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Stephen Bell
Boston, MA / Gainesville, FL / Los Angeles, CA
Movies own my life.
Recent Activity
Gotta just come out and say that the best thriller this year is the Swedish "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I know this is unrelated, but having just watched it a second time and still having been blown away by it, I just needed to say it somewhere.
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Though Hollywood might resemble high school, I can't shed any tears for James Cameron. His last film "Titanic" won both Best Director and Best Picture as well and became the highest grossing film in history (that is until his next film came around.) So while I'm not it's biggest fan, I don't really think last night's oscars saw Avatar as a gimmick. It won 3 awards and was nominated for something like 5 more, including best picture, best director and best editing. Cameron also got his fair share of having his "genius" lauded, so his ego should be just fine. I remember reading twitter last night after Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Direction and the person noted "Great speech from Bigelow. And not even a mention of her ex-husband." And as I sat there, I thought to myself, why is that significant? Why would anyone expect her to mention Cameron? There were three other directors nominated for that award and none of them had anything to do with The Hurt Locker. To me, a lot of the night seemed touted as "James Cameron's Oscars" and everything hinged on whether his film would dominate or the "underdogs" would surprise everyone and win. Even the overly-hyped best picture category with its 10 films fell victim to this. I guess it was nice to see all these other films get some attention, but it was never any real serious attention. It was all about the ex-lovers dueling it out, while everyone else stood around and watched. And what's sad about that is that "The Hurt Locker"'s win should be of no surprise. It won the DGA awards. Out of all the best picture nominees, it was the second highest rated on rotten tomatoes, falling only behind "Up." "Avatar" was 2nd from the bottom. Only "The Blind Side" ranked below it. "District 9" was actually the more critically-acclaimed sci-fi in that category and it received nothing. So in the end, I think "Avatar" was definitely seen as a "real film." It was nominated for Best Picture. It just was by no means the best of the bunch. Not by a long shot.
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OK and having recently watched them I gotta say that A Serious Man and The White Ribbon definitely have arguments for the top 10.
Toggle Commented Feb 24, 2010 on Stephen's Top Nine from 2009 at Movie Smackdown!
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Gotta say I'm in the minority and prefer The White Ribbon. Thought it was one of the best films of the year and a solid choice for at least best foreign.
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Nice review. Glad to see you come around on this film a bit. I can see where why the thematics and character stuff may get jumbled for some, but I thought I'd give my take on it and why it really all works for me in the end. I guess I should start by saying I disagree with the claim that that Districts 9's use of characters and thematics gets jumbled. The word "jumbled" kinda suggests a mistake and I think it's anything but. Van de Merwe is a likable guy who does really bad things because he's just like everybody else. He's an everyman. He describes the popping like popcorn thing because he's bursting eggs, the way we take chickens and cook up their unborn young for breakfast. It's "ok" to him because 1. the aliens are already totally dehumanized to most of the worldwide population and 2. he's not really killing "aliens," he's cooking up some eggs. He's doing it passively, allowing himself to rationalize his actions. It's like saying you're OK with torture cuz we need important information, then having pliers put in your hand, shoved into a room with a bound up naked suspect and told to go to work. Put the gun in his hands, the talking, conscious alien right in front of him and of course he has a problem with it. He's human. He doesn't kill people/aliens, he let's others do it for him and washes his hands. People are often naturally hypocritical, full of contradictions. That's what makes them human. In a film that so obviously talks about race and racial oppression, I thought it was a much stronger choice to use a character who was contradictory - not good, not bad. You get the one good, noble guy as your protagonist who is totally unlike all the rest of the terrible humans and we might as well be watching Avatar. Now why I thought the transformation stuff works is because it is horrific. We as an audience don't like the aliens and find them disgusting. It makes sense that our hero wouldn't want to turn into one. If an entire race of alien puppies invaded Earth and suddenly started transforming people, I'd have a problem with my transformation, no matter how cuddly I was. I like being me. Sure, I may still be me on the inside, but what exactly was wrong with me before? Why are puppies so much better? Just as the question arises, what's wrong with the aliens. If they started transforming into people and suddenly had a problem with it, should we say, "Hey, get over it, we're all the same on the inside." No, because they have a right to want to look like themselves. It's who they always have looked like. Sure, eventually they'll probably be ok with it or at least settle and get used to it, just as Van de Merwe fully becomes one in the last scene, while still having