Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Golden Globe contenders for the given category. Predictions will be narrowed and revised towards the end of November or the beginning of December. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is way to early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

The top contenders:
The increasingly powerful Carrell has received reviews that call his performance “Oscar-worthy”. I am more than tempted to disagree, since the role does not scream “awards” to me at all. For lack of appropriate competition, Carrell may find himself with his first major film nomination for a performance far less deserving than previous ones (“Little Miss Sunshine” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”).

Travolta is downright ridiculous playing a female character in the bouncy musical, but he is admittedly pretty funny. People have mentioned his name as an Oscar contender in the supporting category, which I highly doubt, but if there is any place to honor his performance, it is here.

This film was really popular with critics and audiences alike. Rogen in particular was singled out for his surprisingly endearing performance of the guy who knocks up a hot girl and actually (sort of) steps up to the plate. Previous comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” fell flat with Golden Globe voters, and I think the film and co-star Heigl have a much better shot than Rogen.

Gosling missed out on a Globe nomination despite receiving an eventual Oscar nod last year for his dramatic turn in “Half Nelson”. In “Lars and the Real Girl”, Gosling turns in a wonderful performance as a delusional man who falls in love with an Internet sex doll. Gosling should have no trouble getting in, save for the fact that his performance is much subtler than other contenders in this field.

The film received pretty strong raves and is likely to make a showing somewhere at the Golden Globes. The music and the film itself might be more likely to earn a mention, but Hansard is in almost every scene and does his part to his credit. It is really a question of how much they love the film, because he does not stand out apart from the film as being extraordinary, but is pretty much just as good.

I have had enough of Depp’s Captain Sparrow, who I loved in the first film but tired of quickly in the second. It is not that Depp is bad; instead, it is that the performance has already been done and nothing new is being added to it. I doubted that Depp would make it in last year for his repeat performance, but he did, and so he very well could this year. I think his performance in “Sweeney Todd” will be the talk of the town, and people will forget about the disaster that was “Pirates 3”.

This guy is busy this year. “The Savages” looks to be the best shot at a nomination for him this year. Though Hoffman has received numerous nominations from different guilds for roles in films like “Flawless”, “Almost Famous”, and “Punch-Drunk Love”, he has only one Golden Globe nomination (and win) to his name, for “Capote”. The film does look great though.

Well, this just looks like a load of fun. Depp is not for everyone, but he has received seven Golden Globe nominations, including consecutive nods the past four years. I cannot see how he could miss out unless reactions to the film are universally negative. He just looks so good. A bit dark perhaps, but that should not be an issue.

Wouldn’t this be fun? Cera just seems too young and too non-lead (he shares most of his scenes with Jonah Hill) to make it in, especially for this highly inappropriate romp. “Knocked Up” should capture the awards buzz, while “Superbad” may have to settle for high DVD sales.

This film came and went with hardly anyone making a fuss. Cheadle is a popular actor’s actor, and this performance looks like it would just be pure fun. Anyone who doubts Cheadle’s chances based on the small nature of his film should look no further than last year’s inclusion of the superb Chiwetel Ejiofor in “Kinky Boots”. Cheadle is also much better known and established than Ejiofor.

Anyone else? A number of films have more than one lead actor, which could reduce their chances of getting in. Michael Cera’s co-star Jonah Hill is just as good, but I feel like he will not be rewarded with any nominations. “The Bucket List” looks like a missable film, but stars Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have amassed 21 Golden Globe nominations between them. “The Darjeeling Limited” features wonderful performances from Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman, but none of them outshine any of the others enough to enable voters to choose one over the other. Dustin Hoffman, who has been nominated over ten times, has the lead role in the mid-November family fantasy “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” which does not strike me as an awards contender, but you never know. And let us call Marc Anthony a dead last possibility for “El Cantante”.

