Saturday, February 24, 2007

UPDATED! Oscar Forecast: Little Miss Departed?

Well well well. The Departed rained on Little Miss Sunshine's parade and took home the gold in one of the most exciting and entertaining Oscar ceremonies in ages. Everyone was jumping for joy here at my party, how about yours? Scorsese's Boston crime saga cleaned up (sorry Marky Mark, you'll have other shots) with 4 total wins. And wouldn't you know Alan Arkin beat Norbit star Eddie Murphy. I'm not so sure he'll have another shot. Ellen not surprisingly turned out to be a great host. Her highlights included giving Martin Scorsese her unpublished script and vacuuming underneath Penelope Cruz's dress. Even with 8 nominations Dreamgirls didn't exactly clean up except for frontrunner Jennifer Hudson and the sound mixers. I guess perenial sound loser Kevin O'Connell will have to try again next time. As for my predicitions, I had a rough night. (No foreign film award for Pan's Labyrinth? No original song for Dreamgirls? No best animated feature for Cars?) And wouldn't you know I got all the boring awards incorrect. I only got 13 categories correct, how about you?

It’s almost Oscar night and one thing is certain: no one really knows who is going to take home the top prize. The Best Picture winner is fogger than ever and you might as well just flip a coin to predict who’ll win. Will the Academy select the royal drama The Queen? The war drama Letters from Iwo Jima? The crime drama The Departed? The multicultural drama Babel? Or the family dramedy Little Miss Sunshine? History would rule out Sunshine because it’s funny, has the least nominations and it’s director(s) failed to earn a nom. The Academy has never awarded Best Picture to film with mostly subtitles, sorry Babel and Letters. Many think The Queen is Helen Mirren’s show. And The Departed, made the most money and is a critical fav but is this bloody film Best Picture worthy?

These are my predictions and come Oscar night, I hope to at least have a few of these correct: (winners appear in BOLD)

Best Picture
Will win: The Departed
I seriously have no clue what film is going to win. It seems to come down to Babel and Little Miss Sunshine, but I still think The Departed has a very good shot. Whoever predicts this category correctly has luck on their side.
Should Win: The Departed
It’s by far my favorite film of the bunch, although I’ve yet to see Letters from Iwo Jima. Little Miss Sunshine is a great film, although I’m not so sure it’s Best Picture worthy. Babel is epic and enjoyable, but if it were to win it would feel like a Crash rehash.
Should have been nominated: United 93

Best Actor
Will Win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King Of Scotland
I haven’t seen this film, nor am I fan of Whitaker, but I hear he’s simply amazing. Seeing as though he’s won every other award, it seems obvious he’ll get it. Although, his boring acceptance speeches (Golden Globes, SAG) have been pitifully boring and unenlightening. Those voting with their hearts may check off Peter O’Toole who has never won before. Had his film Venus been better, he’d be a shoo-in.
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
Wait? He’s not nominated for The Departed? What was the academy thinking! He’s wonderful in Blood Diamond, but he’s even better in The Departed, and had he been nominated for it, he might have siphoned some votes away from Forest Whitaker. Second place should be Ryan Gosling whose extraordinary performance in Half Nelson sill amazes months later.
Should have been nominated: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed

Best Actress
Will Win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
If you don’t predict that Mirren will win, you’re a moron. She can’t lose! Who would even have a shot of winning? The other actresses are great, but this is Mirren’s year.
Should Win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
I loved Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, but whether she actually deserves to win an Oscar is questionable. I loved Little Children but Kate Winslet will definitely have more shots at this.
Should have been nominated: Annette Bening, Running With Scissors

Best Director
Will Win: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Finally! While I’ve never been a huge Scorsese fan, I think he at least deserves an Oscar for crying out loud! His work on The Departed was excellent. It’s film that could have easily become a tired crime saga, but it turned out to be the best film of the year! Kudos!
Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Hello, it’s my favorite movie of 2006! Clint’s won before, Paul Greengrass’s nom is his award, and hopefully Frears and Inarritu will have other shots down the road.
Should have been nominated: Valarie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, Little Miss Sunshine
(If it wins best picture, it’ll just make them feel like crap for God’s sake!)

