Monday, January 31, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 4 - Four Weddings and a Funeral

Movie: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay
Wins: I'm sure no one is surprised this movie did not actually win.  Beaten by Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction respectively.

In a year where the best picture nominees are 3 of the greatest movies ever, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, with Quiz Show and Four Weddings rounding it out, it's hard to figure out what other movies were snubbed to make a spot for a Hugh Grant romantic comedy.  Not that I don't love this movie to bits, but I gotta say I was pretty shocked that one of its nominations was for Best Picture.  Kristin Scott Thomas, John Hannah, Andie McDowell, and a series of cameos by well known British actors.  Everyone can appreciate the humor and unease provided by weddings, and this movie has 3 major ones and then a secret one, in addition to a very heartfelt funeral.  When Hugh Grant is seated at a table at one wedding with all of his exes and they start discussing one another you squirm watching him handle that, and then when different people from the wedding appear as the bride and groom at the next one, there's a terrific continuity of all the characters including the passage of time.  The awkwardness continues when Grant gets stuck in a bathroom while the bride and groom get it on in the bedroom and he can't get out.  The main focus is Grant's search to find love with Andie McDowell's American Carrie.  She does get the worst line in cinema: "Is it still raining?" when she's drenched and dripping rain off her eyelashes.  It's just silly. 

However, my favorite scene is a sad one from the funeral, but it just reminds me of my love of John Hannah.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 32: Oscar thoughts

We recorded early and it's all ready for you!  Can't wait to listen myself.  It's only about half as long, and there's NO STAR OF THE WEEK.  Why, because I have major school stuff tomorrow and couldn't devote my week to anyone but the evil gods of academia.  Check it out.

30 Days of Oscar: Day 3 - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Movie: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Year: 2004
Nominations: Best Cinematography, Russell Boyd; Best Sound Editing Richard Kingst, Art Direction, Costume Design. Best Director - Peter Weir;  Best Editing, Best Makeup, Best Picture, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
Wins: Best Cinematography, Russell Boyd; Best Sound Editing Richard Kingst.  Wow, for ALL the other nominations, Master and Commander was beaten by Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, including Director and Picture.  What an odd year when only 2 different films win all the non-acting awards for which they qualify. 

Based on a 21-book series of novels by Patrick O'Brien, this movie takes the characters from the whole series, uses the name of the first novel (Master and Commander) and some of the plot of the tenth book (The Far Side of the World) with elements from other books.  It easily could have been set up as a pretty awesome franchise, but given the presence of Russell Crowe and the technical and financial difficulty of recreating the high seas, and the fact that the movie barely made back it's $150 million budget, no sequel is planned. 

However, as an Oscar nominee, it was definitely deserving.  Russell Crowe plays Jack Aubrey, captain of HMS Surprise during the Napoleonic wars.  Paul Bettany plays his friend and the ships doctor and amateur naturalist, Stephen Maturin.  They're tasked with sailing across the Atlantic to prevent a ship of Napoleon's from taking the war to the colonies in the South Seas.  Lots of sailing, lots of naval battles with canons flying, and pretty amazing visuals through the movie.  As a scientist myself, seeing Maturin tramp about the Galapagos as the ship restocks supplies (water, food, etc.) is pretty amazing.  Bettany's intellectual curiosity and lack of naval background helps balance Crowe's "For King and Country" enthusiasm for war, particularly on a sailing ship.

There are many subplots between the crew, but the main focus is on the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin and the ship's mission to "burn, sink, or take as a prize" the French frigate they're hunting.  In another year, particularly the technical awards probably would have deservedly gone to Master and Commander, although it is also telling that there were no acting nominations for the film.  And something random I just realized rewatching this, there is only a single female on screen at any point and she has no lines, just smiles at Aubrey.  How many movies is that true?  What did you think of Master and Commander?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 2 - The English Patient

Movie: The English Patienti
Year: 1996
Nominations: Just about everything - Picture, Director, Actor , Actress, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Score, Adapted Screenplay, and Score
Wins: They won everything except Actor for Ralph Fiennes, Actress for Kristin Scott Thomas, and Screenplay, beaten by Geoffrey Rush in Shine, Frances McDormand in Fargo, and Slide Blade, respectively.
Robbed: I can't argue with any of the acting losses, those were some amazing performances.  And they won everything else that year!

I'd seen parts of this movie, though I can't say it was any more than what they showed at the Oscars that year or in other snippets, so I felt it was time to dig in an watch it all.  The movie is epic in nature and the story-telling matches the overall feel of the film.  Flashbacks and a progressing story intertwine two love stories, Fiennes and Thomas' illicit affair (she's married to an affable Colin Firth) just before WWII, and the current developing love between Binoche and Naveen Andrews ("Lost").

Willem Defoe comes into play and tries put a shady spin on our hero's previous actions.  One of the things I found confusing is that there are two separate plane crashes, one that results in the death of Thomas and one that causes Fiennes' burns.  Also, one seems to be in the desert and the other in Italy where the current story frame continues.  That's what threw me.  However, you don't have to follow every detail of the story to understand the sexiness that is Thomas and Fiennes' love affair and the tenderness and hope for survival with Binoche and Andrews.