Current predictions:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unbelievably Entertaining: Bee Movie

Bee Movie (Advance Screening)
Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith
To be released November 2, 2007

This new animated comedy is infinitely better than the incessant previews indicate. It is overflowing with mature humor and a wonderful adventure feel to the whole thing. Who thought there could be so many jokes about bees without getting old right away? But there are. This can certainly withstand comparison to recent animated successes like "Ratatouille", "Cars", "Finding Nemo", and "Monsters, Inc" in terms of quality. Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zellweger provide fabulous voices for the great lead characters. Any film that mixes family-friendly fun with biting mockeries of Sting, Larry King, and Ray Liotta without missing a step earns a place on my best films of the year list.


Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: The Arrival

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

The Arrival
Directed by David Twohy
Released May 31, 1996

Make it stop. It is so bad. Sure, it is beyond funny, but the writing, acting, directing, all of it are so horrible. Invading aliens who have extremely bendable knees and who can make themselves look like humans have never been so preposterously dumb. The cast features super-young Teri Polo and Richard Schiff before either of their careers actually took off and led to major roles for them in "Meet the Parents" and "The West Wing", respectively. Worst of all, worse than even the dismal writing and the corny visuals, is Charlie Sheen. Wearing large glasses and a goofy goatee, Sheen sports the same look in every scene (as my professor pointed out), which is one of shock and disbelief. Sheen is no acting genius, but this performance is just awful. So is this movie.


Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Golden Globe contenders for the given category. Predictions will be narrowed and revised towards the end of November or the beginning of December. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is way to early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

The top contenders:
Festival audiences have deemed “Atonement” to be already a classic. Knightley received Globe and Oscar nominations for far less dramatic or challenging work in “Pride & Prejudice” two years ago, and this is one of those films that should still do well enough on advance word regardless of how the film is received when it reaches wide audiences.

Christie received overwhelmingly positive reviews for her role as an Alzheimer’s patient separated from her husband for the first time. The movie came out a while ago, but her performance should be memorable enough.

This does not feel anything like an awards-worthy performance, but Foster was big back in the day. The poor reception for the film should signal that Foster would be out in any other year, but this seems like a fairly bare-bones, seven-or-so contenders year.

Watts is a terrific actress who has never been recognized by the Globes despite raves for “Mulholland Drive” and an Oscar nod for “21 Grams”. “Eastern Promises” is by no means her best performance, but that is not a bad thing. Director David Cronenberg’s last film garnered its lead actress a placement here; can “Eastern Promises” do the same for Watts?

Blanchett won for this very role nine years ago. Sequels rarely fare well with awards, but both Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Renée Zellweger (“Bridget Jones”) received nominations for repeat performances in the underwhelming sequels.

It is up for debate whether this is a lead or a supporting performance. Theron certainly holds her own against Tommy Lee Jones and gives more than the role really calls for. The only reason Theron would show up here is as a filler.

This is quite the impressive debut for Wei. Ang Lee is a revered director who was won multiple Golden Globes, but his foreign stars do not usually play well with the Globes. Foreign-language performances are tough to get nominated, but with the lack of many other contenders, Wei might have a shot.

It came and went without much time in theatres, but Jolie did earn positive reviews for her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, the wife of a kidnapped journalist. If voters’ memory does not stretch back to early summer, Jolie is out of luck, but I suspect she will make a surprise appearance, à la Ben Affleck last year for “Hollywoodland”, who was predicted by everyone early on, then dropped, but ultimately showed up in the supporting category at the Globes.

Berry’s Golden Globe nod and Oscar win for “Monster’s Ball” in 2001 was probably a one-shot deal. Berry has not been anywhere near awards radar anytime since then, and co-star Benicio Del Toro will probably get more attention for “Things We Lost in the Fire”.

Cotillard is an absolute lock, but is this a comedy or a drama? She pretends to sing a whole lot, but this is a dramatic film.

Anyone else? Not many at this point. Giovanna Mezzogiorno has been recognized a number of times in Italy, but her performance in “Love in the Time of Cholera” may not translate as well for audiences. Reese Witherspoon won a Globe two years ago, but her performance in “Rendition” did not receive anywhere near the same raves as for “Walk the Line”. Marcia Gay Harden stars in Allison Eastwood’s “Rails & Ties”, but the film is likely not to reach a large audience. Uma Thurman could be a contender for “In Bloom”, but there has been zero buzz for that film. Ashley Judd got great reviews for the psychological horror film “Bug” in early summer, and she did get a surprise nod a few years ago for “De-Lovely”. Sigourney Weaver had a baity role in “Snow Cake”, but honestly, I think I was the only one who saw that.

