Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Righteous Kill Review

Pacino. DeNiro. Armed and dangerous. In a cop drama. In NYC. Together. Written by the writer of Inside Man. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, the fact that it doesn't live up to expectations is not unexpected. Those are some lofty expectations. Both Don Corleones in the same movie? Scarface and Travis Bickle mixing it up as New York's finest? Any movie with those ingredients should be arrested for being too damn cool; for having more quotable lines than Goodfellas or Heat. But the trouble with Righteous Kill isn't just that it's mediocre. It's flat out bad. As in awful. Lame. Boring. What could've gone so wrong?

First, and foremost, this movie is somehow NOT directed by Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, or Spike Lee. DeNiro initiated the project but I cannot imagine that the director of Fried Green Tomatoes and TV's The Starter Wife was at the top of his list. Jon Avnet is not a bad director in the way a Brett Ratner or Michael Bay might be, but in some ways he's worse, making films that are extraordinarily mundane and by the numbers. He seems to be a filmmaker comfortable with playing for a draw rather than risking losing to win. This one decision fuels the fire for everything else that helps burn the project down. Choosing a director like Avnet means that you have a filmmaker comfortable with making a routine film. For directors like Scorsese, Lee, or DePalma, a film might turn out awful in an absurd way but never a routine one. They would demand greatness all around them and attempt to make something memorable by pushing everyone's boundaries.

To read the rest of my review of the DVD at click HERE

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The nominations are in for the 12th Annual Online Film Critics Society Awards-this is the first year I have been able to vote and I am pleased to say many of my choices made the short list. The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millionaire tied for the most nominations with 7 apiece. I realize that I am in the minority in my criticisms of The Dark Knight- without sounding like an annoying contrarian like Christopher Hitchens I have to say that I still think this movie is way overrated. Slumdog however is another story and fully deserves its praise. As for the list, the only thing that annoys me is that animation is on the list at all in any category except BEST ANIMATION. I HATE animation and would love to just opt out in voting for that category. This is said by someone who at the age of 8, drew over 1,500 drawings for a 3 minute Super 8mm animated short. I remember that the actors were VERY hard to work with...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Andrew Stanton, WALL•E

Benicio Del Toro, Che
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

In Bruges, Martin McDonagh
Milk, Dustin Lance Black
Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman
WALL•E, Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon
The Wrestler, Robert D. Siegel

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Roth
The Dark Knight, Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan
Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist
Slumdog Millionaire, Simon B eaufoy

Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father
Encounters at the End of the World
Man On Wire
My Winnipeg

A Christmas Tale
The Counterfeiters
I've Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Waltz with Bashir

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
Kung Fu Panda
Waltz with Bashir

Che, Peter Andrews
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight, Wally Pfister
The Fall, Colin Watkinson
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Alexandre Desplat
The Dark Knight, James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer
Milk, Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman
WALL•E, Thomas Newman

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
The Dark Knight, Lee Smith
Milk, Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire, Chris Dickens
WALL•E, Stephen Schaffer

Russell Brand, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Kåre Hedebrant, Let the Right One In
Lina Leandersson, Let the Right One In
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Brandon Walters, Australia

Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York
Kurt Kuenne, Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Steve McQueen, Hunger

Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society has been the key force in establishing and raising the standards for Internet-based film journalism. The OFCS membership spans the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Asia/Pacific Rim region. The Society's web site, which has been hosted since January 2001 by the highly influential film resource Rotten Tomatoes (, provides the most comprehensive online listing of reviews and original interviews with the leading artists in today's cinema, plus links to the most important motion picture-related web sites.

For more information, visit the Online Film Critics Society at

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Curse of the Instant Auteur

According to the IMDB, John Ford made 144 films of varying lengths and screen sizes in his long and distinguished career. By the time he made Stagecoach which is arguably his first "major" classic in 1939, he had already directed almost 100 films dating from 1917'sThe Tornado. These early films are much more varied in style, form and content than the 50 that would follow, many containing influences that Ford would eventually shake off when he found his own voice as a filmmaker. Most of what we consider "Fordian" is found in his post-Stagecoach work: Epic shots of Monument Valley with large looming skies, deep focus, the immobile camera, and slow dissolves.

