Sunday, February 26, 2012

Academy Awards preview

The Oscars are on tonight. I'm only doing this for the big categories, but here are my
predictions and who I would pick to win.

Best actor:

Demián Bichir in "A Better Life"
George Clooney in "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

Who will win: Jean Dujardin.
My pick: Gary Oldman. I can't believe Gary Oldman has never won before. But that's beside the point. He delivered a master class on minimalist acting. I thought he was just incredible.

Best supporting actor:

Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn"
Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte in "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Who will win: Christopher Plummer.
My pick: since Albert Brooks wasn't nominated, I would pick Christopher Plummer. It was a great performance, and I've never seen him give a performance quite like this one before.

Best actress:

Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis in "The Help"
Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"

Who will win: Viola Davis.
My pick: Michelle Williams. She didn't just impersonate Marilyn Monroe. She created a really
interesting character. Her performance was vulnerable and really moving.

Best supporting actress:

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain in "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

Who will win: Octavia Spencer.
My pick: Octavia Spencer. Her scenes are the ones I remember best from this movie. She just
brought so much life and energy to this performance.

Best director:

"The Artist" Michel Hazanavicius
"The Descendants" Alexander Payne
"Hugo" Martin Scorsese
"Midnight in Paris" Woody Allen
"The Tree of Life" Terrence Malick

Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius.
My pick: Alexander Payne.

Adapted screenplay:

"The Descendants" Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
"Hugo" Screenplay by John Logan
"The Ides of March" Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
"Moneyball" Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Who will win: The Descendants.
My pick: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. To take such a big novel and adapt it into a 2 hour movie
is an incredible feat. They kept in everything they needed to, and it worked. There was nothing missing. The movie demands you watch it more than once, and the more you watch it the more it makes sense and the pieces all fit together beautifully.

Original screenplay:

"The Artist" Written by Michel Hazanavicius
"Bridesmaids" Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
"Margin Call" Written by J.C. Chandor
"Midnight in Paris" Written by Woody Allen
"A Separation" Written by Asghar Farhadi

Who will win: The Artist.
My pick: I'm gonna go with Bridesmaids here. A very funny movie, but it would be a good movie even without all the jokes.

Best picture:

"The Artist" Thomas Langmann, Producer
"The Descendants" Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" Scott Rudin, Producer
"The Help" Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
"Hugo" Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
"Midnight in Paris" Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
"Moneyball" Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
"The Tree of Life" Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill, Producers
"War Horse" Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Who will win: The Artist.
My pick: Since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wasn't nominated, I pick The Decendants. The Artist was nice for what it was, but not a great movie. Extremely Loud shouldn't be nominated.
Neither should War Horse. The Help was a good movie, but not a great one. Moneyball was written by two screenwriters, and it showed. Some parts were great, and some were kind of boring.

I really can't believe that with 9 nominees, Tinker Tailor didn't get enough votes to be in there as the 10th. But the night will belong to The Artist. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and especially old Hollywood. The Artist is like a love letter to silent film and even the people who didn't love it loved what it was about and what it symbolized.

Wanderlust - 3 stars

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play a professional couple in New York. They both lose their jobs and their home and they are heading to Rudd's brother's house in Georgia to live with him. On they way, they come across a hippie commune. They think it's just a bed and breakfast and they stay the night. They quickly learn about the lifestyle, and they both decide to stay there a while and try it out.

It's a little hard to believe that they would be so open to this. The movie should have done a little more to establish how fed up they were with city life. The movie also doesn't go into too many details about life at the commune. Where does the money come from to keep the place going? Property taxes? Food? Supplies?

The house does not have any doors. They believe doors close people off. So they have to adjust to things like going to the bathroom and anyone just walking in at any time. They are also open about sexuality. They don't believe in monogamy. But this is only used as a device to cause conflict in Rudd and Aniston's marriage. We never see or hear about anyone else in the commune sleeping with anyone else. There seems to be only one other couple at the house, and we never hear anything about them sleeping with other people.

There is one guy who is a nudist. He supplies all of the nudity in this film. There is a skinnydipping scene, and I don't think I've ever seen a skinnydipping scene with less nudity. There is also a nude scene where Jennifer Aniston takes her top off. This was in the news months ago, but Aniston petitioned the filmmakers to cut that scene out. So now the scene is there, but the nudity is pixelated out - we see the scene shown later on the news.

