Friday, February 27, 2009

Movie Review - Fired Up!

Fired Up! * ½
Directed By:
Will Gluck.
Written By: Freedom Jones.
Starring: Nicholas D'Agosto (Shawn Colfax), Eric Christian Olsen (Nick Brady), Sarah Roemer (Carly), Molly Sims (Diora), Danneel Harris (Bianca), David Walton (Dr. Rick), Adhir Kalyan (Brewster), AnnaLynne McCord (Gwyneth), Juliette Goglia (Poppy), Amber Stevens (Sara), Philip Baker Hall (Coach Byrnes), John Michael Higgins (Coach Keith), Edie McClurg (Ms. Klingerhoff).

It would be easy to be offended by a film like Fired Up! After all, it is a movie that essentially about two guys who use girls for their own personal sexual amusement, and then toss them aside as soon as they are done with them. Not only is this something the movie does not look down on, we are supposed to cheer our “heroes” as over the course of the movie, they learn a valuable lesson. Or at least one does.

But that would be giving the movie more thought than anyone who had anything to do with making it did. This is a movie that cynically tries to cram together other successful movies to make something that teenagers will flock to in droves (I’m sure in the pitch meetings they described it as American Pie meets Bring It On meets The Wedding Crashers). It didn’t seem to work, proving that teenagers have at least some taste.

The movies stars Nicholas D’Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen as two high school students (although D’Agosto is 29 and Olsen is 32!) who are the stars of the high school football team. Instead of going to hot, sweaty football camp for two weeks in the summer, surrounded by nothing but guys, they strike upon a genius idea – they’ll join the cheerleading squad, and spend two weeks sleeping with everything wearing pom poms. Their plan works, but there are complications – D’Agosto ends up falling for his squad’s captain, Carly (Sarah Roemer) and both end up actually caring about cheering.

It must be said that D’Agosto and Olsen are somewhat charming actors, and so they make the movie less painful that it could be. And really, I can’t complain about watching a 90 minutes of a bunch of pretty girls running around in cheerleading outfits (trust me, this doesn’t make me a pervert lusting after teenage girls – most of the cheerleaders appear to be in their mid – 20s). But one thing the movie is missing one key element – it’s not funny. Not ever. The movie just sits there on the screen. Sure, I probably smiled a couple of times, but never really laughed. Humor can make even the most offensive film funny (remember Borat? Or anything by Mel Brooks?). But when an offensive comedy isn’t funny, it’s just offensive. And there’s nothing funny about that.

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 4 of 8

50. Wings (1927/28)
What Should Have Won:
Two of the greatest silent films – The Crowd and Sunrise – were nominated in the Unique and Artisitc category (the only year they had it), and both were better then Wings.
What Was Snubbed: Buster Keaton’s The General is perhaps the best silent comedy of all time, and it didn’t get noticed. Also, Metropolis and The Passion of Joan of Arc are two masterpieces, but I’m not sure either was eligible (they are both foreign films).
Review: In some ways, Oscar’s first winner became the prototypical winner. An audience friendly film, with lots of action, lots of romance, and big stars, that is also quite well made. Yes, Wings has aged a bit more than some of the other films they could have given the first Oscar to, but it is still a hell of a war movie, with exciting aerial battle scenes. Not a masterpiece, but a worthy winner.

49. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
What Should Have Won: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was my favorite of the nominees, but I also would have taken Milk.
What Was Snubbed: My personal preference was Synecdoche, New York, but that was never going to happen. But The Dark Knight, Wall-E and The Wrestler were all way better than anything that was nominated.
Review: Although many thought that picking Slumdog, which after all was a film set in India, with no stars and in another language for much of its running time, was daring for the Academy, it really wasn’t. This is the type of underdog story that the Academy loves. And it is a very well made film, and almost too entertaining for words – at least on the first time through. I’ve seen it three times now, and have to say, I don’t think I’ll watch it again any time soon.

48. Terms of Endearment (1983)
What Should Have Won:
The Right Stuff is probably the best movie ever made about astronauts.
What Was Snubbed: They gave a lot of nominations to Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander, but not for Best Picture. But at least they didn’t completely ignore it like they did with Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Brain DePalma’s Scarface.
Review: Even though I like a number of films more than this one from 1983, it’s hard to argue with the choice, as it’s one of the few times they ever gave an Oscar to a movie about women. Shirley Maclaine is wonderful as the difficult, aging mother, and Debra Winger matches her as her dying daughter. Jack Nicholson also earned his Oscar as the astronaut Maclaine falls for. True, since the movie came out it has been copied so many times it isn’t funny, but watching the film reminds you just how good “chick” flicks can be.

47. Rocky (1976)
What Should Have Won:
Taxi Driver was the best film of the year. But Network and All the President’s Men also would have made a better choice.
What Was Snubbed: Brian DePalma’s Carrie is probably his best film, and one of the best about being a teenager ever made.
Review: Stallone has done his best to sully the reputation of Rocky over the years making five sequels, but the original film still holds up remarkably well. The Rocky formula, which was pretty well worn terrain when this movie got there, has essentially been the template for every sports movie made since, but this film is still inspirational every time you see it. It’s possible to see why people thought Stallone would go on to even greater things when the film was released. As it stands, this was his apex, but he’ll always be remembered for it.

46. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
What Should Have Won:
Born on the Fourth of July was the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is probably the best film on race relations in history, and certainly puts Driving Miss Daisy to shame.
Review: As much as I would love to rag on Driving Miss Daisy, I really can’t. Yes, it’s view of race relations can be simple (although not as simple as some would have you believe) but it is also such a touching film about two people, brought to life in wonderful performances, that I have a hard time criticizing it too much. It certainly isn’t the best film of the year, but it is one of the most re-watchable.

45. The Sting (1973)
What Should Have Won:
The Exorcist was the best.
What Was Snubbed: Last Tango in Paris was thrilling, and Mean Streets was brand new, but the Academy didn’t nominate them.
Review: It’s not tough to see why audiences fell in love with this movie. Two of the most charming movies stars of all time – Robert Redford and Paul Newman – are both at the top of their game, and Robert Shaw is excellent as “the mark”. And director George Roy Hill keeps it all moving remarkably quickly. Certainly an entertaining movie, but I can think of many films from that year that are better.

44. From Here to Eternity (1953)
What Should Have Won:
Personally, I have always loved Julius Caesar, one of the best Shakespeare screen adaptation, although I also think Roman Holiday was better.
What Was Snubbed: Another great Hitchcock film, I Confess, was overlooked, but why didn’t they even nominate Stalag 17?
Review: From Here to Eternity is a fine romance, with a little war stuff thrown in for good measure. The entire cast is wonderful, especially Montgomery Clift, who I think has the best role in the film, although he’s often overlooked. While it would not have been my choice, it is a solid, respectable one for the Academy.

43. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
What Should Have Won:
Citizen Kane – that was easy.
What Was Snubbed: The Lady Eve is one of the best comedies of the studio era – and should have got a nomination.
Review: How Green Was My Valley is probably best remembered for being the film that beat Citizen Kane at the Oscars – forever marring it in the eyes of some. But the film can’t be blamed for not being as good as “the greatest film ever made”. It really is a fine film, about a poor Irish family struggling, all told through the eyes of their young son. No, it wouldn’t make my list of John Ford’s best films, but it really quite good – just not as good as Citizen Kane.

42. Titanic (1997)What Should Have Won: LA Confidential was the best film nominated by a mile.
What Was Snubbed: Boogie Nights was a masterpiece, and Jackie Brown and The Sweet Hereafter are certainly better than anything nominated aside from LA Confidential.
Review: Titanic gets a bad rap simply because it is the biggest movie of all time. Sure, the writing isn’t the best – it is a clichéd story and has some clunkers in the dialogue, along with the awful Billy Zane performance. But the movie is still rather thrilling in an old fashioned way. The last hour is action filmmaking at its very best. Wouldn’t have gotten my vote, but this is hardly the embarrassment some make it out to be.

41. Forrest Gump (1994)
What Should Have Won: I like Gump, but Pulp Fiction should have won this one hands down. Or Quiz Show. Or Shawshank Redemption. But at least Four Weddings and a Funeral didn’t win.
What Was Snubbed: I know many hate Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, but it is a masterpiece. I also love Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
Review: Forrest Gump has gotten a lot of slack over the years for being a right wing parable, which hates the 1960s counter culture, but truly, that’s a load of crap. Gump is a fine film, one that never fails to draw me in whenever it’s on TV. Few heartwarming films get to me, but for whatever reason this one does. You get no complaints from me about it winning the best picture Oscar.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 3 of 8

60. Crash (2005)
What Should Have Won:
Munich, although I know I was in the minority of that opinion, and so in the Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain dogfight, put me down for Brokeback.
What Was Snubbed: David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was his best film, and hugely acclaimed, so it should have got a spot.
Review: Crash is a rather simplistic look at modern race relations. Yes, it is well acted, but it beats you over the head with its message too often. I am not one of those people who hate Crash, and ludicrously call it the worst choice the Academy ever made (seriously people, go back and watch some of the shit that won this prize in the past), but no, I don’t think Crash should have come close to winning the Oscar this year.

59. My Fair Lady (1964)
What Should Have Won:
Dr. Strangelove is the one of the best comedies ever.
What Was Snubbed: Not surprisingly, they overlooked Hitchcock’s great Marnie.
Review: Rex Harrison is wonderful, and Audrey Hepburn is luminous, so I forgive some of the movies more blatantly obvious flaws, and the inherent sexism of the whole enterprise. While, some of it anyway. I don’t think My Fair Lady represents the pinnacle of great musical movie making as many do, but it certainly is an entertaining movie. I just wish it weren’t at least an hour too long.