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
He was really good in Dreamgirls and he added greatly to the scenes he was in. Murphy has been making pretty crappy movies lately, but I think the Academy will recognize him here.
Should Win: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
As Grandpa, Arkin gives a caustic, brilliantly funny portrayal of a grumpy old man. But of course he’s lovable and his scenes with fellow nominee Abigail Breslin are warm and touching.
Should have been nominated: Jack Nicholson, The Departed

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
If she doesn’t win, she should stand up during the winner’s speech and belt out And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and storm out. I though her performance in Dreamgirls was award worthy… Tony award worthy. Her scenes are affecting and she makes you want to stand up and cheer, but let’s face it, we’ve all seen better screen acting.
Should Win: Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
This unknown Asian actress gives a heart wrenching performance, without uttering a single word. As deaf-mute teenager she adds the most to the movie. While her character’s storyline doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the film, if you took her out, the film would suffer. Adriana Barraza was also amazing, but I had to give Kikuchi the edge because she gave a great performance without speaking. Hopefully, little Abigail Breslin will have other shots when she’s older.
Should have been nominated: Catherine O’Hara, For Your Consideration

…and the rest…

Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed

Best Original Score: The Queen Babel

Best Original Song: 'Listen' - Dreamgirls An Inconvenient Truth

Best Animated Film: Cars Happy Feet

Best Foreign Film: Pan's Labyrinth The Lives of Others

Best Art Direction: Pan's Labyrinth

Best Cinematography: Children Of Men Pan's Labyrinth

Best Costume Design: Marie Antoinette

Best Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Two Hands who cares!

Best Film Editing: Babel The Departed

Best Make-up: Pan's Labyrinth

Best Short Film (Animated): The Little Matchgirl who cares!

Best Short Film (Live Action): Eramos Pocos (One Too Many) who cares!

Best Sound Editing: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Letters from Iwo Jima

Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls

Best Visual Effects: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Friday, February 23, 2007

Math Addict: Serious Jim Carrey + Is He Serious? Director Joel Schumacher = Seriously Silly “The Number 23”

I’m sorry, but if you are afraid of numbers and the wild coincidents they sometimes concoct you are a serious loser. Now I went into “The Number 23” with an open mind. The previews suggest that Jim Carrey, playing “serious” again, begins to become obsessed with the mathematical integer known as 23. His birthday is 2/3, his social security number adds up to 23, and by golly he, like all humans, got 23 chromosomes from each parent. If you’re scared yet then you should see a shrink.

Director Joel Schumacher (of the recent Phantom of the Opera) only further tarnishes the movie’s silly premise with his garish visual style. He over directs every scene and manages to get, surprise-surprise, overacting from his cast. Carrey is a funny guy but he can also act. Unfortunately, Schumacher doesn’t let him act normal. He prefers style over substance, as was the case when he took over the popular Batman franchise from Tim Burton in 1995. Burton is also a stylistic director, but his films usually aren’t terrible. Schumacher has to beat it over our heads that he’s hip and cool and look at the neat shots he has come up with. Is he trying to make the film’s silly story scary? If so, he fails.

The script shows how Walter’s (Carrey) wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) wanders into a small bookshop (Walter is running late because a dog bit him and she’s waiting to meet him) and a book entitled The Number 23 catches her eye. She thumbs through it and decides to buy it for her husband as a birthday gift (She should have just gotten him socks and a nice golf bag). As Walter reads the book we’re transported into the world of the novel he’s reading. These scenes are told in a film noir sort of way that reminded me of the God-awful Black ‘I-Just-Might-Dry-Heave’ Dahlia, which I’m still recovering from. It turns out the tattoo-tattered Carrey we’ve come to find so strange in the trailers isn’t the Walter character but the book’s Detective Fingerling character. Are you confused?

So Walter becomes obsessed with this book because the Fingerling character becomes obsessed with the number 23 and it’s relation to him. It seems like 23 is some kind of evil number. For instance did you know that 9/11/2001 adds up to 23? Or that Ted Bundy was executed on the 23rd day of the month? Or that the Mayans thought the end of the world would come on the 23rd? If you get sick of hearing the many ways the number 23 is evil you should stay away. It gets sickening hearing 11+1+11=23 or 20+3=23 or 2/3=.666. Who really cares? The dialogue is down right silly and thank you screenwriter Fernley Phillips for lines like “23 is just a number!” Ya think?

