Jul 5

I took the mid-week day off from the newsroom yesterday as an opportunity to chill with my dogs and enjoy some air conditioned relaxation. After watching Wimbledon tennis and U.S. Olympic trials, I decided to do something more challenging with my TV time. I picked up two movies at the local Redbox, films I’ve meant to see for a long time now: “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris.” If you haven’t seen either movie, I recommend them both. They’re two of the best movies from 2011.

“The Artist” is a romantic homage to the bygone days of silent film. Starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture is itself a silent film but every bit as engaging as a movie with sound galore. What makes it work is the story itself as an aging romantic leading man (Dujardin as George Valentin) struggles to find success in the new era of talkies. While he flounders, young upstart Peppy Miller (Bejo) uses her personality and unique beauty spot (first drawn on her by Valentin) to forge a successful career. One rises, the other falls, but their romantic intrigue and character drives this film to brilliance, alongside the expert direction. The two lead actors are joined by a scene-stealing canine named Uggie, who plays Valentin’s poochy pal.

“Midnight in Paris” should delight anyone with a literary bent, particularly for the 1920s Parisian scene this Woody Allen romantic comedy celebrates. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard, “Midnight in Paris” charmed me with its depiction of iconic characters like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As a writer, I identified with the unabashed romantic associations for those Paris glory days felt by self-described Hollywood hack Gil Pender. Wilson brings an endearing, aw-shucks goofiness to that feeling that won me over. Cotillard also shined in her role as an alluring love interest for Pender, as do several big name actors in supporting bits. It’s a fun movie.

- Aaron Brand

 

Popularity: 6% [?]

Feb 23

We are three days out from Oscar giveaway day, and only now do I have time to look at the list of nominees more closely to see who I predict to win the big prizes.

More and more, I think the buzz will be borne out with victories for “The Artist,” which in addition to a lot of positive chatter has brought home BAFTAs and Golden Globe victories. Its Oscar victory seems inevitable. For a few months, I thought “Hugo” would be the winner, but I think the Michel Hazanavicius silent flick carries too much feel-good nostalgia about cinema history to be denied. Hollywood will feel good giving it the nod here at the Academy Awards, and Hollywood—as a colossal, dream-making machine—likes to pat itself on the back—not necessarily such a bad thing here with a movie that has been heaped with such near-universal adulation.

I’ll take Jean Dujardin over George Clooney and Gary Oldman (who maybe, just maybe, could win it) for the Best Actor in a Leading Role, the great Christopher Plummer for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Viola Davis from “The Help” (over steely Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”) for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Octavia Spencer for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

I love Davis and will also absolutely love seeing her on stage as an Oscar winner. I’m also rooting big for the ditty “Man or Muppet” to take home a win for “The Muppets,” which I would have liked to see land more nominations. I’m hopeful it will reel in Best Original Song.

I’ll tap Hazanavicius for Best Director, though perhaps Woody Allen could sneak in with a win? Animated Feature Film? “Puss in Boots.” Foreign Language Film? “A Separation” from Iran, which would be quite a proud achievement for the film scene there, to say the least.

What do you think?

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Dec 16

Awards season has landed. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, in addition to the winter holidays we have buzzing along, but this year when it comes to being a movie buff I feel woefully unprepared to consider the forerunners for film awards. I will need to get busy in the next couple months catching up (for a variety of reasons, I haven’t seen as many new movies this year). Golden Globe nominations were announced earlier this week and movies like “The Artist,” “The Help,” “The Descendants” and “The Ides of March” were among the top nominees. I’m not surprised to see those movies find the attention. But here’s one crime: “The Muppets” is not among the nominees for top comedy or musical. Sorry, but for a movie that received near universal acclaim, that is surprising, at the very least. I don’t care if it was, nominally, a kid’s movie. It deserves some consideration. Maybe the Oscars will right this wrong.

