Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars 2008 - Reinvention and Failed Intentions

The Oscars. People say their boring. Well, for god's sake, does that mean we have to replace the usual ceremony with hyper-kinetic energy as well as horribly idiotic jokes (I've heard the one about not seeing "The Reader" enough times)? All-in-all, it was one of the worst ceremonies in recent memory, especially due to the presence of Hugh Jackman, possibly the worst choice for a host in a long time. Jackman's opening montage about the 5 best picture nominees was desperate and unfunny. The Academy was smart enough to only serve him in small doses for the rest of the evening. But it got even worse. Before every acting category, there was a montage of previous winners as well as nominee introductions from five previous victors. The Academy got rid of the clips that usually accompany each nominee usually, which pretty much meant that we had to listen to former Oscar-winners drone on about their selected actor. As for the nights acting winners, there were not many surprises. A mesmerizing Sean Penn performance triumphed over a fantastic and even more deserving Mickey Rourke. Penn wisely name-dropped the man he beat out in his speech, since he knew he wasn't quite as good. Kate Winslet got her Oscar, one contested by Meryl Streep and dark, dark horse Melissa Leo. Cue the nervous speech that Winslet has patented. Heath Ledger's family accepted his Oscar in the most certain Award of the night. And Penelope Cruz beat out the likes of Amy Adams, Marisa Tomei, Viola Davis, and Taraji P. Henson for a much deserved Oscar. The biggest surprise (for me) was when "Waltz With Bashir" and "The Class" were upset by "Departures," a Japanese film. And I believe the Live Action Short Film was unfairly given to Holocaust film "Toyland," over the Michael Haneke homage "On the Line." Otherwise, the evening went as planned. It was no surprise Slumdog won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture. Ben Button walked away with only 3, a.k.a. it got screwed. Frost/Nixon, Rachel Getting Married, Changeling, Doubt, The Wrestler, Frozen River et al all walked away with nothing. Seriously, I believe the Academy had a bad year. Except for the night's best moment, Phillepe Petit performing a magic trick for friend Werner Herzog as well as balancing the Oscar he won on his chin. Petit is awesome.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Nominated Short Films 2008 (With an Exception of "La Maison en Petits Cubes")

I just downloaded the Academy's crop of Best Short Film nominees (both animated and live action) from Itunes. The only problem is that "La Maison en Petit Cubes" was not available. But I did see the 9 other nominees, and here are my reviews, which serve as Academy awards analysis:

Live Action

The best live action short film up for an Academy award was far and away Reto Cafi's "On the Line." This is a superbly crafted homage to the films of creepy director Michael Haneke, whose film "Cache" dealt with the subject of watching as this film does. Roland Weisnekker plays a security guard, who keeps an eye on an employee that he has a crush on. She lives in his area as well. On the line home from work, he sees that she appears to have a boyfriend. When he sees the man being brutally beaten, he steps off the train and doesn't intervene. This ends up leaving a scar on the relationship of the guard and his love. It deals with how love can be an empty matter sometimes, and does this through cameras. It's amazing how restrained and horribly haunting this short is. A

In second is Steph Green's adaptation of a Roddy Doyle story called "New Boy." This short juxtaposes a child's experiences in a poor African school with his preppy days in a Europe private school. The film has potential as a subject, but it's Olutunji Ebun-Cole's performance as the boy that makes it work, as well as good editing and direction. A-

Tied for third are two different films, both of which could have been better as feature length films. "Manon on the Asphalt" is a French elegy that intertwines a woman's memories with her lying on her deathbed of pavement after a bike crash. "Toyland" is a Holocaust short about a woman who is looking for her son and makes an attempt to save another from going to a concentration camp. It unwisely uses flashbacks to tell its complicated story and would have worked better longer. "Asphalt" needs more backstory for catharsis, since we hardly know the deceased. Still, both are polished, somewhat enjoyable films. Both B.

And lastly, "The Pig" is an annoying story about a man who becomes obsessed with a picture of a leaping pig during the time of his colonoscopy. He's so selfish, he complains even though his bed neighbor is a Muslim and his family is impartial to the drawing. It's made to come off as a smart, racial piece, but it doesn't work. Why does every short this year have to be foreign, racial, or both? C+


In front is a line-drawn charmer known as "Lavatory - Lovestory." A bathroom attendant receives flowers from an unknown lover and grows miserable since she does not know who it is. This short captures some priceless moments of love rarely caught in animation. A-.

