Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Predicitions

Vote selection and who you think will win are not the same.

For best picture, I would vote for Argo.  I think Lincoln will win.
Who I would vote for as to best director is not even nominated but given the choices, I would vote for Ang Lee.   Since in the majority of cases there is a commonality between best director and best movie, my prediction is Steven Spielberg.  I learned yesterday that there has been a variance 20 times between best director and best film.   I thought there would be a higher correlation.  Tonight could easily be number 21.
For best actor, I will be surprised if it is not Daniel Day-Lewis.  For me, his selection is the easiest of the major awards. 
For best actress, my vote goes to Jennifer Lawrence.  I know my review of Silver Linings Playbook said great acting but no Oscars.  I've changed my mind.
Further proof of a revised opinion:  I think Robert De Nero will win Oscar for best male supporting role.  I'm comfortable with any of the nominees winning this award.  For me, this is tough one.
Best actress in supporting role?  I think Sally Field will receive the award out of respect for her having to gain wait - 20 pounds is what I've read - to play the part.  And it really was the best performances of the nominees. 
I am truly surprised that Flight screenwriter won a nomination.  I've not seen Amour.   My intention is to see it this week.  I hope Mark Boal does NOT win for Zero Dark Thirty.  As to best screenplay adopted from another media, I would vote for the authors of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  But I will be peasently surprised if they were to win.  David Magee producing a script for Life of Pi is amazing.

For an interesting view on the Oscars, checkout Mark by Disney for a post on the difference between the British  Odds as opposed to Las Vegas.

Movie: Side Effects

Side Effects: what starts out as a better living through chemistry evolves to a reality that is not what it appeared to be when the movie commenced.   The female lead, Emily, played by Rooney Mara, has a complexity that is not readily apparent in the opening movie scenes.    We learn that her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is about to be released from a four year prison term for insider trading.   We then are told that Emily has mental health issues and shortly after Martin is released, a vehicle suicide attempt is presented.   Emily survives and at the hospital she meets a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law.  Dr. Banks dispenses drugs and there is extensive mental health dialogue about various treatment drugs.   Dr. Banks is British and is asked why he came to America.   The answer given is that in Britain when you are placed in a psychiatric facility, it is assumed you will get sicker but In America, the assumption is you are getting better.  There is also a constant tension in the film created by the pace, music and cinematography pointing you toward another suicide attempt.    You are thinking this film is either going to be a bashing of drug companies (Dr. Banks is signed up to do a drug study) or the family/professional  consequences from a successful suicide.  As the story develops, we learn that prior to Emily’s husband going to jail she had engaged another psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) but stopped seeing her when her husband was imprisoned because she no longer had medical coverage.  To state much more will take away the joy of watching this most engaging and interesting film directed by Steven Soderbergh.   He is also the cinematographer although for reasons unknown to me, a pseudonym is listed in the film credits.   Soderbergh has publicly stated that this is his last movie.  Hope that is not the case.  There is only one short violence scene despite the opening sequence of blood on a residential floor indicating otherwise.   The ending is most curious but to state why would spoil the fun.   There are gaps in the storyline but to detail them would also spoil your fun.  The score for the movie is similar to the background on drug commercials: a little early to reference Oscar nominations for 2013 movies but Thomas Newman could be a candidate.   I look forward to your comments, particularly about the ending of this 115 minute movie.   Rooney Mara’s performance is excellent.   Her performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was no fluke.  This is definitely a film worth seeing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie Review: Django Unchained

Django Unchained: a Quentin Tarantino film.   Despite the violence, a film you should see.   Lincoln told the story of how the 13th amendment was enacted.   Django tells you why it was necessary.   The brutality of slavery is visually portrayed in a modern retelling of Birth of a Nation except this time it is a Black man saving his enslaved wife.  The movie stars Jamie Foxx as Django (the d is silent, as we are told in a scene with Franco Nero) and Christoph Waltz as a former dentist named Dr. King Schultz.   Waltz was the evil Nazi in Inglorious Bastards.  This time he is a bounty hunter.  There are other actors from prior Tarantino films present including Samuel Jackson as head Uncle Tom of the southern mansion owned by Calvin Candie.   Candie is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his performance as the plantation owner is so good that you will truly hate this man by the time the closing sequence commences.   The movie opens with scenes that are pure Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood except you have black men, including Django, being walked in chains across the western landscape.  Time period is 1858, two years before Civil War commences.  Waltz arrives and frees Django only because he knows what certain white men who have a  bounty on their lives look like.   Waltz and Django relationship evolves after Waltz learns about Django’s wife, played by Kerry Washington, and together they travel to Mississipi with a plan to buy Washington’s freedom.    During the journey and while at the planation, Tarantino visually shows both the brutality of slavery and the mind set of those involved with maintaining the system.   Do we have stereotypes?  Yes, but there is usually a reason for the emergence of a stereotype.  Visually, the movie is stunning.  Robert Richardson is the photography director.  The music score and selection is part of the reason this film works.    The film runs 2 hours, 45 minutes but you won’t be bored as the storyline keeps your attention and the acting is superb.  Examples include Jackson’s facial expression when he first sees Foxx ride in to the mansion house on a horse and DiCarpio explaining why the Negro (the N word is used a lot), although outnumbering the Southern white slave owners, do not rebel.   While many of the scenes will  remind you of other films, this movie is truly an original.  This is much more than a Blaxploitation film.   With Waltz and the historical alternative endings, some have compared this movie to Inglorious Bastards.    While I gave a thumbs up on Bastards, this film is so much more.  Is it better than Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction?  I can say it is at least its equal.   Note that slavery was violent and in telling a story about slavery, there needs to be violence.    

Movie Review: Stand Up Guys

Stand Up Guys: crime with a sense of humor.  With Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, this 95 minute film is just a fun experience.  Movie opens with Val, played by Pacino, being released from prison after serving a term of 28 years.  Doc, played by Walken, is waiting outside the prison for Val, his former crime partner.  Hirsh, played by Arkin, doesn’t appear until about halfway through the movie.  Hirsh was the driver for the stick up team of Val and Doc.  The three of them play off each other marvelously.  Walken and Pacino by themselves are great, and the Arkin character just brings it to a real old timers buddy movie with Walken being the youngster at 69.  There is a bit of awkwardness to the opening sequences but given the storyline of not having seen each other for over two decades, it’s okay.   A basic theme of the film is the line repeated among Val, Doc and Hirsh: either you can raise hell or chew gum.    No surprise as to the choice and interesting things happen in the course of raising hell.  The events that occur are all within a 24 hour time period.  I don’t want to spoil the fun by describing what occurs but the best parts flow after Val overindulges in Viagra after a failed sex adventure.  The nurse at the hospital is Hirsch’s daughter.  This is only one of the contrivances but all is done with a sense of humor.  The movie location is not specified: it is a Northern city east of the Mississippi.  The movie is directed by Fisher Stevens and the screenplay is by Noah Haidle.  No serious message presented except that you control what you make of your life and even when you’ve aged, there are new experiences to be had.  My sentence is more serious than anything that appears on screen.  These are good guys who have done bad things but with honor within the group.  For the audience, it is a privilege to see the continuing skill of Pacino, who is 72, along with Arkin at 78, plus Walken.  The violent scenes are quite brief and incidental to telling an interesting story.


Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty -  The Hunt for Osama bin Laden.   The movie focus is on a CIA agent played brilliantly  by Jessica Chastain.   The Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination for Chastain are deserved.  The movie tracks the career of Maya (I do not believe we ever hear her last name) from being sent to the Middle East after 9/11 through bin Laden’s killing.   While the movie is not a documentary, many of the events depicted are factually accurate.   An example was the events related to the killing of key CIA people in Afghanistan by a doctor who the agents thought had been turned.   The movie is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and for the second time she masterfully depicts the US in the Middle East.   Her previous film was Hurt LockerBoth films were written by Mark Boal, but this film gets caught up in political correctness as Zero leaves the viewer with the impression that torture works, which many dispute, including the FBI people who were involved with the initial interrogation of hostages.  As a film and not addressing the political issue, the movie spends too much time with the torture scenes and at 2 hours 36 minutes, the movie runs long.   Personally, I enjoyed the second half of the movie much more than what seemed like 30 minutes of prison torture related scenes (the real time was less).  Still, given the overall quality of the film, I am truly surprised that neither Bigelow nor Ben Affleck for Argo was nominated for Oscars.  And is Affleck the first person to win a Golden Globe for director and not even receive an Oscar nomination?  I’ve not seen two of the five movies for which directors received nominations (one of the films I don’t believe has even been shown in Honolulu) and therefore I’m reluctant to state anything beyond it being clear that Hollywood is tired of Middle East stories.  But as to Zero, the two halves of the movie have a different feel to them and it may be due to the movie being developed as to the hunt for bin Laden and, while in production, he was found.  This may explain why Bigelow was not nominated.  While my intention when I started to write this commentary was not to discuss the factual accuracy, it is hard to avoid when a movie posts at the start “based on fact” and the reality is different.  It may impact on your reaction to the film.  The US  compound in Abbottabad is a realistic replica of the real place.  What happened as to the killing of bin Laden appears to be real.  But the long focus on a single CIA operative coupled with the misleading implication that torture works is troublesome.  This is not a John Wayne picture of war but except for Maya not being on the kill mission, you may think of her as a female version.  Chastain may be the best young movie actress and this film allows her to show a range of emotions.  There are other good performances.  The short scenes involving James Gandolfini as the CIA director are excellent.  The Navy SEAL guys come across as quite real – Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt are excellent.  Use of the night vision goggles when storming the bin Laden compound gives a true sense of reality.  This is a movie you should see but remember, this is not a documentary film.

Movie & TV Review: Silver Linings Playbook + Hawaii Five-O

Silver Linings Playbook: more than just another Philadelphia Story.    The movie opens with a former Philadelphia high school teacher being released after eight months in a mental institution.   He was committed as part of a plea deal related to assaulting a man he discovered taking a shower with his wife.   Against the advice of the treating doctor, his mother, played by Jacki Weaver, arranged an early release.   We then meet his father, played by Robert De Niro, who is both a bookie and an avid Eagles fan.    We learn he is so avid a fan that he has been banned from seeing the Eagles live due to fighting.   Into this mix comes Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a widow.  Her former husband was a policeman killed on the job (his death is only described and not shown).  And Tiffany, of course, has issues as well as a dream of participating in a dance contest.   The former teacher, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), is determined to reconcile with his wife despite a restraining order.   From this synopsis you may wonder why you should see this film and wonder why it was nominated for best picture, best director (David O. Russell, who also wrote the screenplay), best actor (Cooper), best actresses (Lawrence), best supporting actor and best supporting actress.   I was asked if I knew of a film that had previously received nominations for all six categories and I do not.   If there was such a film with nominations for all 6, please email me and I will share the information.  Personally, I don’t think any of the nominees will win  but if there was an award for cast ensemble, it would win that award.    The four main characters play off each other superbly.  The scenes with Pat’s friend Danny (Chris Tucker) from the mental institution are both funny and have a real life feel to them.  Danny, like  Pat and Tiffany, particularly Tiffany, are people you care about.   In my last review I raved over Jessica Chastain and while I don’t retract my comments, Jennifer Lawrence is her equal.    Lawrence has played a diverse set of characters from Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games and now this film while presently only 22 years old.    Pat is the lead character in the movie but it is Lawrence who made this film for me a success.   You can quibble with the story (Pat really should have been recommitted early on in the film but then there would be no movie) but this comedy has enough real life to make the storyline believable.  This film is a winning two hours.  

 After watching football yesterday, the TV stayed on and an episode of Hawaii Five-O appeared.  It was so terrible I ended up watching the entire episode.   If this “special showing” is indicative of the script quality, the series may not last past this year.   I watched the first year of the new Five-O and enjoyed it.  The second year I only saw some episodes and was less impressed.  I’ve hardly seen any of this year’s episodes and may not see any more.  


Movie Review: Parker

Parker: a Jason Statham movie.  I’ve been a Statham fan since he first appeared in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  But so far there has been a similarity – violence – in his films.    Parker is no exception but with an excellent supporting cast, the opening heist sequence is first rate movie making.   Unfortunately, when the story moves from the Ohio heist to Palm Beach, the scenery improves but not the story line.   The opening heist involves five guys, including Michael Chiklis and Wendell Pierce (“Wire” detective).    After the successful heist, Parker learns that Melander (Chiklis) wants to use the stolen money as seed money for a bigger heist and the other three guys were already in  on the plan.   Parker just wants his money.   The thieves steal Parker’s money and the rest of the film is Parker getting revenge.  The other two thieves are played by Clifton Collins and Micah Hauptman.   Nick Nolte plays the father of Parker’s girlfriend, played by Emma Booth.  But when Parker gets to Florida, we are introduced to Leslie, played by Jennifer Lopez.  Jennifer gets to show that she is still beautiful.   The character who almost steals the film is Patti LuPone, playing Leslie’s mother.     The interplay between LuPone and Parker is excellent although it comes as a complete surprise.  The movie is directed by Taylor Hackford.   The parts of this movie, lasting 2 minutes shy of 2 hours, are better than the whole.   As with Killing Them Softly, the film after the Ohio heist has credibility issues.   But for those of you who like Statham movies, there is a lot to enjoy. 
I saw Parker at the Dole Cannery and before the film commenced I sat through 20 minutes of bad – just awful – previews.  If Dole is going to run that many previews, I will go to Consolidated at Ward.  Both theatres play similar films.    15 minutes should be limit on previews.   The only good news about seeing those previews is that I know there is a host of films coming out before summer that this reviewer will not be seeing.  

Movie Review: Quartet

Quartet: an enjoyable film directed by Dustin Hoffman.   While the story line is very predictable and Hoffman did not give himself any serious challenges, this is a delightful story featuring a number of elderly British actors and musicians.    The movie takes place in a retirement home called Beecham House that was established for musicians.   The home could be a neighbor to Downton Abbey.   With the exception of the female doctor (Sheridan Smith) assigned to the home, all the major roles are played by individuals who are past 70.    Hoffman is 75 years old.   The lead female character as a famous diva is played by Maggie Smith and she is the new arrival at Beecham House.   In the opening scenes we are introduced to Reggie Paget, played by Tom Courtenay.   Reggie almost married Jean Horton, Maggie Smith’s character, when they were both renowned opera singers.    Jean and Reggie are two of the four singers who performed Verdi’s “Rigoletto”: hence, the film title.   The other two, Cissy, played by Pauline Collins, and Wilf, played by Billy Connolly, are residents of the House.   Collins performance is notable as her character has memory loss.   Before Maggie Smith’s appearance, Connolly is the lead actor and in the opening scenes.  Before I got use to his Scottish accent, I thought I was going to miss not having subtitles.   Michael Gambon dominates his scenes as an egotistical maestro.    At the end of the 98 minute movie while the credits are running, you are told the illustrious history of the many supporting players.    It is the supporting cast that gives the film credibility.    I’m not an opera person and the only one I had previously heard of was the soprano Gwyneth Jones.  The movie is adopted from a play, both written by Ronald Harwood.   I’ve not seen the play but my hunch is that except for outdoor scenes of the House’s surrounding gardens, the movie and the play are quite similar.   I’m often asked if the movie needs to be seen in a theater and I often find it hard to answer the question.   This movie plays like a “Masterpiece Theatre” episode and is only slightly longer.   You will enjoy it but the home video version will work just fine.