Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


In the fall of 1987 I attended my first day of kindergarten. Until June 1990 on my last day of second grade I attended Assumption School in Seattle. A Catholic school. The stereotypes were nowhere in sight. I didn't have any nuns for teachers, I never had my fingers smacked by a ruler, nor did I ever see such a thing happen to anyone else. I wore a uniform to school every day, with the exception of the first Monday of every month ("Free Dress Day"), but it never struck me as strange. After all I didn't know any different anyway. Like me, John Patrick Shanley attended Catholic school, though in a decidedly different time.
"Doubt," which Shanley ("Joe Vs. the Volcano") wrote and directed, shows us the world of a New York City Catholic school in 1964, just as things there were beginning to change. It is appropriate then that when we first see Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he is delivering a sermon about the assassination of President Kennedy, an event that sparked everlasting change. Flynn speaks of how it bonded Americans together as nothing had in some time. He also speaks of how it might have led some to doubt things about their faith and how "doubt can be a bond as powerful as certainty."
As he delivers this very sermon, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is keeping kids in line, slapping heads down the row. As principal of the school, she has authority over everyone and everything, except Father Flynn. She doesn't care for his gentle nature, nor his long finger nails. The young and caring Sister James (Amy Adams) teaches history to the eighth grade class, which includes the school's first black student, a boy named Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). Sister James becomes suspicious when Father Flynn calls Donald to the rectory one afternoon and when Sister Aloysius hears of it she becomes convinced the worst has happened. She has no proof of anything, but she insists she has her "certainty."
From beginning to end "Doubt" is as absorbing as a film can be. As Sister Aloysius embarks on her campaign against Flynn we start to ask serious questions. We wonder about the priest's guilt or innocence. Like Sister James we don't want to believe it's true but there is a part of us, maybe big, maybe small, that believes Aloysius may be correct after all. For me at least, a large part of why I didn't want to believe it was due to it meaning that Aloysius would be correct. I have not so loathed a character since, ironically, Meryl Streep's in "The Devil Wears Prada." "Doubt" is most definitely a more serious minded film, but Streep pours herself into this character just as fully. It is yet another powerful performance from arguably the greatest actress in film history.
Hoffman is absolutely incredible. We like Flynn, we want him to be proven innocent, yet he keeps those around him, and thus the audience, at a distance. In each facial expression, each moment, Hoffman gives us reasons to believe and doubt Flynn at the same time. Sister James meanwhile struggles with being the kind of teacher and person she wants to be, and being what the experienced Aloysius demands. The question of Flynn's guilt or innocence is at the very heart of this struggle. In many ways she has more riding on this than anyone. Adams embodies this struggle with incredible subtlety. As Donald's mother, Viola Davis only has a few scenes but she knocks them out of the park, holding her own with Streep.
Every performance in this film is outstanding, right down to the kids who only have a couple of lines. We see them as real people, three dimensional in an instant. This is also due in large part to Shanley's writing. Based on his own play, each character in "Doubt" is fully formed and the film contains arguably the best dialogue of 2008.
As a Catholic I'm pleased to say I don't see a negative view of faith from "Doubt." I saw a highly engaging and intelligent look into the world of these characters.
Between this and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," 2008 is finishing remarkably strong. Do not miss this film. It is currently in wide release. 10/10.

Here's a great scene to give you a taste:

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It has often been said that life ought to go in the opposite direction. That we ought to get old age out of the way first and experience our golden retirement years as youthful and spry, able to truly appreciate them. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" shows us what living in reverse might really be like. It's an examination of all that life has to offer from beginning to end regardless of the direction we're headed.
Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is dying in a hospital bed while a hurricane approaches New Orleans. Her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) is there to say goodbye and to read to her mother from the diary of a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). Benjamin tells us the story of his life, which began on November 11, 1918. He came into the world the very day the first World War came to an end. His father Thomas (Jason Flemyng, "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels") is horrified. His wife died giving birth to their son, a baby who appears to be in his eighties. Unable to come to terms with this, he leaves the child on a staircase where he is discovered by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a care taker in a New Orleans retirement home. Convinced by doctors little Benjamin will not be long for the world, she raises him and loves him all the same. Much to everyone's surprise, not only does the boy live, he begins to appear younger and younger.
Just as it begins to become apparent that Benjamin may live a long life after all, he meets seven year old Daisy (Elle Fanning). It is at this point that Benjamin's adventure truly begins. We experience the ups and downs of his life, through several decades. Years go by without seeing Daisy, though he sends her a postcard from everywhere he goes. By the time he finally sees her again she (now played by Blanchett) is a world class ballerina.
Based on a short story from the 1920s by F. Scott Fitzgerald ("The Great Gatsby"), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" has a screenplay by Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump," "Munich") and is directed by David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club," and "Zodiac"). The original story provides only the basic framework for Roth's amazing screenplay. What he and Fincher have created is a film that is epic yet thoughtful. It is a film about life, death, love, and everything in between. Mainly though it is about how time effects everything. Each of us knows his or her days are numbered. What is unique about Benjamin is that he can really count them. This is the trade off for aging into youth.
The film's deliberate pacing and quiet tone emphasize one of its central points, which is that life is to be savored and enjoyed in order for it to be truly lived. Benjamin is a man who watches sunsets, who continues to look at the world with wonder regardless of his age. Pitt's performance is outstanding. This is an incredibly challenging role but he makes it look easy. Not to be outdone is Blanchett, showing once again that she is one of the finest actresses in the world today. As we see Benjamin getting younger, we witness Daisy aging. There are several quiet moments in which Blanchett shows us the progression with simple facial expressions. This is a well cast film from top to bottom, with Henson and Tilda Swinton being particularly of note.
Every element of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" comes together beautifully. From the production design to the cinematography to Alexandre Desplat's beautiful musical score, this movie shines. It also boasts some of the best visual effects I have seen in a very long time. We don't think about them as being effects until after the movie is over. As we see them we simply accept them. It's a lesson for all filmmakers about the proper use of CGI.
As film's weakest year in recent memory nears an end, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" reminds us that great movies can come from anywhere, anytime. David Fincher, your long overdue Oscar nomination is coming. 10/10.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Every Inspirational Movie Speech in Less Than 3 Minutes

