Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar picks

I'm gonna keep this short. I'm just going to list my predictions and my picks. To see the entire list of Oscar nominees, go to

Best Actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech) is going to win. My pick would be James Franco (127 Hours).

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter) is going to win, and he is my pick.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan) will win, and she is also my pick.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter) will win. My pick is Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom).

Best Animated Movie: Toy Story 3 will win, but I would pick How to Train Your Dragon.

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins will finally win for True Grit. He would be my choice as well.

Best Director: This will go to Tom Hooper for The King's Speech, but I really want David Fincher to win for The Social Network.

Best Documentary: I think Exit Through the Gift Shop will win, if for no other reason than everybody wants to see if Banksy will show up and do something interesting. That would also be my pick.

Best Picture: This will go to The King's Speech, but if there is any justice in the world, The Social Network will win.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Company Men - 3 stars

Ben Affleck stars as a very successful employee of a giant shipping company. He makes $120,000 a year, lives in a giant house with is wife and 2 kids, drives a porsche, has a country club membership, all that stuff. As the economy starts to tank, he is laid off. The movie examins how he and the other employees cope and try to move on with their lives.

The movie also stars Chris Cooper as a guy who can't imagine his life without the job. He has worked there his entire life and is nearing 60 years old. When he is laid off, he finds just how few companies are interested in hiring an old former executive when they could hire a young guy just out of college for a lot less money.

Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson are the guys who founded the company, and they have several arguments about how to keep the company afloat. Nelson thinks the best way to appease the stockholders is to cut more jobs. Jones points out that if Nelson didn't take such a huge salary, they could afford to keep some workers.

The movie is a pretty good reflection of what's wrong with corporate America. At one time, the corporation made ships. Now the warehouses are closed and their profits are from stock trades. The CEO is living in a mansion and making something like 1,000 times what an average employee is making.

The only big problem I had with the movie is that Affleck is the lowest paid employee we see, and he is making 6 figures. When people are struggling to get by on less than $25,000 a year, it's hard to feel bad for a guy like Affleck's character.

Just Go With It - 1 1/2 stars

There are so many things wrong with Just Go With It, but the biggest one is that it isn't very funny. The movie is basically a farce, and director Dennis Dugan has no idea how to direct a farce.

Adam Sandler stars as Danny, a plastic surgeon who wears a wedding ring in order to pick up chicks. The idea is they think he is married, he tells them how unhappy his marriage is, and they jump into bed with him. It kinda reminds me of that Chris Rock routine about how girls never call you when you're single, then once you get married, you get propositioned every Tuesday. You would think a rich plastic surgeon would have no trouble getting women, but I digress. His assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) tells him often how much of a pig he is, but she does it with a smile.

One night at a party when he isn't wearing the ring, he happens to connect with a gorgeous 6th grade teacher named Palmer (Brooklyn Decker). The fact that she looks like she does and teaches 6th grade is the most believable thing in the movie. So anyway, the morning after they hook up, she discovers the wedding ring in his pocket. He can't think of what to tell her, so she leaves in a huff. The problem is, this girl is the one. Even though he has these one night stands all the time, suddenly after one night he is sure that he wants a lasting relationship with her.

What is his scheme to get her back? Does he tell her that he just got divorced? No, that would make too much sense (and we wouldn't have a movie). Instead, he tells her that he is getting divorced. She is skeptical, and wants to meet his soon-to-be ex. So he asks Katherine to pretend to be his wife. Katherine agrees, he spends thousands of dollars getting her clothes and shoes, and she meets the couple for lunch. If he were really going through a divorce, you would think that getting him and his wife together for lunch would be ugly and painful. But Palmer has no problem forcing him to do this.

When Katherine slips up and reveals that she has kids, how do they cover that? Do they tell Palmer that they are her kids from a previous marriage? No, once again, that would be too easy. They tell her that yes, we have kids together. Danny doesn't know Katherine's kids' names (even though they have worked together for years), so he has to make up their names too. This of course means that her kids have to go along with the charade as well.

Here is the biggest annoyance of the movie. The boy is fine, but the girl is the most obnoxious child actor I have ever seen. She is like 12 years old and wants to be an actress. Is there anything more annoying than stage kids? She likes using accents, and during her first meeting with Palmer, she uses a fake cockney accent that would embarrass Dick Van Dyke. This means she has to keep using the accent the rest of the movie.

Another problem with the movie? The kid tricks Danny into agreeing to take them to Hawaii. One scene they are all eating lunch, the next scene they are at the airport ready to go. Are their schedules really so free that they can drop everything and go on a week long vacation? He is a plastic surgeon, Palmer is a teacher, but no matter. The script says they go to Hawaii, so they do. At least they could have put in a line or two about clearing their schedules or something.

Adam Sandler movies are always hit and miss with me. Nothing he has ever done has measured up to Billy Madison or Happy Gilmour, and while I liked You Don't Mess With the Zohan and Grown Ups, I hated Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds, The Waterboy, and pretty much everything else (I am only counting the Happy Madison productions, so Funny People and Punch Drunk Love don't count). This movie tries for big laughs and very few of them work. Overall, it's an embarassment.

The Rite - 2 stars

I went to see The Rite hoping that it would present something new and interesting about exorcism. It doesn't. At all. There have been several exorcism movies recently, like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism. When I saw the trailer for The Rite, I thought this would be the one that got it right. It has Anthony Hopkins. It looks like it had a good sized bugdet. Exorcism is always good for a scare, right?

The movie is about Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue). Michael lives and works in a funeral home with his father (Rutger Hauer). Not sure I could embalm a corpse in the basement, walk upstairs to the kitchen and sit down for dinner, but that is normal life for him. He decides to enter the seminary and become a priest. Cut to 4 years later. He is about to graduate and decides he doesn't want to be a priest. When he tries to resign, the Father Superior (Toby Jones) tells him that if he drops out, his scholarship will roll over to a student loan, and he will owe more than $100,000. That's how they get ya!

For some reason, the Father Superior decides that Michael should go to Rome and study to be an exorcist. There he attends exorcism class taught by Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). Here the movie really misses an opportunity. They could have given us some really good details about exorcism. Real or made up, I don't care. But the classes are skimmed over. We get maybe 2 short scenes in the class, and they give us very little information about exorcisms. Very disappointing.

Michael goes to Father Xavier and tells him he is skeptical. Apparently he is the only skeptical one in the class, because he is the only student Xavier sends to study with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Yes, we are at least 30 minutes into the movie before Hopkins appears on screen. Up to this point, the movie has been horribly dull. Hopkins does what he can to liven things up a little. He may be trying to exorcise demons, but he does it with a sense of humor.

Besides a few laughs with Hopkins, the only other interesting part of the movie is when Father Lucas himself is posessed (not a spoiler if you've seen the trailer). Hopkins plays creepy very well, and the movie gets a little scary when he is at his most menacing. But even posessed Hopkins gets boring fast because the movie doesn't give him anything interesting to do. The most intense thing he does is slap a little girl and yell at her. The rest of the time, he has creepy makeup and talks in a weird voice. That's about it.

Overall, a very boring and disappointing movie. Not scary at all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sundance wrap up

Here, in one place, is a list of all the movies I saw at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. I didn't give them star ratings, but for the purposes of this list, I'm assigning each movie a letter grade. The list is organized best to worst.

Incendies A
Kaboom B+
Tyrannosaur B+
Perfect Sense B
Sound of My Voice B
Terri B-
The Woman B-
The Last Mountain B-
The Devil's Double C+
Uncle Kent C+
Happy, Happy C
Margin Call C
Abraxas C
The Troll Hunter C-
The Lie C-
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same C-
The Flaw D+
Granito D
The Son of No One D-
Vampire D-
The Oregonian F
Lord Byron F *
Magic Trip F *

* I walked out of both Lord Byron and Magic Trip. It's possible they get better after the first 20 minutes, but I doubt it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Last few days at Sundance

Since I got so lazy keeping up with my Sundance journal, I'm just going to list the rest of the movies I saw. Do you really care which movies I saw on which day anyway?

