“No Middle Seat” Episode 3: In which our intrepid heroes discuss movies and do so with vigor!

Well folks, it’s a new year, which means one thing: time for my first movie podcast of 2011! That’s right, 2011 is upon us, which means that the Oscars are just around the corner!
I know what you’re thinking, if only there was a movie podcast of some kind in which two recent college graduates discuss movies that we could listen to! Well, you’re in luck because I just so happen to have a movie podcast in which my ol’ chum Anthony (www.lastcinemastanding.blogspot.com) and I and discuss our Top Ten Movies of 2010! Sit back, relax, and give it a listen:
http://nomiddleseat.podbean.com/2011/01/12/no-middle-seat-episode-03/

P.S. WordPress is now charging folks to use media on their site, so until somebody starts throwing money at me I ask that you copy and past the above link to our Podbean feed to your browser and you can listen there. Thank you for understanding.

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Top Ten Movies of 2010

2010 was an interesting year for movies. On one hand you had “Inception,” proving that intelligent movies, if done right, can be summer blockbusters. On the other hand you had a slew of great movies that underperformed at the box office (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” ect.), leaving many people scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong. For me it doesn’t really matter how a movie did at the box office, I just want them to be good movies. Luckily this year really didn’t have an “Avatar” type film to dominate and crush everything in 3-D, which left a lot of space to fill with a generous helping of indie movies and well-written gems. I didn’t get a chance to see every movie I wanted to this year, due to the fact that I work at a restaurant in the evenings and I despise going to matinees, but I tried my best. This is my 2nd annual “Top Ten Movies” list and I hope that you enjoy it.
10) Fair Game

Naomi Watts fascinates me. Besides being incredibly beautiful, she also manages to be one of the most versatile actresses working in Hollywood. She has appeared in everything from blockbusters (“King Kong”) to crime films (“Eastern Promises”) to quirky comedies (“I Heart Huckabees”), and she seems completely comfortable with them all.
I jokingly refer to her as the “anti-Jolie,” in the sense that in every Angelina Jolie film I watch, I am distinctly aware of the fact that I’m watching Angelina Jolie act. When I watch Naomi Watts I don’t see Naomi Watts. I see her character, whomever that may be.
In “Fair Game,” director Doug Liman saw the same chameleon qualities in Watts and cast her in the leading role of Valerie Plame, the former CIA operative who the Bush Administration outed after Ambassador Joe Wilson spoke out against the Iraq War.
The film is a period piece, really. It takes us back to the beginnings of the Iraq War, highlighting clips of press conferences and snippets of news footage that made me feel as if I were learning of the conflict for the first time. The emotion the film stirred in me was impressive. I felt righteous anger. I felt betrayal. I gripped the corners of my seat with anticipation during most of the scenes, even though I know how it all turned out.
And that is what makes “Fair Game” a great film. It transports us back to a story we have all heard before and makes it seem new and exciting.
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are both fantastic as the lead characters. Watts brings her steely eyed determination and Penn brings his righteous political anger and the two play to each other’s strong suits. A very impressive film.

9) The Vicious Kind

I was first introduced to Adam Scott in the movie “Step Brothers,” as were most people. Scott played Will Ferrell’s asshole of a brother and played it to perfection.
“That guy kind of looks like you,” said my then-girlfriend. “Isn’t that funny?”
“You really think so?” I asked. “Well, I suppose we do both have sideburns, so that’s something I suppose…”
So yeah, I first thought of Adam Scott as an asshole actor who just so happened to look a little like me. Or maybe I looked a little like him? Either way I didn’t think much of it until I came across the much-beloved and all-too-quickly-canceled Starz TV show “Party Down.” Then I fell in love with Adam Scott. An all-encompassing love that burned like the sun.
In an interview with “The Usual Suspects” actor Kevin Pollak on the web-based “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” Scott talked about a little indie drama that he did called “The Vicious Kind,” where he plays the emotionally scarred main character, Caleb Sinclaire. The movie centers on the Caleb’s strained relationship with his father, played with tenacity by the always enjoyable J.K. Simmons, and his younger brother, played by the baby faced Alex Frost. The film is written and directed by newcomer Lee Toland Krieger, and features one of my favorite film openings of the year. The film opens on Adam Scott, who is bearded and smoking a cigarette. In the course of ten seconds or so his eyes fill with tears, but then he represses the urge to weep, takes another drag of his cigarette and then composes himself. It’s a simple shot, really. Just a steady cam on Scott’s face, but the moment feels so intimate that you feel a connection to the character even before a line of dialogue is spoken.