a trace of his personality. Again, the film aims to be realistic here - it's shies from being too preachy. In the end, he becomes a prawn anyway. He doesn't want to, he doesn't eventually see how being a member of the indigenous aliens are so much better than being human (cough avatar cough) And that's what I like about the film. It could make its thematics clear-cut and slam us over the head with them. But it's making an observation that despite how lofty we might pretend to be at times, how we all know the differences between right and wrong, how socially forward we all are, things don't always turn out that clear and perfect when the gun's in our own hands. The film is shot as a documentary and this lack of clear distinction between right and wrong, the wealth of human contradictions, help it feel real and raise real questions about not only the topic but ourselves as an audience. Finally, I gotta come to bat for the whole weapons thing. Sure, the mech at the end is a little much, probably wasn't necessary. But it is a sci-fi and was pretty sweet. So there's your popcorn. Moving on. The exploitation of the aliens for their technology is something that I think works. I don't know that an hour-and-a-half of walking around the refugee camp watching Aliens cry would've been enough to fill an audience's needs. Even if this sounds heartless, I would've eventually gotten bored. It's just a measure of story and narrative expectations. We expect things to happen, especially given certain genres like Sci-Fi. But this arms manufacturing side story helps what the film is trying to do and say. First, if the prawns are that disgusting and really had no benefit to us, why keep them on Earth? They want to go home. We want them to leave. Why wouldn't we try to find a way to get them out of here? Look how happy humanity is when the ship disappears at the end. It's New Years Eve. But wait, they have awesome weapons? Let's slow the train down a bit. Now they got something we want. They could've gone a different way, maybe made them edible, their blood cures diseases or something (though that would've kept them from being the same on the inside). Point is we need something from them we can use in order to make them important to everybody. We basically want their oil, the black liquid stuff that transforms us and allows us to use those sweet, sweet weapons. They've got guns? Hear the turnings of industry kick into gear, the vaults open up. That which makes the world turn. Greed. A viable and human reason for why we'd want to keep such animalistic, repulsive and useless beings here. Now, the fact that the weapons sub-story plays so closely to Van de Merwe's transformation is also important to the thematics. Because it shoves the gun back in his (and our) hands. It takes the story away from the oppressed civilization and puts the importance squarely back on Van de Merwe, as least as far as he's concerned. The alien Christopher tries to point out that Vandy may have to wait 3 years for help, cuz he's also gotta think about the millions of aliens that are in need of saving. But Van de Merwe doesn't care about that. And neither do we. We care about the protagonist. The human. It's terrible if these aliens get put in internment camps or dissected, really. But this guys turning into one of them!!! He can operate the guns! Someone HELP! The film leaves us with a little wink to how self-involved people can be. And maybe a sour taste in our mouths because of it. It calls into question us as audience. How well we can muse about race relations and good/bad, until we're put in a crappy situation. Almost immediately, the focus shifts quickly back to home. We can relate to Van de Merwe, cuz end of the day, us realizing "we're all the same on the inside" just isn't that human an understanding. Sure, our protagonist could've realized at the end that he really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but it would've rung false with the tone of the rest of the film. The objectivity of the documentary. And he does realize it, at least a little bit, by helping Christopher and his son escape. So there's some redemption. He's not all bad, he learns a little bit. And we need that for this to be a hopeful film, for there to be even a glimmer of hope that humanity can improve on itself. But even this sacrifice is performed only after Van de Merwe considers himself too much of a lost cause. If I can't help myself, might as well now help the aliens. His wants and needs come first, which tragically happens to be a pretty human characteristic. So the film could've been more clear cut, more black and white, good and bad defined even in the ending. But it's shot like a documentary. And it's human. And we've already had one Avatar this year.
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I really need to say that I think I made a mistake here by placing "UP!" at number 9. Maybe it was because it was the first great film I saw this year that I let its memory fade slightly, but it definitely deserved to crack the top 5. So UP 5, An Education 6.
Toggle Commented Feb 22, 2010 on Stephen's Top Nine from 2009 at Movie Smackdown!
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Just thinking, despite how much I loved Inglorious and The Hurt Locker, I would be just as happy to see "UP!" take Best Picture this year.
Toggle Commented Feb 22, 2010 on Up (2009) -vs- Wall-E (2008) at Movie Smackdown!
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I'm actually at a loss of how to respond to this. I mean, you don't gotta agree with me, but The Dark Knight was a DGA nominee for Best Picture. But I guess the entire Director's Guild could've just been suckers for hype.
