Sunday, February 24, 2013

And the Winner Should Be... 2013 Edition


My 2010 post on Academy Award predictions is still getting page hits, so with the 2013 awards being given out tonight, I figure I'd better put out something new to let really bored people ponder for the next three years.

I saw over 100 movies in the theater last year and many of the nominees but not all.  I will not generally comment on the movies or roles I haven't seen.  Those movies & roles will be marked with a % in front.

Best Actress in a  Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Sally Field, Lincoln
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
%Amy Adams, The Master

I'm pretty much neutral in this category.  I don't think anyone in Les Miz should be rewarded for being in that movie, so Hathaway is out, as much as I adore her.  Hunt should have been nominated as Lead Actress, so maybe Weaver by a nose.  And special mention for Helen Hunt doing full frontal nudity at age 49.  That's bold.  That's commitment. That's a lot of trips to the gym.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln 
%Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Jones and Waltz chewed scenery equally well in their roles.  De Niro was fine and Arkin was good but really just one of a talented, large ensemble cast.  I can't really choose.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
%Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

I hate Joaquin Phoenix, or "Leaf" as I still think of him.  He was 80% of the reason I skipped The Master, with the remaining 20% being the lousy previews.  I can't allow Jackman to win because Les Miz sucked, and Denzel was great in Flight, but it was not a great movie (A movie about alcoholism in 2012?  Lost Weekend did it in 1949).  That leaves Cooper and Day-Lewis, two completely different styles.  Day-Lewis impersonated a real person and did it extremely well, but should that give him more points than Cooper for inventing a character?  Not in my book.  I'm going with Cooper because Day-Lewis deserves punishment for winning for There Will Be Blood, a lousy movie and a creepy performance.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
%Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Again, a bounty of choices for Lead Actress.  I just rewatched Zero Dark Thirty on Thursday, so it's fresh in my mind.  I loved Chastain's 10-year voyage of obsession and equally loved Lawrence's damaged young widow.  Watts was good in a movie more about the events than her performance.  Then there's Wallis.  I can't tell if the six-year-old actress was brilliant in playing the six-year-old Hushpuppy or if she was just being a six-year-old.  I'm going to go with Chastain slightly over Lawrence (52-48% in my head).  And please, Please, PLEASE don't be one of those people who says Quvenzhané Wallis shouldn't win because it might mess up her career or her life to have such success so early.  An Academy Award is a snapshot in time - either she is this year's best actress or she isn't.  What the trophy will do to a nine-year-old is irrelevant.

Final note on this category, why not a nomination for Keira Knightley for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World?

Best Director
%Amour (Michael Haneke)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

Best Picture
%Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

First things first.  The Academy messed up with the nominations for these two categories.  They omitted The Avengers for Best Picture and Joss Whedon for Best Director.  Honestly, if it and he were nominated, they'd get the trophies. Why?  Because The Avengers was, second for second, pixel for pixel, the most entertaining movie of 2012.  It was funny, literate, touching and never dragged, not an easy task for a movie two hours and 14 minutes long.  Sure, it's based on comic books and is a sequel of sorts to some partly-good, party-lame predecessors, but judged as a standalone movie, The Avengers is what movies should aspire to be - entertaining and rewarding.

Now that I've got that out of my system, on with the  discussion of actual nominees.

I don't think the Best Director necessarily has to go the director of the Best Picture, so let's work this out.  We automatically disqualify Les Miz and Life of Pi.  The people who made those movies and even the actors in them should be banned from working in the industry for a couple of years.  Absolute dreck.  Zero Dark Thirty is a complex movie, but it has some issues, like saying that torture ever yielded actionable intelligence or leaving out that there were months of preparation for the Abottabad strike.  Argo has a similar issue by simplifying the hostage crisis and minimizing the Canadians' role in the extraction.  Having said that, I think both movies should receive serious consideration.  Silver Linings Playbook is a fairly compact actor's movie and, as such, deserves consideration.  In Lincoln, we see a recreation of an important time in history but I'm going to bounce it for two reasons.  First, for a movie with that all-encompassing title, it was only about a three-month period in Honest Abe's life, and maybe not even the most important three months.  Second, it couldn't have ended just with Abe going to the theater or chillin' in the White House?  They had to show a play being interrupted (not even the one Lincoln was attending) and then later show him actually expiring?  No.