This was an odd year for the Oscars.  Fargo and Shine are both remembered as terrific movies and wonderful performances, but adding that to The English Patient means only 3 movies really made up the Oscars that year, which of course isn't true.  There were a lot more smaller films that had interesting moments or a bit of writing, but nothing that has stood the test of time particularly well.  I saw Ghosts of Mississippi a few months ago also, James Woods was nominated for a Supporting role, and a young Alec Baldwin did a great job with the movie, but it hasn't aged well as a film even considering the events in the movie took place in the 50s.  Just an example of movies that weren't able to take down The English Patient.  

If you want to take part in 30 Days of Oscar, feel free!  You can check out previous days here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 1 - Into the Wild

I wanted to get a chance to write about movies that received Oscar nominations: both that I've seen and never reviewed here, and new movies that I've never seen.   I think an awful lot has been written already about the current movies up for awards, and much more will be written as the various awards come to a conclusion.  But I like remembering other movies that got nominated at least.  You know there was someone somewhere that year saying they were robbed or robbed someone else of at least a nomination. 

Movie: Into the Wild
Year: 2007
Nominations: Editing, Supporting Actor - Hal Holbrook
Wins: None, beaten by The Bourne Ultimatum and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
Robbed: There was talk about Eddie Vedder's music, and he won the Golden Globe for his song, "Guaranteed", but the Academy showed no love there.

I watched this for the Vince Vaughn week on "Reel Insight", but it also has the distinction of being the DVD that sat the longest next to the TV and returned to Netflix WITHOUT being watched (almost 4 months).  I remember Hal Holbrook getting a lot of attention during the awards season, though I don't think there was an award that Javier didn't take home that year.  How can you compare 20 minutes on screen to a movie where you're all but the star?  But I do think Holbrook's performance was just as memorable.  It does feel a bit ridiculous to reward an actor for a single scene or two when his colleague makes the movie, but if anyone deserved it it was Holbrook's small performance.

He meets Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsh) who is on a journey of unbelievably selfish self-discovery.  Chris has left his family behind after college to go off on his own, and ultimately get to Alaska to find himself and be closer to nature.  He bucks the system (which I've already described pissed me off the most) thinking that all nature is for everyone.  He does meet some wonderful characters on the way - Catherine Keener as an aging hippie who can't get over her own child; Vaughn as a farmer who teaches Chris a few things about growing food, hunting, etc., and just before Alaska he meets Holbrook, a lonely old man living by himself in the desert.  There's a scene where Holbrook and Chris are making plans to meet up after he gets back from Alaska and Holbrook tears up and you can sense he somehow knows he'll never see Chris again.

Watching Chris' problems in the Alaskan wilderness and his utter stupidity leading to his death makes this movie hard to like.  Sean Penn's direction is interesting - canonizing Chris and putting his journey on a pedestal while still showing the honesty in his own part in his death.  Overall I didn't like it, but I can see the nominations for Editing and definitely for Holbrook.  I'm sure there were probably other worthy performances that year and that Holbrook's nomination might have been as much a career nod as well as recognition of a terrific set of scenes.  

I think this topic makes for a terrific MEME.
The goal: talking about past Oscar winners and nominees every day for a month
If you want to participate, go for it!  I won't tag anyone because people often already have plans for the weeks around Oscar.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday's Movie Mashup No. 12

We have a new member of the leader board!  Congrats and welcome to Andrew

Last week's clue: "A man makes an offer you can't refuse while also throwing his daughter's wedding at his home, much to his frustration."

Hint: I promise this is two movies, but it's easy to see why one might be enough.

Answer: The Godfather of the Bride

Might have been too easy, but I do try to mix it up a bit.  And I never promise there's only one answer to the clue.

Leader board 
Hatter - 6
David - 3
Sebastian - 1
Andrew - 1

New clue: A boxer's rage takes him to the top, without the help of the pretty lady who follows around minor league baseball players.

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

LAMB Devours the Oscars

It's here!!!  This is my favorite feature over at the LAMB, and somehow they decided to let me run it this year!  We've got a great group of writers, some newbies, some of the Old LAMBs, and it starts tonight!  There will be one new post every day until February 27th.  Here's the roster:

