Monday, February 28, 2011

Reel Insight Episode 36: Christian Bale and guest

This might have been my favorite episode of Reel Insight yet.  Our Quoteable Quotes winner from January, Rachel's mom, Monica, joined us.  A whip smart film afficianado with a love for Christian Bale - our Star of the Week.  A fair amount of pre-Oscar discussion, so you can see how well we prognosticated.  Some TV talk and other movie talk as well.  Thanks so much for all the listener feedback too!

New movies seen this week:

Empire of the Sun - Can't believe I missed one of Speilberg's best, but now that's been rectified.  What a great start to a career, and epic story carried well by a less than annoying child actor.

Metroland - I didn't love this 70s flashback filled drama about growing up and having a family and leaving your past behind.  It was interesting and Emily Watson is terrific as always, but it still didn't resonate with me.

All the Little Animals - I watched this one for John Hurt, whom I adore.  Generally very odd movie - Bale is a teenager with special needs, and when his mother dies, his step father (whom he calls "The Fat") wants Bale to sign over his control of their store.  He runs away instead and meets John Hurt who is obsessed with road kill - the tragedy of it - and follows the roads giving them a proper burial.  He lives off the grid (perhaps he's escaping his own past) and takes on Bale for help.  It goes way off the rails when they try to get permission from The Fat to keep working and give up the store.  Uneven, but I still liked it.

The Machinist - I did not like this one.  It felt like Bale's weight loss was just a gimmick to advertise what could have been a fairly interesting dark drama.  He could have been thin, but the level to which they took it was distracting rather than helpful.  His craziness from lack of sleep was fascinating, but overall, the movie didn't come through.  Michael Ironsides was an interesting addition since you never quite know what side of the madness he's going to come down on.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Insight's Oscar Picks 2011

I think it's a fairly hard year to predict.  There are kind of two ways to look at it - either a single film sweeps most awards, or it'll be a motley assortment of all kinds of movies picking up one or two.  Here are my picks for the year.  We'll see.  

Best Motion Picture of the Year
127 Hours (2010): Christian Colson, Danny Boyle, John Smithson
Black Swan (2010): Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin
The Fighter (2010): David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Mark Wahlberg
Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
The Kids Are All Right (2010): Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray
The King's Speech (2010): Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin
The Social Network (2010): Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Ceán Chaffin
Toy Story 3 (2010): Darla K. Anderson
True Grit (2010): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
Winter's Bone (2010): Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan

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, Keith Dorrington
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): Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
The Illusionist (2010): Sylvain Chomet
Toy Story 3 (2010): Lee Unkrich

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): Robert Stromberg, Karen O'Hara
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Inception (2010): Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Douglas A. Mowat
The King's Speech (2010): Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
True Grit (2010): Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

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): Adrien Morot
The Way Back (2010): Edouard F. Henriques, Greg Funk, Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman (2010): Rick Baker, Dave Elsey

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, , Dido("If I Rise")
Country Strong (2010): 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): Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick
The King's Speech (2010): Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, John Midgley
Salt (2010): Jeffrey J. Haboush, William Sarokin, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell
The Social Network (2010): Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Mark Weingarten
True Grit (2010): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Inception (2010): Richard King
Toy Story 3 (2010): Tom Myers, Michael Silvers
TRON: Legacy (2010): Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Addison Teague
True Grit (2010): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey
Unstoppable (2010): Mark P. Stoeckinger

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland (2010): Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas, Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz, Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter (2010): Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky, Joe Farrell
Inception (2010): Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb, Paul J. Franklin
Iron Man 2 (2010): Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright, Daniel Sudick

Best Documentary, Features
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): Banksy, Jaimie D'Cruz
GasLand (2010): Josh Fox, Trish Adlesic
Inside Job (2010): Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs
Restrepo (2010): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger
Waste Land (2010): Lucy Walker, Angus Aynsley

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Killing in the Name (2010): Jed Rothstein
Poster Girl (2010): Sara Nesson, Mitchell Block
Strangers No More (2010): Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon
Sun Come Up (2010): Jennifer Redfearn, Tim Metzger
The Warriors of Qiugang (2010): Ruby Yang, Thomas Lennon

Best Short Film, Animated
Day & Night (2010): Teddy Newton
The Gruffalo (2009) (TV): Jakob Schuh, Max Lang
Let's Pollute (2011): Geefwee Boedoe
The Lost Thing (2010): Shaun Tan, Andrew Ruhemann
Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2010): Bastien Dubois

Best Short Film, Live Action
The Confession (2010/IV): Tanel Toom
The Crush (2010): Michael Creagh
God of Love (2010): Luke Matheny
Na Wewe (2010): Ivan Goldschmidt
Wish 143 (2009): Ian Barnes, Samantha Waite

Saturday, February 26, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 30: Ben-Hur

Movie: Ben-Hur
Year: 1960
Nominations: 12 Nominations - Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, Sound, and Adapted Screenplay
Wins/Snubs: Everything except Screenplay.  This was almost 20 years AFTER Wyler directed Mrs. Miniver and it's possible to see some similarities and growth.

I can't believe I'd never seen Ben-Hur before.  I recognized the music from the chariot race, some of the dialogue was familiar and of course the basic story of a wealthy man who becomes a slave only to eventually become a citizen of Rome (a REALLY big deal in those days).  While I hope they never remake this movie, it's easy to see all the ways they might attempt it with CGI and improved camera technology standing in for immense and expensive sets and daring stunt men and animal handlers.

Told in several acts, we meet Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) a wealthy man in Judea around the time of the birth of Christ.  His childhood best friend, Messala (Griffith) has just been made the leader of the town.  However, an altercation with the governor of the district takes place with Judah and his mother and sister.  They're thrown in prison and Judah is made a slave on a war ship (pulling an oar).   During a battle his ship sinks, but the commander, Quintus Arrius has unchained Judah from his oar, and in return Judah keeps Arrius from drowning.  Arrius brings Judah back to Rome with him, in victory and adopts him as a son.  Judah learns to race chariots, but ultimately decides he has to go back to his homeland in Judea and find out what happened to his mother and sister.  He runs into a sheik with some great horses and teaches them to run together (foreshadowing the big chariot race to come).  When he arrives back in Judea he finds Esther, a woman he once loved and still does.  She has found out that his mother and sister are lepers and they swear her to tell Judah they have died.  He thinks Messala is responsible and when the opportunity to race him in the circus comes up he takes full advantage.

The final act connects us back with the end of the life of Christ, and Judah with his sick mother and sister.  (Side-note, leper is the only noun to describe someone with a disease I can think of - we don't call them chicken poxers - it fully separates them from their humanity, all other diseases are used as adjectives to describe a patient, just goes to show how reviled they must have been to be segregated from society the way they were).  Judah witnesses the crucifixion and recognizes the man as someone who once gave him water when he was dying of thirst as a slave, and the story comes full circle.   An amazing movie - possibly the longest I've seen, and yet I was never bored or eager to do something else or assuming a given moment was the end.  Brilliant story-telling throughout, with every emotional note struck with precision and inspiration.  My only gripe is the Esther (Haya Harareet) should have been nominated for Supporting Actress.  Probably the greatest epic ever made - and I dare you to argue that any modern movie can touch it.   5 of 5 stars/lambs (though with inflation it's more like 6.5 of 5 stars).

This is the last of the 30 Days of Oscar Feature.  Thank you so much to all the people who've commented along my journey.  While I wouldn't do this every month, I challenge you all to make yourself watch movies through the lens of their Oscar achievement.  It definitely puts an interesting spin on them - not as "classics" or "must-sees" but as part of a canon of excellence.

Friday, February 25, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 29: Mrs. Miniver

Movie: Mrs. Miniver
Year: 1943
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Walter Pidgeon), Best Actress (Greer Garson), Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright), Best Supporting Actress (Dame May Whitty), Best Supporting Actor (Henry Travers), Cinematography (Black and White), Original Screenplay, Special Effects, Sound, and Editing
Wins/Snubs: This movie won 6 Oscars - Picture, Director, Actress (Garson), Supporting Actress (Wright), Screenplay and Cinematography.  I haven't seen too many of the other movies that were nominated that year, just Pride of the Yankees and Yankee Doodle Dandy (Cagney won best Actor for it) so I can't really say if there were any snubs.  However, there's a little boy, Toby Miniver (Christopher Severn) who could rival any little kid of any time for the most creepy - and he's even trying not to be, but he's really insanely odd.

For the most part I just wanted to see this movie because it won way back and gets me that much closer to having seen them all.  When I said I was going to watch it, a few people said, "Oh, that's a good movie" so I was encouraged going into it.  Now having seen it, I pretty well think they're crazy.  Casablanca won the next year, so I can't say the 1940s weren't a good time period for film, nor that the Academy was biased in one direction or another, but this just doesn't live up to the title of Best Picture.  Some of the acting is really good, Greer Garson smiles and plays the doting wife well.  The effects are good - taking place during WWII in England and having been filmed during WWII, I can see why it might have been given accolades for being a good representation of living during the beginning of the war - but that still doesn't make it a good movie.  First, only about half of the people in the movie even have British accents (more than a little distracting), and the bombing raids and time in a shelter seem offset by parties and the class conflict with the aristocracy creating a pretty muddled film.  I think the Academy just enjoyed the British-ness of it and the sad, tragic ending and awarded some acting.  Personally, Pride of the Yankees is much more interesting to watch, and not just because I like Gary Cooper.

One other thing of note - for the 1943 Academy Awards there were 25 nominees for Best Documentary and 4 winners, all in a single category.  Most were war movies, the U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army Special Services were among the winners for their films.  Did you know the Navy had an Oscar?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 28: Network

Movie: Network
Year: 1977
Nominations: Best Picture, Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actor (William Holden), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), Best Supporting Actor (Ned Beatty), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing
Wins/Snubs: Peter Finch became the first posthumous nominee and winner, Faye Dunaway won, as did Beatrice Straight (who I had to look up because no other woman stood out enough that I thought they'd be nominated, let alone win - and she holds the record for shortest time on screen (5 minutes 40 seconds) that earned an Oscar).  It also won Original Screenplay, but Rocky took Best Picture and Director for John G. Avildsen and Jason Robards won for All the King's Men.  

One of the problems I had with enjoying Taxi Driver was that I didn't think I understood the time period that the movie was made.  When I posed this to Hatter over at The Dark of the Matinee (he's from Canada), he replied with this:

Y’all were mired in a war that had gone on far too long and became wildly unpopular.
Your politicians were corrupt and sparking outrage and disgraceful scandal
The economy was in tatters and there were fears about the supply of oil
There were rampant fears about an unseen enemy (Communism)
And underneath it all, there was a fundamentalist right-wing Christian movement bubbling that was poised to take power in a big way.

Sound familiar?

So I guess it shouldn't be that hard to relate to the time of Taxi Driver.  This was ALSO the year of Network, which is a bit easier to understand.  In simple terms, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is a newscaster who has been dumped by his network for falling ratings.  He goes a bit nuts on the air complaining about all the things listed above.  This of course causes his ratings to shoot up, but he still gets canned.  However, his producer (Faye Dunaway) sees a gold mine in this new attitude and gives Beale his own talk show.  Eventually, though the novelty of that wears off too, and Beale is actually shot on air by radicals (coincidence or horrible tragedy?).  The story is much more complex, with discussion of the ratings, the networks, the affiliates, advertisers, etc. but it basically boils down to the first "reality TV" gripping the nation before they realize that doesn't make for longevity in television.   To read a better and longer review, check out Nick's, over at Random Ramblings of Demented Doorknob.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesdays Movie Mashup No. 16

Well done Hatter!   Still a pretty deep leaderboard, but he's widened his lead.

Last week's clue:  A woman with an ABBA obsession has to deal with two guys who don't belong at her party. 

Answer: Muriel's Wedding Crashers

Leader board
Hatter - 9
David - 3
Sebastian - 1
Andrew - 1 
Rachel - 1
James - 1

New clue: A woman moves to Italy to restart her life after a divorce and meets astronauts on a sci-fi mission.  

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!   

30 Days of Oscar Day 27: Taxi Driver

Movie: Taxi Driver
Year: 1977
Nominations: Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster - Age 15), Original Score, Best Picture
Wins/Snubs: No wins for this movie either, but many nominations across the board and of course the immortal line, "You talkin' to me?" came from this.  Not sure Foster really deserved her nomination, but it was still an interesting performance.  Network (tomorrow's Day of Oscar movie) took almost everything that year, though The Omen took Best Score

I honestly don't know where to start to describe what I thought of Taxi Driver.  Scorsese's directing is evident and wonderfully mysterious.  I guess he's sworn in interviews that the movie can be taken literally, that there are no dreams or fantasies going on, but it's not hard to reimagine the movie in many different incarnations of what's reality.  Set just after the Vietnam war, Travis Bickle (DeNiro) drives a cab because he can't sleep. He starts volunteering on a political campaign when he gets interested in Cybil Shepherd.  However, when he outs himself as a bit off by trying to take her to a porno on their first date, she bolts.  This seems to loosen a few more screws in Travis' head.  Enter Act II where Travis decides to attempt to assassinate the focus of Cybil's campaigning.  He shaves his head into a mohawk, buys a gun, and meets Iris (Jodie Foster), a young prostitute he thinks is worth saving from a life of misery.  They hang out a bit, have breakfast, etc.  Climax - Travis kills Iris' pimp (Harvey Keitel) and a bunch of others and is deemed a hero.  Some of the screws seem to tighten, but given how crazy we saw him get, we know it's only a matter of time before he loses it again.  The Coda - he's back to his original haircut, driving a cab and Cybil gets in and they chat.

I think it would be awesome if everything in Act II was actually just a fantasy Travis had while he was driving around, but it doesn't quite work with some of the dialogue in the coda.  Instead, if we take it as a literal chronologically correct film, it's more about what makes someone a hero vs a psychopath?  I suppose the survivors are the only ones to anoint the heroes and villains, so it's a pretty selfish process.  DeNiro's acting is amazing, you can feel he's ready to snap at almost any moment, but then he becomes calm and simmering.  His attempts at relating to women (or a child) and a letter he sends his parents, show that at some point he had a normal life, but perhaps serving in Vietnam perverted his world view, or maybe he was always going to be screwed up.  Foster shows a ton of potential, but her role is so small, it's not really Oscar worthy.  Still a great movie overall, though hard to rewatch, I'd imagine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 26: Far from Heaven

Movie: Far From Heaven
Year: 2003
Nominations: Best Actress (Julianne Moore), Cinematography, Score, and Original Screenplay
Wins/Snubs: No wins, Nicole Kidman won for The Hours, and Road to Perdition, Frida, and Talk to Her took the other awards respectively.  I think Dennis Quaid was robbed of a nomination for either Best or Supporting Actor, and there are one or two in either category he could have replaced.

I saw this movie originally in theaters and loved it.  I thought it was beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, with a complex story that was richly told and expertly executed.  So when I bought it at the closing of a local video story, I was really excited to see it again.  Sadly, it didn't live up to my memory of it.  The story is disjointed and remarkably shallow handling.  Maybe it's because "Mad Men" is handling this time period and these people with such detail and excellence, that Far from Heaven couldn't live up to it.

Julianne Moore plays the perfectly dressed and coifed housewife to Quaid's executive, who she catches kissing a guy in his office.  This kind of gives her permission to check out her gardener, Dennis Haysbert, and they hit it off, but society in Hartford, CT just can't accept their relationship and they flee together.  I would never have thought the movie could be summed up so simply, but it's basically all that really happens.  You do see some development of Moore's character as she struggles to understand her mysterious husband.  There's a conversation with some of her lady friends and when they talk about how frequently they have sex, you can tell Quaid doesn't ask much of her in that department.  His confusion and frustration does lash out, he hits her once, gets drunk a bit, etc.  And eventually he leaves her for a man.  The movie is also peppered with moments that talk about the racial tensions of the time and the taboo surrounding even talking publicly with her gardener.  However, overall the stereotypes don't really break out of basic storytelling.  I was disappointed in the rewatching of it, which maybe I should do one more time to be sure it's not me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 25 - The African Queen

Movie: The African Queen
Year: 1952
Nominations: Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Director (John Huston), and Best Screenplay
Wins: Only Bogie went home with his only award, beating out Brando for Streetcar and Clift for A Place in the Sun.  Hepburn was beaten by Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar named Desire, and Huston's award went to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun which also took Screenplay.

This was one of the first movies I ever owned (Oklahoma and The African Queen on BETAMAX back in the 80s), and I've seen it and caught more and more in it every time I see it, with today being no exception.  Often when a characters in a movie rely on a map, it's usually something made up or more abstract than reality.  So, growing up I figured that's what they'd done with the maps Kate and Bogie use to navigate the river in the movie.  However, now that I'm grown up (and some say wicked smaht) and have lived in Africa myself, I can tell they were actually using a old map of Africa - with the colonial names for things mixed with tribal names so they bear little resemblance to what I know.  But it was neat looking at the movie from yet another new perspective. 

For those who haven't seen it, Hepburn plays Miss Rose Sayer, a missionary keeping house for her brother in Africa (probably in Tanzania or Zambia).  When he dies, she's forced try to get home, but WWI has gotten in the way, and the war has found its way to Africa (the monarchs gave Tanzania to the Kaiser, while Kenya stayed British).  She gets in a boat with Canadian Charlie Allnut to get back to England eventually.  However, it's rough going on a pieced together boat down rapids with crocodiles and hippos and the propriety of the time - she always calls him Mr. Allnut and he calls her Miss.  They get friendly but it's not until they're almost killed a few times that they really get to know each other.  They fight, they bicker, learn from each other and have terrific adventures, even attempting to change the course of the war.  I love this movie every time I watch it.  I'm shocked it didn't get nominated for Best Picture, and winner An American in Paris can't hold a candle to it (though it's pretty good too). 

Reel Insight Episodes 34 and 35: Nicole Kidman and Adam Sandler

I have been so remiss, I didn't post an update for our podcast last week, can you believe it?  I was down in New York City for school stuff and we recorded there and I just forgot to post about Episode 34 where we talk Nicole Kidman and the direction of her current career.  This week we discuss Adam Sandler and his 3 career choices - man child with a way too hot woman, serious fare that would mostly be good if they were shorter, and movies just for his kids (Click, Bedtime Stories).  Oh, and a fair amount of TV Talk, lots of discussion of the upcoming Oscars.  Enjoy!

I'll review Adam Sandler's new movie, Just Go With it, in a few days. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 24: Leaving Las Vegas

Movie: Leaving Las Vegas
Year: 1996
Nominations: Best Director (Mike Figgis), Best Actor (Nicholas Cage), Best Actress (Elisabeth Shue), Adapted Screenplay
Wins/Snubs: The first nomination and only win for Nicholas Cage (and so far the world hasn't come to an end, but perhaps we'll find out this was the actual cause for global warming).  This was also one of those movies that got a directing nomination without a Best Picture nomination, though it wasn't the only one - Dead Man Walking  also got a directing nomination for Tim Robbins but not a Best Picture nomination, though Susan Sarandon took Best Actress.  Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility got the Best Picture nominations, and Emma Thompson took the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for her troubles. 

Wow, whatever happened to Elisabeth Shue?  She was terrific in this crazy sad story about a "hardened hooker with a heart of gold" who falls in love with a serious alcoholic whose only goal is to die drinking.  Given how unbelievably sad this movie is, I'm having trouble figuring out why I liked it so much.   Because I did, and I realize how unbelievable the following statements might seem, but I assure you they're true.  Nicholas Cage was terrific - his crazy ability to act normal one minute and explode the next fit his alcoholic character with a death plan really well.  He didn't have to make sense when he suddenly tipped over the table - as long as he'd been drinking it made sense and increased the oddness of his character.  And Elisabeth Shue, as a high price hooker, with a crazy pimp, seems to be extremely wounded given the perverse things she's willing to do, but yet still wants to be with and take care of Nicholas Cage - though perhaps that's just more of what makes her character, she's willing to find anyone worse off than she is so she can take care of them. 

The other big thing that struck me about the movie was it's soundtrack.  It was so many old standards (probably being sung all over Vegas as we speak), but many done with a new twist, either sped up or slowed down to create something new.  I'll admit I only realized this was what was going on when I was singing along to a song, but kept trying to speed it up when I realized I knew all the words.  And it brought out the ups and downs of the movie - the two main characters fall in love, but it was always doomed (a death plan does that, even when one of the couple is a prostitute) and the music added just a bit levity to a very dark story with a particularly unhappy ending.  Totally not the kind of movie I usually enjoy, but I gotta say I really liked it.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, February 19, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 23: Food, Inc.

Movie: Food, Inc.
Year: 2010
Nominations: Well, not too many documentaries get nominated for anything but Best Documentary Feature
Wins: The Cove took the award last year, and sadly this is the only one of last year's nominees I've seen so I can't compare the, but I know Tom over at Movie Review by Tom Clift loves The Cove so it probably deserved the win.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, watch Food, Inc. then you won't have to read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" or "In Defense of Food" or "Fast Food Nation" because they'll show it to you all right here.  However, if you've already read those books, there's not a lot in the movie that you don't already know.  Though, if you're interested in a really fantastic view of where your food might come from and what our government and industry is not doing to protect us, but rather themselves, check it out. 

Written and directed by Robert Kenner and based on interviews and with Michael Pollan (author of the first two books above) and Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation"), and full of documentary footage on farms, with farmers, and cool graphics illustrating their point.  It's a very clever movie that does a terrific job of showing all the problems with how Americans in particular relate to food, and some of the consequences of those choices.  Basically, they're saying that as a country we've done a great job at creating incredible disincentives to get good, cheap, healthy food, and rather you can get 2 "hamburgers" for a buck, but not a head of broccoli.  They're also really careful about all the things they say and show you because they know that the powers that be can sue over what seems most like free speech.

Wonderfully made movie that should be shown in all classrooms, parenting classes, health class, and hell, even make it required viewing to renew your driver's license.  Is it biased, hell yeah, but that doesn't necessarily mean the points they make are wrong, just that there's probably much more to the story than they present. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 22: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Year: 1976
Nominations: Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Original Score
Wins: This was the first film in 41 years to sweep all the major categories - Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay.

This was one of the films that initially gave me the idea for 30 Days of Oscar because I'd never seen it.  This was probably one of the most well-known movies that I'd never seen - phrases like "Nurse Ratched" implying a caretaker with sinister and controlling undertones.  I think I thought it was a particularly violent and scary movie, for no other reason than it came from the 70s.  Silly reason when so many of Nicholson's best movies came from back then.  Also, with a terrific supporting cast of nutjobs, including Christopher Lloyd (practicing for The Dream Team I guess), the late Vincent Schiavelli,  and Danny Devito (I totally didn't recognize him at first) and other character actors I recognize, but couldn't name.  Nicholson and Fletcher (as Nurse Ratched) totally deserved their Oscar nominations and wins, though I've only even ever heard of Jaws and Dog Day Afternoon among the movies they competed against for the main awards.

