Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting on The King's Speech soapbox

I love The Social Network. It's one of my favorite films of 2010. If it wins the Best Picture Oscar, I will be quite happy.

But I'm not going to slit my wrists if it doesn't. Nor am I going to be futilely shaking my fist in protest. Besides, that's kind of hard if you slit your wrist first.

You see, I loved The King's Speech too. It's fair to say I love The Social Network more, but that's mainly a matter of preference. I'm always going to gravitate more toward daring, auteur-driven movies than I am British period pieces, no matter how well made that period piece is. I'll come right out and say it: I would rather see The Social Network win than The King's Speech. Got that straight?

That said, all this whining over The King's Speech now being the Oscar frontrunner profoundly annoys me. It will hardly be a travesty of justice if Speech wins. Now that momentum is heavily in its favor, certain film commentators (Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere and Sasha Stone of Awards Daily come to mind) seem to be banging their heads against the wall like De Niro in Raging Bull. Some people are grousing about how history will not look on the choice kindly if The King's Speech wins.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. But you know what? It doesn't make any difference - not even in the narrow world of Oscar prognosticating. Because, really, this is the same old story with the Academy. There's nothing new here.

And no, it's not so much a matter of "daring new film" vs. "safe traditional film." It comes down to something as simple as this: The Academy votes for what movie it likes the most. And it likes most what touches its heart. The King's Speech is much more likely to do that than The Social Network.

When it comes to the heart-tugger vs. daring cinema, the heart-tugger almost always wins. It's why Ordinary People won instead of Raging Bull. It's why Forrest Gump prevailed over Pulp Fiction. It's why Titanic won over LA Confidential. And this has gone on for DECADES. Heck, when you get right down to it, it's a reasoon why How Green was my Valley won over Citizen Kane.

Is How Green Was My Valley a better film than Citizen Kane? Oh HELL no! But is it a shameful choice for a winner? Oh HELL No!  And The King's Speech won't be either.

Sure, the Academy is conscious of its place in history. That sometimes comes into play when  the ballots are cast. But The King's Speech will win simply because voters love it. I'm one who does.

 I'll cop to something of a bias. The King's Speech is about a man trying to overcome a disability. As a man with cerebral palsy, that's something I try to do every day. The King's Speech speaks to me - and so I'm more than fine with the idea of it winning. It's a damn fine film. Some people call it "stodgy." It's not. It's straightforward. There's a difference. And the film  doesn't deserved to be scorned for not being a game changer or not being directed by David Fincher.

I don't remember people pissing and moaning this much when Gladiator won instead of Traffic - and if you ask me, Gladiator's win is even less deserving than The Blind Side would have been.

If/when The King's Speech wins, nothing is going to change. The critics will like what they like. The Academy will like what they like. David Fincher will keep making movies. So will Tom Hooper. Some of them will be great - and everything will be fine.  I think Inception deserves to win over either The King's Speech or The Social Network.  But I'm not concerned that it won't. In the grand scheme of things, it's a speeding ticket.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

He Said/She Said: No Strings Attached

Pinocchio once sang, "I've got no strings to hold me down," but my nose isn't growing when I say that No Strings Attached turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It's a rom-com that's spicier, and even more touching, than any Ashton Kutcher comedy released in January has a right to be.

Granted, it certainly helps that the female lead is the Girl of the Moment, Natalie Portman.  She makes even the fluffiest of genres seem smarter just by showing up - she's very winning and even rather funny in the film to boot.

Portman plays Emma, a workaholic doctor who says she doesn't have time for relationships, and that may be techincally true, but her bigger problem is that she's a commitment-phobe who's afraid that any serious relationship will only fall apart.

So when she and an on-again/off-again acquaintance named Adam (Ashton Kutcher) begin sleeping together, she suggests keeping it strictly sexual, and Adam is fine with that - but it's clear from the beginning there's more to these two than what goes on between the sheets - or between the water droplets or wherever they happen to be doing the deed.

So that's why, when the movie veers away from their scenes together, it flags a bit. Adam works as an assistant on a show that's obviously a riff on Glee, but the movie doesn't base very many jokes around this idea, and the jokes that are there are not very funny at all. The movie would have been a little better had it completely dropped that subplot. And for that matter, Kevin Kline's role as Adam's lecherous father is undercooked too.

