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Archive for August, 2011

Films of the Month: August

In case I don’t see ya ….

Good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.

This is the time where you say: where the **** is Battle of Directors … Because I’m sure you’re that engrossed week after week with my selections, right? I thought so.

Ridiculousness aside, this little post – original found at Ryan McNeil’s The Matinee – will be occurring either once a month or possibly every two weeks. I haven’t made up my mind … stay tuned.

So, what is it? Really, quite simple: I talk about the films I watched over the past month and you, the loyal and quality readers I know you’re, talk about some pictures you’ve seen and perhaps even a few films you feel I need to check out. And trust me, they’re plenty of them.

And from that … the conversation begins Read More



August 30, 2011 | 8 Comments | Featured, Old Format


Harper Lee created such a miraculous object in 1959: the character of Atticus Finch. Finch has, single handedly shaped fragments of my personality to this day. What I admired most about the character was his natural endearing respect for human beings: whether it was Scout or Mr. Ewell, he treated everyone with decency, being the bigger man of the situation, despite his opposition’s cruel actions. Read More

Rating: ★★½☆
With A Little Help From My Friends

Good morning everyone – as I type this my eyes are squinting, my body entirely tired, and coffee not yet consumed. School starts in, eh, 55 minutes so lets get this thing moving. Read More

The Best Is Yet To Come

The first week of my Junior year in high school is complete. My response: How many more weeks till summer? Stay posted for more snide remarks as the year transpires. Read More


Danny Boyle’s second directorial effort is an inside looking out presentation of the drug mantra set in Scotland during the 1990’s. Creating from a very personal level, Boyle centers in on these four rather degenerate drug users.

The film does a very good job documenting the use of heroin and the effects of such a devious drug. In fact, Trainspotting has an often-pragmatic outlook on the drug intake: being fair to both sides of the stick, Boyle presents the audience the benefits of using heroin and the awful, downright unsettling characteristics that come along with it.

Despite containing four unemployed gents, the film primarily focuses on Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor): an Edinburgh low-life who is going to finally stop injecting heroin. That’s where the film begins and that’s where it ends. The in between of the story is where his desperate attempts to stay away come into play. However, with the allure of the drug and his friends – along with a 14 year-old girlfriend, constantly flaunting and embracing the very substance he’s trying to quit, he succumbs to temptation, time and time again.

For about the first 45 minutes Trainspotting feels like an exercise of style. Too many scenes are dramatized, characters seemingly never able to make a change (even when a baby is killed because of the drug), and Trainspotting, in total – just didn’t seem like it was destined to go anywhere. But then, like any great auteur, Boyle reinvents his picture midway through. What was once a convoluted, utterly annoying, and too hip for its own good genre b-flick, turns into a downright saddening, though entirely compelling film.

The Band: Without the musical talent and with the drugs

Boyle explores the terrain of addiction, seduction, and retraction. Our lead character continuously pledges to stay away from it all: that this will be his last time and then he’s done.  But, like many of us who know what it is like to be addicted to something, refraining from the seemingly natural – isn’t so easy.

What happens to all of the characters in the end is believable and genuine. Trainspotting constructs an honest atmosphere – one filled with authenticity and grit.

Though, I’m not quite sure what to make of the picture. Yes, it’s well designed and acted, but the whole film treads the thin line of being exploitative to a state of mediocrity and stupidity. What could’ve of been a masterwork on insight into addiction, turns out to be a hyper-kinetic, high-octane, fast paced 94-minute thrill ride, bursting with convulsive energy and an electrifying leading performance from Ewan McGregor.

With Trainspotting Boyle sure showed audiences and critics alike plenty of raw and nuanced potential. Luckily, he’d build on that in years to come.

Rating: ★★★☆


Trainspotting (1996)

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: John Hodge, Irvine Welsh

Runtime: 94 minutes

Genre: drama, crime, comedy

Trailer Trainspotting

Rating: ★★★☆


August 26, 2011 | 10 Comments | Featured, Old Format


When we are children there are two components that make up the framework of our minds: vulnerability and being naïve to everything and everyone. Eventually, most of us grow up, face realities and the facts of the cruel, cynical world out there. Read More

Rating: ★★★☆
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

You’d think a film labeled as “horror” and “thriller” would scare and excite an audience at once. However, the only thing Troy Nixey’s scarcely original farce Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark makes me afraid of is the future of the genres it attempts to represent.

Nixey’s film certainly isn’t the worst example of horror— we’ll save that distinction for Insidious – but it sure is acceptingly mediocre.

