Archive | March 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins

Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn

Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee

Imdb Link

Probably my 14th Watch review

A young hobbit, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), is given a mysterious gold ring by his uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).  The ring turns out to have unspeakable power, and to be the weapon of the dark lord Sauron.  The ring, in Sauron’s hands, could end the world.  With some help from wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and his best friend, Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), as well as about ten others, Frodo must take the ring to the fires of Mount Doom, the one place it can be destroyed.

The Lord of the Rings film series is the best fantasy film series of all time, if not the greatest film series of all time hands down.  When it comes to picking favorites though, the vote is usually split.  Most people will pick the finale, The Return of the King. For me, Fellowship of the Ring takes the cake hands down.  There is not a single thing I dislike in this film, it is all just pitch perfect in my eyes.  From Howard Shore’s enchanting music, to the fantastic visuals, to the great performances.  Fellowship has nearly no flaws in my opinion.  I’ll start off with how the film sets up this incredible world.  In a fantasy film set in a whole other world, completely different to ours, where a lot of films fail is the fact that they don’t set up a believable world, or they don’t set it up quickly enough.  The Lord of the Rings’ first installment has absolutely no trouble setting up a believable world quickly, actually, it does it so well that we are never confused by the strange beasts or events occurring.  We can follow the fantasy world, because Peter Jackson treats it as a reality, not just a fantasy.  Then we have the technical achievements of the film, which really are amazing.  The special effects hold up even thirteen years later; they look so real still it’s incredible.  The practical effects work that Weta workshop did was mind blowing as well.  The prosthetics, swords, everything practical in the film, you wonder how people can create such incredible things with their hands.  The production design is mind blowing, all the sets are perfection, and the location scouts did the most incredible job I have ever seen.  The sweeping helicopter shots of the amazing outdoors could all be used as effective advertisements for tourism New Zealand.  The one thing I tell myself every time I watch these films is that “I really need to go to New Zealand”.  In addition to the beautiful locations and production, we have the cinematography, which is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  The camera angles are spot on, they’re interesting to look at all the time, not a single boring angle in the film.  The lighting design is amazing as well, they use lights and different shading to help set the mood of the scene, which works incredibly well.  The best part of the lighting, is that it looks natural! (COUGH COUGH! I’m looking at you Hobbit films with your terrible lighting design.)  Add in to the camera work the fact that the locations and sets are perfect, and you get one fine looking movie.  Then, as I’ve mentioned before, Howard Shore’s score, might be the best musical score to a film ever written.  Every song both fits it’s scene, and the movie as a whole perfectly.  It can be scary and epic, small and charming, haunting, or just plain fun.  It is one of the few film scores that I could download as an album instead of just a single theme.  I love it so much.  Then there’s the performances, which are so damn good, particularly Ian McKellan and Sean Bean.  McKellan as Gandalf is perfect casting, he nails every part of the role, the voice, the emotion, and even the light hearted mood through all the darkness.  He is the perfect Gandalf.  No one could play it better.  Sean Bean as Boromir is a performance I’ve never paid much attention to, I always thought he kind of blended in with the rest of the cast, but this time, I noticed how damn good he was!  Sean Bean kills it.  He plays Boromir as a coward, and that’s what is so amazing about the role.  He sees underneath the surface “hero” vibe of the character, and plays Boromir so well because of it.  Instead of trying to be Herculean or like some mythological hero, like many other actors would, Bean plays with the flaws of Boromir, and he is so great.  Overall, this is an amazing film, I’m so glad that Jackson did the Lord of the Rings the way he did.  The world would be missing a little bit of magic without this series, and the series would not be as great without a first installment as amazing as this.

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Noah (2014)

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Noah

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Starring Russell Crowe as Noah

Jennifer Connelly as Nameeh

Emma Watson as Ila

Anthony Hopkins as Methusela

Imdb Link

Ten generations since the creator made the world, man kind has destroyed innocence with cities and sin.  Noah (Russell Crowe) gets a vision, telling him that the world, and the race of mankind, is coming to an end.  Noah decides that he must build a giant boat to save the innocents of the world, the animals.