Current predictions:
alternate: NAOMI WATTS, EASTERN PROMISES (if Cotillard ineligible)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Golden Globe Musings: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Golden Globe contenders for the given category. Predictions will be narrowed and revised towards the end of November or the beginning of December. A reminder that the Globes are wildly unpredictable and that it is way to early to gauge the reception or awards potential of a number of the so-called “contenders” at this point.

The top contenders:
He is one hell of a popular actor in a film that should have been awesome. Unfortunately, the film is not great and he is not spectacular either. Buzz alone may keep him here, and reception to the film may be different than I am predicting.

The performance earned raves, as did the film. The Globes should be good for Pitt; the Oscars are another story. His chances may depend on the recognition for the film and his equally good co-star, Casey Affleck.

After his role last year in “The Last King of Scotland” opposite Forest Whitaker, McAvoy has been on the fast track. This film is supposed to be amazing, and I have little doubt that McAvoy is stellar and that he will deservedly ride along with the film’s popularity to a nomination.

Hoffman is a busy man this year, with a supporting role in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and a lead role in the comedy “The Savages”. Hoffman is certainly good in this film, but I think the role ultimately lacks the power required to bump out someone else.

It has been a while since we have heard from this guy. Hanks missed out on dual nominations in 2002 for playing against type in “Road to Perdition” and “Catch Me If You Can”. His performance here makes it look like he is just having the time of his life. Hanks has received many nominations from the Globes, and unless the film tanks, he should be fine. Detriment or added edge? The film opens after nominations come out.

It is also tough to determine how David Cronenberg will be received awards-wise. His last feature, “A History of Violence”, elicited nominations for Best Motion Picture and actress Maria Bello. Mortensen was snubbed for his work in that film, but he really loses himself in the role in “Eastern Promises” in a good way.

I honestly think this film will not pick up the needed traction and buzz to get recognized by any awards association, but it deserves to. Affleck is quite good in a subtle performance, but his work here may be overshadowed by his unbelievable supporting role in “The Assassination of Jesse James”. The Globes are kind to actors with two roles in the same year, but Affleck may sit out this category.

Jones is really good in this film, and he is an established and respected actor. Paul Haggis’ last feature, “Crash”, received only a few nominations from the Globes before going on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, but actor Matt Dillon made it in. Jones’ performance is also the best thing about the film, which helps.

Clooney won two years ago in the supporting category for “Syriana”. I am not quite sure how “Michael Clayton” will play out with awards. I think it will be absent, but do not want to take any chances. Clooney could easily slide in here.

This is another actor who really has not been around for a while with a major role in a film by a great director. Five years ago, Day-Lewis was nominated for “Gangs of New York” but lost out to Jack Nicholson. Day-Lewis will definitely find himself here again, and seems the clear frontrunner barring an upset by McAvoy or Pitt.

Anyone else? Everyone else at this point. Emile Hirsch comes closest to making it into the top ten for his lead role in “Into the Wild”, but he is too young in my mind to be considered among this crowd. I do not see John Cusack being nominated for his dramatic performance in “Grace is Gone” but he is an actor who has really never been recognized (save for a comedy nod for “High Fidelity” in 2000), so he may be seen as overdue. Tommy Lee Jones could be recognized twice, the second time being for “No Country for Old Men”, but I feel like he will be overshadowed by his supporting co-star, Javier Bardem, who also stars in “Love in the Time of Cholera”, which, if it is a success, he give Bardem another nomination in this category. Christian Bale starred in “Rescue Dawn” a long time ago and picked up a good deal of buzz, but I think that is pretty much gone. Adam Sandler was probably never a contender for “Reign Over Me”. Russell Crowe for “3:10 to Yuma”? Please no.

Current predictions:

Next: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stylish and Sleek: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Released October 26, 2007

Legendary director Sidney Lumet crafts a subtle crime thriller whose plot is an amalgam of Fargo and A Simple Plan but which finds itself in a more urban setting, that of New York City. What this film lacks in eerie country landscapes it makes up for with complex subplots and a nifty title that really fits each and every one of the characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are great as two brothers desperate to get ahold of some extra cash. Albert Finney's performance is not as affecting as it should be, but Marisa Tomei is wondrous despite very brief screentime. The editing is quick and helps frame a compelling story which only improves when transplanted into a city setting.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Thought to Ponder: Rendition

Directed by Gavin Hood
Released October 19, 2007

I will admit that this was better than I was expecting given the rather unexciting trailer. There is more going on than the previews led on, by which I mean that it is a multi-faceted story which covers, if not entirely successfully, a number of different elements. This is more than just the story of Reese Witherspoon screaming about her missing husband, and does delve into the aspect of torture and the arguments for and against it. The biggest disappointment here is not the plot but rather the cast. With the exception of the brilliant J.K. Simmons and always good Peter Sarsgaard, the heavily Oscar-nominated cast is just not great at all. The poorly written dialogue is delivered flatly by Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Alan Arkin, and the always-hyped Meryl Streep slips in and out of an accent for the length of the film. The better part of the film is that the story really is not about Witherspoon, Arkin, and Streep, which makes for some of their mediocre scenes. Be prepared for some disturbing scenes if you choose to see this one.


Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: Close Encounters

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released November 16, 1977

When I first saw this movie however many number of years ago, I really did not like it. The music was grating and the plot, as I remembered, was a little weird. In the past few years, I had thought to myself that perhaps it was just the effect of being a child watching a complex movie. On the second viewing, it does not improve much. It is quite funny, but mostly for unintentional reasons, though I suspect Spielberg knew that was may have passed for dramatic quality back then might eventually become corny. Almost every aspect of this film is undeniably cheesy. I have never been a huge fan of Richard Dreyfuss, though he is certainly energetic enough. I still cannot understand how Melinda Dillon got an Oscar nomination for this film just calling out "Barry" the whole movie. As far as the utopian/dystopian value of the film goes, it is certainly a bright, idealistic one of the friendly alien who comes to communicate by using, what else - music.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Definitely Explicit: Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution
Directed by Ang Lee
Released September 28, 2007

Ang Lee's new period drama has been talked about mostly because of its NC-17 rating. The set pieces and costumes are all very nice, and the story is somewhat bland but not too bad (very similar to "Black Book", actually, although this certainly plays out much better than that distaster). The performances are quite in tune with the time, and leads Tony Leung and Tang Wei (in her feature film debut!) both do a great job. But after all is said and done it is simply a story being told, and the visuals and music cannot elevate it beyond being an overlong and overly sexual drama. I mean, seriously, some of this stuff is so heavily gratituous and unnecessary. Be prepared to be just a tad disturbed.


A Plea to Moviegoers Everywhere

I write this after attending advance screenings three nights in a row and finding myself irreconcilably annoyed with the audience. I would like to request a few simple rules to be abided by while watching a film in theatres. This does not apply merely to advance screenings; it just happens that most of the films I see during their theatrical release periods are in the middle of the day when the theatres are pretty empty. Without further ado:

1) Put your cell phones on vibrate or silent. All phones should be easy enough to use that not knowing how to silence them is a poor excuse. During a movie a few days ago someone's cell phone kept beeping and the guy did not even leave the auditorium, he just let it keep ringing. I will admit that my phone went off once because I forgot to turn it to vibrate, but I quickly silenced it and all was well. If your phone goes off by accident, just switch it off. Texting is arguably okay. Admittedly, someone might need to get in touch with you and it is usually alright to answer back via text-messaging, as long as it does not light up the room too much and distract from a serious moment.