So, what movies do you think will win the Golden Globes or come up big at the Academy Awards? I have no sense of it yet and think it’s a real wide open year. I still think “Hugo,” “The Help” and “War Horse” may be the pick come Oscar time, but it still feels up in the air.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Dec 2

I’m late getting to this because this week has been extra busy, but I think many moviegoers have already caught on to the excellence of the movie “The Muppets,” judging by the box office numbers and critics’ praises. I would like to chime in with my recommendation. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so. It’s super amounts of fun. I saw it over the Thanksgiving weekend with my sister and we loved it. (Admittedly, we grew up with the Muppets. I think the Muppets wielded a pretty big influence on how I view the world.) “The Muppets” shines with a kind of self-deprecating, innocent and yet madcap sense humor you don’t see much of nowadays. It’s also a wildly funny and heartfelt addition to the Muppet legend, and the return of these characters felt true to their original spirit. So often reviving old characters like this to “update” them for a new generation feels inauthentic and opportunistic. Not so with “The Muppets.” It has both its heart and funnybone in the right places. Kudos to the team who brought the Muppets back for this film. I’d even say the movie has an outside shot at a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Oct 31

Over the weekend I got a chance to see “The Rum Diary,” an adaptation of the late Hunter S. Thompson’s book that finally made it to the big screen and, surprisingly to me, a Texarkana movie theater. I suppose star power has something to do with it landing here for what I anticipate may be a brief stay.

I enjoyed the film a whole lot despite many flaws, mostly for personal reasons. For a newspaper diehard like me, it offers an appealingly farcical, nearly satirical look at newspaper life, complete with maniacal editors, oddball reporters slinking through the newsroom like slugs on acid and the sort of financing dilemmas that plague small-time news. As such, those jokes hit home for me. As well, I enjoyed Johnny Depp, who here plays a Thompson alter ego, Paul Kemp, as a reporter who exhibits a talent for both crafting phrases and cleaning out the “complimentary” alcohol at his Puerto Rican hotel room.

Kemp joins the San Juan Star and soon finds himself embroiled with a variety of strange, repulsive and yet somehow beguiling characters in and around this tropical newspaper milieu, including scuzzy developers with venomous smiles who want to build more hotels on an island paradise. They’re the bad guys, the “bastards,” as Kemp puts it, and feel like classic Thompson villains. Kemp’s interplay with these characters is the best part of the film, but that can only carry the plot so far.

Along the way, we’re treated to all sorts of half-baked narrative turns, poorly developed characters and themes that don’t lead very far in this rum-soaked flick. I found myself rooting for Kemp but he doesn’t seem to have anywhere to turn in this movie. A quick scan of movie fan board sites shows what I suspected would be true: a trashing of the film by many fans who love the novel and adore Thompson. Though I haven’t read “The Rum Diary,” it seems the movie strays in many respects from the novel itself.

Ultimately and regardless of its faith to the source material and inspiration, the movie isn’t deep enough to carry much weight, and its boozy barbs aren’t as sharp as Thompson’s own writing. “The Rum Diary” never quite decides just what movie it wants to be. That said, it’s enjoyable enough on its own terms, and there are certainly worse ways to spend $5 at the movie theater, given what Hollywood churns out lately.

- Aaron Brand

 

Popularity: 1% [?]

Aug 3
Hey Netflix users!
icon1 admin | icon2 Movies, TV | icon4 08 3rd, 2011| icon32 Comments »

Hey, Netflix users. We want to find out what local video consumers (online and DVD) will do with Netflix rates set to change. Will people change monthly plans or ditch Netflix altogether? Will people keep the plan they currently have because they’re happy with the service? Netflix’s announcement last month about a September price change created a lot of hullabaloo, but, now that the initial ruckus has died down, do people intend on changing how they access videos online or with DVDs? What are your video viewing habits?

If you have something to say about this, send an email to abrand@texarkanagazette.com. I want to interview you. Thanks!

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 2% [?]