Honestly, this was a huge disappointment in a lot of ways for me. Noah was one of my most anticipated films of 2014, I really like Aronofsky, and it looked like a fresh take on an old tale. Now I’m not religious at all, so I’m not someone who would complain about the tone, or that the story wasn’t told exactly the way it should be. I’m also not anti-religious, so I’m not someone who can’t get beyond the fact that it’s a religious story. I just went in, expecting to be told a great story that many people know and love. What I got was mediocre to say the least. I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the film, then move on to what I found excellent about it. So first, what I didn’t like. The dialogue… my god the dialogue was bad. They tried so hard to use an old english style maybe even middle-earthian type speech, but Aronofsky obviously could not figure out how to make it sound good. It was laughable in parts. In addition to that, they shoehorned biblical phrases in wherever they could, and often times they didn’t fit at all. Still there were some brilliant quotes mixed in with the shit. Then we have the character motivations, which were flawed in my opinion. Noah’s character changed so often it was hard to keep up. First he was a sympathetic father, then he was the savior of the world, then he wanted to kill everybody. I want to say first, yes, I understand that he did have a motivation to want to kill babies. He thought that “the creator” was trying to get rid of mankind, and he had to carry out the duty. However, did he not see the pregnancy as a sign from the creator that mankind should continue? In this world where they believe that every miracle happens because of their creator, why do they think that an infertile girl getting pregnant is something that has to be stopped? Does he not see it as a sign? It makes the character of Noah so much less relatable, and hard to understand. He starts seeming crazy instead of motivated to carry out a task. Then we have the performances of the young boys, which were all very stilted and unpleasant to watch. Russell Crowe was disappointing to me. He wasn’t bad at all, but he wasn’t as good as I expected. I also have to say that the pacing was not to my liking. It always felt like it was either too rushed, or too relaxed. The middle moved on so quickly, when it felt it could be longer, and the end dragged on ten minutes longer than it should have. Now onto the good. The visuals were breathtaking! The cinematography was fantastic. Every single shot was beautifully framed, lit, and composed. The visual effects were incredible as well. I can see it picking up an Oscar nomination for it’s effects. The rock monsters, the water, the locations that were cgi’d in, the growth of the forest, all of it was incredible. I also think that the time lapse sequences were revolutionary, especially the story of creation scene, which is one of the most incredible sequences I’ve seen in forever. Still overall, I did not like Noah. It was far too generic a film for it’s director, and with a badly written script, it was nothing special for me. I still have to honor it for being a technical achievement, but other than that, meh.

Moneyball (2011)

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Moneyball

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane

Jonah Hill as Peter Brand

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe

Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg

Imdb Link

2nd Watch

The Oakland Athletics are one of the poorest teams in Baseball, and in a game where good players cost a lot of money, this puts them at a huge disadvantage.  Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the team’s general manager, and after losing their three best players, he decides to rebuild the team a new way.  With the help of a young analyst, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane creates a new way to make teams.  By using pure mathematics instead of intuition.

Moneyball is the baseball movie for non-baseball fans. I think that this is a film that is entirely accessible to even people who don’t know the basic rules of the game other than “hit ball and run.” Moneyball is not about sports, and that’s what makes it so accessible, it’s about being able to change the foundations of something that’s been the same forever. The film is carried by amazing performances, great direction, and Sorkin’s writing. I think that this is the film that showed the world that Jonah Hill can really act. I mean, he got an Oscar nomination for it, and he really, really was deserving. If you look at anything else that Jonah Hill has ever done, then look at Moneyball, you will see how versatile he is. He kills it in this role. There’s one scene in particular that actually gave me goosebumps, in which Jonah Hill walks down a hall, silent, playing with a baseball in one hand. That scene gave me a flash of the character’s whole life. In that scene, you see why Jonah Hill plays the role almost as depressed. You see a kid with weight problems who wanted so badly to play baseball, but never could because of his weight. You see how heartbreaking it would be for him to want something so bad and to never end up doing it. And you see how he followed his dream in a different way. I know it’s a bit of a stretch making that character assumption from one scene in which Jonah Hill plays with a baseball, but that is exactly what I felt he was going for with his performance, and that makes it all the more brilliant. Jonah Hill is an actor I expect even more great things from in the future, he is so excellent in everything he does. Then we have the direction, which is spectacular, splicing footage from real games into the film as a way of pushing the story forward is amazing. Usually sports films try to create their own footage to push the story forward, or use footage at the beginning and never again. Bennett Miller’s choice to fill the film up with real footage from games is really awesome. I can’t wait for his Foxcatcher, he is a director to watch. Finally, Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite writers, The Social Network is one of the best screenplays of all time, and Moneyball is great too. It has a lot less of Sorkin’s signature quick dialogue, a lot more of Moneyball is spent with actors in silence, it isn’t as dialogue fueled as The Social Network, but when the dialogue is going, it’s amazing. OH! And also, I completely forgot that Chris Pratt was in this! I had no clue who he was seeing it in theaters in 2011, but oh my god, that dude has a future. Chris Pratt just makes me happy whenever I see him in something. Overall, Moneyball is a brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed, and brilliantly written film. I’m so glad I finally got around to watching it again. I would definitely recommend this to everyone, baseball fan or not. It’s just a generally great film.

