Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Worst Movies Of 2007

Oscar season is now officially over and we've basked in the glory of a great year for film for long enough, so now it's time to look at the not so great movies of 2007.

Actually "not so great" is being too kind - these were wretched evil slabs of celluloid sent from Hell to taint our collective unconscious and will make us all pay a higher psychic price than we can possibly imagine (as the late great comedian Bill Hicks would say). So let's warm our hands on the fire as we throw these movies back to from where they came one by one:

1. WILD HOGS (Dir. Walt Becker)

Hard to believe this was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. It's a CITY SLICKERS-ish mid-life crisis tale with motorcycles instead of horses padded out with bathroom humour, gay-panic jokes, and tired stupid sitcom plotting. We're used to seeing Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and even John Travolta slumming it in such unfunny cinematic crap but why did William H. Macy and Marissa Tomei have to be dragged down with them? Read my original review here.

2. REDACTED (Dir. Brian DePalma)

This has been a really bad year for films about the Iraq war with audiences staying away from both documentaries like NO END IN SIGHT and dramas like LIONS FOR LAMBS. Of course, it doesn't help the cause when the movie is actually really bad like DePalma's misguided, horribly named, unaffecting mess REDACTED.

Through the conceit that the fictional (though based on a real incident) tale of a troop in Samarra who are involved with the rape and murder of an innocent 14 year old Iraqi girl and the killing of her family is told by one of the soldier's hand held videocams, fake cable TV footage, and simulated YouTube clips we just get the same old bottom line: War Is Hell. Worse yet this obnoxious exercise comes across like it's more down on the troops than the war.

3. Tie: GHOST RIDER (Dir. Mark Steven Johnson) / NEXT (Dir. Lee Tamhori)

A Nicholas Cage double whammy! Actually if I had seen the sequel to the awful NATIONAL TREASURE that came out last December this may have been a triple whammy. In NEXT a clever Philip K. Dick short story is awfully adapted into a boring by-the-numbers action movie formula while GHOST RIDER takes its comic book source and well...also awfully adapts it into an equally lame action movie. Come on Cage! We all know you have another ADAPTATION or WILD AT HEART in you, so why do you have to keep giving us this pap? Read my original review of GHOST RIDER here. 

4. THE NUMBER 23 (Dir. Joel Schumacher) This is the stupidest film in Jim Carrey's entire career and with a filmography that includes the ACE VENTURA movies and especially DUMB AND DUMBER that is really saying something. As a wise-cracking dogcatcher who starts seeing the number of the title everywhere and they start piling up as clues to a long unresolved murder. Wait! It gets stupider - read my original review here.

5. FACTORY GIRL (Dir. George Hickenlooper) A vicious disapointment in the department of biopics of C-List celebrities. Sure, model and 60's "It girl" Edie Sedgewick (played by Sienna Miller) was a wasted vapid Warhol groupie but she deserved better than this putrid portrait. My review is of course, right here.

6. 1408 (Mikael Håfström) John Cusack in a hotel room from Hell. That's pretty much it. Want more of a description of the Stephen King derived suckitude contained within? Click on this

7. SHOOT ‘EM UP (Dir. Michael Davis) At one point Clive Owen says: "You know what I hate? I hate those lame action movies where the good guy calls just one person who ends up betraying him." Me? I hate lame action movies like this. Even one in which ace actor Paul Giamatti (talk about slumming it!) plays the bad guy. After CHILDREN OF MEN Owen must have hesitated to do another 'save an important baby from evil forces' movie but maybe he just decided that the price was right. I never reviewed this bombastic blockbuster wannabe for good reason.

8. YEAR OF THE DOG (Dir. Mike White) I like former SNL cast member turned film lead actress Molly Shannon. I like the supporting cast including Regina King, Peter Scaarsgard, John C. Reilly, and Laura Dern. I like screenwriter/director Mike White. Also I like dogs. But I really didn't like this awkward indie comedy, and by the end of it wanted to put it to sleep. Read about how it rubbed me the wrong way here.

9. BUG (Dir. William Friedkin)

A ridiculous conspiracy minded thriller with hammy overacting and silly twists. Normally I love ridiculous conspiracy minded thrillers with hammy overacting and silly twists but Friedkin really doesn't bring it here. Read my review of the DVD here

10. THE TEN (Dir. David Wain) 

A sketch comedy film without a single laugh. Paul Rudd, whose smug detachment helps him walk off unscathed from this dreck, is the presenter of 10 vignettes ostensibly based on the morals of the 10 commandments featuring the usually reliable members of comic ensembles from the TV cult favorites The State and Stella who have all done good funny work before. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER this ain't. My original review? Never wrote one - in fact this is the most I ever want to write about this mean minded offensive unfunny doggerel. Next time I won't mince words.

More later...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscars 2008 Recap!

So, it’s the morning after and I’m looking over my predictions. 

None of my wild cards paid off and some of my darts didn’t hit the bulls-eye so what do I got? Well, I don’t know whether to feel comforted or disturbed by the fact that I got EXACTLY the same amount right that I did last year – 13 out of 24. So here’s at ‘em:


2. BEST DIRECTOR (S): Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - Though everybody was saying this was a lock I was still somewhat scared that this was wishful thinking. So glad that it happened - it is definitely the Coen Brothers time. Seeing them on stage - Joel stoic and commanding with Ethan cutely quietly fidgeting made them look like the Penn & Teller of movie directors. 

3. BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis for THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Julie Christie - WRONG! - Marion Cotillard for LA VIE EN ROSE - As much as I loved Christie in AWAY FROM HER I am not disappointed here. Cotillard's performance was amazing and the award is well deserved. Besides Christie's won before. 

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hal Holbrook - WRONG! Javier Bardem for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - I knew I'd be wrong about this one but didn't care. Bardem was excellent and his short acceptance (hard to call it a speech) 

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett - WRONG! Tilda Swinton for MICHAEL CLAYTON - This was a real surprise. Still, she did a good job in her role and I liked that backstage afterwards she said winning is often "the kiss of death". Yeah, just ask Cuba Gooding Jr.


8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD - WRONG! - Robert Elswit for THERE WILL BE BLOOD - I knew I'd be wrong here but still thought Deakins would win but for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I loved TWBB so I'm happy it got 2 major awards.




12. FILM EDITING: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY - WRONG! - THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM - BOURNE surprisingly swept the technical award categories. Maybe I should see it. 


14. VISUAL EFFECTS: TRANSFORMERSWRONG! - THE GOLDEN COMPASS - I called it a "no brainer" but I should've remember the Academys track record on this category. I mean E.T. won over BLADE RUNNER for this 25 years ago! 


16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from ONCE - A nice moment during the broadcast was when host Jon Stewart quipped "wow, that guy is so arrogant" after Glen Hansard's humble as Hell acceptance speech. It got a big laugh from the audience and the folks at the Oscar party I was at last night.





21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: JUNO by Diablo Cody - This was the real 'no brainer.'




Okay! So I did no better or no worse than last time out. Sigh. Story of my life.

More later...

Friday, February 22, 2008

BE KIND REWIND - Viewed, Reviewed, And Returned To The Dropbox *

* It's a film new to theaters but I couldn't resist the old school videotape lingo. When STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH - was the first in the series to not be made available on videocassette, many reported it as the death of the VHS format. 

Well, BE KIND REWIND is here to capture one last gasp of the magnetic medium as the final nails are hammered into the coffin. As a former video store employee who has worked for various chains over the years (most are out of business now and the remaining ones will be soon) I was really looking forward to this movie and excited that it was coming to my hometown theatre. So let's pop it in and push play:

BE KIND REWIND (Dir. Michel Gondry, 2008)

The premise is simple - after all the rental videotapes at a neighborhood store in Passaic, New Jersey get erased, the employees who are strapped for cash and in danger of being evicted remake the films in the inventory with themselves as actors. 

Sounds good so far, right? I mean we get Jack Black and Mos Def playing out scenes from GHOSTBUSTERS, RUSH HOUR 2, BOYZ N THE HOOD, 2001, and many others in homemade costumes with half remembered mostly improvised dialogue. 

For some reason they call these 20 minute D.I.Y. versions "Sweded" and they become so popular that their store soon has a line around the block. Danny Glover is the owner of the business and the building it resides in, which he claims jazz legend Fats Waller was born in. 

Glover soon sees the value of the "Sweded" videos and takes part in them as do most of the customers oddly including Mia Farrow (appearing a bit frail and out of it) whose character is far from defined. Melonie Diaz is recruited to be the love interest in the remakes and she sparks some feelings in Mos Def - but that's not fleshed out either. 

Also it's cool to see Marcus Carl Franklin (the young black kid who was one of the Bobs in I'M NOT THERE) in a small part as one of the local loyal customers. "Far from defined" and "not fleshed out" pretty much state my problems with this film. 

Early on the magnetizing accident which causes the blunder to set the plot in motion is a foreteller of many clunky contrived plotpoints ahead and much of the film feels extremely disjointed. Jack Black's shtick wears out its welcome within the first 10 minutes (or sooner) and Mos Def is likable but too lackadaisical to give this material the needed zing it requires. 

As I suspected with his previous film THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, Michael Gondry doesn't appear to be the greatest writer - he really should have only directed here and let somebody more experienced with film comedy take a pass at the screenplay. 

The best parts are obviously the remakes - it's great to see Glover and Farrow redo DRIVING MISS DAISY (albeit briefly - Black and Mos Def do their own version earlier on), Black's ROBOCOP outfitted with kitchen pots and pans has its moments, and the cardboard cut-outs when they attempt THE LION KING get some laughs too. It's amusing as well to see Black remake KING KONG because, you know, he was in a real KING KONG remake! 

This time however he plays the ape which might have been the direction Peter Jackson should've taken but I digress. The second half with its jazz soundtrack and the neighborhood communal sentiment (which I could never completely buy into) seems stolen from Spike Lee. 

Not quite the ode to the soon to be extinct VHS format, nor the definitive videostore movie (not that there is such a thing) BE KIND REWIND is not without its charms but it's a tad undercooked. 

Definitely not a must see on the big screen - I would recommend waiting for video. Digital video that is, that way you can go right to the good parts (the film recreations - duh!) and you can Fast Forward, I mean chapter-skip through the forgettable rest of it. Okay, now hit Eject!

More later...

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Release Drama DVD Round-Up

When it comes to Netflix I'm what is considered "a heavy user". I view many DVDs and often send them back the same day I get them writing about them as I go. Since I realized that most of what I've seen lately have been dramas I decided to round 'em up for this post. I also noticed that all of these movies have funerals in them but that would make for a pretty depressing blog post title so I'm going with the drama angle. Okay! Let's get to 'em:

GONE BABY GONE (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2007)

Ben Affleck's directorial debut is everything his run aspiring to A-list leading man status (in such blockbuster wannabes as PEARL HARBOR, PAYCHECK, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS and DAREDEVIL) wasn't - it's assured, multi-layered and extremely entertaining. 

Affleck doesn't appear on camera here *, which is surprising considering his many bit cameos throughout the years, and yes it would be easy to take a pot shot by commending him for that alone but the weight and power of his Boston based crime drama cancels that immediately out. 

Brother Casey Affleck does the protagonist duty as a small scale private detective who works with his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) out of a tiny Boston apartment. When the young daughter of some neighborhood low-lifes goes missing and a media circus ensues, they are hired by the girl's Aunt (Amy Madigan) to help find her. 

The police (particularly Ed Harris as a police detective) are skeptical of the inexperienced but intrepid couple and the dangerous battered barfolk they encounter when they go snooping are little help as well but C. 

Affleck and Monaghan plug away. Morgan Freeman as a police Captain lends his reliable folksy demeanor (glad he's not narrating for once) also talks down to our heroes - indeed it is often pointed out how young and green Casey Affleck appears: "he just looks young" Monaghan remarks to Freeman's scolding. 

As you should know by now I'll give no further spoilers but I bet you can see how the couple gets in other their head in a world where nobody can be trusted - Man, that ought to be the tagline!                                    

Hate to call them twists because they are displayed with more class than in many standard thrillers but the turns of the second act are surprisingly successful because of the refreshing lack of gloss or flash. A tad high in melodrama maybe but GONE BABY GONE doesn't overreach. 

The supporting cast all bring it - Harris and Madigan (who are husband and wife in real life) both have some standout scenes and John Ashton (who many will remember as a cop in the BEVERLY HILLS COP series) gets in some good gruff gestures. Amy Ryan as the lost girl's mother plays a messed up "skeezer", as one drug dealer character calls her, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and she's pretty dead on but some of her line readings seem a bit forced so I'll be pretty shocked if she wins it. 

Casey Affleck really should have been nominated for this performance over his part in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES..., as much as I liked him in that flick, because he really gets it right in his manner and tone here. On the cinematic chopping block MYSTIC RIVER comparisons are inevitable but Ben Affleck's moving film makes a case that Clint Eastwood doesn't own the terrain - I believe a new up and coming director dog has just marked his territory. * Actually Affleck can be seen moving through a shot in a dark bar but you could blink and miss him. On the DVD commentary co-writer Aaron Stockard calls it his "Hitchcock moment." 

WE OWN THE NIGHT (Dir. James Gray, 2007)

The opening with black and white archive photos (by still photographer Leonard Fried) of '80s era New York cops brings to mind the grainy real-life riot footage that opened THE DEPARTED.

Scorsese's Best Picture winning crime classic again rears its head as once again we have a premise resembling a good cop/bad cop scenario and Mark Wahlberg as the blunt good cop doesn’t call foul on such accusations. But let's get past that and see what we've really got here in James Gray's period-piece police Vs. Russian mobsters flick that slipped through the cracks in its release last Fall. 

With Wahlberg we've got Joaquin Phoenix as his druggie nightclub managing brother and Robert Duvall as their grizzled police chief father trying to recruit Phoenix to be a mole. Duvall is one of the few actors that can convincingly pull off such a cliched line as "Sooner or later, either you're gonna be with us or you're gonna be with the drug dealers."

Phoenix is indifferent to his Pop’s war on drugs plight as he posits himself as a future “king of New York”. His club El Caribe is obviously modeled on Studio 54 with its clientele selected by bouncers, scantily clad dancing girls on the bar, and non-stop Blondie blaring on the sound system. When Wahlberg gets shot and Duvall's life is threatened by the drug running gangsters, Phoenix changes his tune and starts singing like a canary. He even agrees to be wired in order to lead the cops to the bad guy's lair. 

Phoenix's girlfriend (Eva Mendes - looking like a supermodel in a magazine photo spread) is a possible target too but she is disapproving of Phoenix's new law enforcement involvement. The dialogue is repetitive and too often spells out every action. The story is full of predictable rote elements and the villains appear to be sent by central casting. 

It is set in the '80s not for any interesting premise reasons like the opening implies but possibly because the filmmakers knew they were unable to write any cool modern cellphone trickery plotpoints. Which once again brings up the inferiority of this to Marty's previously mentioned movie. So yeah, when it comes right down to it - skip this slickly produced pap and watch THE DEPARTED again.

(Dir. John Turturro, 2005)

This is a very odd movie.

Co-produced by the Coen brothers, and made 3 years ago, but only now making it to DVD, (perhaps because the studio didn't know how to handle it), Turturro’s “down and dirty musical comedy,” (as he calls it) is certainly ballsy, but it’s more often baffling.

James Gandolfini is an adulterous NYC construction worker whose wife (Susan Sarandon) knows about his mistress (Kate Winslet). They have three daughters (who all look too old to be believable as Gandolfini and Sarandon's offspring) - Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, and Aida Turturro who have a riot grrl punk band and are constantly banging away for their piece of the soundtrack. 

Then throw in Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, and a strangely subdued Eddie Izzard and you've got a faultless cast but a weird musical mix. 

I did mention it was a musical, right? That's what makes it so odd - the cast members sometimes lip synche to classic songs and sometimes sing on top of them; rarely does the song feature the actor's voice alone. When it does have Gandolfini or Sarandon or Winslet sing by themselves it seems to be to make a particular point. I just couldn't figure out what that point was. 

I really couldn't for the life of me really get into this movie but I did appreciate quite a few moments. Gandolfini and Sarandon have a great scene, done in one take, sitting at their dinner table where he admits to her for some reason that he never liked Ethel Merman with her "foghorn of a voice."

Gandolfini excuses Ernest Borgnine's abuse of Merman in their marriage that only lasted one week back in the day by concluding "'You Can't Get A Man With A Gun' would drive any man crazy." Somehow this amounts to one of the only warm exchanges between the couple. Winslet really goes at her role with gusto especially in her introductory dancing scene wearing a scorching red dress in the window of a burning building. She and Sarandon have a ferocious cat-fight while Walken sings along in the background to Bruce Springsteen's "Red Headed Woman". See what I mean? Weird. Turturro's directional sense does comes through - a shot of cigarette butts littered all over a patch of snow is exceptional and it is obvious he has a good collaborating relationship with everybody in this movie; it may have been a mistake to cast his sister Aida though - she just ends up recalling her Sopranos character Janice. Mary Louise-Parker appears again in a movie she is barely used in - this is a shame as anybody who has seen Weeds knows, she can do better. 

At one point Gandolfini says when trying to reconcile with his wife: "Maybe I don't know how to show it like they do in the movies or in books but I love. I have love to give." Maybe Turturro doesn't know how to show it either but this film if nothing else is definitely a work of love. Just why did it have to be love of the weird variety?

SHOOT THE MOON (Dir. Alan Parker, 1981)

It’s easy to forget that in the late '70s and early '80s there was a genre that held its own against the science-fiction blockbusters that dominated that era – the divorce drama. KRAMER VS. KRAMER, of course, was the leader of the pack but close behind were such families getting torn apart tangents like AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, TWICE IN A LIFETIME, and ORDINARY PEOPLE. Long out of circulation but now newly re-issued on DVD is a pivotal player from those ranks - SHOOT THE MOON which features Albert Finney leaving wife Diane Keaton for a younger woman (Karen Allen).

As the film opens we are introduced to the couple with their four daughters (Dana Hill, Viveka Davis, Tracey Gold, and Tina Yothers) and their creaky old house on the outskirts of Marin County in California (many misty shots of the house and valley are throughout the film).

We see as acclaimed novelist Finney and his former student now wife Keaton prepare for an evening at an awards ceremony that their marriage is on the outs. Finney calls his lover and the oldest daughter (Hill) picks up the phone to eavesdrop.

On their ride there and back to the televised event their car is full of tension as we realize the gravity of what's not being said and strongly feel the giant gap between the tortured pair.

The next morning Keaton confronts Finney, while doing dishes mind you, and he responds not by owning up to his affair but by leaving with a bag that she had already packed in anticipation. The couple attempts to sort out the rubble and move on with their lives but they keep on hitting emotional roadblocks.

Finney moves in with Allen, who except for one signature scene basically has little to do but stand around looking pretty, while Keaton takes up with a contractor played with just the right tone by Peter Weller (ROBOCOP!) that she hired to put in a tennis court on her (actually legally still her and her separated husband's) property.

The film seethes with energy that explodes from underneath in a few surprisingly violent scenes. Finney is compelling as always as he stalks the screen in a manner exposing his stage roots and Keaton displays that the keen quality she can bring to dramatic roles is equal to the comedic skills she is better known for.

Dana Hill (who died in 1996 from complications due to diabetes) has perfect poise as the oldest wisest daughter who knows her parents' faults as well as their habits - she knows her mother smokes pot for example - and she has a great scene in the third act that among other things explains the movies title.

It's interesting to see Tina Yothers and Tracey Gould as sisters for as students of pop culture know they went on to be daughters in competing '80s TV sitcom families - Yothers in Family Ties and Gould in Growing Pains respectively.

A flawed but stirring drama with an absolutely shocking ending, Alan Parker's SHOOT THE MOON is an oft overlooked film that deserves a place in your Netflix queue. 

More later...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It's That Time Again - Film Babble's Funtime Oscar Picks 2008!

The Academy Awards is one week away so I am finalizing my predictions. I admit that I'm no expert - I only had 13 out of 24 right last year, but it is such a fun process so I'm up for it. 

In Roger Ebert's 2008 predictions column he writes "as usual I will allow my heart to outsmart my brain in one or two races, which is my annual downfall". I hear you Roger! That's why I decided to say "screw it!" and go with my heart. I went against my heart last year and guessed wrongly that BABEL would win over my true favorite THE DEPARTED so I think I owe it.

So here goes:

1.BEST PICTURE: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – My brain agrees with my heart on this one. It seriously feels like The Coen Brothers time as evidenced by my pick for #2 as well but I have to remind myself that 10 years ago I really thought it was their time for FARGO and THE ENGLISH PATIENT won. Heavy sigh. Please JUNO - don't split the vote and cause an upset! Please - my heart couldn't take it.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

3.BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis - Again heart and brain are on the same page with just about everybody out there on this - he truly did perform the best acting of the year so it'll be shocking if he's not rewarded.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Julie Christie - Most are predicting this one for Christie. Her performance was wonderful and like Lewis she's won before (for DARLING - 1965) and it just seems right. The wild card would be Marion Cotillard in LA VIE EN ROSE but that's stuck at "very long wait" in my Netflix queue so I can't appraise yet.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hal Holbrook - This is my wild card; my INTO THE WILD card! Sorry, couldn't resist that. Seriously though he was the best thing in that movie - he's 82 and he climbed up a mountain! Somebody else who thinks he deserves it is one of his competitors for the title - Javier Bardem. Read Bardem's touching comments on Holbrook's performance. My brain is doubting this pick but I'm still letting it stand.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Cate Blanchett - Brain and Heart together again. Blanchett is amazing as '65-'66 era Bob Dylan - actually Jude Quinn - one of 6 different personifications of the said rock star singer in I'M NOT THERE if you haven't heard. I predict she will dedicate her Oscar to co-star Heath Ledger. Awarding her will honor him so to speak. Also since she was also nominated for Best Actress for ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE this stone kills that bird too. Hey, I'm just blogging out loud here!

And the rest:


8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Deakins is also nominated for NO COUNTRY as well so I hope a DREAMGIRLS-like canceling out doesn't go down. I will be supremely bummed if Deakins' amazing work doesn't get the gold for either film.


10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: NO END IN SIGHT - Because SiCKO would seem to be a shoe-in my brain is still pondering over whether the Academy will let Michael Moore back on their stage. I mean, remember last time? That's not the only reason I think Charles Ferguson's little seen Iraq war breakdown will win but it's good enough for now.

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: SARI’S MOTHER - Haven't seen but damnit it looks like a winner!

12. FILM EDITING: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY - Heart again. I mean the editing was really the show on this one so I can't help but pick it.

13. MAKEUP: LA VIE EN ROSE - Can you believe NORBIT was nominated? Maybe it did have phenomenal makeup but still - NORBIT - an Oscar Nominated Motion Picture?! I may do the biggest spit-take in history if that Eddie Murphy mess upsets this category.

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: TRANSFORMERS - The definition of "no-brainer."


16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from ONCE - This has got to happen. People are crazy about that freakin' soundtrack and this song seems a sure bet.

17. ANIMATED SHORT: I MET THE WALRUS - Didn't see it but the trailer (that's right, a trailer for a short film) is pretty cool.

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: AT NIGHT - Haven't seen either so I'm just going throwing a dart in the dark here I admit.


20. SOUND MIXING: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM - Didn't see it but it looked like this flick mixed it up soundwise. Yep, another dart.

21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: JUNO by Diablo Cody. This category should be re-named "snarkiest script."

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: ATONEMENT by Christopher Hampton


24. FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: THE COUNTERFEITERS (German title: Fälscher, Die) - I haven't seen it yet but I read good things about this Austrian war drama on the internets and the Academy seems to love World War II so it seems pretty sound. 

Okay! I bet I do even worse than last year but I don't care. I'm just glad the writer's strike is over and the show is going on. It was one of the best years for movies so I bet whatever the flaws and surprises it'll be a blast.

More later...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Step Aside Juno, Make Room For Marjane

While JUNO is getting all the acclaim - the nominations, the top ten list accolades, and the bank from repeat offender audience members - PERSEPOLIS, despite being nominated for Best Animated Feature and a plethora of good reviews is seemingly lost in the shuffle with few making the effort to go see it. I don't want that to happen - this film deserves to be seen by as many people as possible in its theatrical run. Let me tell you why in my review:

(Dir. Vincent Paronaud & Marjane Satrapi, 2007)

Retaining the look of the autobio-graphic novels on which it's based PERSEPOLIS is unique as both an animated film and as a coming of age period piece. The story is told by way of a muted colored (yeah, the whole thing isn't in gritty black and white) modern day flashback in which we meet Marjane (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes) - a bright outspoken preteen in Tehran in 1978. 

Marjene is told by her loving father (Simon Abkarian) the history of her country in a swift but accurate storybook manner and she dreams of being a saving prophet of the Islamic revolution. Marjane's uncle (François Jerosme), a victim of the new regime, chooses her for his last single jail visit before his execution. This affects her deeply as she grows into a rebellious punk-loving teenager (from then on voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) who buys and lives by pirated tapes of American and British rock 'n roll. 

All along the way there is stern advice from her sternly cautious but wisely kind grandmother (Danielle Darreux) and the dangerous daily life of a city constantly in turmoil. Marjane becomes a young woman literally before our eyes in an amusing scene that I won't give away. 

We follow her to Vienna where as a student at the French Lycée she makes friends with cynical punky outsiders (complete with mohawks and leather jackets). We also witness a love affair relationship arc that takes a little wind out of our protagonist's sails (and sadly the movie's a bit) but Marjane gets her groove back with a little help from Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" from ROCKY III.

This film is only being distributed in America in its French language version with subtitles. While this may be considered the purist way to go - it is unfortunate because there is a English language version featuring the voices of Iggy Pop, Gena Rowlands, and Sean Penn. I would like both versions to get distribution, especially since it may affect attendance. 

I saw this with only six other people in the audience and that is really depressing when the inferior overrated JUNO packed houses and is still in the top five at the box office. Marjane, even as a simplistic cartoon model, is a much more affecting character than Ellen Page's unrealistic glib one-liner machine. If only mass America would realize that and go see it. With its pointed humour yet sober sense of history PERSEPOLIS is pretty damn near perfect.

More later...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We're Gonna Need A Better Eulogy...

Actor Roy Scheider passed away at age 75 on Sunday. 

Since then every obit I have read quotes his famous line from JAWS - "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

This is fine because it's his most famous role and he reportedly adlibbed the line so it's a fitting reminder of his place in pop culture (the line is #35 on the AFI's list of best quotes from U.S. movies). What's not fine is that most people misquote it as "we're going to need a bigger boat" and they let it stand alone as if it'll be on his tombstone. 

I saw a CNN bit yesterday that had the clip of the said scene in that damn classic Spielberg movie with the solitary caption "Roy Scheider (1932-2008)" and that was it - a man's life reduced to a soundbite. C'mon people! We can do better than that! The guy had a whole career we can talk about! So since everybody knows JAWS (and JAWS 2 for that matter) let's look at: 

5 Essential Sharkless Roy Scheider Roles 

1. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Dir. William Friedkin, 1971) This film won 5 Oscars but Scheider, despite being nominated, went home without any gold. Everyone talks about Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle and the incredible chase scene but what about Scheider as Buddy "Cloudy" Russo? He was the glue that held this tense 70's cop tale of drug smuggling uncovered by jaded racist cops together! Not exactly the "good cop" to Hackman's "bad cop" but close enough in my book - or on my blog. See the trailer here

2. ALL THAT JAZZ (Dir. Bob Fosse, 1979)

In an interview Scheider remarked that he had made what he considered "three landmark films" - JAWS, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and ALL THAT JAZZ. He was right for many consider JAZZ his finest performance. In his role as Joe Gideon, a character who was somewhat semi-autobiographically based on Fosse, Scheider acts, sings, and dances with a verve unseen in the rest of his filmography. As Vincent Canby said in his review "With an actor of less weight and intensity, ALL THAT JAZZ might have evaporated as we watched it. Mr. Scheider's is a presence to reckon with." Check out this clip of "Bye Bye Life".

3. 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (Dir. Peter Hyams, 1984) This sequel to the classic Kubrick film is better than most people remember. Sure, it was pretty unneccessary and its conclusions are far from satisfying but it is full of worthy dialogue and acting - most of which comes courtesey of Scheider. As Dr. Heywood Floyd (a role originally played by William Slyvester) Scheider brings his reliable determined intensity displayed by such lines like: "Reason? There's no TIME to be reasonable!" 

4. MARATHON MAN (Dir. John Schlesinger, 1976) It's another sidekick role but Scheider shines as Dustin Hoffman's brother Henry 'Doc' Levy. He is extremely enjoyable as he effortlessly glides through his scenes. What's really worth seeking out is the DVD of the documentary about producer Robert Evans THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE for the bonus material features Hoffman and Scheider riffing on the MARATHON MAN set doing dueling Evans impressions. funny stuff - funnier than when Scheider hosted SNL in 1985 anyway.

5. BLUE THUNDER (Dir. John Badham, 1983) Sure some people will snicker at the sight of this flick making such a tributary list but it's my list and this was the first Scheider film I ever saw at the theater. It's not the most memorable film - I saw it with my mother and she doesn't remember it but I sure do. 

Scheider is a cop assigned to the heavily armed police helicopter of the title, and with his sidekick Daniel Stern they fly around and fight crime. Yep, it's a big dumb 80's action thriller but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. "Uh-oh. You'd better hold your nose. We're in deep shit" Scheider warns his partner at one point, and yeah, that's no match for the "bigger boat" line but damnit this film could stand a few more late night TV airings - that is, if JAWS needs to take a rest. See the trailer here

Scheider Spillover: ROMEO IS BLEEDING (Dir. Peter Medek, 1993) This is a personal favorite and it's the only film of Scheider's I own on DVD. He's a mob boss who has only a few scenes but they're pretty damn vital. Post Note: Somebody put this inevitable mash-up on Youtube - ALL THAT JAWS. Enjoy! I feel unqualified to properly access Scheider's ouvre since I haven't seen many of his films (including the highly regarded SORCERER) but I feel this top five will suffice - for now. 

  R.I.P. Roy Scheider. 

  More later...