Friday, October 2, 2009

9: Pretty but Shallow

I know, I know, I've been off the blog wagon for awhile now. But I have two really good reasons! I'm not going to sit here and promise that I will hop back on, but I will say that I do miss it, so maybe that's incentive enough to do a little more.

Well...with that said, let's get on with the review.

I finally got around to seeing 9. I'd heard from many people that the visuals outweigh the story, and I definitely agree. It was a visually beautiful film with grand apocalyptic landscapes and beautifully detailed rag doll figures. But there's just so long you can be in awe of a pretty movie before you start saying, "Um, so when's the story going to get really interesting?"

The story begins when 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) first comes to life in a room whose only occupant is a dead man on the floor. When he ventures out into the world, he finds that all humans are gone and the world is in ruins. Only by sheer chance does he find others like himself hiding in a cathedral to protect themselves from The Beast. 9 doesn't believe hiding is the answer, and against the wishes of the self-proclaimed leader 1 (Christopher Plummer), he convinces 5 (John C. Reilly) that they must go out and fight The Beast in order to save others like them. Of course, they fight and a battle of good vs. evil leads to them learning the truth of their existence and their importance to the future of civilization.

My synopsis sounds far more rousing than the film ended up being. I definitely wasn't bored, but I did randomly find myself analyzing the movie instead of watching it, which is not a good sign ever. The story never dove deep enough for me to really get into it. There are two kinds of apocalyptic movies: the kind that Roland Emmerich makes and those that are more like 12 Monkeys or Children of Men. 9 definitely wasn't The Day After Tomorrow, but it also wasn't Children of Men. It was more an outline than a full script.

For nearly the first hour of the movie, I felt like the story was building up to something bigger and grander that was going to have the massive moral impact by the end. Yet, when the truth about the monster machine is revealed, I felt like I'd fallen into an explanation of Terminator. Then when we finally learn why 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 exist, I feel a little let down--not by the reveal, but by the payoff.

I wanted to care more about these little rag doll people. They get hurt, they die. They sacrifice, but I'm just not invested enough in them to really care too much. Director Shane Acker wrote and directed 9, the Oscar-nominated short film in 2005. The short caught the attention of Tim Burton and voila, a feature was made.

After watching the short, I can definitely see the appeal of making it into a feature. There's so much opportunity to tell more story and create fuller characters. Even though the feature 9 did tell more story, the character development falls flat.

My verdict? It's worth seeing on the big screen for the beautiful visuals, but don't get your hopes up for a really strong story.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sweet Adventure

The summer is packed with popcorn movies filled with explosions, huge special effects, and so-so acting. But stuck in there are some smaller movies to give you a break from the flash and bang of the big boys. Away We Go is one of those small movies. And even though I'm still saying Star Trek has been the best summer movie (closely followed by The Hangover), Away We Go is not to be missed.

It's beautiful, thoughtful, funny, and quite touching. All those naysayers out there who didn't like it obviously didn't get the memo about the quirky indie road movie. Yes, just like with romantic comedies, it follows a pattern--a couple goes on a trip and meet strange wacky people along the way. After the trip, they have a profound moment and are happier and better for the experience. What's important about a movie like this are the characters. You want to believe them and believe in them. John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph, as Burt and Verona, are like real people that you want to have coffee with and offer a shoulder to cry on.

Burt and Verona are an expectant couple in search of a new place to put down roots and raise their daughter. In trying places close to family or friends, they make new connections to one another, find out new and interesting things about the people they know, and, of course, find out more about each other.

Like all road movies, the couple has run-ins with the weird and weirder. The best encounter is with Maggie Gyllenhaal's LN (yeah, it "Ellen"). The woman is a natural mom who doesn't believe in secrets or strollers. She's crazy and scary and so hilarious, I think I cried a little bit.

The most heartbreaking encounter is with Munch and Tom Garnett (Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina), college friends of Burt and Verona. I won't reveal why it's so heartbreaking, but you'll probably put two and two together as the sequence unfolds. Have you ever had a moment in a movie where you've been so involved that you feel like your best friend just went through something horrible? Well, I had that moment in this that scene. It felt like someone stuck a knife in my gut and just twisted it. I know that sounds awful, but that's how great the characters are. They are real people on that screen, and I felt for them whole-heartedly.

Director Sam Mendes has a true knack for getting exceptional performances out of people.

John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph are both excellent. I didn't see a glimmer of "Jim" from The Office or any of Rudolph's wacky SNL characters.
They have great chemistry, and I found myself smiling with them throughout the movie.

This is not by any means a big budget must-see-in-theatres movie. But I always urge everyone to see the small films in theatres. It's always good to show your support to the quiet ones as well as the big explosion big guys who reign supreme this time of year.

The Proposal: Comic Love

We all know that most romantic comedies are the same: boy meets girl, they fall for each other, something tears them apart, and then they end up together by the end. There are only a handful, if that, of rom coms that don't follow this pattern. It's something a movie-goer accepts and even expects.

I didn't want to see The Proposal because I was hoping for a twist or a thrilling last act. I wanted to see it because I was in the mood for some silly love antics, and The Proposal delivered.

When Margaret (Sandra Bullock), a high-powered (read super-bitch) book editor, faces deportation to her native Canada as well as the loss of her job, she quickly declares that she’s actually engaged to her unsuspecting assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), who she’s tormented for years. Andrew agrees to participate in the charade, mostly because he wants to keep his job and get a promotion, but also because he'll finally have the upper-hand in the relationship.

The unlikely couple heads to Alaska to meet Andrew's family--doting Mom (Mary Steenburgen), never-pleased dad (Craig T. Nelson), and cooky grandma (Betty White). With an impromptu wedding in the works and an asinine immigration official on their tails, Margaret and Andrew reluctantly vow to stick to the plan and start finding out more about each other than they ever could have discovered in the office.

A romantic comedy is sold by the stars. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock are both hilarious and have great chemistry. I figured I would laugh and have a good time, but I found myself outright guffawing at times. Reynolds has impeccable timing with snappy comebacks and witty asides, while Bullock's physical comedy will keep you snickering far longer than you should. And I must hand out serious props for her doing the nearly nude scene with the cute fluffy dog. There's no way I would have the guts to be basically naked and (purposefully) funny at the same time.

The supporting cast is good too. Craig T. Nelson is the proper never-satisfied dad while Mary Steenburgen calls up her role from Parenthood as the doting yet stern mom. And then there's Betty White. She is absolutely spectacular. I must agree with Clay Cane, of BET, who said, "Ms. Betty could be cast in a revival of New Jack City and you’d believe her in every frame." She's a loving and cooky grandmother who will speak her mind, dance with "exotic" dancers and chant over a bonfire in the middle of the woods...and I believed every minute. If I wasn't laughing at Margaret or Andrew, I was definitely laughing at Grandma Annie.

The Proposal is not amazing storytelling, in fact, the whole premise is a bit far-fetched, but the movie was never intended for serious study. It's fun, sweet, and a good time at the movies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Up, Up, and Away

It's official. Pixar can do no wrong. Of course, we all knew it after the success of the first three movies, but now the studio wunderkind has ten movies under its belt. I'm sorry, ten successful movies. I don't care if you didn't enjoy every movie with a Pixar stamp on it; you have to admit that Pixar's worst movie is better than any other studio's worst a long shot.

Up is definitely not Pixar's worst movie.

Ed Anser voices Carl, a retired balloon salesman, who lives alone in the middle of a construction site. Carl has always dreamed of grand adventures--especially to Paradise Falls, the place his childhood hero went to explore. When he faces internment in a nursing home after bopping a worker on the head with his cane, he decides to take that adventure by tying hundreds of balloons to his home and flying off to Paradise Falls.

Along for the trip, by no choice of his own, is Russell (voiced by newcomer Jordan Nagai), a very determined Wilderness Explorer who's looking to get his last badge by helping the elderly. Never did Russell think helping would mean being tethered to a floating house walking across plateaus in South America.

On top of being an extremely endearing story (I cried twice), Up is very funny as well. I mean, who wouldn't laugh at two old men fighting? Or a gigantic bird who likes chocolate? Or a dog with a talking collar who's overly interested in squirrels and tennis balls? I'm usually iffy when it comes to talking animal sidekicks in Disney pictures, but sometimes you get a real gem. Dug (that would be the talking dog) is so funny, he's a friggin' diamond.

I want to go on and on about Carl & Russell's adventures, but I feel that I would just end up telling the whole story and giving it away. So just go see it. If it's available to you, see it in 3-D. It looks absolutely spectacular in 3-D. The deep caverns, the color balloons, the huge waterfall--all worth the 3-D experience.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Terminator: After the Fall

Way back in March, I said that I was not 100% sold on Christian Bale as John Conner. And now that I've seen Terminator Salvation... I'm still not 100% sold on Christian Bale as John Conner. He is good, but not as good as he could have been. Does his performance make the movie any less enjoyable? Not in the slightest. Mostly because Sam Worthington--the newcomer who plays human/terminator Marcus Wright--outshines Bale. Worthington has the looks and the presence to steal basically every scene, and I cannot wait to see him in more movies!

The year is 2018. It's post-Judgement yet pre-time travel. The Resistance is still small, but there's an organized army fighting the machines. John Conner is just a soldier on the totem pole who's got a small yet very loyal following. He's married to Kate Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard) and has a baby on the way. The army has discovered a weapon that will help them defeat the machines, and Conner volunteers to test it.

Meanwhile, Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last real memory is speaking with a dying Helena Bonham Carter on death row, wakes up in the post-apocalyptic world out of touch and completely lost. In attempt to find living people, he runs into his first terminator where he is quickly saved by John's father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). After some big chases and monstrous encounters with more terminators, Marcus finds himself alone until he help rescue the beautiful Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), a resistance soldier in Connor's unit.

When Wright and Connor cross paths, Wright's appearance alters everything John knows about the future. The two men must learn to trust each other and fight to find the truth and bring down Skynet.

Beyond the great presence of Worthington, there's not really much to say as far as the acting goes. I mean, it's a Terminator movie. Are we really here to talk about the acting? No. This movie is about big action and bigger explosions, and there are plenty.

The special effects are great. I loved the motorcycle terminators agile creepiness as the sped along chasing Reese and Wright. The water-snake machines made my skin crawl, and the big T-100 made me smile (oh, the memories) and cringe (oh, the puncture wounds!) all at the same time.

There is a heart to the story, so don't think a plotline was completely ignored. But in comparison to the explosive decibal levels of the action, the plot is whispering. It's a popcorn summer movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Have fun and enjoy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Demons & Angels

In all honesty, I feel very neutral about Angels & Demons. I was hoping that waiting a few days after I saw it would bring about a real opinion of sorts, but I'm still stuck with simply being entertained. It's not a bad movie, but it wasn't a great movie. I didn't feel it to be a waste of money, but I would've been just as satisfied to watch it on DVD.

I will say this: for those who read the book and believed the soap opera ending with the pope and the Camerlengo was too much, you'll be happy to know that it's not in the movie! That made me happy, and I apologize for confusing any non-readers. Believe me, if you go and read the book now, you'll really wonder what the hell Dan Brown was thinking with that ending. Alas, this is not a review for Dan Brown's book, this is a review for Ron Howard's movie.

Soon after the pope’s death, an antimatter bomb is stolen and placed somewhere in Vatican City. The culprits? The Illuminati--a defunct ancient secret organization (Is there any other kind of ancient organization?) who seem to no longer be defunct. An organization that was about the promotion of science and the downfall of the Church since the Church was all about their downfall way back in the day.

To pass the time until the bomb detonates, the enemy threatens to torture and kill the four cardinals that are favored for the Papacy, leaving symbols of the Illuminati to send a message. The only way to stop them is to find hidden clues in Rome's architecture and find the path of enlightment...or something like that.

Who better to help decipher ancient symbols and architectural clues but symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks)! Langdon, of course, isn't too liked by the religious crowd because of his antics in The Da Vinci Code, which are alluded to a few times to remind the audience that, unlike the book, this movie is a sequel not a prequel. But antics and atheism aside, the Vatican City police bring Langdon in anyway. His "sidekick" is Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a physicist who knows the ins and outs of the antimatter bomb. Langdon and Vetra are aided by the very understanding Carmerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) and blocked on all fronts by the head of the Swiss Guard, Commander Richter (Stellan SkarsgÄrd).

With cardinals dying every hour on the hour and an antimatter bomb capable of destroying Vatican City and most of Rome, you would expect a high-octane action movie. And, for the most part, that's what you get. Tom Hanks and the beautiful sidekick race from place to place, uncovering clues, deciphering hidden texts, and trying to rescue cardinals. There's gun fire, daring rescues, and explosions. Even with all that, it just seemed rushed instead of fast-paced. I know in the book that they were only given four hours before the bomb goes off, but I think in the movie the time should have been extended a little bit.

