Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gold Rush, Part IV


*Prior engagements have kept me from completing this post, and I've grossly neglected this site. Before I can add anything new in 2008, the Oscars must be addressed. Here we go...*

I sure hope that all six of you who read this blogspot didn't put too much money on my winner predictions, because with a shameful final count of 12 correct guesses out of 24, 2008 is officially the poorest year yet in my Oscar prognosticating track record. It's ironic, that fact, because the '07-'08 awards season has also been my most extensively covered to date. Something, clearly, is wrong with this picture.

In all honesty though, I couldn't be happier with my innaccuracy, as Oscar voters made some gallant last minute decisions to award some unexpected, yet equally deserving contenders. Trophies were distributed across a wide variety of titles, with each of the Best Picture nominees taking at least one little gold man home with them.

Viewers, bloggers, journalists and movie buffs alike have been complaining that the ceremony was one of the most boring in years. The ratings proved as much, with statistics showing that the telecast's audience was down to 32 million - the lowest it's been in over a decade. There was also an obvious lack of star presence. Presenters like Jessica Alba and The Rock stepped in for m.i.a. big names like Julia, Meryl and Brangelina; and don't even get me started on little Miley Cyrus.

However, those complainers should remind themselves that the Academy Awards came dangerously close to not taking place at all. When it comes to the Oscars, I'll take a comparitively lackluster show over no show any day of the week. For me, it is always a magical evening (shut up). Here are my highlights:

10. The Bourne Ultimatum's technical mini-sweep:
Given No Country for Old Men's restrained aural wizardy and Transformers' noisy bombast, I predicted either of those films to walk away with sound mixing and editing over Paul Greengrass' trilogy-capping globetrotter. But Bourne snuck up and nabbed both, along with the more obvious award for its lightning-paced editing. Fine with me - the action-packed hit was one of 2007's very best.

9. Robert Boyle's speech:
The 98-year-old Lifetime Achievment Award recipient was astonishingly articulate for his age, and managed to keep viewers' attention despite his intermittent pauses. Even when the camera panned across audience faces, not a one looked impatient. Way to go, Hollywood.

8. Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill:
Long gone are the monotonous days of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. These two deadpan goofballs twisted their cue cards to hilarious effect, playing off of a Judi Dench/Halle Berry joke that kept on rolling through two category presentations.

7. Amy Adams' "Happy Working Song" solo:
There's no arguing that Ms. Adams is a born star. I would've been delighted to see her spirited turn in Enchanted land a nomination for this year's Best Actress. As a consolation prize, I got to see the adorable redhead belt the film's silliest song on a stage all by herself. She nailed every note. It enchanted the hell out of me.

6. Dario Marianelli wins Best Original Score for Atonement:
If I had had my way, Atonement would've won Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design as well, but had the film not been recognized for its incredible music, heads would have certainly rolled. Aside from There Will Be Blood's chilling notes (sadly, ineligible), Marianelli's typewriter-infused score was an instantly classic work of art.

5. Troops present the award for Documentary Short via satellite from Iraq:
Even more touching than having those "fighting for us" taking part in the ceremony was the lone homo among them, who was likely dying inside knowing he missed E!'s Red Carpet coverage. Appropriately, he and his fellow soldiers bestowed the honor on a film dealing with lesbian issues.

4. "Falling Slowly" wins Best Song:
If you ask me, this win was one of the most well-deserved of the evening. Once was a beautiful film in all of its simplicity, and I'm thrilled that Oscar recognized it. Enchanted may have received three nods, but this heartfelt duet had more power than any other song to charm the ears of moviegoers last year.

3. The ladies in RED:
As any media outlet that covered Oscar fashions (are there any that didn't?) will concur, red was the color of more than just the carpet at the gala event. In addition to the ladies above, Ruby Dee, Helen Mirren and Miley Cyrus also rocked crimson shades. However, nobody wore it better than these three beauties.

2. Jon Stewart
While he's no Billy Crystal (or even Ellen Degeneres), Stewart's sophomore round as emcee pleasantly surprised me. In so tumultuous an election year, there couldn't have been a better choice to host the second most-watched (well, usually) annual telecast. He made me laugh repeatedly, but never more than with his "Gadolf Titler" remark. That's one for the time capsule.

1. Marion Cotillard's acceptance speech:
I had been hoping for a Julie Christie victory, so the fabulous veteran could deliver a repeat of her brilliant SAG thank-you's. In its place, I was given the adorable Ms. Cotillard, who was visibly more excited and touched than any other recipient. She is, in fact, the perfect Best Actress winner: she's young, beautiful, full of life, and truly grateful. She brought me to tears.

*For a complete list of all the winners, CLICK HERE.

...And so begins another year at the movies. What a relief...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Roll Out

...the Red Carpet. It's Oscar Day!!!