Tyrannosaur - the first movie directed by Paddy Considine, it stars Peter Mullan as a bitter old man with a really bad temper. His name is Joseph. He gets into fights because he can't keep his mouth shut, and when he gets really pissed off, he has to hit or kick something, even if it's his own dog. He befriends a battered woman named Hannah (Olivia Colman). This isn't a feel good movie, but it is a very interesting character study. A very good performance by Mullan. There are some shocking moments of violence in this movie.

Margin Call - set at a fictional investment firm, this movie is about the first day of the 2008 financial crisis. Late one evening, a financial analyst (Zachary Quinto) discovers that the shit is about to hit the fan. He tells his supervisor (Paul Bettany), who calls his supervisor (Kevin Spacey), who calls in others (Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons) and at 2 in the morning, these people are all deciding how to handle the crisis that is about to hit.

The plan involves trying to sell all of their worthless stock before everyone else figures out what is going on, which will happen the next morning around 11am. The movie would be better if it started off with some kind of narration, or a primer explaining the terminology. I have read enough (and seen enough documentaries) to have some idea of what led to the crisis, and I was still confused by the terminology used. The movie takes a good 45 minutes to get to the good stuff, which is the president of the company realizing how bad things are about to get. The first half of the movie consists of the same conversation over and over while people look at computer screens and ask if it is accurate. Overall a disappointing movie.

Perfect Sense - Ewan McGregor is a chef in Glasgow. Eva Green is an epidemiologist (google it, kiddies). They meet and fall in love at the same time as a strange disease is being reported all over the globe. People are suddenly overcome with emotions, then they lose their sense of smell. What could be causing this? Eventually it affects everyone. Next they lose their sense of taste, and after that, well, I won't ruin it.

McGregor and Green have really good chemistry together, and they are always good. They do a great job making you care about these characters, and it puts you right in the middle of this frightening situation where the world might be ending.

Fun fact: the actor who plays McGregor's boss is Denis Lawson, who is not only McGregor's uncle in real life, but he played Wedge in the Star Wars trilogy.

Incendies - this is my favorite movie from Sundance. It starts off in Canada where a pair of twins are at the reading for their late mother's will. They are handed two envelopes. One they are to deliver to their father (who they thought was dead), and the other is to be delivered to their brother (who they never knew existed). They go to the Middle East to investigate their mother's past, which they never knew anything about.

At the same time, the movie treats us to flashbacks of their mother as a young woman. She lived through many horrors during a civil war between Christians and Palenstinians. There are definitely some horrific things in this movie, and the end has some pretty good revelations that made the audience gasp audibly many times. The movie is also nominated for the best foreign language Academy Award.

The Lie - Joshua Leonard and Jess Weixler star as a young married couple with a baby. He isn't happy at his job, and one day he tells a ridiculous lie to get a couple of days off work. As the lie gets around, he has to hide stuff from his wife, and the question becomes when will she find out, and how will she react. Not a bad little movie, but nothing special.

Sound of My Voice - this is about a married couple who plan to infiltrate a strange cult so they can make a documentary exposing the leader. As they get drawn into the cult, one of them may be starting to believe while the other remains skeptical. Is the leader a time traveler from the future, come back to save a select group of people, or is she a con artist? The movie is surprisingly well written by newcomer Brit Marling, who co-produced and starred in the movie, as well as another Sundance movie called Another Earth (which I didn't see). A good, solid suspenseful movie.

The Woman - this movie was co-written by Jack Ketchum. If you are familiar with his work, you know what to expect. A man is out hunting, and he comes across a wild woman in the forest. She seems like she is right out of Quest for Fire. Is she part of a tribe, or was she raised by wolves? We never find out, but the man kidnaps her and takes her home to his family. He chains her up in the cellar with the plan of civilizing her.

This family man is the psychotic one, as we see the way he treats his family. They don't seem to question him too much, especially the son who has no problem torturing the woman on his own. The movie is very shocking but not too graphic - most of the worst stuff happens off screen. But this movie outraged people to the point where at the first public screening, a man had to be escorted out by security for yelling at the filmmakers during the Q&A. I liked it, but I would only recommend it to horror fans.