Written by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark follows a petite and oddly devious little girl, Sally (Bailee Madison), as she is shipped off by her mother to live with her father.

Alex (her father played very well by Guy Pearce) and soon-to-be wife Kim (Katie Holmes) have started working on the restoration of a historic gothic home. About a day after Sally’s big move in, she starts to sense something is not quite right with the house.

And so ridiculous and torturous antics ensue with scarce logic, dramatic scenes that are about as genuine as Twilight, and Sally’s parents thinking she is insane and delusional. No one ever believes the protagonist in these types of films, do they?

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark simply doesn’t deliver a sufficient amount of chills and thrills to be an enticing endeavor. The performances from Pearce, Holmes, and Madison are all a bit overwrought, but still compelling. And cinematographer Oliver Stapletown does a good job giving the film an unsteady feeling with some hauntingly beautiful and horrifying images. But, once that obvious, supposed chilling music begins to play, we know exactly where this film is going from start to finish. Nixey just can’t find the right tone for the film or flesh out its story.

Bottom line: There’s nothing new or original here. And while Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark benefits from its talented cast and a few genuine scares, the film looses steam in third act, ultimately transpiring into a downright silly and uncreative ending. The whole picture just feels, well, all too ordinary.

Rating: ★★☆☆

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

Cast: Bruce Gleeson, Edwina Ritchard, Garry McDonald

Director: Troy Nixey

Writer: Nigel McKeand, Matthew Robbins

Runtime: 99 minutes

Genre: thriller, horror

Trailer Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Rating: ★★☆☆
Spike Lee vs. Gus Van Sant

Do you smell that everyone? Well, I can: It’s the start of school this week and I’m so not enthralled to get back to it. No worries, with today on the line, we’re nearly half-way through the week (that’s my quibbling attempt at optimism). Read More

The Change-Up

The Change-Up has been created for the absolute lowest common denominator. It’s a supposed comedy testing the new plot routine of switching bodes with your best friend: Oh wait. But you see, it’s not the redundant plot ring-around that’s bothersome, it’s the utter lack of respect and regard for the viewers intelligence. Read More

With A Little Help From My Friends

Today’s edition is special and nuanced for a couple reasons. First off, school is starting today and I am so … not sure what to think. I’m somewhere between excited and scared, but for now, will leave my emotions at neutral. Read More

The Best Is Yet To Come

The Best Is Yet To Come

By: Sam Fragoso

Today is the last day of my summer vacation. Surprisingly, I’ve done a good amount and by good amount I mean watching way too many films, staying up to all hours in the night, and aimlessly driving around with friends. But hell, that’s what summer is for. To get lost in the boredom, in the endless days were it feels nothing could possibly go wrong, and were we discuss the drudgery of returning to school.

Let’s talk film. I’ve seen plenty this summer from the good (Blow Out), the bad (Mean Streets), to the ugly (The Lion of Judah). For now, though, I’m going to hand it over to a few of my counterparts.

Writer: Courtney Smalls

Source: Big Thoughts From A Small Mind

Film: I Am Cuba

Originally released in 1964, but largely ignored until the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola sang its praises in the 90’s, I Am Cuba is a film that explores life in Cuba prior to the Castro-led revolution.  Told through four distinct vignettes, and guided by a female voice-over representing the land itself, the film mixes the dreamy allure of Cuba with a stark realism of life under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.  I Am Cuba is stunning to look at, but there is also a poetic charm to it as well.  While many cinephiles tend to argue the poetic appeal of films such as Tree of Life, this film actually finds a way to incorporate poetry into the overall narrative without it being a distraction.  Cuba’s voice-overs are especially effective as they really hit home the message that outsiders turn a blind eye to the oppression of the people.

Toby's pick this week is the, in his words "comedy/horror" "Jennifer's Body"

Writer: Blah Toby

Source: Blah Blah Blah Blah Gay

Film: Jennifer’s Body

This week I’ve seen so many good films, including some recent favourites and I want to tell you how good Jennifer’s Body is. I have now seen this movie half a dozen times and I still can’t get over how perfect Diablo Cody’s dialogue is and how much fun everyone seems to be having. Adam Brody is superb as the lead singer of the lame radio rock band and Amanda Seyfried despite not being the headline credit is great in the lead role. I know it has it flaws and that it was marketed badly, but to me that doesn’t explain the reaction of most people. It’s a really well made movie and pokes fun at all the horror genre cliches it comes across. Jennifer’s Body is not a horror movie, it’s a teen comedy and with a Fueled By Ramen soundtrack.