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Been thinking about it a lot and realized that if Avatar is a best picture nominee and they're gonna snub Star Trek, I'm really glad District 9 got the nod. I was unsure about it, but the more I think about it the more I love that film. For me, it was just a much better sci-fi than Avatar. imo
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Also, I was very happy that The Messenger grabbed a best original screenplay nom and best supporting nom for Woody Harrelson, but when you have The Blind Side in the top 10, those just don't seem enough. SNUBBED.
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I'm gonna go ahead and agree with Beau on this one and say that Trek was one of the top 5 films of the year. Brilliant writing, direction, acting, cinematography, editing, Star Trek truly excels on every level. And it does so in the face of a monumental challenge - rebooting the most famous sci-fi franchise in history for major audiences while keeping hardcore fans happy. I personally think it's fair to compare its snubbing this year to The Dark Knight in '08. TDK, nominated by the DGA for the top prize, doesn't get a nomination? How? Why? I think the answer to that is the same reason why Star Trek was excluded from the 10 nominees this year. Star Trek and The Dark Knight aren't allowed to be "best picture material" because they revolve around giants of pop culture iconography. A Batman movie can be a great movie, but not a great film. And the same goes for Trek. And that's just sad. But hey, if you don't agree with me, ask this year's DGA nominee and Best Picture/Director hopeful Quentin Tarantino. When he was asked what he thought the best films of 09 were, Star Trek was the first title to come out of his mouth. Inglorious Basterds excluded, of course. But yea, stupid popcorn movies trying to be taken seriously.
Toggle Commented Feb 3, 2010 on Boldly Not Going There at Movie Smackdown!
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Also SNUBBED: The Coen Brothers Zoe Saldana for Avatar (she was the best part of the whole film) Big Fan
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"People are depressed because Pandora doesn't exist (I'm depressed it doesn't too, because then these morons could migrate and every intelligent being's life on Earth would be better for it)." Gold.
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I personally don't understand how "The Blind Side" gets a best picture nomination. Also can't help thinking that about "District 9," even though I did love that flick and am kinda juiced to see it there. Anyway... 10 nominees is a joke. There are 5 real contenders (the DGA noms) and 5 "honorable mentions." With the DGA awards over and their nominations lining right back up for the Oscar, how are 5 extra films supposed to compete? What is the Vegas money for "The Blind Side" or "District 9" winning? Cuz if one of those films takes it, someone is getting PAID. What would've really been nice to see was one or two of the DGA noms NOT be nominated (cough Avatar and Precious cough) and a dark horse take their place, ie Star Trek, The White Ribbon, etc. That would've really shaken things up. But there was really no way of that happening, so oh well. SNUBBED: STAR TREK - Top 5 film of the year so I'm not counting sound and fx categories as recognition. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - The most underrated picture of the year. As District 9 was pretty much improvised the entire time, couldn't this have gotten best adapted instead? PONYO - Always though Mayazaki was guaranteed a best animated nom. Apparently Princess and the Frog is that good. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER - This is the feel good movie of the year, not "The Blind Side." BROKEN EMBRACES - I either love or hate Almodovar. This was the former. Could've used a Best Foreign. MOON - I just saw this one, so it may be too fresh, but I was pretty wowed by it. Should probably have gotten a mention somewhere, just not sure where. Maybe best original screenplay over "Up." THE ROAD - coulda taken a technical nom. Cinematography maybe?
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Congrats to Bigelow! I personally had Tarantino as my pick, but she ran a close second. Seeing her win was probably just as gratifying and a much needed shakeup for this award. "The Hurt Locker" is an amazing film that deserves to get waaaaay more attention from audiences than it is and Bigelow's talent can not be questioned. I was worried that the prize was gonna go to "Avatar" to support more of the, "this is the new Jazz Singer" hype, but it's nice to see the DGA go a different way. I honestly didn't expect it (I'm still reeling from last year - Slumdog Millionaire over TDK? Really?)
Toggle Commented Feb 1, 2010 on Girl Wins Boys Club Award at Movie Smackdown!
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Very well deserved, Ms. Bigelow!
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Haha! Believe you me, if The Dark Knight could somehow get on there, it would. Actually, didn't I mention it in my 500 Days of Summer note? There you have it!
Toggle Commented Jan 11, 2010 on Stephen's Top Nine from 2009 at Movie Smackdown!
