REVIEW: The Jungle Book

17 04 2016

I do not have a strong attachment to the 1967 original Disney animated film “The Jungle Book.” I do not have strong feelings one way or the other about Jon Favreau’s 2016 live action Mowgli/CGI animal version of “The Jungle Book.” I remain, for the most part, fairly ambivalent, unable to summon strong words to praise or condemn any aspect of the film. And that makes for the hardest kind of review to write.

Might as well start with the good: Bill Murray as Baloo. The actor has become a cult figure over the past few years for his erratic and endearing off-screen behavior (as well as for his partnership with hipster darling Wes Anderson). When not acting inside one of Anderson’s dollhouses, Murray’s iconography can often overcome the project in which he participates. That film becomes “The Bill Murray Show,” for better or for worse. Favreau finds a happy balance of letting Murray entertain while also ensuring that he never distracts too much.

The CGI is quite good, I suppose, yet should we not be asking for photorealism from all movies these days? Call me a child of the digital age, but I only tend to notice computer animation when it goes horribly wrong. The graphics impress, though not to the extent that they truly wow.

“The Jungle Book” glides along on lots of charm and slickness, which gets it decently far. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) makes for a rather bland protagonist, one we mostly follow for the talking animals he encounters along his reluctant and perilous journey to rejoin his human companions. The episodic nature of the plot makes it hard for momentum to build, which is something that does not bother me in particular though seems an odd choice for a film pitched at youngsters. The message of cross-species cooperation to raise and protect someone who might be a predator is – timely, I guess? (“Zootopia” did it better.)

There is a lot going on, although there is simultaneously not enough going on. I could try to resolve or reconcile my feelings, but I would rather just leave them be. Other films just seem more worthy of that time. B2halfstars


19 06 2015

Aloha posterResponding to the reactions to a film in a review is something I generally frown upon; however, I am willing to make an exception in the case of “Aloha.”  Before Sony could release any trailers or marketing materials, studio head Amy Pascal’s scathing comments about Cameron Crowe’s film hit the Internet and sealed its fate.  The film said the “goodbye” aloha before it could say the “hello” aloha.  And then, once the critics finally got ahold of the final product, the nail was in the coffin.

So when I finally got around to seeing “Aloha,” I came with unavoidably low expectations.  I did not seek to answer the question of whether it was good or bad; I just needed to know how bad.  Watching a film in that mindset makes for an entirely different experience, akin to being a child in a doctor’s office waiting for a shot with eyes clenched shut.  You know the pain will come soon but are clueless as to when.

I kept waiting for “Aloha” to come apart at the seams.  Maybe the relationship between paramilitary contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) and his spunky Air Force escort Allison Ng (Emma Stone, unconvincingly playing part-Asian) would just become a little too far-fetched.  Or perhaps Brian would wreck the marriage of his ex-flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), leaving the life she built with her kids and husband Woody (John Krasinski) in shambles and destroying all sympathy for the characters.  Any number of plot points, from the relations with native Hawaiian tribes to an odd space mission, could easily have gone south.

Yet, against the odds, “Aloha” manages to survive its shortcomings and remain a mostly enjoyable time at the movies.  Sure, the script could have benefitted from some retooled dialogue, a few reordered or rewritten scenes for the sake of clarity, and a narrower narrative scope.  As is, though, Crowe has the basis for a charming – but not disarming – romance with a superfluous side helping of story critiquing the military-industrial complex.

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REVIEW: St. Vincent

19 11 2014

St. VincentAs Bill Murray’s zany candor becomes the ultimate cult of personality, it seems that plenty of people are completely entertained by just watching him be – whether in character or in real life.  “St. Vincent” thus assumes the position of a holy text in Murray’s civil religion. Writer/director Theodore Melfi essentially gives Murray an entire film where he can just exemplify his effortlessly authentic mix of odd and cool.

It really does not even matter that the mechanics of his performance are quite rusty, as most egregiously evinced by his seriously spotty Brooklyn accent.  As the harmlessly grouchy titular character, he gets the chance to spout plenty of memorable maxims (or Bill Murrayisms, as they are often called).  “St. Vincent” provides an hour and a half to spend basking in his wisdom for those not lucky enough to run into him at a hotel.