2) Applause is almost always inappropriate. If it is a rip-roaring action movie and there is a crazy awesome scene and you just feel the need to give it a quick round of applause, go ahead. Once is the absolute limit for a film, however. During "American Gangster", the audience started clapping at least ten times, which covered up follow-up dialogue and seemed wholly unwarranted. Most importantly, this is not a Broadway show. With the possible exception of premieres, the actors and filmmakers will rarely be in the audience, so they do not need the praise at that particular moment. Clap at the start of the credits and tell your friends you liked it, but do not applaud throughout the movie. In a particular recent case, the applause served to completely interrupt and almost ruin a very dramatic and poignant scene.

3) One of the most exciting things about watching a movie is when a twist comes. The feeling of having the rug pulled out from under you and completely not expecting a move is great. But part of the enjoyment is having the chance to figure it out for yourself. If you have theories about what is going to happen, keep them to yourself. If you want to let your friends now have clever you are, whisper quietly to them what you think might happen. In a recent film, a man sitting behind me predicted a twist I never would have expected nearly an hour before it was revealed. My mind was racing with that idea for the entire hour and ruined the delighted surprise I would have felt at the big reveal. That same man continued to share his revelations and failed to give the other members of the audience an extra thirty seconds to realize what was going on for themselves. Many theatres ask you not to "spoil the movie by adding your own soundtrack". I wholeheartedly agree.

Muddled and Unengaging: Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire
Directed by Susanne Bier
Released October 19, 2007

This is Susanne Bier's follow-up to the amazing "After the Wedding"? It is a good thing I did not know that going in because I might have been even more disappointed. The story itself is told out of sequence and for no good reason. The film is full of distracting close-ups and pointless cuts in the middle of scenes. I am slowly realizing that Halle Berry is just not a great actress. Her Oscar for "Monster's Ball" was by no means deserved, especially in that year, but after seeing this performance, it is clear that she lacks something in all of her portrayals. Benicio Del Toro, who is an amazing actor ("The Usual Suspects", "Traffic", "21 Grams"), has a meager role and his efforts do not show through enough. This lengthy drama is made to seem even more trivial by its poor and irrelevant title.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Usual, Nothing More: Dan in Real Life

Dan in Real Life (Advance Screening)
Directed by Peter Hedges
To be released October 26, 2007

Steve Carrell cannot save this tepid and unoriginal romantic comedy. The audience was roaring decently hard with laughter, but I could not find anything too funny. This particular family is way too into all of their family games and get-together activities, and all of the dialogue is pretty awful. Most of the situational comedy that was supposed to come across as hilarious was instead almost unbearably awkward (and not in a good way like Carrell's character on "The Office"). Carrell himself is fine, but he is not trying that hard, even though the role does not call for it. The most perplexing aspect of this film is how anyone could believe that Dane Cook and Juliette Binoche could ever by remotely attracted to each other. The brightest aspect of this film is the brief appearance of Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada"), who instantly lights up the screen with her presence and should hopefully be given some terrific roles in the future.


Nothing to Write Home About: American Gangster

American Gangster (Advance Screening)
Directed by Ridley Scott
To be released November 2, 2007

This is easily the biggest disappointment of the year. A proven great director, two Oscar-winning leads, and a stellar premise. All those elements are involved, but no one does anything special. The performances are not bad, the writing is not awful, and the direction is fine. There is nothing to enhance this movie or separate it from any other standard movie of the week. It is best summarized by one notion: I expected better from these people. This is not this year's "The Departed" by a long shot. As far as Oscars go, I cannot say what will happen. Denzel is probably out, but the movie but might still be in for Best Picture or Best Director, not that it deserves it. The music is good, however. Go in here with low expectations and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, do not be too hopeful.


Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: Idiocracy

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

Directed by Mike Judge
Released September 1, 2006 (briefly)

Mike Judge, the man behind "Office Space", helmed and wrote this ill-fated comedy about a future where people have become incredibly stupid. This film went almost straight to DVD after numerous delays. It is possible that this movie is smarter than it seems, but I definitely became just a bit dumber while watching it. Sure, there are merits to the clever concept of how the future will come about, but essentially this is stuffed with idiotic jokes straight out of "Dodgeball". It tries to be smart sure, but it is just a bit too...idiotic.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Great Crime Drama: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone (Advance Screening)
Directed by Ben Affleck
To be released October 19, 2007

Ben Affleck's feature film debut is a stark and well-done dramatic thriller. Casey Affleck, who is really have a great year with this and "The Assassination of Jesse James", does a terrific job as a private detective asks to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl. Casey delivers a serious and unquivering performance not to be soon forgotten. Veterans Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are absolutely fantastic in small but amazing roles. The film itself is a twist-filled mystery that delivers throughout the entire film. Do not miss this one.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Triple Feature Part III: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Released October 12, 2007

This is an uncommon form of the sequel - the epic no one was clamoring for nine years later. It takes far too much for granted that the first film had a chance to really delve into Elizabeth's character as well as expand on the religious conflict. "The Golden Age" picks up in the middle without really giving any thought to exposition. The events of the film are rarely too interesting or engaging, and with the exception of a small few dazzling shots, there just is not very much here, since this is not a full-out epic but rather a historical drama. All the actors do fit in quite well with the time, but no one delivers an amazing performance besides Samantha Morton, who has a tragically small role as Mary, Queen of Scots. For the rest, it is the same old thing: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Clive Owen are fine but nothing memorable. The same is by all means true of the film.


Triple-Feature Part II: We Own the Night

We Own the Night
Directed by James Gray
Released October 12, 2007

This crime drama seems to think it is this year's "The Departed", but it is way off. Hardly anything actually happens in this movie, and it moves far too quickly without developing any of its characters. Usually excellent Joaquin Phoenix gives a lazy performance that begs the constant request of "speak up! I can't hear you!" Mark Wahlberg has no material with which to work, and he is far too often sidelined in favor of the other actors. Robert Duvall is a new victim of typecasting who, similarly to Jon Voight, now gets roles as the token old, respected guy who has hardly anything to do in the film. Eva Mendes, to her credit, does a decent job with a subpar role. Besides the actors, there is little substance to the film. All in all, it is one entirely missable experience which will hopefully get viewers excited for the film that really should be this year's "The Departed" - "American Gangster".


Triple-Feature Part I: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Released October 12, 2007

This dramedy about a delusional man who believes the sex doll he ordered off the Internet is actually his living girlfriend is an amusing and entertaining film. Ryan Gosling is terrific as lonely Lars, who is so oblivious to his condition and to the world's perception of him. Emily Mortimer ("Match Point") and Paul Schneider ("The Assassination of Jesse James") also do a wonderful job as Lars' sister-in-law and brother who are concerned for his well-being. The fact that the doll, Bianca, essentially becomes a living character in the story is a tribute to the great direction and writing. This is a heartwarming though not overly memorable film that will keep you entertained for its duration.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: Fahrenheit 451

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

Fahrenheit 451
Directed by François Truffaut
Released November 14, 1966

There is absolutely an important lesson to be gleaned from this well-told story, but this film version hardly does it justice. The idea that firemen start the fires, to burn books, rather than put them out, is quite interesting. This is an ultimate example of a dystopian future, where all seems well when taken at face value, but behind the scenes, something sinister is truly going on. Montag is just like any dystopian protagonist, like Winston from "1984", who realizes his discontentment with society and tries to do something about that, starting first off with himself. This film is way too corny for its good, but the story is not completely lost, as long as you remember that what you are laughing about is not the future portrayed but rather how ridiculously it is portrayed.


Engaging but Unfulfilling: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Released October 5, 2007

George Clooney stars in this legal conspiracy thriller that offers few new ideas but takes the viewer on a decent enough trip that is fun while it lasts. There are a few scenes which really do get the blood flowing, and the direction and cinematography teach the audience to be paranoid even before there appears to be anything to be paranoid about. Clooney is fine but nothing memorable, but then again he did win an Oscar for growing a beard and getting a few fingernails plucked out. Tom Wilkinson does the best he can with the material he has, but his skills have been better used in the past ("In the Bedroom"). Tilda Swinton is stuck in a somewhat miserable role and anyone who enjoys her performance should immediately see her performance in 2001's undervalued "The Deep End". The music is decent, and the movie really is not all that bad. Its biggest flaw is that everyone continually talks about how skilled Clooney's Michael Clayton is, but he seems merely to get off with luck from nearly every situation. Without a believable lead character, a movie is bound to have some problems right off the bat.


