Sunday, November 8, 2009

Since I've Been Gone

First, I must apologize to my loyal readers. I haven't written an article in over 2 months. After writing 21 articles in about 2 months I think I burned myself out. But just because I haven't been writing doesn't mean I haven't been keeping my eye on media over the last 60 days. Here's a rundown of what I've been up to...

Where The Wild Things Are

This film, directed by Spike Jonze is easily one of the best of 2009 so far. Mark Harris, in a recent editorial in Entertainment Weekly, argues that WTWTA is worth seeing, if for no other reason, because it is a film that divides the audience. It is one of the few recent big budget, Hollywood films that is worthy of having an argument over. Some will say it shouldn't be a kids film, and others (like me) will say it's exactly what a kids film should be. Max, the central character, is a kid who's very angry, as many kids are, and that's an issue most stories intended for a juvenile audience won't explore. Max is angry at his sister for not standing up for him. He's angry at his mother and the strange man she has over for dinner, and he runs away to create a fantasy land in his imagination, to help him cope with his anger. WTWTA deserves credit, if for no other reason, for having the guts to see the world honestly from a child's point of view, and dealing with real emotions. Lucky for us, that's not the only good thing about the movie. It's incredibly well shot and edited, and all the talent involved is at the top of their game, even if we only hear their voices, and since the Best Picture category in the Academy Awards has been increased to a field of 10 this year there's a good chance this will snag a nomination. 10/10.

Whip It

Drew Barrymore pulled a rabbit out of a hat in her directorial debut. Whip It is the surprise great film of the year. It stars Juno's Ellen Page as a misfit youth who discovers a passion for the all girl sport of Roller Derby. She practices, tries out, makes the team, and soon becomes a surprise star in the league because of her speed on the track. Her mother, played by Marcia Gay Harden, disapproves, instead wishing she would participate in beauty pageants like she did. Her father, played by the great (and underworked) Daniel Stern, just wants his daughter to be happy even though he does get mad at her for lying about what she had been doing with her spare time. All in all, it is a very well produced film that combines great personal drama with fantastic sports action. 9/10.

Paranormal Activity

I'll just admit it right up front... I was scared. This micro-budget film cost only $11,000 to produce and was shot in one week in the director's house with unknown actors found in an open casting call, using only a home video camera. It's about a young couple living together for the first time who begin to experience strange activity taking place in their house. They use a video camera to film themselves sleeping in an attempt to get to the root of the problem. It's a film that is terrifying because it plays off what scares so many people the most. Your house, and your bed in particular, is supposed to be your sanctuary, and when an invisible force violates that safe place it creates a primal fear that has been lacking from Horror films lately. Like the Blair Witch Project before it, Paranormal Activity will go down as one of the most profitable films of all time. 8/10.

In The Loop

This small British political comedy is a complete farce... or is it? It's about the British and U.S. governments trying to decide if they will go into war together, which of course involves a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue and closed door negotiations. It's all done with incredibly snappy dialogue that is at once hilarious and sad. Hilarious because those Brits sure have a unique sense of humor, and sad because it would all seem completely unrealistic if it weren't for the intelligence failures that lead to the war in Iraq. 9/10.


9, the second of three films coming out in 2009 with a '9' in the title (District 9, Nine) is an animated film produced by Tim Burton. It's based on a short film of the same name, and features some of the most most detailed animation I've seen in some time. 9 feels like a live action film in how it is paced and edited. From the opening frames I knew it would be a special film because it never feels rushed. While it is an animated film, it's NOT for little kids. It does include some intense action, and the decisions the characters make do have actual life and death consequences, which sets it above other animated features which exist in a universe where nothing bad ever happens to the principle characters. It's about a little creature called 9 who comes to life in a strange, post-apocalyptic world, where he eventually meets more of his kind. Soon they run into danger and have to fight for their lives as they are relentlessly chased by terrifying robots. 9/10.

Jay-Z: The Blueprint III

Jay-Z is the most successful rapper of all time, and is quickly becoming one of the most successful musical artists overall. At this point, however, it seems that Jay is on cruise control, relying on reputation more than actual skill. The Blueprint III is a sonic experience for sure, and features a ton of guest appearances from high-profile artists, but Jay seems to drift into the background. Kanye West did a fantastic job producing the vast majority of the music, but Jay's rapping seems so unskilled for someone who has reached the pinnacle of success. He has entire verses where he rhymes the same word over and over again rather than coming up with new and interesting schemes in the way that Lupe Fiasco or Kanye West himself would. This effort of course sold a ton of copies, reached #1 on the charts, and it does have some memorable material. However, taken as a whole, it's very underwhelming given the level of hype surrounding every new Jay-Z album. 6/10.