Friday, February 27, 2009

What's In a Name?

When I first started this blog, I chose its title for use as a sly gimmick. For most of my first posts, I incorporated the phrase, “I’ll never tell”, into each review. I wanted to let people know right away that none of my reviews would divulge essential plot elements from the film. What’s the point at ruining all the fun, right?

After a while, that gimmick burnt out and I stop trying to force the phrase in. Recently I’ve been trying to think of a new title, something to get your attention and make you curious. So, without further ado, I present… “And So it Begins…”

Everytime I go to a movie, no matter my expectations, it is a new adventure. I’m thrilled by the whole experience. And whether or not I enjoy the film, there is always that initial excitement in sitting down comfortably in front of the giant, blank white screen, waiting for the show to begin.

But more than that, due to years of inside jokes, “and so it begins...” has manifested itself as a personal family motto. So, with this duel meaning, I give you my new and improved site, which includes a few new sections.


MY FAVORITE SCENE: my favorite moments from a few of my favorite films.

BEST OF 2008: wraps up a great year of character studies.

OSCARS: full (yet dated) coverage on the show.

SUNDANCE ’09: reviews from this year’s festival

10 SECOND REVIEWS: brief reviews of a vast amount of films, to be presented alphabetically shortly.

Hope you enjoy the new features. And so it begins…

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Friday the 13th

You know what… the beginning really isn't that bad.

Like all recent horror duds, this film opens with a string of characters, defined very well by their various clich├ęs- the geek who doesn’t get any, the sex-crazed couple, the good girl, the sensitive hero- but then things start to heat up, fast.

At the risk of ruining what little fun this film offers, let me just say that by the time the title card pulsed onto the screen, I was impressed.
Of course it all goes to shit pretty quickly, but what the hell, if you’ve paid the price of admission you know what to expect.

Not exactly a remake of the original Friday the 13th, which was a cheesy B-movie knockoff of Hitchcock’s Psycho, this “remodeling” of the franchise combines aspects from the first three Jason Voorhees films.

But lets talk about something bigger… when did horror films start producing so much crap? People go to these films to escape from their lives and be given a taste of something eccentric. I get that. But lately, this genre is dead. Did you see Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later? How about The Descent, in which five women stuck in a cave discover some very bad things. Both are brilliantly bold ventures into a genre that we’ve seen hundreds of times, yet they both manage to pull it off with thrills and smarts.

The problem with the new Friday the 13th's, the Halloween's, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre's, the Prom Night's, as well as the Saw's, the Hostel's and the other massive loads of film garbage out there is that they all lack the same quality… originality.

But maybe I’m thinking too much into it. The first weekend box office take of this Friday the 13th grossed more than the Best Picture nominated The Reader and Frost/Nixon… combined. Given those numbers, I imagine you can expect much more of Jason and company very soon. D+

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2008 Oscar Wrap Up

A POST-OSCAR CHAT

I fared pretty well, scoring 19 winners out of the 24 categories. The night proved to be eventful, even if it was pretty predictable.

Few surprises were brought by the near-Slumdog sweep (really, you couldn’t have given it Sound Editing?). To be honest, the biggest surprise came with a movie no one has heard of, when Departures won Best Foreign Film, beating the critically acclaimed The Class and Waltz with Bashir. Don’t get me wrong, I was on the edge of my seat during all four acting categories, with a somewhat pleased result.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE-- The format, namely how the acting prizes were handed out. The average time to present one of the acting awards (yes, I timed it) was 11 minutes. Eleven minutes… for one award? Go back to the normal way of giving out the award and you’ve just cut over 35 minutes from the show. But instead, we watched as five previous winners from each respective category kissed each nominee’s ass.
It would’ve been better if I actually believed that those five presenters had actually seen the performances they were hailing. (Do you really think Christopher Walken saw Revolutionary Road?)

-- The Oscars are notorious for their ridiculously long and plentiful montages (okay, the ‘In Memoriam’ one is a must, I get that), but the montages this year were just utterly pointless. Two separate episodes involved an assortment of clips from films that weren’t even nominated. While a ridiculously long musical number had… Zac Efron! The kids from Mamma Mia! Beyonce! And I ask… why? What is the point of boasting mediocrity? Maybe I missed something.