Anna'a pick this week, a 1956 classic: "Bigger Than Life"

Writer: Anna

Source: Defiant Success

Film: Bigger Than Life

Director Nicholas Ray always made movies that rely on people, not plot. Case in point, his 1956 masterpiece Bigger Than Life does just that. He doesn’t cram down our throats that Ed Avery (James Mason at his best) is abusing his prescription drugs. Only two scenes of such sort are shown to get the idea. Even with a running time of 95 minutes, it doesn’t feel that short at all. That’s because Ray knows how to flesh out the whole movie.

Andrew Sarris writing an article in "For the Love of the Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism"

Writer: Sam Fragoso

Source: Duke & The Movies

Film: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism

For the Love of Movies vividly and beautifully documents the history of film criticism and all its once upon a time glory. The film is a culmination of clips, reviews, and interviews with modern-day film critics. Amongst the most recognizable we have Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, Andrew Sarris writer for the New York Observer, and plenty of very talented and gifted writers. Take the on stage recordings, infused with cultural clippings and historic interviews with Pauline Kael and there you have it: a complete run-down of the highs and lows of film criticism.

Now, where are we at today? Many will call our generation the era of the Internet. The documentary poignantly observes what I’ve been feeling and pronouncing for the past few months: We’ve developed and come to a state of mind where accountability is not being taken and supposed criticism is absent from people writings. I can’t tell you how frustrated it is reading a fan praise review of a picture and then, calling themselves genuine film critics. By the end of the documentary I’d come to many conclusions about the current state we’re in: Personally, I’ve entered at a very dangerous time for film criticism, one where we’re on the fence from being significant and non-existent.

The only way I see criticism reforming is a movement of sorts. There needs to be a new enlightenment, like the Auteur theory in 1954 developed by French new wave director Francois Truffant, and established in America by film critic Andrew Sarris. Perhaps a rivalry between us critics, like we had with Sarris and Kael – the Auteur’s vs. Free Thinking. Whatever it may be, there needs to be a serious and substantial change in film criticism. Because otherwise, I see the artistry fading all too fast.

Cold Weather

Aaron Katz has something. There’s a talent grounded in his newest film, Cold Weather: a mumbelcore stylistic effort that focus on the relationships and quirks of the characters on screen, more than the story at hand. Unfortunately, despite gifts for staging jaw-droopingly beautiful scenes, Katz has delivered a film lacking storytelling that ultimately morphs into an exercise of style over substance. Read More

Rating: ★★☆☆

Hoop Dreams

August 19, 2011 | 8 Comments | Featured, Old Format

Hoop Dreams

*Note: This film is part of the 365 film guide I’m completing – the full list is on the tab bar above.

It’s no secret ladies and gentlemen, the films we gravitate towards and embrace forever, are the pictures that make the film going experience a personal one. Steven James’s brilliant and downright breathtaking documentary Hoop Dreams, shared with me two deeply personal matters: the city of Chicago and of course, the game of basketball. Read More

Rating: ★★★★
Danny Boyle vs. Christopher Nolan

Battle of Directors

By: Sam Fragoso

So the conclusion I’ve came to is that people, and when I say people I mean all you loyal readers,  care far more about a negative response to a beloved film, than an elegant piece of personal writing. Why, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps today all of you could elaborate me the answer to my question.

But, enough my complaining. Battle of Directors has been on hiatus from being of actual, you know, quality. I could blame that on my stay in Chicago – where most of my time was allocated to my family and friends. However, I’ll take the blame for the lame matchup(s).

Today, though, is where we break the chain. Both directors this week are at the top of the directing game in the past 10 years. What I found very interesting about this rivalry is that both masterful directors know a thing or two about reinvention. Yes, today we’re talking about Batman famed director Christopher Nolan and well, no need for introduction, director Danny Boyle.

Today’s Match-Up: Danny Boyle vs. Christopher Nolan

Danny Boyle's best picture winner, "Slumdog Millionaire"

5 Example Films from Danny Boyle

Slumdog Millionaire

127 Hours

28 Days Later




One of my favorite films from last year, Nolan's "Inception"

5 Example Films From Christopher Nolan


The Dark Knight


Batman Begins

The Prestige

Mean Streets

*Note: This film is part of the 365 film guide I’m completing – the full list is on the tab bar above.

I don’t question Martin Scorsese’s authenticity throughout his films. The prolific filmmaker has a knack for creating a genuine atmosphere, like not many others can. But, Mean Streets is a frantic, exploitative, and downright perplexing piece of work. Read More

Rating: ★½☆☆