58. Gandhi (1982)
What Should Have Won:
They should have went with their hearts and gave it to ET. Or hell, Tootsie. Or maybe even The Verdict.
What Was Snubbed: Blade Runner is perhaps the quintessential sci-fi movie of the era. Too bad they didn’t see that.
Review: Gandhi is actually a fine biopic, and Ben Kingsley is quite outstanding in his “debut” performance as the Indian leader. But it’s one of those “important” movies you see once and then never really feel the need to watch again. It would fine for the classroom, but as cinema, it is merely good, not great.

57. Braveheart (1995)
What Should Have Won:
I don’t know, Apollo 13? Babe? Sense and Sensibility? All were better than Braveheart – none were among the best of the year.
What Was Snubbed: Leaving Las Vegas, Nixon, Heat, Casino, Dead Man Walking and the list goes on, and on and on – seriously possibly the worst best picture lineup ever.
Review: Braveheart does have some thrilling battle scenes, but the problem is that director/star Gibson never connects to all that crap that goes on around it. Gibson as a filmmaker is a sadist – he loves inflicting pain on his characters, and the audience, and is incapable of any subtly whatsoever. All that being said, I do enjoy this film more than it sounds like I do – it is never boring – but it doesn’t mean anything.

56. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
What Should Have Won:
Saving Private Ryan was clearly the best film nominated, although I wouldn’t complain if The Thin Red Line had taken the prize.
What Was Snubbed: Okay, I know no one but me likes Todd Solondz, but Happiness really was good enough to get a nomination.
Review: It was shocking when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for the best picture win. It made them look stupid then, and in retrospect, it makes them look even stupider. And yet, Shakespeare in Love is still an expertly written, acted and directed little comedy. It’s something that a lot of best picture winners are not – fun. It’s one of those movies – like Ordinary People or Dances with Wolves – that gets beat up not because of the movie itself, but because of the movie it beat out for the Oscar. And that’s not really fair is it? No, it shouldn’t have won best picture, but yes, I would gladly watch it again, which is something you can’t say for a lot of best picture winners.

55. An American in Paris (1951)
What Should Have Won:
A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the best stage to screen efforts in history.
What Was Snubbed: Two masters made two of their greatest films this year – Hitchcock with Strangers on a Train and Wilder with Ace in the Hole – both were overlooked.
Review: I enjoy Gene Kelly musicals as much as the next guy, and this certainly a good one, but it isn’t a great one. What’s odd is after giving this one the top prize; they would almost completely ignore Singin’ in the Rain, a true masterpiece, the next year. An American in Paris is certainly a fun film – bright and colorful with great dance numbers – but it pales in comparison to some of the best musicals of the era.

54. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
What Should Have Won:
Apocalypse Now is the best film ever made, so it should have won.
What Was Snubbed: Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Hal Ashby’s Being There are two of the best comedies of the decade, so of course neither got nominated for picture, despite several nominations for each film in other categories.
Review: It seems odd to me that Hollywood finally made a movie about divorce and being left alone to raise the children, and had the main character be the husband who gets left with his son, and not the other way around. It is still a fine drama – and Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep who both won Oscars playing the Kramers are excellent – but in a year that they could have given it to any number of better films, it is slightly disappointing.

53. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
What Should Have Won:
Grand Illusion is an absolute masterpiece, but it was in French, so you have to be glad it was nominated, but the Academy would have picked a more enduring, popular film with The Adventures of Robin Hood.
What Was Snubbed: Bringing Up Baby is the best screwball comedy of all time – but then no one realized that in 1938, so it’s hard to get too mad at the Academy.
Review: It’s hard to believe that this is one of the Frank Capra films that won the best picture Oscar, because comparing it with films like Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith and It’s a Wonderful Life, it pales by comparison. It is still a fun little movie, about the evils of money, etc and quality “Capra-corn”, but really, this is the best that 1938 had to offer? I don’t think so.

52. Rain Man (1988)
What Should Have Won:
Honestly, this is a rather weak slate, but I guess I’d go with Dangerous Liaisons for lack of anything better.
What Was Snubbed: Martin Scorsese got nominated for directing The Last Temptation of Christ, but the film didn’t – for shame – and The Unbearable Lightness of Being was also masterful, as was Dead Ringers.
Review: Rain Man is an enjoyable movie, in its rather predictable way. Dustin Hoffman is in fine form, and Tom Cruise is even better (he has a much more complex role than Hoffman). It’s a heartwarming little film, and one I enjoy quite a bit – it’s just not good enough to be an Oscar winner.

51. Chicago (2002)
What Should Have Won: As flawed as it was, I’ll take Gangs of New York any day.
What Was Snubbed: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, and Spike Jonze’ Adaptation were the best comedies of the year – so of course they got ignored.
Review: Chicago is a fun musical and it is actually very well staged by director Rob Marshall, doing very interesting things with the musical numbers. The performances are appropriately larger than life, and even Richard Gere, who isn’t that good a singer, is fine. My own problem with the film is that it is too slick, too stylish, meaning that it never does quite connect emotionally. Still, it is a fun movie, but as for Best Picture of the year, I think not.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 2 of 8

70. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
What Should Have Won:
For the second year in a row, Orson Welles made the best film of the year – this time The Magnificent Ambersons – and once again, it didn’t win.
What Was Snubbed: More Lubitsch brilliance in the Nazi comedy To Be or Not To Be was ignored by the Academy.
Review: America hadn’t entered the war yet, but it didn’t prevent them from embracing this British film about a family struggling during WWII. It is awfully hammy, and functions as little more than propaganda, and the performances range from good to downright bad. It isn’t a horrible film by any stretch, but it isn’t very interesting to the modern viewer either.

69. The Sound of Music (1965)
What Should Have Won:
Another weak year for nominees, but I’ll take Doctor Zhivago over The Sound of Music anyday.
What Was Snubbed: Roman Polanski’s first English language film, Repulsion, was a masterful horror film.
Review: Call me overly cynical if you must, but this film is just too sickly sweet and manipulative for me to truly like it. And it goes on forever. I enjoy Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the film, but the kids can’t really act. By this point haven’t we heard all the songs so often that they’ve lost nearly all their impact. One of those films you don’t mind watching once, but if I had to watch again, I may shoot myself.

68. The Great Ziegfield (1936)
What Should Have Won:
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is one of my favorite Capra movies, and Dodsworth is an uncommonly intelligent adult drama for the 1930s but many of the nominees were better than the film this one.
What Was Snubbed: Where to begin? Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was his last great silent film, Swing Time was more Fred and Ginger fun, My Man Godfrey (which got nominated everywhere except best picture) is one of the best comedies of the decade, Fritz Lang’s Fury is a great revenge drama and the list goes on.
Review: The Great Ziegfield is giant, lumbering musical that goes on for at least an hour longer than it should, grinding to a halt a number of times because of its endless musical numbers that really have nothing to do with the movie. The great William Powell is saddled with a role that doesn’t make use of his considerable skills. But Luise Rainer is wonderful in her Oscar winning role as Ziegfield’s first wife, and the film is certainly okay – just nowhere near great. It’s the first, but not the last, biopic to win the big prize.

67. Going My Way (1944)
What Should Have Won:
Double Indemnity is one of the best film noirs in history.
What Was Snubbed: Otto Preminger’s murder mystery/necrophilia drama Laura, as well as Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, which he made on a drunken dare with Hemingway.
Review: I’m sure there are some who like this film, about two priests, the old school Irishmen and the friendly youngster who sings, I just don’t happen to be one of them. It is an easygoing story, and certainly it’s not a pain to sit through, but Bing Crosby never was the world’s best actor, and although I enjoy Barry Fitzgerald, this isn’t his best work. I saw it once, and really have no desire to sit through it again at any point in my life.

66. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
What Should Have Won:
The Awful Truth is one of the best screwball comedies of all time. They gave it director, so why not go all in and give it picture too? (and by the way, they could have at least nominated Cary Grant's brilliant lead performance).
What Was Snubbed: Inexplicably, the first feature length animated film, the great Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was not nominated. That’s just embarrassing.
Review: Another biopic of a famous person, which would become a drug the Academy couldn’t kick over the years. The Life of Emile Zola is certainly competent filmmaking, and Paul Muni in the lead role is excellent as always, but for me this film is just too by the numbers, too pat, too predictable too dull to be worthy of a best picture prize. And why, when making a biopic of a great writer, do we concentrate on a court case late in the man’s life instead of what he was remembered for? Not nearly as boring as Cimmaron or Cavalcade, but not exactly great either.

65. Out of Africa (1985)
What Should Have Won: Out of Africa was by far the weakest of the nominees, so while I would have voted for Prizzi’s Honor, Witness, The Color Purple or Kiss of the Spider Woman all would have been acceptable.
What Was Snubbed: Akira Kurosawa’s final masterpiece Ran came out this year, and no matter how good the other films of the year were, none compare to this one.
Review: Out of Africa is a long, slow romantic movie about a woman (Meryl Streep) married to someone she doesn’t love (Klaus Maria Brandeur) and finding love with someone else (Robert Redford). Streep and Brandeur are excellent, but Redford is miscast. I like director Sydney Pollock quite a lot, but he should have won for something else. This is one of the slower movies to win, and while it certainly isn’t terrible, it isn’t exactly good either.

64. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
What Should Have Won:
In the Bedroom would have been my choice, although any of the other nominees would have made a far superior winner this year.
What Was Snubbed: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was the most critically acclaimed film of the year, but the Academy played it safe, and didn’t nominate the weird.
Review: A Beautiful Mind is a fine film, just nowhere near the best of the year. It is a by the numbers biopic, by a by the numbers director in Ron Howard. Yes, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are excellent in the film, but the movie never really rises beyond its limitations. It’s good, solid, grade B filmmaking, and as such, while it’s an entertaining movie to watch, it certainly doesn’t qualify as Best Picture material. This one is likely to look lost in the coming years.

63. Hamlet (1948)
What Should Have Won:
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre won a whole lot of Oscars, but not picture. Come on!
What Was Snubbed: Red River is one of the great westerns ever made – and quite a gay romp too under the surface.
Review: Out of all of Oliver’s Shakespeare movies, Hamlet is my least favorite, which is odd because it is probably by favorite Shakespeare play. But the film manages the strange trick of being too stilted and too theatrical at the same time. Olivier cuts the guts out of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy by doing it in voice over as he looks longingly into the distance. I have never been of the opinion that he is the greatest actor ever, and this version of Hamlet certainly proves my case for me.

62. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
What Should Have Won:
Crossfire touched on many of the same themes as Gentleman’s Agreement, and hasn’t aged nearly as poorly.
What Was Snubbed: Out of the Past is perhaps the best film noir ever made, so of course they ignored it.
Review: It’s easy to make fun of Gentleman’s Agreement now, but it’s also easy to forget how daring the film must have been seen at the time. Star Gregory Peck was told by everyone he shouldn’t make the film, because it would ruin his career, but he believed in it so much he did it anyway. Sure, this is a very simplistic view of anti-Semitism, but just two years after the end of WWII, it was a film that needed to be made. Not great cinema by any means, but fascinating as time capsule.


61. Ben-Hur (1959)
What Should Have Won:
Anatomy of a Murder and Room at the Top were the best of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Some Like it Hot got nominated for a bunch, but not picture. Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo were more completely ignored.
Review: Ben-Hur is the type of long epic that the Academy loves to honor, and while the film is at least mildly entertaining, it also goes on WAY too long, and suffers from Charlton Heston’s overwrought (though Oscar winning) performance. And while we’re at it, why did Hugh Griffth win for his mildly racist performance, instead of Stephen Boyd, who seems to be the only one who realizes that the film is a homosexual love story?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thank You to Cristina's Students

I've just been informed by my fiance Cristina, that some of her students were interested in my movie blog. At this point, I'll take all the readers I can get. So if any of you actually do come visit my site, feel free to make comments, suggestions or anything else that pops into your head. But no, I will not be renaming the blog Big D's Movie Time, as I am not a three hundred pound rapper.

Having said that, I am not really wild about the name of the blog, so any suggestions, from anyone, would be appreciated. I kind of decided to do this thing spur of the moment, and Dave's Movies Site was the best I could come up with.

Ranking the Best Picture Winners - Part 1 of 8

Since the Oscar season is officially over, but there doesn't seem to much else movie related to write about at the present time, I figured I would tackle this project. I have seen all 81 films that have won the best picture Oscar. This is a project that took years, as admittedly, there were some films I didn't really want to see, but eventually I sucked it up and got through with it. So, over the next few days, I will post 8 items that go through each and every one of the films that have won the best picture Oscar (including Slumdog Millionaire which won on Sunday). We'll start with the worst and end with the best. Luckily, there aren't too many films that the Academy has rewarded that I downright hate - in fact after Part 2 I can honestly say that I at least liked all of the winners, even if I feel that many (most?) of them didn't even deserve to be nominated, let alone win.

So for each film, I will name the film, say who I think SHOULD have won the Oscar based on the nominees, and tell you what was egregiously snubbed that year and provide a few brief thoughts on the film in question. It should be fun. This first installment has 11 films in it - the rest will have 10. Enjoy!

81. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
What Should Have Won: ANYTHING ELSE!!! My vote would have went to Giant, but anything would have been better then this crap.
What Was Snubbed: John Ford’s single greatest achievement, The Searchers, was completely ignored. Alfred Hitchcock’s great The Wrong Man was also. And the great sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, found no love.
Review: This is probably the worst best picture winner of all time. It isn’t so much a movie, but a string of celebrity cameos following David Niven, and his sidekick Catinfalas, across the world. Even the terrible remake with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan was better than this crap. I understand that the Academy wanted to go BIG, after three years of small, black and white dramas, but any of the nominees fit that bill, and while I have never been a huge fan of any of them, they are all better than this one. Most confusing of all, this isn’t even the type of thing the Academy normally goes for. Normally, they like “important” movies over blockbusters, so it stings a little that one of the only times the went the other way, was one of the times they definitely should not have.

80. Gigi (1958)
What Should Have Won:
For me Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Defiant Ones are neck and neck out of the nominees.
What Was Snubbed: Alfred Hitchcock’s absolute best film was Vertigo, and Orson Welles’ made another masterpiece in Touch of Evil, but the Academy ignored them.
Review: Around the World in 80 Days is certainly a worse film, but out of all the Best Picture Winners, this is my least favorite. Essentially, the movie’s “happy” ending is when the hero of the movie decides not to treat the woman he loves like a whore, which was his plan for most of his running time. And old foggy Maurice Chevlier singing about “little girls” was creepy in the extreme. To me, Gigi is one of those musicals that gives musicals a bad name. You couldn’t pay me to watch this crap again.

79. Chariots of Fire (1981)
What Should Have Won:
My favorite is Reds, although Raiders of the Lost Ark, Atlantic City, and hell, even On Golden Pond were better then this one.
What Was Snubbed: Body Heat is one of the best modern noirs, and should have got in. And since they nominated one Louis Malle masterpiece in Atlantic City, why not two, with My Dinner with Andre.
Review: I find Chariots of Fire ridiculously dull and boring. Even the much praised score by Vangelis has been overused so often now (in case you don’t know, it’s the music that plays in every sitcom when someone runs in slow motion) that I find it annoying. Yes, this was the rare case of the little movie that could triumph over the Hollywood behemoths. I just wish it didn’t. And on a side note, how they hell did this win costume design? They were all wearing white T-shirts and shorts! I could design these costumes after 10 minutes in Wal-Mart!

78. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
What Should Have Won:
High Noon was probably the best of the nominees, but that’s not really saying much.
What Was Snubbed: How did they miss the genius of Singin’ in the Rain?
Review: This is the kind of “spectacle” movie that the Oscars periodically go for, and look stupid for all time because of it. Cecil B. DeMille’s circus epic has no real plot, no real characters, and simply moves from one cliché to the next. Charlton Heston made a lot of bad movies, but I’m not sure he was ever worse than he was in this film. Not even the presence of Jimmy Stewart as a sad clown can save this utter mess of a movie. And the damn thing never ends! It just keeps going and going and going.

77. Cimmaron (1931)
What Should Have Won:
The Front Page had a few problems on its own, but it was WAY better than Cimmaron.
What Was Snubbed: What wasn’t? Frankenstein, Dracula, The Public Enemy, M and best of all City Lights. 1931 was a great year, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the nominees.
Review: Cimmaron represents all that is wrong with the Academy and their choices. Yes, Cimmaron was a sweeping epic, with big stars and lots of box office. But did know one notice just how bad Richard Dix’s lead performance is (honestly, this is one of the worst performance ever to be nominated), or how inherently racist some of the movie was, or the fact that director Wesley Ruggles somehow manages to drain all the energy out of the movie? Yes, Irene Dunne is good – she always is – but this movie is a bloated mess. I found it damn hard to make it through the film in one sitting.

76. Cavalcade (1933)
What Should Have Won:
I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang is one of the few 1930s “message” movies that still packs a wallop all these years later.
What Was Snubbed: King Kong was an early horror masterwork, and Duck Soup was the best of the Marx Brothers, and once again they overlooked Ernst Lubitsch at his best with Design for Living.
Review: Like Cimarron, this represents the Academy at its worst, picking a long, slow, boring film that spans decades in the life of one family – who seems to be involved in every major event for the late 1800s until the 1930s. The film is one slow, long winded scene after another, and gets boring really fast.

75. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
What Should Have Won:
Honestly not sure, as I’ve only seen two of the nominees, this is In Old Arizona, and didn’t really care for either.
What Was Snubbed: Lots of great foreign films, including two from GW Pabst – Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, as well as Fritz Lang’s Spies.
Review: This was the first year of the “talkies”, so it should come as no surprise that the Academy embraced this emerging art form, with all its bumps, instead of embracing silent film, which at this point had been perfected. But, still, there had to be something better than this clunky, melodramatic backstage musical about two sisters. Certainly not painful to watch, but I can guarantee that if it didn’t win the Oscar, no one nowadays would even care about it.

74. Oliver! (1968)
What Should Have Won:
The Lion in Winter is the best of weak field.
What Was Snubbed: 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it wasn’t even nominated is a source of great embarrassment to the Academy.
Review: I really don’t think that Charles Dickens’ dark tale of orphans who rob the people of London needed a happy-go-lucky rendition to make itself better. The kid playing Oliver has got to be among the blandest actors ever to headline a best picture winner. You can almost forgive earlier screen versions for their blatant anti-Semitism in the portrayal of Fagin, but in 1968 they really should have known better. Yes, the movie is colorful and lively, and Carol Reed is a great director, but really, this was the best they could come up with?

73. The English Patient (1996)
What Should Have Won:
Fargo, quite simply one of the best films ever made.
What Was Snubbed: Why no love for John Sayles’ best film Lone Star, an intelligent whodunit, combining genres to perfection.
Review: Maybe it was that Seinfeld episode, but it seems like everyone now agrees with what I said all along – this film is downright boring. It is handsomely mounted, sure, but it gets so bogged down in subplots and spends far too much time gazing lovingly at its impossibly beautiful cast through Vaseline coated lenses, that I simply get bored watching the damn thing. In my mind, this is one of the worst films ever to win this prize.