As is his want, Quentin Tarantino made a thoroughly entertaining Movie (all Tarantino movies are described with a capital M).  Django Unchained doesn't treat slavery with the reverence that the subject usually warrants, but it's a really good Movie.  Maybe not quite a Best Picture, however, but up there.

And what to make of Beasts of the Southern Wild?  It's an amazing movie but it was tough to watch.  To see a movie featuring poverty, ignorance and squallor was tough.  I felt dirty during most of it, but I'll bet that was the director's intent.  The movie is quite an achievement, even if it's about small people and small events.  Yet, I don't think it's quite up to being a Best Picture.  Also, if it were, it would still have to be disqualified due to the aurox situation.  In the movie, a character talks about the ancient creature known as the aurox.  It was the ancestor of our modern-day cows - think a combination of water buffalo and long-horn steer, and twice their size.  In Beasts of the Southern Wild, after the aurox is mentioned, a number of creatures thaw from Antarctic ice. These creatures are oversized wild boars.  The movie never refers to the boars directly as auroxes but it is implied.  That may have been intentional - it would be hard for a guy as clearly brilliant as Benh Zeitlin to make such a simple mistake, but I'm going to assume he did make that mistake and thinks that these boars are really auroxes, and I cannot let that stand.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is hereby disqualified, even though it is an amazing movie.

Process of elimination leaves us this:  Director?  Spielberg.  Picture?  Zero Dark Thirty, with Argo and Lincoln narrowly behind.

I'll leave you with the same sentiment with which I ended my 2010 picks.  Enjoy the awards.  May they go to people and projects that don't suck

Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi


Let me skip to the end.  I didn't like Life of Pi.  Didn't hate it; just didn't like it very much.

There has been all kinds of publicity for Life of Pi, and until this past weekend, all of it was pre-opening publicity and should have been discounted.  In fact, based on the previews alone, I wasn't going to go see it. Then I saw reviews from a few critics I respect, namely Roger Ebert and David Edelstein, who encouraged me to not only go see Life of Pi, but to see it in 3D.  I generally avoid 3D, but since they said it was such an integral part of the movie, I sought out a 3D screen.

The 3D, in fact, was effective and subtle, which is a nice change.  What I didn't like was the story.  Life of Pi was told from the perspective of the adult Pi (I assure you that's not a spoiler) so there was no real suspense that he survives a shipwreck, but there were a million other variables in the way the story could told, and I thought the storytelling was a bit flat.  It was also fighting some huge religious baggage. Not that that is an automatic disqualifier - I'm not a religious person but I can watch religious movies all day long if they're entertaining.  No, the baggage just muddled the story a bit. I think the filmmakers tried to toe several lines and crossed some of them too many times - religion, hallucinations, morals, special effects.

Life of Pi will be fine for many moviegoers but for some of us, it needed to be much more.


1:59

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall


Best Bond yet.

2:17

Sunday, August 19, 2012

10 Things I Hate About You


You guys suck.  I leave you alone with this blog for a few minutes and you fail to update it regularly for about ten months.  Do I have to do everything myself?

I began a love affair with Kay Hanley's voice about eleven years ago - April 13, 2001, to be exact.  That was the day I saw the Josie and the Pussycats movie, where Ms Hanley provided the singing voice for Josie.  Since then, I've accumulated all of her solo stuff, two CDs with her new band, Palmdale, and all of the old stuff with her 1990s band, Letters to Cleo.  Why am I writing about a singer in a post about a thirteen-year-old movie?

Because Kay Hanley is the star of 10 Things I Hate About You.

No, not really, but she - and Letters to Cleo - are in it. I recently rediscovered a few Letters to Cleo songs for the first time (don't quibble - you know what I mean) and decided to revisit 10 Things I Hate About You on DVD, where I knew I would find Kay.

I last saw 10 Things I Hate About You in August of 2006.  I remember it being a pleasant enough movie and I remember seeing Letters to Cleo in the prom scene, but that's about it.  Nothing really stuck with me.  Time to rediscover, for the first time.

First, the movie is really good.  Based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, it's a high school dating/misunderstanding/prom movie and pretty well done.  There were a few times I rolled my eyes in scenes that may have been fine in 1999 and don't hold up now, but overall, good writing, good acting, great cinematography.  I couldn't believe my eyes during the flyer scene.