Close behind is "This Way Up" directed by Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith. It's a madcap story about two undertakers who need to transport the body of an old lady by foot since their car is crushed by a huge rock. The attention to detail in this film, just like the film ahead of it, is pitch perfect, and there were some excellent moments. Although at one point drifting into acid-trip material, this one is good work. A-.

Then, there is quite a gap between the best two and the worst two. "Oktapodi" and "Presto," two tired Pixar shorts, one featuring an octopus chase very, very reminiscent of "Finding Nemo," the other is typical of a Disney lead-in (I saw this previously before "Wall-E"), in which, in slapstick fashion, a rabbit physically abuses its master with a magic hat for a carrot. Both of these films were pretty uninspired, both had a couple good moments, both were forgettable. B-.

So there you have it. My in-depth analysis. Sorry about "Petit Cubes," but you can't do everything.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Why I Believe This is an Uncertain Choice

You may think I'm insane. I've already written a persuasive post about why Milk will win, but here's why Slumdog won't win. I know. It's won many of the pre-Oscar awards. But so did "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005. It won the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and many others major awards. Still, "Crash" pulled away with the Oscar on Oscar Night. If this is not enough to convince you, you are probably holding onto the idea that at least Danny Boyle will win due to his DGA award. That may be true, but that guarantees nothing. Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and Ron Howard ("Apollo 13"), two prolific directors, both got pretty much screwed on Oscar night after winning the award. Slumdog, you say, is different, you may say. But I believe it's as unstable as any lead contender. It's most definitely not "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which to bet against would have been insanity. And although the film is uplifting, there is not much to latch onto, complain critics. Milk at least is about politics, a subject Hollywood loves. Plus, it's Lisa Schwarzbaum approved. Slumdog is in no way political. It doesn't appear anywhere on the Entertainment Weekly critic's top ten. More: no Golden Globe winner for Best Drama (which is where the film has come from every year for a long time) since "Lord of the Rings: The Return..." has won the Best Picture Oscar. Milk failed to get a nomination, but still... Slumdog won that award. It also won the BAFTA (Milk was nominated), another wildly unreliable award. No film has won a Best Picture Oscar having won the BAFTA Best Picture either since LOTR. Slumdog failed to win Best British Film as well LOL. Well, that's just my reasoning.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Body of Lies

Ridley Scott rarely takes a step out of line in "Body of Lies" (which is actually a fine and fitting title, Owen Gleiberman). There are so many places he could go wrong, and he avoids many of those pitfalls. To tell you the truth, this is a direly underrated spy flick, and it definitely deserves more attention that it got. It is not one of the year's best films, but it's actually very good at points. Of course, some cliches come with the terrorist/spy/CIA genre that don't go under the radar. But I think Scott does some of his best, and he should get a little recognition. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove himself to me as a good actor, especially here as Roger Ferris, a CIA field agent whose entire life is spent on location in Middle Eastern countries. His superior, Ed Hoffman, is an inept, family-centered, overweight head, played by the great Russell Crowe (who turns in a very good performance a year now). Over the course of the film, the relationship between these two is severed even worse than before, since Hoffman is selfish and takes over every operation. We all know that Hoffman doesn't care anything much about Ferris, but he tries to conceal it. Anyways, at the moment, the two are working round the clock to stop various bubblings from happening, etc. One main support is the honesty-savvy , strong-armed Hani (Mark Strong, who was pretty mediocre in "RocknRolla" but shows somewhat of an acting presence here). There are many ways the plot could have gone, but Scott stayed somewhat on target and stepped right where he could have gone for the obvious clincher. Another way is in the choice of Golshifteh Farahani as the love interest and medic Aisha, since Farahani we see is a charming, exuberant actress who holds her own with DiCaprio. Scott has a good eye. The film does not compare with his superb earlier work ("Matchstick Men," "Alien," "Blade Runner"), but seriously, were we expecting that? His dive into the genre of the political thriller turns out very well. Scott adds a great touch to this film, as do DiCaprio, Farahani, and most importantly, Crowe. Though at times somewhat of a textbook, formula thriller, it's really not. Although often compared to "Syriana," again it is not. It's a film about how field agents operate, and how the men at the desks mess them up. B

Best Films of 2008

1. The Wrestler (directed by Darren Aronofsky)
2. Hunger (directed by Steve McQueen)
3. Waltz With Bashir (directed by Ari Folman)
4. Synecdoche, New York (directed by Charlie Kaufman)
5. Man on Wire (directed by James Marsh)
6. Doubt (directed by John Patrick Shanley)
7. Happy-Go-Lucky (directed by Mike Leigh)
8. Gomorrah (directed by Mateo Garrone)
9. Rachel Getting Married (directed by Jonathan Demme)
10. Milk (directed by Gus Van Sant)

Special mention: Reto Caffi's short film "On the Line"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some Surprises at the Oscars?

