Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscars 2011 Recap




It was far from the most exciting Academy Awards broadcast. The most surprising thing that happened was that Kirk Douglas stole the show from hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

As for my Oscar picks I got exactly the same amount right that I did last year - 13 out of 24.

Here are the ones I got wrong:

BEST PICTURE: THE KING'S SPEECH. For the first time in 4 years I got this one wrong. I picked THE SOCIAL NETWORK because that was what I was feeling, but the Academy voters felt differently. THE KING'S SPEECH is excellent and deserving so I'm not disapointed.
Funnily enough last September Bill Maher joked on his HBO show (Real Time With Bill Maher):
"New rule: If they are going to make a historic epic full of British actors in period costumes about Queen Elizabeth helping her father get over his speech impediment, why bother having the Oscars at all? You win."
He didn't get the plot right exactly, but he was dead on there.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Melissa Leo won for THE FIGHTER. I really thought Haileed Steinfeld would take it. Sigh.

BEST DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper for THE KING'S SPEECH. I picked David Fincher for THE SOCIAL NETWORK - I really should've seen THE KING'S SPEECH sweep coming.

These were pretty much stabs in the dark:

BEST FOREIGN FILM: IN A BETTER WORLD. Honestly can't remember why I went with INCENDIES.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Wally Pfister for INCEPTION. Was pulling for Roger Deakins for TRUE GRIT because he's been nominated 9 times and I thought it was his time. It wasn't.

BEST SCORE: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The Academy got this one right, but I didn't with my pick of Alexandre Desplat for THE KING'S SPEECH.

BEST SONG: Randy Newman for TOY STORY 3. Another I was happy to be wrong about. I had choosen A.R. Rahman, Rollo Armstrong, and Dido for 127 HOURS which didn't win anything.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: INSIDE JOB - Man, I so wanted Banksy to win for EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. However INSIDE JOB was a great flick too so I'm fine with it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: STRANGERS NO MORE. My pick - KILLING IN THE NAME is another that I can't remember why I picked it.
Ditto on these 2:

BEST SHORT (ANIMATED): THE LOST THING.

BEST SHORT (LIVE ACTION): GOD OF LOVE.
My favorite line of the entire broadcast: "You've just been Inceptioned!" - as spoken by Alec Baldwin.

More later...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hey Kids - Funtime Oscar Picks 2011!


It's that time of year again - the Oscars are Sunday so I've got to make my annual predictions. If you've followed this blog in previous years you'll know I'm no expert - I usually do okay with the major categories, but come up short in my picks for the smaller awards.
Still here's what I got:

1. BEST PICTURE: THE SOCIAL NETWORK


Yes, many are saying THE KING'S SPEECH will win this, having won many previous awards, and boasting the most nominations, but I am so feeling the Facebook film to go home with the gold. 2. BEST DIRECTOR: David Fincher for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Yep, likewise. 3. BEST ACTOR: Colin Firth for THE KING'S SPEECH. I'd prefer James Franco for 127 HOURS but Firth seems like a shoe-in for his stammer-perfect part as George VI.


4. BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman for BLACK SWAN. Seeing the young Portman again recently at a revival screening of THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) reminded me how far she's come - I expect this to confirm that.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Christian Bale for THE FIGHTER. None of the other actors nominated have that unhinged intensity that Bale brought to his role as a boxer gone to seed - or crack.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hailee Steinfeld for TRUE GRIT.

Seems about time for such a young actress to win this - also seems time because Steinfeld was so good holding her own up to Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in this instant Western classic.

And the rest:

7. ART DIRECTION: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for TRUE GRIT

9. COSTUME DESIGN: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. Go Banksy!

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: KILLING IN THE NAME

12. FILM EDITING: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

13. MAKEUP: THE WOLFMAN (Rick Baker, Dave Elsey)

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: INCEPTION

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexander Desplat for THE KING'S SPEECH

16. ORIGINAL SONG: "If I Rise" (A. R. Rahman, Dido) from 127 HOURS

17. ANIMATED SHORT: THE GRUFFALO

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE CONFESSION

19. SOUND EDITING: INCEPTION

20. SOUND MIXING: INCEPTION

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: THE KING'S SPEECH

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: TOY STORY 3

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: INCEDIES

We'll see how many I get wrong on Sunday night. 