The stars of 10 Things I Hate About You are mostly A-listers now - Julia Stiles, David Krumbholz, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gabrielle Union, for example.  The younger sister of the shrew was played by Larisa Oleynik, whom I recognized immediately but could not place.  A quick run to IMDB showed that I had seen her EVERYWHERE in the past decade.  You have, too.  Oh, and there is the Heath Ledger thing. The late Heath Ledger.  It takes a few minutes to compartmentalize before the true enjoyment of the movie can kick in.

I got so emotionally invested in the movie that near the end, when Kat, the shrew, read her composition '10 Things I Hate About You,' inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets and dedicated to the guy who let her down, I got choked up.  Not so choked up that I failed to count the things she hated - all 14 of them.  It's fine - I don't think the movie needed to be called 14 Things I Hate About You, 10 is just fine.  Oh, and SPOILER ALERT, the last of the things she hates about him is that she can't hate him.  It's a happy ending and it's very cool.

As for the music, I also choked up when I heard them play Letters to Cleo, which happens five times in three scenes.  Kay Hanley - and the band - make an appearance three times, including the coolest live performance of a song since the Beatles did their farewell from the roof of Abbey Road.  This was also the farewell for Letters to Cleo, as they disbanded about the time 10 Things I Hate About You came out, in March, 1999.  There were actually tears in my eyes during the prom scene when Kay steps off the stage and sashays across the dance floor - singng all the while - to say "hey" to Kat, one of her biggest fans.  It was exceedingly cool.

I don't think I'm going to wait another six years to watch 10 Things I Hate About You again, and if you aren't familiar with Kay Hanley and Letters to Cleo music, maybe you should be.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prometheus


A critique of Prometheus in three parts.

I.  I did not know Prometheus was a prequel to Alien.  As Alien-related movies have devolved into high-tech slasher flicks, I would have skipped Prometheus had I known.

II.  The science in Prometheus was all wrong.

III.  Since Prometheus is part of the Alien universe, this question seems apt: Is it a stand-up movie or is it a bug hunt?

It's a bug hunt.

1:57

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Battleship

Battleship is the alien invasion movie for people who thought Independence Day was too cerebral.

2:00

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ringer Marathon

Back in September, 2011, the CW netlet premiered a new series starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. I watched the first episode because it is my policy to sample everything done by people connected to Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, you know, everything in the Whedonverse.

I liked Ringer immediately. A suspenseful show about a druggie who takes over her twin sister's Park Avenue life after the sister offs herself. What's not to like? I liked it so much that I did two things. I started pronouncing the G as a J, like Ranger only with an I, and I started to save up a few episodes so I could watch several at a time. I thought it might be 3-4 episodes before I starting watching the show in earnest but instead it was 22. That's right, I found myself with entire season sitting on my DVR, so Friday night, I started a Rin-jer marathon.

It was a wonderful weekend.

The show is wonderful. Dark, suspenseful and most importantly, never cheap or cheesy. Watching all 22 episodes at once was a great way to follow the details of the dense plot. Oh, it is dense, in a way that you rarely see on television. SMG plays Bridget and Siobhan - the name Siobhan itself entertains me far more than is reasonable - and lies a lot. Bridget was a fugitive and decided that hiding in plain sight was the most appealing option, but it's tough to lie to everyone when you start to care.

I was worried that Ringer would drift into prime-time soap territory, but it never did. Everything was played straight and the issues were always matters of life and death. Literally as several people, not always the bad guys, met their demise. There was one plot thread, the teenage step-daughter getting raped by a teacher, that made me roll my eyes (also literally) as the topic, serious in real life but overdone on TV, became much more than a soap plot. All in all, a well done series and well cast.

The teenage step-daughter was played by Zoey Deutch, whom IMDB tells me is the daughter of Lea Thompson. The real-life mother-daughter don't really look anything alike but when you know what to look for, you can see Lea's mannerisms all over her daughter's face. Zoey also came off as a real teenager instead of a TV teenager. A welcome treat.