72. Tom Jones (1963)
What Should Have Won:
One of the weakest fields ever, but everything nominated was better then this.
What Was Snubbed: Hud, The Great Escape, The Birds, The Trial and a host of foreign films.
Review: Perhaps there was a time when this ribald British comedy seemed daring and risky. Now, you get more sexual innuendo on an episode of Hannah Montana. The film is acted well, but that’s about all you can really say. Director Tony Richardson jumped onto the trendy ‘60s style of direction, but the style hasn’t aged well. This simply looks embarrassing now.

71. Gladiator (2000)
What Should Have Won: Traffic was the best of the nominees easily, although I would have been just as happy with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
What Was Snubbed: Requiem for a Dream was my favorite film of the year, but it was so dark that the Academy basically ignored it.
Review: Gladiator was a huge sensation when it was released in 2000, but I immediately disliked it. For a gladiator movie it is way too serious and dour, and I thought the visual look of the film was weak – especially the phony special effects and the action scenes went on too long and became boring and repetitive. Yes, Russell Crowe commands the screen, and Joaquin Phoenix is slimy as the emperor, but the whole movie never really takes off. This is one of those films I keep meaning to re-watch, but never actually do.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Reactions

So another Oscar season if officially behind us. This season has in a lot of ways, been kind of disappointing and boring to me. There are many reasons for this. From the fact that the 2008 was not the strongest year in movies, and even still the Academy was not very imaginative in their nominees. While I didn’t dislike any of the nominees, I didn’t absolutely love any of them either. But now that the season is behind us, I will still miss it. Why? Because for a few months every year, the Oscar season gets people to discuss what makes movies great, and which ones should be awarded. Now, that is behind us again, until next December. But enough about that, let’s get the Oscar show itself.

My Predictions

I did poorly this year - more poorly than I can ever remember myself doing. I ended up getting 17/24 right this year. Normally, I am somewhere around 20. Yet, I can’t say I feel that bad about my choices despite my poor result. The seven categories I missed - Actor, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film, Sound Editing, Animated Short, Documentary Short and Song were all tough calls. And the winners in five of those categories were my number 2 choice, and ones that I wavered on. If I wavered the other way, I could have had my best year. But we cannot really dwell on that. This year, I did merely okay. So be it.

Most Surprising Winner - Foreign Language Film - Departures

This was the only one of the seven misses I had that actually surprised me. While I may not have thought that some of the others would win, I certainly did view each as a possibility. Not so with Japan’s entry in the Foreign Language race. To be fair, I did read two articles late last week that pointed out the fact Departures could win, but I didn’t really pay much attention. Part of the reason for this is because no one had really seen the movie. But I guess this means that there is at least one great film to be seen in the upcoming months - or whenever this film is released.

Best Speech - Sean Penn

Yes, I wanted to see what Mickey Rourke was going to say, but I really do think that Penn’s speech was the best one of the night. Unlike when he won for Mystic River in 2003, this time Penn seemed genuinely appreciative of winning the award, and was, dare I say it, almost gracious. He also proved that he can have a sense of humor about himself, and had one of the best lines of the nights (“You commie, homo loving sons of guns”) and was able to make a political statement, that was actually relevant to his movie. And his shout out to Mickey Rourke was classy. Penn may never actually be great at these things, but here he proved he can do it if he wants to.

Most Emotional Speech - Kate Winslet

It was great to see the best actress working today finally win an Oscar, and even better to see someone who actually seemed to WANT to win, and was overjoyed to do so. And yet, Winslet never melted down into the sentimental depths that many previous winners in this category have done. Well done.

Funniest Moment

Ben Stiller doing a killer Joaquin Phoenix impersonation while presenting the cinematography award with Natalie Portman (who had a killer line in “You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab”). Yes, it was disrespectful to Phoenix, who if it wasn’t an act could have some serious problems, and it distracted from the award itself, especially as he started wandering around aimlessly during the clip reel, but because it was funny, it didn’t matter.

Hugh Jackman

I think Jackman did what an Oscar host is supposed to - get the show off to a fun start and then mostly disappear, showing up mainly to make a witty remark every now and then and keep the show moving along. His opening number may not have quite had the same wit as the best Billy Crystal numbers, but Jackman is a better song and dance man, so he made it work. The highlight was his tribute to The Reader, a weird, futuristic dance number, where he admitted he hadn’t actually seen the film. Anne Hathaway was a good sport, and did a fine job playing Richard Nixon to Jackman’s David Frost. The second musical number, with “special guests” Beyonce Knowles, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Dominic Cooper and Amanda Siegfried may have been a bit of overkill, but the performers somehow pulled it off. It was certainly imaginatively staged and scored. Overall, I thought Jackman brought a much needed element of class to the evening - something that the show was missing under Jon Stewart, even if he was much funnier than Jackman.

The Presentations - Acting Categories

I have mixed feelings about the new way they presented the acting awards this year. Having five former winners come out, and have them each say something nice about each of the nominees is something that I think probably worked better on paper than in practice. The supporting actress presentation was painful, but that could have just been because it was so unexpected. They got better as the night progressed however; I genuinely liked the actor presentation. What I missed however was showing the clips of the nominated performances. I think to people at home who hadn’t seen all the nominees (and judging on the grosses of the movies, that’s pretty much everyone) this probably was more annoying then it was for me, because at least I could relate to what they were saying. But since this is an awards show, rewarding performances in the movies, shouldn’t they have played some clips of the performances? I did see a clip of Penn and Winslet and Ledger, but did we see any of Cruz's winning performance at all? After all is said and done, I think this is one of those experiments the Academy tries once, and then goes back to normal the following year.

The Presentations - Tech Categories

I liked how they did them this year, grouping them together into like categories, and having one presenter, or team of presenters, give them out back to back. This kept the show moving along at a brisk clip, and yet still allowed the tech guys to have their moment in the sun, without treating them like cattle by herding them up on stage, or acting like they didn’t matter by giving the award out at their seats. I liked it.

The Song Nominees

Sorry, I thought it was disrespectful for a show that had two hugely long musical numbers to shunt the song nominees into a shorter montage that mixed the three songs together. O Saya was drained of all its energy, Down to the Ground was no longer a funny little song, but rather a bland song and Jai Ho didn’t seem like very much fun. This was probably the low point in the show.

2008 Movie Yearbook

In theory, this is a great idea. I like the idea of honoring the films of the current year, instead of celebrating the past. The best one, by far, was Judd Apatow’s short film about the year in comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as their Pineapple Express characters getting stoned and watching the movies. The highlight of that one was Franco tearing up as he watched himself and Sean Penn in Milk. The problem I had with many of the rest of them was that they felt like they were directed by Michael Bay, with quick cutting throughout and never really highlighting the films themselves. This was a good first step, but it needs to be refined next year.

Other Clip Reels

In theory, I like the idea of showing some of the work that was nominated, like they tried to do with many of the tech categories. But I found that many of these clip reels, particularly the in memoriam segment, were not well served with how they were presented. Instead of filling the screen, like they should have done, they simply shot the giant screens, sometimes at weird angles so you couldn’t really tell what they were showing. I couldn’t even tell who all the people who passed away were, because I couldn’t see their names. And having Queen Latifah singing throughout this segment, no matter how good she is, was an unnecessary distraction. The one I really liked was the one for the best picture nominees, which tied the current year’s nominees to the nominees of years past. I did find it odd that they should Braveheart, one of the most homophobic movies I can recall, in the reel for Milk, but whatever.

Other Thoughts

I thought they did the Humanitarian award to Jerry Lewis well - they were respectful, but it didn’t go on for too long. And Lewis himself was gracious, and thankfully short, in his acceptance speech. I often find that these awards, along with the lifetime achievement awards, usually bring the show to a screeching halt, but this time it didn’t.

On the Slumdog sweep, all I can say is that it was expected, and like most years where one film so completely dominated, it got boring after a while. I liked the film as much as the next guy, but there’s only so often I can listen to Danny Boyle being thanked before I get bored.

The Heath Ledger acceptance speech by his family was sentimental and touching, but went on too long. Yes, I still feel sad that Ledger died, and feel he deserved to win, but the constant tributes to him this season were a little much.

Finally, since everyone always talks about these things, I will add one person to the best dressed list. For me, I think Natalie Portman looked the best - great hair, great dress, absolutely gorgeous. But then again, I am already in love with Natalie Portman (and Cristina, being the wonderful wife she is accepts our love), so perhaps I’m biased.

Conclusion

I liked this year’s Oscars probably about as much as I could have considering I did poorly on my predictions, wasn’t overly thrilled with the nominees and was bored by the Slumdog sweep. With a few tweaks, the changes they made this year would have worked much better. Since this is the first year that the show was handed over to Bill Condon and his team, so a few bumps are to be expected. I hope that if the ratings are down again this year, which they may very well be, that they don’t take the blame for it, and that they are given another chance. Because if they are given a chance to make the improvements needed. And Hugh Jackman, with another year or two, could become one of the great hosts. That’s all for now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts - Capsule Reviews

I just finished a marathon viewing of all five Live Action Short Nominees, so below I have written capsule reviews for each of them. While none of them can compare with the energy Martin McDonagh's Six Shooter (for those who loved In Bruges, you really should check out the director's short) or the sense of sheer dread of Andrea Arnold Wasp, two recent winners, three of the films do border on greatness, and only one was in my mind subpar. Sadly, it was my least favorite that I still think is going to end up winning and I have strange feeling that if something else is going to win, it will be my second least favorite. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste.

