Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mini-Review: The Class

The Class (Entre les Murs)
Directed by Laurent Cantet
Released December 19, 2008

France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar competition is a quiet, simple tale of a junior high school classroom in Paris whose teacher, Mr. Marin (François Bégaudeau) isn’t content to sit back and watch his students put in minimal effort and disrespect him. It’s not a glaringly original story, and the promotional materials for the film try to emphasize the fact that this story is supposed to be true to life, utilizing improvisation and non-actors to play the students. It’s one of those movies that critics salivate over and after all the tremendous praise, there’s so little to get excited about (just like “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” at the beginning of this year). “The Class” has already earned the second-highest spot on Metacritic’s best-reviewed movies of the year, behind only “4 Months” (no surprise there). It doesn’t deserve all the praise because it’s simply not that good. Additionally, it’s sad that it was submitted over three much better French movies from this year: “I’ve Loved You So Long” and especially “A Christmas Tale” and “Tell No One.” It would be much better for those three movies to receive wider distribution and buzz over this sub-par and overrated movie. I can only hope that “Waltz with Bashir” can win the Oscar over this movie if they both get nominated (and because they’re probably the only two I’ll manage to see).

B-

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Double-Feature: Nick and Norah & Zack and Miri

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Directed by Peter Sollett
Released October 3, 2008

Zack and Miri Make A Porno
Directed by Kevin Smith
Released October 31, 2008

I saw both these comedy offshoots from the Judd Apatow troupe on the same day in early November. They’re a fun pair to see together, since it’s sort of like watching the group mature from funny, safe humor to outrageous, gross-out fare. In “Nick and Norah,” the very likeable duo of Michael Cera and Kat Dennings (“Charlie Bartlett”) travel all around New York City in an effort to find a friend and mold some sort of awkward romance together. The sets and the music are fun, and Cera, Dennings, and the rest of the cast are all terrific together. It’s a fairly harmless and enjoyable. “Zack and Miri,” on the other hand, is a raucous but wholly worthwhile adult comedy. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are a perfect match for each other as good friends who turn to directing a porn film to make money to pay their rent. The supporting cast members are all great, including Craig Robinson (Darryl on “The Office”) and a stunning cameo by Justin Long (the Mac guy in the Mac/PC commercials). It didn’t strike me as quite as lewd as I might have expected, but it’s nonetheless frequently laugh-out-loud funny with plenty of inappropriate humor. It succeeds most in the same way that “Nick and Norah” does – the stunning ability of its leads to work together to create an endearing and unlikely couple whose romance doesn’t overshadow the comedy.

Both: B+

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mini-Review: Bolt

Bolt
Directed by Byron Howard & Chris Williams
Released November 21, 2008

A dog who stars in a popular television series escapes from the confines of the set and takes on the whole world without his superpowers in one of this year’s biggest animated films. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus provide voices for dog Bolt and his real-life costar Penny, and it’s a surprisingly entertaining film that should decently satisfy children and adults alike. Scenes from the show-within-a-movie itself are particularly exciting and engaging while the rest of the movie is better than might be expected. The story is appropriately childish but it’s far more fun than perhaps it should have been, and that’s a huge credit to the film.

B

Mini-Review: Appaloosa

Appaloosa
Directed by Ed Harris
Released September 19, 2008

There’s a certain risk involved with westerns where setting a movie in the middle of nowhere may leave it completely alone and abandoned with no hope of ever becoming interesting. This is most definitely the case here. It’s an uninventive story that blatantly rips off the plot of “Unforgiven” in a far less creative manner. Ed Harris is a powerhouse actor, to be sure, but in this case he’s merely an old grump who can’t muster up enough enthusiasm for his own film. Viggo Mortensen, recently impressive in “Eastern Promises,” serves as a sidekick law defender to Harris’ sheriff-for-hire and matches Harris’ lack of excitement about everything. The superb but underused Jeremy Irons is a force to be reckoned with and his performance is pretty good, reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood,” but I wish he had been given more to do. The recently rather absent Renee Zellweger adds nothing to the movie. The characters are altogether uninteresting and the story takes an unfortunate turn for the unexpected and undesired far too soon. It’s a small movie that went under the radar and probably should have stayed there.

D

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mini-Review: RocknRolla

RocknRolla
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Released October 8, 2008

The latest entry from the man who made “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” is easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year. A truly stellar ensemble paired with a sharp script makes for an entirely terrific film. It’s a wonderful, seamless blend of uproarious comedy and violent action. Gerard Butler proves that he has infinitely more talent than it might have seemed from his leading role in “300.” Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson, and especially the incredible Mark Strong (so good in “Body of Lies” this year too) provide terrific support and stand out among an awesome ensemble cast. This is a nonstop thrill ride of laughter and excitement that is unlike any other movie from this year.

B+

Home Video: Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Released July 18, 2008

Musicals can be a lot of fun, and there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief expected. “Mamma Mia” takes it way too far. People are dancing on the beach and on bridges like there’s no tomorrow. There’s hardly any story, and it’s merely an excuse to hear some excitingly sung Abba songs. It’s the thinnest premise, really, and I was horrified to discover how little had actually transpired throughout the unbearable length of the movie. When the performers are singing, it seems so clearly lip-synced and not germane for them to suddenly burst into song. The cast is peppered with veteran actresses
(Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski) and up-and-comers (Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper), as well as an amusing trio of actors (Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan) playing three paternity candidates for Seyfried’s inexplicable father search on the eve of her wedding. Sadly, not one of those people, even the beloved Streep, adds anything to the movie. Hearing Brosnan sing is particularly painful. The stage show might have been fun, but this is just plain ridiculous and insufferable.

F

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Film Review: I've Loved You So Long

I've Loved You So Long
Directed by Philippe Claudel
Released October 24, 2008

Simple human dramas are a rare thing in this day and age of movies, where action blockbusters or complex thrillers rule the day. It’s a pleasure to find a film where one single narrative thread carries through the entire story, and serves to create a compelling enough film without the use of infinite twists or special effects. In "I’ve Loved You So Long," Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) returns from a fifteen-year prison sentence to live with her sister and her sister’s family. Juliette’s criminal deed is unknown, but it’s that very truth that unravels as Juliette and those around her struggle to accept her assimilation back into normal life. "I’ve Loved You So Long" thrives on focusing on a small cast with a few recurring faces, and as a result, each character’s tendencies and motivations are fully fleshed out and exposed. Kristin Scott Thomas’ quiet portrayal of Juliette, a woman who’d rather keep to herself than attempt to make friends, is at first alarming, but over the course of the film, her transformation into a more sympathetic character is fascinating to watch. Thomas has been absent from leading roles in major films almost since 1996’s "The English Patient," and it’s great to have her back, fluent in French, no less. Thomas’ performance unquestionably carries this movie, but the fine supporting turn by Elsa Zylberstein as Juliette’s sister Léa should not be ignored. Zylberstein is the enthusiastic, intellectual foil to Thomas’ reserved, unsmiling Juliette, and their interactions are among the most affecting in the movie. Supporting players also leave their mark, most notably Laurent Grévill as a colleague of Léa’s and sympathetic suitor of Juliette’s, and Frédéric Pierrot as Juliette’s chatty, likable parole officer. The cast does work wonderfully together, and that’s perhaps the most impressive thing about I’ve Loved You So Long. Sadly, the film is not without problems. As a whole, it has little to offer in terms of actual depth – all the subtext is accessible on the characters’ faces. The characters are so much a part of the story that, absent of the performances, there’s little else there. Viewed a second time, the story seems much emptier, and it’s all a means to an end. There are some important scenes throughout, but it’s all buildup to the explosion of emotions that comes near the end of the film. It’s a lengthy film to contain few crucial sequences, and when the credits roll, viewers are likely to remember Thomas’ performance rather than the movie itself. The editing is weak and ineffective – scenes fade in or fade out and it seems like there should be something before or after but whoever it was (the director, the writer, or the editor) couldn’t create a bridge between moments and opted for the easy route. The choppy parts add up to a decent whole; however upon dissection it’s far more fallible than it may initially appear. I’ve Loved You So Long is slow-moving, and a fine script and terrific ensemble just can’t quite ferry it along to make it engaging enough the entire time. It’s not supposed to be a pulse-pounding, exciting film, but the relaxed pacing often makes it more than a bit boring. With that in mind, it is refreshing to be able to fully sink into a rare, personal, intimate human drama like this one.

B

Home Video Duo: Kung Fu Panda & You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

Kung Fu Panda
Directed by Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
Released June 6, 2008

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Released June 6, 2008

I’ve recently had the pleasure of watching two rather immature summer comedies on DVD which just happened to have been released in theatres on the same day. “Kung Fu Panda” is among this year’s nominees for Best Animated Film at the Golden Globes, along with “Wall-E” and “Bolt.” Jack Black’s comic sensibilities aren’t quite enough to make “Kung Fu Panda” a legitimately funny film, and it can’t escape its truthfully unexciting story. Previews made Po the panda (Black) look like a hilarious mess, but it’s an oft-repeated singular joke which gets stale quickly. Dustin Hoffman provides good voice acting for kung fu mentor Shifu, though he and some of the other supporting voices (Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie) can’t make the film funny enough. It’s an uninteresting and rather childish tale, which isn’t terribly surprising for an animated film. The recent surprises like “Finding Nemo,” “Cars,” “Ratatouille,” and “Wall-E” may perhaps have set the bar too high for mature animated films. Even “Bolt” was smarter than it should have been, which makes “Kung Fun Panda” more of a disappointment.

“You Don’t Mess With The Zohan,” on the other hand, is a pleasant surprise. Much of it is rather stupid, yet it has a very enjoyable tone. Adam Sandler’s Israeli Zohan is a lovable, ridiculous hero whose skills border on the impossible. Quite a bit of it is really funny, and only occasionally does it go too far (like when the Zohan puts people in a pretzel). The plot gets truly stupid near the end if of the movie, but generally it’s an entertaining experience with better-than-expected accents and immature but hilarious humor. Emmanuelle Chriqui (Sloan on “Entourage”) is an impressive Palestinian love interest for the Zohan, and the ensemble works shockingly well for an Adam Sandler film. It’s by no means a great movie, but it’s much more fun than might be expected. Additionally, this is an instance where the funny parts from the previews don’t necessarily represent the only funny parts in the movie. It’s easily comparable to a lesser version of “Pineapple Express” where the humor should be valued far above the story, and the resulting experience will be thoroughly enjoyable.

“Kung Fu Panda:” F
“You Don’t Mess With The Zohan:” C+

Friday, December 26, 2008

Home Video: Snow Angels

Snow Angels
Directed by David Gordon Green
Released March 7, 2008

This small independent film is an unapologetically bleak and hopeless movie with no direction and no redeeming qualities. Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell star as Annie and Glenn, the two halves of a broken couple both struggling in their own lives, as they fight over a young daughter. Michael Angarano (Jack’s son on “Will & Grace”) also stars as another child of divorce whose storyline tangentially fits in with Annie’s. The film’s plots are all jumbled and incoherent, and nothing fits together as it should. It’s a snapshot of unrighteous people going through a tragic time in their lives, but it’s not effective at all. It’s disturbing and unpleasant, but at the end of it all, it’s not worth the discomfort. The film is based on a novel, and I can only hope that the book isn’t as disjointed or poorly composed. The final scene is incomprehensible and adds nothing to an unresolved story. The dialogue throughout is laughable, and Beckinsale and Rockwell should be happy that they have “Nothing but the Truth” and “Choke” on their respective resumes this year. The lone strong spot is Olivia Thirlby, who’s been brightening movies like “Juno” and “The Wackness” for the past year and needs to have some more major roles. Aside from her, there’s no reason to rent this movie, but a whole lot of reasons not to.

F

Film Review: Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road
Directed by Sam Mendes
Released December 26, 2008

The buzz around “Revolutionary Road” is that it’s the first time Kate and Leo are back together after their true love blossomed on the doomed Titanic in the 1997 film. This time, their circumstances might be better, but their romance isn’t quite as easy. Adapted from the novel by Richard Yates, “Revolutionary Road” is the story of a 1950s couple who find that the perfect suburban life they’ve strived for isn’t quite as wonderful as they always thought. It’s a complex drama about these two unhappy characters putting on a pleasant front, but the problem is that it jumps in far too quickly. All the tension-laced arguments from the trailer occur early on in the film; there’s no period of bliss which actually captures that lost notion of the American dream. By omitting that portion of their lives, it seems as if Frank and April Wheeler may never have been happy. That doesn’t negate the drama of the film, but it diminishes the impact of their downward spiral. The film certainly contains powerful scenes, yet it feels off-balance due to the lurching introduction right into problems without even a flittering moment of happiness. Kate Winslet is an incredible actress who delivers a tremendous performance as the more ambitious and spirited of the duo, and it certainly ranks among her best roles. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove that he’s a talented actor and surprisingly decent master of accents and succeeds as the dissatisfied, hard-working husband, despite the fact that he still looks like he’s barely twenty years old. This is the fourth film from director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition,” “Jarhead”), and like his previous efforts, it’s a serious drama infused with a surprising amount of humor. In this case, unlike with “American Beauty,” the humor doesn’t work quite as well and distracts from the serious troubles that the Wheeler family is struggling to overcome. The film’s last scene suggests a more precise thesis than the rest of the movie indicates, and it’s a shame that it couldn’t work as well as whole as some of its pieces do.

B

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Film Review: Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir
Directed by Ari Folman
Released December 25, 2008

Last year’s “Persepolis” took the world by storm with its innovative animation and intriguing focus. This year, there’s another foreign animated offering that may draw comparisons. It’s equally interesting in concept and even more fascinating in its execution. “Waltz with Bashir” is Israeli director Ari Folman’s exploration of his repressed memories of the Lebanon War in the 1980s. While it’s a documentary, it hardly feels like one due to its subtle editing and remarkable animation. It’s an unparalleled, incredible visual experience from start to finish, with dazzling colors and backgrounds. Folman is investigating his past, but he’s telling it in a narrative fashion that incorporates moving flashbacks and vivid dream sequences. The choice to make the film as an animated documentary is a fantastic one, as it highlights each of Folman’s memories and is able to illuminate them in detail without trivializing them at all. Though animation might sometimes distract from reality, in this case it draws the viewer in even more with a fully intoxicating experience. The fact that Folman’s recollections and conclusions become overtly political may be problematic for some, but it is an important message that he’s putting forth. Regardless of political feelings, the movie’s form makes it more than worthwhile. The movie’s score is alternately energetic and haunting, and Max Richter deserves enormous commendation for truly enhancing the animation experience. While many will be boasting about how a trash-compacting robot inspired them, “Waltz with Bashir” is really the best animated film of the year. For the moment, it’s only being released in New York City and Los Angeles, but if this movie ever comes to your city, see it right away. Not only is it the best animated film of the year, but it’s probably the best film of the year as well.

A

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Minute with Abe: Milk


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Minute with Abe: Australia


Friday, December 19, 2008

Film Review: Nothing but the Truth

Nothing but the Truth
Directed by Rod Lurie
Released December 19, 2008

Kate Beckinsale really hasn’t had the chance to prove herself as an actress. Films like “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” are hardly the showcase for a true acting performance, and no one expects that talent is required for “Serendipity” or “Underworld.” When people write about good acting performances, it’s usually regarding Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett. Now that this Kate finally finds herself with a role that truly has potential, could it be that she’s actually a good actress?

“Nothing but the Truth” bases itself loosely on the recent case involving New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whose exposé piece coincided with the blowing of a CIA agent’s cover. Miller refused to reveal her source and spent several months in jail protecting her journalistic integrity. “Nothing but the Truth” creates similar but fictionalized characters and actually references the Miller case at one point as a precedent for this type of occurrence. It’s a movie about what could happen now that the rights of a journalist can be questionably violated and that staying true to a principle can land someone on the wrong side of the law.

The case is heavily dramatized and cinematized to make for a showier, more extravagant filmic opportunity. Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale) refuses to reveal her source to special prosecutor Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon), and subsequently lands herself in jail. Her sentence is considerably longer than Miller’s, and her case takes far more violent and unexpected turns than Miller’s ever did. The problem is that none of it really involves Armstrong herself, and she doesn’t have any control over anything that happens, sitting in a crowded jail cell protecting her sacred principle.

Director Rod Lurie’s movie would have been far more compelling had it centered on the principle rather than on Armstrong’s life in jail. The action starts early on in the film, and there’s no time or effort given to show Armstrong’s enterprise in reporting and the true sacrifices she puts in to get the story that causes her so much grief. She’s a reporter upholding a belief, but it’s hard to sympathize with her if the audience hasn’t seen any instances of good reporting on her part. Seeing her sentence drag out and her willpower remain inexplicably strong makes this an altogether unrealistic film, when it should be a fascinating character study that stays close to true possibility. This is something that can and did happen, and there’s no reason to blow it out of proportion to make it seem more filmic.

Back to Kate, it’s hard to gauge how well she does. The role is written in a complex but flawed way, and Kate does her best to fill the gaping holes. It’s an impressive effort, but an altogether puzzling result. She seems angelic at times but is completely impenetrable as a character. It’s definitely Kate’s movie, however, with underwhelming supporting performances by an unusually bumbling Alan Alda as Armstrong’s attorney, the odd Vera Farmiga as CIA agent Erica Van Doren, and the more comedy-prone David Schwimmer as Armstrong’s semi-supportive husband. Otherwise, it’s a face-off between Kate and the somewhat talented Matt Dillon for most of the film, and Dillon’s performance is far more self-assured because, after all, he’s got the law on his side. Like Kate, the movie can’t seem to make up its mind about what it’s trying to say, and it’s a fair bet that Armstrong wouldn’t stand a chance in real life.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG Nomination Reactions (In Brief)


My internet is down, so I'm sitting in a nearby coffee shop frantically analyzing the nominations before either I finish my food or the internet stops working at noon. In any case, the film nominees came with several surprises, most notably the absence of two seemingly secure contenders: Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) and Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky). I'm saddened by the omission of Hawkins, and I'm hoping she can get in come Oscar time since, with the exception of maybe Anne Hathaway, she gave the best lead female performance this year. "Milk" is officially back in the game with nominations for Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and its cast. No such luck for Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) or Ralph Fiennes, whose multiple roles probably confused voters about which movie to vote for. Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder) is also thankfully out of the way, though it looks like Robert Downey Jr. will be sticking through this race. This should be a particularly exciting day for new contenders, pictured above: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), and Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Patel and Henson should have a much easier time getting nominated for an Oscar because their respective categories are empty, but I worry that the semi-surprising inclusions of Jenkins and Leo might end here and that they may not in fact be rewarded come Oscar time. There's still a huge chance that Clint Eastwood gets in for "Gran Torino," and Leonardo DiCaprio may not be completely out of the race for "Revolutionary Road." Similarly, Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long) and my beloved Hawkins still have a fighting chance for Best Actress. Regarding the ensemble category, no big surprises. With "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader" seemingly dwindling with mentions only of Kate Winslet, I'm thinking this could be the Oscar Best Picture list.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SAG Nomination Predictions

The Screen Actors Guild nominations will be announced on Thursday morning, giving awards followers everywhere another chance to see just which films will be frontrunners for the Oscars. This is where "Milk" really needs to succeed to get back into play, and it could easily garner four nominations (Penn, Brolin, Franco, the cast), just like "Into the Wild" last year, recovering from a near-shutout at the Globes, even though it couldn't make it all the way to the Oscars, receiving a measly two nominations. This is an important but not vital opportunity for contenders like Richard Jenkins, Melissa Leo, Michael Shannon and Rosemarie DeWitt to jump on the bandwagon in their respective categories. Sally Hawkins also needs to stay in play here for "Happy-Go-Lucky." Many are predicting an ensemble nomination for the cast of "The Dark Knight," and while it could happen, I don't think it will. To note about the ensemble category: sometimes it just isn't relevant. Last year, "No Country for Old Men" took home the trophy, but it's not like any of its competition - "American Gangster," "Hairspray," "Into the Wild" or "3:10 to Yuma" - had a fighting chance anywhere, and those films ended up with a grand total of six nominations shared among three of them. I'd love to see "Slumdog Millionaire" among the ensemble nominees, but I'm just not sure it will happen. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is my sort of out-there pick. We'll see what happens. Commentary on Thursday, though I'll be busy since I'm going to the double-feature showing of "Che."

Predictions:

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
RICHARD JENKINS, THE VISITOR
FRANK LANGELLA, FROST/NIXON
SEAN PENN, MILK
MICKEY ROURKE, THE WRESTLER

Alt: BRAD PITT, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
ANNE HATHAWAY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
SALLY HAWKINS, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
MERYL STREEP, DOUBT
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
KATE WINSLET, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

Alt: ANGELINA JOLIE, CHANGELING

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
JOSH BROLIN, MILK
ROBERT DOWNEY JR, TROPIC THUNDER
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, DOUBT
HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT
DEV PATEL, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Alt: JAMES FRANCO, MILK

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
AMY ADAMS, DOUBT
PENELOPE CRUZ, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
ROSEMARIE DEWITT, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
MARISA TOMEI, THE WRESTLER
KATE WINSLET, THE READER

Alt: VIOLA DAVIS, DOUBT

Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
DOUBT
FROST/NIXON
MILK
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Alt: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Film Review: What Doesn't Kill You

What Doesn't Kill You
Directed by Brian Goodman
Released December 12, 2008

Near the beginning of last year’s critical hit “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” there’s a very realistic, memorable scene set at a suburban strip mall. Ethan Hawke and an accomplice drive up to the front of a store in broad daylight, and commit a robbery that goes horribly wrong. The scene doesn’t quite resolve itself, at least not before the movie pulls a time-shift, and it’s only much later in the film that the subsequent events are revealed. Brian Goodman’s new film “What Doesn’t Kill You,” which also takes its title from part of an adage, opens with a sequence entirely reminiscent of the aforementioned one, and it even features Ethan Hawke in a similar role. These two movies should, however, not be confused with each other. Sidney Lumet’s 2007 film is an impressive tour de force, while Goodman’s movie is a spotty, disappointing effort that lacks finesse.

“What Doesn’t Kill You” is your typical gangster tale, which unapologetically turns to classic Scorsese characters to craft its own personalities. Hawke swaggers around self-assuredly, portraying the same kind of loose cannon sidekick Robert DeNiro used to play before he became a leading man. While it’s true that all gangster movies do look alike, there’s no compelling reason to see this one. The story, about two South Boston buddies whose mob connections lead them to hardships and even prison stretches, is altogether aimless. The story doesn’t have a coherent flow, and it all ends at a random point, providing little closure and zero satisfaction. The credits note that the film is a based on a true story, but the crucial misstep made by the creative team is that it shouldn’t matter to audiences – the story still needs to be interesting, and some dramatic narrative structure needs to drive it along.

Lead actor Mark Ruffalo, talented as he may be, can’t play the bad boy. He’s shown skill in movies where he’s an honorable, nice do-gooder like “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” “Collateral,” “Blindness,” and (maybe) even “13 Going on 30.” His resumé certainly shouldn’t put him at the top of the list to play a drug-addicted wannabe gangster struggling to reform his habits. The emphasis on the Boston setting here is also rather painful with the visible deliberate efforts all the actors make to put on Boston accents, especially Hawke and Amanda Peet, who plays Ruffalo’s wife. It’s only Boston native Donnie Wahlberg, in a minor supporting role, who doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb whenever he speaks. This is actor Brian Goodman’s first time behind the camera, and while the movie looks professional enough, it shows that he doesn’t have experience writing or directing. “What Doesn’t Kill You” is a clear imitation of Martin Scorsese, Harvey Keitel, and Robert DeNiro, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but this movie is hardly a fitting tribute to the gangster legacy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? “Tropic Thunder”

I’m thrilled to have correctly predicted all five nominees in what I consider a fairly tough category this year. I’m overjoyed for two of the nominees (Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges), I haven’t seen one (Mamma Mia) and I thought two were overrated but both decently entertaining, appropriate fare for the Golden Globes (Burn After Reading, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). I’m so happy that “Tropic Thunder” didn’t contaminate this category, and I think it’s a very fun list.

Who will win? This looks like Vicky Cristina Barcelona to me.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 3/5, missing “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon”
Who’s missing? “Doubt,” “Milk,” “Gran Torino,” “The Dark Knight”

I underestimated both “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon,” two films which came out superbly ahead after these nominations. Sean Penn as the lone nominee from “Milk” caught me completely off-guard, and I think the film should factor in later in the Oscar race (though last year’s Sean Penn-directed “Into the Wild” didn’t do too well after its Globe near-shutout). “Doubt” also received a huge blow, though the film’s impressive four acting nods are distracting analysts. Could this be the Oscar list? I’m not sure “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader” can make it all the way, and I think “Doubt” and “Milk” are waiting in the wings, as well as both Clint Eastwood-directed movies from this year, “Changeling” and “Gran Torino.”

Who will win? For now, I’ll go with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Animated Film


My predictions: 2/3, missing “Bolt”
Who’s missing? “Madagascar 2,” “Waltz with Bashir,” “The Tale of Desperaux”

This category’s pretty small, and everyone knew “Wall-E” and “Kung Fu Panda” would be here. Last year, “Persepolis” got in for Foreign Film here then Animated Film at the Oscars, and I think the same fate is in store for “Waltz with Bashir.” “Bee Movie” was the Globe nominee and then eventually lost its slot, along with “The Simpsons Movie,” to “Surf’s Up.” “Bolt” is popular right now, but I think it will be eclipsed by “Waltz with Bashir” and that will be the Oscar lineup. I plan to rent “Kung Fu Panda” at some point in the next few weeks, and I’m seeing “Waltz with Bashir” next week. Thoughts on both those soon.

Who will win? It’s got to be Wall-E.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Waltz with Bashir” and “Gomorra”
Who’s missing? Every French movie made this year, “Revanche,” “The Mermaid”

I know nothing about any of the foreign films this year, save for good words for both “Waltz with Bashir” and “Gomorra.” There were four major French movies that made it over to the United States this year, and at least “I’ve Loved You So Long” was better than “The Class,” which is France’s official Oscar submission. I preferred both “Tell No One” and “A Christmas Tale,” which I’m saddened to see snubbed. With the exception of the aforementioned France note, all the films here are eligible for the Oscar in this category.

Who will win? I’ll go with Waltz with Bashir.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Song


My predictions: 2/5, predicting only songs from “Wall-E” and “The Wrestler”
Who’s missing? The Bond theme from “Quantum of Solace,” anything from “High School Musical 3,” and “Little Person” from “Synecdoche, New York”

I don’t pretend to know much about songs, save for the strong buzz for both “Down to Earth” (Wall-E) and Bruce Springsteen’s title song (The Wrestler). Otherwise, the songs from “Bolt” and “Cadillac Records” aren’t terrific, and the end credits song from “Gran Torino” is just a bit strange. Nothing to say here, really, except to push “Little Person” for the Oscar nomination.

Who will win? Bruce Springsteen for The Wrestler.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Score


My predictions: 1/5, predicting only “Benjamin Button”
Who’s missing? “Australia,” “The Dark Knight,” “Wall-E,” “Milk”

This was my worst category this year, and it really caught me by surprise. I haven’t seen “Defiance,” but I had heard the music was quite good. Additionally, it’s relevant to note that the film was nominated here but not for anything else, indicating that perhaps it won’t factor in too much to this awards season. I can’t even remember the music from “Changeling” and the early version of “Frost/Nixon” that I saw had music from other films in it as filler at that point. I am overjoyed by the inclusion of A.R. Rahman’s superb score from “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Who will win? I’d love to say Slumdog Millionaire, but for now I’ll go with Defiance.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture


My predictions: 4/5, missing “Frost/Nixon”
Who’s missing? “Revolutionary Road”

I had this weird thing about “Doubt” and “Frost/Nixon” never quite crossing hairs – it had to be one or the other but not both. As it turns out, I was pretty much right, since this is the only category where both are in fact nominated. “Doubt” got five nominations because of this and four acting mentions, and that’s good for it since it’s the only one here without a Best Picture or Best Director nomination. This is somewhat of a blow to “Revolutionary Road,” but it’s not a huge deal. Whatever happened to well-written comedies? Shouldn’t “Happy-Go-Lucky” or “In Bruges” have been here? I remember a time not long ago when “Love Actually” got nominated in this category.

Who will win? I’m thinking a The Curious Case of Benjamin Button sweep.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director – Motion Picture


My predictions: 3/5, missing Ron Howard and Stephen Daldry
Who’s missing? Baz Luhrmann (Australia), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino & Changeling)

This is a fairly boring list as far as exciting variety of nominees goes, since it’s the exact list for Best Motion Picture – Drama. I thought that perhaps favorites like Mike Leigh and Woody Allen or even the Coen brothers might overcome the comedy embargo, but no such luck. Nominees David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road), and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) are all here because their films predictably fared very well. Ditto for the two I didn’t quite expect, both of whose films did do remarkably well with nominations: Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) and Stephen Daldry (Frost/Nixon). There’s rarely a surprise nominee this early, so watch out for Clint Eastwood’s severely snubbed two films (three nominations combined) to stage a possible comeback lately on in the awards race.

Who will win? Hard to tell at this point, but my gut tells me David Fincher.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture


My predictions: 3/5, missing the “Doubt” ladies
Who’s missing? Rosemarie Dewitt (Rachel Getting Married), Beyoncé Knowles (Cadillac Records)

I’m very saddened by the omission of Rosemarie Dewitt, who was so terrific in “Rachel Getting Married.” The inclusion of both Amy Adams and Viola Davis in “Doubt” isn’t terrific, since Adams was just okay and Davis’ one scene hardly blew me away. Though I didn’t think that much of her performance, it seems like Penelope Cruz is quite a favorite for Woody Allen’s movie (they love him too). I have yet to see the other two nominees’ films, but I plan on seeing both “The Reader” and “The Wrestler” in the next week as they’re released in New York.

Who will win? This should go to Penelope Cruz.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture


My predictions: 3/5, missing Tom Cruise (and Ralph Fiennes for the wrong movie)
Who’s missing? Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading), Josh Brolin and James Franco (Milk)

These nominees are all fine and good, with one major exception. Tom Cruise’s bit performance in “Tropic Thunder” is by no means deserving of any recognition at all. It also trivializes Robert Downey Jr.’s chances at a legitimate nomination come Oscar time. Otherwise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a questionable lead, did make it in, as well as the late Heath Ledger for his terrific performance in “The Dark Knight” (the film’s only nomination).

Update: I made a huge oversight here. Every time I looked at the list of the nominees, my brain told me that Ralph Fiennes had been nominated for "The Reader." I didn't for a second stop to look it after and now I notice that he was in fact nominated for "The Duchess." I've seen all three of his supporting performances this year, and the one that really should have gotten him recognition was of course "In Bruges," which did very well in other categories here. He was pretty good in "The Reader" but I feel that his performance in "The Duchess" was rather flat and not evocative at all. This doesn't bode well for his Oscar chances, since votes will likely be split between "The Duchess" and the clearly popular "The Reader." Interesting indeed. I can't believe I missed that.

Who will win? I don’t think anyone can beat Heath Ledger.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 3/5, missing Rebecca Hall and Frances McDormand
Who’s missing? Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City)

Rebecca Hall came out of left field. Clearly, they really liked “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and while I found Hall’s performance so-so in that movie, I loved her in “Starter for 10” last year and I’m thrilled to see her getting some overdue recognition. I placed Frances McDormand in the supporting category, but I suppose she could be considered a lead. The other three nominees are completely expected. I’ll rent “Mamma Mia” at some point and I’ll hope to get a chance to see “Last Chance Harvey.”

Who will win? Battle to the death between Meryl Streep and Sally Hawkins. I’m rooting for Hawkins.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


My predictions: 2/5, picking only Javier Bardem and Dustin Hoffman
Who’s missing? No one of significance, just contenders like Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder), Ricky Gervais (Ghost Town), and the sadly snubbed Sam Rockwell (Choke)

Here we have three wonderful surprises! Not one but both of the “In Bruges” guys as well as the hilarious performance from James Franco in “Pineapple Express.” They recognized “Walk Hard” last year but made up for it with these sparkling inclusions. I’ve yet to see “Last Chance Harvey,” but otherwise this looks pretty solid, and it’s great to have such unexpected and terrific inclusions.

Who will win? It seemed like Dustin Hoffman was the only one with any shot, but could it go to one of the “In Bruges” guys? I’ll stick with Hoffman.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 5/5
Who’s missing? Melissa Leo (Frozen River)

Who will win? I’m always excited to get five for five in a major category (it happened several times this year!) and this is no exception. Kristin Scott Thomas managed to break the foreign language barrier (not a big surprise) and stay in the race. This is also good news for Angelina Jolie. I’ve seen all these performances, and this is quite a fine list. While I’d love to see Melissa Leo included, I think she may factor in with a surprise nomination at the Oscars, the only question is who she bumps (likely Thomas or Hathaway, or Winslet if there is backlash or she cancels herself out).

Who will win? I’m rooting for Anne Hathaway, but I’ll stick to one of these two right now: Meryl Streep or Kate Winslet, probably Streep.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama


My predictions: 4/5, missing Brad Pitt
Who’s missing? Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)

No big surprises here, save for the inclusion of one Brad Pitt. He got left off last year for “The Assassination of Jesse James,” but here he is for a movie that received four other nominations. He gets a huge boost from this. Don’t count out Jenkins and Eastwood so fast, however. Jenkins could still manage a surprise SAG nomination like “The Visitor” director Thomas McCarthy’s last leading man (Peter Dinklage for “The Station Agent”) and Eastwood only got nominated at the Oscars for his performance in “Million Dollar Baby.” There’s still hope for them in this long race after all. Interesting note: Sean Penn got the lone nomination for his movie “Milk.”

Who will win? Either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke - my money right now is on Penn.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Final Golden Globe Predictions

The Golden Globes are fast approaching, and I've offered my detailed predictions in a number of categories. Below please find the full list of my predictions, complete with a random sampling of possibilities for Best Foreign Language Film, which may turn out to include every French film released this year (I'm rooting for "Tell No One" and "A Christmas Tale" over the decent "I've Loved You So Long" and the so-so "The Class"). Otherwise, this is the chance to see just how strong Clint Eastwood, since "Changeling" doesn't seem to be going down easily and "Gran Torino" is only picking up steam. This is where contenders like "The Dark Knight" and "Revolutionary Road" may fall out of the race or come out way ahead. I'm fairly confident about my drama predictions, and entirely at a loss about my comedy/musical choices. Nominations are announced Thursday morning; I'll post detailed reactions sometime that day.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
FRANK LANGELLA, FROST/NIXON
SEAN PENN, MILK
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
RICHARD JENKINS, THE VISITOR
MICKEY ROURKE, THE WRESTLER


Alt: CLINT EASTWOOD, GRAN TORINO

Best Actress is a Motion Picture – Drama
MERYL STREEP, DOUBT
ANNE HATHAWAY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
KATE WINSLET, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
ANGELINA JOLIE, CHANGELING


Alt: ANGELINA JOLIE, CHANGELING

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
SAM ROCKWELL, CHOKE
RICKY GERVAIS, GHOST TOWN
DUSTIN HOFFMAN, LAST CHANCE HARVEY
BEN STILLER, TROPIC THUNDER
JAVIER BARDEM, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA


Alt: STEVE CARRELL, GET SMART

Best Actress is a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
SALLY HAWKINS, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
EMMA THOMPSON, LAST CHANCE HARVEY
MERYL STREEP, MAMMA MIA
SARAH JESSICA PARKER, SEX AND THE CITY
KATHERINE HEIGL, 27 DRESSES


Alt: TINA FEY, BABY MAMA

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, DOUBT
RALPH FIENNES, THE READER
MICHAEL SHANNON, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
ROBERT DOWNEY JR, TROPIC THUNDER


Alt: DEV PATEL, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
BEYONCE KNOWLES, CADILLAC RECORDS
ROSEMARIE DEWITT, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
KATE WINSLET, THE READER
PENELOPE CRUZ, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
MARISA TOMEI, THE WRESTLER


Alt: FRANCES MCDORMAND, BURN AFTER READING

Best Director – Motion Picture
BAZ LUHRMANN, AUSTRALIA
DAVID FINCHER, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, THE DARK KNIGHT
SAM MENDES, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
DANNY BOYLE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE


Alt: GUS VAN SANT, MILK

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
DOUBT
THE READER
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE


Alt: VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
AUSTRALIA
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
MILK
WALL-E


Alt: IN BRUGES

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3, “A Night to Remember”
QUANTUM OF SOLACE, “Another Way to Die”
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, “Little Person”
WALL-E, “Down to Earth”
THE WRESTLER, “The Wrestler”

Alt: BOLT, “I Thought I Lost You”

Best Foreign Film
THE CLASS
A CHRISTMAS TALE
GOMORRA
THE MERMAID
WALTZ WITH BASHIR


Alt: THE BLIND SUNFLOWERS

Best Animated Film
KUNG FU PANDA
MADAGASCAR 2: ESCAPE TO AFRICA
WALL-E


Alt: BOLT (if 5 nominees)
WALTZ WITH BASHIR(if 5 nominees)

Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
BURN AFTER READING
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
IN BRUGES
MAMMA MIA
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA


Alt: TROPIC THUNDER

Best Motion Picture – Drama
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
DOUBT
MILK
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE


Alt: FROST/NIXON

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


This is quite a weird lineup of contenders in this category. Moderately-received musical Mamma Mia should get in, as well as well-received comedies from critically-acclaimed directors the Coen brothers and Woody Allen, Burn After Reading and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Wacky fare like Tropic Thunder, High School Musical 3, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Hamlet 2 may have a decent shot due to the absence of “W” and “Iron Man,” both of which were classified as dramas. The more mature Last Chance Harvey should be recognized for its stars, but not necessarily as a best picture. I’m betting on two highly intelligent and wonderful films for the last two slots: Happy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges. I just hope I’m right.

Predicted five:
BURN AFTER READING
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
IN BRUGES
MAMMA MIA
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Motion Picture – Drama


It’s difficult to predict which films will make the top list here since the Globes have a number of categories where they can reward a wealth of films, and the top five don’t always represent the movies that will be most successful throughout awards season (like “Bobby” and “Little Children”). The safest bet of all is the universally likeable Slumdog Millionaire. Milk should have no trouble getting in, but good vibes will be needed to ensure spots for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Revolutionary Road. In the preliminary battle between Doubt and Frost Nixon (for some reason, I don’t think both can get in), I think the former will prevail. Expect possible competition from The Reader and some votes for Defiance and Rachel Getting Married. Then there’s the curious case of The Dark Knight, a wildly popular film that probably won’t be able to get this top spot, in my opinion, but many others disagree, so be on the lookout for this surprise.

Predicted five:
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
DOUBT
MILK
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Director – Motion Picture


I think the showier films will be honored here even if they don’t make the top spots in the respective Best Picture races. Directors like Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road), and Baz Luhrmann (Australia) should fare well here. Gus Van Sant (Milk), Woody Allen (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), and Edward Zwick have a shot as well. For the fifth slot, however, I’m predicting the insanely popular Christopher Nolan for this year’s most popular film (The Dark Knight). This category often has six nominees, so Van Sant or Allen could easily slip in.

Predicted five:
BAZ LUHRMANN, AUSTRALIA
DAVID FINCHER, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, THE DARK KNIGHT
SAM MENDES, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
DANNY BOYLE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


This category, like the best supporting actor one, seems highly unpredictable. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) should be safe, and a category-misplaced Kate Winslet (The Reader) seems like a good bet. I’m pulling for Rosemarie Dewitt (Rachel Getting Married). It’s unclear whether Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) will be able to siphon off any of the buzz from costar Mickey Rourke. Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading), though a longshot for the Oscars, may be just the type of nominee the Globes like to see. Viola Davis and Amy Adams (Doubt) may cancel each other out, but I suspect that the buzz for the film will go to Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that Davis may pick up steam later on with the SAG Awards. If her film is popular enough, Debra Winger (Rachel Getting Married) may also be able to manage a nomination. Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) may have a large enough role to merit recognition, but it’s hard to tell at this point. I think the fifth nominee will prove to be a surprise: Beyoncé Knowles (Cadillac Records), an overrated performance that shouldn’t go much beyond Globes attention.

Predicted five:
BEYONCE KNOWLES, CADILLAC RECORDS
ROSEMARIE DEWITT, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
KATE WINSLET, THE READER
PENELOPE CRUZ, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
MARISA TOMEI, THE WRESTLER

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


This category seems awfully hard to fill for the Oscars, but a bit easier for the more liberal, comedy-prone Golden Globes. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) is a lock, while Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt) and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) should be safe. Presumably rounding out the list should be Ralph Fiennes (The Reader) and Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder). I’m not so sure about the chances of other contenders like Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading), Josh Brolin and James Franco (Milk), and Liev Schreiber (Defiance). This is the point where the definitive contenders are cemented, and I’m interested and excited to see who they are.

Predicted five:
HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, DOUBT
RALPH FIENNES, THE READER
MICHAEL SHANNON, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
ROBERT DOWNEY JR, TROPIC THUNDER

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


In my mind this category has three sure bets and the a whole bunch of contenders wh seem entirely unlikely. The diverse trio of Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia), and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) should lead the field. I imagine that Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey) and Katherine Heigl (27 Dresses) will fill in the remaining two slots. Other possibilities include Tina Fey or Amy Poehler (Baby Mama), Amy Adams or Frances McDormand (Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day), and Meg Ryan (The Women). As with the Best Actor category, I expect to see a lot of unexpected surprises in the nominee list here.

Predicted five:
SALLY HAWKINS, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
EMMA THOMPSON, LAST CHANCE HARVEY
MERYL STREEP, MAMMA MIA
SARAH JESSICA PARKER, SEX AND THE CITY
KATHERINE HEIGL, 27 DRESSES

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical


I think this is the hardest category of all to predict. All the comedy/musical categories seem hopelessly devoid of contenders, but this one doesn’t have any sure bets like “Mamma Mia” or “Happy-Go-Lucky.” My best guess, which is hopeless at best, has Dustin Hoffman as the only real secure nominee (Last Chance Harvey). Likely nominees include Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder), Sam Rockwell (Choke), Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and Ricky Gervais (Ghost Town), but I don’t feel good about any of those nominees. Steve Carrell (Get Smart), George Clooney (Burn After Reading), Michael Cera (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Brendan Glesson (In Bruges), and James Franco (Pineapple Express) might also make the cut, but this feel like such a randomly assembled list with no frontrunner or buzz-worthy nominees. I expect to be completely surprised here.

Predicted five:
SAM ROCKWELL, CHOKE
RICKY GERVAIS, GHOST TOWN
DUSTIN HOFFMAN, LAST CHANCE HARVEY
BEN STILLER, TROPIC THUNDER
JAVIER BARDEM, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Monday, December 8, 2008

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama


I have a feeling that this is the only category where we won’t see a major surprise. Each of the contenders has a strong shot, and nothing really going against them. Meryl Streep (Doubt) should have no trouble receiving her Globe nomination for film. Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) just won the National Board of Review award for Best Actress. Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) may run into trouble at the Oscars when voters might vote for her performance in “The Reader,” but Winslet is safely classified as a supporting actress for that film here. Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) has received rave reviews; her only detractor is that she stars in a foreign film. Stars like Penelope Cruz (Volver) have been nominated in the past, so she shouldn’t have much trouble. Rounding out the list should be Angelina Jolie (Changeling), whose performance may irk some come Oscar time but should do the trick now. Nipping at the heels of those contenders are Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River), who have to fend with a possibly small, negligible role in a big film and an infinitesimally tiny film, respectively. Other possibilities include Nicole Kidman (Australia), Keira Knightley (The Duchess), and Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy), but I think the competition should be limited to just those first seven contenders.

Predicted five:
MERYL STREEP, DOUBT
ANNE HATHAWAY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
KATE WINSLET, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
ANGELINA JOLIE, CHANGELING

Golden Globe Predictions: Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama


This category seems to have six really likely candidates vying for five spots, and that’s pretty much it. The Globes are more prone than other awards bodies to merely include all six, which would be completely unhelpful for predicting later races and narrowing these contenders down. Sean Penn (Milk), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) should be safe, even if their films don’t earn Best Picture nominations. The next three, two of who should make the cut, are Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), and Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino). DiCaprio will need positive buzz and love for his film, Jenkins will need people to remember him (screeners that went out should help), and Eastwood’s buzz should only go up after the National Board of Review named him Best Actor. Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Hugh Jackman (Australia) should yield awards attention to their respective films rather than the performances. I doubt Benicio Del Toro will make the list unless his double-feature film (Che) really takes off. Ditto Daniel Craig whose film (Defiance) doesn’t even come out in limited release until December 29th.

Predicted five:
FRANK LANGELLA, FROST/NIXON
SEAN PENN, MILK
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
RICHARD JENKINS, THE VISITOR
MICKEY ROURKE, THE WRESTLER

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vacation

I've fallen tragically behind on reviews lately, even though I've been seeing a lot of films. I'll be away for the next week, so when I get back, hopefully I'll have lots of exciting new reviews to post. Additionally, I've already begun my Oscar predictions and will link to those on a separate site as part of a computers course assignment. For now, I can highly recommend "Slumdog Millionaire" as well as the forthcoming "Doubt." After Thanksgiving, I'll be recovering and catching up, and by the second week of December, I should be posting regular daily reviews and in-depth awards predictions. In the meantime, check out this blog's first guest review from my good friend Josh Blum below of the film "High School Musical 3." See you then!

Guest Review: High School Musical 3

High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Released October 24, 2008

As a fan of the first two “High School Musical” installments, I went to see “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” with high expectations. And the movie certainly fulfilled those expectations. The choreography by Kenny Ortega has reached a new peak and the musical performances are certainly above those of the previous two films. Still, many fans and newcomers may be left disappointed. The plot lacks anything unexpected and, at its core, the movie is really just a series of outstanding music videos strung together. However, Zac Efron and Corbin Bleu display unforgettable performances that won't disappoint. In terms of the music, the soundtrack is very different in comparison to the previous films. The new songs really have a more theatrical vibe and are missing the basic sing-along qualities that made the first two soundtracks so wonderful. Notable tracks include “Can I Have This Dance,” “Just Wanna Be With You,” and the aptly named, “High School Musical.” “Senior Year” is a movie that builds excitement immediately and doesn't lose your attention throughout the movie. It's certainly an entertaining movie and one that I would enjoy seeing again but, if you didn't like either of the first two movies, you might want to consider passing on this one.

B

-Josh Blum

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Film Review: Changeling

Changeling
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Released October 24, 2008

Clint Eastwood’s latest film is possibly his strongest in recent years, transplanting the devastating drama of “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby” to the 1920s and improving upon the end result. The story is thoroughly interesting, and even though it’s a lengthy 2 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t feel too long, because every new direction is just as engaging as the previous one. The costumes and sets are a wonder to look at, and Eastwood’s token simple score is perfect for the film. It’s reminiscent most of “Gone Baby Gone,” and it handles the powerful nature of its content extremely well, just as that film did. Angelina Jolie truly is a great actress (last year’s “A Mighty Heart” should not have resulted in an Oscar snub) and she’s a terrific choice for the role of the grieving mother Christine Collins. John Malkovich, in a tragically small role, is excellent as a police-hating preacher who fights to help Collins expose their misconduct. Jeffrey Donovan, master of all accents on “Burn Notice,” is a fine addition to this cast as the police detective so determined to be right that he’ll sacrifice the truth to accomplish it. Overall, it’s a film with few flaws that’s entirely fascinating and stunningly executed. Mixed reviews are a shame since this really is one of the best movies of the year.

A-

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Film Review: W.

W.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Released October 17, 2008

Oliver Stone’s portrait of George Bush was criticized heavily even before it came out because it appeared to be both a mere rehash of Bushisms and a poorly timed critique of a sitting president. It turns out that “W” is neither of those things, and that’s perhaps the reason why it is so disappointing. It’s completely unfocused biography which leaves glaring amounts of time altogether uncovered. It requires a historical knowledge to fully grasp the entire story, and as a result feels incomplete. The cast of characters in the Bush administration are all colorfully played, but it’s often difficult to tell who’s being appropriate and who’s overdoing it without having closely followed the individuals. “W” should be relevant, that’s true, but it’s very likely that in a number of years, those unfamiliar with Bush staff will find themselves completely lost. In stark contrast to “JFK,” this film can’t hope to live on in time. It’s not an effective, timeless snapshot of a historical time. Worse than that, “W” refuses to take sides. It seems that Dubya is actually the only sympathetic character in the entire film, which certainly lends credence to the idea of a “life misunderestimated,” but it’s hardly the conclusion that might be expected from the actors Stone cast and the satirical slant of the trailer. In some cases, it’s an explicit parody (Thandie Newton is awful and obnoxious as Condoleezza Rice, Rob Corddry is hardly interesting as Ari Fleischer, while Karl Rove and Jeffrey Wright are great as Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, respectively), and in others, serious actors fill serious roles (James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush). Josh Brolin does a good job of portraying Dubya, though it’s more of an objective stance than anything else. There’s no clear thesis here, and the movie is not nearly entertaining enough to sustain itself without one. It clocks in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, which feels devastatingly long, even though the four hour runtime of “JFK” seemed perfectly appropriate. All in all, it’s just uninteresting – a horrible waste of such effort and scattered talent.

C

Monday, November 17, 2008

Film Review: Body of Lies

Body of Lies
Directed by Ridley Scott
Released October 10, 2008

After the disappointment of last year’s “American Gangster,” the last collaboration between director Ridley Scott and supporting actor Russell Crowe, and the relative lack of buzz when this movie came out, my hopes weren’t too high. “Body of Lies” turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s an unexpectedly clever, action-packed thriller. It’s more effective than perhaps it should be because it emphasizes action and excitement over thorough dramatic plotting. Taken as a less serious movie, it’s a more pleasurable experience. It’s lengthy, but the intensity of the movie is pretty uniform throughout. This film isn’t about the acting, though Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are great fits for their respective roles. A particularly impressive acting tour de force comes from British actor Mark Strong as the man to talk to if you need to get something done in Jordan. “Body of Lies” is certainly a fun movie, and if expectations aren’t set that high, it is sure to please.

B

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Film Review: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Released October 24, 2008

Charlie Kaufman is best known for his Oscar-nominated screenplays for “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” and his Oscar-winning script for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” All three films are wacky but surprisingly focused explorations into a different way of looking at life. Here Kaufman steps behind the camera during shooting of the film, and there result is a marvelous yet incomprehensible fantasy. “Synecdoche, New York” is entirely fascinating, but hardly ever does it make any sense. It’s a world within a world within a world within a world, and the degrees of copying are mind-boggling. The make-up here is something that should truly be trumpeted as wonderful, since all the characters age decades throughout the film and it looks as if they’ve actually lived all those years. The character relationships are intensely interesting, since it’s unclear whether the real Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is interacting with the actual Hazel (Samantha Morton), or whether it’s the actor playing Caden (Tom Noonan) trying to engage the actress portraying Hazel (Emily Watson). It’s an unbelievable mind trip, but that’s what come to be expected from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. All the actors in this film are incredible, and casting Samantha Morton and Emily Watson as the same person is a dream come true. It’s not the kind of film that ends leaving the viewer satisfied, but instead one that gets him thinking, ruminating on just how complex and bizarre an experience this movie really is. It’s sort of like watching a movie without subtitles – you know you won’t understand everything, but it’s sort of alright, because there’s a magical feeling that something unfathomable is going on.

B+

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Film Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky
Directed by Mike Leigh
Released October 10, 2008

Director Mike Leigh hasn’t made a movie in four years, and his last effort was the incredibly good, incredibly serious drama “Vera Drake.” His new film, “Happy-Go-Lucky” is completely the opposite in terms of tone, yet it’s still a marvelous and completely likeable experience. The movie is amusing throughout, and its dramatic moments come only in perfectly blended spurts. Lead actress Sally Hawkins is simply amazing as eternally cheery chatterbox Poppy, and the great news is that, even though all the critics will be highlighting Hawkins’ performance, the movie is just as good. Alexis Zegerman provides an excellent sarcastic foil to Poppy’s positive demeanor as her roommate and best friend Zoe. It’s rare to find a film that’s truly a comedy that’s as good as this one. Hopefully, this little-seen film will get increased distribution and renewed press coverage when Oscar season comes up and Hawkins garners an Oscar nomination (fingers crossed!) for her terrific performance.

B+

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Film Feature: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire
Directed by Danny Boyle
Released November 12, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire" is unlike any other film you’ll see this year. It is a grand meeting between an American ideal and a Bollywood style, given life by a British director. Danny Boyle headed to India to create this heartwarming story of a boy who goes on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" only to be accused of cheating and be forced to defend himself by retelling his life story.

Boyle is a notable director best known for films like "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later", "Millions," and "Sunshine." He embraced the opportunity to work on "Slumdog Millionaire" if only for the unparalleled experience it provided him to work in India. He emphasized the positive but daunting community dynamic. “You have no control,” he insisted. “If you seek control, you will find madness. Directors usually like control, but it doesn’t work like that there. The people you work with respect and trust you because you respect and trust them.” He also loved the bravery of his Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan, whom he credits for much of the film’s success. “The problem with being a director, especially if you’ve made a few films people know, is that people just say yes, that’s right,” he explained. He appreciated Tandan’s willingness to stand up to him. “You’re not making a documentary, you’re making a narrative,” Boyle said. “Sometime it’s essential to know that you’re doing something that’s deliberately incorrect, culturally or whatever.”

Boyle seemed awed with the prospect of being able to actually film in the slums, which he describes as “an incredibly complex place; a city in itself.” He noted that the crew used digital cameras in order to move about more freely, since, he said, “if you use the big cameras, people are obsessed with movies there and people are all like, let’s gaze into it.” The contradictory culture is due in part to the massiveness of the slums. “They’re not wealthy people, but they’re incredibly resourceful.” "Slumdog Millionaire" attempts to capture that grandstanding notion. “You’d never be bored there. It’s like going on fast-forward the whole time. We want this to be an exciting film.”

Boyle was especially surprised with the response to the film thus far in the United States. “I thought it might work in the UK because of the connection with India, but I had no idea about America. I had never really thought about how the underdog idea was. It’s so part of the psyche in America that if someone has a dream and they stick it to it, even if everything is against them, you have a country built on that idea. People are very cynical about that outside of America.” Distributor Fox Searchlight seems hopeful about the prospects of the film, and they’ve begun an extensive marketing campaign with a clever take on the film’s game show setting.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is Danny Boyle’s longest film to date, clocking in at two hours. He’s happy with the final version, but there was a major roadblock along the way. The film was initially contracted for a PG-13 rating. Instead, it ended up with an R rating due to the “intensity of the experience,” according to Boyle. He claimed that the rating was fruitlessly appealed; however, he didn’t want to distort the film more by attempting to edit it down. He believes that movies like The Dark Knight, which made off with a PG-13 stamp, was pretty intense, and “one of the reasons it’s so good is it feels real.” He did note that “I like extremes, that you feel the film. I’m glad it feels like an intense experience.”

The experience Boyle describes doesn’t come with any recognizable faces, at least for American audiences. The film’s lead character, Who Wants to be a Millionaire contestant Jamal, is portrayed by Patel, whose only previous acting experience was the British television drama Skins. Bollywood sensation Anil Kapoor plays the host of the show, but this is his first English role. The only face that might be slightly familiar to American moviegoers is Irfan Khan, who has recently appeared in supporting roles in The Namesake and A Mighty Heart. The movie does contain revelatory performances from debut actors, most of them very young, but it’s going to have to depend on its sympathetic and unexpected story to appeal to audiences. Boyle’s name is not yet a household brand, and zombie devotees who loved 28 Days Later may not be drawn to this unconventional premise. Luckily enough for the movie, it has the added boost of being the surprise favorite for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture by bloggers and critics alike. Boyle noted that, “none of us were thinking about it while we were making it. If it ever gets a nomination for anything, they’ll be so delighted. They really do look to American movie culture, and it would mean an awful lot to them.” This movie wasn’t made with awards in mind, but with the right buzz, maybe it can achieve the same unlikely success as its hero. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a movie about the underdog, and this sure feels like an underdog movie that will go far.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Israel Film Festival: Lost Islands

The 23rd Israel Film Festival opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York on October 29th with honors bestowed to director Edward Zwick, producer Irwin Winkler, and actor Danny DeVito. The opening night selection was the film “Lost Islands.” Director Reshef Levy’s first feature film is an intimate portrait of an Israeli family unit in the 1980s. It’s inventive and refreshing in the way it dodges traditional issues and dilemmas in Israeli society by focusing instead on complex relationships between the many siblings in the Levi family. The near-complete ignorance of political discussion, save for the occasional ironic, future-looking reference to Israel’s leadership, makes room for further exploration of the human interaction of the family. Levy’s film lacks the awesome captivating power of director Eytan Fox’s recent productions “Walk on Water” and “The Bubble,” but there’s something increasingly compelling about the story and characters as the movie continues along. For 103 minutes, this family is the center of attention and they’re full of interesting surprises and occasional endearing humor. “Lost Islands” has already received a number of awards from the Israeli Film Academy, including mentions for lead actor Michael Moshonov and supporting actor Shmil Ben Ari. Moshonov does a fine job as protagonist Erez, though Oshri Cohen, who plays his brother Ofer, deserves equal credit. Ben Ari has a wonderful Javier Bardem-like quality to him that makes his performance entirely irresistible. Yuval Scharf also deserves a notable mention for her portrayal of Neta, the girl whose love is shared between Erez and Ofer. It’s really a remarkably strong cast well-matched by a smart script. The movie has a terrific jaded feel, as if it’s a time capsule snapshot of a place to which people yearn to get back. It’s a pleasant memory, and an effective, moving one at times which should certainly be seen by American audiences whenever it is released in the United States.