8 ) Cyrus

One of the strangest films of 2010 was a movie I saw by myself called “Cyrus.” It was a film by the Duplass brothers, whose debut film “The Puffy Chair” didn’t really do it for me. That film felt forced and stale. This film felt alive and new. I love it when directors improve with age.
The movie centers on a lovable loser played by (who else?) John C. Reilly, who I used to hate with a passion but lately has been growing on me. Like a fungus. A strange fungus who keeps appearing in every other movie that I see, apparently. I think that’s why I didn’t like him to begin with. John C. Reilly seems to make about fifty or so movies every year and somehow I manage to see all of them. I’m not saying that he’s a bad actor, I’m just saying that I can only see the same goofy looking face so many times before I go a little crazy.
But I digress, John C. Reilly is great in small doses. I feel the same way about Nicolas Cage. Every now and then they both make a movie that shocks and delights me. I love it when actors surprise me.
In “Cyrus” Reilly takes his loser image to the next level when he plays a man who somehow ends up in a relationship with the beautiful Marisa Tomei, who is completely out of his league, in my humble opinion. I know it, and so does Reilly, who feels lucky and blessed just to be with her. Until he meets her son Cyrus, that is. Funnyman Jonah Hill plays her son, naturally. Except he’s not that funny in this film. He’s down right creepy and psychotic. Hill plays Cyrus with a dead-eyed intensity that is fascinating to watch, and the “mind games” between him and Reilly over the affections of Tomei makes for some of the strangest scenes in 2010. A very unique and admirable trait in a movie.

7) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim: A movie by nerds, for nerds, starring the nerd king himself: Michael Cera.
One of my few film regrets of 2010 was the fact that I never saw this movie on the big screen. I really wanted to but nobody that I knew wanted to go with me and I hate seeing movies in theaters by myself. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do see movies in theaters by myself occasionally but never movies where I might laugh. Why, you ask? I have a pretty distinctive laugh. People turn around in their seats to look at me and I feel like a freak. Besides, some movies are better with a group of friends.
I ended up buying the DVD after eating some pretty amazing Thai food with my friends Max, Steven, and Ailis. We stopped by Target on the way home and I bought it, promising them that I “heard it was great.” And indeed it was.
Edgar Wright, director of such cult classic fare as “Shawn of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is the master of comedy action films, I feel. In “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” he proves once again how damn clever he is and I love him for it. Seriously, don’t take my word for it. Watch the film. If you don’t laugh at least once something is terribly, terribly wrong with you.
6) Kick-Ass

Two words: Hit Girl. Now go forth and watch the film. You’ll thank me later.
P.S. Nicolas Cage goes completely insane in this film. In a good way.

5) True Grit

The Coen Brothers reunion with Jeff Bridges has been long overdue, but “True Grit” proves that the wait was well worth it.
The western is a remake of the classic John Wayne film by the same name that won The Duke an Oscar. But to be completely honest, I was never really a big John Wayne fan. He just never really interested me as an actor. That being said, the original “True Grit” is a great film, featuring Wayne doing what he did best: looking stoic while riding a horse and shooting a gun at people.
My feelings about Wayne aside, I’ve always enjoyed the film and was thrilled when I first heard that the Coen Brothers were remaking it. When I learned that they had cast Jeff Bridges as the alcoholic lead character, my interest was officially piqued. It became a movie that I knew I must see.
And what a movie it was! The humor of the original novel shown brightly, and the cinematography was breathtaking. Jeff Bridges brought his A game to the film, and so did the Coen Brothers, and it resulted in their biggest box office success of their storied careers.
The biggest revelation of the film for me was the young actress who plays the girl who hires Bridges’ character to avenge the death of her father. Her name is Mattie Ross, and she is played by the young and extremely talented Hailee Steinfeld, who posses the rare ability among child actors of commanding every scene she is in with authority well beyond her years.
Add Matt Damon in the mix as the cocky Texas Ranger who also just so happens to be on the lookout for the man who murdered Ross’ father and you’ve got yourself one hell of a western!

