Archive | josh’s reviews RSS feed for this section

The Best of Pictures: Gladiator (2000), by Josh Long

8 Dec

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Richard Harris

Ancient Rome is a subject that has captured the imagination of the cinema for years. The pomp and circumstance, the epic war stories, the myths and legends of the Caesars have given us many of cinema’s great films. While they remained popular into the 70s, American movies tended to shy away from Rome for much of the 80s and 90s. But Ridley Scott brought us back to the Coliseum with 2000’s Best Picture winner Gladiator. […]

Wes Anderson and the World of Mr. Fox, by Josh Long

18 Nov

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon

I think “delightful” is a good word to describe Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. In a time where the animation world is dominated by CG, it’s fun to see a divergence from the norm. In taking on a well-loved classic, Anderson and his team give it a pleasant, whimsical re-imagining.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on the children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fame. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a lovable scoundrel trying to steal from three of the meanest farmers around. Things get complicated when the farmers decide to fight back. The cast is mostly woodland creatures; fox, badger, rabbit, weasel, and so on. But we also get some great moments with the evil farmers. The ringleader is voiced by Michael Gambon, who expertly gives us both sinister and hilarious moments. Among the rest of the voice cast we find Wes Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman.

The look of the movie is one of the things that gives it so much charm. The color pallet is full of soothing fall colors, and the landscapes are beautiful in a simple way. That’s the way all the animation is. It goes in the opposite direction from the super-realism attempted in some animation, which gives it a lot more character. It has its own aesthetic as well, coming from relatively unknown animation company MacKinnon and Saunders. And everything in it encourages you to come along for the ride.

The script is simpler than other Anderson films, being based on a children’s book, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It still has a recognizable crackle of Wes Anderson/Noah Baumbach dialogue. There are a few moments when the film seems to pop out of its kids genre to throw something to the indie-movie lovers, who will undoubtedly be out in droves.

Because it’s simpler (I wouldn’t call it simple, but simpler), the story is not as compelling or moving as Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. Also lending to this is the mere fact that it’s animation on animal faces – you’ll never get the same emotion from an animated image that you would from a true human face. But the movie isn’t trying to change your life, it’s trying to tell a good story in a fun way, and it succeeds.

You’ll see here some of the same “father” themes that regularly pop up in the work of both Anderson and Baumbach, but not to the same degree. The story arc between Mr. Fox and his son Ash (Schwartzman) has a heartfelt setup and a tender pay-off. The character interplay is enough that it will have something for all audiences, even if it doesn’t blow your mind. Anderson’s directing style is also still there, for certain. There are lots of straight-on close-ups, long wide shots, and his typical attention to set design. A scene showing the animals in different levels of the sewer will remind savvy audiences of the presentation of the Belafonte in The Life Aquatic. And as always, there’s lot of great classic rock music, from the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys.

Some might question whether or not this is a movie for kids, considering the big debate over Where the Wild Things Are this October. I think Mr. Fox will be enjoyable for both kids and adults. The animation is fun, the story is basic enough for kids to follow, and hey, it’s got talking animals. It moves quickly enough that it shouldn’t lose children’s attention. At the same time, the themes are pretty universal, so parents can take something from it, and they’ll get more of the jokes.

It belongs in a different category than his other films, but Fantastic Mr. Fox is still a great offering from Wes Anderson. It’s a fun ride, it might pull at your heartstrings a little bit. I’d say…well, I’d say it’s delightful.

The Best of Pictures: A Beautiful Mind (2001), by Josh Long

14 Oct

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Ed Harris

Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind has everything you might expect from a movie directed by Opie Taylor. It has lush settings, a comfortable 60s tone, and a family that overcomes odds to stick together. The film stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, a brilliant mathematician and economist who suffers from mental abnormalities. It’s about how he and his wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) can overcome the difficulties brought on by his situation.


The Best of Pictures: Chicago (2002), by Josh Long

29 Sep

CHICAGO (2002)
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Bill Condon
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly

The American musical is an institution. Truth be told, the genre of musical theatre sort of started in the United States; many consider Showboat the first true “musical” from way back in 1927. Since then the genre has seen many major changes and shifts, and has seen film adaptations ever since the beginning 1. And Chicago certainly has a feeling of Americana, even harking back to that era when musicals first appeared on the scene.


The Best of Pictures: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), by Josh Long

3 Sep

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen

Entering into any discussion of The Lord of the Rings makes me feel a little like the way I feel in preparing to watch The Lord of the Rings. It’s good, but there’s SO MUCH of it. You get tired before you even start. I can’t touch on everything, so I’ll try to hit a few of the major points about this movie in relation to the Oscars and its cultural significance.


The Best of Pictures: Million Dollar Baby (2004), by Josh Long

20 Aug

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Paul Haggis
Starring: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is a movie that joins the ranks of boxing films that aren’t really about boxing. Raging Bull deals with a man whose physical and emotional violence take control of him, Rocky is about the hope that lies in the American dream of rising from “zero to hero.” Million Dollar Baby is about what it means to be family.

For the most part, Clint Eastwood is not a director who has moved onto the “new Hollywood” style. His work has a very old Hollywood feel – you could take most of his modern films, set them in the 60s in black and white, and they wouldn’t feel out of place. While I feel that his movies can still be very moving, he doesn’t challenge the medium, or move the art form forwards. That’s not a judgment; I’m not saying every film should. This is more to say that he may be an entertainer before he’s an artist, even if he’s on the fence between the two. It may even be a praiseworthy approach; since his films could have effected 60s audiences or modern audiences, that may mean that they’ll still be pleasing viewers forty years from now.



The Best of Pictures: Crash (2005), by Josh Long

6 Aug

CRASH (2005)
Directed by: Paul Haggis
Written by: Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco
Starring: Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe

Every once in a while there comes a movie that brings racial issues to the table and deals with them in a moving, challenging way. In recent years, that movie was Spike Lee’s 1989 Do the Right Thing 1. Eighteen years later, Paul Haggis wrote and directed a sappier, over-the-top version of the same movie. He called it Crash, and somehow won three Oscars, including Best Picture.


The Best of Pictures: The Departed (2006), by Josh Long

4 Jul

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson

So I should probably start out by saying that I am a big fan of Martin Scorsese. I think he is a brilliant filmmaker and has made some of the most important American films of all time. That being said, I felt like The Departed was one of his more disappointing offerings, and not really the Best Picture for 2006.


The Best of Pictures: No Country for Old Men (2007), by Josh Long

24 Jun

Written and Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones

The west Texas landscape is harsh, rough, and unforgiving. This makes it the perfect setting for a world gone wrong. A world that may have once been vibrant and beautiful, but is now cold and dangerous. It’s a world fallen from what it was meant to be.


The Best of Pictures: Slumdog Millionaire (2008), by Josh Long

18 Jun

Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor

So this Spring, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Academy Awards, making it one of the 15 biggest winning Oscar contenders of all time. Pretty impressive, especially for a film set in India 1, seeing as most Americans only know India as a place where they worship cows, where you can see the Taj Mahal, and where they probably have pretty good Chicken Masala.