The Social Network
Movies Reviews by Tom Clift
Toy Story 3
Marshall and the Movies
The King’s Speech
10 Things I hate about your movie
Black Swan
Movies and Other things
Hope lies
True Grit
Just Chick Flicks
Yongs Fave Films
The Fighter
Big Thoughts from a Small Mind
Insight into Entertainment
The Kinematoscope
Best Director
Films from the Supermassive Black Hole
Best Actor
A Life in Equinox
Best Supporting Actor
Cut the Crap Movie reviews
Best Actress
Encore’s World of Film & TV
Best Supporting Actress
Phil on Film
Best Original Screenplay
The Athletic Nerd
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Entertainment Junkie
Cinema Sights
Art Direction
The Movie Snob
Costume Design
Wide Screen World
Sound Mixing
Invasion of the B movies
Dark of the Matinee
Sound Editing
Anomalous Material
Visual Effects
The Entertainment Junkie
Rachel’s Reel Reviews
Original Song
The Movie Encyclopedia
Original Score
His eyes were watching movies
Animated Short
Blog Cabins
Live action Short
Foolish Blatherings
Documentary Feature
Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob
Documentary Short
The Cinematheque
Foreign Film
Pick n Mix Flix
Animated Film
Cinematic Paradox

The Oscar nominations 2011

Well they have arrived.  Comments will come much later, but that's what the next month is for. 

Best Motion Picture of the Year

127 Hours (2010)

Black Swan (2010)

The Fighter (2010)

Inception (2010)

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The King's Speech (2010)

The Social Network (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

True Grit (2010)

Winter's Bone (2010)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem for Biutiful (2010)

Jeff Bridges for True Grit (2010)

Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network (2010)

Colin Firth for The King's Speech (2010)

James Franco for 127 Hours (2010)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone (2010)

Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010)

Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale for The Fighter (2010)

John Hawkes for Winter's Bone (2010)

Jeremy Renner for The Town (2010)

Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech (2010)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Fighter (2010)

Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech (2010)

Melissa Leo for The Fighter (2010)

Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit (2010)

Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (2010)

Best Achievement in Directing

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan (2010)

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for True Grit (2010)

David Fincher for The Social Network (2010)

Tom Hooper for The King's Speech (2010)

David O. Russell for The Fighter (2010)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Another Year (2010): Mike Leigh

The Fighter (2010): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson

Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan

The Kids Are All Right (2010): Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg

The King's Speech (2010): David Seidler 

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

127 Hours (2010): Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy

The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin

Toy Story 3 (2010): Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich

True Grit (2010): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Winter's Bone (2010): Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

The Illusionist (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010) 

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Biutiful (2010): Alejandro González Iñárritu(Mexico)

Dogtooth (2009): Giorgos Lanthimos(Greece)

In a Better World (2010): Susanne Bier(Denmark)

Incendies (2010): Denis Villeneuve(Canada)

Outside the Law (2010): Rachid Bouchareb(Algeria)
Best Achievement in Cinematography

Black Swan (2010): Matthew Libatique

Inception (2010): Wally Pfister

The King's Speech (2010): Danny Cohen

The Social Network (2010): Jeff Cronenweth

True Grit (2010): Roger Deakins

Best Achievement in Editing

127 Hours (2010): Jon Harris

Black Swan (2010): Andrew Weisblum

The Fighter (2010): Pamela Martin

The King's Speech (2010): Tariq Anwar

The Social Network (2010): Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
Best Achievement in Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Stefan Dechant

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Andrew Ackland-Snow

Inception (2010): Guy Hendrix Dyas

The King's Speech (2010): Netty Chapman

True Grit (2010): Stefan Dechant

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Colleen Atwood

I Am Love (2009): Antonella Cannarozzi

The King's Speech (2010): Jenny Beavan

The Tempest (2010/II): Sandy Powell

True Grit (2010): Mary Zophres

Best Achievement in Makeup

Barney's Version (2010)

The Way Back (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman

How to Train Your Dragon (2010): John Powell

Inception (2010): Hans Zimmer

The King's Speech (2010): Alexandre Desplat

The Social Network (2010): Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman, Rollo Armstrong, Dido("If I Rise")

Country Strong (2010): Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges("Coming Home")

Tangled (2010): Alan Menken, Glenn Slater("I See the Light")

Toy Story 3 (2010): Randy Newman("We Belong Together")

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Inception (2010)

The King's Speech (2010)

Salt (2010): Jeffrey J. Haboush, William Sarokin, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell

The Social Network (2010)

True Grit (2010)

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Inception (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

TRON: Legacy (2010)

True Grit (2010)

Unstoppable (2010)

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Hereafter (2010)

Inception (2010)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Best Documentary, Features

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): Banksy

GasLand (2010): Josh Fox

Inside Job (2010): Charles Ferguson

Restrepo (2010): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Waste Land (2010): Lucy Walker

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Killing in the Name (2010)

Poster Girl (2010)

Strangers No More (2010)

Sun Come Up (2010)

The Warriors of Qiugang (2010)

Best Short Film, Animated

Day & Night (2010)

The Gruffalo (2009) (TV)

Let's Pollute (2009)

The Lost Thing (2010)

Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010)

Best Short Film, Live Action

The Confession (2010/IV)

The Crush (2009)

God of Love (2010)

Na Wewe (2010)

Wish 143 (2009)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 31: Colin Farrell and The Mad Hatter

Our winner of Quoteable Quotes in December arrived to talk a little TV ("Community", "Being Human" and "Perfect Couples") and new movies ("The Room", "The Tourist", etc.) and the wonderful variety of Colin Farrell's career.  Give it a listen and send feedback to reelinsight at