A Wonderful Journey: The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited
Directed by Wes Anderson
Released September 29, 2007

Wes Anderson, the director of previous features like "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic", brings together three terrific actors for an amazing, amusing film. Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman act so well as brothers, and Owen Wilson fits in just fine as the odd one out. All three quickly create constantly developing characters who are beyond intriguing to watch. The script is excellent, supplemented by an awesome score. This comedy smoothly blends in a perfect amount of dramatic moments to create a fantastic film that is easily the best film of the year so far.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: Dr. Strangelove

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Released January 29, 1964

Kubrick's brilliant classic follows the escapades of three different Peter Sellers characters: an English officer trying to talk a crazed general out of his plan, the somber and serious President of the United States, and the bizarre but memorable Dr. Strangelove. This comedy is defined well by its second title. The arms race may have slowed and faded to the back of everyone's minds, but the threat of a doomsday machine and nuclear annihilation are still important themes. From the film's not-so-subtle character names (General Jack Ripper) and cowboy hat-wearing majors to the dark humor and theme, this is one great and probably timeless movie. Peter Sellers and George C. Scott spearhead a tremendous and amazing cast that will keep you laughing for quite some time.


Oscar Watch: Some Early Thoughts

Usually around this time, I like to compile a list of my main category predictions as they stand now. This is the time when a number of films that will prove to be major contenders begin to be released. I plan to go far more into detail and analyze each and every category as awards season approaches. Many of the films and performances listed below will likely become absolute non-contenders by the time the holidays roll around (I predicted multiple nominations for "The Human Stain" in 2003 and "The History Boys" last year). For the moment, I will offer my preliminary guesses on the five nominees in each of the eight main categories, listed in alphabetical order. A lot of these predictions are not actual expectations, but rather hopeful guesses at this point based on the lack of other more certifiable candidates. I welcome any feedback.

Best Picture
American Gangster
In the Valley of Elah
No Country for Old Men

Best Director
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
Joe Wright, Atonement
David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Best Actor
Denzel Washington, American Gangster
Brad Pitt, The Assassination of Jesse James
James McAvoy, Atonement
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Best Actress
Keira Knightley, Atonement
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Cate Blanchett, The Golden Age
Ellen Page, Juno
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men
Benicio Del Toro, Things We Lost in the Fire

Best Supporting Actress (really no idea on this one)
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War
Samantha Morton, The Golden Age
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding

Best Original Screenplay
The Darjeeling Limited
Knocked Up
The Savages

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Gangster
The Assassination of Jesse James
In the Valley of Elah
No Country for Old Men

Yeah, on second thought, you can completely discount the Best Supporting Actor and especially Best Supporting Actress predictions. It's way too early to tell. With the exception of Affleck, Bardem, and Blanchett, I cannot really see any of my other predicted nominees getting in. As far as Best Original Screenplay goes, there is no way that five comedies are making up the list. And "Once" (which I know is not quite a comedy, but it is lighter) for Best Picture? Wishful thinking on my part. Thoughts?

Perplexing in the Wrong Way: Sleuth

Sleuth (Advance Screening)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
To be released October 12, 2007

This remake of the 1972 film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine puts Jude Law is Caine's original role, with Caine taking over the Olivier part. I have not seen the original film, but I absolutely think that this would work better as a play. The blocking is overly deliberate and often distracting from the film's continuity, which is not entirely surprising given director Kenneth Branagh's passion for making Shakespeare films. Usually terrific actors Caine and Law are stuck in unimpressive roles, with Caine being too manipulative and controlling, and Law too excitable and generally jolly. The motivations for and structure of the film make little sense, and its progression is a convoluted and often inexplicable one. Development is elusive and the second half of the film is absolutely bizarre and occasionally creepy. This concept may have worked better in the 1972 version, but it is really a failure here.