More later...

HALL PASS: The Film Babble Blog Review

HALL PASS (Dirs. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly, 2011)

At a preview screening of this film the audience in the packed theater cheered during the trailers when the cast of the upcoming THE HANGOVER PART II hit the screen.


I knew right then that this crowd was going to absolutely love what was ahead. And they did from start to finish of HALL PASS – they laughed loudly at every sex joke, masturbation joke, drug/alcohol joke, every single scatological shenanigan, every utterance of profanity, everything. 


So much so that I missed a lot of dialogue, but, hey, I’m not complaining about that.


I more than got the gist that the premise - Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live) are long married yet still juvenile horndogs who are given a week off from their marriages by their wives Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Christina Applegate – was just another excuse for the Farrelly brothers to again bombard the populace with their brand of extremely cheap humor.


From OLD SCHOOL to the oeuvre of Judd Apatow, the boy-men-who-can’t-grow-up-genre has been so much better served. There are a few laughs here and there – the familiar Law And Order sound effect greets the day 1-7 segment titles, and there are a fair amount of decent (though not laugh out loud funny) one-liners, but they are a rarity among the hundreds of groaners throughout.


There’s an odd mixture of a supporting cast: Stephen Merchant (who’s usually not far away from Ricky Gervais), J.B. Smoove, Joy Behar (!), Alyssa Milano, and most ridiculously Richard Jenkins as a too tan gold necklace sporting swinger who guides the 2 men in their quest to get laid while their wives are out of town.


Predictably Fischer and Applegate are themselves tempted by convenient suitors so the film tries to grow a heart in its last third, but by then I was so worn out by the tiresome cramming of foul gags into every scene that I really didn’t care how it turned out – who scored, who realized the supposed strength of their love, who got punked –none of it mattered to me.


But then, I may be in the minority because from what I witnessed at that screening, there’s no denying that it’s a crude crowd-pleaser that will probably be a big hit. To me, however, it just confirmed that the Farrelly brothers are still on my short list of my least favorite film makers.


More later...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BARNEY'S VERSION: A Tragicom Schlub Story

BARNEY'S VERSION (Dir. Richard J. Lewis, 2010)BARNEY'S VERSION (Dir. Richard J. Lewis, 2010)

In this tragicomic indie (for lack of a better genre classification), based on the 1997 Mordecai Richler novel, we first meet the crabby Barney Panofsky, played by Paul Giamatti, drunkenly cold calling his ex-wife at 3 AM.

It's a suitable introduction for such a lovably pathetic character, one that has shades of Giamatti's likewise hung-up-on-his-ex-wife work in SIDEWAYS.

Though here Giamatti swigs hard liquor not wine, and he’s got a devious confidence, but he still tumbles down a hill in the middle of a tussle with his best friend as he did in that 2004 sleeper hit.

In a modern day Montreal bar, Mark Addy as a crusty old ex-cop slides across the bar to Giamatti a copy of his just published sensationalistic book (“With Friends Like These”) which speculates on the dark past of our aging protagonist. Addy addles closer, getting up in Giamatti's face, and says:

“You screwed over everyone you ever knew or cared about. Now the whole world’s gonna know what a murderer you really are.”

Giamatti responds: “You could use a mint.”

As he pages through the hardback, Giamatti flashbacks to Rome in the mid '70s where he is living it up bohemian style. He marries his pregnant girlfriend (Rachelle Lefevre), but it's a short lived honeymoon when he finds out the baby isn't his.

The film goes back and forth through the last few decades giving us ample opportunity to piece together the scrappy narrative that mainly concerns Giamatti's 3 marriages.