New Movies with Colin Farrell this week

Ondine - "A fairy tale for grownups" was the best description I read about this Irish story.  Farrell is a fisherman who brings up a mysterious woman in his net one day.  His sick daughter likes to hear the myth of the woman from the water, and the whole movie comes together well.  You know that it won't end up that she's actually mythological, and perhaps the reality is more harsh than expected, but I still loved this and can't wait to watch it again (okay, I didn't always understand the Irish accent so that is necessary).
Triage - Farrell plays a photojournalist who has gone with his buddy to a war-torn area (Kurdish areas maybe?).  They get terrific photos, but can't quite get the money-maker shot until a invasion happens.  Farrell is injured and returns home with more unseen scars than he knows.  It's a good look at how PTSD can work, but it's all the supporting characters that make the story work.
American Outlaws - Wow, for a movie that got a theatrical release, this movie couldn't look, sound or feel more like a bad version of a made-for-TV movie.  I watch and enjoy many movies on TV so this isn't from a bias of sorts, but wow was this un-entertaining.  Farrell plays Jesse James and Scott Caan is Cole Younger and they create their gang.  Ali Larter is James' love and wife, and the movie is dreadful.
Tigerland - set during Vietnam, this war drama doesn't exactly cover new ground (I was strangely reminded of An Officer and a Gentleman and expected Louis Gossett Jr. to make Farrell do sit-ups), but the movie is a much better drama without the romance.  Farrell is a smart bad-ass who helps his buddies work the system to get out of the army.  They're in Louisiana doing their last training before shipping overseas.  The supporting cast is again terrific and Farrell leads the group without actually overwhelming the film.  Good, but not really my favorite.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

LAMBcast #53 - Best of 2010

And so, it is finally time to draw line in the calendar and reflect on the past year in film. James, Jess, Nick, Jason and Dylan document their Best of 2010 in a variety of categories. The highlight: James' pick for Best Ensemble, by far.

Also on tap:

* Listener Feedback
* LAMB of the Week
* Trailer Talk: Battle: Los Angeles
* Last LAMB Standing
For the LAMB of the Week, we take a look at LAMB #262, The Film Vituperatem:

You can listen to the podcast here, or check it out on itunes of course!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday's Movie Mashup No. 11

Eventually, I'm sure Hatter will be both busy and/or bored with the game, so I hope the rest of you will keep trying to beat him.  That said, congrats Hatter! 

Last week's clue: "A young man goes off the grid to Alaska and sees a girl who rides diving horses for the circus."

Answer: Into the Wild Hearts Can't be Broken

Unless you were a fan of live-action Disney fare in the early 90s (and why wouldn't you be) you likely haven't seen Wild Hearts Can't be Broken.  I owned it on VHS once upon a time, so this movie has a special place in my heart, but I haven't seen it in a decade so I don't know if I can recommend it still, but Gabrielle Anwar was in it. 

Leader board 
Hatter - 6
David - 3
Sebastian - 1

New clue: "A man makes an offer you can't refuse while also throwing his daughter's wedding at his home, much to his frustration."

Hint: I promise this is two movies, but it's easy to see why one might be enough.

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

DVD Roundup: The Ghost Writer and Nanny McPhee Returns

It's been a while since I've seen something this good on DVD.  I'm sure as the movies I missed in 2010 make their way to DVD, I'll get some more, but for now this is on top.  The Ghost Writer was something I remember hearing about (I confessed to Rachel on Episode 30 that I kind of thought there might be in an actually ghost involved) and knew Roman Polanski was involved.  It was dark and mysterious with definite undertones referring to Polanski's own situation of being stranded without a country.  Ewan McGregor plays a writer who is well known for fixing the manuscript of a famous person's memoirs.  He gets hired to boost the manuscript of a former British Prime Minster (Pierce Brosnan).  However, when he flies to the US island off Massachusetts (Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard type place), he realizes this may be harder than it looked.  The previous "ghost writer" has died, and the PM is now being investigated by The Hague for crimes he might have committed with the CIA.  Since Ewan is a smarty pants he starts putting things together and finds some research by his predecessor that show things might not be what they seem.  I won't describe any more  because it's too good to spoil.  The acting all around is pretty incredible (except Kim Catrall's bad British accent as the PM's assistant/work wife), with Brosnan trying to figure out why people are always against him when they used to love him.  McGregor is incredibly naive, unearthing things he doesn't think he wants to know anything about but is pretty sure need to be known and his paranoia is well founded by the end.  Loved the thriller nature - the scenery and cinematography lend themselves to the suspense without leaning into cliche.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Another movie I'll just give a few words is the sequel to the terrific British children's movie Nanny McPhee.  The sequel was called Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang in Britain and perhaps in theaters, but now it's called Nanny McPhee Returns.  Since we already knew what to expect - she meets a family in need, figures out what the children need to learn to become good kids, helps make it happen with a little magic, and she becomes less ugly as they learn.  Sadly, they didn't attempt to do anything particularly new with this one.  It's set during WWI (I think) and Maggie Gyllenhaal's kids aren't helping her save their farm and Nanny McPhee arrives to help.  In the previous version, the lessons took a few tries and you saw the kids going through something (I won't attribute it to better child actors, but maybe it was) with each lesson.  The sequel barely shows what the kids learned before the lesson was over and Nanny McPhee lost a wart.  There are a few moments - and you know I love self-referential comedy - when Maggie Smith says hello to Nanny McPhee and we find out it's Aggie, the baby from the first film.  That kind of tickled me.  Rhys Ifans is funny, but not helpful to the story.  Not exactly sure what was missing, but it didn't spark like the first one.  2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Release: The Tourist (really)