What I Love Right Now

Kate Winslet in Romance & Cigarettes
(on DVD now)

In this offbeat and underrated quasi-musical from writer/director John Turturro and executive producers Joel and Ethan Coen, the 5-time Oscar nominee plays a buxom, crass, sex-crazed, Scottish chanteuse, and singlehandedly steals the whole movie. It's a sinful joy to watch. The role and the performance are prime examples of how incredibly fun it must be to act professionally, especially when you're as versatile and gifted as Ms. Winslet. PS: She's never been hotter, and she's got the fiery, crimson locks to prove it. See for yourself in this smokin' clip:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gold Rush, Part III


It's three days before the big show, and it's high time to announce my predictions for who the victors will be at this year's (unstoppable) Academy Awards. Jon Stewart will host the ABC telecast once again, and I'll be glued to one of the very few TV programs for which I actually block out time.

An entertainment publication that trickles through a string of six newspapers was kind enough to publish my thoughts and opinions on the Oscars this year, so I won't be re-posting them here. Instead, follow this link to read my predictions for the winners in the top six categories:

Nothing Stops OSCAR!

In the meantime, here are my my fearless predictions in all of the other categories (Disclaimer: the picks for Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short, and Animated Short are all long-shot - albeit, educated - guesses).

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: No Country for Old Men
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Counterfeiters (Austria)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: No Country for Old Men
MAKEUP: La Vie en Rose
FILM EDITING: No Country for Old Men –or- The Bourne Ultimatum
SOUND EDITING: No Country for Old Men
SOUND MIXING: Transformers
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG): “Falling Slowly”, Once
I Met the Walrus

So grab your pen and paper, fill out your ballots, and when the chumps at the office ask you how you did so well in the company Oscar pool, tell them you turned to Your trusty Movie Buddy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Definitely, NOT

In the new romantic dramedy from writer/director Adam Brooks (French Kiss, Wimbledon, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), Little Miss Sunshine Abigail Breslin is used as a feather pen-toting tool of kiddie sentiment; and that's just one of the manipulations present in this Valentine's Day misfire.

Catch my not-so-sentimental review HERE.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Minority Report

Looks like I was one of the very few who found major fault with The Spiderwick Chronicles. It's current score on Rotten Tomatoes is a surprisingly fresh 79%. Curiously, that's about how much of this movie I didn't really like. Sorry, kids...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's My Party and I'll Blog if I Want To

In honor of my 24th birthday (which just happens to be in 5 minutes), here's the best scene from 1990's Problem Child, starring the late John Ritter. Junior (Michael Oliver) doesn't like it when his little friend won't include him at her birthday party, so he takes steps to destroy it. Enjoy this now, while I go look for my sunflower costume:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's true, it's raw out there. The temp. is dropping as we speak. Rather than cozy up with your honey by the fire, cozy up with Your Movie Buddy and take a look my Top Ten Films About Chilly Weather:

10. Cliffhanger: This 1993 action flick set atop snowy peaks is, dare I say it, Stallone's best film. What, you like Rocky and Rambo better? Well, that's your prerogative. Go see the ill-conceived sequels. Personally, I'm not into 60-year-old men who still use steroids. 45-year-old's? Fair game.

9. Stepmom
: I know what you're thinking: this 1998 weepie with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon made the list because it's set around Christmas, and characters ride horses in the snow. Right? Wrong. It's here solely for the part when Jena Malone's character tells Julia's character that her ex-boyfriend, Brad Kovitzky, called her "Frosty the Snow Bitch." Classic.

8. Die Hard 2: Die Harder
: In this inferior sequel, Bruce "my ex-wife's with my grandson" Willis' John McClane ends a fight with a bad guy by jabbing him in the eye with an icicle. You know, they do say it's the perfect crime...the evidence just melts away...

7. Cool as Ice
: That's right, Vanilla Ice made a movie, back in 1991. Don't ask me what it's about, I sure as hell never saw it. However, I had to put it on here - just look at that photo! I'd imagine that this guy wakes up every day wondering which embarassing decision he's gonna have to live down for the next 14 hours.

6. Blow
: As a real-life slinger of another kind of white powder, Johnny Depp struts to "Black Betty" and gets busted by the cops about 57 times. Pee-Wee Herman makes a cameo, and in a crucial sequence, Penelope Cruz sells Depp out and calls him a "fagoot." Now, that's cold.

5. Basic Instinct: This erotic, iconic movie actually takes place in sunny San Francisco. But when Sharon Stone's Catherine Trammell isn't showing off her naughty bits to legions of dorky young virgins, she's out offing people with an ice pick.

4. The Shining: In this horror classic, Jack Nicholson's crazed hotel overseer chases his son through a topiary maze in the film's climax. It's the dead of winter in Vermont, and when Jack gets lost trying to find little Danny, the sub-zero temperatures turn him into a Jack-sicle.