Manon on the Asphalt *** 1/2

A simple, subtle, beautiful film, this is almost more of a tone poem than a narrative. A young woman gets hit by a car, and while she lies on the road, thinking she's dying (whether she is or not, we never find out, but it's really not the point) she thinks about how all the people in her life will react to her death, and through a series of her last moments - the last time she spoke to her mother, the last time she watched a movie, the last time she had sex, etc. What's remarkable about the film is how completely it creates this character, and her world, in such a short period of time. Movies like this, stretched into feature length, often grate on my nerves, but shorts are the perfect venue for this sort of filmmaking.

New Boy ***

A simple story about a young African boy's first day at his new Catholic school. The movie flashes back and forth to his life at his new school, where he is picked on, and at his old school in Africa where he popular, but ends with the simple message that we are all really the same inside. No, the film doesn't do anything new, but what it does it does well. It's entertaining, funny and thoughtful, and at 11 minutes, the shortest of the nominees, it doesn't wear out its welcome. A fine little film.

On The Line *** 1/2
The longest of the nominees, On the Line is a quiet study of love and guilt. Rolf is a mall security guard (nothing like Paul Blart) who is in love with Sarah, who works at the bookstore, although she barely acknowledges his existance - but they do wave to each other when they see each other on the subway each night. One night, she gets on the train with a man Rolf assumes to be her boyfriend. She gets angry and storms off the train, which makes a bunch of teenagers start harassing the supposed boyfriend. Rolf witnesses it all, but when things turn violent, he doesn't step in - he just gets off the train, only later does he discover that the teenagers killed the man. Now, he feels guilty, but at the same time the tragedy in Sarah's life somehow brings them closer together. The movie packs an emotional wallop, all the more so because it never devolves into theatrics or melodrama. The final shot in the film is haunting, and one I cannot get out of my mind.

The Pig *** 1/2

A Danish man checks into the hospital for surgery, and becomes obsessed with a painting of a pig on the wall in his room. He starts to think of the pig as his guardian angel. When het gets out of surgery, and discovers there have been some complications, he discovers the painting of the pig is gone - out of consideration for his new roommate who is Muslim. And he's none too happy about it. Being a Danish film, I couldn't help but remember the trouble about the cartoon a few years ago. The film is about tolerance and acceptance, and for most of its running time it is quite absorbing, and even at times, quite funny. But the final scene rings false to me. Otherwise, this would have been an easy choice as my favorite.

Toyland ** 1/2

In 1942 a young German boy is best friends with a Jew. His mother tells him that his best friend, and his family, will soon be going a trip to Toyland, making the boy want to go with them. On the morning that the Jews are rounded up, the mother discovers her son missing, and sets out to try and find him. The film boasts some impressive production design, and an interesting cross cutting narrative, and yet the whole movie rings false to me. We have seen this movie done before, and better, in the past. There is nothing really wrong with the film, but I wonder if there is a reason why it had to be made.

So there you have it, my take on the five nominated live action films. I still think Toyland will end up winning the Oscar, as it has the "weight" and "importance"of a winner, but it's my least favorite. So what was my favorite? I'd have to go with On the Line, although both Manon and The Pig come very close for me. As I mentioned, if The Pig had ended better it would have easily been my choice, but it didn't, and On the Line has a genuinely great ending, so there you have it.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films - Capsule Reviews

I have now seen four of the five animated short films that are competing for the Oscar tomorrow night. The fifth film, Les Maison des Petits Cubes (which for some reason has the english title, Pieces of Love Volume 1, instead of House of Small Cubes) is still not available for download at itunes like the rest are. This angers me, as I have heard great things about this film - with some even calling for it to upset tomorrow. But, what can you do? I really cannot delay this any longer. So, below I have reviewed the four films I have seen, listed in alpahbetical order.

Lavatory Lovestory **
The longest of the nominees, at nearly 10 minutes, is also the most simply animated - and by far the most boring. You know you're in trouble when you're checking your watch during a ten minute movie. The story is a simple - a lonely women who collects quarters at a public pay toilet discovers she has a secret admirer when someone leaves flowers for her - but somehow she keeps missing who it is. The film drags, and the simple animation, while still impressive in its own right, is still rather dull and lifeless. Not really much to recommend here.

Octapodi *** 1/2
The shortest nominee, at barely 3 1/2 minutes, this is a fast paced, funny movie about two octupai (sp?) in a seafood store in love. When one gets bought and taken away in a cooler, the other goes on a wild chase through the streets to get her back. The movie is impressively animated, tells its story quickly and cleanly, and is hilarious throughout. Quite simply, it's the best animated short film about octupuses you'll ever see.

Presto ****
The film that almost everyone has seen is also clearly the best. Pixar's entry this year played at the beginning of Wall-E and is a stunning, hilarious short about a magician and his rabbit, who go to war because the rabbit wants his carrot before he'll perform. The film is endlessly inventive, brilliantly well animated, and most of all laugh out loud funny. It's almost unfair that Pixar gets to compete here - they have more time and money to devote to these things, and everyone gets to see them, but you cannot argue with the resul, which is clearly the best of the nominees.

This Way Up *** 1/2
This is a very strange little black comedy about a father/son mortician team who arrive to take away the body of an old lady, have their hearse crushed by a huge boulder, and then have to transport her to the cemetary in whatever they can, involving a series of strange, hilarious events, culminating with a weird dance of the skeletons and demons on the river styx. This almost reminded me of something Tim Burton would come up with, but the film is shade lighter than that. Still, a great little short film.

So that's it. Presto is still my choice as the best film nominated, and I still think it should win. I will try and update this if the fifth film ever comes online, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Next up - I'm try to get through all the live action film nominees - but they are longer so it's a little more time consuming, and time is one thing I don't have right now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

40 Most Anticipated Films of 2009 - Part IV

So at long last, we arrive at my top ten most anticipated films of the year. All but three are by directors who have had a film on my top ten list at least once in the last ten years - the three that don't are made by Pixar, are based on the best graphic novel of all time or star Daniel Day Lewis. Nothing would make me happier than these ten being the ten best films of the year - but they probably won't be.

10. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
Starring:
Liam Neesom.
Why? It’s Spielberg doing what he does best – serious, history based filmmaking, which I am sure he’ll do with intelligence and humanity. This would actually be much higher on my list if I actually left Spielberg could get it done in the timeframe he thinks he can. As it stands, I’m not sure if we’ll see this film this year or not.

9. Up (Pete Doctor)
Starring:
Ed Asner, Delory Lindo, Christopher Plummer, John Ratzenburger.
Why? 3 of the last 4 Pixar movies have ended up on my top ten lists, so its seems silly not to have this on my anticipated film list. Plus the trailer looks great. Pixar always delivers the goods.

8. Watchmen (Zack Snyder)
Starring:
Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode.
Why? I may have hated 300, but I did love Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. The graphic novel is one of the best works of fiction of the late 20th century, no matter what medium, and if done right could be one of the year’s best. I am just hoping it’s not one of the year’s worst.

7. The Tree of Life (Terence Malick)
Starring:
Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw, Pell James.
Why? Malick has only made four films in his almost 40 year career, but all of them have been visually stunning and brilliant. No clue really what is about, but with Malick you know it will be one of a kind.

6. Inglorious Bastards (Quentin Tarantino)
Starring:
Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Mike Myers, Michael Fassbender.
Why? I may have grown up a little since I thought that Tarantino was the best director in the world, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t enjoy the hell out of every film the guys makes. This maybe crap, but somehow I think it will end up being fun.

5. Nine (Robert Marshall)
Starring:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Stacy Ferguson, Kate Hudson.
Why? I have grown to love musicals in the past few years, and have come to think of Daniel Day Lewis as the best actor in the world. The thought of those two elements together, combined with the fact that this is a musical version of Fellini’s masterpiece 8 ½ has me watering at the mouth to get a peak at this one.

4. A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Starring:
Adam Arkin, Richard Kind, Michael Sthualbarg.
Why? The Coens can do no wrong with me, whether they make a manic comedy or serious drama, so despite the fact that this has a no name cast, I have faith that they have made another great movie.

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley.
Why? Scorsese’s films usually occupy my number one spot on anticipated lists, as he is my favorite director of all time. But, I merely liked, did not love, the Dennis Lehane novel on which the movie is based. I have faith that Scorsese will make a great movie, as he always does, but my enthusiasm is just a shade less than normal.

2. The Road (John Hillcoat)
Starring:
Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Garret Dillahunt, Molly Parker.
Why? Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite of his books. The material is perfect for Hillcoat, and he has a great cast, headed by Viggo Mortenson. This ranked high last year, and the fact that it got delayed hasn’t deterred me from looking forward to it. I can’t wait until they announce a release date.

1. Public Enemies (Michael Mann)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Channing Tatum, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Leelee Sobieski, Giovanni Ribisi, Emile de Ravin, Stephen Dorff.
Why? I’m about half way through Bryan Burrough’s fabulous book about the birth of the FBI in 1933-34, where they hunted John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, the Barker Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, and I can tell it’s going to make a great movie. The film seems to concentrate on Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, which makes sense because the whole thing would be too much. Michael Mann is one of the best directors in the world, and this movie is right up his alley. I cannot wait for this one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie Review - Che

Che ****
Directed by:
Steven Soderbergh.
Written By: Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen.
Starring: Benicio Del Toro (Ernesto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna), Demián Bichir (Fidel Castro), Franka Potente (Tania), Lou Diamond Phillips (Mario Monje), Kahlil Mendez (Urbano), Julia Ormond (Lisa Howard), Édgar Ramírez (Ciro Redondo), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Aleida Guevara), Rodrigo Santoro (Raul Castro).

