Monday, February 23, 2009

Post-Oscar Notes

70% of people polled said that they approved of Hugh Jackman in his first hosting job at the Oscars.

Are they crazy? They just didn't ask the right questions. The REAL poll answers are:

100% of those watching the Oscars approved of Hugh Jackman.
92% of those watching the Oscars disapprove of the producers' decision not to put Jackman out there in a swimsuit and nothing else.

Whew. I'm glad we got that settled.

That said, I thought Jackman was stupendous. He's a song-and-dance man, and I can't believe he actually pulled off some of those dance steps on slick stairs. I loved, loved, loved that bit with Anne Hathaway. After that movie for which she was nominated, as well as Brokeback Mountain, we might forget that the lady is a real comedian. She's very funny, and we believe she hadn't rehearsed the bit ahead of time. Which they had.

I also liked Jackman's little thing about posing with Benjamin Button's clothes in a backdrop that showed him getting younger. And the song and lyrics sung were very funny.

And that little lyric moment when he said he hadn't seen The Reader, well, the writers recognized that nobody else had, either.

Poor Meryl Streep. If you're nominated and you have to sit down front, I guess you know you're going to be a target. She seemed to take it well.

I didn't quite get the concept of deconstructing the movie project, showing how a movie is put together, as I think it kind of slowed things down. But the sets were really cool. And having five former winners say something nice about each nominee -- well, that was a touch of class.

The sequence with Beyonce' convinced me that the woman can sing anything. However, the sequence also convinced me that the producers of an award show should never let Baz Luhrmann arrange anything ever again. God, what a cacophony.

Touching moments include:
1. Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech.
2. Sean Penn's acceptance speech.
3. Panning the audience during the acceptance speech given by Heath Ledger's family. I'm sure you could hear a pin drop.

In fact, why don't we make a new rule for the Oscars: Give all the writers, when they win, five minutes or more for their acceptance speeches. And limit time for people like cinematographers and songwriters. Writers give wittier, better thought-out speeches.

So, all in all, I really enjoyed the broadcast. The little moments that really worked -- when they showed the script during an excerpt of film for best screenplay, for instance -- really vaulted this production above most in the past. There were negatives, however, like when the cameras pulled back too far during the homage to fallen stars in 2008; as Queen Latifah sang, all we saw were the curtains. There was also a loud, bass hum during the entire broadcast -- what was that all about?

It would have been a more exciting broadcast if it weren't so evident early that Slumdog Millionaire was going to snowball and gather most of the non-acting awards. But, still, the producers for this year's broadcast figured out that we're here to celebrate movies. And they did so. Well done.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adar's Picks for Oscar

As usual, Catattack and I disagree on a lot of things. That's one of the things that makes this blog fun for us, after all! I confess that I haven't been as diligent as she about seeing every nominated film; I suspect that a significant slice of the Academy doesn't see them all either, so I won't let that stop me.

Best Actor: Should win: Sean Penn. Will win: Sean Penn. For once, Cat and I agree. His turn in Milk was moving, surprising, and completely believable. I didn't know the guy could even smile, for crying out loud, and when I heard he was cast, I thought, well, I can see the physical resemblance, but he doesn't have that expansive spirit that was the essence of Harvey Milk. I was wrong! Give the man a statue!

Best Supporting Actor: Should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman Will win: Heath Ledger. I don't think that Oscars should be awarded on the basis of the acting career someone didn't live long enough to have. Ledger showed great promise, and this role was the ultimate in scenery-chewing dramatics, but playing flat-out evil is a piece of cake compared to the balancing act that Hoffman performed in Doubt. Hoffman is likeable but worrisome as a popular young priest who may have molested a child, flawlessly walking the knife edge that that role demanded.

Actress in a Leading Role: This category is the one where my lackadaisical movie-watching really catches up with me. Let' s just say that it's going to take one heck of a performance by any of the other actresses to touch Meryl Streep, and leave it at that. Maybe Kate Winslet really out-matched her, and if she did, give her the Oscar.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Should win: Viola Davis. Will win: Penelope Cruz. Viola Davis owned the screen in her few moments of screen time, investing Doubt with whole new vistas of, well, doubt. Moreover, in doing so she evoked not only the drama at hand, but the nuances of an era, playing the protective mother of a possibly molested child in the racially imposed straightjacket of the early 60's. That she conveyed the intensity she did, and stole her one brief scene from Meryl Streep, without raising her voice or hardly moving a muscle makes this one of the astonishing performances of all time, let alone this year.