Oddly, Ringer was joined in the life swap genre this year by a series called The Lying Game on ABC Family. I also watched The Lying Game but hardly for the same reasons. In TLG, twins separated at birth meet up and share one life. It's played as a soap, complete with over-the-top plots and silly issues. As I said, I enjoyed TLG, but more for the eye candy than its quality. Between the two, I wouldn't mind a second season of The Lying Game, but I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want a second season of Ringer. I'll even pronounce it correctly if that will help.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

As Mirror, Mirror is based on the Snow White fairy tale, I will present my comments in chapter form, like a book.

Chapter One

Lily Collins is the fairest in all the land.

Chapter Two

I generally avoid Julia Roberts movies as she's one of those larger-than-life people who never disappears into her characters. That's fine for many Movie Stars, but for Ms Roberts, I've seen enough interviews with her where I get a sense of her real personality and that personality seems to be a nut job. Nonetheless, I went to Mirror, Mirror not expecting much and I was rewarded with something more. The character of the evil queen called for an over-the-top performance and Julia's chewing of the scenery - literally in one scene - fit perfectly into the movie. Kudos.

Chapter Three

The overall tone of Mirror, Mirror was tongue-in-cheek but not campy. The movie pulled off the difficult task of maintaining tone throughout, but they did not live happily ever after...

Chapter Four

If you can, leave the theater or turn off the movie right as Snow deals with the apple at her wedding. The movie closes with a musical number over the credits, like many movies do, but this one sucks. Whereas many movies reward you with a fun number, such as "Build Me Up Buttercup" from There's Something About Mary, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" in the fairy tale themed Ella Enchanted, or any of the Shrek movies, Mirror, Mirror punishes you with a Bollywood number that is a voluminously violent assault on the ears and a bit on the eyes, as well. It doesn't fit into the movie at all. It uses Indian instruments and was sung in the Indian style, which is fine if you appreciate that style or you're watching a movie set in India. I noticed that Mirror, Mirror was directed by a guy with an Indian-sounding name so maybe he's a Bollywood guy and was rewarding himself on finishing an American movie, but the closing number was a punishment to the very movie-goers the director had just spent 95 minutes successfully entertaining. Seriously, turn off the movie when you see the apple or at least hit mute.

Chapter Five

What is with all the Snow White shows lately? We have her in ABC's Once Upon a Time every Sunday, this movie, and this Summer, Snow White and the Huntsman, with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. Are there no other stories out there worth telling?

Chapter Six

Lily Collins is the fairest in all the land.

1:39

Titanic 3D

I just returned from watching Titanic. I won't bother with a review - anyone and everyone knows all about it. This was the first time I've seen Titanic in a theater since May, 1998, and I've never watched it in its entirety on home video, although I did watch a significant chunk with my niece circa the turn of the last century, so today was much like watching it for the first time.

It's still an impressive movie, although I could not avoid noticing it was also very long - three hours and change tests the limits of my sleep deprivation, ADD, and bladder. I'm happy to report I didn't nap, start fidgeting or wet myself today, so we'll call this a win.

The 3D is another story. I don't like 3D and find that it detracts from the movie-going experience more than it adds. As Titanic was not shot in 3D, they had to synthesize the effects, layering elements in each shot in front or behind each other. It wasn't all that impressive overall and some of the effects shots - and there are a lot of effects shots in Titanic - looked a bit cheap, or at least they stood out as effects more than I remember.

Not liking to wear those icky 3D glasses over my prescription lenses, I spent just under $20 on clip-ons designed for 3D TVs. This was the first movie I used them on and it was better. The 3D glasses never quite fit over the regular glasses and always slip off if I move my head too much. The clip-ons allowed full head movement and have the added benefit of not being heavily tinted, unlike the glasses, which are dark enough to wear as sunglasses outdoors. I'll give you a full report of the clip-ons after I've used them for a few more movies.

All-in all, spending three hours with Rose and Jack was a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Is anyone planning on watching Titanic in the theater on April 15, 2012? It's a once in a lifetime anniversary.

3:07

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Artist

The Artist is the black & white silent movie that everyone is talking about, if you'll pardon the expression. It's the basic A Star is Born story that has been the basis of movies since shortly after the invention of the talkie. I found it mostly entertaining, but it was a little long (despite its 97 minute running time) and I didn't like the ending.