He had taken the influences of F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty which appeared in varying forms through work like The Informer and The Hurricane and integrated them more fully with his own natural sensibilities. A scene as stylized as this one from The Informer seems more like Welles or Lang than Ford:

What I find disturbing is how filmmakers today are made and broken with only 1 or 2 films under their belt. Directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Richard Kelly, Eli Roth, and Wes Anderson have all been quickly judged and filed away after only three or four films across a decade.

The critical and popular response to Wes Anderson's last two films have suggested that there may be less than meets the eye and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales had much too much expectation to be anything but a disappointment. The problem is not that just with the films themselves, but with the need for these filmmakers to DEFINE a recognizable, signature style immediately. Since Ford was under contract to a studio, he was able to experiment with different techniques and styles in a way that would be impossible in today's cinematic context. Starting out today, Ford would have to be "FORDIAN" right from the start or else be seen as a mere hack, not worthy of any serious discussion. The pressures that were once only made for someone like Kubrick are now crosses for all new directors to bear: the need to be brilliant every time out and to tread carefully in breaking new ground without losing the fanbase. Alfred Hitchcock once referered to style as nothing more than self-plagiarism and this is true today as filmmakers seem very aware of the little tics and quirks of their own style. This puts a premium on creating works that are just like a filmmaker's previous work instead of being an organic process of change and growth. Like "Haven Hamilton"(The great Henry Gibson) in Robert Altman's Nashville, they all want to put a little more "Haven" into their films. This often leads to arrogance and ends up with the filmmaker trying to figure out how to get out of this situation:

As the saying goes, "Cut is the branch that may have grown full straight." How many potentially great filmmakers have been cut short by making a less than brilliant first feature? How many others are merely settling on their own quirks rather than challenging themselves each time out? A signature like this one does not happen overnight.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Martin Scorsese has been well known for his efforts in film preservation. But as he says in the really great short film, The Key To Reserva, "It's one thing to preserve a film that's been made, it's another thing to preserve a film that's not been made." Apparently the Spanish wine company Freixenet comissioned a commercial from Scorsese and the result is this fantastic 9 minute short in which the Academy Award winning director attempts to film 4 pages of a "lost" Hitchcock film called "The Key To Reserva", Reserva being the company product, of course. Scorsese attempts to "save" this work by shooting it, "The way Hitchcock would've made it then, today. If he was here today but making it then."


This is, of course, all just a put on, but it's also a dazzling lesson in cinematic technique. Hitchcock's use of the subjective point of view shot to propel the action is as exciting and relevent a technique now as it was then. There is nothing that can put an audience more directly into a cinematic situation than to show something from the point of view of an onscreen character and then reveal his or her reaction to it. The filmmaker is able to do in seconds what literature needs pages to describe and a play cannot even achieve. Hitchcock spent his entire career making films that were built around people looking instead of talking, conveying in a series of brief cuts what other filmmakers could not without resorting to long scenes of verbal exposition.

Scorsese has everything just right. From the opening credits which mimic Saul Bass's innovative title design for North by Northwest, to the Bernard Herrmann music cues, the short is perfect. Even the color grading captures the look of Hitch's work in the mid to late 50s with cinematographer Robert Burks.

The entire set up at the Orchestra concert is an homage to The Man Who Knew Too Muchwith a cool blonde in the audience who reminds me of Eva Marie Saint in Northwest. Simon Baker seeks for the hidden key as all kinds of Hitchcockian intrigue goes down. There are references to Young and Innocent, Dial 'M' for Murder and evenThe Birds. Check it outHERE.