Best Animated Feature: Wall*E should and will win. It should have been nominated for best film, too, but the Academy doesn't go there, so thank goodness for this category.

Cinematography: Again, my evil ways are catching up with me -- should have spent more time at the movies! -- but this is the category where The Dark Knight really shines, in my opinion.

Best Costume Design: A tough category, but I agree with Cat. Revolutionary Road should win, but the costume historical, The Dutchess, will probably get the statue.

Best Director: Frost/Nixon should win, but Slumdog Millionaire will win. Ron Howard did a magical job of bringing the "unadaptable" play to the screen, and it was more by way of direction than by way of screenplay.

Best Editing: oooh, this one is hard! I am torn between The Dark Knight and Frost/Nixon (how's THAT for strange bedfellows?) No idea who will really win it, though.

Best Picture: When I think about "Best Picture" I ask myself: which of these films is still going to be worth watching, will still be the best of the bunch in 20 years? I confess that I am torn, again, between Frost/Nixon and Milk. Both of them are time machines that take us back to a significant time, and significant people. Both of them contain acting performances that stop the heart, and do so recreating figures that were known to us. Both are films about which someday I expect to say to a grandchild: "want to know what it was like? Watch this film!" I am going to give Milk the edge here, because it tells a story that hasn't been told before, and it tells it darn near flawlessly. Even the smallest parts are spot-on. And for everyone who isn't part of the LGBTQ-whatever "community" -- this IS what it was like, is like, to be not-straight in America. It conveys the heart and soul of lesbian and gay San Francisco at the time before "B,T and Q" were not yet on the radar.

Best Music: Score: I love the music from Slumdog Millionaire, but when I listened to the critic on NPR this morning, he made a great argument for Defiance.

As for the rest, no public opinion; I'm just rooting for favorites and I won't inflict that on this blog.

Catattack, there you have it! No real surprises: we mostly don't agree.

On to important business: where's that popcorn?

The Last Sentinel

I took a look at The Last Sentinel for one reason: it boasted Katee Sackhoff in the lead. I liked Katee as the complicated pilot in Battlestar Galactica.

This is your basic last-man-on-earth kind of movie. While Tallis is not the last man, it's getting close since the robots set up to be Earth's police force took over. And, of course, as they always do, they sought to wipe mankind out.

But Tallis (actor Don Wilson) is a great warrior, trained since he was a boy to be so. And mankind's hope of salvation rests with him. One day while battling in the streets of some once-populated city, he watches a small group of revolutionaries fight. Only one survives, he rescues her (Sackhoff), and they team up to destroy the Drone Police.

This movie is a real bore. Its exposition is even done badly, mostly during fight scenes which must appeal to some audience I'm not a part of. The writing has no imagination, the dialogue drone-like (and not just for the drones). The only good things to say about The Last Sentinel is that (1) Katee Sackhoff lifts the material from worst-movie-ever-made to simply dreadful, and (2) actor Bokeem Woodbine, as a soldier who trains Tallis, brings such energy to his brief scenes that he almost accomplishes the same.

I see that Wilson is a producer for the project, which explains how someone who can't act could get the lead role. No one could tell him otherwise.

We know Sackhoff will find better material. Until then, watch Battlestar DVDs.

Thumb's down.


The Oscars 2009: Who Will Win Best Actor/Actress?

We're down to the Sunday we've waiting for all year: Oscar Sunday.

Obviously there's been a mistake made -- I never received my invitation to the stellar event. Must've been lost in the mail, or, worse, some postal employee is dressing up in his or her slate blue uniform and taking my place. (Ooh, I shudder at that image.) Still, such a problem won't stop me from issuing my picks on who will win, and who should win.

Best Actor: Sean Penn should win, Sean Penn will win.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger should win, Heath Ledger will win.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet should win, Kate Winslet will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis should win, Penelope Cruz will win.

Best Animated Feature: Wall*E should win, Wall*E will win.

Best Art Direction: Revolutionary Road should win, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will win.

Best Cinematography: The Dark Knight should win, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will win.

Best Costume Design: Revolutionary Road should win, The Duchess will win.

Best Director: Milk should win, Slumdog Millionaire will win.

Best Documentary Feature: Encounters at the End of the World should and will win.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Class should win, Waltz with Bashir will win.