Lefevre commits suicide shortly after the couples' estrangement, Giamatti relocates to Canada taking a television producer gig, and in the process meets a wealthy Jewish princess played to perfection by Minnie Driver.

Driver, of course, becomes wife #2. The comic predicament that Giamatti finds himself in is that he falls head over heels in love with another woman (Rosamund Pike) right after getting married to Driver - at their wedding reception mind you.

A further wrinkle is provided when a junkie boozer writer wannabe friend (Scott Speedman) from Giamatti’s days in Italy shows up wasted at his lakeside cottage. I won’t spill the beans on what transpires there, but I will tell you that this is where Addy’s future murder accusations come into play.

The always welcome Dustin Hoffman has a short, but sweet role as Giamatti’s retired policeman father Izzy who amusingly doles out questionable advice while constantly embarrassing his son.

Those looking for a rom com (as the trailers are packaging it as such) are likely to be a bit overwhelmed by the sad intensity of much of “Barney’s Version”, but those looking for a drama with depth are going to find a lot to wallow in.

That said, there are a lot of genuinely funny moments in this film. There's a lot of sharp wit, but the tone is set mainly by humor of the cringe inducing variety.

The chemistry between Giamatti and 3rd wife Pike is strongly affecting although we know it’s a doomed union. When the suave Bruce Greenwood appears and hits it off with Pike (much to Giamatti’s chagrin) we know for sure that their marriage is in trouble.

But we knew that from the start as we have seen the elder broken down Giamatti – a very convincing makeup job that scored an Oscar nomination for Adrien Morot – and know that’s he will most likely die alone.

So Giamatti sits and stews in his memories, repeatedly requesting Leonard Cohen songs on the radio, and ignoring the attempts to care for him that his daughter (Anna Hopkins) makes.

Cohen croons “Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in,” - a fitting epitaph for a man whose romanticized yet jagged memories are all he has left.

More later...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blu Ray Review: WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (Dir. Davis Guggenheim, 2010)

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH director Davis Guggenheim turns his lens on America's public educational system, and he sure doesn't like what he sees.

Guggenheim, and producer Lesley Chilcott, explore the vast problems in what they believe is a broken system full of "drop-out factories" and "academic sinkholes."

The film intertwines 2 threads - one in which reformers like former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, educators like Geoffrey Canada, and narrator Guggenheim discuss how conditions got so convoluted, and the other follows 5 kids, from 5 different backgrounds and locations, identified only as Anthony, Daisy, Francisco and Emily as they try to get into good charter schools.

It all adds up to a big thesis that blames teacher's unions, political bickering, conflicted regulations, mixed agendas, outdated cirriculums, and plainly the legions of chronically bad teachers.

In one of the most amusingly informative sequences a previously hidden practice is exposed: "The dance of the lemons". It involves principals shuffling low performing tenured teachers to other schools since they can't be fired.

Unfortunately the tropes of so many documentaries - pop song punctuation, ominous piano tinkling, archival film footage (do they really need clips from the '50s George Reeves Superman TV show to make sense of the film's title?), and flat animation to illustrate statistics - waters down the effect.

However, there is much to get caught up in here. The kids' stories (particularly Anthony's whose father died of a drug overdose) are emotionally compelling - you'll root for them as they nervously wait on the results of their chosen schools' lottery draws.

This is another one of those documentaries that earnestly wants to inspire change, and like Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the films of Michael Moore its ending makes a 'it's your turn now' plea to the audience for advocacy.

This film is most likely to cause more debate than actual change, for "Waiting For 'Superman'" is ultimately a glorified over-reaching pro-teacher, anti-union infomercial, as sincere as it is.

Extras: "Changing the Odds" - a featurette that looks at innovative programs that are changing public education, "Public Education Updates" - Changes which have taken place since the making of the film, "A Conversation with Davis Guggenheim", another featurette "The Future Is In Our Classrooms", "The Making of "Shine": the film’s title track by musician John Legend, deleted scenes, and commentary by Director Davis Guggenheim and Producer Lesley Chilcott.