It's very hard to believe that all this stuff--fires and drownings and stabbings and being locked in a room with no oxygen--could all happen in a matter of hours. Yes, it's a movie; I understand that, but I still didn't quite grab onto the suspension of disbelief that I want when watching a really good movie. Which means, I guess, that Angels & Demons just isn't a really good movie.

It has more action and less scientific talk than The Da Vinci Code, which will make lots of people very happy, but it was lacking a little of the mystery. Even if I hadn't read the book, I would've figured out who was behind the whole mess no more than 45 mintues into the movie (if that). And when you have a movie with a predictable ending, you really hope the ride is entertaining. Well, the ride was entertaining, but just not enough to make up for the predictable ending.

In the end, I think this is a video movie. See it at the matinee show if you really feel like hitting the theatres, but I'm sure there's a better way to spend $9.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Great and the Horrible: Star Trek and X-Men

It's been a long while since I've written anything--nearly two months to the day--and I don't like that. I'm going to stop not writing, I promise. It's good for me to write about movies, and I assume (since people actually read this thing) that's it good for others to read about me writing about movies. With that out of the way, let's get on with it.

Even though summer isn't officially here, as far as the movie world is concerned, it's in full force. We've got X-Men Origins, Star Trek, Angels & Demons, and Terminator Salvation already in theatres. Pixar's Up, the Transformers sequel, the sixth Harry Potter, and Public Enemies are on their way soon. Yep, it's a summer full of blockbusters...and hopefully they're all better than X-Men Origins.

I am not above being a tad bit shallow every now and again, and I think that sometimes beautiful visuals can spare a movie from being absolutely awful. Alas, no amount of shirtless Hugh Jackman and sword-wielding Ryan Reynolds could save X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The opening credits are more interesting than the entire movie. Heck, I'll give you the first five minutes, but after that, I was struggling to be entertained.

It is overly dramatic, too predictable, and lacks a definite story arc. It has far more talk than action, and a majority of the characters are scarcely used or used badly. The so-called twists aren't really twists at all, and I swear there is only one moment of true surprise in the entire movie. (If you've seen it, I'd like you to guess what I'm talking about.)

Oh, and please do not get me started on the crappy effects! I thought that I was looking at animation from Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Logan's playing with his claws in the bathroom. What? Did someone forget the final steps on finishing that scene? Wow. Also, at the end, there are people going towards a helicopter that is blatantly just people running at a green screen. I know that we're in an economic crisis, but I'm sure you could've spared a few more dollars for better effects than that.

I heard Hugh Jackman wants to make another one. Well, if he does, hopefully a different screenwriter will take the reigns and make an action-packed watchable movie about Wolverine. Maybe then I can try my hardest to forget this schlock that is called a movie.

As awful as X-Men was, Star Trek was that incredible. I'm a little partial because I'm a big fan of the series, but I do believe that non-fans and casual viewers alike will have a great time too. The cast is great. The storyline works. There is plenty of action and a whole lot of funny.

I had doubts about Chris Pine playing the later-to-be Captain Kirk (mostly because I'd only seen him in Princess Diaries 2 and Smokin' Aces), but he plays Kirk with all the wit and slyness needed. Zachary Quinto is perfectly casts as Spock. Granted, it's not too far of a stretch for him to play an emotional challenged character, but I still think he flawless. Simon Pegg, with his short time on screen, is an impeccable Scotty. Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu), Karl Urban (Bones) and even Anton Yelchin (Chekov) turn in exceptional performances as well.

The comedy is surprising yet hilarious. There are many moments throughout the movie that are just there for the laugh, and I loved that. The action scenes--everything from photon torpedoes to sword fights to bar brawls--are packed with excitement and never cheesy...okay, they're hardly ever cheesy. And there's just the right amount of inside jokes for the Trekkies (or Trekkers, whatever).

There are Trek purist who might scream foul, but they need to just go back home and watch old episodes on DVD. J.J. Abrahms honors the series and its characters while also injecting the franchise with some much needed action, sex appeal, and all around fun.

Just writing about it makes me want to go out and see it again. It's been a long while since I've said that about any summer blockbuster.

So, no matter what your friends say, X-Men can wait for DVD. Honestly, it can wait for HBO. But go out and see Star Trek. The beautiful shots of the Enterprise in all its glory are well worth seeing it on the big screen. Oh, and that whole fun, action-packed story doesn't hurt either.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Ever-Expanding Late Winter Slump

If you haven't noticed, the first part of the year is a bad time for movies. While November and December turn out some serious awards-show types, January & February are usually riddled with over-processed, seen-it-before slasher movies and crappy action movies staring ex-wrestlers. In the past couple of years, that late winter slump has turned into the late winter/early spring slump. Here we are, with March nearly over, and I haven't seen but one new movie that's really worth talking about. (That would be Watchmen, and I haven't even really talked about it since I'm still attempting to wrap my brain around it. Was it awesome? Yes. Is it rewatchable? I don't know. Do I love it more or less the more I think about it? I really don't know!)

Thankfully, I won't have to simmer in my own pile of questions about Watchmen since March is almost over, and some titillating fair will be coming to (or have already started at) a cineplex near you in the next few weeks.

Without further ado, here are a few a the movies I look forward to this spring:
*Click on the titles to see the trailers.

Duplicity (March 20)
This movie could easily be a miss. The trailer makes it look like the next Oceans installment, and the last time Julia and Clive were together, it was in Closer. I hated Closer. But! It still looks like fun, and I'll probably really enjoy it.

I Love You, Man (March 20)
I love a good raunchy, hilarious outing with Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. I really have nothing more to say about that.

The Great Buck Howard
(March 20, limited)
John Malkovich? Hilarious. Colin Hanks? So much like his dad, it's a little scary. I think the two of them could have some beautiful chemistry. Plus, the tossed salad line in the trailer makes me laugh every time.

Monsters vs. Aliens
(March 27)
Who wouldn't look forward to a Jell-O blue monster, a 50-foot woman, a bunch of aliens and some very wry family humor? It's like Dr. Strangelove if it were animated and targeted at kids.

The Soloist (April 24)
This film appeared on my Winter Preview because it was suppose to get a November release. This is what I wrote then: I don't know if I mentioned that I've jumped on the Robert Downey, Jr. bandwagon, but I have. Even if he wasn't in this movie, I'd probably see it. There's a chance of a forced emotional storyline and overdone performances, but I'm willing to take that risk because it very well may be as good as the trailer makes it out to be.

Hopefully the push to Spring is because the suits want some Oscar buzz for Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx. I really, really, really hope it isn't because it's sappy and over-dramatic.

Star Trek (May 8)'s Star Trek! I may have some qualms about the slighty whiney Anton Yelchin as Chekov, but I have absolutely no problems with Simon Pegg as Scotty and the perfect casting of Zachary Quinto as Spock.

Angels & Demons (May 15)
I don't know about anyone else, but I actually liked Dan Brown's prequel more than I liked The DaVinci Code. When it comes to the movie version, I'm kind of hoping the same thing happens. It's not that I didn't like The DaVinci Code, I just didn't love it like I hoped I would. Maybe I'll love Angels & Demons. If not, I at least hope I enjoy it.

The Brothers Bloom
(May 15, limited)
Yet another movie about criminals who are doing that one last job. Seems run-of-the-mill, but I think it could definitely be more. Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo are both strong enough actors to keep the comedy witty, and Rachel Weisz just seems like the perfect ditzy, rich girl who's smarter than we think.

Terminator: Salvation (May 22)
I'm not 100% sold on Christian Bale as John Conner. He's proved to me that he can do gritty action movies, but I don't know if he can do a Terminator-type action movie. I'm willing to try it out because I'm excited to see post-apocalyptic Earth in the Terminator universe, but I'm keeping my hopes in check.

Up (May 29)
An old man and a young boy are stuck in a house together. The house happens to be flying because it's attached to a heap of helium balloons. Pixar, I do love you.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Two Bloggers...on the Oscars

It's been a couple of weeks, but Amy and I have finally found a little time to sit and discuss the big event. Hopefully, it was worth the wait.

Faith: Did you love Hugh Jackman?
Amy: Beyond words. I thought it was a great reminder that you don't have to have a comedian as a host...just someone who can be charismatic.
Faith: Exactly. I want him to host again. His opening bit was great, and even though I'm not a fan of Beyonce, the musical number about musicals was good too.
Amy: Oh, that was actually the only part of the show I hated. I thought it was exactly what makes people turn off the Oscars. It hurt my soul when I saw it was done by Baz Lurman.
Faith: Hahahaha! Well, I'm a sucker for the musical.
Amy: I think it was payback for the poor reception for Australia.
Faith: That's it. There's no other reason.
Amy: But the opening number was fantastic.
Faith: Anne Hathaway stole the show for a few moments.
Amy: Seriously, how lovely was she? I really liked having the past winners introduce the nominees. Way more interesting that the usual clip-o-polooza.
Faith: There was a mixed reception at the party I went to. I thought it was nice because you could see the nominees were moved by the idea, but I could see how a viewer would just be bored by it.
Amy: I just hate the clips. Now, when you watch a movie it's like, "yup, there's their Oscar clip!" Sad.
Faith: That's because you don't hang out with me.
Amy: Ha, true
Faith: You have to make the clips into a game. Whoever can name the most movies wins. It's really only entertaining if it's old mixed with new clips. The new clips are too easy. We ended up doing it with the actor nominees--name the winner and the movie he/she won for.
Amy: Overall, I liked the "reboot." Everything gets "rebooted" nowadays. Although I am not happy with the way they did the song noms, but oh well. They were definitely the red-headed stepchildren of the evening.
Faith: Really? Not into the mishmash performance?
Amy: No. It just didn't go together. And I still don't know why only three were nominated this year.
Faith: Obviously the Academy thought all other songs sucked.
Amy: See, but they didn't! Why wasn't Springsteen’s song from The Wrestler nominated? That was nothing but a snub, and I don't know why.
Faith: Who the hell knows. It's like why did that guy from Twilight present a damn award? He annoys me, and his fake brooding didn't help.
Amy: Oh, I had a number of WTF moments with the attendants.
Faith: Tell me that was one of them.
Amy: Yes. I still don't feel like there is any reason for Miley Cyrus to be there…and the High School Musical people.
Faith: I know why they're doing it--bring in the younger demo, but seriously, if you have never watched, you're not going to start because Miley and creepy vampire kid showed up.
Amy: Exactly. Especially if you are 12.
Faith: And can we talk about Miley's scary dress? It looked like a Little Mermaid costume.
Amy: It prompted a whole conversation with my sister. Being the fashion guru that I am...
Faith: Do tell.
Amy: It was a great, haute couture dress... if Hedi Klum had worn it. It should have been on someone 35+, model, over 6 feet. That is the type of dress that has to been worn, be carried.
Faith: Nope. Still would've hated it. It looked uncomfortable and made for a stage performance of sorts.
Amy: The problem is she is so short--because she is like 8 or something--so the petals or "scales" look massive. They actually copied another dress, and if you see that one, god, it is so pretty
Faith: OK. I'm cutting off the fashion talk. This is a movie blog, damn it.
Amy: It's Oscar night, it all gets mixed up! OK, time for the elephant in the room...
Faith: OK…
Amy: What did you think about how they treated Dark Knight? Snubbed, overlooked, or out of its league?
Faith: None of the above. I think The Dark Knight got the award it deserved. Heath Ledger was the absolute best thing about that movie. I never thought it was Best Picture material, and I knew it wasn't going to win all the technical stuff it was nominated for. Yes, it looked amazing with awesome effects and brilliant sound, but it wasn't spectacular. Most action movies have awesome effects and brilliant sound.
Amy: See, I absolutely thought it deserved more recognition. It is hard for me to justify The Reader getting a best pic nom and not Dark Knight. It should have been up there for the big leagues, in a weak year of movies it was a standout.
Faith: OK. Well I don't think The Reader deserved a Best Picture nod either, but I really do think people are clouded by exquisite performances. The Reader and Dark Knight are the same like that. I think the acting outshined the story in both.
Amy: Oh, I think the direction in Dark Knight was far superior to many of the others that got recognition. I thought that it was almost a shame that Ledger was the big story (rightly so), and Nolan was overlooked.
Faith: Nolan was only overlooked by old people who give out awards. Just because he wasn't nominated doesn't mean he wasn't recognized. The man is good at his job and everyone knows it.
Amy: I don't think it was the best movie of the year, but I would have liked a bit more for it.

Faith: And weak year? I don't think so. If I can easily name 10 movies I liked, it was a good year.
Amy: Really? I thought it was a year of super movies and forgettable ones.
Faith: Burn After Reading, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon, Traitor, friggin' IRON MAN, Tropic Thunder, In Bruges, Wall-E!
Amy: Boring, didn't see (yet), no interest, didn't see, LOVED (super category), over-rated, watching tonight, LOVED (super)
Faith: OK. What!? WHAT?
Faith: Burn After Reading was great. And Frost/Nixon is my number two movie of the year. Loved it!
Amy: Burn After Reading fell apart under it's own need to be funny. Brad Pitt was the only watchable part, and I love the Cohens. And I don't know, Frost/Nixon just doesn't sound interesting. I guess because the whole Watergate thing just doesn't interest me in general. Maybe something I would watch with my dad?
Faith: Doesn't matter. If you like intense movies, it's a good one. Watergate is a backdrop. It's about the men.
Amy: Who are two people I really don't care about. I'm sure I will see it eventually, but it is nowhere near the top of my list
Faith: I didn't care either. I didn't even really know who David Frost was. Still worked. OK. Let's discuss the utter predictability of the whole night. It was like the year of The Return of the King all over again.
Amy: Seriously. The only surprise was in Foreign Pic.
Faith: Yep. I was not surprised by one major award. (Even though I prayed to be wrong about Penelope Cruz.)
Amy: I mean, Slumdog was my favorite movie so I wanted it to win everything.
Faith: Me too, but I wasn't even cheering by the end because I knew it was coming. I like being surprised sometimes.
Amy: It was a bit anti-climatic, but then I think about how horrible Best Pic surprises are. Like Crash--when it was announced I was stunned, but not in a good way.
Faith: Oh, me too. I even liked Crash, but I was not happy. The same goes for Shakespeare in Love--good movie but not better than Saving Private Ryan.
Amy: Exactly. I want the Best Pic to be expected. By the time the telecast got there everyone knew what was coming, and it was almost a relief. OH! Who was your best acceptance speech?
Faith: Hmm...
Amy: I thought the Milk writer nailed it.
Faith: The truly emotional ones are always good.
Amy: I feel like the writers are often overlooked *cough, cough*, so I love it when they get screen time.
Faith: Hahaha. I made everyone at the party shut up when the editor was speaking.
Amy: Ha!
Faith: I want to hear the people who don't do a lot of talking. They give the most heartfelt speeches in my opinion.
Amy: Agreed. Somehow the actors are always the most boring. You can see why their job is reading what someone else wrote.
Faith: Heath Ledger's family, of course, were wonderful.
Amy: That is still hard for me to wrap my mind around; it was still a bit surreal. Honestly for me, the highlight of the night was Winslet winning Best Actress.
Faith: She's always entertaining!
Amy: Although, in my mind, she won for Eternal Sunshine.
Faith: Well, in my mind she should have at least three Oscars at home.
Amy: Exactly. This was really a lifetime achievement award. Any major disappointments?
Faith: Winning-wise? Penelope. I haven't seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but I just don't know how she could've been better than Viola Davis. I also think Cinematography should've gone to The Dark Knight or Benjamin Button, not Slumdog.
Amy: This is why we are friends! Those were my two also. Like I said, I thought the cinematography in Slumdog was the only thing that didn't blow me away. And Viola Davis...can we have a moment? So amazing.
Faith: Definitely. Oh, and I have a small tinge for Sean Penn. He was great in Milk, but I think he's a bit of a douche. I would've loved for Mickey Rourke to have won.
Amy: Haha, I've never been a fan of Penn's. I think douche is the operative word. But I haven't watched Milk yet, so I can't say. I really liked Rourke though, and I know it doesn't count, but I think it would have meant way more to Rourke.
Faith: Especially after losing his favorite dog. I’m sure he would’ve dedicated the award to it. I'm not even sure what's left to talk about.
Amy: Hmmm... I don't think anything else really stands out for me
Faith: You know what we need to talk about? We need to talk about Alan Arkin messing up Philip Seymour Hoffman's name!
Amy: Ha! I think there were a handful of flubs, of notable people, no less.
Faith: I dunno, but that one was hilarious.
Amy: I know we said no fashion, but what about the hot mess that was Jessica Beal...
Faith: Oh, you mean the big shiny napkin she was wearing? That was priceless.
Amy: And if you are going to the Oscars, at least brush your hair.
Faith: I was so distracted by the dress; I didn't even notice her hair.
Amy: Oh! What did you think about the Pineapple Express clip? Another high point for me.
Faith: It was like an SNL clip that went on too long. It was funny at the beginning, and then it wasn't, and then the Milk part was funny, and then it wasn't again.
Amy: True. I would have taken more of that over the dance number though
Amy: Overall, I liked the format of the show way better than in the past.
Faith: Definitely. They really paid attention to people who were getting bored.
Amy: It was about the little things, like Steve Martin and Tina Fay's jab at Scientology.
Faith: That was perfect. I wanted the Pineapple Express skit to be funny like they were funny.
Amy: I still give them credit for trying to bring in some modern humor. But please, in the future, no High School Musical.
Faith: Please God no.
Amy: I guess if you are a Slumdog fan, there isn't a lot to pick apart.
Faith: So true.
Amy: I thought it was satisfying and forgettable.
Faith: I enjoyed the whole show more than the past couple of years, but I'm still sticking to being slightly bored by the predictable winners.
Amy: All I'm saying is if Dark Knight had been in the mix more, I think that it might have been more of a contest, although Slumdog would have still creamed.
Faith: Well, like Will Smith said, the action movies don't get the love but they get the fans.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Oscar Picks

In about two hours, I'm going to be in the car on the way to Atlanta for a fun weekend of Oscar and Kate. But first, I thought I should put my picks out there...because it's nice to have proof ahead of time about how right I was. Haha, just kidding. Every year I'm surprised when someone I wasn't expecting takes home Oscar. Well, except the year LOTR: The Return of the King won. No one was surprised about anything that happened that night.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog has the best chance of winning. It's the little film that could. No matter the hype, the hype worked. There weren't a lot of TV or even in-theatre previews; this movie can owe its success to word of mouth and a famous fan-base (e.g. winning awards left and right). I will cheer when it wins, and I'll be downright flabbergasted if it doesn't.

Best Director: Danny Boyle
Just like Slumdog, he's the little director that could this year. I would love to see Ron Howard win, but he's an extremely long shot that's not going to happen.

Best Actor: Sean Penn
I would love to see Frank Langella go home with this one. His performance in Frost/Nixon was spectacular. I also had tears in my eyes watching Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. But I think the Academy is leaning more towards Penn. He too gave an incredible performance, but I wouldn't be disappointed to see Rourke up there thanking his dogs again.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet
This is Winslet's year. The woman has been nominated six times. SIX! And she's not even 35 yet. As of now, I haven't seen The Reader (I'm seeing it tonight), but I have no doubt that she deserves it. Speaking of Doubt, Meryl Streep is the only one who could push her out, but I'm pretty sure that her 15 nods didn't matter when the votes were coming in. The jaw-dropping surprise winner would be Anne Hathaway, but I wouldn't put any money on that at all.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
There are people that say he's getting all this posthumous glory because...well, because it's posthumous. Though I believe that, had he lived, he still would've gotten all the nominations he's gotten. His Joker was spooky and surreal and the absolute best work of his career. He may not have won the Oscar if he'd still been here, but he's definitely winning it now.

On a side note, Josh Brolin just worked his way into Rule #3 on my "How to Win an Oscar" book because his performance in Milk was good, but his performance in No Country for Old Men last year was better.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
I hate this category. There has yet to be a year where I've gotten this right. This year, though, I'm going with my gut...not the populous. I loved Davis. She kicked ass on screen. She deserves the "Judi Dench" award, dammit. Penelope Cruz is the front-runner for this one, but I don't think she could've possibly been as wonderful.

Best Original Screenplay: Milk
Mostly because it's the only Best Picture nominee, but also because there are a lot of speeches. I've only seen two others in the category. Wall-E is mostly silent; it could win, but I doubt it.
And In Bruges is hilarious not necessarily for the words but for how Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson deliver said words.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
I think this is a close race. This could easily go to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The Academy isn't huge on adaptations from plays, so Doubt and Frost/Nixon are out. The Reader's attention has all been focused on Kate Winslet and nothing else, so I think it's really out.

Best Animated Feature: Wall-E
There's no need to explain. It's a Pixar movie up against Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda.

And the rest...
Editing: The Dark Knight should win, but Slumdog will probably win.

Cinematography: Benjamin Button deserves this one, but Slumdog could slip in here as well.

Art Direction: I'd love to see The Dark Knight take this one, but I would be equally happy to see the more traditional Benjamin Button win as well.

Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E are the only two in which the score stood out for me. My money's on Wall-E.

Original Song: Slumdog and Wall-E are the only two up in this category, and I'm giving this one to Slumdog for its closing song "Jai Ho." Everyone should have a little Bollywood in their lives.

Costume Design: The Academy never disappoints here. If it's big and lavish, it wins. The Duchess has it.

Makeup: Though a lot of it involved CGI, there was definitely some great aging makeup in Benjamin Button. I think it will beat out it's superhero competition.

Sound Editing: Wall-E...because a mostly silent movie has to have impeccable sound.

Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight because an action movie full of explosions, raspy-voiced Batmans, and car chases should blend beautifully.

Visual Effects: I'd like Iron Man to take this one home because those effects were amazing, but everyone's been going on and on about Benjamin Button, so it's probably going to win.

Foreign-Language Film: Entertainment Weekly picked France's The Class. I'll take them as the authority on this one.

Documentary Feature: Man on Wire is the only doc I've actually heard of, so that's the one I'm choosing.

Doc Short: Again, I've got to turn to Entertainment Weekly and say The Witness--From the Balcony of Room 306...which I would really love to see. Hopefully, it will be available on DVD.

Animated Short: Presto, the Pixar short before Wall-E seems to be a shoe-in.

Live-Action Short: When there's a Holocaust film, you have to automatically assume it will win. And there is: Spielzugland (Toyland)

And my final prediction? Hugh Jackman is going to be entertaining, but everyone's going to compare him to Billy Crystal. Enjoy Oscar night everyone!

Friday, February 13, 2009

15 Movies I Think You Should See Before the Oscars

EW had their list (which I'm doing better on now, if you haven't checked it lately). As always, it's released before the nominations are announced. I decided this year, for my own information, to make my own list. What kind of film blogger would I be if I didn't share it. Again, in bold are the ones I've seen.

Here's a list of the 15 movies I think you should see before the Oscars, in order of importance. I've also noted what major* nominations each has received.

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 13 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, David Fincher; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actor, Brad Pitt; Best Supporting Actress, Taraji P. Henson
  • Slumdog Millionaire 10 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, Danny Boyle; Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Milk 8 nominations including Best Picture; Best Director, Gus Van Sant; Best Original Screenplay; Best Actor, Sean Penn; Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin
  • Frost/Nixon 5 nominations including Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Director, Ron Howard; Best Actor, Frank Langella
  • The Reader 5 nominations including Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Director; Stephen Daldry; Best Actress, Kate Winslet
  • Doubt 5 nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman; Best Actress, Meryl Streep; Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis & Amy Adams
  • The Wrestler 2 nominations: Best Actor, Mickey Rourke; Best Supporting Actress, Marisa Tomei
  • The Dark Knight 8 nominations including Best Supporting Actor, Heath Ledger
  • WALL-E 6 nominations including Best Animated Picture and Best Original Screenplay
  • Changeling 3 nominations including Best Actress, Angelina Jolie
  • Tropic Thunder 1 nomination: Best Supporting Actor, Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Rachel Getting Married 1 nomination: Best Actress, Anne Hathaway
  • Frozen River 2 nominations: Best Actress, Melissa Leo and Best Original Screenplay
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona 1 nomination: Best Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz
  • The Visitor 1 nomination: Best Actor, Richard Jenkins

*The "major" nominations include the Big Four - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress as well as Best Supporting Actor & Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Monday, February 2, 2009

From Stage to Screen

I'm just going to put it out there right here at the beginning. Doubt would not have been a good movie if it weren't for Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and especially Viola Davis. The story is a bit lacking, but these four actors make it compelling and--at times--fascinating to watch.

Adapted from his stageplay of the same name, director/writer John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is set in the Bronx at St. Nicholas Catholic school in 1964. The forward-thinking Father Flynn (Hoffman) is trying to bring the school out of its old, strict customs. Standing in his way is the fearsome school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) who rules the school like any mean-spirited nun in a traditional Catholic school. But, as it is the sixties, change is apparent, and the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II).

The sweet and loving Sister James (Adams), sees that Father Flynn is paying a tad too much attention to young Donald, and she shares her fears with Sister Aloysius. Without any solid proof but her own faith, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to find the truth and remove Flynn from the school.

You can tell from the way the film was shot that Shanley did his film homework. With the canted angles and long reaction shots, Doubt looks much like a classic Hitchcock with less shadows. But I guess when the only other movie you've directed is Joe Versus the Volcano, you probably need a little brush up. For some scenes, the shots worked, but there were others that completely took me out of the movie. This could be just me and all the other film students out there, so I'm sorry if I've now ruined it for you.

Camera work aside, the acting--as I've already said--is absolutely wonderful. I mean, there is no question that Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are some of the top players in their game, but Viola Davis. Holy crap. Her scene with Meryl Streep outside on the sidewalk had me glued to the screen. When Tim & I went to see it, the theatre was freezing, but for those few minutes I forgot I was cold. I forgot Tim was sitting next to me. She is only on the screen for 12 minutes, but I was completely enthralled.

Amy Adams is good too, but she's not nearly as good as her co-stars. Which, for a movie like this, isn't too shabby. She plays Sister James like the nun version of her character in Enchanted (thank you, Kate, for that one). She's timid, naive, and kind and hopes for the best in everyone. Every time someone steered her one way or the other, I felt she knew she was being manipulated but just didn't care to ruffle any feathers over it.

Being the film fanatic I am, I suggest seeing this movie in theatres just so you can cheer for Viola Davis when she wins her Oscar...or be thoroughly disappointed when she loses to Marisa Tomei. But you're not all crazy about movies like I am, and Doubt is the perfect movie for watching on your TV at home. It's low-key, actor-driven, and still holding on to its stageplay roots.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

2 Bloggers and a Movie...on Benjamin Button

I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button two weeks ago, and I've been sitting on this review for just as long. Call it laziness, call it ingenuity, call it me trying to entertain my readers, but I thought the best way to attack this epic was to bring on a second blogger.

So, my guest blogger today is Amy. She rants and raves on a semi-regular basis on her MySpace blog, and she, like me, is a movie freak, er, geek. This whole conversation began with me giving her the first paragraph of what was going to be a run-of-the-mill blog...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button surprised me a little. I was expecting an engaging story with solid acting, but what I wasn't expecting so much was the beauty of it all. Benjamin Button is not really an epic in the traditional sense, but it is an epic of sorts, and the cinematography owes itself to the slightly grand scale of the story.

AMY: Good call. Epic was the first word that I thought of when I finished also. Everyone had been talking about Australia being the epic movie, but I think Button did a great job nailing that feeling.

FAITH: Totally. I think it was epic like Forrest Gump was epic.

AMY: It's funny that you brought up Forrest Gump, because that is a comparison that I think is haunting Button.

FAITH: Well, it doesn't help that the screenwriter is Eric Roth...who wrote Forrest.

AMY: I should say that while Fincher is one of my favorites, I actually wasn't as excited about Button as I was for, say, Zodiac because of the Forrest Gump comparisons. I was actually surprised by how much I liked it.

FAITH: I thought I'd like it because I'm a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, but I have to agree with you, Zodiac seemed more Fincher-esque.

AMY: Did you expect it to be that funny?

FAITH: Not at all. The first part--when Benjamin's young--is a lot funnier than I thought it'd be!

AMY: Absolutely! That's when I started to like it. I loved that they treated the situation as ridiculous as it felt.

FAITH: So what did you think of the acting?

AMY: I thought Brad Pitt was great, although I would be interested to see how much of that was CGI with just voice over. I thought Cate Blanchett was phenomenal; she should have gotten a nom just for the scene in the dance studio.

FAITH: Well, I personally think Cate Blanchett could read a cereal box and be awesome. I read an article that Brad Pitt actually acted a majority of the movie; they just used CGI to put his face on the other actors. I personally think Taraji P. Henson stole the movie, though.

AMY: OK, that's interesting because she was the only one I thought didn't shine through the role for me. I thought it was kind of a stereotypical, Southern/black/poor… I didn't think it was unique enough to warrant this attention, what did it for you?

FAITH: Well, I don't know if you've seen her in other movies, but she has never shown this much talent in anything else. And (maybe cuz I'm black and Southern) I didn't find it stereotypical at all. She sounded like some of my great aunts!

AMY: Ha! I actually think that's what bugged me a little. I thought it seemed like she watched a bunch of movies like Gone With the Wind and figured that's what Southern black women were like… but you're right, I haven't seen her in any thing else.

FAITH: No, the women in Gone with the Wind were stereotypes. She felt more real to me. I loved her. On a side note, you need to watch Hustle & Flow.

AMY: Agreed. On a different note, I have to ask, what did you think about them setting it smack in the middle of Katrina? Because that was obviously not part of the original story.

FAITH: Pointless. I was waiting for it to have a point. And then nothing!

AMY: Thank you! I didn't get that at all. It seemed like a lame attempt to add emotionally impact that had NO connection.

FAITH: Honestly, I didn't get the point of the movie being a flashback at all. It would've had more impact to have a present-day reveal at the end.

AMY: Well, kinda spoiler for dumb people, were we really not supposed to guess that she is his daughter?
FAITH: I know! I couldn't figure that out. I mean, were we not supposed to figure it out or did we learn it just to see her reaction (which sucked by the way).

AMY: I usually like Julia Ormond, but she was a waste in that role. They should have brought in someone who could do more than look confused.

FAITH: No love for Julia Ormond. I liked her in Sabrina, but that's it.

AMY: About the movie structure, I am usually vehemently anti-narration (being of the show it don't tell it school of thought), but I thought this was a movie did it right. It developed Benjamin and the story in a way I'm not sure they could have done otherwise and gave the movie that epic, lyrical quality.

FAITH: Yeah, voice over usually works best in epic movies...and movies starring Morgan Freeman.

AMY: Ha! Well, everything works better with Morgan Freeman.

FAITH: Ha! That should be a commercial.

AMY: Need to get out a tough stain? Try Morgan Freeman. Everything works better with Morgan Freeman!

FAITH: Hehehehehe. You know what didn't work? The "war" scene.

AMY: On the boat?

FAITH: Yeah. OK. Let me restate. It was a fine scene, but it felt out of place.

AMY: I agree, it was neat to watch but I thought it could have been cut to save time and the story would have survived.

FAITH: True. True.

AMY: I got that the whole point of the story is that everyone dies and he has to watch everyone die. I didn't need the boat for that.

FAITH: Quite true. But I think it did show us that people don't just die of old age, but I think why it felt odd was that I just didn't care about the other men on the boat…well, except for the captain.

AMY: That was a great character.

FAITH: Loved him!

AMY: But I did feel like at times it was hammering in the "WE ALL DIE" point a bit much. At least it was in cleaner ways than Seven, so I can't really complain.

FAITH: Yeah, but Seven was awesome...because of Morgan Freeman.

AMY: This might be my time to state that this was one of the most beautiful movies I have seen in years!

FAITH: OK. I am so there with you. Not only was the cinematography GORGEOUS, but Cate and Brad were equally pretty.

AMY: I can't even talk about how beautiful Blanchett was without melting. I wanted to lick the screen (but I have issues). This may be the movie to drives me to invest in a HD player.