Best Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button should and will win.

Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button should and will win.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Doubt should win, Slumdog Millionaire will win.

Best Original Screenplay: Frozen River should win, Milk will win.

Now for some comments:

Best Actor: This contest is between Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn, and I have no real idea how it's going to turn out. However, I believe Sean Penn should take it, as he absolutely morphed himself into a very different yet historical figure -- we know this guy -- which was truly amazing. Mickey Rourke, although giving a fantastic performance, always remained, at least partially, Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress: I think this is Kate Winslet's year for the role for which she was not nominated: Revolutionary Road. I think the academy will recognize that. However, Streep is certainly a possibility -- she hasn't won since 1982 -- and the others are very deserving.

Best Supporting Actor: Ledger, no doubt. His nearest competition is a four-way tie. For last.

Best Supporting Actress: All of these performances were brilliant, but most were brief, so there's no real telling. Cruz is popular, and she changed the dynamic of the entire film when she came on. However, Viola Davis stopped Meryl Streep in her tracks, and that has to be worth something.

Directing, Best Picture, maybe several others: Slumdog Millionaire is the popular film this year, and that joie-de-vivre could carry over into other categories.

I'm guessing that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will win special/visual effects and very little else.

So, sit back, mark your own ballot, and watch the show!

Body of Lies

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a covert CIA operative who is knee-deep in dangerous situations, as he's tasked with finding and shaking down terrorists in Iraq. Russell Crowe stars as Ed Hoffman, his boss on the telephone who is safe in America and giving advice freely to Ferris while he puts his kids to sleep, takes them to school, etc. Hoffman, who's supposed to be DiCaprio's source for back-up and strategy, plays cowboy on him, and urges him to trust no one as he deals with the Iraqis and Jordanians in his quest to find terrorists. In the meantime, however, Ferris has made promises he can't keep.

The good part: Director Ridley Scott goes out of his way to explain everything to the viewer so that you don't get lost. It would seemingly be easy to do so, as we American viewers are not used to Arabic names and customs, etc., in trying to figure out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. But I was able to follow along rather easily, thanks to Scott's storytelling abilities and DiCaprio's strong acting.

Crowe is not as interesting in this role. He really isn't worth watching, his character not that deep. However, Mark Strong (RocknRolla, Stardust) continues to amaze. In Body of Lies, Strong plays the Chief of Jordanian Intelligence, and steals each scene he's in, surprising since he plays most of his scenes with the always watchable DiCaprio.

The bad part of the film: While I was never bored during the film, I really didn't care all that much about what was happening, who was betraying whom. I don't think the end justifies the means in this film, meaning the two hours you spend watching the film will seem like a waste. However, you realize you're looking at two powerhouses in modern film, three if you count the director, so you feel compelled to watch. DiCaprio is certainly worth the journey, but the film, on the whole, is not.

Thumb's down.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Oscars 2009: What Movie Will Win Best Picture?

The 2009 Oscars (for the films of 2008) are upon us, and in a few days, we’ll know who won.

In this post, I’d like to talk about who and what should have been nominated, and which movie I think will win in the end.

Australia for Best Picture…. No, just kidding! That one they got right. But the Academy missed Revolutionary Road. It’s almost as if there were two Kate Winslet films and they had to pick one. Gosh, we all love Holocaust films, so let’s go with that! While The Reader is a fine movie, Revolutionary Road picked a much harder subject to talk about: our mundane, ordinary lives. And speaking of Revolutionary Road, there were several other actors in that film who deserved to be nominated (like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kathy Bates).

I also feel that Benjamin Button as a movie is not the complete picture. It’s rather ordinary except for its special effects and a few acting performances (e.g., Taraji P. Henson). The movie is really about a rather passive man who just watches the world age backwards (at least from his point of view). He never really does anything important, he never pushes his way forward. He just is and people around him react to him.

For that matter, I didn’t think Brad Pitt was that compelling in the role. I believe people really like the epic motion picture, and will find some way to reward it.

Ralph Fiennes could have been nominated for any of three outstanding performances in a standout year for him: The Duchess, The Reader, and In Bruges. My nomination would’ve been for The Duchess. He makes a royal monster look like a three-dimensional man who’s just misunderstood.

In the Best Actress in a Leading Role category, what happened to Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long? The performance was highly touted when the film came out, but that was over a year ago. Academy members’ memories are so short.