There are some funny things in the movie and I laughed just enough to recommend it. But just barely. When it wasn't funny, I found I wasn't too involved in the story. I seemed too contrived and I didn't believe it. This is a very forgettable movie.

Act of Valor - 2 stars

The makers of Act of Valor want to make sure you know that the actors portraying Navy SEALs in this movie are all active duty SEALs in real life. The directors tell us before the movie starts that only people who have experienced the kind of stuff we see in the movie can accurately portray it. Um, no. I have seen more convincing performance by actors in other Hollywood movies.

The movie is about a Navy SEAL team that goes in to Costa Rica to rescue a kidnapped CIA Analyst. The first 20 minutes or so are excruciating. The writing is bad, the directing is bad, the editing is bad, and the acting is horrible. This is the most amaturish movie I have ever seen.

Then the team gets into the mission, and the movie suddenly gets good. I don't know how accurate it is, but there are things in this movie I have never seen before. Like the way a sniper takes out a guart. He waits until his partner is ready to catch the body so it doesn't fall into the water and make a splash. The gun boats that meet the team at the extraction point are very cool. The bad guys drive up in trucks and are torn to shreds by the guns on these boats.

The action is great. But they should have had the SEAL team act as advisors, and used actors to portray the team.

This Means War - 1 1/2 stars

This movie is aweful. Chris Pine and Tom Hardy star as FDR Foster and Tuck, to CIA operatives. At the start of the movie, we are introduced to FDR and Tuck as they are trying to capture a European criminal (an arms dealer or something) at a party in Hong Kong. There is a lame shootout, and this scene does nothing but show us how bad this movie is going to be.

FDR and Tuck are demoted to desk jobs since they messed up the Hong Kong job. FDR is a ladies man, but Tuck hasn't dated anyone since his divorce. He has a young son that he sees once in a while. Oh, and apparently they can't tell anyone that they are CIA agents, so Tuck's ex-wife thinks he is travel agent who travels a lot.

Tuck decides to try online dating. He meets Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), they go out, and immediately hit it off. As Lauren is heading home from their date, she bumps in to FDR at a video store. She resists his advances at first, but he wants to hook up with her.

It might have been funny if FDR and Tuck had no idea they were persuing the same girl. But in this movie, they find out right away. Since they are friends, and FDR has no trouble getting women, in any rational universe he would step aside. But he has to say something stupid like "If I pursued her, you wouldn't have a chance. So I'll let you have her." So of course it becomes a competition to see who can win her.

Lauren starts dating both guys, and she can't decide between them. Her best friend (Chelsea Handler) encourages her to keep seeing both, and sleep with both before she makes up her mind.

This movie is not funny, and it is completely unbelievable. Tuck and FDR are able to put teams of CIA agents together to spy on each other, using whatever resources the CIA has, and they never get caught or questioned. This is a romantic comedy but there is a little bit of action regarding the European criminal. The action scenes are so bad that there is no sense of danger or excitement.

This movie is a failure on every level.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Vow - 2 stars

Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) have been married for about 4 years. They are very much in love, very happy, and are starting to try for a baby. One night they get rear ended by a truck and she ends up in a coma. When she wakes up, she doesn't remember the last 5 years, which means she doesn't remember her husband Leo.

This could be the setup for an interesting story. What if you waked up and couldn't remember the last 5 years? Think of all the questions you would have. Not only do you not recognize your life, but what current events have you missed? One of my first questions would be about movies - which movies won Oscars the last 5 years? What's happening with the Batman or Spider Man or Hobbit franchise? Who is the president?

There are so many possibilities for a story like this. Unfortunately this movie isn't interested in exploring what would really happen. This movie is very contrived. Instead of interesting dialogue, we get story beats that aren't fleshed out very well.

When Paige wakes up from her coma, her parents come to see her. We learn that Leo never told them that their daughter was almost killed. Interestingly they have never met Leo. She hasn't seen her parents in years. Did they even know she was married? Apparently Paige changed every possible aspect of her life 5 years ago. She left home and moved to the big city (a whopping half hour away from home). She dropped out of law school and became an artist. She became a vegitarian. She changed her hair style. It's hard to believe this setup. No wonder she has a hard time adjusting to this foreign life.