I will confess, I had no expectations going to see The Tourist.  I knew it took place in Venice and it starred Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.  Oh, and it was butt of many, many jokes (including at the Golden Globes).  However, I think I was a beneficiary of those low expectations.  I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Tourist.  Having read several reviews from bloggers I read regularly, most of them start off hating it, but then back track to say it's not bad.   Jolie plays Elise Ward, a beautiful, sophisticated woman being watched and followed by the police.  There's very little explanation about why she's under surveillance for quite a while, and it adds to her mystique.  She gets a note that tells her to get on a train from Paris to Venice and pick someone who looks like her old boyfriend, Pearce, and convince the police (French and British) that it IS him.  That's where Depp comes in.  He's an American math teacher who cannot believe his luck that someone like Jolie would pay him any attention.  However, we find out there are some mobsters after Pearce (which means they're now after Depp).  That leads to chases, racing around Venice, escapes, jumping into the canals, boat chasing, mistaken identity and of course, Jolie keeping up the charade for those watching that Pearce has returned.  Well, she does that until she realizes the danger it puts Depp in.  Then the movie goes in many different directions - and I loved 'em.
I found it a very romantic thriller, very much a throwback to the pacing and thriller nature of Charade or To Catch a Thief or the whimsy (definitely not comedy) of Roman Holiday.  I don't think it deserved  nominations necessarily (though definitely if Anne and Jake got 'em Jolie and Depp were on par).  There were many movies and many performances more deserving, but that doesn't diminish what The Tourist was able to pull off.  Venice was beautiful and Jolie was the perfect ice queen for 90% of it, trying to convince the police that Pearce is back but that she doesn't know she's being followed.  But she pulls off her two big twists perfectly.  I couldn't see the big twist coming until just before and then I hoped that was what was going to happen.  Paul Bettany does a good job as the crotchety, frustrated Scotland Yard officer willing to stop at nothing to bring in Pearce (often a role that goes to someone like Harvey Keitel or another older actor, Bettany's relative youth made more sense here).    Depp's accent (which I've heard maligned) was a decent mid-western American accent.  His hair did bother me a bit, but someone's always does.  But I think Depp and Jolie were just as sexy and compatible as Cary Grant and either Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly.  Gotta admit I'd love to see it again already. 4 of 5 stars/lambs

Monday, January 17, 2011

Golden Globes 2011 commentary

Well, of course I watched the Globes last night.  And as expected it was an eclectic mix of winners to match the crazy group of nominees.  However, with the host, Ricky Gervais, I think Robert Downey Jr. said it best.  The tone of the show was "hugely mean-spirited with sinister undertones".  There's a fine line between funny and mean.  An example, when introducing RDJ, Gervais listed some of his movies (Iron Man, Wonder Boys, Two Men and a Girl) and laughed that they sounded like porn films.  Funny.  Then summed up by saying more people might recognize him from the Betty Ford Center and Los Angeles County Jail.  Mean.  The night was definitely overwhelmed by awkward laughter and strange humor (why did Robert DeNiro make fun of people for not seeing his lesser known movies?)

But there were some moments that were terrific and brought the tears to my eyes.  Watching all the color drain out of Chris Colfer's face when he won for Supporting actor over some wonderful veteran actors, and then to see him pull it together and give a heartfelt speech with a little humor, many thanks, and social commentary was impressive for a first time winner.  Also, while Melissa Leo had a big year recently with Frozen River, this year seems to be hers for the taking in the supporting category and she looks so excited to enjoy it all.  Colin Firth was the expected (and deserving) winner, and his speech was perfectly British and kind.  I wasn't disappointed to see The Social Network take so many awards.

Also, just to put this to rest for me - I saw The Tourist yesterday and it most definitely, in no way possible could be considered a comedy.  I definitely enjoyed it, but it's a very romantic, heist and crime thriller.

Reel Insight Episode 30!!! Jennifer Connelly

Our 30th Episode!  Who knew we'd get so far.  Some great plugs, some of the best feedback yet (thanks!) and Movie minutes with The Ghost Writer and Trick or Treat.  Not too much TV talk yet - Rachel describes her mysterious love for "Greek" and I talk about the new show "Lights Out" (which has a lot of potential!).  Then on our star of the week.  She has some humdingers in her canon, but wow has she made an art form out of 3 things - standing on piers, crying the single tear, and being the wife that gets cheated on (see if you can make them all rhyme).  Enjoy!