I won't tell you what I didn't like about the ending of The Artist because plenty of people appear to enjoy it, but I found the last five minutes to be out of character for the movie.

The leads received Academy Award nominations and deserved them, but Bérénice Bejo was nominated for supporting actress in what was clearly a leading role. She's in a tough category but I wouldn't be shocked - or disappointed - if she took home a trophy Sunday night.

1:37

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Thing

Mary Elizabeth Winstead with a flamethrower? What could be bad? Well, a few things.

It's been a long time since I saw the 1982 version of The Thing - and have no real memory of it - and I never saw The Thing from Another World from 1951, so this review stands on its own even though the movies may be connected somehow.

The Thing is your basic Ten Little Indians with a Non-Human Slasher genre movie, and as such isn't too bad. That genre isn't my cup of tea, but the aforementioned comely Mary Elizabeth Winstead is on my must-attend list so I went. The Thing may be a good choice for a mid-Winter home video selection, but even if you like the non-human slasher genre, I wouldn't rush out to see it.

1:38

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Mighty Macs

I decided to see The Mighty Macs after seeing one commercial. It looked like your basic underdog sports movie and Carla Gugino would be the coach. What could be bad? Not much, actually. The Mighty Macs is an independent movie with a limited budget and small cast. Within those limitations, it hits the right tone and emotional cues, delivering a top-notch sports movie.

The story appears to be based on actual events. Immaculatta College in Pennsylvania, 1971. A losing team in a women's school gets a new coach and no respect. Through movie-standard grit and pluckiness, the team makes a run at a national championship in one season. The coach is almost deified - not an easy task in a Catholic school - but for once maybe earns it. Some of her players went on to be coaches themselves, win national championships and are even still active in the WNBA and college ranks.

The coach's voice-over narration provides a titch more sappiness than the movie needs but step-back in time sports cliches and old clothing styles more than make up for it with a thoroughly entertaining movie.

Oh, the name? Immaculatta. Im-MAC-u-lat-ta. Macs. I didn't get it until the movie was about three-fourths over. Until then, I thought it was some unspoken Scottish thing.

1:36

The Three Musketeers

Alexandre Dumas meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Jules Verne. If that sounds like a mish-mash, it is. This incarnation of The Three Musketeers is an excuse for stunts, CGI and costumes. It's perfectly fine by the standards of today's adventure movies but, make no mistake, The Three Musketeers is a disposable movie. If you go see it once, you won't need to see it twice and you don't need to buy a copy for your home video collection.

To drive home the point that it wants to start the next Pirates of the Renaissance franchise, they even cast Orlando Bloom as one of the (many) villains. The flexible morality and scenery-chewing is straight out of Pirates. Milla Jovavich's lingerie-wearing, adrenaline junkie spy is straight out of a Madonna video. All-in-all, for a basic adventure show, by all means go see The Three Musketeers. I enjoyed it. But don't expect to remember anything about it the next day.

1:42

Monday, October 3, 2011

Killer Elite

Killer Elite is a perfectly serviceable action flick. It's more of a geopolitical thriller than you might have guessed from the commercials. It's set in 1980 and has a gritty production design, possibly inspired by the Bourne thrillers. Despite its pedigree - Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen - Killer Elite is a non-studio production but it works very well.

Much of the dialog is spoken by non-native English speakers - Omani, Italian, French, Australian, Welsh, English - that it was difficult to understand everything. Not that it mattered, but if you need to know the intricacies of a plot designed to get you to the next gun fight, well, maybe save Killer Elite for DVD, where you can turn on the captions.

Watching Killer Elite marked the 900th film that I've seen at Willow Creek Theaters in Plymouth (900!). I guess that's a lot. Willow Creek is not the nicest place around, but it's convenient, clean, and the staff is polite. In a backhanded complement, the matinees are sparsely attended, so getting in and out is fairly easy. 900!  I will continue using Willow Creek as my primary movie-going venue.  900!

1:50

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drive

Beware misleading advertising! Drive is not what they show in the previews. It's not the next incarnation of The Transporter or Fast and Furious. It's a low budget, thoughtful, indie flick. It's a very good movie on its own but it's not the movie that they are selling you in the commercials. In summary, if you like movies you see in art houses, Drive is for you. If you want a crash 'em up with car chases, Drive is not for you.

1:39