I would like to see a movie with a similar setup, but with well drawn characters and sharp dialogue. They never have much of a conversation. The movie tends to cut away right when a scene is about to get to something interesting.

They filmed their wedding. You would think Leo would show her the video right away. But no - she finds it on her own several days after coming home. You would think Leo would catch her up on events chronologically. This never happens either.

I don't think my expectations were too high for this movie, and it let me down. But it wasn't boring or painful to sit through, so I went with the 2 star rating. You could see worse movies (like Journey 2), but this is not a movie you should seek out.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island - 1 star

This movie just pissed me off. The people who wrote it think that all kids are dumb. Movies don't have to be dumbed down to be for kids. Kids are smarter than that.

The only returning character is Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson). He is able to intercept a satellite message from his grandfather (Michael Caine). His grandfather is stuck on the mysterious island, and he sent the coded message in hopes his grandson would find it. Does he want Sean to find the island and visit him, or is he hoping for rescue? If he wants to be rescued, why does he code the message? If he just wants Sean to find the island, he is a crazy old man, because no ship or plane can land safely on the island. You have to pass through a crazy system of tornados.

Sean's stepfather (Dwayne Johnson) helps him decode the message, and has no problem buying them two tickets to the South Pacific to find the island. No discussion of how much last minute plane tickets like that would cost. The screenwriters not only think kids are dumb, they think everyone can afford to drop several thousand dollars at the drop of a hat.

Once they get to the South Pacific, they hire Luis Guzman and his daughter Vanessa Hudgens to fly them to the coordinates where the mysterious island is located. It takes them about 5 minutes to reach the location, which makes you wonder why others haven't discovered it. They go through a storm system and end up wrecked on the beach of the mysterious island. Of course they are ok, even though the helicopter is in pieces.

The rest of the movie consists of them meeting giant creatures, riding on the backs of bees (which are easier to tame than a horse), and finding the lost city of Atlantis and Captain Nemo's submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I didn't enjoy this movie. I tried to turn my brain off and just enjoy the adventure, but there is no sense of danger. At no time did the movie make me believe there was anything to worry about. Luis Guzman was not funny, Michael Caine turned in the worst performance I have ever seen from him, Caine and The Rock insult each other even thought the movie gives no reason for their animosity, and Sean acts like a spoiled brat. Avoid at all costs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Safe House - 2 1/2 stars

Denzel Washington plays a CIA operative who has gone rogue. He has stolen something and is trying to sell it. He gets caught by the CIA while he is in South Africa, and he is taken to a safe house for interrogation. The safe house is run by Ryan Reynolds.

While he is being interrogated, a heavily armed team of terrorists / assassins / whatever breaks into the safe house to kidnap Denzel. They kill the CIA guys, and Reynolds escapes with Denzel. Most of the movie consists of Reynolds trying to keep Denzel in custody. Denzel's operative is a legend in the CIA, and this is Reynolds' first big mission. Which means Denzel is calm and not worried at all about this kid - he could basically escape any time he chooses.

We've seen this movie before. There is some decent action in the middle of the movie, but it is badly edited. I also didn't like the look of the movie. It looked like a bad imitation of a Tony Scott movie. The color scheme was just ugly.

It isn't giving much away to say that at least one person in the CIA is involved in this, and Denzel may not have gone rogue. Or he may not be the bad guy they claim he is. An hour after the movie I had forgotten all about it. This is a very forgettable movie.

Sundance wrap-up

I saw 15 movies at Sundance this year. I was hoping to see more, but as always, there just aren't enough hours in the day. Here is a list of all the movies I saw in order of best to worst:

The Surrogate - A
The Raid - A-
Slavery by Another Name - A-
The Other Dream Team - B+
Excision - B+
Madrid, 1987 - B
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - B
Escape Fire - The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare - B-
Compliance - B-
Yound & Wild - C+
Elena - C
Can - C-
Nobody Walks - C-
The Ambassador - D
The End of Love - F

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sundance Saturday, January 28

Today I finally saw Can, the first Turkish movie to play at the festival.

Set in Istanbul, Ayse and Cemal are married but unable to conceive. Since they are uneducated and live in the slums, they don't know about adoption. So the way they decide to have a child is to buy one through the black market. Soon after getting the kid, Cemal freaks out and leaves his wife and their new child.

Cut to several years later. Ayse is raising the child (named Can) alone. She leaves for work every day and takes him with her. She leaves him in the park and tells him to wait for her. She works her shift then comes back to pick Can up. This is their daily routine.

We revisit Cemal after he has remarried, and his new wife is pregnant.

Without giving away the ending, this is basically the plot of the movie. But the movie does not unfold in a linear fashion. The movie keeps jumping back and forth in time, and while that makes the story a little more interesting, it also makes it much more confusing. It was a ways into the movie before I understood that we were seeing Ayse in two different time periods. I think the filmmakers could have done a better job of not making it so confusing.

Also, things could have been explained better. I didn't know until during the Q&A that they were poor and lived in a slum. Since I don't know what life in Istanbul is like, I had no idea whether they were well off or not. I didn't know that it is common for people like them to have no knowledge of adoption, because during the movie I kept wondering why they didn't try adoption.

The boy who plays Can is adorable. I felt so bad for him, because all he does every day is sit on the park bench, waiting for his mom. When they walk to the park, he looks over and sees other kids playing on the playground. He longs to play like a regular kid, but his mom doesn't have time to wait for him to go play. He also longs for his mother to show him some love, but she seems to have no emotional attachment to him. She treats him like a burden.

Late in the movie, she seems to warm up to him. I didn't really understand what made her attitude change. The entire movie, she seems to have no love for her son. Suddenly at the end she seems like a good mother. I think that is too much of an abrubt character arc with no explanation.

Last, the subtitles. I have never seen such bad subtitles. They are in broken english, and sometimes they ahve typos (like that one). They really need to let someone go through those subtitles and clean them up.

Sundance Thursday, January 26

Best day yet. Three movies, all of them great.

The Other Dream Team

This is a documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team. I had never heard of them before (I have never really followed the olympics), but this was the first year Lithuania had a team there. In previous years, the Lithuanians had played for the Russian national team.

This movie gives us a pretty good lesson on Lithuania. During World War II Russia occupied Lithuania and it did so until 1991. Many Lithuanians were sent to labor camps in Siberia during Stalin's reign. In 1991, there was a movement to get the Russians out of Lithuania. Many people died before Russia finally left the country.

This is a real feel good movie. The country has no money, so a few people start looking for help to fund the team. The Grateful Dead end up being the sponsors. The team does get beat by the US dream team, but they end up playing against the Russian team for the silver medal.

The Surrogate

John Hawkes plays a journalist named Mark O'Brien. Mark has been living in an iron lung since he was a boy. He is able to get out for a few hours a day, but his muscles don't work so he has to be wheeled around in a Gurney.

He decides to lose his virginity, and he hires a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt. For guidance, he goes to a priest played by William H. Macy (perfect casting). This is a very sweet and beautiful love story. This is the most honest portrayal I have ever seen of a sexual innocent learning about intimacy. The nudity and sexual dialogue is very frank and honest, but never gratuitous. This movie is for adults, but in no way is it dirty. I think this movie will be an Academy Awards contender next year, and John Hawkes will definitely get a nomination.

The Raid

Set in Indonesia, this movie is about a police SWAT team going to conduct a raid on a rundown tenement in Jakarta. Their target is to take out a crime boss named Tama. But the entire building is full of criminals loyal to Tama. What follows is wall to wall action between the SWAT team and the residents.

This movie has some of the best fight scenes I have ever seen. The movie doesn't use a bunch of cuts to show a fight - they are actually played out in unbroken long shots. You can see that the actors actually had to choreograph the fights to precision.

The movie is very bloody. It is a grindhouse movie in the best sense of the word. There are many moments that made the entire audience erupt in cheers. The climactic fight between the main henchman and two brothers is just incredible. I could watch this movie again right now.

Sundance Wednesday, January 25

I only managed to see one movie today.

The End of Love - Mark Webber writes, directs, and start as himself. His wife has died and he is left alone to raise his infant son. The first 20 minutes or so involve him and his son waking up and eating breakfast. That's about it. I almost fell asleep.

Eventually he goes to an audition. He takes his son in the room with him, which means he has to keep breaking character to talk to his son. Then he goes to the cemetary to see his wife's grave. He goes home again.

I don't know if the movie was improvised, but if there was a script, it was 2 pages long. Nothing much happens, and the only reason for this movie to be made was so Mark Webber could have a home movie of the two of them. There is a bit of a plot regarding a woman he likes, but it goes nowhere. I walked out after about 45 minutes.


I spent a bit of time walking around Main Street today. I checked out the sponsors and giveaways and stuff. I also visited New Frontier. They always have come cool, intersting things there. There was a cool 3-D video collage of a bunch of scenes from Hollywood movies. It was called Evolution. I spent a while trying to identify all the different movies the images were taken from.

There was also something cool called Hunger in Los Angeles where you put on a virtual reality helmet and you can see and interact with people in line at a food bank in LA. I saw people try it but I was not able to try it myself. There was only one helmet and you can wait a very long time before you get a turn.

That evening I went to the Music Showcase: BMI Snowball produced by BMI. I saw several great musical performances including Donovan and Rodriguez. As much as I love bands, there is something special about one guy and an acoustic guitar. All the performances were just vocals and acoustic guitars. Very cool.

The last thing I did was go to the after hours lounge at The Yard. I met the 3 women who were there for Young & Wild. They are Marialy Rivas (writer, director), Alicia Rodriguez (actress) and the real girl who wrote the blog youngandwild (I forgot her name). Marialy told me about how at one screening, the audience didn't react at all. She thought they were not liking the movie. After during the Q&A, she asked them about it. They said it was just because they were so into it. She realized that as long as people aren't walking out or booing, it's a good sign.

I also met the team from Can, which is the first movie from Turkey to get into Sundance. I met Burak Akidil (producer) and Tamer Ciray (composer). They were very nice, and I promised to see their movie before the festival was over.

Sundance Tuesday, January 24

A couple of good movies today, and as usual at Sundance, they are as different as they can be.

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

This was a documentary about our health care. It coveres several different topics. It starts out showing how many general practicioners are not able to give proper health care because they are so limited in the time they spend with patients. One subject of the documentary is a doctor who is limited to 7 mintes per patient. It doesn't matter what they are there for or how much care they need. She has to go through a certain number of patients per day. This means people are not getting the attention from their doctor that they need.

The movie also brings up our habits. We eat a bad diet and don't get enough excercise, then expect the doctors to fix whatever happens to us. Also, some doctors don't push diet and excercise enough. The movie shows a woman who had a heart condition and kept getting splints put into her arteries. When they finally start working with her to develop a healthier lifestyle, she stops having heart problems. Our bodies can heal themselves if we treat them right.

Another topic is our dependancy on drugs. There is a lot of money in medication and not so much money for acupuncture. They show soldiers injured in the middle east being flown back to Germany or the states for treatment. Before loading them up on the plane, they start them on medications to manage pain. One soldier shows a bag full of pill bottles that he was on. This leads to soldiers addicted to pain killers. The movie shows an effort to get the military to use acupuncture to control pain instead of the pills.

The movie manages to resist the impulse to be political. It shows a little bit about the health care debate and health care reform, but it doesn't take a political side. This is one of those movies that everyone should see.


Several years ago there was a story in the news about a young girl working at McDonalds. Her manager took her into the back room and told her that she had been accused of stealing. The manager strip searched the girl. This movie is a fictionalized version of that story.

A man calls the manager at a fast food restaurant. He tells her that he is a police officer and that Becky, the pretty blonde working the counter, stole money from a customer's purse. He says the woman is there at the station and the manager needs to question Becky for him. She brings Becky in the back room and the terror begins.

It starts innocent enough, but the man on the phone keeps raising the stakes. He tells Becky and the manager that if they cooperate and help in the investigation, Becky can avoid being arrested. Becky is forced to strip and then be searched by the manager. Then things get really creepy.

The manager's defense is that she believed the man was a cop. He had an answer for every one of her questions and concerns. Watching the movie, it is hard to believe that no one at the restaurant puts a stop to this. No one suggests getting the cop's name and badge number and calling him back.

The movie is very disturbing, but it is an interesting story. It's a good cautionary story for anyone in a position of management.