WHAT I LIKED-- For starters: Hugh Jackman. He didn’t tell off key jokes. He didn’t that many jokes at all, really. And after delivering a brilliantly paced opening musical number, he did a great job of not wasting our time with extended stage monologues. Bring him back next year. (Oh, and Anne Hathaway can sing? Damn.)

-- Penelope Cruz thanking Pedro Almodovar. Must actors thank their families and the director that directed them to this current award. Almodovar has been essential in the success of Cruz’s career, and it was noble of her to give a shot out.

-- Kate Winslet. Just everything about her. Seriously, what’s not to like?

-- Kate Winslet’s dad. That whistle? Hilarious.

-- Philippe Petit. The subject of Man on Wire never ceases to amaze as he demonstrated an amusing coin trick before actually balancing an Oscar on his chin. That’ll go down as this decade’s one-armed push up. Believe me.
-- Kunio Kato’s speech. The winner for best animated short gave a nearly incomprehensible speech before ending with the self-mocking phrase: "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Classic.

-- Sean Penn’s speech. Yes, I wanted Mickey Rourke to win, badly. Yes I was disappointed when Penn’s name was called. But Penn showed us that he knows how much of a pain in the ass he can be. By taking shots at himself as well as the crowd, he proved his humor can come out. He also managed to, somehow, give the most moving speech of the night, when he switched to the topic of gay rights, pointing out the signs of hate that plastered the streets near the red carpet entrance. While keeping his fierce intensity, Penn explained the shame that those people will come to feel in due time. And, somehow, I like him more now.

So that should wrap up this year’s Oscar coverage. I’ve really enjoyed the bold choices that the Academy has made in recent years. American Beauty started the trend. A very dark film dealing with very touchy subject matter. Once the Academy embraced that film, it opened up some gratifying doors.

The next few years returned to traditional Oscar fare, but in 2004, everything changed. Million Dollar Baby was extremely controversial when it was released, and its Best Picture win was the perfect kick in the face to all the haters. Likewise CrashThe Departed and last year’s No Country for Old Men. All of these films have one thing in common: they are unlike anything that has ever won Best Picture before. Bravo Academy, keep it up.

WHO'S GONNA WIN

Before I sit down with my Oscar appetizer (that would be the Independent Sprit Awards at 5pm today on IFC), I thought I’d post my Oscar predictions.

A slew of tomorrows races are neck in neck, so picking them won’t be easy. Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actress are anyone’s guess. But using my best judgment and reasoning, this is what I’m banking will win, (and of course, what should win).

BEST PICTURE
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win:
Slumdog Millionaire. It’s this year’s great rags-to-riches story. A movie barely marketed prior to release became an overnight sensation. Why? Because everyone liked it. Why? Because it’s just that good.

Will Win:
Slumdog.

BEST ACTOR
Richard Jenkins- The Visitor
Frank Langella- Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn- Milk
Brad Pitt- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke- The Wrestler

Should Win:
Rourke. He delivers the year’s best performance. Sure this character parallels his real life with painful accuracy, but even in judging the performance on its own, it’s has more heart than anything else out there.

Will Win:
Looks like Penn. And I can’t complain. Penn gave the best performance of his already masterful career in Milk. But I’m really hoping people pull for a Rourke comeback.

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway- Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie- Changeling
Melissa Leo- Frozen River
Meryl Streep- Doubt
Kate Winslet- The Reader

Should Win:
Winslet. She’s paid her dues (5 nominations by age 33), and she’s considered by many to be the best actress of her generation. Although she was better in Revolutionary Road, she still hit all the right marks as a remorseless ex-SS guard in The Reader.

Will Win:
I’ll say Winslet, with reservations. Streep is right there with her and not without merit. Streep gave her best performance in years as a Doubtful nun, and she’s been nominated a hundred times (at least) but only won twice. But I think (or hope) the Academy will finally award Winslet.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin- Milk
Robert Downey Jr.- Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman- Doubt
Heath Ledger- The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon- Revolutionary Road
Should Win:
Ledger. Take out the sentiment of his untimely death, and you still have an Oscar worthy performance.