Hilarious AND inspirational!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Tale

Christmas movies by and large seem to want to send the audience out feeling good about life, humanity, and the state of things regardless of what may be going on in their own lives or the world around them. In spite of its cheery sounding title, "A Christmas Tale" is not such a movie. In fact, Arnaud Desplechin's film is about Christmas for a family with so many problems to call them merely dysfunctional would be a great disservice to what Desplechin has crafted.
A few days before Christmas, Junon (Catherine Deneuve), has found out she needs a bone marrow transplant and soon, but finding a match will be difficult. Her devoted husband Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) is not going to let her go easily. In spite of the circumstances however, the two seem strangely at peace with the situation and just accept what must be done. In order to find a match their adult children along with a few other relatives will need to be tested and while they're at it, Abel's going to bring them under the same roof to celebrate Christmas. This is a serious problem for oldest daughter Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) and middle child, Henri (an outstanding Mathieu Amalric, the new Bond villain), who have not spoken in six years. Elizabeth's hatred of Henri is not fully explained to us but it hangs heavily in the atmosphere over the entire family's Christmas. Elizabeth doesn't even want her teenage son Paull (Emile Berling) to be anywhere near his uncle, but Paull cannot help but gravitate towards Henri.
What makes "A Christmas Tale" really work is that the relationship dynamics between all of the characters (there are over 10 principals) are well developed and unique. Each member of the family is well-written and well-played. Most of these people however, are incredibly unlikable. In the battle between Elizabeth and Henri it's difficult to sympathize with either of them. Even sick mother Junon is not the lovable matriarch we'd normally see in this situation. Abel is a loving father and grandfather and is deeply frustrated by his family's inability to even be civil to one another. These people make the Tenenbaum family look like the Osmonds.
This is not a pleasant film and at 2 1/2 hours it feels too long, though I'm not sure what I would cut from it. Occasionally the film can get a bit pretentious. There are some moments were Desplechin seems to be a little too impressed with himself, but he has made a very good film after all. This is not the sort of movie that's going to send you out the door filled with Christmas cheer but it might just make you feel better about your family. "A Christmas Tale" is in French with English subtitles (unless you like see it in France probably), and is currently in limited release. In Seattle it is playing at the Seven Gables. 8.5/10.

This trailer makes this movie look like a wacky dark comedy. It's not.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Seven years after "Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann is back with yet another ambitious film. This time he's made a romantic historical epic that wishes it was "Gone With the Wind," talks an awful lot about "The Wizard of Oz" and ends up paling in comparison to both.
In 1939, the world is on the brink of war and whether Australians like it or not, they're going to be a part of it. This is the backdrop for the unlikely romance between cattle driver Drover (Hugh Jackman) and wealthy English widow, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman). Together they care for a small Aboriginal boy named Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters). It is through his eyes we see the story of their struggle against the evil cattle barons, King Carney (Bryan Brown) and Neil Fletcher (David Wenham).
"Australia" is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and for most of it I was terribly bored. The scenery is majestic but there's little to connect to emotionally. It doesn't help that the early part of the film is overloaded with painful attempts at humor. By the time Luhrmann got to the cattle drive he had already lost me.
Acting wise Jackman gives a pretty good performance. With a better screenplay Drover would have been a great character to build a movie around. Kidman is nothing special here though she thankfully doesn't overdo it. If Renee Zellweger had played the part it would have been a masterclass in overacting.
The final 20 minutes or so are quite good but it's too little too late. It's not a disaster but it's certainly not the magnificent epic it wants to be. If you spend large portions of a film debating whether you're going to go straight home or go back to Christmas shopping then you are not engaged. 4/10.

Here are a couple of trailers for movies I can only hope will be more enjoyable.

"My Name is Bruce," starring and directed by Bruce Campbell: