Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Crumbling Tower of Babel

I honestly don't understand how Babel got nominated for more Oscars than any other movie this year. I've been through my list of rules, and I've tried to justify the reasoning through Academy politics, but I still just don't get it.

The four interconnecting storylines were really three interconnecting storylines and one distant cousin storyline. I was actually curious about what would happen in two of the stories, while the other two just left me waiting and hoping for something more interesting.

The first story is about two Moraccan boys whose father gives them a gun to shoot jackels. Right off, we discover that Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) is a much better shot than his older brother, Ahmed (Said Tarchani). While taking the herd of goats out for a meal on dying grass, the boys spot a jackal. Ahmed, being too proud to admit he can't shoot, misses the jackal and blames it on the weapon. So, to prove the gun does shoot as far as it says, he challenges Yussef to shoot at a bus. This boy will grow up to be a sniper because he hits the bus with frightening accuracy, hitting Susan (Cate Blanchett) in the neck. This story was interesting to me. Would these children turn themselves in? How many people would be affected because of their mistake? Enquiring minds want to know.

What this enquiring mind really didn't care to know was what would happen to Susan and her husband Richard (Brad Pitt) in the small village they're taken to as they await an ambulance and aid from the US embassy. This story was rather dull and pretty predictable--either she was going to die in the village or she was going to be rescued. I knew nothing in between or out of the ordinary was going to happen, so let's move on to story number three.

As Richard and Susan are in Morocco, their children are at home in San Diego being cared for by Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the nanny whose legal presence in the country is a bit questionable. Due to unavoidable circumstances, Amelia must take the children across the border with her so she may attend her son's wedding. You can just feel the tension building in this story with every passing hour the children spend in Mexico. This, of the four storylines, is the most interesting to me--not because a lot actually happens but because of the anticipation of something major happening. Something major does happen, but it even falls short of engaging me fully.

Story number four is the weakest. Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese deaf girl, desperately wants to be normal. All day, we watch her hang out with her friends and flirt with the boys, but her frustration builds as she still feels like an outsider. Where does this fit into the other three stories, you ask? Yeah, I don't really know either. I mean, it is revealed near the end of act two, but I still don't understand the true point of its inclusion in this film. Chieko's story would've made for a better short film than an addition to this feature. I think dropping this story may have made the movie tighter and maybe a little more interesting.

Alejandro González Iñárritu has used this gimmick before, and yes, it is a gimmick. The jumble of timelines and the small connections of certain people worked well for him twice before in 21 Grams and Amores Perros. In 21 Grams, the stories and the characters find a satisfying meeting point at the close of the second act, and Amores Perros is a more fascinating and engaging movie overall. Iñárritu is a spectacular visual director, but I think he needs to try a new storytelling device. Babel really did have potential for being an interesting movie, but the lack of extended conflict and unpredictable moments overshadowed whatever message he wanted to project.

simply falls short for me. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good, and it definitely wasn't one of the five best pictures of the year.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

Unlike most women, I love a good war film. If it's got soldiers, marines, or sailors in it, you better believe that I'm going to see it. When I saw the previews for Flags of Our Fathers, I wanted to see it right away. But then came the reviews... No one was loving the story. No one found the film engaging, so I decided to reign in my love for a good war film and wait for video.

I'm so happy I didn't spend $8 to see this in theatres.

Flags of our Fathers plays like a documentary on The History Channel. It was interesting enough that I wanted to watch the whole thing, but it wasn't engaging enough to recommend to all my friends. It was really your run-of-the-mill World War II story. Even though it tells the story of the three surviving men (two marines and one Navy corpsman) who raised the flag in that infamous photograph, I wasn't truly invested in these men. I didn't really care what happened to them during the war or on their war bonds tour, and I know that's not a good way to feel about men who survived WWII.

Of the three main actors, Adam Beach is by far the most engaging. Beach plays Ira's guilt and anger with grace and subtlety. Even when Ira is too drunk to walk properly or when he falls into the arms of a mother, I still didn't see it as an overdone performance. Alas, I'm only giving praise to his performance because everyone else was so lackluster. I know that Ryan Phillipe and Jesse Bradford aren't Academy material, but I still expect serious acting chops when Clint Eastwood is behind the camera.

My biggest complaint was my feeling of disconnection. As with most war films, actors get lost in the mud and smoke and uniforms, but a great war film can still show the humanness of each man even if he looks exactly like the man next to him. There were only a few moments in the whole movie that brought tears to my eyes, and I think you'd have to dead inside to not get a knot in your throat when a surviving marine meets the mother of one of his fallen buddies. Other than that, though, I was just waiting for to find out how these men lived out their days so I could watch the new episode of "Law & Order." Harsh, I know, but I don't want to beat around the bush.

I have yet to see Letters from Iwo Jima, but I hear it's a more engaging--both emotionally and visually--film. I sure do hope so because it's still in theatres.

I think I can give Flags a solid three stars. I liked it, but I definitely didn't love it. It's not a complete waste of my time, but I do wish it had been a little more interesting.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Race for the Golden Boy

Next Sunday is the 79th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, and as it has been for many, MANY years, I will be sitting in front of my television watching the entire event. Also, as it has been for many, many years, I have my predictions. Because I'm a movieholic, I've seen a majority of the films up for awards this year, so my predictions are based upon my personal views. I also consider Entertainment Weekly to be my bible of sorts, so part of my predictions are based on what they say. The rest depends upon my Rules for Winning an Academy Award. (These apply only to the major awards...and every once in a while to the music categories.)

People win for only three reasons: 1)Your career has always been stellar and now you're being recognized for it (i.e. Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby). 2)Your career has been, at best, mediocre, and now you've broken out with an amazing turn (i.e. Halle Barry for Monster's Ball). 3)You did a stellar, stellar job a year or so ago, but someone else edged you out, and now it's time for the "we're sorry" award (i.e. Russell Crowe the year he won for Gladiator when he should've one the year before for The Insider).

Now that you know how it goes, here are my predictions:

Best Picture: The Departed
There is a chance at a major upset with the very small Little Miss Sunshine taking home the gold, but Martin Scorsese films have been passed up so many times, a lot of people think it's his year.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese
Not only is he long overdue, The Departed is reminiscent of old school Marty, and people loved Taxi Driver and Goodfellas.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker
Once again, there is a chance of an upset because Peter O'Toole has been nominated 8 times with no wins. He's also 74 years old and may not be around to win another one, but my money is still on Whitaker. He was spectacular as Idi Amin, and the voters love this kind of role.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren
Unless you're completely out of the loop with awards season, you already know she's going home with this one. She was quietly compelling and eerily convincing as Queen Elizabeth II. The Oscar is hers.

Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy
See Rule #2. I would love for Alan Arkin to walk away with this one, but he's consistently better than Eddie Murphy has ever been.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson
The Academy loves a standout performance, and no matter what anyone says, she wasn't simply a great singer in Dreamgirls. That girl commanded every scene she was in, and I felt every bit of her emotion in every word she gloriously belted out.

Best Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine (original) and Little Children (adapted)
This is a tough year for me on this category, but I'm more than positive about Little Miss Sunshine. This very well may be the only Oscar the film takes home.

The rest:
Best Film Editing: United 93
Best Cinematography: Children of Men
Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Best Costume Design: Marie Antionette
Best Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
(I think this should go to Apocalypto, but I don't think enough people saw it to vote.)
Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Animated Feature: Cars

Best Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth
(Hollywood is in love with this movie.)
Best Animated Short: The Little Matchgirl (It's dark and bleak...and it comes from Disney.)
Best Live Action Short: Eramos Pocos (I can't lie. This is EW's pick.)
Best Documentary Short: Recycled Life
There are no war docs this year, and the Academy loves a good bleak story. This one is about Guatemalans who live out of dumpsters. The upset could be Two Hands because it's about overcoming adversity.

The picture of the Oscars was taken by me. If you'd like to see more pictures, check out my blog on MySpace. :)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Out of the Late Winter Slump

January and February, in my opinion, tend to be the most boring months for movies. Nothing spectacular is coming out because the Industry is gearing up for awards season. And if anything of interest does come out, it usually gets buried among the Oscar hopefuls from November and December. But February is almost over, and there are definitely some titillating trailers out there that are tickling my movie bone.

Of course, I am far too excited for summer when the fifth installment of Harry Potter and the third installment of Spider-Man come out, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves. There are plenty of interesting films coming our before those blockbusters hit the streets. There is one in particular that's coming out after them that looks very interesting too.

February 23 brings us a new Joel Schumacher thriller called The Number 23. Mr. Schumacher is definitely a hit or miss kinda guy, (I mean, he did put nipples on the Bat Suit.) but this thriller looks thoroughly creepy and engaging.

March 2, we'll find out if Samuel L. Jackson's choice of movie roles is improving, with his turn as a Blues singer who's trying to make Christina Ricci a better person in Black Snake Moan. I don't know if this is a drama or a comedy, but it looks interesting enough for me to ignore the fact that Justin Timberlake is in it too.

The Zodiac is also coming out on March 2. Even though this looks like a run-of-the-mill serial killer film, it is directed by David Fincher (the man behind Fight Club and Seven). That name alone makes me interested.

I can't wait until March 9, and it's probably due to the amazing trailer editor who made me want to rush out and see The Namesake as soon as it hits theatres. Kal Penn in a serious role?! I can't wait! This movie looks amazing, and I just hope it holds up to that really great trailer.

Speaking of serious roles, on March 23, the director behind the surprisingly good The Upside of Anger directs Adam Sandler's third "serious acting" turn in Reign Over Me. The preview talks about Sandler's character losing his family in a plane crash, what the preview glosses over is that the plane crash was on September 11. This movie could be heavier than the previews show, and I'm always in the theatre for a Don Cheadle performance, so I hope this is worth my ticket.

If you loved Shaun of the Dead, don't miss Hot Fuzz coming out April 20. If you don't know what Shaun of the Dead is, go out and rent it right now.

Now to skip ahead, past the blockbusters of May, to June, June 1 to be precise. When summer gets closer I will talk more about summer sleepers, but right now, I must mention this one--Mr. Brooks. For all I know, this film is going to get advertised to death, but right now, I've only seen this one preview, quietly sitting on Apple's Quicktime website. Kevin Costner is not my favorite actor, but when I saw Dane Cook's name in the credits, I had to watch the preview. And now I've got to see it.

I know there are movies I've skipped, but these are a few of the standouts to me. Feel free to add more to the list.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Want My Brain Cells Back!

On September 1, 2006, Fox released a film called Idiocracy with absolutely no fanfare. The movie opened in seven cities with no online, television, radio, or in theatre marketing. And you know what? I thank Fox for doing that.

From the comedic genius of Mike Judge, the man who gave us the absolutely wonderful Office Space, I expected another turn of hilarity. What did I get? Stupid comedy disguised as farce. Idiocracy is a farce of a farce. It's predictable, underwritten, and too dependent on the same running joke. It's attempting to comment on how stupid Americans are becoming, but instead, it simply appeals to the lowest common denominator.

The movie begins with, literally, the most average guy around (Luke Wilson) finding out he's been chosen for a military cryogenics experiment. His partner in the experiment is a prostitute played by SNL's Maya Rudolph. Of course, things go wrong, and our hero wakes up in the year 2505, where idiots rule the world. English is a mix of grunts, hillbilly speak, and jive talk. The world has turned to Starbucks-style brothels, fart jokes, and the most popular show is "Ow! My Balls!" Basically, it's a world where everyone can trace their roots back to Kevin Federline. Now, among the greatest idiots in the world, our average guy has become the smartest guy, and the US government (run by a president who might as well strut his stuff on the WWE stage) wants him to save the crops.

If this movie had come from any other writer, I wouldn't be ragging on it. I would've just tossed it out with the likes of Scary Movie 2 and gone about my business, but this movie was a follow up to Office Space. Idiocracy should have been smart and witty and, um...funny! I should be quoting lines to my friends. I do actually remember laughing at one part, but it was such a fleeting moment that I can't even tell you what happened in the scene.

This movie really isn't worth your time, but I'm still going to suggest you check it out when you're flipping channels one night, and you happen to catch it on HBO. Hey, if you're feeling daring, rent it! This is the type of movie that's so bad you want other people to watch it so you can talk to them about how bad it is.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Bloody Good Time

Three strung out neo-Nazi kamikaze hitmen, two black lesbian contract killers, one slick but caring psychopath, and one master of disguise. These are the people that are out to kill Buddy "Aces" Israel...and let me tell you, it's fun to watch them try! I may really enjoy a good, heavy film that makes me think about my life and the world, but sometimes I just want to see a great action flick.

Smokin' Aces is it. This movie was made for pure entertainment. It's an out-and-out adrenaline-filled action movie with plenty of shoot-outs and super sharp, high-speed camera work, but it's no Michael Bay wanna-be action thriller. Believe it or not, this movie has a plot...and a twist! Granted, the outcome is pretty predictable once the twist begins to show itself, but I'll give it to Joe Carnahan (writer/director) for writing a fun, engaging story. It's one of those movies that you can figure out the ending a half hour before it happens, but you're still fully engaged in the movie because you want to know how the story will play out up until that moment.

Another reason this isn't a Michael Bay wanna-be? Acting. Let's take a moment to talk about Ryan Reynolds. I've seen him in everything from Van Wilder to Blade: Trinity, and he's always played the wise-ass bad boy. Surprise, surprise, this time around he's the loyal FBI agent...who actually acts! I kid you not, ladies and gentleman, Ryan Reynolds turns in a very good performance. And if that's not enough for you to go see the movie, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven, Jason Bateman, and Alicia Keys turn in some pretty good performances themselves. (For all you Lost fans, there's a cameo from Matthew Fox that will make you chuckle a little bit, too.)

So, even though I've recommended some heavy-handed movies in the past few blogs I've written, I'm letting everyone take a breather this time around. If you're not in the mood to think too hard, and you can handle a lot of bloody killings, grab a friend or a loved one and go see Smokin' Aces. If you like it, you might also want to check out Narc also written and directed by Carnahan starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

An Action Movie...with a Message

At one point in Blood Diamond, Danny (Leonardo DiCaprio), Solomon (Djimon Hounsou*), and Maddy (Jennifer Connelly) come upon a nice place that has happy children playing soccer on a well manicured lawn with a fatherly looking man coming out to greet them.

This is the point in the movie where I remembered how to breathe again.

For the rest of my 150 minutes in the theatre, I held my breath, clung to my seat, and averted my eyes. That's how good Blood Diamond is. It's up-in-your-face, people-dying-horribly, innocent-children-getting-corrupted intense. It is so harsh at times that I asked myself why I was so glued to the screen. The answer? It's an amazingly good movie.

Do not mistake Blood Diamond for being simply an "issue film." A story like this can come very close to being a one long public service announcement. "Open your eyes, stupid Americans! Look at what's going on in Africa!" And, for a few minutes, Blood Diamond does step into this realm, but thankfully, it never lingers. This movie is about two men who need something, and one woman who really does give a damn. It may have taken place in Sierra Leone and Guinea, but the story isn't really about the civil war, it's about these people surviving it. And there are enough explosions, shooting, running, and high-speed camera work for this to sit on the shelf next to any respectable action movie.

Even though the story is the driving force of this film, let us not forget the 5 star performances. In my book, it goes without saying that Hounsou and Connelly are great actors, but DiCaprio has always been hit or miss for me. He relishes in playing the troubled character so much that I quickly grow weary. It turns out, though, that this troubled character worked well for him. I was a little iffy about of his Rhodesian accent at first, but it quickly fell into step with the character, and I was just watching the story play out instead of listening for him to let the accent slip.

If you're looking for an edge-of-your-seat action film with a message, this is the movie for you. Your heart will ache for the young boys you see fall so easily into the R.U.F. life. You'll feel angry about all the war and corruption. And it may make you go home and read up on the corrupt diamond trade in Africa.

Just like most Hollywood "issue films," there is relief at the end, but it's more realistic than satisfying, and for me, this is the best kind of ending.

*The correct pronunciation of Mr. Hounsou's name, for those who are curious, is "Jie-mon Hahn-soo."

Sunday, February 4, 2007

2006 in Celluloid (and sometimes HD)

If you read the blog before this one, you know how I am about making lists, but I'm making this one for my own good...and the good of those out there who may have missed some gems from this past year. If you haven't seen them, check 'em out and let me know what you think.

Best Dose of Reality: United 93
I know that there are people who are not ready for this movie, and that's fine. When you are ready, you need to see it. There is a reason Paul Greengrass got an Oscar nod for this one. It feels more documentary than scripted. Every person--actor or not--revealed his or her feelings so starkly that I couldn't help but hope that, this time around, the ending would be different.