Steven Soderbergh’s four and a half hour Che is an epic masterpiece, the kind that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore - and never really did. The film, which takes its basic structure from Lawrence of Arabia where the first half has its hero on the ascendant and the second half has the character falling apart, is more in the vein of something that Gillo Pontecorvo or Bernardo Bertolucci would have made in the 1960s or 1970s. I saw in its entirety at the Toronto Film Festival; it will most likely be split into two parts for distribution. And that is a shame, because although each movie has different structures, stories and even aspect ratios, they feel like apart of a whole. Neither film would be as good by itself as they are together.

The first half covers the time between 1955 and 1962, but jumps around chronologically in time. We see Che as he first gets involved in the Cuban revolution in Mexico, and just how that campaign went, and why it worked as well it did. Throughout, we also flash to Che’s visit to New York in 1962 to speak at the UN, give interviews, and hobnob with the intellectual elite. This is the Che that is generally romanticized, and while it is impossible not to be drawn into Che’s worldview, the film doesn’t really glamorize him. It doesn’t hesitate to show the more brutal side of Che, and does not overlook the protests that came along with his visit to New York.

The second film is much more intimate, more straight forward than the first half. It covers a shorter period of time - 1966-1967 - and shows what happened when he tried to export the revolution to Bolivia. Where the first film was shot in a sweeping widescreen, the second film is shot in a more conventional 1.85:1 ratio. After the first half of the film, this one feels like the sides of the screen are closing in on Che, trapping him, much like the Bolivian army does to Che in the film. The conditions that made Cuba so ripe for this type of armed revolution were almost completely absent in Bolivia, so that Che and his men never really have a chance.

Central to the success of the movie is the casting of Benicio Del Toro as Che. This is a remarkable performance, uncanny in his likeness and inflections to Che, and how is able to fully capture Che as man. This is all the more remarkable because the movie doesn’t really explore the internal space of Che, but rather his outward actions and speeches. Nor does the film really give Del Toro any of those dramatic close-ups that actors love so much. The film concentrates on Che’s drive and determination, not so much his thought processes.

If you want to break the film down simply, it mainly examines what went right in Cuba and what went wrong in Bolivia. This is not an easy film, nor is it extremely mainstream in the way we think of when we think of Hollywood biopics. It doesn’t try to “explain” Che, doesn’t reduce him to a series of clichés, doesn’t link all the events in his life to some childhood trauma.

Supporting Del Toro is an exceptional cast, most of whom drift in and out of the frame. Many of the actors feel like real people, not actors. This makes it all the more remarkable that movie stars like Del Toro, Frank Potente, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Lou Diamond Phillips all fit in naturally with them the supporting players. The other truly great performance in the film is by Demian Bichar as Fidel Castro. Like Che, many people will come into the movie with fully formed opinions on Castro, and the movie will most likely not change those. Castro is portrayed as an ambitious, smart man, who nevertheless let others do the heavy lifting for him. He sits back and watches the revolution unfold around him – he was “too important” to risk getting killed. It is a great little performance.

Soderbergh has always been willing to take risks in his films, and try out different styles and genres. That he can go from an old time film noir like The Good German to the very mainstream Ocean’s 13 to this idiosyncratic epic in the style of the Italian masters is a testament to his skill behind the camera. Soderbergh hasn’t made a truly great film is a number of years now, but with Che he is back on track. I cannot think of another American film this year that is this wildly ambitious, or that succeeds quite like this one does. Whether or not anyone sees this film when it gets released later this year isn’t really the point. Soderbergh has made a film that haunts you afterwards, and one that I think will simply grow in esteem in the years to come.

Note: This is technically a 2008 film, so intially I wasn't going to post my review, which I wrote shortly after seeing the film at the Toronto Film Festival in September. But since the film wasn't released in Canada in 2008, and is finally hitting screens, at least in Toronto, on February 20th, I figured I would post the review. Besides, it's nice to be able to post a review of a film I actually loved. If you have any interest in seeing the film, you owe to yourself to track it down and see it on the bigscreen, in it's entirity in one sitting if you can. I'm sure for the readers in Waterloo, the Princess will probably give the oppurtunity to do that in the coming weeks.

40 Most Anticipated Films of 2009 - Part III

20. Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu)
Starring:
Javier Bardem, Ruben Ochhandiano.
Why? In his first three films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, Innaritu has made three wonderful films. I have no doubt he can do it again, this time in Spanish, with the brilliant Javier Bardem as his leading man.

19. Avatar (James Cameron)
Starring:
Sam Worthington, Sigourny Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi.
Why? James Cameron finally returns to filmmaking after over a decade. Seems like a return to his sci-fi/action roots, and I for one cannot wait to see what he comes up with.

18. The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson)
Starring:
Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Saorise Ronan, Stanley Tucci.
Why? The book, about a dead girl who narrates from heaven what happens to her family, and her murderer, was quietly powerful. This could be a return to Heavenly Creatures territory for director Peter Jackson, after years spent in Middle Earth and with giant monkeys.

17. Taking Woodstock (Ang Lee)
Starring:
Demetri Martin, Live Scheiber, Emile Hirsh, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Paul Dano, Eugene Levy, Dan Fogler, Imelda Stauton.
Why? I’m not sure we need another Woodstock movie, but I’ll follow director Ang Lee anywhere.

16. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright)
Starring:
Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Why? Okay, first of all, Edgar Wright is a comic genius. He’s the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well perhaps the best of the trailers in Grindhouse. Second of all, Michael Cera is hilarious, and I’m glad to see he’s playing an adult this time, and not another high school kid, even if it’s essentially him again. The rest of the cast also has me – Chris Evans can be enjoyable, I loved Anna Kendrick in Rocket Science, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is always great (or at least great to look at)

15. Nailed (David O. Russell)
Starring:
Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Marsden, Catherine Keener, James Brolin.
Why? David O. Russell may be a huge prick, but the man is one of the best comedic writer/directors in the world right now. While I may not be crazy about Biel, I think this could be her chance to prove me wrong. The story, about a woman who gets a nail to the head, and then heads for Washington, could be wonderful, or stupid, or wonderfully stupid.

14. The Informant (Steven Soderbergh)
Starring:
Matt Damon, Melanie Lynsky, Scott Bakula, Patton Oswald.
Why? I loved Steven Soderbergh, even when his films are mere excercises in style. This seems to be something akin to Erin Brockovich, or Michael Mann’s The Insider, so I’m looking for this one to be a major Oscar player.

13. Ponyo on a Cliff (Hayao Miyazaki)
Starring:
Cate Blanchatt, Liam Neesom, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin.
Why? Miyzaki has always made wonderful animated films, that are mature and subtle, and absolutely beautiful. With each film, I fear it will be his last, but he keeps cranking them out, and they keep being brilliant.

12. Green Zone (Paul Greengrass)
Starring:
Matt Damon, Brenden Gleason, Jason Issacs, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan.
Why? Greengrass has turned himself into one of the best directors of his day, and this CIA thriller about weapons of mass destruction seems right up his alley. I hope it doesn’t become this year’s Body of Lies.

11. Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz)
Starring:
Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Chane’t Johnson, Paris Hilton, Ally Sheedy, Allison Janney, Charlotte Rampling, Paul Reubens.
Why? Yes, a movie starring Paris Hilton and Peewee Herman is on my most anticipated list, even though I don’t know if we’ll get a chance to see it this year, or if it will actually end being called Life During Wartime. Todd Solondz remains for me one of the best, most independent filmmakers working today, and his films are always challenging and thought provoking. I’m sure this one will be no different.

Movie Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans *
Directed By:
Patrick Tatopoulus.
Written By: Danny McBride & Dirk Blackman & Howard McCain.
Starring: Michael Sheen (Lucian), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Rhona Mitra (Sonja), Steven Mackintosh (Tannis), Kevin Grevioux (Raze), David Ashton (Coloman).

Note: This is a capsule review, meaning that it is not nearly as long as most of my reviews. I do these once in a while, normally either when I’ve seen something really late, or on video, or as the case is here, I don’t really have much to say about the movie. Normally, I will simply put the words Capsule Review in bold at the top of the review.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is an example of a movie that was made solely to make money. Yeah, I know, all movies are made with at least the hope of making money, but there are some films where you know no one involved in the making of the film really cared about the final product. They threw something together, and tossed it into theaters to make a quick buck. In six months, it will be in bargain bins in Wal-Marts across the country. Was anyone really clamoring for a prequel to the first two Underworld movies, one that explained why the vampires and werewolves hate each other so much. Isn’t it enough that they’re vampires and werewolves, and as such have to compete over the same limited food supply? But that is what this movie is about. The only returning character is Viktor (Bill Nighy), an elder in the first two movies, and he’s an elder here as well although it takes place hundreds of years before. It was Viktor who first came up with the idea of using the new breed of werewolf, known as Lycans, as slaves. He favorite is Lucian (Michael Sheen, tired, I guess, of playing second fiddle to more famous people as he did in The Queen and Frost/Nixon), who is in love with Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), and when that love it taken away from him, he decides to lead a Lycan revolution, like some sort of hairy Che Guevara. The screenplay of the movie is ludicrous, both in its storytelling and in the awful dialogue the actors are forced to spew. The acting is uniformly bad, but I’m not sure you can really blame the actors – anyone would look stupid saying these words. And the direction by Patrick Tatopolus is uninspired. The only reason to watch the first two Underworld movies was to see Kate Beckinsale strut around in skin tight leather for two hours. Take that away, and you really don’t have anything left.