When the screenplay by Elizabeth Meriweather deals directly with the central couple, however, it's smart it sports a lot of laugh out loud lines. Inevitably, the relationship must fall apart before Everything Turns Out All Right in the End, but even that cliched plotting plays out well, because I genuinely cared for the two leads.

So did my colleague Hannah Poturalski, who wrote in her review:

For the film’s first half, the relationship between Kutcher and Portman did feel forced to me. But as their characters started to care for each other more it became real on the screen. I liked watching the evolution of their casual friendship into one of caring adoration.

Which brings me to the lead I haven't written about, Ashton Kutcher. He's absolutely fine in his part, even if he'll never have chops as good as Portman's. Still, he's quite convincing when he does actually fall for Portman, and hey, who can blame the guy?

Hannah praised Kutcher as well, maybe somewhat faintly:

It’s nice to see Kutcher in a rom-com that transcends the stupidity of Just Married and My Boss’s Daughter.

No Strings Attached also represents a nice rebound for director Ivan Reitman, who had helmed one disappointment after another with underwhelming fare like Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. I was glad to see him direct a film that didn't make me fret or make me frown.

Hannah caps her review with a compelling question:

Can two people have no strings attached sex without falling for the other? I know my answer.
I think I do too. Read her full take here.


Big/small-screen catch-up

January 29, 2011

Time to do one of my periodic catch-ups before I see so many movies it becomes daunting to get to all of them in a timely fashion.

On the big screen

Burlesque: Entertaining in spurts and terrible and spurts, it benefits from high energy and a good cast. Christina Aguilera acquits herself well, Stanley Tucci is hilarious, and Cher is Cher. Unfortunately, writer director Steve simply doesn't have the skills even to pull off a goofball lark of a musical. GRADE: C

The Way Back: One of Peter Weir's strengths as a director is his ability to create environments and immerse viewers in those worlds. So that serves him well in this true story of several people who escape from a Russian gulag and trek across thousands of miles of foreboding terrain. I only wish the screenplay were as strong as the direction. Except for the people played by Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan, the characters all mesh into an indistinct blur. GRADE: B

On the small screen 

Exit Through the Gift Shop: This documentary deserves its Oscar nomination for taking many surprising turns in a tale of a VERY amateur filmmaker turned into sought-after artist. I have a sneaking suspicion the whole thing is somewhat manufactured, but that may be part of its subversiveness. GRADE: A-

The Human Comedy: This slice of homefront Americana from 1943 tried to be The Best Years of Our Lives three years before The Best Years of Our Lives. It's not nearly as successful, because it's far too episodic and mawkish. What redeems it are the performances, including an Oscar-nominated turn by Mickey Rooney, who actually dials down his usual histrionics to good effect. GRADE: B

The Leopard Man: An underrated chiller from low-budget horror producer Val Lewton, this film had me wound up like a spring that jumped several times. The ending is a touch rushed, but the atmospherics make it almost as good as the much more famous Cat People. GRADE: A-

Lucas: It's a shame this film is chiefly remembered now as the shining moment in the troubled life and career of the late Corey Haim. It really should be remembered as one of the best high school comedies of the 1980s. It's every bit as good as what John Hughes was making elsewhere at the time. Writer-director David Seltzer takes your typical high school stereotypes and spins them into real human beings. And it's a kick to see comeback queen Winona Ryder looking impossibly young in her very first film role. Seek this one out. GRADE: A

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) : Speaking of impossibly young, here's Mickey Rooney again in one of his earliest roles playing the very mischievous Puck with perhaps too-wild abandon at the age of 15. As a whole, the film is overlong and has too many lulls, but it benefits from star turns by James Cagney, who's excellent as Bottom, and Olivia de Havilland, making her fetching film debut playing Hermia. GRADE: B+

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar nominations reactions/early predictions