This movie is ridiculous and doesn’t for minute make you believe in the crazy things going on. It’s not thrilling, it’s not scary, it’s not gripping, it’s not entertaining, it’s not suspenseful, it’s not amusing, the script is bad, the acting is bad, the editing is bad, the directing is bad, it’s not exciting, it’s not interesting, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not creepy, it’s not chilling, it’s not frightening, it’s not funny, it’s not so bad it’s good, it’s poorly cast, it’s boring, it’s tedious, it’s frustrating and it makes “The Da Vinci Code” look Oscar-worthy. There you go, 23 reasons to stay home. GRADE: D

Friday, February 09, 2007

Food For Thought: “Hannibal Rising” Proves It’s Not the Greatest Story Ever Told

Let’s take a moment and trace the history of one of cinema’s most frightening yet sophisticated serial killers. In Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” Hannibal Lecter had yet to become a household name. Brian Cox briefly played him with a fierce intensity that was chilling but not really particularly memorable. Then came “The Silence of the Lambs” a film nearly perfect in every way. Anthony Hopkins blew nearly everyone away as a monster taking the shape of a human being. He was frightening just to look at yet he was so utterly fascinating. In “Hannibal,” the long awaited follow-up, he’s on the loose yet he’s a lot less scary. By focusing more on Lecter rather than another killer (i.e. Tooth Fairy in “Manhunter,” Buffalo Bill in “Lambs”) he became more of an antihero. I mean come on, didn’t everyone cheer when he fed Ray Liotta his own brains? “Red Dragon” went back to the basics and was more like “Lambs.” It was a decent re-imagining of the book and Lecter, while still masterfully played by Hopkins, began to become one note. And now we have the completely unnecessary “Hannibal Rising” which feels like a prologue to a better film. His childhood, as horrific as it was, isn’t very fascinating, and the film stops just when Lecter’s story should be getting good.

As directed by Peter Webber, the film has a good visual style and is well photographed, but that doesn’t really mean anything if the story doesn’t interest you. The film seems to be a strange brew of genres. The film begins during the Nazi invasion where Lecter is a young boy. His parents are killed so he’s left to care for his young sister Mischa. That is until some war criminals come in and end up dining on poor little Mischa. So that’s how a cannibal is born: eaten siblings. Flash forward years later where Lecter is a teenager (played by newcomer Gaspard Ulliel, more on him later) at a boarding school. Apparently he’s a mute except when he screams out Mischa’s name in the middle of the night. Then he escapes and travels to somewhere else in Europe where he meets up with his uncle’s Japanese wife. From here on the film becomes a “Kill Bill” revenge tale as Gong Li’s character trains him to be a master warrior. Call me crazy but I don’t recall Lecter being a trained warrior in “Silence of the Lambs,” but I digress. He first kills the man who insults Gong Li and we patiently wait for him to chow down on his first plate of liver and fava beans.

It’s impossible to analyze the film without thinking of the four previous versions, but this is by far the weakest. Even on it’s own it tells it’s story is a slightly plodding way. First this happens then that happens which causes this to happen. What a snooze! There’s nothing exciting waiting in the wings for us Lecter fans. No twists, no surprises. Now I’m beginning to realize why it took so long for this story to be told. Like previous “origin story” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” all this ends up being is an excuse to gather fans eager enough to waste more money on a film with the Lecter namesake.

As the teenage Lecter, Ulliel neither looks like a young Hopkins nor does he have the same aura of Hopkins. While I wasn’t expecting an imitation, I at least was trying desperately to figure out how this young man will become the psychotic psychiatrist we all know and love. Without comparing to Hopkins, he doesn’t really bring any psychological depth to his role. And boy is that scar on his cheek is irritating!