Will Win:
It doesn’t give me any consolation that everyone is saying how much of a lock Ledger is. The Academy has given us a few very wide curveballs in recent years, which scares me. I’m not saying someone will dethrone Ledger, but it’s in the back of my head.

SUPPORTING ACTRESSAmy Adams- Doubt
Penelope Cruz- Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis- Doubt
Taraji P. Henson- The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonMarisa Tomei- The Wrestler

Should Win:
Tomei. She was the character audiences immediately identified with in The Wrestler, which allowed us to slowly understand Rourke’s character. Simply put, it’s the best thing she’s every done.

Will Win:
Cruz. Or Davis. This is usually the hardest category to call every year, with no exception here. Cruz had all the early buzz as the fiery girlfriend from hell. But Davis picked up quick traction for her 12 minutes in Doubt.  Even Adams generated a little buzz towards the end of Academy voting. I’ll go with Cruz.

BEST DIRECTOR
David Fincher- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard- Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant- Milk
Stephen Daldry- The Reader
Danny Boyle- Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win:
Boyle showed audiences how to miraculously fuse all the elements of filmmaking into a breathtaking spectacle.  A lock if there ever was one.

Will Win:
Boyle.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Courtney Hunt- Frozen Water
Mike Leigh- Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh- In Bruges
Dustin Lance Black- Milk
Andrew Stanton- Wall-E
Should Win:
I love the Mike Leigh process of forming a script after rigorous rehearsals with actors. His filmed shinned with gentle optimism.

Will Win:
Black should beat out Stanton.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Eric Roth- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley- Doubt
Peter Morgan- Frost/Nixon
David Hare- The Reader
Simon Beaufoy- Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win:
Beaufoy. For his seamless narrative.

Will Win:Beaufoy.

ORIGINAL SONG
“Down to Earth” by Peter Gabriel from Wall-E
“Jai Ho” by A.R. Rahman from Slumdog Millionaire
“O…Saya” by A.R. Rahman from Slumdog Millionaire
Should Win:
“The Wrestler” by Bruce Springsteen from The Wrestler. Oh wait, it wasn’t nominated. Okay then, “Jai Ho” or “O…Saya”, take your pick.

Will WIn:
I think Gabriel will pull an upset. Mainly because Rahman is already going to win in the original score category. Why not spread the love?


As for the rest, keep in mind that the Academy votes in trends. Most members pick the same film for all the technical stuff. Sound and Sound Editing almost always go to the same film. Likewise Art Direction and Costume Design. So think in patterns and you’ll either be dead on, or way far off. Personally I’d like to see a Slumdog sweep of every category it’s in (which would mean zero for Benjamin Button, but oh well.)

Are all of my predictions going to be right? God no. But that’s the fun of it. If you’re not kept on your toes for 4 hours then you’re going to have one hell of a boring time.

MY ALTERNATIVE OSCARS

As is my tradition every year, I like to make an alternative Oscar list. If I were the sole member of the Academy, this is what my list of nominees in every major category would look like.

Winners are in bold followed by a brief explanation.

PICTURE
The Edge of Heaven
Milk
Rachel Getting Married
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler


The best film of the year.

DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky- The WrestlerDanny Boyle- Slumdog Millionaire
Jonathan Demme- Rachel Getting Married
Christopher Nolan- The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant- Milk

Boyle directed the best, most thrilling, technical achievement in recent years.

ACTOR
Leonardo DiCaprio- Revolutionary Road
Richard Jenkins- The VisitorFrank Langella- Frost/Nixon
Mickey Rourke- The Wrestler
Sean Penn- Milk

The very best acting performance of the year (sorry Heath).

ACTRESS
Anna Hathaway- Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins- Happy-Go-Lucky
Angelina Jolie- Changeling
Meryl Streep- Doubt
Kate Winslet- Revolutionary Road

Winslet was more raw and emotional here than in The Reader.