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Yea I wish Trek would get more of the respect it deserved come awards time. I respected the series but was honestly never a fan, but i saw that film 4 times in theaters. And Precious, I haven't watched it yet. I have it, just can't get myself in the zone to actually watch it. I'll let you know what I think when I finally do though
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And I just wanna be clear and note that I did enjoy the film, much more than I had expected to. I had a lot of fun. I'm just not on board with some of the accolades thrown its way, while definitely on board with others.
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James Cameron most definitely directed the creative vision of the film. The visuals are amazing, the action sequences were wonderful and there were plenty of times I was fully engaged. That's no question. Like I said in my comment, its an amazing technical achievement. However, having seen it twice now I couldn't help but feel that a lot of the performances felt forced a lot of the time. Directing actors holds just as much weight in my definition of direction as creative vision and sequencing and, unfortunately, I just didn't see it consistently in Avatar (Zoe Saldana aside). Also, when you're directing your own writing, if the script is weak (which I thought it was in dialogue, secondary character development and some story development) then I blame the director. And I get the hype, I do. And I think its worthy of it for some reasons. Just not completely. When I'm told something is going to "redefine filmmaking and change everything we know" I expect it to work on all fronts. And though I must admit I've yet to watch Precious, in my opinion the other films listed above not only demonstrated incredible control of creative vision but also the consistent performances that I find so necessary to consider a film a "best picture" or "best direction" achievement. I would've rather seen that nomination go to what was, in my opinion, the better science fiction film this year, Star Trek. Just MO tho
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avatar? really people?
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Nice to see TDK get two. I could probably keep going on just that film. But no milkshake drinkin from TWBB???? BLASPHEMY!!! And I gotta question Avatar, sorry buddy.
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2010 on Ten Years of Super Moments at Movie Smackdown!
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I won? I WON!!! I'd like to start by thanking God...er...or is that James Cameron now? Oh god I hope he doesn't read my comment. I am NEVER getting a job now :\
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OK so I watched the film in IMAX 3D and a few things occurred to me while watching it. Just to prepare you, its a mixed bag: 1. This is definitely a technical game changer. There's no doubt about that. It will definitely affect they way SOME films are made in the future and actually gave me a reason to like 3D. Absolutely wow-ing visuals, the best use of cgi and motion capture ive ever seen. 2. Sigourney Weaver's performance felt SO forced. I don't think even she was buying the shit she was saying. 3. There is really nothing surprising in terms of story, its pretty paint by numbers and anyone that's seen a few action movies should know where its going. 4. The character development was incredibly shoddy. People just did things without any real reasoning, and the supporting characters came in and out of nowhere with largely nonexistent arcs. I almost wish the movie was 20 minutes longer so I could understand who these people were, why they did some of the things they did, and maybe I'd actually care about them. 5. James Cameron is a cinematic genius, but he severely needs to get over himself and hand the script to someone else. Why were the characters with the most natural sounding dialogue the aliens? And I realize it's sci-fi lingo, but if you're trying to make a really detailed universe, think up a better name than Unobtainium. And who else laughed when you heard the words "The Hallelujah Mountains?" 6. The world felt real and thats the most engaging thing about the movie. The audience definitely falls in love with Pandora and thats a credit to Cameron. Not sure I really saw Sam Worthington fall in love with it tho. 7. Amazing action sequences. Thats probably an understatement. 8. Sam Worthington got better over time. I think I preferred him as a big blue alien, so I'm not sure what that says about performance. But I felt that way about Sigourney Weaver too. Actually, I'd prefer if all the humans had been Navii. Which leads me to... 9. Zoe Saldana. Hands down the bright spot in this film. She blew everyone else away. 10. It's anti-war, anti-exploitation, way green, and way in your face about it. Subtlety is not something Avatar knows too well and it is hell bent on smashing its themes over your head until you bleed. I respect and believe in the message, but could do without the preaching. Even my liberal ass started to groan. 11. The dialogue. Yea I mentioned it already, but it's that bad. Avatar is chock-full of some of the WORST dialogue I have ever heard. Most of the time it's so corny you either laugh or cringe at it. I tried to find reasons for why he might make his characters sound so shallow and stupid, like maybe he wanted the humans to sound like asses while the Navii sound normal for thematic reasons, but that doesn't hold up for me. It was just bad dialogue, plain and simple. If he did have some reason for it, it was a very misguided decision.
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I mean that representing those moments was why I included pineapple express and then mentioned city of god as number 11, as it had originally been on the list but was taken off simply because I have not found as many repeat viewings with it as with the other films listed.
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