REVIEW: Friends With Benefits

Friends With Benefits
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, & Will Gluck (screenplay)
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, and Woody Harrelson

It’s always a good thing when a modern romance reminds you of the classics, when men and women bounced snappy dialogue off each other as if they were both real people.  Most romances made today are lop-sided, usually skewering one gender role in the hopes of appealing to the other.  Friends With Benefits is straightforward in its intentions much like its two leads are with each other.  It is seeking to debunk and even satirize the myth of true love presented in the movies, and it is very successful at that until it reluctantly caves in to those same cliches.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are the perfect match for the verbal ping pong in the script and off-kilter enough to make the movie’s intentions palpable.  They are naturally funny and have exceptional chemistry, so they and the rest of the excellent cast shine even brighter in a funny screenplay.  It also helps that the director and co-writer Will Gluck knows that creating a sense of atmosphere in New York City is more important than any shot of the Empire State Building.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Fountain

The Fountain
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky (screenplay), Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel (story)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, and Sean Patrick Thomas

There are many movies that are so beautifully filmed that you could take almost any still-frame from it and hang it in your house.  Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is one of these movies.  In fact, it may have been better off as individual frames in an art gallery instead of a movie.

This is a film where the filmmaking technique is serving a story that is almost as ambitious but not nearly as realized.  It follows Tommy (Hugh Jackman) a doctor who is trying to cure his terminally ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz).  That is the barebones of a story that dips back to ancient Spanish culture as well as travels hundreds of years into the future.  You’ll come to learn that Izzi wrote a book about Spanish conquistadors and the Tree of Life, and when Tommy starts reading it he envisions himself as one who is pursuing the Tree so that he can live forever with the queen (also played by Weisz).

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Black Swan

Black Swan
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heintz, & John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey

Perfection: chased to the elegant stage by way of the not-so-elegant back rooms.  That is the goal viewers watch Nina (Natalie Portman) hurt, bleed, and dance, dance, dance toward  in Darren Aronofsky’s hallucinatory Black Swan.

Aronofsky, fast becoming one of American cinema’s brightest renegades and fiercest visionaries, has never been shy about making you feel his characters’ pain.  By removing all distance between you and them by rapid cutting and frantic pacing, you feel a kinetic connection to their turmoil.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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Communication breakdown: always the same?

According to the two front-runners for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, The King’s Speech and The Social Network, communication is not half the battle: it’s the entire war.  These two very different seeming movies actually speak mounds about our fear to speak. 

The Social Network is the more obvious with this, taking a dark, rapid-fire look into how one outcast started an online empire simply because he couldn’t fit into the real world.  Mark Zuckerberg, as many may have noticed on his recent Saturday Night Live appearance, has trouble in real life.  The way Jesse Eisenberg portrays him, his brain seems backed up because he can’t talk fast enough, emitting sentences in short, machine gun-like bursts.

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Quick Oscar Nomination Predictions 2011

CyniCritics has complied its quick, yet bold list of predictions without a stutter for the 2011 Academy Award nominations which will be announced this Tuesday. It’s not our fault for playing things on the white swan side; it’s been quite a predictable season. Don’t expect a list of surprises or shockers when the nominees are revealed. Sure there will be a few slip ups and a few that incept themselves in, but with 10 slots and Pixar in the mix, this is no wild west of Oscar races. So go ahead, update your statuses, well unless you live in the Ozarks, in which case you probably shouldn’t talk about the Oscars… or have a Facebook.

Best Picture

The Social Network

The King’s Speech

Black Swan

The Kids Are All Right

Inception

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The Best Performances of 2010

1. Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right The kids might just be all right, but Annette Bening as a modern lesbian mother seeing her family spin out of control no matter how tightly wound her controlling character may be is more than all right, she’s fantastic. Her ability to play the character with such effortlessness and ease makes the audience forget they are watching film and instead submerse themselves into the troubles, anxieties and and love that her character Nic feels as she undergoes a common, but crucial stage in life. Key Scene: Even with so many to choose from, one scene one can’t forget after watching the film is the humorous yet explosive scene of seeing her daughter come home on a motorcycle with “donor-Dad” and finally releasing her feelings about his unwanted parenting.

2. Christian Bale- The Fighter– Bale steals scenes left and right in The Fighter, much like they were stolen from him in The Dark Knight. As the crack-addicted former boxing star of Lowell, Mass., he must now watch as his brother Micky chases after the dream with a clearer head.  Adding in humor only makes his character the sad clown, one that, unlike The Joker, you really feel for.  Key Scene: Bale singing a song with his mother (Melissa Leo) in the car after the two had just had a big argument.  The full spectrum of these two characters’ relationship comes to light thanks to this explosive and charming scene.

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