4) Inception

The most buzz-worthy movie of the summer by far, “Inception” did what few movies dream of: tell a daring and unique story AND make a killing at the box office.
All of a sudden the notion that the only type of movie that will make money over the summer has to be either a sequel, a comic book movie, or star vampires or wizards seemed quaint and out of date.
Here was a movie with a bankable star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a intelligent director, Christopher Nolan, who has been on a bit of a hot streak after taking over the Batman film franchise, telling a story that actually made people THINK. Oh yeah, and it was the biggest hit of the summer. Who could have predicted that? A lot of people, as it turns out. “Inception” was a movie made by movie nerds, for movie nerds. Though the mainstream success of the film took a lot of people off guard, I feel.
One of the best parts of “Inception,” for me personally, isn’t even in the film. It’s something that happened AFTER the film was released. With the success of “Inception,” all of a sudden there was a great and powerful hunger in Hollywood for original screenplays and unique story ideas. The idea became king. Sure, it helped if your movie starred one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but there was definitely an “Inception” effect after the movie was released. This is good news for the next few years in cinema, because there will surely be some challenging films that will be released with the hopes that they will become “the next Inception.” Mark my words.
Also, “Inception” had one of the best ending of 2010. The fact that people are still taking about it in 2011 means that I’m not alone in that regard.

3) Black Swan

“Black Swan” punched my soul in the face. In a good way.
“Darren Aronofsky will never make an uninteresting film,” declared Anthony (my movie cohort and co-creater of the massively successful movie podcast, “No Middle Seat,” which stars Anthony and myself) after we left the theater on a cold Monday night. I huddled into my peacoat for warmth and pondered this for a minute or two.
“You’re right about that. After all, this is the same guy who directed ‘The Wrestler,’ which was such a heartbreaking film.”
“Don’t forget about ‘The Fountain,'” added my friend Amanda.
“How could I?” I asked with a smile. “That movie broke my heart too. That bastard. He keeps making me cry in every damn one of his movies.”
We walked toward the car in silence for a moment.
“Well, I will say this…” I paused for dramatic effect. “Natalie Portman was incredible. If she doesn’t get a Best Actress nomination I’m going to punch a baby.”
“Punch a baby?” Amanda asked, slightly incredulous.
“Okay, maybe that is a little drastic… I think you guys know what I mean though. She was amazing and deserves to win something. A SAG Award. A Golden Globe. An Oscar. She should win them all!”
The conversation continued for awhile after that, naturally. Basically what I’m saying is that “Black Swan” is a movie that will leave you in a state of emotional exhaustion and will haunt you for days to come. Not enough movies do that.

2) The Town

The best movie of the year staring Ben Affleck’s abs and Jon Hamm’s chin! But seriously, people who say that film noir is dead need to rethink their lives. Film noir isn’t dead. It just moved to Boston.
The movie is set in Charlestown, the bank robbery capital of America. It focuses on a gang of professional bank robbers lead by Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck, who is the brains of the outfit. His life is normal enough, if you’re a bank robbing type. He robs banks by day, and kicks back beers with his friends at night. All is well in his world.
Then one day a bank robbery goes horribly wrong, which leads fire-brand Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) to kidnap a bank teller for protection. The woman’s name is Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall, and she is an innocent in all of this. After they evade the cops Affleck convinces Renner to let her go, which he does under protest.
Later that night after they have all had a few drinks Renner convinces the gang that the woman needs to be “taken care of.” Affleck volunteers to “keep an eye on her,” fearing that if Renner has his way the woman will wind up dead in a gutter somewhere.
As fate would have it, Affleck ends up falling in love with Hall and she with him. The only problem is she doesn’t know that it was Affleck and his gang that kidnapped her in the first place, and that’s the way Affleck wants to keep it. It doesn’t end well, as you might imagine.
The most impressive thing about this movie to me was how Affleck managed not only to turn in one of the best performances of his career, but he also managed to do some pretty impressive work behind the camera as a director as well.
Affleck has an eye for detail in every scene. Every actor is perfectly cast. Every scene feels tense, with just a touch of foreboding. It’s a perfect film noir. Affleck will be a director that I will be following with great interest from now on.

1) The Social Network

These days everyone and their mother has a Facebook account. I would know. I have one, and so does my mum.
But what exactly does it all mean?
Should this much sharing exist between people?
With Facebook’s demand for as much information as you are willing to give, this age of information just got a whole lot more personal. George Orwell was wrong. People don’t hate Big Brother. We “like” Big Brother quite a lot and we’ve got the friend counts to prove it!
I have 362 friends on Facebook, but how many of them really know that much about me, other than what I’m willing to share?
In this Facebook age people we barely even know add us as friends on Facebook. I have over 30 people as friends on Facebook who met me and friended me because I was their waiter. That’s not to say that I don’t cherish their friendship, but they really only know that one aspect of my life.
So is Facebook a bad thing? Hardly. I use it all the time. It’s a great social networking tool that allows me to see how my friends and family are doing.
The downside to Facebook is that people are so busy “liking” things and commenting on each other’s status updates that every now and then we forget that there is a world outside of our little internet communities. There is a lot happening in the world, but unless somebody “shares” a news story on Facebook a lot of people won’t bother to read it.
We live in a age of information, but there is so much of it out there that the problem we all suffer from is that there too much information and nobody in their right mind would attempt to read or understand any of it.
So why am I getting all deep and philosophical when I should be talking a certain David Fincher film staring Jesse Eisenberg? Because the movie wants you to. The entire story line of the movie centers around the life of Mark Zuckerberg, played with brilliance and fast-talking dexterity by the always great Jesse Eisenberg. But Facebook isn’t really what the film is about. The film is about what we are becoming as a nation. We’re all on the fast track to somewhere, whether that place is waiting tables, making coffee, going to college, falling in love, robbing a bank, whatever. We’re all going to Facebook our experiences, I can guarantee you that much.
Just ate a tasty burrito? Facebook it! Just saw a great movie? Facebook it! Met a cute boy or a girl at the Laundromat? Facebook it!
We feel a strange need to let everyone we’ve ever known know exactly what we’re going through because our lives are important to us and we need to feel loved, am I right?
I’m no different than the rest, you know. I’m going to post this blog to Facebook as soon as I’m done because I want you all to know that I’m a writer who needs a little love and recognition every now and then! Don’t we all?
And that’s why “The Social Network” is the best movie of 2010! It made us think, and I “like” thinking.

“No Middle Seat” Ep. 1

There was once a little boy who dreamed of great things. He dreamed of superheroes and movie magic. He dreamed of one day being friends with Spider-Man. He dreamed dreams of wonder and beauty. That little boy eventually grew up and become a great man. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today to say that I am that little boy.

*cue dramatic music*

That’s right, folks. I was not always this dashing fellow you know and love. I was once young and nerdy… Actually, now that I think about it, I’m still pretty nerdy. I’ve even got the podcast to prove it!

Being in charge of a podcast has always been a dream of mine, so when my good friend and fellow movie enthusiast Anthony suggested that the two of us begin a joint adventure into the world of podcasting, I jumped at the opportunity!

So here it is for all the world to enjoy: “No Middle Seat.” Sit back, listen and relax. Have a beer. Heck, have two beers. Have an entire keg. You deserve it.

P.S. If the Sound Cloud link doesn’t work please don’t fret your pretty head, because Anthony has the podcast on his blog as well, which you can find by copying and pasting this little ol’ link to your URL:
http://lastcinemastanding.blogspot.com/2010/10/no-middle-seat-episode-01.html