Jun 24

If you have not seen “Super 8,” the J.J. Abrams film about a group of plucky youth who witness (and unwittingly film) a horrific train crash while shooting a movie at an abandoned train depot, get out and see it.

The crash unleashes some sort of energy, creature or something—no one in the town is initially sure what it is (apart from one local teacher)—that wreaks havoc on daily life in a rust belt Ohio town. Dogs disappear, as do people, and electrical lines go haywire throughout town with outages and other disruptions visiting the populace. The kids just want to shoot a movie, but the entrance of U.S. Air Force personnel to “investigate” the situation provides some fun backdrop footage. The kids soon puzzle over exactly what the heck is happening, and it’s here where our youngsters’ depth comes in to carry the movie with strong characterization. “Super 8″ is a self-conscious homage to ’70s and ’80s Steven Spielberg, plus movies like “Goonies,” but it’s loads of fun despite a rickety plot that gets thinner and more precarious as the movie goes on. About the biggest complaint here are some needless shoot-em-up scenes late in the film. Still, “Super 8″ gives Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, our two young leads, a chance to shine as they develop a sweet friendship. The surrounding group of kids are all likable and real, even though they’re played for lots of laughs. The affection Abrams has for the era is endearing, and in the best sense of the phrase it’s a great summer flick with a good message to boot.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 2% [?]

Jun 1

An alert reader reminded me that the Little Rock Film Festival is upon us. In fact, the festival started today and runs through Sunday. One of the events includes the “Smokey and the Bandit” director, Hal Needham, who will sign copies of his book, “Stuntman!: My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life.” The movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” in which Texarkana figures prominently as the starting point of a Coors-hauling run to Georgia, will get a screening at the River Market Amphitheater, 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Other films on tap include the Harry Thomason-directed “The Last Ride,” which concerns itself with the last days of Hank Williams, and a documentary film about Sierra Leone called “Fambul Tok,” part of the Clinton School of Public Service Doc Series. Check out more info here: LittleRockFilmFestival.org.

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 1% [?]

Mar 25
On Elizabeth Taylor….
icon1 admin | icon2 Movies | icon4 03 25th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

I have always appreciated Elizabeth Taylor – her grace, charm, honesty and passion – but would never say I was an aficionado of her work. I find her passing to be tremendously sad, though, in part for what she represents, as well as when I think of all the great work she did in addition to the incomparable acting (for example, her brave and pioneering work to promote acceptance and treatment for people with HIV and AIDS). To my way of thinking, she was the last of the big stars, those classic Hollywood beauties so prominent in the collective movie imagination from the 1930s onward. They don’t make them like her anymore, unfortunately – that is for sure. The only contemporary movie star who comes close, in my opinion, is Kate Winslet (my workmate Marie says the Brad Pitt-era Angelina Jolie fits the bill). What do you think? Any comparable, contemporary Hollywood beauties in the mold of those old film stars?

- Aaron Brand

Popularity: 2% [?]

Mar 24

Filmed in and around the Atlanta and Linden, Texas, area last summer, the Dan Jackson-directed rodeo feature “Open Gate” gets its premiere soon at the 44th WorldFest Independent International Film Festival. Slated for a Saturday, April 9, screening (9 p.m.) down in Houston, Texas, at the AMC Studio 30 Theatre, the independent film features Tyler Hoechlin, Agnes Bruckner and William Sadler. Hoechlin stars as a rodeo bull fighter who discovers a seedy underside of the rodeo world: drug running with the bulls. Check out more (including a trailer) at the A Certain Film Productions Website. Also check out our Sunday Accent feature from last July. We had fun watching cast and crew film a scene: On Location in Linden.

- Aaron Brand

Staff file photo by Christena Dowsett. Tyler Hoechlin, lead actor in “Open Gate,” plays a bull fighter (rodeo clown) from East Texas. The production crew was forced to work around unfavorable weather conditions at the Cass County rodeo grounds.

Popularity: 2% [?]

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