More later...

Monday, February 14, 2011

1996 Raleigh Rock Comedy "Bandwagon" Now Streaming On Netflix Instant

John Schultz's 1996 directorial debut BANDWAGON has never been released on DVD, but it's available now streaming on Netflix Instant.

This is great news as its a hilarious indie mostly locally shot, and features a strong soundtrack with songs by Greg Kendall.

The film focuses on a fictional band just starting out named Circus Monkey - an endearing quartet of indie underdogs played by Lee Holmes, Kevin Corrigan, Steve Parlavecchio, and Matthew Hennessey.

N.C. native Schultz (formerly the drummer for the Connells) enlisted his old band mate lead singer Doug MacMillan to play the band's zen-like manager Linus Tate.

Many area locations can be seen throughout the film including the Brewery, the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, andthere's a climatic concert set at the Rialto Theatre.Holmes is the protagonist, an earnest withdrawn guitarist/songwriter who seems to use the name Ann in every song he writes - "So Long (Ann)", "Ann It Goes", and the incredibly catchy "It Couldn't Be Ann" among them.

Holmes meets drummer Hennessey who is working as a clerk at School Kids Records, and before you know it they soon recruit bassist Parlavecchio and lead guitarist Corrigan to join their band.

Corrigan is for sure the most recognizable actor in BANDWAGON as he's gone on to be in many films and television series including PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Freaks And Geeks, Community, and UNSTOPPABLE.

The bulk of the film concerns the band taking to the road in a old beat-up van with manager MacMillan in tow.

Circus Monkey's scrappy misadventures involving a gun, bar brawls, and the object of Holmes' affection - Ann (Lisa Keller) keep the film rolling from beat to beat.

Despite some stiff acting, BANDWAGON is a thoroughly enjoyable musical comedy that is really nice to see again - I long ago lost my VHS copy of the film so I was thrilled to find out from a friend that it is available via Netflix Instant.

Indie comedy fans as well as rock fans of all kinds should eat it up too.

More later...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blood Over Simplified

Now available on Blu ray and DVD:

A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (Dir. Yimou Zhang, 2009)

Director Yimou Zhang (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, HERO) counts the Coen brothers’ 1984 debut BLOOD SIMPLE as one of his favorite films, but this crude “re-imagining” really doesn’t properly pay homage to the cult crime classic.

The basic elements of BLOOD SIMPLE, one of my favorite films too, are here transported to a noodle shop in the Chinese desert with Yan Ni, Ni Dahong , and Xiao Shenyang in the roles previously played by Frances McDormond, Dan Hedaya, and John Getz respectively.

The old mean Dahong owns the noodle shop, and just like in the original his wife (Ni) is cheating on him with one of his employees (Shenyang). Dahong hires a policeman (Sun Hunglei in the M. Emmett Walsh part) to kill the young lovers.

There are very few laughs in this film and it tries way to hard to get them. Slapstick replaces the original's dark humor, and while Xiaoding Zhao's cinematography has a lot of visual style, the film is sorely lacking in the wit department.

One of the major problems is with the emptiness of the characters. In BLOOD SIMPLE McDormond was a frail frightened woman who genuinely loved Getz, but here Ni in the same part is a shrewd conniving gold digger. It's not an improvement because she's just another despicable character in a film full of despicable characters.

Likewise Shenyang in the Getz role - the character's strength is replaced by a trembling Jar Jar-ish oafishness and it's painful to watch.

I'm not even gonna go into how Dahong and Hunglei come nowhere near Hedeya's and Walsh's masterfully sleazy performances.

Give me a character I can care about, Zhang!

If you haven't seen BLOOD SIMPLE - by all means go out and get a copy of the DVD. I'm a Coen brothers connoisseur so I'm a bit biased, but it's a film noir masterpiece that, like just about all of their films, holds up to repeated viewings.

There's nothing noir about A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP.Sometimes the only good thing about a remake is that they stir up fond memories of the original film.

That sure is the only good thing about this one.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

ENTER THE VOID Now Streaming On Netflix Instant

Now available on Blu ray, DVD, and Netflix Instant:

ENTER THE VOID (Dir. Gaspar Noé, 2009)

After beautifully bombastic credits, which Quentin Tarantino called "Maybe best credit scene of the decade...one of the greatest in cinema history", we see Toyko through the eyes of Nathaniel Brown, a young American drug dealer.

The camera acts as his vision, we only see Brown's face when he looks in the mirror.

Brown smokes a few hits of dimethyltryptamine, aka DMT, and his mind goes on a surreal CGI journey resembling the "Beyond the Infinite" climax of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or the wormhole from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.

A friend (Cyril Roy) comes by Brown's apartment and accompanies him through the neon drenched streets to a club called "The Void" in order to do a drug deal.

Roy speaks of "The Tibetan Book Of The Dead", a book he lent to Brown, explaining how one's spirit sticks around for a while after death before it is re-incarnated.

When the drug deal at the club goes horribly wrong, Brown is shot by police in the restroom and his spirit does just that - it hovers above watching the people he knew and flashes back to the major events of his life.

He watches his erotic dancer sister (Paz de la Huerta) as she reacts to news of her brother, and we learn of their shared childhood past - most traumatically the violent automobile death of their parents they witnessed from the back seat of the car.

We follow Brown, point of view-wise, through these tangents over and over and it's an engrossing yet at times highly disturbing experience.

It can be frustrating too - I loved it at first, feeling like I was inside something instead of just the normal sensation of watching a movie, then I hated it for a bit wishing Brown's spirit didn't linger so long when watching his sister have sex with her seedy nightclub owner boss (Masato Tanno).

But, hey, in the afterlife what else are you going to do?

I ended up loving it again as it wound its strands into a jarring conclusion.

There's a WAKING LIFE-like philosophical nature to its flow of imagery, and a raw energy to the aftermath our decased protagonist watches that took me in and, well, kind of freaked me out.

With it's 2 hour and 23 minute running time, ENTER THE VOID is too long (there's an extended "Director's Cut" on Blu ray and DVD if one doesn't agree with that), but it's a vivid, overwhelming, and incredibly crafted work.

Director Noé, whose stunning yet also disturbing IRREVERSIBLE blindsided critics back in 2002, is developing a visionary style that can take film goers on an unforgettable ride - though one that may test their patience.

Curious movie lovers looking to venture away from the mainstream into uncertain waters should take him up on this particular challenge.

More later...

Friday, February 04, 2011

ANOTHER YEAR: The Film Babble Blog Review

ANOTHER YEAR (Dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)

As a comfortable married couple living in London, Mike Leigh veterans Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are happily growing old together. Their jobs - he's a geologist; she's a therapist at a local clinic - seem as agreeable as they are to each other, and in their free time they enjoy tending to their large garden.

One of Sheen's co-workers and friends (Lesley Manville) isn't so happy however. She's a frazzled mess barely holding it together, drinking too many glasses of wine and pining for a new man to come into her life.

Manville ends up embarrassingly flirting with Broadbent and Sheen's 30 year old son (Oliver Maltman) at a backyard barbeque for an old college chum (Peter Wight) who's also drinking away his sorrows in a miserable existence.

Over the course of the 4 seasons of a year, we follow these folks through their motions and get to know them in a engagingly emotional way.

When Maltman brings a spirited new girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) home to meet his parents, Manville, who happens to be visiting again, can't hide her shaken feelings. It's as naturalistic as a scene in a movie can be which must the result of Leigh's patented improvisational methods.

Whatever the case, Leigh definitely deserves the Oscar nomination he just got for Best Screenplay for this fine film.

A film in which happily there's no contrivances present - nobody has affairs, there's no shouted speeches, and there's no life changing revelations - there's only pointed reflections on aging and painful neediness.

The entire cast is excellent, but Manville should've gotten a nomination herself for her work here. She embodies all of the flaws of this troubled woman flawlessly. The Academy may not have recognized this, but she was named best actress of the year by the National Board of Review and a best actress runner-up by the National Society of Film Critics so there's that.

"Life's not always kind, is it?" Sheen remarks at one point and it's a apt statement which could act as the tagline for ANOTHER YEAR.

It's a very sad film, but it's not a depressing one. Roger Ebert once said that "all bad movies are depressing, no good movies are."

Well, this quietly profound movie is very good and it sure didn't get me down.

More later...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Blu Ray/DVD Review: FLIPPED

This period piece comic drama flopped when it was released for a limited run last August (it briefly played in the Raleigh area). It's now out on Blu ray and DVD for another chance to win folks over:

FLIPPED (Dir. Rob Reiner, 2010)

It's been a long time since Rob Reiner has made a decent movie.

The man who in his early career gave us such classics as THIS IS SPINAL TAP and THE PRINCESS BRIDE has lately churned out dreck like RUMOR HAS IT and THE BUCKET LIST.

So while it's pleasant surprise that his newest is from the Rob Reiner that made STAND BY ME - not the Rob Reiner that made NORTH it's also sad to say that FLIPPED is still below par.

Set in the same era of STAND BY ME (though the novel it's based on by Wendelin Van Draanen was set in modern times), FLIPPED follows the budding relationship of a young boy (Callan McAuliffe) and girl (Madeline Carroll) who live across the street from each other in a Michigan suburb.

Things are pretty rocky off the bat as McAuliffe is annoyed by Carroll's constant affection. It doesn't help matters that the boy's father (Anthony Edwards) puts down the girl's family by way of their unkempt yard.

McAuliffe is the embodiment of a "Boy's Life" cover - a well-groomed blonde-haired baseball-loving all American boy. He's embarrassed by being stalked by the weird girl who brings his family eggs from her own chickens she's raising in her backyard.

Carroll, with her long hair and plaid attire, is a pre-teen hippie just waiting for the revolution to kick in. She loves a sycamore tree that towers over the neighborhood and makes the local paper when she refuses to climb down from it so it can be cut down. A little of her spunky spirit goes a long way.

When Carroll catches McAuliffe throwing away the most recent batch of eggs, her infatuation begins to fade and an awkward separation sets in between them.

Carroll begins a friendship with McAuliffe's grandfather (Frasier's John Mahoney) who helps her clean up her yard while the boy stews watching from his window.

The attempts to enhance this slight material with subplots involving Carroll's retarded uncle, her pompadoured brothers who are trying to break into the early '60s rock scene, and her dreaming painter father (Aidan Quinn) don't go anywhere - they just pile up as sideline clichés.

Not to mention the thankless nothing roles played by Rebecca De Mornay and Penelope Ann Miller as the young couples' housewife mothers.

The film uses voice-over narration to get us into the heads of McAuliffe and Carroll as they recount the same events from their contrasting points of view (he said, she said style), but its a tedious process as we can guess exactly what supposed insight is coming way before it is said.

Nonetheless it is a step up from the films Reiner has made in the 15 years since THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (a still cheesy film yet one that has an undeniable charm) and it does have some touching moments amid its strained Spielbergian sunniness and lackluster dialog.

FLIPPED is a forgettable throwaway, but a nice try for a once acclaimed film maker hoping to get back in the game.

Don't give up yet, Meathead! I, for one, am still pulling for you.

Bonus Features: The DVD only has one extra - "'Flipped': Anatomy of a Near Kiss" (3:18), but the Blu ray has 3 - "The Differences Between a Boy and a Girl" (6:32), "Embarrassing Egg-scuses" (5:01), and "How to Make the Best Volcano" (4:54).

More later...