And one last thing. What kind of movie is this anyways? The previous films were thrillers and had scary moments, but this film has none. We’re put on Hannibal’s side from the very beginning. Are we supposed to feel bad for his victims? They ate little Mischa for crying out loud! The film is never scary, suspenseful or exciting. I blame Thomas Harris who as the creator of Hannibal the Cannibal should have written a movie with a lot more bite. GRADE: C-

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Old Man and the She: Peter O’Toole Gives a Career Capping Performance in “Venus”

You should have to swipe your AARP card to get into “Venus,” a film tailor-made for the over 60 crowd. Basically, if you’re graying and you think Glen Miller is hip you’ll get a kick out of it. And even though I’m a fan of the old ladies show “The Golden Girls” I found very little to enjoy about “Venus.” Peter O’Toole gives an Oscar-nominated performance as, gasp, an aging actor. What a stretch. But in all seriousness, he does grasp his role very well and gives it all he’s got. Basically the film starts out as the Odd Couple and delves into an old man/young woman love affair.

Young Jodie Whittaker is the Venus of the film’s title and she moves in to take care of her elderly uncle Leslie Phillips. Philips and O’Toole are old friends. And boy do I mean old. They spend their afternoons sharing each other’s medication as if they were their wives’ recipes. They even clip each other’s toenails. O’Toole takes a liking to this young woman who for the record is trying to break into modelin’, not yodelin’.

The film moves along at the pace of an old woman’s wobbly walker. It makes you feel as if time is slipping between your fingers. You almost expect to be 100 years old before it’s over. The film has its moments of comic hilarity, but unfortunately it meanders through scene after scene of O’Toole ogling Whittaker and you just want them to get it on already! (Actually you really don’t) It’s impossible to think that this woman would even have a slight interest in hanging out with O’Toole, but she does anyways.

We don’t really get to learn a whole lot about O’Toole’s character, although we do get to witness some of his acting gigs. One includes playing, an elderly dying man. So here we have a film in which an elderly man plays an elderly man playing an elderly man. If that doesn’t sound Oscar-worthy I don’t know what is.

Director Roger Michell who has made the other British romantic comedy “Notting Hill,” handles the material well, but he doesn’t completely grasp our attention. He was smart to open the film with these two old men exchanging pills, but after that highlight there’s nowhere else to go but down. See this for O’Toole’s great performance, otherwise you’d get more out of cheering up some geriatrics at the old folks home. GRADE: C+

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What's That Smell? The Worst Films of 2006!

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And so the saying goes. So, for as many good films that grace the silver screen there are plenty that make you wish you never paid for your ticket. Of course bad cinema can be a great thing. It’s the train wreck theory. You’d never want to be a part of such a catastrophe, but there’s something instinctual about witnessing something so horrid, so ghastly bad that it’s just extremely pleasurable. Of course my list of the worst films of the year aren’t fun at all. These are films that are so bad they’re awful. If you want to see a good bad movie watch "Snakes on a Plane" or the best bad movie ever made, "Showgirls." But if you can, whatever you do, don’t even think about renting any of the following films. Witness at your own risk my list of 2006’s worst films:

LADY IN THE WATER - This movie is so bad that I can almost taste my stomach lining as it attempts to force its way up my esophagus. This is a horrid miscalculation on every level and I blame its pretentious director M. Night Shayamalan. The film begins with a stupid animated sequence that sets up the film’s story, but who cares? Even this opening can’t help us make sense of the atrocities that follow. Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard are at their worst as a stuttering apartment superintendent and sea nymph respectively. This supposedly scary fairy tale makes you realize that perhaps getting that root canal you desperately need might be slightly more entertaining.

THE BLACK DAHLIA – Is it true? Has this film actually been nominated for an Academy Award? Apparently the camerawork is worthy of an award but no one else connected to this mess is. There is a lot of talented people here but unfortunately they left their talent at home. This film, which is supposedly about the infamous murder of what the LA press called “the Black Dahlia,” commits two cinematic sins: being boring and confusing. Atrocious performances by Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson don’t help either. It takes way too long to get into the story and by the time it does we realize that maybe we should of just stayed home.