Murray does not just show up, though; he adjusts his acting style as necessary in order to mesh with Melfi’s sentimental but nonetheless winning story.  “St. Vincent” operates from a big, sympathetic heart that it wears on its sleeve.  Melfi could have done without so many mellow music montages to convey that emotion, however, since it comes so naturally from the actors.

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REVIEW: The Monuments Men

6 11 2014

The Monuments Men

On paper, “The Monuments Men” sounds like a movie that could be not only exciting entertainment but also great intellectual resonance.  The premise of the film, following a ragtag band of brothers assigned to save Europe’s greatest artworks from Hitler’s grasp, promises all the action of a World War II flick and a potent reminder of the vast importance of art.

Yet somewhere between the concept and the screen, George Clooney’s film takes its eye off the prize.  What he pulls together is rather disappointing given all the impressive elements at his disposal.  “The Monuments Men” is not necessarily a bad movie; it’s just a shockingly unsubstantial one.

Nothing really seems to propel the film forwards, leaving it suspended in a state of sustained mediocrity.  Though Clooney assembles quite the prestige cast, including Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Bill Murray, he rarely lets them play off each other as an ensemble.  From the outset, they split up in pairs on separate missions, inhibiting attachment and fracturing the narrative.

Obviously, a film steeped in history should try to model its narrative based on the actual events (although that rarely stops movies these days).  But there had to be some way for Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov to spice up the script without deviating too far from the facts.

Honing the focus, like picking a central character to follow with dedication, might have been helpful.  “The Monuments Men” has no shortage of amusing supporting characters yet no driving leading force.  At times, the film just feels like a series of short films and amusing moments tied together into one bland, bloated two-hour feature.  C+2stars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 22, 2014)

22 08 2014

As I said in my review of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” I have not seen enough of Jim Jarmusch’s work to make a definitive statement as to whether or not he is a great director. But I have seen Jarmusch’s 2005 Cannes prize winner “Broken Flowers,” which is enough to inform me that he has at least one great film to his name.

This dryly humorous pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is second wave Bill Murray at his best (yes, even better than “Lost in Translation“).  He seems to have reached a status where he seems to reject the need for validation through actively courting our laughs, instead just allowing the comedy arise naturally from the events.  Murrray can then just sit back, maintain a stolidly unruffled facade, and just let the bizarre run-ins of “Broken Flowers” guide his reactions.

In the film, Jarmusch casts him as an aging Don Juan – appropriately named Don Johnston – served with a letter that suggests he fathered a child 19 years prior.  Don would be content to never investigate any further, but his inquisitive neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) insists that he go visit the potential mothers.  So, in a sort of inverted “Mamma Mia,” Don takes off on a series of painfully awkward encounters with former lovers.

The parade of women, including Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton, always entertains.  But Jarmusch isn’t just wheeling out stereotypes or stock characters.  “Broken Flowers” takes each of these women and sets them on an unpredictable but well-imagined path after their split with Don.  It can’t help but raise the question of what exactly his effect on these women was.

To say too much more of what each woman brings to the film is to spoil the fun.  But just dive head first into “Broken Flowers” for off-beat fun throughout and a startling conclusion that packs an unexpected punch.

REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel

3 06 2014

Just so we’re clear: I have no problems with auteurism.  For those of you who just saw a French word and panicked, I’m referring to a school of film criticism that looks for recurring patterns throughout the work of an artist (usually the director).  It can often be a very interesting lens through which to analyze a set of films, and auteurism has the ability to shine a light on filmmakers outside of the general circles of critical acclaim.

Like anything in life, the theory has a dark underbelly, and to me, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” represents the perils of auteurism run rampant.  The film is Wes Anderson’s “Django Unchained,” in the sense that it represents a moment of stasis in the progression of a great director.  Anderson is now more than a director; essentially, he’s a brand, expected by customers to deliver a certain consistency of product.