And what about The Dark Knight? I think the latest Batman picture was one of the best of the year. But we all know what happens to most sci fi and certainly comic book movies: they’re relegated to the bottom of the awards heap.

So, speaking of those Best Picture nominees, who will win and who deserves to win?
The nominees are:

Benjamin Button
Frost / Nixon
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

There is not a doubt in my mind that Slumdog Millionaire will win. Every other movie up there is a downer; Slumdog is the only one that has you dancing at the end like you’re in a Bollywood musical. Slumdog also boasts a surprisingly inventive screenplay and a very likeable cast. I think the only other movie that could possibly overtake Slumdog in this category is Benjamin Button, just because Button was a widely-seen, popular movie. But I think Slumdog will carry the day.

However, in my opinion Milk is the stronger movie, based on a brilliant screenplay. I would also not hesitate to vote for The Reader, a complicated movie which stirs rich emotions.

Next: We’ll take the other categories one-by-one. Who will win, and who should win.

Frozen River

Tang and popcorn. That's what Ray Eddy serves to her kids one morning because she's completely out of money. I've been there; I've been that poor. But I knew it was only temporary, and I didn't have two kids to feed. It's little details like this that make Frozen River such a treasure. That and Melissa Leo's acting.

Ray has led a hard life. You can see it on her face, as every line probably has a story attached to it. Still, she keeps up her optimism and her dreams for her two boys, a 15-year-old, who tries to be too helpful, and a 5-year-old, who wants the dream, too. The movie opens when Ray realizes that her gambling-addicted husband left with the last balloon payment for their newly purchased double-wide trailer, which represents the dream. And things get worse from there.

The setting is the frozen tundra of upstate New York, right at the Canadian border, a couple of days before Christmas. It's a hard life, especially in the winter, and especially with no money, and the upcoming holiday is not a time of joy. The only social life is the bingo parlor on the Mohawk reservation that sits on the frozen St. Lawrence River. The only jobs available are service jobs.

Ray meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman with family problems of her own when Lila tries to steal Ray's husband's abandoned car at the Bingo parlor. Lila talks Ray into making a quick buck -- actually, many of them -- when she makes a smuggling run across the frozen river to run illegal aliens over the border. Lila and Ray become partners in the venture. And if my sense of foreboding was quiet through the first part of the movie, it really kicked up when they went into that dangerous venture together.

The people they meet who are in this business get more and more dangerous and nasty. And the illegal aliens, most of whom cannot speak English, get more and more pitiable or suspect. Are they children? Are they slaves? Are they terrorists? These are questions Ray asks herself every time they crawl into the trunk of her Dodge Spirit. And then she races across the frozen ice, hoping it won't cave in, hoping she'll make enough money, if no one stiffs her, to buy food, Christmas presents, and that double-wide for her family.

This is a small film, but it carries a big impact. The ending isn't all nicey-nicey, like It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime, but it ties up all the loose ends very nicely. I often talk about a payoff at the end of the movie. Frozen River has a big one, a very satisfying one.

Thumbs 'way up.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Bruges

Shoot first. Sightsee later.

While a very funny tagline, it sets up the expectation that In Bruges is a comedy. The trailer does the same thing. Even though it has moments -- many moments -- of funny spurts formed from context and great dialogue, In Bruges is not a comedy. But it's a delight, and sort of sad. And its three leads are in some of their best work.

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two hitmen who are told to go to Bruges, Belgium and lay low until they receive instructions from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Ken is in love with Bruges, with its medieval buildings, charming streams, and outdoor cafes. Ray thinks it's the most boring of towns to be in, especially if he's far away from a pint. But while wandering in the street, he finds a movie company complete with midget and gorgeous girl. He gets mixed up with both of them, as well as her former boyfriend. And then Harry's instructions come down.

Much of the movie sets up Ken's and Ray's relationship, as one drives the other a little crazy in a town one loves and the other despises. As it turns out, their relationship is key to the story, a storyline I'd rather not reveal here.

Gleeson is always good, but shines here as the older hitman, the guy who's been doing this for a few years now. I've never seen Colin Farrell better, truer, than in his role as a hitman who screwed up his first hit and is paying for it. And Fiennes is scarier here than any He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Fiennes should have been nominated for his work in The Duchess, but his work in In Bruges is almost as good.

This is a crazy romp in a city that looks like it's been asleep for a thousand years. And it all comes together at the end in a heartbreakingly sudden ending.

Thumb's up.

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