SUPPOTING ACTORJosh Brolin- Milk
Heath Ledger- The Dark KnightBrad Pitt- Burn After Reading
Michael Shannon- Revolutionary Road
Philip Seymour Hoffman- Doubt

No explanation needed.

SUPPORTING ACTRESSHanna Schygulla- The Edge of Heaven
Rosemarie DeWitt- Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei- The WrestlerKate Winslet- The Reader
Viola Davis- Doubt

My second favorite acting performance of the year (sorry Heath), not to mention the biggest snub of this year’s Oscar’s. DeWitt was nothing short of perfection as the smart, kind, and overshadowed sibling to her drug addicted younger sister.

SCREENPLAY- Original
The Edge of Heaven
The Wrestler
Rachel Getting Married
Milk
Happy-Go-Lucky

The long conversations, the gut wrenching emotions, the brutal accuracy. Just brilliant.

SCREENPLAY- Adapted
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire
Tell No One


How many movies have you seen like this before? People forget that a movie this rare starts somewhere.

DOCUMENTARY
American Teen
Standard Operating Procedure
Encounters at the End of the World
Religulous
Man on Wire

A breathtaking spectacle.

CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Wrestler
Rachel Getting Married
Slumdog Millionaire


No film looked better this year.

SCORE
Slumdog MillionaireThe Reader
The Dark Knight
Milk
Gran Torino


No film rocked better this year.

EDITING
Slumdog MillionaireThe Dark Knight
Milk
Tell No One
The Edge of Heaven

No film was better assembled this year.

Critics Pick: Who WILL Win

Here are a few critics (myself included, of course) I like and consider to be reputable, and their picks for who will win in all the top categories. (The New York Times critic picked Taraji P. Henson to win supporting actress, which throws his credibility right out the window).

Keep in mind, there are always surprises. Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actress are all very close races. And so it begins...


PICTURE
Roger EbertSlumdog Millionaire
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone): Slumdog Millionaire
Dave Karger (Entertainment Weekly): Slumdog Millionaire
MeSlumdog Millionaire
DIRECTOR
Ebert: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Travers: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Karger: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Me: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire

ACTOR
Ebert: Sean Penn in Milk
Travers: Sean Penn in Milk
Karger: Sean Penn in Milk
Me: Sean Penn in Milk (but my god do I hope Mickey Rourke proves us wrong)
ACTRESS
Ebert: Kate Winslet in The Reader
Travers: Meryl Streep in Doubt
Karger: Kate Winslet in The Reader
Me: Kate Winslet in The Reader
SUPPORTING ACTOR
If you are wondering this, then your head has been underground for 8 months.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Ebert: Viola Davis in Doubt
Travers: Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona
Karger: Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona
Me: Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ebert: Dustin Lance Black for Milk
Karger: Dustin Lance Black for Milk
Me: Dustin Lance Black for Milk

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Ebert: Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire
Karger: Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog MillionaireMe: Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire


LET'S TALK OSCAR

Most of the nominations in this year’s race brought little surprise, with a few exceptions, of course. Here is the breakdown of each nominee, the biggest snub in each category and the top two contenders in each race.

PICTURE
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The big surprise is the introduction of The Reader, which obviously took The Dark Knight’s place. Even though The Dark Knight had nominations from the Director’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild and the Writer’s Guild (none of which The Reader received), members still aren’t ready to give a comic book movie a shot at the big prize.

Surprise snub: The Dark Knight
Head to Head: Slumdog v. Benjamin Button

DIRECTOR
David Fincher- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard- Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant- Milk
Stephen Daldry- The ReaderDanny Boyle- Slumdog Millionaire

No Christopher Nolan. But, this list is rare: the nominations for picture and director are the exact same, only the 5th time this has EVER happened in Oscar history. The last time was 2005, the time before that… 1981.

Surprise snub: Christopher Nolan- The Dark Knight
Head to Head: Boyle v. Fincher

ACTOR
Richard Jenkins- The Visitor
Frank Langella- Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn- Milk
Brad Pitt- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke- The Wrestler
No big shockers here, although it’s great to see the Academy spreading some indie love to Jenkins whose spot could’ve easily gone to bigger names like DiCaprio and Eastwood.