New Movies I saw with Jennifer Connelly
Labyrinth - I never saw this as a kid, I'll admit it scared me with its similarity to The Dark Crystal which still scares the crap out of me.  So I was particularly excited when this movie brought back some great nostalgia for 80s Muppet technology, since this was Jim Henson and George Lucas, they actually did a terrifically humorous job with this fantasy tale.  Connelly does a good job at 16 carrying the movie on her adventure to rescue her baby brother from David Bowie.  I loved the Muppets, the music was insanely dated, and overall enjoyed the experience.  4 of 5 lambs/stars

Requiem for a Dream - This movie was something I was never particularly interested in, but when I realized I've never seen other Darren Aranofsky movies when I saw Black Swan, this was a great opportunity to catch up.  I loved it!  I'll probably never need to watch it again - there's only so many times you can let that kind of insanity into your soul, but the directing and creativity in it is wonderful.  How many times have we seen junkies getting high and you just watch them sitting and enjoying it.  Aranofsky gave us a way to visually experience the injection too.  Wow.  Just wow.  Ellen Burstyn was amazing watching her downward spiral.  I wasn't a huge fan of Jared Leto - his would be the only role I'd recast to improve it.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Waking the Dead - An odd movie that I didn't expect to like.  Rachel described it as The Constant Gardener goes to Washington after I described it to her.  And it really is, with a little less violence.  Billy Crudup is the straight man who will become a senator, while Connelly is the political activist who gets in trouble and screws up Crudup.  Good visuals where you don't know if she's still alive or Crudup is hallucinating her.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Career Opportunities - While this is a John Hughes movie, it stinks.  It's got the "Say what one more time" guy from Pulp Fiction, and he's dreadful as a night janitor at Target.  Connelly is a spoiled princess just trying to rebel. Then an nearly unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney shows up to rob the place and cause havoc.  Terrible.  1/5 stars/lambs

Reservation Road  - Mostly this was just bleh.  Mark Ruffalo accidentally hits and kills and drives away from Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly's son.  Phoenix decides to find his son's killer and it's a hard leap to follow how he figures out it's Ruffalo.  Rachel pointed out and I agree, that it would have made more sense if the two men had switched roles.  It would have been more of stretch watching Ruffalo become an anger ball, and Phoenix struggle with what he did.  2.5/5 stars/lambs

180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless

This is part V of the Documentary-palooza.  You can check out the first four parts here:  Joan Rivers, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Restrepo, and The Lottery.

Corcovado National Park
180 degrees South is a reference to going directly south (I thought it referenced the South Pole, but that's only 90 degrees of latitude).  The hero of this documentary is Jeff Johnson, a free-spirited outdoorsman who wants to travel the same path as his climber heroes, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, on their trip to climb Corcovado in Chile.  Part of a National Park, the area today is protected as a National Park.  Jeff and two of his buddies, one a climber, one a surfer are going to join him.  But first, Jeff manages to catch a ride south from where he was working in Australia to Chile on a 55-foot cutter sailboat.  However, about halfway across their mast snaps in half.  They don't have enough fuel to motor to the mainland, but do manage to get themselves to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  Jeff falls for a woman there while they're trying to fix the boat and get underway (it takes nearly a month), which means he has put his climb back a month meaning they've entered South American summer and the snow they intended to use to aid their summit attempt has melted.  Thankfully, these guys are smarter than some climbers and don't let poor planning cost them their lives.  The movie is a great testament to preserving beautiful areas.  From it's conservation perspective, it's very successful.  The scenery is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and thoughtfully chosen.  However, as a climbing documentary, it's well below average - Touching the Void and anything made about Into Thin Air is much more exhilarating.  However, there is a lot of history of the climbing movement mostly told by the heroes, Chounard and Tompkins.  One says about climbing, "The whole purpose of climbing something like Everest to experience some spiritual and physical gain, but if you compromise the process, you're an asshole when you start out and you're an asshole when you get back."  Basically saying from the moment you decide to do something like that you can't just insert yourself into a package to climb, but rather respect the process, learn to do the whole thing from start to finish, prepare yourself, and then respect the mountain above your own pride and ambition.  Those scenes talking about how climbing has changed as a sport is interesting, but those are just conversations.  For a movie that focuses on climbing, the filming of the actual climb is minimal.  Overall, it's still well made and a great look at one man's journey.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Lottery

This is Part IV of my documentary-palooza series.  You can check out part I, part II, and part III to get more info.  I think it's important to see the variety of documentaries out there to decide which ones are good and which are just good because the topic is interesting, and sometimes they're both.  Back in my life before blogging, I worked in the New York City school system for 2 years.  So watching The Lottery, a documentary about what it means to kids to win a lottery to get into a charter school, is something I've seen.  My first year in the schools, I worked at a public (the documentary calls them zoned schools) performing arts school in Harlem.  My first day I got to go home early because there was a bomb threat.  My second day, a kid stabbed another kid in the face with a pencil - which I could do nothing about since I wasn't covered by the school's insurance (I was a consultant) I couldn't touch the kids for any reason.  Many kids in that class really wanted to learn and were very smart.  They had obstacles I'd never seen or thought about coming from my own rural public school.  My second year, I was assigned to a Charter school in midtown Manhattan.  Their focus was on computers so all assignments were done on computer, were even assigned electronically so the parents were fully aware of them.  I worked with the kids on science fair projects and presentations.  These kids (of all races and economic backgrounds) had been exposed to computers for so long they taught me a lot about how to design a unique presentation.
So this documentary, which is pretty standard fare about things I've already seen and heard about the debate about charter schools, does a great job showing you why going to a charter school will likely be better than the local zoned school.  They talk about the statistics of failing students in the other schools.  What the movie doesn't do well is explain why the parents are protesting a charter school in their area.  The movie makes those parents seem a bit ridiculous to be protesting something that might "save their kids".  And maybe they are letting their pride or ignorance stand in the way, but the movie presents a very biased view of the school system.  It's one I agree with from my own experiences and the fact that I have no idea how to improve public schools, but the film doesn't present one either.  If you're a teacher, particularly outside a major city, this is a terrific watch because they do explain a lot about why charter schools work (I guess assuming that public schools don't do those things, which is debatable).   I haven't seen the other schools documentary Waiting for Superman, but it doesn't hit DVD for a few more weeks, but I'll definitely see it, both because the topic interests me and because it might win the Oscar.  3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, January 15, 2011


This is part III of the Documentary-palooza.  You can check out parts I on Joan Rivers and II  on Exit through the Gift Shop here and here.

Restrepo - A documentary created by a journalist and photographer based on the year they were embedded with the 2nd Platoon, B Company in Afghanistan.  It starts just as the group they focus on is about to ship out and you see the movie's namesake, PFC Juan S. Restrepo, as part of the platoon.  You also see how his death in Afghanistan affects the rest of his platoon, to the point they name their outpost Restrepo.  The rest of the film looks at building the outpost, interacting with local people (the Afghan with the pink beard is a bit of unintended levity), and of course the firefights with the Taliban.  The movie juxtaposes real-time footage with quick interviews and commentary on the action with the soldiers after the fact.  All the interviews and much of the footage is shown with almost overwhelming close-up.  They do a good job making you feel like you're part of what's going on and that it's the words, not the person exactly that matter the most.  The fact that the voiceover from the interviews explains what you're seeing in-country helps with that feeling.   The hand-held camera work can be off-putting, but it's a documentary in a serious war zone, so what can you expect.  Interplaying the interviews does give you respite from the shaky cam, and provides a balance for the viewer.  The movie does a good job staying very neutral about everything except that war sucks and having your friends die in war sucks a lot and you'll never forget what happens.  3 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, January 14, 2011

Exit through the Gift Shop

Part II of my documentary round-up.  Part 1 was Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Exit Through the Gift Shop - I'd heard a lot about this movie before I saw it, so I had pretty high expectations, and the first 45 minutes lived up to those expectations, telling a great story about life in the "street art"/graffiti world.  Some of the footage of creating the art is fascinating and beautiful.  A French artist named Thierry films everything, but obviously hasn't got a clue about film making, but when he encounters an elusive street artist named Banksy, things get odder and odder.  Thierry becomes an artist himself, using the techniques of all the people he's watched to create new images and place them in newer places and in bigger venues.  I was reminded of The Gates, an installation art project of lots of orange gates in Central Park a few years ago by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  I think that's what this movie does best is give people uninitiated with the concept of graffiti as art a place to start thinking about it.  Yes there's a subversive element to the art created in the movie, but just because they had permits and a time-frame and did things during the day, doesn't make The Gates less interesting.  There's an element of forbidden and illegal in the street art painted on buildings, but the art Thierry ultimately does is popular and expensive but still evolved from the same place.  Not an amazing film, but a good look at a world I'd barely noticed. 2.5 of 5 stars/lambs (4/5 for the first half and 2 of 5 for the second half).