B+

More information on the 23rd Israel Film Festival, running through November 13th, is available at http://ny.israelfilmfestival.com.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mini-Review: Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Released October 3, 2008

This is a terrific independent film whose universally glowing reviews should hopefully garner it the wide audience it deserves. Easily comparable to 2006’s Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, “After the Wedding,” this movie is a remarkably intimate and intensely interesting story with wonderfully three-dimensional characters. The cinematography and editing are very deliberate but work so seamlessly. Anne Hathaway, who to this point hadn’t impressed me much, delivers an incredible performance that really shows her transition to adult roles and should earn her an Oscar nomination. It’s quite possibly the best lead actress performance I’ve seen all year. Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays her sister, and Bill Irwin, who plays her father, are equally amazing. I’m just worried that their screen time and limited roles may rob them of the recognition they so richly deserve. Debra Winger, who plays her mother, may steal most of that for a performance that’s good but not nearly as nuanced as the other three. Plainly put, there’s no weak link in the cast, and this is one of the best films of the year. Go see it!

A-

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mini-Review: Blindness

Blindness
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Released September 26, 2008

Fernando Meirelles has earned himself quite the reputation after scoring a surprise Oscar nomination for the unbelievably good “City of God” in 2003 and then following it up with the critically-acclaimed, though in my mind underwhelming “The Constant Gardener.” You might think that he’d be the perfect director to take on the story of an epidemic of blindness and the one woman on the inside who can still see. It’s a profoundly disturbing film that isn’t as affecting as it should be. It’s less than pleasant, but there’s no merit to it. The cinematography and editing are very much inferior to the more creative aesthetics of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” and no one in the cast is particularly great. The film takes a while to speed up, then slows right back down again, leading up to an annoyingly predictable ending. This should have been a better movie, and its lack of inventive storytelling is perhaps its biggest flaw.

D+

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mini-Review: How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People
Directed by Robert Weide
Released October 3, 2008

Simon Pegg is an impressive actor whose comedic skills should allow him to be able to carry a film, especially one like this. Sadly, this movie never quite takes off. It’s funny at times, but doesn’t at any point become a truly good movie. Pegg is amusing, but his character is too loud and outlandish. It’s difficult to enjoy a movie like this when the hero continually sabotages himself the entire time, and that’s supposed to provide the humor. I don’t find it easy to laugh at someone who consistently does stupid things that should have been easily avoidable. Supporting stars Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges need to get to work on finding better roles, immediately. Danny Huston is well-cast for his part as a typical sleazebag, and I’d like to see this guy have bigger and better roles in the future. The movie’s occasionally fun, but altogether just too hard to like.

C

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mini-Review: Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Released September 26, 2008

Now here’s a fun movie. It’s completely preposterous, and in a lot of ways exactly what you’d expect from the millions of previews that have aired in the past few months. It’s annoyingly surprising in a certain sense that I can’t discuss without giving away some of the plot, but all you need to know is that this is mindless destruction of property and brain cells just for the fun of it. A fast, frantic score supplements an action-packed, senseless ride. Who cares about lead actors Shia LaBoeuf and Michelle Monaghan when you have reckless collateral damage the whole time? There’s even a slightly decent scene close to the end of the film, though of course it’s a preposterous conclusion. Don’t expect to be wowed by anything actually good in the movie, but it’s a lot of fun for a thoughtless excursion.

D

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mini-Review: Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. Anna
Directed by Spike Lee
Released September 26, 2008

Spike Lee has had two terrific hits in his career, in my opinion, “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 and “25th Hour” in 2002. Otherwise, nothing is too great. Some of it (like “Bamboozled”) is excruciating and others overlong and overpraised (“Malcolm X”), as well as inexplicably overrated (“Inside Man”). Here Lee is at it again, creating another movie where editing for some reason seems an unnecessary concept, and lengthy scenes of uninteresting dialogue win out over actual plot development. The biggest thing wrong with “Miracle at St. Anna” is the so-called miracle. The story just isn’t terribly intriguing, and I’m not sure why Lee thought it might make for a good film. It doesn’t help that not one member of the cast stands out, and an abundantly joyous score feels very much out of sync with the rest of the film and its agonizingly slow pace.

D+

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Film Review: Religulous

Religulous
Directed by Larry Charles
Released October 1, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mini-Review: Choke

Choke
Directed by Clark Gregg
Released September 26, 2008

I’m a fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club,” one of the few books-turned-movies that I’ve actually read. I haven’t read the novel “Choke,” but I’d hazard a guess that the source material is pretty terrific if the quality of this movie is any indication. This is one of the most immediately pleasing and thoroughly enjoyable films I’ve seen in a while. Sam Rockwell is an awesome lead, and his unique personality plays perfectly here. Add in able supporting star Brad Henke, who was everywhere in 2006 as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brother, Kelly McDonald minus her accent and plus a whole lot of awkwardness, and a powerhouse memorable turn by Anjelica Huston, and this is one outstanding ensemble. The film is so wonderfully witty as well, and director Clark Gregg is just as talented behind the camera as he is on screen. The one downside of the film is that everything’s so great, and suddenly the film has a rushed ending which doesn’t do the rest of its story justice. Nonetheless, it’s a great movie which I hope will still be seen even though it hasn’t garnered very positive reviews.

B+

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mini-Review: Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express
Directed by David Gordon Green
Released August 6, 2008

The Judd Apatow troupe has had their ups and downs over the past few years, the high points being “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and the low point being the insufferable “Walk Hard.” This film has a considerably thinner premise than the first three, but is at least a hundred times better than their worst. It’s dumb at times, as it should be, yet there’s a wonderful brilliance throughout the film that transforms it from a “Harold & Kumar” clone to an absolutely hilarious film that stays on track long enough to remain interesting and viable as a movie. It succeeds gloriously where “Tropic Thunder” failed so miserably. I laughed harder a dozen times in this movie than I have in a long time. It’s so great to see James Franco back with his old friends (I’m slowly making my way through “Freaks and Geeks”) and Seth Rogen is just awesome. I love that these people just keeping churning out movies. “Zack and Miri Make A Porno” is next – another thin premise turned into fantastic film?

B+

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mini-Review: Traitor

Traitor
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Released August 27, 2008

I went into this film with expectations that were perhaps far too high. I was hoping for a gripping thriller akin to Showtime’s excellent series “Sleeper Cell” from a few years ago. Unfortunately, this movie never really manages to amp itself up to the point of being truly thrilling. It’s rather uninventive, and nothing seems quite as compelling because it’s really just not believable. Don Cheadle has done far better work in the past, and he doesn’t carry this film like he should (his performance in “Traffic” is a great model for what his acting should have been in this movie). The film’s surprise twist provides a nice bit of irony, but it offsets the tone of the film and doesn’t make up for a lackluster first seven eighths. Simply put, it’s very much missable.

C

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mini-Review: The Duchess

The Duchess
Directed by Saul Dibb
Released September 19, 2008

To say that “The Duchess” just never quite gets interesting is probably the kindest way of putting it. Nothing about the film, no thanks to its slow pace, stands out as original or remotely exciting. There are lavish costumes and set pieces aplenty, but the film feels devastatingly empty and devoid of content. So little actually occurs and the film’s dramatic turning point is hardly even embellished. Keira Knightley is good at this time of role but she’s far more fascinating when she’s playing someone written a bit more three-dimensionally. Ralph Fiennes has earned raves for what I found to be a one-note disappointment, especially for the talented actor recently so villainous and terrific in “In Bruges.” I was impressed with Hayley Atwell’s performance as the third wheel in the duchess’s marriage, and I think we can expect great things from her in the future. As far as this film goes, it’s probably worth it to skip it and do something interesting instead.

C-