The nominations are out - and I'm out of patience with the Academy regarding Christopher Nolan. The dream is collapsing indeed. But I'll get back to that in a little bit here.
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone
I took The Town, the Academy took the overpraised Winter's Bone. I was rather surprised to see The Town get completely blanked. Ultimately, though, I see this as a race between The Social Network and the King's Speech - and I give the tip to the latter. Both films are smart and funny. But as all David Fincher films are, Social Network is a bit clinical (that's not a bad thing, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.) The King's Speech is triumphant and heartwarming. When you have a brain vs. heart race like that, heart wins almost every time. See Forrest Gump vs. Pulp Fiction. See Titanic vs. LA Confidential. See How Green Was My Valley vs. Citizen Kane, etc. etc. 
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Missed Bardem vs. Duvall, but I thought it might happen. I think this one is pretty clearly Firth's, although Franco could upset.
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Bale's to lose. I think people are ready to forgive him. But if they're not, Ruffalo might be a good alternative. He's overdue. I didn't see Hawkes getting in, maybe partly because his performance just didn't stand out to me. The snubbed Andrew Garfield would have been a better choice. 
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
I like Annette Bening a lot. She's overdue for a win. But Julianne Moore was even better in the same film - and Natalie Portman was better than both of them. That's the performance of the year in ANY category.
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Of course, I would be delighted to see my beloved Amy win here, but I don't think that's happening. If one of the Fighter women leads, it will be Leo - but if the Fighter ladies split the vote, then Steinfeld has a shot at winning. So does Bonham Carter. So does Jacki Weaver. Toughest race to call, but for now I go for Steinfeld, who has a bit of an unfair advantage - she's actually THE lead of her film - even moreso than Jeff Bridges. 
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3
The Toys, obviously. But I do feel a little sorry for Disney's Tangled missing the mark, even if I think the film is a bit overrated. I thought the previous film by the director of The Illusionist, called The Triplets of Belleville, was overrated as well.
Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg, Karen O’Hara
Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Inception, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat
The King’s Speech, Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
True Grit, Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
Art direction (the designing of dreams) figured heavily in Inception's plot. It wins easily. But I was saddened to see Shutter Island miss out here. I know the film divided people, but if you tell me it's not technically accomplished, you're as full of it as the Academy was when they passed over Nolan. 
Black Swan, Matthew Libatique
Inception, Wally Pfister
The King’s Speech, Danny Cohen
The Social Network, Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit, Roger Deakins
I think (hope) this goes to Deakins. It fills two needs common in this category. Reward the long overdue master, and vote for pretty outdoor photography. 

Alice in Wonderland, Colleen Atwood
I Am Love, Antonella Cannarozzi
The King’s Speech, Jenny Beaven
The Tempest, Sandy Powell
True Grit, Mary Zophres
I'm glad to see the long overdue Zophres get a nomination, but this award usually goes to the most elaborate frilly costumes. That's probably Alice in Wonderland, which was well dressed even if it was Tim Burton's worst film. 
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter 

So your  big hit acclaimed film called The Dark Knight doesn't get nominated and neither do you as director. Everyone complains. So the Academy changes its rules to allow for 10 picture nominees. Then your film gets nominated,  but you still don't. So I guess for Christopher Nolan to be nominated, there will have to be 10 directors, right? SIGH. Robbery, plain and simple. But the winner here is usually an auteur type - so even if King's Speech wins Best Picture, Fincher will win Best Director. 
Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
Gasland, Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
Inside Job, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynley
The excellent Inside Job is the favorite here. But what I really want to know is, will Banksy show up at the ceremony? Uuuhhh .... (inside joke) 
127 Hours, Jon Harris
Black Swan, Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter, Pamela Martin
The King’s Speech, Tariq Anwar
The Social Network, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
Inception's snub here pisses me off even more than Nolan's. It makes absolutely no sense. Editing is crucial to the success of that film. Even people underwhelmed by the film agree that it's well edited. And Lee Fisher, Nolan's regular editor, WAS nominated for The Dark Knight, which is less well edited than Inception. I just don't get it. This is, without a doubt, the worst technical snub since The Red Shoes wasn't nominated for cinematography. 
All that said, The Social Network is the clear victor here, with the way it jumps back and forth in time, and maintains a gripping rhythm to go with Sorkin's rat-a-tat dialogue. 
Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) (Algeria)
Incendies (Canada)
In a Better World (Denmark)
Dogtooth (Greece)
Biutiful (Mexico)
Not really sure. I'll guess Biutiful, since it's got one other nomination. 
Barney’s Version, Adrien Morot
The Way Back, Eduoard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk, Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman, Rick Baker and Dave Elsey
Chalk up another win for makeup master Rick Baker. 

127 Hours, A.R. Rahman
How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell
Inception, Hans Zimmer
The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat
The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
I am DELIGHTED the music branch grew a spine and nominated The Social Network's score. It could very well win, but I'm guessing the (somewhat) more traditional Inception gets it here.
“Coming Home,” Country Strong, Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light,” Tangled, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater
“If I Rise,” 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman, Dido, Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3, Randy Newman
A VERY underwhelming group. Hard to guess. I'd say either the Toy Story 3 tune or the one from 127 Hours. 
Day & Night, Teddy Newton
The Gruffalo, Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
Let’s Pollute, Geefwee Boedoe
The Lost Thing, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary), Bastien Dubois
Haven't seen the others; but Day & Night is my favorite of all of Pixar's shorts. Brilliant, funny and touching. 
Inception, Richard King
Toy Story 3, Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
TRON: Legacy, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
True Grit, Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
Unstoppable, Mark P. Stoeckinger
Inception, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo, and Ed Novick
The King’s Speech, Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, and John Midgley
Salt, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, and William Sarokin
The Social Network, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, and Mark Weingarten
True Grit, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland
Probably Inception for both of these. 
Alice in Wonderland, Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter, Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
Inception, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
Iron Man 2, Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick
Inception, clearly. And I'm glad to see that Chris Corbould, who did an amazing job with the on-set practical effects, will be one of the winners. And by the way, I would have much rather seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nominated than Hereafter.
Another Year, written by Mike Leigh
The Fighter, Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; 
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Inception, written by Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right, written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech, Screenplay by David Seidler
A win for Inception to make up for the Nolan's directing snub isn't out of the question, but The King's Speech is still the likely victor here. And I'm fine with that. 
127 Hours, Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3, Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
True Grit, written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone, adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
The award should have Sorkin's name on it already. If I were one of the other nominees, I wouldn't even bother showing up. Easiest call of the night. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oscar nomination predictions, 2011

This year’s Oscar nominations arrive this Tuesday, so my predictions arrive now. As I usually do, I ask readers to bear in mind a couple of very important principles.

Nobody Knows Anything: I like to think I'm pretty good at predicting the Oscars, but they almost always throw in at least one loopy surprise that throws me. I've given up on trying to predict such loopy surprises, because I'm not good at that. So generally speaking, my predictions err on the side of safety.

Deserve's Got Nothin' to Do With It: Never, ever, ever use "It was so good" as your rationale for predicting tricker Oscar nominations. More often than not, you just end up looking silly. You start with your favorites and use reasonable guesswork from there. So here's the best of my guesswork.


  1. Black Swan
  2. The Fighter
  3. Inception
  4. The Kids are All Right
  5. The King’s Speech
  6. 127 Hours
  7. The Social Network
  8. The Town
  9. Toy Story 3
  10. True Grit

Alternates: Winter’s Bone, Blue Valentine

In the end I felt safest going with the Producers Guild nominations. The shakiest best are 127 Hours and The Town, but I include it because it's the kind of classical storytelling the Academy likes. 127 Hours has faded from view, but I ultimately include it because Franco's performance is SO  central to it, and that performance is not in dispute.


Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Frith and Franco are locks, Bridges and Eisenberg very likely, fifth spot is the trickiest. I went with Duvall esentially because, well - he's Duvall. Bardem is gaining heat and is the likeliest spoiler.


Anette Bening, The Kids are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine


Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Julianne Moore, The Kids are All Right

Portman, Bening and Lawrence are in for sure. But I'm going out on a limb a bit with this category. I think those who see True Grit will realize that Steinfeld is the lead. It's HER story.
Her character is in EVERY scene. So even though she's being pushed in supporting, I think, the Academy will recognize category fraud, just as they did with Keisha Castle Hughes in Whale rider. If Steinfeld goes to supporting, sub Kidman, although she's shaky because Rabbit Hole just hasn't built up much heat. I'm rooting for Moore to pull an upset, though. I liked her better than Bening.


Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right


Matt Damon, True Grit
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

Bale, Garfield and Rush are your best bets, I go with Renner because he's well liked in a well liked film, and with Ruffalo who is grossly overdue for a nomination.


Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helana Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom


Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Dainne Weist, Rabbit Hole

Amy, Bonham Carter and Leo are in, and I feel very comfortable with Kunis, who has gained traction. That leaves slot five up for grabs, and I think Weaver is the most likely spoiler.


Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russel, The Fighter

Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
The Coen Brothers, True Grit

Sticking with the DGA noms seems pretty safe.


How to Train Your Dragon
Toy Story 3


Despicable Me
The Illusionist

There will only be three nominees this year. Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon are secure. Tangled is vulnerable, but I'm sticking with it because it generated a lot of goodwill as a return to form for Disney. 

Remainder of the picks after the jump

Friday, January 21, 2011

A tale of two trailers - No Strings Attached

January 21, 2011

No Strings Attached opens today, and I'm quite eager to see it - especially because of the way it's been sold.

If you've only seen the green-band trailer - the one made for general audiences, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks fairly slight and  innocuous. Witness:

But then Paramount put out the Red-Band trailer - the one that can only play before R-rated movies. Take a gander at THIS, with the warning that it's NSFW:

Makes a world of difference, doesn't it? The red-band trailer actually made me laugh, while the green trailer only kinda made me chuckle.

So it distresses me a bit to see that the reviews are mixed. And in light of these trailers, I'm particularly intrigued by Roger Ebert's comments:

The movie is rated R, but it's the most watery R I've seen. It's more of a PG-13 playing dress-up.
I'm also mindful that the film's director, Ivan Reitman, has been off his game for a number of years. He's gone from great entertainment such as Ghostbusters and Dave,  to piffle such as Father's Day and My Super-Ex Girlfriend. I was kind of hoping his son's influence had rubbed off on him. Jason Reitman has directed Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and the best film of last year, Up in the Air. Given the reviews of No Strings Attached , maybe not.

Still, I will definitely see the film. For one thing, the suddenly ubiquitous Ms.Portman is always worth watching, even if her movies aren't. Most importantly, it could make for a really interesting He Said/She Said review with my colleage Hannah Poturalski.

And as Leonard Maltin puts it in his review of the film.

I do wish all these talented people had produced a more original, or memorable, film, but it is January, after all. We shouldn't expect miracles.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Green Hornet Dilemma

January 18, 2011

Combining the titles of the two movies I've seen in a theater most recently isn't just a matter of me being clever. There really is sort of a dilemma here, because the films kind of confounded me. The Dilemma came in below my expectations, while The Green Hornet actually somewhat exceeded them.

The Dilemma

I knew going in The Dilemma might be a problem. The reviews came in soft, and I was suspicious that a Ron Howard film was being released in January, which is usually a quality graveyard. Still, it IS Howard - can it be THAT bad?

Actually, yes, it  can. This is the rare Ron Howard film that is not only a misfire, but is actively unpleasant.

The ads sell the movie as a comedy, but it's only comedic in spurts. Long stretches of it are actually serious and sobering, as the story shows what happens when Vince Vaughn realizes that his best friend's wife is cheating on him. and he doesn't know how - or even if - he should tell his friend (Kevin James).

That storyline and of itself isn't the prolem, it's the shifts in tone around it. The dilemma becomes so dire that when Howard tries to let off the gas and bring a little comedy into the movie, it's jarring.

My colleague Hannah Potrualski liked the movie, making this one of our rare (so far) splits. She acknowledges Howard has made much better movies, like Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind. But she also said:

All this drama was balanced fairly well with the comedic moments. It was refreshing to have a “serious comedy.” There aren’t too many of them around. It makes the drama easier to handle and the silly moments more tangible.

The cast can't be faulted. This is one of Vaughn's better performances - one where he doesn't just crack wise but actually has to show some emotional range, and he does it well. Ditto Kevin James, who reminds us he's actually better than most of the dum-dum Adam Sandler-produced comedies he's in.  And it's especially nice to see Winona Ryder continue her hike on the comeback trail, with some of her strongest acting in years. As Hannah amusingly put it.

Winona Ryder was good in the film and is definitely making a bit of a comeback, with Black Swan as well — whether I like it or not. She does play bitch well. 

Alas, Jennifer Connelly is somewhat wasted in an underwritten part, and Hannah agrees with me on that.

Still, it isn't just Connelly - the movie as a whole manages to feel overdone and half baked at the same time. As written by Allan Loeb, the drama is too intense, and the comedy isn't funny enough to alleviate it.  At one point during the movie, one character absolutely wallops the other - and I felt like The Dilemma sucker-punched me.


(Viewed 1/16 at Rave Motion Pictures at the Greene)

The Green Hornet

The Dilemma may have stung me, but The Green Hornet did not - and I mean that as a compliment. 

As was the case with the Dilemma, the reviews came in negative, but the film ended up entertaining me, if not quite delighting me. 

Once again, we're faced with the odd sitauton of a seemingly A-production coming out in Janauary. This time there's a reason for it. The filmmakers decided late in the game to convert the film to 3D, after they had completed principal photography.

In most cases like that, (Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender) the resuilts have been allegedly disastrous, but Green Hornet took a somewhat different tact - the visual effects, added in post, WERE specifically designed for 3D. And they work rather well. 

That's partly why The Green Hornet actually comes off better as an action flick than a comedy. Director Michel Gondry certainy isn't working on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind level here, but he's clearly having fun with visual devices like split screens, and he stages the action well. A climactic car chase/shoot-out INSIDE a newspaper building is especially inventive. I never thought I'd see rolling presses interpolated into an action scene, but thank goodness Gondry did. 

Hannah enjoyed the movie as well, but she is far less tolerant of action than I. She writes:

The film’s action scenes were highly scripted but in an interesting way. Chou’s supreme mental and fighting skills were so good and the viewer got a little glimpse into how his mind worked. But the scenes were just over-the-top in a way that I absolutely hate. Hence, why I rarely see action films — I have little to no suspension of disbelief. I saw the film in IMAX 3-D which really heightened the action scenes but otherwise was not noticeable.

The action is exciting well enough that it's disappointing the comedy falls somewhat flat. The chief downfall is its lead, Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote the film with his Superbad writing partner, Evan Goldberg. Rogen's shtick of a rowdy layabout has worn out its welcome and become grating. So it's a good thing that Jay Chou mitigates Rogen with a fun turn as Kato, the role made famous by Bruce Lee. I only wish Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) and Cameron Diaz hadn't been used mainly as exprssive props.

As far as superhero movies, one can do worse than The Green Hornet. One can do better too. Hopefully, this summer's Green Lantern will fall in the latter category. 


(Viewed 1/18/11 at Showcase Cinemas de lux) 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Golden Globes reactions

January 16, 2011

Presented in the order of um ... presentation:

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter - Not only did he execute his usual transformative  work flawlessly, but he may also be transforming his image so that people like him again. He's the man to beat for the Oscar.

Best Original Score: The Social Network: Hooray for non-traditional work by multiple composers! That's probably a death knell for its Oscar chances, so I was thrilled to see Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross get their due. I would have voted for Hans Zimmer's propulsive Inception score, but no complaints. And the Social Network is great workout music to boot!

Best Original Song: Zzzzz ... something .... zzz .... Cher .... zzzz Diane Warren ... zzzz ... schlock.

Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3. Duh.

Best Actress. Comedy: All hail Annette Bening in The Kids are All Right, but I would have preferreed her partner, Juliane Moore. I would have preferred Emma Stone in Easy A even Moore. Er, more.

Best Screenplay, The Social Network: Never saw that coming. And if you believe that, Mark Zuckerberg is a panhandler.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter.  I actually didn't recognize her at first, which says a lot about her ability. Naturally, I would have preferred her co-star to win - some chick named Amy - but recognition will come her way soon. It's just a matter of time.

(An aside - Megan Fox got to introduce The Tourist. Is that cosmically appropriate or what?)

Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network. Few directors out there have a better eye and sense of rhythm than he does.

Best Actor: Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version: Have to take this one on faith, as I've not seen the film, but Giamiatti was good even in a POS like Lady in the Water. Why not?

Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan: She was perfect.

Best Picture, Musical/Comedy: The Kids are All Right, of course. Any other winner would have been an embarrassment.

Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech: Inspiring.

Best Picture, Drama: The Social Network, bitch. Yeah, I would have preferred Inception. But I'll tell you this much. When it comes to your Oscar pool, bet against The Social Network at your peril.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rooney Mara IS Lisbeth Salander?

The first pictures of Rooney Mara in full Lisbeth Salander regalia were published Wednesday. Color me intrigued.

I think the look strikes just the right balance. It's faithful to the look Noomi Rapace created in the original films, and yet it's different enough to suggest that Rooney will be her own animal.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it's because she looks somewhat younger than Rapace did, suggesting more of a tarnished soul underneath a pierced exterior.

It's not just the look that sells me, though. It's Mara's performance in The Social Network.

That may seem strange considering she's in the movie for all of 15 minutes, if that. That may be true in terms of screen time - but her character is everywhere in that film,

As The Social Network tells it, Mara's character, Erica Albright, was the motivating force behind the creation of Facebook. And every time Mark Zuckerberg thinks of her, it only increases his already formidable drive to make himself the winner of whatever game he plays. And the pitch-perfect ending drives home just how critical Mara's work was in the film.

It helps, of course, that David Fincher directed The Social Network and will direct The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher has rarely stepped wrong, and I trust in his skill and judgment. And Mara already has me hooked.