Though I don't really agree with much Dave Karger and the EW prognostication/promoting staff says, promotes, or predicts, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to do what Karger is doing and making a list of my predictions for possible surprises at the Oscars.

Milk beats Slumdog (my prediction, but hard for people to take seriously) for Best Picture

Richard Jenkins or Brad Pitt beats Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn, and Frank Langella for Best Actor due to love to indies or Buttons

Josh Brolin or Michael Shannon pulls an upset on Heath Ledger and upsets thousands of viewers (not likely)

Taraji P. Henson pulls ahead of Penelope Cruz and Viola Davis

The Dark Knight wins over Slumdog for Best Cinematography

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button beats Slumdog for best Adapted Screenplay

Those are the best I can think of at the moment.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

2008 Oscar Predictions and Hopes! (Summarized Version)

Here are my Oscar wants and predictions for 2008, just in case you didn't see my score of Oscar analysis. Of course, for more detailed reactions to the performances, check out the originals.

Best Picture:

What I want: Slumdog Millionaire (ed. not anymore...)

What I predict: Milk

The other nominees (in order of preference):
The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Actor :

Who I want: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Who I predict: Sean Penn, Milk

The other nominees:
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Actress:

Who I want: Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Who I predict: Meryl Streep, Doubt

The other nominees:
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Best Supporting Actor:

Who I want: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Who I predict: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

The other nominees:
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder

Best Supporting Actress (Field: A-):

Who I want: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Who I predict: Viola Davis, Doubt

The other nominees:
Amy Adams, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Director:

Who I want: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Who I predict: Gus Van Sant, Milk

The other nominees:
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Best Original Screenplay

Who I want: Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Who I predict: Dustin Lance Black, Milk

The other nominees:
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Andrew Stanton/Jim Reardon/Pete Docter, Wall-E
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River

Best Adapted Screenplay (Field: B+)

Who I want: John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Who I predict: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

The other nominees:
David Hare, The Reader
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon

A little less analyzed, here are the other categories:

Animated Film:

Who I want and predict: Wall-E

Other nominees (haven't seen these two):
Kung Fu Panda

Art Direction:

Who I want: Revolutionary Road

Who I predict: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Other nominees (preference):
The Dark Knight
The Duchess


Who I want and I predict: Slumdog Millionaire

Other nominees (preference):
The Dark Knight
The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Costume Design:

Who I want and I predict: Revolutionary Road

Other nominees (preference):
The Duchess
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Documentary Feature:

Who I want and predict: Man on Wire

Other nominees (only have seen one besides Man):
Encounters at the End of the World
Trouble the Water
The Garden
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)

Documentary Short (no preference whatsoever since I have not seen any of these):

Who I predict: The Conscience of Nhem En

Other nominees:
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Film Editing (definite preference):

Who I want and who I predict: Slumdog Millionaire

Other nominees (in order):
The Dark Knight
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Foreign Language Film (only seen my choice):

Who I want and who I predict: Waltz With Bashir

The other nominees:
The Class
The Baader Meinhof Complex


Who I want: The Dark Knight

Who I predict: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Other nominee:
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Music (Original Score):

Who I want and who I predict: Slumdog Millionaire

The other nominees (in order of preference):
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Original Song:

Who I want and who I predict: "Jaiho" (Slumdog Millionaire)

Other nominees (preference):
"O...Saya" (Slumdog Millionaire)
"Down to Earth" (Wall-E)

Sound Editing:

Who I want and who I predict: The Dark Knight

Other nominees (preference):
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Mixing:

Who I want and who I predict: The Dark Knight

Other nominees (preference):
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Visual Effects:

Who I want and who I predict: The Dark Knight

Other nominees:
Iron Man
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Short Film (Animated) (Field: B-):

Who I want: Lavatory - Lovestory

Who I predict: This Way Up

Other nominees (in order of preference except for "Cubes"):
La Maison en Petit Cubes

Short Film (Live Action) (Field: B):

Who I predict and want: On the Line

Other nominees (in order of preference):
New Boy
Manon on the Asphalt
Spielzeugland (Toyland)
The Pig

So there you are.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Who Should and Will Win Best Actress? - 2008 Oscar Edition

The possibly most unpredictable race of the year. I'm not afraid to make predictions.