FAITH: So true. All those amazing ocean shots...yeah, I may have drooled a little.

AMY: Given that for Cinematography it is up against Dark Knight, who's your pick?

FAITH: Ok...lemme check...Oh yeah, it should win.

AMY: I like how expansive Dark Knight feels, but this movie just felt like “Cinema,” I don't know how else to describe it.

FAITH: That is the perfect word for it. Dark Knight was menacingly beautiful, but it was more about the scene than the scenery. Benjamin was all about the scenery. It was grand and intimate all at the same time.

AMY: As much as I loved watching it, I had moments where I wished the story was as strong as the visuals. I honestly think that about 30 minutes could have been cut to make it tighter.

FAITH: I get lost in the visuals sometimes, so I didn't feel that way. But I'm sure if I watched it again, I'd find myself checking my watch. It was a good movie, but it definitely isn't this fantastic masterpiece everyone's making it out to be. OK. It was a great movie--let me give it the credit it deserves.

AMY: It was great, but I agree. Afterward one of my friends asked me if I now understood why it got the most nominations and I said honestly no. It WAS a great movie, but I do think that there were some things holding it back.

FAITH: Yeah. Julia Ormond for one.

AMY: God yes.

FAITH: Now that I think about it. I kind of didn't care as much about the end of his life. Once he left Daisy, I almost wanted it to skip the montage-y Seven Years in Tibet part.
AMY: Which was evidently directed by Tarsem, so now I get why it looked so different. Not relevant to the story (again, could have been cut to save time), but neat.
FAITH: Neat is a good word for it.

FAITH: So, I'm about to go watch some Super Bowl commercials. Let's wrap this sucker up.

AMY: I think that is all I have.

FAITH: No closing thoughts?

AMY: I did think it was funny that we talked about doing this one and Slumdog Millionaire because I thought that they were the opposites in strengths and weaknesses. This one is beautiful to watch, but lacks a little in story.

FAITH: Hmm...I thought Slumdog was kind of beautiful too. Not nearly AS beautiful, but fun to look at. We'll definitely discuss it next.

AMY: Perfect.

FAITH: Off to half watch football and wholly watch commercials! Later!

AMY: Later gator.

And we're not just teasing you. Amy will be back to discuss Slumdog Millionaire with me, because even though I can't seem to come up with the words to describe how wonderful I thought it was, maybe Amy can help me out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Men and an Interview

Ron Howard isn't the kind of director that people really call "great." He's got some wonderful movies--Apollo 13, Parenthood, Backdraft, Cinderella Man--but most people don't really think of those as Ron Howard movies. I think maybe now we should step up and give Howard some love because Frost/Nixon is another great movie that is intense and lovely to watch. Like most of Howard's movies, this is an actor's movie with engaging scenes and impeccable performances.

At its core, the film is about two men trying to be better than they are. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a famous TV personality who saw the Nixon interviews as a way to get great ratings and catapult his career in the US. Richard Nixon (Frank Langella)...well, we all know about Nixon, so I'm not going to waste your time. These two men, trying to be better than they are, clash like red and orange stripes on a shirt. That's what makes the film so solid--not really the historical significance, but the sheer energy pouring off these men as they sit a few feet from each other trying to make the other man break and admit defeat.

It's been a long time since I've found myself literally on the edge of my seat waiting for a man to ask another man a simple question in a movie, and this year, I get it twice. First with Slumdog Millionaire, and then again with Frost/Nixon. Though, unlike Slumdog, where I really didn't know the outcome, I knew how Frost/Nixon was going to go. It is definitely the beauty of good filmmaking--when you know how things will come out, yet you still find yourself fully invested in the story.

The supporting cast, who are truly that, have no weak spots. To me, Kevin Bacon was the strongest, but Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt (oh, I love Oliver Platt!) and Matthew MacFadyen definitely stepped up to make their small roles strong ones.

Michael Sheen is outstanding. He plays Frost with equal parts confident playboy and scared schoolboy charm. My favorite scene is not between him and Langella, but with Rockwell, Platt, and MacFadyen. The three men are berating Frost's terrible showing in an interview, but Frost just wants to go out and celebrate his birthday. Watching him struggle with the defeat of the interview process yet still trying to keep on his party face is just incredible acting, plain and simple.

Frank Langella, in my humble opinion, really looks nothing like Richard Nixon. Except in this movie, everything he did--his demeanor, his speech--made him the spitting image of the late president. His entire performance, especially during those infamous uncomfortable close-ups from the interviews, is incredible. Not to take any credit away from Michael Sheen's wonderful turn as David Frost, but Langella blew me out of the water.

Frost/Nixon is intense and truly entertaining. It may not be exactly what you'd call historically accurate, but that may be the appeal. If you want to see the real interviews, they're available for rent or purchase. But if you're looking for something that will keep you engaged and at the edge of your seat, this drama is the way to go. It definitely makes my top ten best movies of the year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

25 Movies EW Thinks I Should See

I really should be writing an awesome review about Slumdog Millionaire...mainly because I really loved the movie. Secondly, I do believe it is my duty as a film geek and critic to inform everyone about the small movies out there. Unfortunately, I still have yet to put together the proper collection of words to describe the joy I had watching the movie, so I'm sorry. If you haven't gathered, I think everyone should check out Slumdog Millionaire. It's getting awards buzz like crazy, so I'm sure it will be in theatres everywhere soon enough.

But enough of that! This blog is about the little mini-article Entertainment Weekly releases every January telling me (and all the other readers) what movies they should see before the Academy Awards. Last year was just miserable for me; I'd only seen nine. This year is no better (the ones I've seen are in bold), but I have some serious plans for my birthday week, so I will update you on my progress as the month goes by.

  1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  2. Slumdog Millionaire
  3. Milk
  4. Frost/Nixon
  5. The Dark Knight
  6. Doubt
  7. Revolutionary Road
  8. WALL-E
  9. The Wrestler
  10. Gran Torino
  11. The Reader
  12. Rachel Getting Married
  13. Changeling
  14. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  15. Tropic Thunder
  16. Happy-Go-Lucky
  17. The Visitor
  18. I've Loved You So Long
  19. Frozen River
  20. Nothing But the Truth
  21. Man on Wire
  22. Synedoche, New York
  23. The Duchess
  24. Defiance
  25. Australia

These are usually done in order of importance, so seeing the first 10 should cover you for the big awards. The writers at Entertainment Weekly are definitely not the end-all, be-all, but they have a great track record. The Oscars air Sunday, February 22, so get crackin'! If you're not so interested in the Oscars, it's at least a good list to add to your Netflix queue.