When the movie starts Nicholson has just been brought to the mental hospital from a work farm where he was locked up for assault.  He doesn't seem particularly crazy, which actually  becomes a problem when he starts making problems, like stealing the bus full of patients and taking them deep-sea fishing.  Yes, he's probably a sociopath because he's a really good liar and manipulator.  However, he doesn't seem like he's someone who should be locked up.  Ironically, with all of her attempts to control him, Nurse Ratched basically makes him crazy.  He tries to annoy her by rallying the patients to get support for watching the World Series, and then his prank going fishing.  However, he doesn't realize that you're usually under different rules in a mental hospital and it's not like jail where they let you go when you've served your time - here you have to prove a bit of sanity to get out (or at least make Nurse Ratched happy).  Of course a big showdown happens toward the end and you get to see the really evil side of Nurse Ratched.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Thursday, February 17, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 21: All About Eve

Movie: All About Eve
Year: 1951
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Picture, Best Sound, Best Writing, Best Actress (Anne Baxter), Best Actress (Bette Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter) Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing
Best Music Scoring
Wins/Snubs: Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Director, Sound, and Screenplay.  This movie set records of all kinds.  First, and only, time 4 women from the same movie were nominated. It held the record for most nominations until Titanic tied it. 

I honestly can't believe I'd never seen this.  Such a terrific bitchy chick flick that really created a story that nearly everyone can relate to, either as the young apprentice or the aging mentor.  Margo (Bette Davis) is a famous stage actress who gets a bit caught up in the adoration of a young fan who shows up at one of her shows, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter).  Eve is so ingratiating that she becomes Margo's friend and assistant, and eventually her understudy.  However, she does everything with the aim of not just being around Margo, but eventually supplanting Margo.  A playwright, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) tends to write shows for Margo specifically, and his wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) is a friend of Margo's, but also befriend's Eve.  Eve uses her manipulative nature to get Karen to keep Margo away from the show one night so Eve could go on.  Of course, eventually Eve blackmails Karen with this secret to get a role in Lloyd's newest play.  Eve also befriends a theater critic, Addison Dewitt (George Sanders - the only acting win for the movie which is a catastrophe) but he turns out to be immune to her manipulations, threatening to out all her lies and treachery. 

A big part of the movie is the idea that Margo could only be crazy to think this lovely young woman could be scheming to take her place.  Margo's friend's don't believe her at first, but eventually they come around and see Eve for what she really is.  Terrific writing throughout - "Buckle your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night" comes from Margo and sets up the film, life is no longer going to be easy.  There are a lot of great lines that aren't quite as famous, but were really familiar.  Oh, and Marilyn Monroe has a small role as one of the actresses who works with Margo.  It's small, but you can see how she'd wow the studios.  Impressive acting by everyone, I'm fairly shocked none of the women took an award home, but I'm guessing the fact that two were nominated in each category they probably split the votes.  Judy Holiday took home the Best Actress award for Born Yesterday, and Josephine Hull took the Supporting Actress award for Harvey.  However, going home with Best Picture and Best Director were totally deserving - though it was the Year of the Aging Diva with Sunset Boulevard also being nominated across the board.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 20: New Release 127 Hours

Movie: 127 Hours
Year: 2011
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco), Editing, Original Score, Song - "If I Rise", and Adapted Screenplay
Wins:  I'm fairly sure it won't get the Picture or Actor, but all the others are up for grabs I think.  Particularly since all of those aspects of the movie are terrific. 

**Spoilers if you've been pinned under a rock - if you've seen the trailer, no spoilers**

This movie has had almost 5 months to raise my expectations, reveal the plot, cause controversy (people really fainted at THIS but watch the SAW series without a problem?  There's something wrong there.), and basically just up the ante on anyone ever liking it.  Well, I spent a  long weekend in NYC and saw 5 movies in 5 days (a movie lover's dream), and this was one of them.  I'm including it here because it was nominated for so many Oscars and I spent all day driving home so I didn't get to watch an older flick, but I'm pretty sure the next 10 days will be only older movies. 

127 Hours is based on an autobiographical account of a young man getting trapped in a crevasse with his arm pinned under a boulder.  I read a good part of this book when I bought it for my outdoorsy brother when it came out.  So I was really intrigued by how they would put it on screen, and for that alone it will deserve the Adapted Screenplay Oscar.  And Franco deserves his nomination for being able to be in every shot of the movie, not being a terrific guy, and yet still not make the viewer wish he'd die under the rock.  He doesn't start out as a particularly likeable character - he's really intense about escaping the bustle of the city and testing himself physically in the middle of canyons and rocks and caves.  However, it takes a special talent for a movie to make you feel claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.  Watching him trek over the hills and rocks I started to long for a tall building or even trees.  Then when he's in the caverns and holes, all I wanted was to get into an open space.  I have to say, the fact that I got to walk back to the apartment after the movie surrounded by hundreds of people on a beautiful New York February day made me feel safe again (don't judge, I'm odd, I know it). 

The score and cinematography really augment the story - and you'd expect they would need to with such a simple story, but the whole movie is so complexly layered that no one element can really exist without the others.  I can't say I loved the song, but that's a  whole other rant about the terrible nominated songs these days.  I wouldn't be sad if Franco took home the award (I'd be really, really surprised but not sad).  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Wednesday's Movie Mashup No. 15

He's back!  Hatter got to the clue first, though the rest of the world had a headstart.  He liked it so much he had his own day of playing the game with dozens of clues.  Check 'em out here.

Last week's clue: A wizard battles a young enemy and a woman seeks her birth mother, with unsettling results.
Answer: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Lies

Leader board
Hatter - 8
David - 3
Sebastian - 1
Andrew - 1 
Rachel - 1
James - 1

New Clue: A woman with an ABBA obsession has to deal with two guys who don't belong at her party.

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, February 15, 2011

30 Days of Oscar Day 19: L.A. Confidential

Movie: L.A. Confidential
Year: 1998
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger), Sound, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay
Wins/Snubs:  Kim Basinger deservedly took the win, though in a remarkably thin year.  Adapted Screenplay won too, again on a year that seemed to be all for them, oh and Titanic.

**Some spoilers**
I saw this when the movie first came out, but every time I went to watch it again I got distracted or decided I already knew everything about it.  So I decided it was time to revisit this.  For a movie with this many big names, it's odd that all of them, EXCEPT the Oscar winner, still have pretty amazing careers.  I'm also surprised NONE of the men got nominated, though they got a SAG Ensemble nomination.  But Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, are really a group of actors that can't be beat, and I suppose none of them stand out from the crowd or really create a supporting character with a great distinction, they're all so wrapped up in the complexities of the story that it's hard to single one performance above the rest.  Also, since so many of them don't survive the end of the movie (usually a requirement for a leading man - Braveheart being an obvious exception) none get the obvious leading vs supporting role.

However, it's really the story that shines.  A web of corruption in L.A. police department back in the 1950s all being exposed by a single crime that weaves together the film industry, the porn/escort industry and the mob.  You can't beat the complexity of the story - it really must be experienced from start to finish, individual scenes just bleed into one another and few completely stand alone.  However, it's also not hard to understand and most things come down to money and power.  Capturing the feel of the 50's is part of where all the technical awards must have come from - the look of the movie, the color, costumes, make-up, and sweeping views of LA all provide a strong atmosphere to give it an other-worldly feel that doesn't make for a scary movie, but rather a thriller.  And honestly, the soundtrack brings you into that world almost as much as the clothes and makeup.   Kevin Spacey's my favorite character.  Watching his obsession with the TV industry and then realizing he's also a cop who is supposed to be doing good things, just at the moment it's all taken away gets me every time.  Still a 5 of 5 stars/lambs kind of film.

Monday, February 14, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 18 - Y Tu Mama Tambien

Movie: Y Tu Mama Tambien
Year: 2003
Nominations: Best Original Screenplay (Carlos and Alfonso Cuaron)
Wins/Snubs:  Talk to Her won this year, and I've never seen it, so I can't comment as to it's worthiness, but for originality, Y Tu Mama Tambien was pretty high up there.  I'm surprised it wasn't Mexico's entry for Foreign film (that went to The Crime of Father Amaro, but I also don't know all the rules about foreign film nominations or entrants requirements).

I'd heard great things about this movie, and a great friend owned it so I caught it just in time for today's post.  Also, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal have both built themselves pretty good careers (small roles for Luna in Milk, The Terminal, and larger roles for Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries, Babel, and Letters to Juliet) so I kind of wanted to see their start.  I can see why this movie got its writing nomination and I think it might have won had it been nominated for Foreign Film (Nowhere in Africa - which I love - did win that year).

Luna and Bernal are just finishing high school.  They're total sex-crazed, adore their girlfriends, but really just want to talk and think about sex.  When their girlfriends go away on a trip, they get drunk, smoke drugs, and whack off.  They meet the wife of a cousin at a wedding.  When the 20-something wife, Luisa, decides to leave her husband, she joins the boys on a pretend road trip they invited her on.  Traveling to the beach in Mexico, they talk about sex, laugh about sex, and basically just have a great time being young.  It's a terrific road trip movie coupled with a great teenage sex comedy/coming of age story.  Set against the backdrop of political change in Mexico, and told with terrific voice-over moments, this is one of the best foreign films I've ever seen.  The voice-overs are done by an all-knowing narrator who fills you in on other extraneous but interesting bits of the lives of the characters or the places they're passing through.  Lots of sex, and I can see why it had trouble getting a rating in the US, but a really great story.  

Valentine's Day New Release: No Strings Attached

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the quality of the movies I've been watching lately, so I had to go clear my head and laugh and cheer, so I went to watch my girl-crush Natalie Portman hang out with Ashton Kutcher.  No Strings Attached is a predictable romantic comedy.  A pair of acquaintances (they met at camp when they were kids, and have only hung out once since) decide they really need to be having more sex, and decide they should have it with each other.  However, it's meant to be an emotion-free "relationship" with no claims on one another. But pretty much anyone could predict how that will go, and it totally does, but the ride is worth it. 

This movie doesn't break new ground on the "sex leads to feelings and possibly a relationship" cliche, but that doesn't mean it's not great fun to watch.  A lot of movies that take on the "sex only" storyline and flip it that the guy falls in love with a cold disinterested girl (500 Days of Summer - sort of), so that it's not the mushy girl falling for the  player guy all the time.  Alternatively, they attempt to tell the story by being really raunchy (The Sweetest Thing, My Best Friend's Girl) which often falls flat or just goes too far into gross.  No Strings Attached attempts to ride the line between both with some raunch, but Ashton Kutcher is also able to be manly and sensitive at the same time (usually the male lead in rom-coms is too much of one or the other) - he makes Portman a "period mix-CD" full of inappropriate, but really funny songs.  Portman attempts to be the emotion-less one, but of course gets jealous when she pushes him away to other girls.

Basically, I just liked this.  There are a lot of really funny moments, the trailer didn't give anything away you wouldn't get from the first 10 minutes (or from hundreds of other rom-coms). I honestly laughed out loud a dozen times (thanks to Kevin Klein and Mindy Kaling - oh, and a weird tiny role by a fat Cary Elwes?), and it had to be one of the best movie-going experiences in the last month.  The theater was full of women and couples and just about everyone seemed to be having a great time.  4 of 5 stars/lambs

Sunday, February 13, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 17 - New Release Two-fer Blue Valentine and Biutiful

Once again, I'm going to double up on some reviews.  Mostly because both are better if you don't know a lot about them.  I'm going to designate the comments section as SPOILER-full.  If you don't to know what happens, don't read the comments.  If you do want to discuss the films in more detail, do so in the comments. 

Movie: Blue Valentin
Year: 2011
Nominations: Best Actress (Michelle Williams)
Wins/Snubs:  I'm pretty sure this is either Natalie Portman or possibly Annette Benning's year, so no luck for Michelle, though she did deserve the nomination.  Ryan Gosling was totally snubbed though - I would actually give him the nomination over Jesse Eisenberg (and I loved The Social Network but Gosling did a much more impressive job), but again, Colin Firth is going to take it, deservedly so, so I guess it doesn't really matter.

Blue Valentine is a movie about a relationship told from two frames that each move forward, let's call them now, and the past.  Now, Cindy and Dean have a fairly normal life, she's a nurse, he paints houses, and their raising a little girl.  Both are slightly less attractive than the past, and the shine has rubbed off their love.  However, you can see it's rubbed off each of them differently.  In the past, Cindy is in high school and has a boyfriend, but one day Dean sees her at her Grandmother's nursing home and falls in love.  Their relationship progresses, they get to know each other and then bam! she's pregnant.  That throws their relationship into overdrive and they get married. 

That's about all you need to, or should, know.  Are there big surprises, not really.  Are there moments you will see coming, yes.  But you either won't want them do or feel like you should be able to make things turn out differently.  This is the kind of movie that gets under your skin and you feel like you owe something to these characters.  Somehow, your wisdom as an outsider should be able to help them either set off on the right track or keep their life going in a good direction.  However, it's still a movie, so you just have to watch it happen.  Disclaimer: I am not, and never have been married.  Thus, this could be totally a single person's perspective, but they seemed to get a lot of the interactions right that couples, married or not, who have been together a while will almost certainly work their way through.  Tense conversations, one person rolling their eyes, frustration, compassion, devotion, loyalty, wandering eyes, wondering "what if", etc.  I thought this was a terrific movie that should have beaten out The Fighter for the last Top 10 spot.  4.5 of 5 stars (only loses half a point for not being a very rewatchable movie - I don't enjoy being uncomfortable). 

Movie: Biutiful
Year: 2011
Nominations: Best Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Foreign Language,
Wins/Snubs:  I'm sure Colin Firth is going to take it from Javier (he's already got one anyway), but I think this is in the running for Foreign Language, but that is anyone's guess.

Biutiful is the story of Uxbal (Bardem), a single father raising a young boy and girl.  Their mother has issues and is anything but dependable.  However, the movie does a great job very slowly rolling out all the issues that actually face Uxbal.  He's a fairly shady character himself, but you definitely feel for him.  I didn't enjoy Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's previous work Babel, but I think this succeeds in many of the ways Babel failed for me - there are only 3-4 stories going on so you can engage with them, all of which are revolving around Uxbal in some way.  Each of those stories is interesting in HOW it relates to Uxbal, and doesn't have to stand on its own merit (though there are touches that just seem unnecessary, the Chinese boss didn't have to be gay).  There are several cultures interacting, and the crux of each of those cultures seems to be their undoing or saving (I know that's vague, but it seems to be a hallmark of Inarritu's film-making that it helps to let him reveal these things).  However, this movie is both LONG (148 minutes) and really, really depressing.  So while Bardem did a terrific job and I'm really glad the Academy recognized his efforts, I didn't particularly enjoy the experience.  There just wasn't anything that lightened the mood or downward spiral of Uxbal's life.  2.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Saturday, February 12, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 16 - Stand by Me

Movie: Stand by Me
Year: 1987
Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay
Wins: Nope - A Room with a View took it, and perhaps E.M. Forster is a more prestigious author than Stephen King, but personally, Stand by Me was awesome, and Children of a Lesser God was awesome, and The Color of Money was awesome, and Crimes of the Heart was very good, so I'm blaming this on the prestige of the source author rather than the quality of the sceenplay

I'll admit it: I'd never even see anything of Stand by Me ever.  When I was a kid it was rated above my age and then I just didn't want to see those particular actors (it took 20-odd years before Wil Wheaton wasn't a bit of a joke - love him on The Big Bang Theory as himself!).  Okay, and I still had this little kid thing of it being scary because it was about a dead body. Wow, was I depriving myself.  After overhearing his an older brother discussing it, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Wheaton, and Corey Feldman set out to see a dead body that was hit by a train.  It takes them more than a day to walk into the wood where the body was lost (it takes a while before it's actually found) and while not a road-trip movie, it's got all the hallmarks of it - guys bonding, trading secrets, fighting, risking their lives, etc., but they're walking along the train tracks. 

Their story is interspersed with the story of their older siblings, led by Keifer Sutherland and Corey Haim (Wheaton's older brother, John Cusack, died recently), a bunch of hoodlums who play mailbox baseball, carve their own tattoos, drink, etc.  They too want to be the ones who find the body, and get there a bit easier (they can drive).  However, Wheaton has had a bit of a awakening, his dad doesn't matter and he can be whoever he wants, and he pulls out a gun and no one gets to discover the body.  Richard Dreyfuss is Wheaton grown up, and is retelling the story, so we get to hear just enough voice-over to keep the story in perspective.  Overall, it's a great movie, though I might not have enjoyed it as much as a kid.  4.5 of 5 stars/lambs

Friday, February 11, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 15 - Glory

Movie: Glory
Year: 1990
Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing
Wins: Supporting Actor for Washington, Cinematography and Sound.  It was the year of Morgan Freeman, with this movie and Driving Miss Daisy, but he still didn't take home an Oscar.  Batman, My Left Foot, and Born on the Fourth of July also had a big year.

I'd seen Glory about 15 years ago, probably to see why they let Ferris Bueller play a soldier.  Now watching it again, I'm kind of looking at Broderick with new eyes.  I kind of wonder where this actor went - why he didn't become a great dramatic actor (is he just too short and funny-looking?).   He's the colonel of an all-black regiment from Massachusetts during the Civil War.  Being raised in the North, he sees the men in his regiment as soldiers, good or bad, and less as men, black or white.  Another surprise - Cary Elwes playing his fellow officer, and conscience.  Usually, it's impossible to see Elwes without thinking of all his comedic (intentional or not) roles, but he holds it together throughout Glory and adds the element of everyone's conscience when something that might be normal for a regiment, but seems too harsh for this regiment in particular (when Denzel's going to be whipped for deserting, he says not to, and we see the whipping scars already ingrained on Denzel's back and know why). 