Mister Lonely (2007)

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Mister Lonely

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Harmony Korine

Starring Diego Luna as Michael Jackson

Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe

Denis Lavant as Charlie Chaplin

Werner Herzog as Father Umbrillo

Imdb Link

A Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) works in Paris, where he has no friends, no family, is completely alone.  One day, he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) who invites him back to her home in Scotland where she lives with many other like minded people.  In a castle, filled with other celebrity impersonators, such as Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), The Pope (James Fox), and Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange)

Harmony Korine is a director that constantly surprises me. I didn’t expect much out of Mister Lonely, I thought it would be a charming and weird movie, but it turned out to be really good. Spring Breakers is another film like that, I thought it would be trash, but it ended up being one of my favorite films of 2013. Harmony Korine is someone who takes ideas that could be b-movies, and makes them into art house films. Mister Lonely is very much an art house film, it uses elements of surrealism to push the themes forward, it has very little plot, and it has a generally very art house atmosphere to it. I have to say, I loved the surrealism in this film, some of the things that happen in the film sound so god damn ridiculous, but somehow watching it, they don’t feel like they’re being forced in to the film. In Mister Lonely you get skydiving nuns, singing eggs, and the pope crying in a bathtub in the middle of a field. It is a very strange movie, but it’s strangeness works so well. Really, Mister Lonely is just a funny and interesting film, if you want to be incredibly weirded out and have a good laugh, give it a watch.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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Grave of the Fireflies

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Isao Takahata

Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita

Ayano Shiraishi as Setsuko

Imdb Link

During the middle of World War 2, two Japanese children are orphaned, and made homeless when an American air raid blows up nearly their entire town.  The children live with their aunt, until they decide to move out and live on their own.

This film has been on my watchlist for ages now, but I’ve never been brave enough to watch it till now. I love Studio Ghibli, and I love historical dramas, and this got amazing reviews, so I needed to see it. However, I’d heard that it was so depressing that it would make you not want to get out of bed the next day. I was searching and searching for the right day to watch the film, a day when I could get depressed and be fine with that. This week was again, not one of those times, but I had nothing else to watch one night, so I just said “Fuck it, I’ll grow a pair and tough it out.” First off I will say, it was so incredibly worth it. The pure beauty and importance of this film trumps how heart-crushingly depressing it was. Second, even though Grave of the Fireflies tore my soul out, threw it on the ground, set it on fire, pissed on it, and then set it on fire again. It was really not as sad as Reddit led me to believe! I was believing that this film would make me give up on humanity, when really afterwards, I just had a nice long reflection on the nature of humanity, and our destructive patterns. I didn’t feel like there is no hope for humanity like all discussions on “The Saddest Films of All-Time” state. Really, I had no reason to be afraid of watching the film. Yes it is one of the ten saddest films I have ever seen for sure, but it is a bit overhyped in the causing depression department. It made me look at “What’s the purpose of it all? Why do we let the innocents die? What is the purpose of our violence?” Or as the film states, “Why must fireflies die so young?” which I believe is the theme of the film. The fireflies represent the innocent people of Japan, and more specifically, the children, who died far before their time. At least, that’s my thoughts on the title and how it relates to the theme. Beyond that, the film is a visual masterpiece as well. While the animation is much different from the style of the Miyazaki films I love, centering on greens and blues, Takahata’s visual mark is just as great. He avoids using green and blue, making it look like nature is not there. The greens all have a yellow tint, looking like they’re dying, and the blues are often kind of red. It’s unnatural coloring, but that’s what’s great about it. Next, the characters that the film creates are excellent. The reason why Grave of the Fireflies is so sad is because we build up such a connection with the kids. We start off the bat knowing exactly how this story will end. It’s not shock that makes us cry, it’s how much we love Seita and Setsuko. The relationship between the two characters is one of the best representations of sibling love in film. I know for sure I would do exactly the same for my little brother. Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible film, it is heartbreaking, but completely worth the watch. It’s one of the films that has made me really take a step back and think. Like Schindler’s List, it’s not a film that is an entertaining experience, but it is so beautifully done that it needs to be seen, and I know, like Schindler’s List, I will watch Grave of the Fireflies many times. It’s worth putting yourself through the pain for.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

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Saving Mr Banks

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Starring Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney

Colin Farrell as Travers Goff

Paul Giamatti as Ralph

Imdb Link

P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is the author of Mary Poppins.  She is a very stubborn, and stuck up lady who has nearly no friends because of her rude, and abrasive personality.  Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has been trying to buy the rights to her book series for twenty years now, and Travers gives in finally because she’s in need of money.  She flies out to Los Angeles to meet up with him, where the Disney company starts trying to negotiate with her for the rights, but it proves to be much more difficult than originally thought.

Saving Mr Banks is without a doubt, above all else, a feel good movie. Everything that happens in it serves a purpose, and that purpose is, to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Now for some people, that is the worst possible thing a film based on fact could do. I know that many people hated this film for how sentimental it was, but you know, every once in a while, I really like a good feel good movie. And Saving Mr Banks was a very good feel good movie. For one, it’s really well crafted in terms of cinematography, editing, sound mixing, and all that good stuff. It’s a nicely done film technically. Then the whole production design was great as well. The sets and costumes are so impressively done. Everything looks so authentic for the eras, it is very well done. Then we have the acting, which was amazing. This was one of the best ensemble cast performances of last year for sure. Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, all of them give fantastic performances. Emma Thompson in particular should have been nominated for an Oscar over Meryl Streep. No one could have pulled off the role of P.L. Travers like she did. The same goes for Tom Hanks. Disney cast the role perfectly, I don’t think I can picture any other actor taking on such a loved figure, than Tom Hanks, one of the most loved actors of all time. I’d say my few problems with Saving Mr Banks come from how disjointed it sometimes felt when switching back and forth from 1902 to 1961. Sometimes it felt like it would have been so much better if it didn’t feel the need to switch locations every five minutes. Still, a very good, very entertaining, and very well acted movie. I definitely recommend this one.

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare (2012)

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The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

★ ★ out of 5

Directed by David Silverman

Imdb Link

After Marge dumps her baby off at the Ayn Rand daycare for the day, Maggie Simpson must find a way to save a caterpillar from being squashed by a maniacal butterfly killing baby.

I love The Simpsons as much as any other guy, but this animated short film was a complete mess. The Longest Daycare had it’s moments, it had the occasional chuckles, or even full on laughs. There were some good jokes in there, but my problem with this short wasn’t it’s comedy, it was the way the story played out. The Longest Daycarewas plain bad in it’s telling of the story. Nothing connected plotwise, no actions inspired other actions, things just happened and we are expected to follow. It changes what direction it’s going in every minute. At first it’s about Maggie not wanting to leave Marge, then it’s about Maggie wanting to be in with the gifted babies, then it’s about her trying to save a caterpillar? It changes story directions so quickly that you wonder why you even care what’s happening. It never commits to anything, that’s it’s problem. Charming in moments, but very unfocused and a very mediocre short.

Fresh Guacamole (2012)

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Fresh Guacamole

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by PES

 Imdb Link

A stop motion animated short film in which someone turns random objects into guacamole.

Fresh Guacamole is one of the most creative short films I’ve ever seen. It has an unusual premise. You take things like grenades, dice, baseballs, and lightbulbs, and make guacamole out of it. The film is 2 minutes long, the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar. However, it totally deserved the nod. What Fresh Guacamole does in those 2 minutes is astounding. The animation is top notch. It is flawless live action stop motion, it’s just incredible looking really. There isn’t a single flaw in the animation. The sound is another thing that makes this a really good short. The sound effects are perfect, it’s as much a pleasure to listen to as it is to watch. Overall, a very creative and fun short. I really recommend giving this a watch. It’s on YouTube and it’ll only take 2 minutes of your time.

On the Waterfront (1954)

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On the Waterfront

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Elia Kazan

Starring Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy

Karl Malden as Father Berry

Lee J Cobb as Johnny Friendly

Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle

Imdb Link

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a washed up boxer working under a corrupt union leader, Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb), at the docks.  After a boy is murdered by Johnny Friendly’s thugs, the police try to get everyone on the waterfront to rat out who did it, but no one will.  Terry befriends the sister of the murdered boy, Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) as well as a priest (Karl Malden).  The two of them slowly work to get Terry to speak up, and rat out the murderers, so that justice can be delivered.

 

This movie is brilliant. I knew next to nothing about it before watching other than the fact that it’s hugely acclaimed, won a buttload of Oscars, stars Marlon Brando, and has the famous “I coulda been a contender” speech. Other than that I went in blind. On the Waterfront is definitely a film that is deserving of it’s title of classic. The script, score, direction, acting, themes, all of it is still as fresh today as it would have been back in ’54. The script is one of the best written screenplays I’ve ever seen on screen by far. The plot is simple, it’s more character driven than anything. The dialogue is reminiscent of something in a classic play by Tennesee Williams or Arthur Miller (something Kazan aimed for, as apparently the film was a shot at Miller). The script flows excellently, and has some of the best lines and speeches ever written. The classic speech that everyone knows from this film is perfectly written. “I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody” is on par with “To be or not to be” in my opinion. The script is really just Shakespearean in it’s level of excellence. I could talk about the screenplay and how masterful it is for hours. It’s also laced with themes that the director obviously cares a lot about. Kazan was trying to defend himself from critics of his choice to rat out former members of the communist party. So he made a film about rats, and the choice between the greater good and what you’ve been taught. You can feel the emotion in the direction of the film, and it is powerful. Kazan’s direction on On the Waterfront is fantastic. Then we have the performances, which are unbelievable. Marlon Brando is amazing, Karl Malden is amazing, Lee J Cobb is amazing, Eva Marie Saint is amazing. Every one in the cast is just amazing. It’s incredible to see a cast of every single person working at the top of their game. Overall, this is one of my new favorite films, and one of the best films I have ever seen. There isn’t a single aspect of this film that isn’t fantastic.

Black Swan (2010)

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Black Swan

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Starring Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers

Mila Kunis as Lily

Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy

Imdb Link

In Black Swan, a ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), dances with a prestigious ballet company in New York city.  After the artistic director of the company, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), decides to replace prima ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder), he casts Nina in the lead of Swan Lake.  Nina, being an innocent, sweet girl perfectly embodies half of the role, the innocent white swan.  However, she has trouble getting in touch with her darker side, and playing the black swan.  Nina begins to get paranoid when a new dancer arrives in the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), who becomes serious competition for Nina, as she embodies the black swan.  As the two dancers rivalry gets more and more intense, reality starts to disintegrate, and Nina becomes more in touch with her dark side.

 

I had seen this before, but I felt like I missed something so I came back to watch it again.  Black Swan is a weird, surreal, and incredibly well thought out film.  This is a great surreal horror film.  Aronofsky builds an incredibly tense atmosphere with music, sound and imagery.  I’m honestly surprised that this wasn’t nominated at the Oscars for sound editing.  The sound effects do so much for the tense atmosphere in the film.  Without the sound editing, this movie would not be as scary an experience as it is.  The sounds are freaky animalistic noises, paired with a soundtrack partially of new tense music, and the music of Swan Lake.  The soundscape of the film is terrifying.  I loved it.  Then we have the imagery, which shows how good a director Aronofsky is.  We have the use of black and white, showing innocence and experience.  Through the film usually everyone is wearing black, showing lack of innocence, but Nina, who wears white, which symbolizes her innocence.  She is surrounded by the real world, which is dark, imperfect, flawed, yet she still believes in perfection.  As she chases perfection more and more, she loses her innocence and starts to become more and more like everyone else.  This is shown by her clothes slowly turning darker through the film till eventually as her transformation is complete, she wears all black.  The black and white theme is also obviously about how she suited the role of the white swan because of her innocence, but slowly becomes more like the black swan, which really is the story of the film.  The one thing that I didn’t understand on my first watch made sense this time.  My first watch, about three years ago now, I was confused trying to figure out what was real and what was not.  This time, I was still just as lost, but that was the point.  She’s losing her mind and you lose yours with her.  She doesn’t know what is going on, why should we?  The surrealism in the film is the fact that it plays out like a bit of a schizophrenic nightmare.  We never know what’s real and what isn’t until it’s revealed to us, and even then we’re unsure.  It could be argued that Lily actually did sleep with Nina, and was trying to steal her part.  It could also be argued that Nina was hallucinating.  But that’s what makes Black Swan awesome, the ambiguity.  We become as paranoid as Nina does.  There were a few things that keep me from loving this film as much as I could though, I’m not a fan of the camera work.  It felt like Aronofsky put so much into what was going on in front of the camera that he forgot to give the cameraman any direction.  The camerawork was shaky and poorly lit.  You would think in a film about perfection, the camera would look a bit nicer.  I also found some of the dialogue stilted and unbelievable.  The script as a whole was great, brilliant thematically, with a great plot, and great ideas, but the dialogue leaves so much to be desired.  Still, Aronofsky is a very good director, which is clear in this masterful paranoid thriller.  I can’t wait for Noah.