Who Will Win: Meryl Streep, Doubt
Really, how can you deny an actress so many times? She's only won twice, and I think that the Academy will give her a statuette for her great work as Sister Aloysius. Every has their money on Winslet, but I don't think people see the significance of Harvey Weinstein's idiocy. Streep will go home with an award for the first time in 27 years.

Who Should Win: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
2008 was a year of comeback performances. Although Leo's work may not have been as outstanding as Mickey Rourke's, it's a seriously unprecedented performance. Leo carries "River" and makes a potentially okay movie into something grand. She's perfect for the part, and she masters it so well, you are swept away.

The other nominees:
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Hathaway shows the Academy she can act, in a devastating performance as the black sheep of the family. It's her best work ever, and in any other year, it would be recognized. It's stunning, career-making work.

Kate Winslet, The Reader
Although angering me for playing in both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Winslet does a very good job as Hanna Schmitz, a Nazi guard who has an affair that (almost) proves to be the tide changer in her case. Name another actress who could have done this better, and I'll be surprised.

Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Although a great performance at the beginning of Clint Eastwood's slow-moving drama, Jolie's work falls apart as the movie progresses. I agree she's here just so she can be Brad's Oscar date, not because of great work. Kristin Scott-Thomas and Sally Hawkins really got snubbed for amazing performances, ones that should have been in the spot that Jolie occupies.


"Changeling," Clint Eastwood's piece about the kidnapping of Walter Collins, overstays its welcome so much that its unforgivable. Cut the movie down to under two hours and you have a good film. But Eastwood, who's strong hand has gotten much, much weaker since 2006's masterful "Letters From Iwo Jima," drags the movie on and on and on. There's actually a good performance in here by Angelina Jolie, but it's tuned out mostly due to information being given again and again. We already know that the son has been kidnapped; we don't need to hear it several more time. Yet, that's what Eastwood gives us. The film goes from utterly devastating to extremely overbearing, and it makes two hours and twenty-one minutes seem like a lifetime. The first 45 minutes are actually pretty good: Christine Collins (Jolie) loses her son and the LAPD brings back a boy who looks eerily like him. He's not the kid, of course. Collins quickly determines this, but is harshly treated by the police force, who are a bunch of misogynists who put women in insane asylums just for sticking up for themselves. The treatment of Collins is no different. Even though the imposter is a police prop, and everyone knows it, Collins is thrown in the pen. At this point, the film loses control of itself and comes off as a low-grade mix of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and a police procedural. The writing, previously pretty good, turns really, really bad, the editing becomes more like tapioca, and the movie is, well, boring. I don't think the case itself is necessarily off-putting, but Eastwood's overlong representation of it is a disaster. It can't hold down your attention like it did before, since Harry threw in the kitchen sink and possibly even the dishwasher. The cinematography, once looking better than Sam Mendes' "Road to Perdition," dulls our eyes. And the addition of John Malkovich as a pastor who challenges the whole case is paltry. It's really sad to see such a promising film go down the way it does. But Eastwood makes the film go to its lowest of lows. It's his worst film that he's done in a while, possibly ever, and I believe he needs another year to make a comeback. He's trapped in murky waters, and he'll really need to dazzle us to get out of them. C-

Monday, February 9, 2009

What Should and Will Win Best Film Editing? - 2008 Oscar Edition

More of me rattling off the categories that I have seen.

What Will and Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire (edited by Chris Dickens)
However you may consider Slumdog as a true Oscar contender, you should at least admire Dickens' amazing editing. He is usually thrown bad, less vitalizing editing jobs, but here, his style fits with Danny Boyle's, and the result is a masterpiece of masterful cuts.

The other nominees:
The Dark Knight (edited by Lee Smith)
How can you deny the full-fledged power of the biggest, highest grossing movie of the year? It really wouldn't have worked for me with choppy editing, and Smith, the veteran craftsman who cut Master and Commander, shows he really can do his craft well.

Milk (edited by Elliot Graham)
Not necessarily such a editing showcase, Milk still is pretty polished from the cutting point of view. Graham creates some desperation with his skills, especially in the closing scenes of the film. It's a job well done, definitely. (ed. I now remember there is some good archival footage editing, too).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall)
As a film, it's uneven. Technically, though, "Button" has redeeming features. It's well-edited, especially in those battle scenes. Though I don't support the decision to edit it not in chronological order, that's more of Fincher's call than that of Baxter and Wall, so I praise them somewhat.

Frost/Nixon (edited by Mike Hill and Dan Hanley)
Everything about this movie screams uninspired, and the editing isn't much different. The decisions in the editing room were pretty typical, since I've seen this many times before. Hill and Hanley, Howard regulars, won rightfully for "Apollo 13," but they shouldn't win for their lackluster work here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Should and Will Win Best Original Screenplay? - 2008 Oscar Edition

What Should and Will Win: Milk (written by Dustin Lance Black)
In the sharpest screenwriting debut of the year, Black brings to life an icon, and with great dialogue. I know the Academy feels the same, and this should be a part of Milk's mini-sweep. Van Sant and Penn did masterful jobs as well, but Black really masters the movie here, and he will definitely be around for a long time.

The other nominees:
Happy-Go-Lucky (written by Mike Leigh)
What a wonderful movie and screenplay this is! Leigh provides the sparks that light the fires of Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, both who branch fantastically off of it. Leigh does his absolute best here, a magical piece not only in his direction but in his writing.

In Bruges (written by Martin McDonagh)
I believe this may be the funniest script of the year. I laughed a few times, and that's not easy to make me do that. Of course, its only embellished by Farrell and Gleeson, but "Six Shooter"'s lauded director creates the one of the most unique films of the year, running off a mostly one-joke enterprise (however, it's hilarious).

Wall-E (written by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter)
Stanton does his best work with Wall-E, the best Pixar film, one where I didn't groan all the way through do to "genius" being coasted off of. He gives a message-filled idea some humor, life, and originality. The scarcity of dialogue only makes it better.

Frozen River (written by Courtney Hunt)
Yes, it's a good script and all. But, no, it couldn't have worked without the exceptional work by Melissa Leo. Hunt's somewhat generic work basically falls through without the support it gets. It's still good, though, and has that predictable-yet-surprising nature that I described in my review.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Waltz With Bashir

"Waltz With Bashir" is one of the best films of 2008. Ari Folman, documentarian, pieces together his past in the war in a fragmented, visually unmatched documentary in which he details the lack of clarity of the war in amazing animation. Folman finds twisted poetry in the 1982 Lebanon war in which he was in, and also shows the lack of recollection caused. When he meets a friend of his, who describes his murdering of sentinel dogs, the flashbacks that he never had come piling on. There is one in particular where he emerges from a sleep in the sea, and walks dazedly through a destroyed city. It's power is enhanced by a haunting score by Max Richter that I can't describe. The movie is somewhat the same: indescribable, stunning, (as Ebert sort of said) harrowing, and (as someone said I believe) very strange. All-in-all, "Waltz With Bashir" is a masterful achievement, (as someone said) one where a former soldier documents his horrible memories and (as someone said) quite brilliantly at that. He captures the very nature of the battleground, the falter of reality, the lives scarred, and the ultimate destruction caused. It is endlessly worthy of praise, for its bold and daring look. Although one part in particular drags, it is not enough to deter the course of Folman's great film. A

No Country for Old Men

"No Country for Old Men," Joel and Ethan Coen's magnificent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name, is the best film of 2007, no questions asked. It does so much with but a few characters, a helluva lot of scope, and great cinematography. Roger Deakins was nominated twice for an Oscar in 2007 for cinematography, for "The Assassination of Jesse James..." and this film, and he got beaten by "There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit. As with the other film, Deakins truly captures wonders with his camerawork. Without him, "No Country" would have lost its touch. Edited pristinely by only the best in the business (that is, "Roderick Jaynes"), adapted perfectly by the Coens, and acted with the utmost precision, "Men" is a first-rate, literary action drama.

Javier Bardem got the Oscar he most definitely deserved as Anton Chigurh, a serial killer with a plan of action. He's after Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, in his best performance, unfairly ignored by the Academy), an ex-welder who stumbles upon drug money and unwisely takes the money and runs. Tommy Lee Jones turns in his best performance as Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff who's interest is in helping Moss escape from the clutches of Chigurh's cattle bolt gun. And Woody Harrelson gives us a performance that will make us forgive him for his dreadful work in "Seven Pounds,": he plays Carson Wells, another man going after the money. Four great performances. They're all solidified by the wonderful, experienced direction by the Coen Brothers. They have made lowbrow comedies ("Burn After Reading," "Raising Arizona," "The Big Lebowski"), a Hollywood satire ("Barton Fink"), and a certain police procedural that made them famous ("Fargo"), but they have not done anything like this. This is their magnum opus, and they were rightfully awarded for their toils. They also make stars out of their actors: Bardem breaks through with a collected and terrifying uber-villain, Brolin makes a name playing a pained man on the run, and Lee Jones proves himself yet again with some terrific work. The Coens definitely know how to play their cards right, and the structure of this film shows just that. It's brilliant, tight, and suspenseful. This is everything Cormac McCarthy could have hoped for and more. A

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


It was not the plot in "RocknRolla" that kept me in, nor the style that's become Guy Ritchie's trademark. It was the stunning nature of the director's well rounded characters that are the basis for the film. Without these types, we would have nothing but chaos. The film is just as well anchored by a pretty good turn from Tom Wilkinson, who shows yet again that he plays the same character every time. He's Lenny Cole, crime boss, a man who owns the criminal world pretty much like Bill Cutting owned the Five Points. He's making a deal with Uri (Karel Roden), his Russian counterpart, and Uri offers him his "lucky painting," which we wisely never see. Cole loses the painting almost immediately, and calls on narrator Archie (Mark Strong) to get it back. While this is all going on, we also are introduced to a criminal group known as the Wild Bunch, which consists of One-Two (Gerard Butler), Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), and Mumbles (Idris Elba). There's also Cookie (Matt King), who I call attention to as he is a British Steve Buscemi who's a little more hip. They are robbing Uri and his guards and they have one scene in particular, where Ritchie breaks out his kinetic camerawork for the only time in this film. There is also Stella, played by the sexy Thandie Newton, a sleek accountant who is somewhat of a love interest. But the main character and source of trouble is Johnny Quid, played by Toby Kebbell, Lenny's stepson, who fakes his own death regularly so he can go drug himself out. There is one strange scene where Johnny plays the piano and talks about his addiction to cigarettes, easily one of the best in the movie. The movie itself is a little shortchanged do to its complicated plot and conclusive climax, but the script is a spark plug here, written by Ritchie and performed well by his great cast. It's surprising how this one stays afloat, but it's actually quite a decent action pic. That's what a great cast is for: reviving your movie, and Ritchie knows how to do just that. It's a well-made, well-acted, and very well-scripted vehicle, and, although overbearing at times, sometimes hits high marks. The biggest problem is that it can at times be a real strain to like, but Guy Ritchie keeps that thought in check enough for you to praise the film's subtle qualities. B-

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gran Torino

If there was one thing I learned while watching Clint Eastwood's amateurish racial drama, it was that he couldn't sing. The song that concludes this film, written he, his son, and a couple others is caterwauled by Dirty Harry himself. Eastwood made some fantastic films this decade ("Million-Dollar Baby," "Letters From Iwo Jima"). Here Clint doesn't achieve much. He gives an okay performance, but he's the only one who gets a good performance milked out. Eastwood seems to have lost his direction skills. Plus, where is Paul Haggis when we need him? Why did Eastwood work with the terribly written, profanity heavy script from Nick Schenk? Who knows. All I know is that Eastwood overplays the racism. He is Walt Kowalski, a man who's heavily shaken from his time spent in the Korean War. He is a racist, but I doubt that's a secret. At the beginning of the film, at his wife's funeral, we also realize he is a blatant jerk. He is the most anti-social guy you can imagine. I give the Academy a rare pat on the back for not celebrating Eastwood cussing his way through nearly two hours of a film. We also meet in the opening minutes the priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley, in a very terribly acted performance). He wants Walt to confess. Whaddya think Eastwood says to that? The film also is not spared of terribly two-dimensional characters. Walt's family is a cast of paper-thin portrayals by actors who are unlucky enough to have signed on to such a film. We also meet Walt's neighbors, a Hmong family who he obviously holds in contempt for just being Asian. Of course, these are the people who soften his heart. Especially pressured young man Thao (Bee Vang), who, under pressure from his cousin's gang, tries to steal Walt's prized Gran Torino. He then works, by his family's command, for Walt, who somewhat takes him under his wing. The plot has a lot of potential, but it is subjected to Eastwood's hammy directing. There are some good characters, like Sue, played by promising actress Ahney Her. But the film submits to ridiculousness. Walt's barber, played by John Carroll Lynch (who played Norm Gunderson), has a terribly executed scene. There are moments intended to be funny. Schenk thinks these are good moments, but they are seriously duds. Nothing works really, but yet there is still some sort of underlying charm from Eastwood and Her. This is what saves the film from being a terrible bust. But still, you can't really ignore that there are a score of problems here. C-

This film is very, very profane and violent. Not for children.