Part III will be Restrepo

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I've been trying to see a whole bunch of documentaries to get ready for the Oscars - some that might be nominated for Oscars, others didn't make the short list, but were an interesting topic nonetheless.  My goal is to post short reviews of all of them before the Oscars, but we'll see.  Here's the first one:

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work This one is seriously eye-opening, and not just in a plastic surgery sense.  Joan Rivers must be the hardest working woman in show business.  I know that moniker gets handed out to almost anyone these days, but it's definitely got to be either Joan or Betty White.  The documentary shows clips of her past stand-up, particularly on TV getting her start in the business, through her marriage and the end of that and Joan's famous relationship with her daughter Melissa, right up to her most recent stint (and WIN on "The Apprentice).  Throughout, you see her in her day to day life - celebrating holidays, hiring/firing staff, getting to gigs, getting jobs, filming QVC/HSN, etc.  And then the third frame is bits of her current stand-up routine as it relates to her life - love, sex, Melissa, fame, etc.  She's very upfront about having her feelings hurt about being a joke, with people laughing at her not with her, particularly about all the plastic surgery.  I never found myself saying anything like "well, she brought it on herself" because what she complains about is really that she was no longer taken seriously for a stupid reason - her humor didn't change, she didn't look like a cat woman, she didn't kill anyone, and she was never particularly attractive to begin with so why did it matter?  That argument kind of worked on me - personally it might have been how much time she spent on Hollywood Squares back in the 80s, but maybe that was just the work she could get so she did.  If you have even the tiniest interest in pop culture, this will grab you and fascinate you.  Particularly if you're a woman or if you care about how women have risen through the ranks of Hollywood.  Check it out. 3.5/5 stars/lambs.

Coming tomorrow: Exit through the Gift Shop

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday's Movie Mashup No. 10

He's BAAAaack.  Well done Hatter!  He's returned and got it right. 

Last week's clue: "A haughty Southern belle rises from the ashes of the American Civil War only to see two brothers fight on opposite sides of an Irish uprising."

Answer: "Gone with the Wind that Shakes the Barley"

Leader board 
Hatter - 5
David - 3
Sebastian - 1

New clue: "A young man goes off the grid to Alaska and sees a girl who rides diving horses for the circus."

The goal is to figure out the two movies who overlap in some words creating a new movie described by the clue.  Leave your answer in the comments. Good luck!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reel Insight - Episode 29: Vince Vaughn

Usually I try to come up with my own description of our episodes or pretty much, but this week I laughed out loud reading Rachel's description, so I'm just flat out stealing it - I hope she'll forgive me.

"And we're back to our regularly scheduled program with Plugs, Feedback, Movie Minutes, TV Talk, Actor of the Week and Quotable Quotes. Jess dared to watch The Last Airbender after hearing my thoughts on last week's episode, while I'm still gnawing on the good scraps from 2010 with the other facebook movie, Catfish. As for new television, Jess finally gave in and started watching the old series Veronica Mars, while I dove in head first into the newer version of Doctor Who, after wrapping up the final season of Angel, of course.

Then we jump into the Actor of the Week with that tall fellow, Vince Vaughn. We branch out into some of his more serious or obscure roles, but we must come back to the recent crap too."

New movies I saw with Vince Vaughn this week:

Clay Pigeons - Vince befriends Joaquin Phoenix who has come into some trouble when his girlfriend's husband shoots himself and frames Phoenix.  Then the girlfriend shoots his new girlfriend and he has to make the body disappear.  He and Vince are fishing when another body appears.  Eventually we find out Vince is really a serial killer and Jeanne Garafalo is the FBI agent out to find him.  The movie is really uneven, but Vince does a pretty good job acting throughout.

Into the Wild - Vince plays a very small part as a corrupt farmer who befriends Emile Hirsh on his incredibly selfish journey of "self-discovery".  The other small parts - Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook - are terrific, but this movie made both Rachel and I so angry because he's just a little asshole throughout.  Here's a paragraph from an e-mail I sent a friend after I watched it.  "Okay, I watched Into the Wild this morning (Vince Vaughn week).  I kind of knew his story, but didn't really realize what a kook he was.  I'm sorry he died (because he was stupid) but so many people tried to give him some wisdom or help and he even idolized people who had good ideas. His behavior was insanely selfish and it was hard to see why he would want to abandon society and yet accept work from Burger King or McDonalds?  He met some great people who were doing similar things and yet was so pathologically anti-social that he would not do anything for them.  Hal Holbrook was awesome, Catherine Keener was awesome.  Even Vince Vaughn did a pretty good job.  Emile Hirsh is less annoying in this than other movies, but he doesn't make the character any more appealing.  I get why people might consider him someone worthy of emulation (as Wikipedia reports about others who have tried to live off the land) but I think he was mentally ill to have let himself die rather than seek help.  Getting down to 67 lbs (according to Wiki) doesn't happen overnight.  It would have taken months of barely eating.  Which means he probably would have had enough time to walk around enough to find people or get himself out.  I can believe dying in Alaska in fall or winter, but in August?  Really?  This movie made me mad.  His attitude about rafting down a river without a permit and the idea that "rivers should be for everyone to use, permits are for right-wing government fascists" pisses me off as an environmentalist who knows that it's the only way to preserve the river.  End rant."

Thumbsucker - I keep thinking about this movie - it's odd, trying to be very indie, but missing the mark somehow.  Vince plays a high school teacher and debate coach who befriends the hero (the thumbsucker - diagnosed by his dentist, Keanu Reeves).  He thinks the Thumbsucker can be a great debater, and he is - with the help of some ADD drugs.  Strange movie about finding your self-esteem and growing up, but again Vince is good not being himself.