Best Action/Drama: The Departed
This is why people love Martin Scorsese. An all-star cast that laid it out there, a kickass soundtrack, an ultra-violent joy ride that made me cringe and laugh and cheer for the good guys. Great stuff.

Happiest Little Film: Little Miss Sunshine
I don't care how cliche it sounds, but I laughed, I cried, and as soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again.

The Reason Indies Should Be Made: Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling. Remember that name because this guy is amazing. This film is small on budget but big on story. It's naked and raw and hard to swallow at times, but it's excellent. (*Catch Gosling in The Believer too.)

The Most Fun I've Had All Year: Casino Royale
Dare I say it? Daniel Craig might possibly be my new favorite Bond.

The Most Fun I've Had All Year (runner up): Thank You For Smoking
I love an equal opportunity comedy. It doesn't just poke fun at the right or the left. It pokes fun at EVERYONE.

The Most Visually Stunning: Pan's Labyrinth
Beautiful, violent, fantastical, and did I mention violent? The images are amazing in this movie, even when they make you cringe a little.

The Best Worst Movie: Lady in the Water
See my second blog.

The Most Deserved Oscar: The Last King of Scotland
Read my blog from last week.

Best Animation: Cars
Pixar can never go wrong. And even if they's still better than most everything else.

The Christopher Guest Honorary Award: For Your Consideration
Not better than Best in Show, but better than A Mighty Wind. If it were up to me, Catherine O'Hara would have been nominated for an Oscar...or at least a Golden Globe.

And now for the rest (in alphabetical order):
Akeelah and the Bee
Children of Men
Glory Road
The Illusionist
Inside Man
Monster House
Night at the Museum
Over the Hedge
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Queen
Stranger than Fiction

Saturday, February 3, 2007

One of the Hardest Questions You Could Ever Ask Me

On the first of this month, a question was posed to me that has been posed to me many times in the past. It is a question that I, being who I am, can never avoid: what are your top ten favorite films?

This question is evil. It's like asking a good Catholic woman to chose her favorite child. I usually avoid answering this question, or any variation, by saying "I have too many to list," or sometimes I go with, "It depends on my mood." is the time to tell the whole truth.

If you are as obsessed with movies as I am, you can never have a stagnant top ten list. I am no true critic, and film studies was my least favorite class in school. Therefore, my top anything list is not about the creative prowess of the people who made the film or about the new standard in filmmaking the movie may have set. Even though I may notice the cinematography and the editing and the writing and the acting, what I really notice is how these affect me. That is what makes a film great--the sort of impact it leaves upon the audience. And because I have new experiences every day, my top list is forever changing. I hope that it will always be a challenge to put together.

Now, after that big schpeel, I'm going to contradict it with one more truth I must reveal. The Sound of Music is my favorite movie of all time. This is a big deal for me to realize, but every time I sit down to even attempt to make a list of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music ALWAYS rears its fantastically entertaining head. Since I was a little girl, my mother and I watched it every year around Thanksgiving. I know every single song. When I hear a scene, I can visualize it perfectly in my head. I don't care what you say; this film is timeless. My mother loved it, I love it, and if I have children, they will love it too. (Or hate it because I will make them watch it every year.)

Before I share the rest of the list, let me tell you how long it took me to narrow it down. As I said at the beginning of this blog, choosing movies is like choosing children, I actually feel that I'm unfairly leaving certain movies out when I make a list like this. I spent days pondering what would be here. Film titles would fly into my head, and then I'd question how much I loved it over another title that was hovering in the background. Finally, I just started writing them down, and with a little pang in my heart, I slowly weeded out much loved films to bring you this list.
  1. The Sound of Music
  2. The Princess Bride
  3. Edward Scissorhands
  4. Parenthood
  5. Garden State
  6. The Silence of the Lambs
  7. Goonies
  8. The Shawshank Redemption
  9. The Neverending Story
  10. Hotel Rwanda
When I think of movies, these are ten that come to mind. These are ten that make me recall certain lines, certain scenes, certain feelings. These are not the only ten, but these are the ten you get this time around. Next year, this list could very well be different. Last year, this list was definitely different. I hope this has given you a little insight into who I am as an avid movie watcher. Maybe in a few months, I'll venture off topic and talk about great television too. Now, I must go and get ready to experience another (hopefully) great movie.