It's a really great war movie (if sometimes adding modern PC moments that seem forced), paced well between training and battle and actual character development.  The soldiers are all an impressive group of actors - Denzel for his defiant, angry Private Trip, a mature, thoughtful, careful Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawling, and a young, bookish, naive Andre Braugher.   They avoid cliche (which seems to be a hallmark of film-making this series has shown me so far, originality is king) while telling a "based on a true story" so well, that even though this movie is over 20 years old, it doesn't feel dated in the slightest - the music, the sound, the effects, nothing seems to stand out as having been made at a particular time (other than the age of the well-known actors, of course).  There were a few moments I couldn't hold back tears for their speeches, the determination and finally the loss inevitable in war.  5 of 5 stars/lambs

Thursday, February 10, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 14 - Shine

Movie: Shine
Year: 1997
Nominations: Best Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actor (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Best Director (Scott Hicks), Best Film Editing, Original Score, Best Picture, Original Screenplay
Wins: Best Actor - Geoffrey Rush, This was the year of The English Patient, so it's not surprising that this movie only got a Best Actor.   However, I would have liked to see Lynn Redgrave nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

This was another of my missing Oscar movies.  I'd always heard about it, knew the basic premise - a musical prodigy ends up a schizophrenic.  However, like most of the best movies, it's far more than the sum of its parts.  And since Geoffrey Rush is actually David Helfgott in about a third of the movie, those parts are important.  Noah Taylor plays David as a teenager, when he's really developing the piano skills, but also being beaten and abused by his father, a scary Armin Mueller-Stahl, who fully deserved his Oscar nomination.  Taylor's the one who has to show the loss of sanity and what the pressure of success and the inability to please your father can do to your mind.  We do see Rush at the beginning, and then it flashes back to his first music competition as a kid and moves forward from there.  Having 3 different actors play David give a boost to the development of his crazy, but it's Rush who won the Oscar for playing the adult and craziest/most musical part of David's life. 

As a coping mechanism for his illness, he repeats things and speaks in free-form thought going from one rapid phrase to another related one.  However, he's still able to play music, and from being a teenage prodigy to a babbling crazy-person in a hospital, someone missed that.  Until someone recognizes his name and brings him to a real home, where he gets to play the piano at night at a restaurant and makes friends with the people who eat there.  He's a friendly (kind of groping) good hearted guy, and Lynn Redgrave's, Gillian, finally finds she can look a bit beyond the crazy, and calm it too, and they marry.  Watching her calm him and love him for all his zaniness is probably my favorite part of the movie.  His musical skills are only enhanced, and watching him love playing music almost makes you forget his father had to beat it into him as a child.  Since he became almost exactly what his father wanted, can the means justify the ends?  For a split second you can see that his father, Mueller-Stahl thought it did, and then you're repulsed by him again.  It's never okay to abuse a child - and he takes controlling the boy's future far beyond rapping his knuckles to get him to practice the piano.  Rush has a moment with his dad where you can see that abuse is still a part of his soul when he calls his father Daddy.  Overall, a great movie about a disturbing topic, but you can see where the title comes from - Rush let's his light shine through all the crap life has dumped upon him. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 13 - Ali

Movie: Ali
Year: 2002
Nominations: Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actor (Jon Voight)
Wins/Snubs: Denzel Washington took home Best Actor for Training Day and Jim Broadbent won for Iris.  While I haven't seen Iris, I'm guessing Broadbent acted circles around Voight's Howard Cosell.

This was one of those movies that never piqued my interest, but with The Fighter this year, I figured it was the time, and I'd have some other boxing to compare it to.  I was still living abroad the year this came out, so I don't actually remember any big news coming out about this movie, other than Will Smith bulked up to play Muhammad Ali and Voight did a convincing Cosell impersonation.  Following Muhammad Ali's transformation from Cassius Clay, to Cassius X, and finally being renamed Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam.  He starts out a friend of Malcolm X, but when he's excommunicated from the Nation, they have to call it off (which may have been a good thing for his boxing career, but it's hard to say).  There's a lot of discussion about his relationship with being a Muslim - what it shows is that a lot of people were trying to use him, and while Ali had his own ideas and his own practice of religion, his status made it appealing to get him as part of your group - religion, civil rights, politics, etc.  Not mention, he was pretty free and loose with his money until it was gone.  Ironically, mentioning he was broke got him dismissed from the Nation of Islam for focusing on money and sports. 

We also see that Ali was pretty fast and loose with his relationships with women - though they seemed to always want something from him too - his first wife wanted him to not be Muslim (she converted but wouldn't follow all the rules), his second wife wanted him to be a husband and father and not political, and the movie ends just after he meets the woman who became his third wife.  Currently he's married to his fourth wife whom he's known since the beginning.  While the actresses who play his various wives (Jada Pinkett-Smith, Nona Gaye, and Michael Michele) all do a terrific job, they too seemed to be interested in pushing Ali around and being in control.

Since he's a boxer, it's kind of strange how much his life was built around following other people's direction and instruction.  He was an articulate trash-talker, spouting his skills, denigrating his opponents, often in rhyme (I'm guessing Smith's rapping skills came in handy getting that across so well), but overall, the movie paints a great boxer, but not the greatest man.  Smith does a pretty good job playing the man, and is very convincing as a boxer, and his mannerisms and voice do mimic the image I have of Ali as a younger man.  His relationship with Howard Cosell - they were frenemies, with Cosell being straight telling his story, and Ali mocking Cosell at every chance - was fun to watch, but didn't add a whole lot to the story.  Voight is nearly unrecognizable and does a good impersonation, but I don't think his acting was anything special.  Overall, the movie didn't do anything that really spoke to me or gave me any real information I didn't already have, with one exception - the supporting cast of Jaime Foxx, Jeffrey Wright, Ron Silver, and Ted Levine (he's back!).  They all did terrific jobs supporting Smith for their various scenes, particularly Jaime Foxx (his hair was fairly insane).  I can see why the movie didn't garner any other awards. The least likely to make my Oscar list so far - 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs