Monday, June 29, 2009

OSCAR 2010: Talk About Change

Due last week's triple-announcement of changes, including a nixing of both the Original Song and Honorary Awards categories and the majorly controversial move to extend the number Best Picture nominees to ten, things are going down at AMPAS that most people don't like. For the record, I'm not a big fan of the nixing of any categories, but I am one of the few proponents of the Best Pic extension. Any haughty judgments that people have been awarding the move are solely based on circular logic: the reasons against it are the reasons it should exist, or so it appears. I think the Academy is pushing the limits of their creativity in a way that could resuscitate interest in the proceedings (overlong telecast notwithstanding). It opens the door up for quite a few movies to be noticed from now on and I hope they keep this up (unless it turns out disastrous).

Having said that, I figured it would be time for a new Predix article. Note that these are not original nominee predictions. I get these from the fellas over at InContention. But then no predictions are truly original, as the folks at IC get theirs from Awards Daily for the most part and I'm sure Awards Daily gets theirs from somewhere else. It's not plagiaristic to copy off something that's not an original in the first place, is it? Plus, I'm not that literate in the art of predicting like those before me, so I take what makes sense from others' perspectives and make them my own. They are conveniently original.

Here goes, down a different road than before:

Best Picture:

Bright Star
Funny People
The Informant
Public Enemies
A Serious Man
Shutter Island

Best Director:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Mira Nair, Amelia

Best Actor:

Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Johnny Depp, Public Enemies
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Peter Sarsgaard, An Education
Ben Wishaw, Bright Star

Best Actress:

Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Stoning of Soraya M.
Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Audrey Tautou, Coco Avant Chanel

Best Supporting Actor:

Matt Damon, Invictus
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
Tobey Maguire, Brothers
Alfred Molina, An Education
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress:

Kathy Bates, Cheri
Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Leslie Mann, Funny People
Mo'nique, Precious

Best Adapted Screenplay:

The Informant
Shutter Island
Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay:

The Boat That Rocked
Bright Star
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man

Best Animated Feature Film:

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Art Direction:

Bright Star
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Cinematography:

Bright Star
Green Zone
The Hurt Locker
Public Enemies
The Road

Best Costume Design:

Bright Star
Public Enemies

Best Film Editing:

Bright Star
Green Zone
The Lovely Bones
Public Enemies

Best Makeup:

Bright Star
Star Trek

Best Original Score:

Broken Embraces
The Lovely Bones
The Road

Best Sound Editing:

Green Zone
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek
Terminator Salvation

Best Sound Mixing:

Green Zone
The Hurt Locker
Public Enemies
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Best Visual Effects:

Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009: A Rundown (Updated)

Here's the, well, rundown for you.

J.J. Abrams's "Star Trek" (****)
Pete Docter's "Up" (****)
Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" (****)
Michael Bay's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (****)
Alex Proyas' "Knowing" (****)
Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell" (****)
Pierre Morel's "Taken" (****)
Gavin Hood's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (***1/2)
Tom Tykwer's "The International" (***1/2)
Letterman/Vernon's "Monsters vs. Aliens" (***1/2)

Tony Scott's "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (***1/2)
Justin Lin's "Fast & Furious" (***)
Anne Fletcher's "The Proposal" (***)
Andy Fickman's "Race to Witch Mountain" (***)
Paul McGuigan's "Push" (**1/2)
Peter Chelsom's "Hannah Montana: The Movie" (**)
McG's "Terminator Salvation" (*1/2)
Brad Silberling's "Land of the Lost" (zero stars)

So there you have it. 18 movies. Back with more at the end of next month.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (****)

Directed by Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Ramon Rodriguez, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Julie White, Kevin Dunn, Tyrese Gibson, Isabel Lucas, Michael Papajohn, Rainn Wilson, Glenn Morshower, Matthew Marsden, John Benjamin Hickey.
Voice Cast: Peter Cullen, Anthony Anderson, Hugo Weaving, Darius McCrary, Reno Wilson, Frank Welker, Tony Todd, Charles Adler, Tom Kenny, Jess Harnell, Mike Patton, Robert Foxworth, Mark Ryan.
2009--150 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, language, crude and sexual material, drug material)

In 2007, "Transformers" was one of the best summer movies to have been released. No question about it. It wasn't perfect, but it signaled the strengths of director Michael Bay, who specializes in action and effects, rather than in characters or dialogue. With breathtaking visuals and Bay's famous (or infamous, depending on who you listen to) hyperkinetic editing that doesn't leave room for development, "Transformers" was a rollercoaster of a ride. Still, it had its flaws, most notably an overlong action finale and an irritating performance by John Turturro. The question was, would Bay be able to top the already huge success of his first film? The answer is an overwhelming "yes."

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a new classic in the action genre, one of the best entries in a long time. After years of horrid action films (such as Bay's own "Armageddon" in 1998), movies like this coming rising from the phoenix ashes and rejuvenate hope that someone, somewhere, is making the "great trash" that Pauline Kael once reveled. She must be turning in her grave right now. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is something of a miracle, a $200-million movie that wastes not a penny and has a masterwork to show for it. The movie is, no doubt, as dumb as a box of hair, but Bay knows this. His films (especially ones titled "Transformers") are about nothing more than explosions and carnage. Don't go in expecting "Citizen Kane," and you'll enjoy yourself. The dialogue is indeed pretty terrible, but who really cares in the long run, if you can see ginormous robots beating the robotic daylights out of each other, courtesy of some of the best visual effects in the medium?

The plot is a non-issue, but I'll run it down anyway. Sam Witwicky is still recuperating from finding a race of alien robots on Earth and banishing the evil Megatron to the depths of the sea. Now he's starting college, but is cut off after one day when he finds a sliver of the supposedly destroyed All-Spark. He has a breakdown in class and begins to see strange symbols in the front of his vision. When he is called by leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, to take part in the ultimate battle with the remaining Decepticons, Sam is reluctant to do his duty. But he is forced into action when the Decepticons attack and transported to Egypt to find a mysterious key that could save the world and its sun--if he finds it before the god of the Decepticons (the Satan of the film).

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" borrows elements from as many films as you can think of, but that doesn't stop Michael Bay from doing his thing. From the beginning of the movie, you can sense Bay at the top of his game like he's never been. An early action sequence in Shanghai sets the stage for what comes next and plays a major part in helping the heroes out. It's a thrilling sequence, but nothing compared to what Bay has in store for the next two hours. It seems that the entire film, every five minutes, is drinking a can of Monster spiked with stereoids; the adrenaline starts and never stops. Very little is off here--perhaps the pot-induced humor is tired and all the sensual angles of females get old after we've realize they're hot--but so much of it is insignificant to the film as a whole that you forgive and forget in a matter of seconds. Other attempts at humor, especially with regards to John Turturro (who really comes into his own here) and twin robots named Skids and Mudflap, are hugely successful and sometimes rip-roaring. The dramatic bits are vintage Bay--histrionics at best--but effective enough at showing the main couple's relationship troubles.

But audiences are looking for Bay's specialty: explosive mayhem. Dialogue and character development are not part of the Bay equation, and anyone who has seen any of Bay's movies knows this. The carnage on display contains some of the best-choreographed action in a long time. A sequence early on in which little tiny robots attack Sam at his house is nearly perfect in execution, culminating in a rescue attempt from Sam's personal "alien robot car," Bumblebee, that ratchets up tension in a matter of seconds. The hour-long finale ultimately doesn't fall into the trap of the finale in the first film (which was too long by half), even if it's longer by 25 minutes. The plotting is pretty hefty and a little labyrinthine, but the side characters explain everything as best they can. The action keeps things going, and by the end, everything comes together perfectly. Some shots are breathtaking in their aesthetics, especially in the homestretch of the finale. The robots are bigger and better than ever; Bay's visual effects artists have outdone themselves and topped the seemingly-impossible-to-top graphics in the original. And throughout, Bay has his signature hyperkinesis at an all-time high.

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a breathless ride, and part of that is credited to the performances. LaBeouf still hasn't topped his role in "Disturbia" as far as acting goes, but he's a perfect fit for Sam Witwicky, unassumingly handsome and charming with that spark of life needed for an action hero from cartoonland. Megan Fox is hotter than ever, yes, but adds some layers to her role of Mikaela, so thankless in the first film. The main characters' relationship feels somewhat real, and there seem to be fireworks this time. John Turturro, as the sardonic Agent Simmons, spouts off fewer irritating one-liners and fleshes out his character to be a major player in the plot, instead of the nuisance he undoubtedly was in the original; he gets a moment of truthful and heartfelt civic duty in the middle of the climax, and when he voices this, we believe him. It's true none of these performances are Oscarworthy (which is the difference between this and the superior "Star Trek"), but they more than get the job done, reminding of Roland Emmerich at his very best with the well-acted "Independence Day" 13 years ago.

Also notable is the voice work, whose ante is upped considerably. Peter Cullen is, as he always has been, perfect for Optimus Prime, voice filled with emotion and pride and sometimes anguish. Turturro voices the best new robot, Jetfire, who isn't introduced until the middle of the movie and comes into play, big time, in the insane last half-hour. Tom Kenny (also known as Spongebob) voices the hysterical duo Skids and Mudflap; their every line of dialogue is witty and sarcastic but never over-the-top and always successful. Hugo Weaving gets a huge bump up in characterization and by the end we understand Megatron's motives, even if we don't agree with them. Finally Tony Todd does wonderfully evil work as mega honcho Decepticon leader president of the title (you'll figure it out).

Films like "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"--which represents this year's equivalent to "Wanted" in terms of being a masterpiece of trashy entertainment--are praiseworthy for being what they're meant to be and must not be criticized for what elitist critics think it "should be." You either understand Bay's filmmaking style or you don't. You know who you are. For me, though, it's easily superior to the already-excellent first film. Now we must wait for the third installment, and my hopes are they keep up what they're already doing and do not add too many villains. We already have two in this movie and that is enough. Maybe something different for a while. For now, Bay has made his best film, a masterwork in explosive cinema and one of the best action pictures of the decade.


"Transformers" was awesome. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" should be awesomer. Reviews are awful, which means this'll be a lot of fun. "Dumb-as-rocks but massively entertaining" is the highly accurate phrase Actionman would choose.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Great Films: An Introduction

I will not make hyperbolic claims that I am any authority on film. I have not seen very many movies in comparison to other critics. But the forty films in this series are some of the most important experiences I've ever had in the medium. Are there modern films? Yes, all the way up to this year. Are there omissions? For sure, especially of films like "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca" or "The Wizard of Oz." But there are more rewarding experiences than those, in my opinion, as brilliant as those are. I've also changed it pretty drastically from last September's list. And I have a few rules for myself (for instance, now I don't allow myself any series to be included, like "The Lord of the Rings" or "Star Wars")

Film is one of the most important media in existence. There is no hyperbole in saying that movies will be around till the end of time, even if they are not made anymore. Films like the ones I have chosen are instrumental in showing perfectly the kind of art that can be made when every aspect of the medium is put to perfect use.

So...join me on my personal journey through the echelon of filmmaking.

Next post: #40-36. Should be on fairly soon, I think.

New Blog

I've created a blog for the dissection and parsing of Armond White's reviews. Visit it here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On P.T. Anderson

I must confess that two years ago today I wouldn't have been able to tell you one of the films that 39-year-old directing genius Paul Thomas Anderson directed. Then I saw "There Will Be Blood" and was interested, to say the very least. Over the past three weeks, I have seen two other films from him, and both have touched me deeply, both as a person and as a film critic.

The first film I saw was "There Will Be Blood" (***1/2), which is as flawed a masterpiece as any. It is a work of nihilism and despair--"mad genius" was what main actor Daniel Day-Lewis called it in an interview. The film has so many themes at work, so many ideas, that it's ashame, if forgivable that the film falls apart in the final act. Oh, the themes are working. The actors are acting. But it especially has a cold efficiency that didn't suit the beginning 150 minutes. And what a section those 150 minutes were. The film began as one of the truly great films in American history, something of a new "Citizen Kane," and ended as a slightly overrated (in the midst of all the hubbub, at least) curiosity of a high order. The film is as close to perfect as any imperfect movie that has been released since "The Fountain."

It's strange to consider that, with its electrifying, monumentally terrifying performance from Daniel Day-Lewis that ranks as one of the best performances by an actor in the history of cinema, "There Will Be Blood," for me, is somewhat inferior to its immediate predecessors.

"Punch-Drunk Love" (****) is so much more than just the best Adam Sandler movie ever made. It's a starkly realistic and intricately written romantic comedy that works on multiple levels and never misses a step. Sandler is indeed the best he's ever been (and could possibly be) in the film, but he doesn't carry his humorous antics. No, the antics are less desperate here, more dramatic, more believable. His bursts of outrage or breakdowns of nerve are sheer loneliness, the signs of which are trapped in a man unable (or is it unwilling?) to let go. And Emily Watson is utterly luminous as the woman who barges into Sandler's life and messes it up--in a good way. This is one of the best films of the decade, true and deep and sad and lovely.

"Magnolia" (****), which I watched tonight, is one of the most important and potently powerful moviewatching experiences of my lifetime. What unfailingly rings true is the fragility of life that Anderson is able and willing to bring across in this massive character epic, literally (not figuratively) flawless filmmaking for over three hours. With its career-best performances by William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, and Philip Baker Hall, as well as brilliant and well-rounded character work from Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman (as per usual for him), and Melora Walters, "Magnolia" is not a film to miss out on. If you love movies, any kind, you owe it to yourself to seek out the blistering and haunting masterpiece that Anderson wrought. I won't say it's the best film I've ever seen, but it's sure as heck one of 'em. (More to come on "Magnolia" in my 40 Best Films of All Time series.)

Just thought I'd share. Anderson apparently has a project called "Desperadoes" in the works. I'm there. He could remake "Bratz" and I'd go. He's an incredible talent and one of today's most diverse directors.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Soon to Come...

As I've seen many a film since past September's posted list of the 25 greatest films ever made, I figured it's time to update. The new list, a collection of 40 films that I, for various reasons, hold near and dear to my heart. The oldest film on the list is from 1920s. The newest is from this decade. Its layout will be paragraph-long coverage of five films each post It's a wide array, carefully selected, but it's one of those personal lists that can be argued in many, many ways. I welcome it. And I look forward to it. Look for the list to start in a few days. (Below is a sample of five of the films included.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: Land of the Lost (zero stars)

Directed by Brad Silberling
Cast: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, John Boylan, Jorma Taccone, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Matt Lauer
Voice Cast: Leonard Nimoy
2009--101 minutes

I'm not quite sure how to talk about "Land of the Lost" in a civilized way, without rambling on in an aimless review filled to the brim with curse words in my head that most people don't even know exist. Since this blog is meant to be family-friendly for those who desperately want to read civilized reviews, I will try my best, but note that this is incredibly edited from what is going through my head right now. Truth is, I want very much for the makers of "Land of the Lost" to personally refund my ticket. Considering that the ticket was free, I think my point has been made. And I'm pretty sure that I littered that ticket onto the floor of the men's bathroom in Borders. "Land of the Lost" made me nearly fuming-mad as many times as, say, "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" last year, "Bratz" and "Dragon Wars" the year before, and "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" the year before that, except that this may be the most disappointing of the lot.

Considering that director Brad Silberling has made an affecting human drama ("Moonlight Mile") and two subversively dark family films ("Casper" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), he is one of my favorite modern directors. But "Land of the Lost" is an unspeakable mistake on his part. The movie has to do with Dr. Rick Marshall, a scientist apparently inept in everything that has the word "social" in front of it, and as shown in the embarrassing, cringe-inducing opening interview with an obviously bored Matt Lauer, he has written a book about how time warps could, in theory, work. Three years later, no one believes him and he is stranded to teaching some science class to creepy children with too much knowledge about human female anatomy. Then he...

Oh, I give up. Trying to understand "Land of the Lost" is like trying to teach a 2-year-old what the word "physics" means. You're gonna get a blank stare and possibly kill some of the child's brain cells in the process. Really, that's how the movie is as an entity itself. With this movie, nothing resonates, nothing satiates (not even the most undiscriminating of viewers will be able to enjoy themselves), and nothing amuses. Not even Danny McBride comes out unscathed. Normally McBride's line delivery is spot-on (as in "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder"), but considering his normal R-rated pedigree, I'd say his thankless role as Will Stanton is a huge step down.

To cover the movie's failed aesthetics would take a college thesis paper, not a paragraph, but I'll again try my best. The cinematography by the normally reliable Dion Beebe (he shot 2004's best film, "Collateral") is abnormally hideous, shrouding everything in ugly yellows and oranges. Then again, no color would've worked, so maybe Beebe should be cut some slack. The musical score by Michael Giacchino is awful, pretty much a slap in the face after his amazing work on "Star Trek." Apparently Giacchino can be a gutless hack whenever the project is this bad. The visual effects are supposed to be cheesy, but an effort is actually made to make them believable sometimes, which defeats the purpose. Thus, they just become as awful and annoying as the rest of the picture. In this way, last summer's underrated "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was much more impressive, never losing sight of the fact that it was dumb. At least it didn't misplace its humor, like "Land of the Lost" does.

The acting is hopeless. I already mentioned McBride's lack of material to deliver (though he's not bad in the role, per se). Will Ferrell is awful as Rick Marshall, in a way he's never been. None of the characters has anything to work with, as far as characteristics or even caricatures, but Ferrell especially embarrasses himself in scenes like one in which he drinks a bottle of dinosaur pee while splashing it on himself. The scene has no payoff (unlike an unbearably hilarious and quite similar scene in last year's "Superhero Movie" that culminates in urine being sprayed sprinkler-style onto a bedroom floor), thus no attempt is made to give us a reason to laugh. Anything can be funny in the right context, but no context exists under Silberling's tasteless and indistinctive direction.

Special mention must go to Jorma Taccone for doing the impossible: he makes the ape-man Cha-Ka seem endearing and sweet at the audience's first sight and then creates one of the most despicable, overused, and repugnant movie characters of the last twenty years, so obnoxious that he could take the previous crown held by Jar-Jar Binks in the annals of Hated Movie Characters. Cha-Ka is nothing more than a gimmick--a bad one--and every time he's on screen I cringed, especially with his incessant feeling-up of Anna Friel's breasts. The only person that doesn't make you wanna tear out your eyeballs is Friel, ironically, though she's not very good, either. Even Leonard Nimoy turns up in a voice cameo, but it's much ado about nothing.

Something like "Land of the Lost" comes about rarely. It is one of those films that made me very nearly lose faith in the cinema. All I could do during film were three things: 1) count the cobwebs forming on the screen; 2) wonder what sort of criminal acts Brad Silberling & Co. should be guilty of; and 3) think happier thoughts, like the sweet respite of being trampled by spiky-shoed horses followed by wild boars. By the end, I couldn't wait to leave the theater and breathe some fresh air. The problem is, zero star films are ones that I don't soon forget. The thought of playing scenes from "Land of the Lost" in my head is terrifying to consider. This is the worst film of the year. Not "the year so far," you'll notice. I don't think it'll get any worse than this.