Put into the position of becoming a cinematic McDonald’s, Anderson takes the easy way out by providing an assembly-line reproduction of what he has already created to great admiration.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like a less vibrant remake of a film he’s already made – or, perhaps more accurately, it feels like all of them at once.  Despite being set in a semi-fictionalized interwar Central Europe, the world Anderson portrays seems reassembled from pieces of “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and even “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Even more than Anderson’s last feature-length cinematic outing in 2012, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes his telltale stylistic flourishes and puts them to an exponential degree.  Every other take in the film had to be a tracking shot, so it seemed.  The cameos and other miscellaneous odd appearances by acclaimed thespians is now less of an amusing diversion and more of a distracting parade.  The off-beat characters feel less like quirky people and more like paper dolls traipsing around in the elegant house Anderson created for their frolicking delight.

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REVIEW: Hyde Park on Hudson

22 01 2013

Welcome to “Whose Movie Is It Anyway?” – also known as “Hyde Park on Hudson.”  Here, you’ll get to see a multi-million dollar production that shows you what a movie is really like at the stage where it’s still being scribbled out on cocktail napkins!  To call it a first draft of something great would be generous – that is, calling it a first draft would be generous.  It hasn’t even made it to that stage yet!

Roger Michell’s slapdash film changes protagonists throughout the entire movie like Britney Spears changes outfits at a concert.  Go to the bathroom, and you’ll come back and find an entirely different storyline being pursued.  One minute, it’s the story of Laura Linney’s Margaret Suckley, a cousin of FDR portrayed here as his mistress (though that’s based on an extremely loose interpretation of her personal letters).

Then, it’s also a biopic of President Roosevelt, played as a perpetually horny tortoise by Bill Murray.  Chronicling both the personal and the political aspects of his life, it fails to provide anything mildly interesting to observe.  Not to mention, doubts about the accuracy of his affair with Margaret put the entire movie’s validity in question.

Oh, and don’t forget the history lesson that makes up most of the mid-section of “Hyde Park on Hudson.”  The King and Queen of England comes to visit FDR’s private Idaho in New York, but sadly, this companion piece to “The King’s Speech” couldn’t land Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter to reprise their roles.  Nor, for that matter, could it capture the same sense of gravity about an impending world war that Tom Hooper’s film conveyed so well for a film that was otherwise rather lightweight.

In essence, there are three movies in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” and you will feel it drag under the weight of that confusion.  Expect to feel like you’ve watched three full-length features … but come out only an hour and a half later from the theater.  And don’t expect some kind of great convergence that makes it all worthwhile.  The climactic scene all boils down to the consumption of hot dogs.  Not kidding.  D1star

Oscar Moment: First 2012 Predictions

5 08 2012

It’s never too early to start guessing, right?  With Cannes yielding little to start Oscar conversation, the pressure is on for the fall to deliver in a big way.  Film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will begin to churn out candidates and weed out pretenders in just a few weeks now.  Then a number of big-name films that forewent the festival circuit will have to face the gauntlet of critics and audiences. By the time the year-end lists start rolling off the presses, the game will be predictable and boring.  So let’s speculate now while it’s still fun and actually involves educated guessing!

UPDATE 8/6: I can’t let these picks become dated within hours of them being posted, so I’ve replaced my predictions that included “The Great Gatsby.”

Best Picture:

  1. The Master
  2. Les Miserables
  3. Lincoln
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Django Unchained
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  7. Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Argo
  9. The Great Gatsby Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The Master” just seems like the movie of the year to me from this distance.  Tom Cruise has seen the movie and HATES it, that’s enough for me.  If the movie is really going to take on Scientology, it could really be a pop culture centerpiece for the fall.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix returning from his bizarre performance art stunt in “I’m Still Here,” Philip Seymour Hoffman fresh off two major supporting roles in Oscar-nominated films in 2011, and three-time Best Supporting Actress bridesmaid Amy Adams, it could certainly be a force to reckon with in the acting categories.  It’s also a period piece that could register impressively in the technical categories.

Oh, and it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  In the ’90s, his films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” each scored him a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  In 2007, “There Will Be Blood” scored him nominations for writing, directing, and producing since the film was up for Best Picture.  The argument will be made – convincingly by the Weinstein Company, no less – that Anderson’s time has come.

Indeed, it has.  The narrative is in place.  It can easily score over 10 nominations and march towards victory.  The film just needs to not suck.  And according to people at the first public showing on Friday (a surprise screening after a showing of “The Shining” in Los Angeles), it doesn’t suck.  It’s awesome.