Movie Review: The Uninvited

The Uninvited ** ½
Directed By:
The Guard Brothers.
Written By: Craig Rosenberg and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard based on the screenplay “A Tale of Two Sisters” by Ji-woon Kim.
Starring: Emily Browning (Anna), Arielle Kebbel (Alex), David Strathairn (Steven), Elizabeth Banks (Rachael), Maya Massar (Mom), Kevin McNulty (Sheriff Emery), Jesse Moss (Matt), Dean Paul Gibson (Dr. Silberling).

The Uninvited is an effective little horror film. Refreshingly, for a horror movie aimed mainly at teenage girls, it doesn’t dumb things down and it doesn’t concentrate on blood and guts and gore. Rather it gains its tension from some very good performances, and builds that tension slowly. But perhaps it builds that tension a little too slowly. You never really get involved in the story, despite the fine cast, and as a result the twist ending (or paradigm shift as M. Night Shyamalan pretentiously insists on calling these things) leaves you feeling somewhat unmoved.

The movie opens with Anna (Emily Browning) in a mental hospital, following a suicide attempt brought on by an explosion at her parent’s expansive lake house that killed her sick mother. Her doctor believes that she is ready to go home to finish her recovery. But sometimes, you can’t go home again. Her sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel) is still there and supportive of her, but her dad (David Straithairn) is emotionally distant from her. To add to her problems, her dad has moved in his new girlfriend, Rachael (Elizabeth Banks) who was once her mother’s nurse. Rachael has redesigned the house, to make it more modern and cozy. She tries hard – too hard – to make Anna feel welcome at home, at least when her dad is around. When he’s not, Rachael shows some more disturbing traits.

That Rachael is a gold digger cannot really be denied. Why else would someone who looks like Elizabeth Banks be interested in someone who looks like David Straithairn if not to get her hands on all his money, and move into his huge lakeside house. Rachael pretty much admits as much when she takes Anna out to lunch one day, and talks about how much she resented all her former patients, all rich people who grew too old, too feeble to look after themselves.

But is there something more to her than that? It doesn’t take long for Anna and Alex to decide that Rachael is a murderer – not only of their mother, but also of another family a decade before. They fear that they will be next. It is a testament to Banks’ performance, the best in the film that she keeps you guessing. She isn’t overtly evil, and never really says anything to make you believe she’s a murderer, or even capable of it, but there’s something about that plastered on smile, and the coldness she can display that makes you believe it’s possible. Banks has down a lot of good work in the past few years. Who else could have played the sex kitten in The 40 Year Old Virgin, the horror movie heroine in Slither, the sweet girl next door type in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Laura Bush in W. and now a cold bitch in this movie and do it all convincingly. Give this woman a great role, and she’ll win an Oscar.

And the rest of the cast is fine too. Emily Browning has that kind of sweet, open face that immediately makes you feel sympathy for her. Arielle Kebbel has a more angular, more sexy face (she reminds me of Mandy Moore), and she plays the bitchy teenager to perfection. And there are few things less reassuring than being reassured by David Straithairn that everything is fine.

And the directors, The Guard Brothers, do a good job as well. Like a Hitchcock film, they try to make the audience uneasy, and question their conclusions throughout the film, before pulling the rug out from underneath them.

Having said all of that, the movie just isn’t quite good enough for me to really recommend it. It comes close to be sure, but it never quite gets under your skin, and make you squirm like a good horror movie really should. This is a remake of a Korean horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, which remains unseen by me, so maybe that’s a better version of this story. While The Uninvited does a lot of things right, and very few actually wrong, it’s a film I wanted to like more than I ultimately did.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Movie Review - Taken

Taken **
Directed By:
Pierre Morel.
Written By: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Arben Bajraktaraj (Marko), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Jon Gries (Casey), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Valentin Kalaj (Vinz), Fani Kolarova (Prostitute), Goran Kostic (Gregor), Christophe Kourotchkine (Gilles), Leland Orser (Sam), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), Gérard Watkins (St-Clair).

There is not a moment in Taken that is believable. This is true for pretty all action movies – at least all good action movies – but to suspend disbelief as much as this movie requires you to is a skill I simply do not have. It doesn’t really help that the movie has an utterly terrible opening act that pretty much sinks the whole movie before it even gets started.

The movie is about Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), an ex-CIA agent who has retired and settled down to a fairly quiet life in Los Angeles, so he can be close to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) after years of being an absentee dad. Mills has seen a lot of bad things in his life, so when Kim comes to him and tells him she’s going to France for the summer with her best friend, and no one but some distant cousins to chaperone, he doesn’t like the idea, but he cannot bare to break his daughter’s heart. Big mistake. Kim in not is Paris for more than an hour, before she is kidnapped by a sex slave ring who auctions innocent American girls like her (read: virgins) off to the highest bidder. Mills has 96 hours to find his daughter before she will never been heard from again. So he sets off to Paris, and kills, tortures and maims a whole lot of people to get his daughter back.

The opening scenes of the movie are downright awful – almost unwatchably bad. Neeson seems to care about grounding his character in some sort of reality, but with wild birthday parties, teen pop sensations in need of a bodyguard and the most annoying daughter on the face of the planet, the movie gets off on a sour note and never really recovers. The film certainly gets much better when he gets to Paris, and starts following the sex ring up the ladder, killing everyone who gets in his way in one tightly packaged action sequence after the next, but because we don’t really care about Mills, or his daughter, it all becomes an exercise in style rather than anything substantive. Director Pierre Morel, who made the infinitely better District B-13 (which introduced Parkour to the masses) knows how to stage an action scene, but doesn’t really know how to do anything else. Co-writer Luc Besson has made a lot of action movies in his time (as a writer, director and a producer), almost all as unbelievable as this one, but almost all of them much better than this one.

Much of the movies credibility lies in Neeson’s capable hands. Amazingly, he really does make you believe that he could do everything he does, without feeling or remorse, and that he really does want to get his daughter back. This is why sometimes it’s wise in action movies to cast a real actor, and not just some muscle bound hulk, because in a movie like this, we need to believe in and care for the main character. We really don’t in this film, but Neeson gets us about as close as we were going to get. The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as good, especially Grace, who is a 25 year old, playing a 17 year old, acting like a 12 year old. If she whined anymore, I was about ready to put a bullet in her head.

And there really isn’t much more to say about the movie than that. I will say the movies rather casual attitude about torture disturbed me a little, as did the films pseudo sexual moralizing (if Kim wasn’t a virgin, she would have been dead long before Mills got her, proving that’s its not just the killers in slasher movies who are offended about a girl’s loose morals any more). But it’s hard to take that all that seriously, since the movie never does. If you like mindless action movies, and don’t much care if they make sense, than you may very well enjoy Taken. If you want a little logic to go along with your gunfights, you’re better off staying home.

Movie Review - Push

Push * ½
Directed By:
Paul McGuigan.
Written By: David Bourla.
Starring: Chris Evans (Nick Gant), Dakota Fanning (Cassie Holmes), Camilla Belle (Kira Hudson), Djimon Hounsou (Henry Carver), Cliff Curtis (Hook Waters), Ming-Na (Emily Hu), Neil Jackson (Victor Budarin), Hal Yamanouchi (Pop Father), Lu Lu (Pop Girl), Corey Stoll (Agent Mack), Scott Michael Campbell (Agent Holden), Maggie Siff (Teresa Stowe), Nate Mooney (Pinky Stein).

Push plays like the pilot of a TV show that may turn out to be decent. It spends so much time setting up the world in which the story takes place that it seems to forget that it actually has to tell a story as well. Every other scene in the film seems to involves one character pointing a gun at another character as they go through pages of dialogue to describe just what the hell is going on in the movie. It got to the point where I started wondering why any of these characters needed guns in the first place, since they seem to be able to do all sorts of cool things with their minds.

But there I go getting ahead of myself, and the movie again, so I guess I should do a little exposition of my own and tell you just what Push is about. Essentially it works like this: Nazis were doing experiments with the human mind, that didn’t stop of WWII. Now an evil government agency, The Division, tries to keep a handle on the all the people who have different abilities. There are Movers, who can throw things across the room, or stop things coming at them with a simple wave of their hand, Seers, who can see into the future, Sniffers who are really, really good at smelling things, Bleeders, who can kill or destroy anything just by starring at it and screaming really loud, Shifters, who can temporarily change objects into other objects, Menders, who can either heal or destroy your body by touching it and finally Pushers, who can make you believe anything is true, and get you to do whatever you want to. Whew, that was exhausting, and I’m still pretty sure there are at least of couple of different kinds of these mind people that I forgot, but truly, I don’t care enough to look it up, and I’m pretty sure you don’t care enough for me to feel bad about it either.

But that’s just the setup we need to go through before we get to the actual story of the movie. That involves a second generation mover (Chris Evans) being approached by a second generation seer (Dakota Fanning) to help her find Evans’ ex-girlfriend (Camilla Belle) who is a Pusher who stole a serum from the Division, that could bring them down, and help Fanning free her mother from prison. Also pursuing the ex-girlfriend is the Division’s top Pusher (Djimon Hounsou) who wants to create a race of super soldiers for the American army, although he clearly speaks with a non-American accent.

I exhausted writing all of that, and you’re probably exhausted reading it all (if you managed to get through it that is – I have a feeling most people stopped reading somewhere in paragraph 2). But imagine if you will instead of suffering through a few minutes of reading, you had go through over an hour of actually watching it all. Then you’d get an idea of what watching Push is really like.