Surprise snub: Clint Eastwood- Gran Torino
Head to Head: Penn v. Rourke

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin- Milk
Robert Downey Jr.- Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman- Doubt
Heath Ledger- The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon- Revolutionary Road
Shannon was a great shock, but this is really Ledger’s to lose. Most people desperately want him to win (Shannon himself has said he’s voting for Ledger), but will all the hype be too much? I sure as hell hope not.

Surprise snub: Dev Patel- Slumdog Millionaire
Head to Head: Ledger v. hopefully no one

ACTRESSAnne Hathaway- Rachael Getting Married
Angelina Jolie- Changeling
Melissa Leo- Frozen River
Meryl Streep- Doubt
Kate Winslet- The Reader

This year’s biggest jaw dropper came when we found out Winslet only got one acting nomination, when everybody predicted two. But having her shut out for Revolutionary Road could be a good thing. Without the duel nominations, people won’t have to choose between two great performances, which could’ve split her vote. Now she has the edge over vet Streep and name-maker Hathaway.
Surprise snub: Sally Hawkins- Happy-Go-Lucky
Head to Head: Winslet v. Streep

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams- Doubt
Penelope Cruz- Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis- Doubt
Taraji P. Henson- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei- The Wrestler
The happiest nominees of the year are these five women here. Now that Winslet has moved up the ladder, they all have a decent shot. People that vote for Mickey Rourke could go hand in hand with Tomei. Cruz has paid her dues and deserves it. Davis has been around for a long time and steals thunder from the likes of Meryl Streep, a feat hard to accomplish. But my oh my, where is Rosemarie DeWitt from Rachel Getting Married?

Surprise snub: Rosemarie DeWitt- Rachel Getting MarriedHead to Head: Cruz v. Davis

Sin of Omission
By far my biggest issue comes in the best song category. Where in the hell is Bruce Springsteen’s nomination for his tender, moving title song in The Wrestler. I like A.R. Rahman’s music in Slumdog Millionaire just as much as everyone else, but he doesn’t need three nominations, (one for musical score, two in the best song category). He’s going to win score without breaking a sweat, so why did the Academy only allow three nominations for best song instead of five? Not only did they kick out Springsteen’s track, but Jamie Cullum’s title track for Gran Torino as well. Shame, shame, shame



Sunday, February 8, 2009

Notorious and Defiance

What does a movie about a famous rapper and a movie about the Holocaust have in common? Other than the fact that they’re based on true stories, not a thing.

So why review them together?

Both films are entertaining, well-done, and weightless as air. You won’t remember, or care to remember, a single thing you saw about them once you left the theatre. But you will enjoy your time while you’re there.

Notorious is based on the all-too-short life of famed rapper The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls. The film accurately captures the rugged drug life in late-‘80s Brooklyn and is superbly acted, namely by newcomer Jamal Woodlard in the title role, but it’s nowhere near as hot as its booming soundtrack. We watch Biggie as he goes from rags (freestyle rapping on the streets between crack deals) to riches (becoming a musical icon at the helm of ambitious producer Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs), but the meat of the film is pretty dull.

The movie adds nothing new to the music bio-pic. Biggie is an adulterer! He yells! Screams! Punches walls! Treats women like objects! And so on. As Tupac Shakur, actor Anthony Mackie brings his reliable intensity to a man who was known for his not-so-nice temper. I didn’t mind the time I spent in the theatre, but I constantly wanted more.

The same can be said for Defiance a true story about three Jewish brothers during WWII that hide out in the woods from the Nazis. Slowly, more and more Jews are showing up in the woods, before long we have an entire community to keep up with.

The problem of the film is its predictability. I mean, do they really think they can hide out forever? Daniel Craig is good as the lead, but the material is weak. Credit director Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) for the thrilling, but overlong, battle scenes. Again, this is a film that will keep your attention throughout its duration, but not too much after. If it’s a bio-pic you want, I suggest Milk, a Holocaust drama, check out The Reader.

Both Notorious and Defiance: D+