This week the guys break from their schedule to check out a movie in theaters now, and one that’s being talked about as a possible Oscar contender (especially with the expanded ten best picture nominations).

The Road
Year: 2009
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Joe Penhall
Based on: Novel by Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Viggo Mortenson, Charlize Theron
Genre: Drama

Benn and James’ reviews and rebuttals follow after the jump.

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