Though of course, that path won’t be uncontested.  However, three out of the last five Best Picture winners – “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The Artist” – asserted their dominance from the beginning of the season and never looked back.  So who knows?! As the triumph of “The King’s Speech” showed us in 2010, Oscar bait isn’t dead.  In fact, it’s thriving … and there is still a big portion of the Academy that succumbs to it.

In 2011, “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” both cracked the Best Picture field despite facing a number of harsh critics and tepid response from other industry groups.  Nonetheless, the Academy likes what it likes and refuses to apologize for it. So I doubt they will think twice about nominating “Les Miserables” for Best Picture.  The Tony Award-winning musical has everything that could possibly ever appeal to an Academy member: drama, emotion, catharsis, noble prostitutes, solid acting, historical setting, impressive craftwork … and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, the man who made them feel so good they gave him Best Director for a movie that required very little directing.

Granted, everyone thought “Chicago” was going to usher in a new Renaissance for American film adaptations of musical theater.  While the Golden Globes seem to be relishing in all the musicals, the Academy has ignored “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Producers,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Nine” (all of which were Best Picture nominees in the Musical/Comedy field for HFPA).

“Dreamgirls” was even being tipped to win in 2006 and was a surprise snub on nomination morning (“Nine” could also have cracked the field in 2009).  So musicals are still iffy, but “Les Miserables” is in a league of its own.  Those other musicals are nice, but none are based on a Victor Hugo novel.  The story is made to win awards.

Also falling in the bait category is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents.  Spielberg’s films since “Schindler’s List” have practically all been presumptive frontrunners, yet “Saving Private Ryan” is his only film afterwards to win an Oscar.  “Munich” and “War Horse” have both slid in on residual respect, but how far does that go?  Do they still owe a man who has won Best Director twice?  Helmed eight Best Picture nominees?

The same questions can be asked of Day-Lewis, who clearly has a ton of respect as shown by his two Best Actor trophies.  However, the Academy felt no shame in shutting him out of the 2009 Best Actor race in favor of first-time nominee Jeremy Renner.  Granted, Renner’s “The Hurt Locker” was worlds better than Day-Lewis’ “Nine,” but it’s still fair to wonder if the Academy is done with him like they are done with Clint Eastwood.  Unless you are Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson (or John Williams), two is basically the magic number.

People have been raving about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” since its presentation of footage at CinemaCon back in the spring, and I think the coupling of a respected, Oscar-winning director tackling 3D will be the “Hugo” of 2012.  It will also probably score no acting nominations and plenty of tech nods like Scorsese’s 5-time winner from last year.

Beyond those four heavy-hitters, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps I guessed the overdue writer/director incorrectly, and the Academy will choose to fete Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  People counted out “Inglourious Basterds,” and it wound up with eight nominations.

Beasts of the Southern Wild” has certainly proven to be the art-house hit of the year, winning major prizes at Sundance and Cannes, stealing critics’ hearts, and racking up enough money to where it can’t be dismissed as totally esoteric.  There’s certainly precedent for a summer indie favorite to sneak into the Best Picture field – “Winter’s Bone” in 2010 and “The Tree of Life” in 2011.  It will need the critics groups to come out in favor for it in a big way or the pint-sized star Quvenzhané Wallis to be a unanimous and strong first-choice in the Best Actress race.

Some people think the inclusion of “Beasts” might leave out the other summer indie sleeper hit, “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To that I say, look to last year when “Midnight in Paris,” a funny crowd-pleaser, cracked the same field with “The Tree of Life.”  I think the Academy could decide the time is here to honor Wes Anderson’s peculiar gifts.  If they could accept “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno,” I see no reason why “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t be a Best Picture nominee.

“Argo” could also be a sleeper to watch in this race.  Ben Affleck’s directorial skills are definitely improving with each movie, and his last film, “The Town,” was definitely just on the outside looking in at the 2010 Best Picture field.  Could getting out of his native country of Boston put him in the race this time?  We’ll know after its Toronto premiere.

Baz Luhrmannn’s singular work “Moulin Rouge” tickled the Academy’s fancy in 2001.  His 2008 “Australia,” a more refined, baity piece, only netted a Best Costume Design nomination.  Which will his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” be?  My gut says a hit like “Moulin Rouge” because I’m so in love with the source material, but that love could be blinding me.  This will either be a big hit or a big flop.

And who knows if the Academy field will extend to ten this year, but I’ll go ahead and predict ten.  Could lighting strike for the fourth time for Peter Jackson with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?”  Will “Hyde Park on Hudson” be more than just a feel-good biopic?  Can Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” finally get the franchise the recognition it deserves?

These are big “if”s, so I’m just going to choose safe (because my wild-card predictions in years past have spawned picks of “It’s Complicated” and “Never Let Me Go”) and predict Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”  It could be bold, daring, and thrilling if it succeeds.  The expectations will be high since the production has been so guarded.  But if it works, it could be a major player.

And for the hell of it, why not say that the decidedly middling “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” becomes the low-brow film that makes the cut and makes me curse the Academy once more. Read the rest of this entry »

REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom

17 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Wes Anderson made a name for himself on clean, quirky visual style, and “Moonrise Kingdom” forges a further name for the director on that basis. It’s a Wes Anderson movie for people that love Wes Anderson movies, and for everyone else … yeah, there’s a different movie for you out there somewhere. If his insistence on the rule of thirds, smooth horizontal tracking shots, and manipulation of the mise-en-scene frustrated you in “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Darjeeling Limited,” then this movie, which is Anderson stylistically to a T, will only frustrate you more.

I, like many, enjoy the quirkiness of Anderson’s idiosyncratic eye, so watching “Moonrise Kingdom” felt like devouring sugar for an hour and a half. The film almost feels like the director is making a tribute to his own technique as it hits the viewer with a sledgehammer with its flair within the frame. But that sledgehammer is more like a blow-up hammer you get at a carnival, one that whacks you in a fun and enjoyable way (provide you don’t mind the bump on your head). He does extreme close-ups on written notes, takes it to Kubrickian lengths with his dolly shots, and sports costumes and sets that look both of their time and out of this world. I doubt there is anyone that couldn’t tell you what a Wes Anderson movie is after watching his latest feature.

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15 12 2010

It’s always nice when a movie like “Get Low” comes along.  While it’s nothing earth-shattering for cinema as we know it, the movie is just a witty but serious drama propelled by great performances by capable actors and an interesting script that keeps the plot moving.

Robert Duvall stars as the aging hermit Felix Bush, living pleasantly in solitude as the town surrounding him seeks to make him a sort of urban legend.  Rumors abound that he’s a cold-blooded killer and a devil worshipper.  Granted, Felix doesn’t do much to stop these notions, chasing off trespassers with a shotgun and putting up “beware of mule” signs.  But all of a sudden, Felix decides to emerge with a grand plan – a living funeral for the entire town to attend.

It’s hard to tell exactly why Felix wants this at first, particularly because Duvall has given him such a hardened exterior that masks all his true intentions.  Yet pulsating underneath is a heart and soul, and only an actor like Duvall can make it beat in such a profound way.  Slowly but surely, he unravels the character until we see Felix completely unexposed, and the sheer raw emotion makes for a powerful last scene where Duvall goes broke.  The success of the entire movie rests on Duvall and his ability to convey a whole host of emotions at once, and “Get Low” works because he is in peak form.

While the whole business of “getting low” keeps things fairly serious, there’s plenty to keep the movie a light and enjoyable watch.  Bill Murray is perfectly cast as money-grubbing funeral parlor owner Frank Quinn, who makes the living funeral something of a carnival attraction to make up for bad business.  It’s a sly, devious, and understatedly humorous character, and Murray milks it for all the comedy he can get.  It’s Felix who gets us to start chuckling as he unwillingly does ridiculous promotional stunts, but it’s Frank who keeps us laughing with his off-handed comments.  Add in Lucas Blacks as Frank’s second-in-command along for the ride and Sissy Spacek as Felix’s old love to make things grave, and you have one heck of an acting ensemble.

There’s nothing to go proclaim from the rooftops about “Get Low.”  It’s not going to amount to much more than nice acting, a suitably engaging script, and a glimpse at some beautiful Southern woods and forests.  But sometimes, that’s just the kind of movie you need.  B+

SAVE YOURSELF from “Lost in Translation”

5 09 2010

Plenty of people will tell you to run to “Lost in Translation;” I, however, am not telling you to walk. I’m telling you to run in the other direction and SAVE YOURSELF!

Now, by all means, if you want to spend an hour and a half of your valuable time watching an excruciatingly subtle movie that shows not the slightest bit of emotion, this could be your movie. Some people take pleasure in seeing movies like this because they, in some form or fashion, feel like they have power because the filmmaker has let them fill in the emotional blanks. I like movies that show people living their lives, no matter how dismal or boring that may be. Sofia Coppola gives us in this movie a portrait of two people who might as well be dead because they show such few signs of life.

It’s a 90-minute movie that feels like 90 hours in moviewatching hell – or, as Coppola sees it, Japan. We get to see plenty of a much younger Scarlett Johansson (here in her breakout role), but if you want to go ScarJo watching, there are plenty of magazines and websites for that. In “Lost in Translation,” Coppola gives us these ten minute asides of Johansson visiting various tourist locations looking perplexed and bored to tears. I’ll give her that she really communicates the later of the two emotions to the audience, as our impatient American mind yells, “GET ON WITH IT! SEE THE DARNED SIGHTS AND GET THE PLOT MOVING!”

The movie drags on following two bored souls in Japan, the photographer’s wife left to stew in her own juices played by Johansson and a burnt-out alcoholic actor played admirably by Bill Murray.  I won’t pretend like Murray deserved a Razzie for his work here because it wasn’t awful.  But in terms of the kind of performances the Oscars have rewarded and nominated in the past decade, this just falls short of expectations.  In essence, it’s Murray playing the same character we’ve laughed at for two decades, only now we are supposed to pity him because this funny guy has suddenly turned vapid.

The two strike up friendship unexpectedly and begin to converse on occasion.  Talking makes up only about a third of the movie, however.  Coppola left me wondering how on earth I’m expected to buy their relationship, but more importantly, why I should care an iota.  I’ve been more invested in the characters that populate corny romantic comedies than this, something that should not be able to describe any Best Picture nominee.  The counteracting of my argument is that Coppola is using the European technique of letting the dialogue provide the mood and the emotions to tell the story.  I have no problem with this, but “Lost in Translation” is so frigidly distant that I felt there was never an opportunity to make any sort of connection to it.

By the time the movie wrapped up, I could have cared less about how to interpret the open-ended conclusion. It’s as painfully reserved and wistfully distant as the shy kid in middle school.  All politeness aside, that’s NOT the person I want to spend my valuable time with.  The Coppola last name is the stuff of legends, and it’s a shame that Sofia can just tote it around because she was born with it, not because she truly earned it.

Oscar Moment: “Get Low”

11 05 2010

Out to top R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet,” Robert Duvall stars in the film adaptation of Lil’ Jon’s hit song “Get Low.”

Just kidding.

It’s about the opposite.  “Get Low” could wind up being one of the biggest bait movies of the Oscar season, particularly for leading man Robert Duvall.  It was a hit at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and instantly thrusted Duvall into the Oscar conversation.  But when it was bought by Sony Pictures Classics following the festival, they decided to move it to the end of July 2010.  Thus, Duvall and “Get Low” are now in the 2010 awards talk.

Here’s my question: does the man need Oscar bait?  He’s already won Best Actor!  Sure, it was over 25 years ago (1983 for “Tender Mercies” to be exact), but that’s still a trophy on the mantle at Duvall Manor.

People make this argument for Meryl Streep year after year.  “She won so long ago,” they say.  “They don’t need to hide their affection; just give her another Oscar!”

The difference between the two is as follows.  Since Robert Duvall won the Oscar, he has received two other nominations (in consecutive years, as a matter of fact).  Since Meryl Streep won her last Oscar, she has been nominated eleven times!  Eleven!

Let’s take a look at some other revered actors who took home their first Oscar several decades ago and the results when they are in the game again.

  • Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress in 1974 for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2000 for “Requiem for a Dream.”  She has not won since.
  • Sissy Spacek won Best Actress in 1980 for “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  Since then, she has been nominated four times, most recently in 2001 for “In the Bedroom.”  She has not won since.
  • Diane Keaton won Best Actress in 1976 for “Annie Hall.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2003 for “Something’s Gotta Give.”  She has not won since.
  • Ben Kingsley won Best Actor in 1982 for “Gandhi.”  Since then, he has been nominated three times, most recently in 2003 for “House of Sand and Fog.”  He has not won since.
  • William Hurt won Best Actor in 1985 for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”  Since then, he has been nominated three times, most recently in 2005 for “A History of Violence.”  He has not won since.
  • Julie Christie won Best Actor in 1965 for “Darling.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2007 for “Away from Her.”  She has not won since.

See a pattern?

(NOTE: I excluded one outlier from the list: Jack Nicholson, who has received 12 nominations in his illustrious career.  His first win came on his fifth nomination in 1975 for Best Actor for “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Two nominations later, he won again in 1983 for Best Supporting Actor for “Terms of Endearment.”  Another four nominations later, he won his third statue in 1997 for Best Actor for “As Good As It Gets.”  He was nominated for Best Actor again in 2002 for “About Schmidt” but lost to Adrien Brody.)

But if you know anything about the Oscars beyond the statistics I gave you, another trend might have popped out at you.  In case you didn’t pick up on it, this might guide you.

  • When Ellen Burstyn was last nominated, she lost to Julia Roberts for “Erin Brockovich.”  Roberts was 33, and this nomination was her third.
  • When Sissy Spacek was last nominated, she lost to Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.”  Berry was 35, and this nomination was her first.
  • When Jack Nicholson was last nominated, he lost to Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.”  Brody was 29, and this nomination was his first.
  • When Diane Keaton was last nominated, she lost to Charlize Theron for “Monster.”  Theron was 28, and this nomination was her first.
  • When Ben Kingsley was last nominated, he lost to Sean Penn for “Mystic River.”  Penn was 43, and this nomination was his fourth.
  • When William Hurt was last nominated, he lost to George Clooney for “Syriana.”  Clooney was 43, and this nomination was his first.
  • When Julie Christie was last nominated, she lost to Marion Cotillard for “La Vie en Rose.”  Cotillard was 32, and this nomination was her first.

As I hope you now see, these veterans usually lose to younger actors with few nominations.  So does Duvall have history against him?

The role seems like a character he can really dig into.  In “Get Low,” he plays a hermit who plans his own funeral – which he plans to attend.  Alive.  He wants to hear what people think of him, but as events unfold, he ends up divulging why he’s been away in the woods so long.

The movie also features performances by Oscar winner Sissy Spacek and nominee Bill Murray.  Both could easily be in contention, but Murray seems to have the more substantial part.  They, along with Duvall, are definitely worth keeping an eye on this season.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Robert Duvall), Best Supporting Actor (Bill Murray)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score

REVIEW: Fantastic Mr. Fox

30 11 2009

It might not seem odd at first, but soon after being immersed in the world of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” you are bound to notice that all the characters are saying the word cuss, used as a substitute for any necessary expletives, with great frequency.  In a brilliant stroke of ingenious mischief, Wes Anderson finds a way to tone down the movie with dumbing it down.  He takes everything that audiences love about his live-action features – the dysfunctional families, the eclectic music, the geometric shots, the conscious cinematography, and all the quirks – and refuses to surrender to the family movie.  Style intact, Anderson makes a movie that audiences will realize isn’t all that different from his other pictures.

The cast of characters might seem a little bit familiar to fans of Anderson’s work.  Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a flawed father struggling to accept his responsibilities to his family, and he yearns for his furtive days of hunting.  Trying to rediscover his true self, he embarks on a series of ultimately successful raids on the crotchety neighboring farmers with the wonderfully neurotic opossum Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky).  This is all to the dismay of Mrs. Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), his caring but somewhat disapproving wife.  Knowing Wes Anderson, the family drama can’t end there.  Their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), can’t seem to live up to his father’s legacy.  In addition, he begins to feel like second fiddle to his dad when naturally gifted cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to stay with the family.  The classic “hunted become the hunters” story intertwines with the family turmoil as Mr. Fox angers the dim-witted farmers adjacent to their dwelling.  Using their wile, the rodents are able to outsmart and outmaneuver their foes.

Read the rest of this entry »

F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 27, 2009)

27 11 2009

Before I went to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I wanted to get a taste of Wes Anderson’s distinct style.  So I took a friend’s recommendation and watched “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which is this week’s “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie).  I am now officially smitten by the quirky, off-beat humor that people love about Anderson.  He has a very cultish, niche audience, but “The Royal Tenenbaums” managed to make a blip on the mainstream radar.  It made a respectable $52 million (attendance comparable to “The Final Destination”), won a Golden Globe for Gene Hackman’s performance, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.  But for a large group of moviegoers who haven’t experienced Wes Anderson, might I suggest renting this?  You’re really missing out if you haven’t.

The film follows a dysfunctional family that has fallen apart, mainly due to the large egos of the three extremely bright children.  Chas (Ben Stiller) is a successful enterpreneur by his early teens, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a skilled playwright who is published by high school, and Ritchie (Luke Wilson) finds great success with the game of tennis.  But for different reasons, they all wind up miserable.  Surprisingly, it is their estranged father, Royal Tenebaum (Gene Hackman) who ends this unhappy spell.  With his eccentric and often manipulative ways, he often infuriates them.  But he has a certain charm that has the power to ease the pain of disappointment and fill the gap he has left in their lives with his absence.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about “The Royal Tenenbaums” is that I could sense Wes Anderson had as much fun making this movie as I did watching it.  He ornately concocts these bizarre characters that seem so far-fetched, yet they hit home in unexpected and delightful ways.  Anderson makes his presence felt throughout the entire movie.  You can feel it in the cinematography, consisting of deliberately framed geometric shots.  You can feel it in the soundtrack, a mix of folk and rock that really sets the atmosphere for his quirky work.  You can even feel it in the font he uses for the titles.  If you were like me, questioning what could possibly make Wes Anderson so special, watch “The Royal Tenenbaums” to be silenced and completely won over.

REVIEW: Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties

24 10 2009

PREFACE: I mentioned back in Random Factoid #42 that I had gone through a stint of reviewing movies when I was 13. After rummaging through my old home computer, I managed to find some of these reviews. In a special five day mini-series, I will reveal these reviews in their unadulterated form. I leave it up to you to comment, see how my style has changed (or maybe hasn’t). The final movie reviewed in the series is “Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties,” a kids movie with the guts to invoke Dickens in its title.

You can tell when movie companies are just trying to prime people for their money by making a crappy sequel to a semi-popular series, most often in kid’s movies because people go in flocks and not alone.  Jim Davis ought to be ashamed of Tim Hill and 20th Century Fox for ruining his loveably, lazy cartoon.  Garfield is a cat who cares about two things…food and himself.  In the first installment, it took him practically the whole movie to come around and care about Odie.  Meanwhile, in Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, the tile is about the most creative thing the movie has to offer.  The plot is incredibly predictable (but then again, what kids movie isn’t), and not to mention carelessly written.  Garfield’s owner Jon leaves he and Odie in an animal kennel while he hunts down his girlfriend to pop the question.  Of course, Garfield and Odie escape and stowaway in the luggage.  This left me to think that how could security not see or hear them.  If they wanted an exciting plot twist, they should have had them detained and somehow run to catch the plane.  Meanwhile, a pampered cat that looks remarkably like Garfield inherits an enormous castle while the human heir is left furious.  Well, do you think that he’s going to go after the cat?  The estate provides no protection and just assumes that a power-hungry man will just leave the cat alone.  The rest of the movie is just a mess as the two cats swap worlds, and there are more pathetic attempts to get rid of the cat inheriting the castle.  The animals’ talking doesn’t match their mouths, and the whole thing comes of the same way…sloppy.  Any adult taking their child will yearn for the time back when Bill Murray was young and creating comic masterpieces on SNL.  There was no comic spark for Murray that could have saved this movie.  You may end up begging the kids to leave this to walk into Cars, because this is pure kitty litter.  1halfstars