The movie takes place in Hong Kong, and so at least there are some pretty images to look at. And the action sequences, when they actually start coming, are handled fairly well by director Paul McGuigan, who made the interesting Gangster No. 1 and the underrated Wicker Park, and has been on a slow decline ever since. Just about the only thing worth watching in Push is Fanning, who somehow manages to create a real character out of what was obviously a poorly written screenplay. Yes, she strikes me as a child trying to play grown up, but then again, that’s who her character is so it works. At least, when she’s on screen, we know someone put some thought and effort into the movie. The rest of the cast sleepwalks through their roles, probably just doing the movie for the paycheck and the chance for a holiday in Hong Kong. I hope they enjoyed making the movie, because I highly doubt there are going to be too many people who enjoy watching it.

Movie Review: The International

The International ** ½
Directed By:
Tom Tykwer.
Written By: Eric Singer.
Starring: Clive Owen (Louis Salinger), Naomi Watts (Eleanor Whitman), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Wilhelm Wexler), Ulrich Thomsen (Jonas Skarssen), Brian F. O'Byrne (The Consultant), Michel Voletti (Viktor Haas), Patrick Baladi (Martin White), Jay Villiers (Francis Ehames), Fabrice Scott (Nicholai Yeshinski), Haluk Bilginer (Ahmet Sunay), Luca Barbareschi (Umberto Calvini), Alessandro Fabrizi (Inspector Alberto Cerutti), Felix Solis (Detective Iggy Ornelas), Jack McGee (Detective Bernie Ward), Nilaja Sun (Detective Gloria Hubbard).

Is there any better villain for a movie right now than a bank? With the world in the midst of a financial crisis, in part due to the unscrupulous activities of banks, The International seems to have stumbled into having just about the perfect villain. That it doesn’t really know how banks work can perhaps be forgiven, because no really knows or cares what banks do. They just know they don’t like it.

The movie opens with Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an Interpol agent and his partner meeting with an informant from inside the International Bank of Business and Commerce (the IBBC for short), a bank that Salinger and has been trying to bring down for years. But right after the meeting, his partner drops dead of an apparent heart attack, and the insider is killed is a bizarre traffic accident. Salinger has been through this before – a few years before he had a solid case against the IBBC, but forces within his department determined to stop him. But he fights on in grim determination.

He gets assistance from a plucky, beautiful Assistant District Attorney from New York, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts); because movies like this always need a plucky, beautiful lawyer to help our hero. He continues to dig deeper and deeper into the IBBC and their dealings, and everything he finds stinks. But no one seems to care.

Howard Hawks once defined a great movie as “three great scenes, no bad ones”, and if The International doesn’t quite get that right, it does contain two great scenes, and a third that is almost as good. The film’s best scene involves a shootout in the Guggenheim in New York, with its famed spiral ramps, where essentially Salinger and the hit man he wants to bring in, have to shoot it out with about 30 henchmen from the bank armed with machine guns. That scene makes no plausible sense, doesn’t really matter. Director Tom Tykwer (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Run Lola Run), knows how to stage an action sequence, and does so with style and panache. It’s one of the best scenes of its kind I have seen in years. The second great scene involves an interrogation between Salinger and Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller Stahl), a former communist who knows works for the IBBC, where Wexler lays out precisely why Salinger will never succeed in bringing down the bank – essentially because the governments of the world need the IBBC to do what they can’t. And finally, the climax of the movie, which takes place on the rooftops of Istanbul, is intense, and brilliantly well choreographed by Tykwer. These three scenes alone almost make The International worth seeing.

It’s the rest of the movie I have a problem with. The film takes a quite a while to get going, as such, I never really became involved in the story. I didn’t really care what happened to anybody in the film. Clive Owen, a fine actor, seems to have slipped in the last couple of years into playing only two different emotions – pissed off and really pissed off. One of the reasons why I’m looking forward to his new film Duplicity is because, from the trailers at least, it looks like he’s finally going to lighten up a bit. What an actress of Naomi Watts’ caliber saw in her role I cannot figure out. She essentially doesn’t have a character to play. The movie jettisons her every time it’s about to get interesting. She just sits around and looks pretty – which she does very well – but I was disappointed that the film never really does anything with her. The most interesting character in the film is Stahl’s, and how he reconciles his belief in communism, with his current career working for the capitalists. Make a movie where he is the main character, and you’d have a fascinating film.

There are also logic gaps in the film. Essentially, the IBBC’s goal in the film is to sell missiles to Iran and Syria, with the express purpose of getting its foot in the sale of small weapons to third world countries that are constantly involved in civil wars. They want to do this not because there is a profit in the actual selling of weapons, but because by doing so; they can control the debt of the third world, and make real money. But banks really don’t have to start selling weapons to the third world to control its debt – it can do that without doing it. Where are these places going to get the money to buy the guns in the first place?

There are more problems with the films logic (for instance, why when the bank is trying to lay low, do they send 30 men armed with machine guns to the Guggenheim to kill one man who was just seen with one of the bank’s most visible executives?) but I could be here all day describing them all. But that’s not the real problem with the movie. Like many good thrillers, these things don’t really occur to you until after you leave the theater and start thinking about it. The problem with the movie is that Tykwer has essentially made one big long exercise in style. His movie doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a finely made film, but empty and uninvolving. So no matter how good he is at staging action scenes, Tykwer cannot save the film from itself.

Oscar Predictions Part 5 - The Clips

This really isn't a set of predictions, but every year when they announce the nominees in the acting categories, they show a brief clip, and if you pay attention, you're able to figure out just what the Academy looks for when they choose the clip. So, for the 20 nominated performances, I have offered my opinion on what exactly they'll show. Enjoy!

Actor
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
The Quote:
“You can't just take people away like that. Do you hear me? He was a good man, a good person. It's not fair! We are not just helpless children! He had a life! Do you hear me? I mean, do YOU hear ME? What's the matter with you?”
Why? It’s the only time all movie he raises his voice, and for Oscars, Yelling = Good Acting

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
The Quote:
“Well, to hell with that! We're not going to let that happen, either of us. We're going to show those bums, we're going to make 'em choke on our continued success. Our continued headlines! Our continued awards! And power! And glory!”
Why? It’s Langella at his theatrical best in the film, and of course, he’s yelling.

Sean Penn, Milk
The Quote:
“All men all created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words”
Why? Oscar is big on speeches, and this was Penn’s most emotional in the film. And yes, he’s yelling.

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Quote:
“I thought I’d come here, and maybe sweep you off your feet or something”.
Why? It’s a heartbreakingly honest moment for Pitt in the film, and since he never yells in the film at all, it’s the best I got.

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
The Quote:
"I’m just an old broken down piece of meat, and I deserve to me alone. I just don’t want you to hate me”
Why? If they don’t show a clip of the actor yelling, they show one of him crying. Plus, it’s the emotional high point of the film.

Actress
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
The Quote:
“I am Shiva the destroyer, and your harbinger of doom for this evening.”
Why? The most painfully awkward toast in cinema history, and a perfect capsule of Hathaway’s amazing performance..

Angelina Jolie, Changeling
The Quote:
“I want my son back. My son”
Why? A twofer – she both yells and cries at the same time! Plus, I’m pretty sure this was Jolie’s every other line in the film.

Melissa Leo, Frozen River
The Quote:
I want ALL the money. Now!
Why? Dramatic and tension filled, she yells while pointing a gun. In a performance of restraint, it’s the best they can do.

Meryl Streep, Doubt
The Quote:
“I will step outside the church if that's what needs to be done, till the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, though I'm damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me.”
Why? Streep at her fiery best and most dramatic. Does any single line better capture her character?

Kate Winslet, The Reader
The Quote:
“It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what I feel. The dead are still dead.”
Why? Her most dramatic moment, and a perfect view of her enigmatic character. It’s a plus that she has all her clothes on as well, since she doesn’t for much of the movie.

Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
The Quote:
“I’m talking about right and wrong. Moral and immoral”
Why? Captures Dan White’s fractured nature in one simple line. I am holding out hope that they’ll use “I don’t even know who you are. You just showed up out of nowhere, Latino Man”, but I doubt it.

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
The Quote:
I’m the dude playing a dude, disguised as another dude
Why? Funny and succinct. They would show courage by going with “Never go full retard”, but they don’t have the guts.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
The Quote:
"You have no right to act on your own! You have taken vows, obedience being one. You answer to us! You have no right to step outside the church!"
Why? The performance is subtle throughout, but this is the one time where a scene by itself holds dramatic weight.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
The Quote:
“You’re just a freak. Like me"
Why? Perfect quote, and gets that evil cackle in as well.

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
The Quote:
“I’ll tell you one thing I’m glad of. I’m glad I’m not gonna be that kid”
Why? Almost every line reading is a thing of beauty, but this one has a power all by itself.

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
The Quote:
“I don’t think Father Flynn did anything wrong.”
Why? Her naïve nature and sweetness all in one simple quote.

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Quote:
"You’re still searching for me in every woman."
Why? It’s probably her most dramatic speech in the film – at least in English.

Viola Davis, Doubt
The Quote:
"Why do you have to know something like that for sure when you don’t. It’s just till June."
Why? She’s crying, and acting circles around Streep. Perfection.

Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Quote:
"You never know what’s comin’ for ya."
Why? Why not? I can’t think of another quote from the movie that captures her inherent goodness.

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
The Quote:
"Randy I’m here. I’m right here and I’m real"
Why? Dramatic and heartbreaking, and she has her clothes on for once in the movie. All they really need.

This is the first time I've done this, so I want to see how I do.