LITTLE MAN - There are plenty of bad comedies that are good. It’s just too easy to brand a comedy as a piece of cinematic trash. Of course there are plenty of bad comedies that are just plain bad. Take "Little Man" for instance. It’s horrendously awful. Now, if you know me at all, then you’ll realize I must sound like a hypocrite. I enjoy some of the worst movies ever. I could watch the Mary Katherine Gallagher flick "Superstar" all day long. I loved the Wayans’ brother previous effort "White Chicks." I also display all four "Scary Movie" DVDs on my movie shelf. Now, as a lover of really bad comedies, let me steer you away from attempting to watch this horrid movie. Marlon Wayans’ head on a little person’s body is funny for about .78 seconds. A brief appearance by Molly Shannon as a soccer mom driving a minivan isn’t even worth the price of a rental.

PULSE – God strike me dead if one more PG-13 rated Japanese horror film adaptation is made! Whoever thought that a goof film could be made about the Internet being a scary portal for evil spirits to come through is out of their mind. I can’t believe horror master Wes Craven is actually a credited writer of the horrid attempt at movie making. The film stars Lost’s Ian Somerhaulder and Veronica Mars’ Kristen Bell as young adults attempting to figure out the mystery Bell's friend’s strange suicide. Speaking of suicide, this film will make you run out to the hardware store and buy a rope…

FREEDOMLAND – This very bad attempt to be as socially aware as last year’s Oscar-winning “Crash” is horribly wrong-headed from the very beginning. Julianne Moore gives a terrible performance as a woman whose car is supposedly stolen by a Black man. Samuel L. Jackson plays the cop who helps her. Oh, and then she remembers her kid was in the backseat. Yes, then suddenly she remembers her kid was in the car. Oh and then they quarantine an entire poor Black community in an attempt to find the culprit. This ridiculous film makes you want to watch “Crash” just to get the bad taste out of your mouth.

MAN OF THE YEAR – This is certainly not the movie of the year by any standards. What a complete waste of Robin Williams’ manic comic style. He plays a Jon Stewart-like TV host who decides to run for president when an audience member suggests he run. Low and behold he wins, but it’s because of a computer glitch in what is supposed to be a side plot which ends up making the audience roll their eyes every other second. This wildly unbalanced attempt at satire and thriller is laughable at best. Barry Levinson should be forced to give his directing Oscar back.

MIAMI VICE – How could this film, from Michael Mann, be one of the worst films of the year? Watch it and find out. It’s all about expectations. Hot off of “Collateral” both Mann and Jamie Foxx shockingly disappoint. And yes Colin Farrel stinks too. This film which has a cool style has been sucked dry of any fun. The storyline is nearly incomprehensible. And about twenty minutes into it, you realize it’s not going to get any better.

YOU, ME & DUPREE – This movie is way too easy to make fun of, so I’ve decided to be nice. Owen Wilson becomes the third wheel to newly married Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson. Dupree as he’s named, is obnoxious but we’re supposed to feel sorry for him and like him. Of course we only like him when he’s getting hit by moving vehicles. The characters never make rational decisions which add to the frustrations. If you want your IQ to be lower, check this out.

THE BREAK-UP – Vince Vaughn has never been more annoying than he is here. We’re supposed to buy that he and Jennifer Aniston are a real couple. And they are…oh wait that didn’t work out did it? But I digress… this is supposed to be funny but it ends up being sappy and presents us with overly sadistic fights between the leads. If you can’t get enough of your best friends’ obnoxious bickering then “The Break-Up” is for you.

SCARY MOVIE 4 – I gave this film a D+ when I reviewed it. It’s a horrible movie. It makes the other films in the franchise look like Oscar winners. I’m such a huge "Scary Movie" fan that I was shocked at how poor it really is. How did David Zucker of the ZAZ team actually make this? Of course on repeat viewings (ok so sue me, I bought the DVD used) it began to grow on me, due mainly to the fact that I think Anna Faris is hysterical. (If it were up to me she would be cast in every movie ever made. I mean she’s in "Brokeback Mountain" for God’s sake!) This movie is by no means good and I can’t recommend it to anyone, but on the occasion I find myself wanting to indulge just a little. Judge for yourself.

Scroll down for my list of the Best Films of 2006!