3. The Devil Wears Prada
: Not a cold weather movie, you say? Puh-lease! As editrix Miranda Priestly, her heiness Meryl Streep plays the coldest bitch in Manhattan, and rocks an icy white coif to match. Take a tip from her, for she'd never let "some absurd weather problem" get in her way. After all, she's got places to go, like the twins' recital - "AT SCHOOL!"

2. Away From Her: Sarah Polley's gorgeous film starring this year's Oscar front-runner, Julie Christie, has the soft light of winter coursing through its veins. And Christie's long, silver hair shines like a beautiful frozen waterfall. I'm so sorry.

1. Fargo: Before they conquered the world and made a household name out of Javier Bardem with No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers crafted this brilliant thriller set in the snow-blanketed Midwest. Will this movie make you wary of your neighbor with the wood chipper? You betcha!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Portrait of a Prodigy

Review: Portraits of Sari
3 stars (out of 5)

I saw dozens of films last year, but I attended only one premiere. It was for the Philadelphia unveiling of 21 year-old writer/director Dan Magro’s debut feature Portraits of Sari, a sugary-sweet romantic comedy with a serious Oedipus complex. Currently completing his senior year at the University of the Arts, Magro began conceptualizing the film at the age of 19, though it didn’t truly come to fruition until this past summer. Since then, it’s been making the rounds at various screenings and gaining coverage in a handful of local publications. While it’s no When Harry Met Sally…, Portraits marks its maker’s arrival as an exciting new cinematic voice.

The movie is adapted from the short story of the same name by Bucks County author Orla Loughlin, and it introduces us to Steve McNarma, a freshman at the fictitious Philadelphia Art Academy. A skilled painter since childhood, Steve has been sheltered by his smothering mother Cynthia for just as long, and his departure to college is the first time he’s been on his own. Cynthia however, refuses to keep her distance, and when a prestigious contest arises (the winner of which will be awarded a gallery showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), she deviously uses everything in her power to ensure that her son is the victor. Steve seems like a shoo-in for the win until he meets Sari Phillips, a beautiful fellow student who also enters the contest and whose talents exceed his own. Sari soon takes on the role of both rival and love interest, and Steve is forced to decide where his loyalties lie.

Steve is played by aspiring actor Ryan Windish, who was the only performer to audition for a part in the film. The rest of the cast is comprised of Magro’s friends and family, just one of the wise and thrifty choices made by the director. Susan Hoare’, a longtime friend and almost surrogate mother to Magro, plays Cynthia; and Kristin Hermes, a local Philadelphia talent who first caught Magro’s eye with her part in a recent short film, is Sari. Aleks Krutainis, an L.A.-born theater major at New Jersey’s Drew University and acquaintance of Magro’s, plays Kyle, Steve’s flamboyant roommate and Portraits’ fabulous voice of reason.

Hoare’ and Krutainis give the film’s standout performances, both of them providing just the right amount of comedic charm for which it calls. As Cynthia, Hoare’ is devilishly delightful, embodying the best type of movie villain – one we can easily love to hate. And as Kyle, Krutainis carefully steps over the pitfalls of playing a token gay character by making us believe nearly every one of his words and actions. By the time the credits roll, it’s conceivable that Kyle is already halfway to the mall, and that’s meant to be read as affectionately as possible. While Windish and Hermes have faces that were made to be photographed, they lack the personalities to match. We buy their competition, but not their romance, a potentially fatal flaw in a film of this genre. Yet, the movie survives the duo’s absence of chemistry, mainly because it’s not their exchange that drives it forward.

Portraits misleads us into thinking that the key relationship it’s nurturing is the one between Steve and Sari, when in fact, it’s the one between Steve and his mother. Sari essentially becomes a supporting player to their lead conflict, which is the film’s most dramatically effective element and has the most significant arc. Portraits is about Steve’s coming-of-age, and Cynthia is that growth’s primary obstacle. She’s a textbook poisonous parent, claiming to be concerned with her child’s best interests when in reality, focused on her own. It’s unfortunate that the two characters’ inevitable final showdown lacks the thunder we expect it to deliver, since its arrival is the storm that slowly brews through the entire film. Steve’s climactic declaration of independence is markedly anti-climactic, which results in an intentionally hopeful last scene losing much of the emotional weight it deserves.

All criticisms aside, it’s astonishing that Portraits is Magro’s first feature effort. Watching this movie, it’s easy to forget that it was crafted by a college student. From the clever opening credits to a pivotal, great-looking scene in the rain, the project’s production is bursting with technical skill. The director successfully incorporates musical montages and confessionals to advance his plot, and scenes in which he and director of photography Nick Murphy utilize natural light (most notably, in Steve and Kyle’s yoga class) look Hollywood-ready. Even the DVD I received at the premiere was encased in packaging that looked as though it could have been lifted from a shelf at Blockbuster. As a film, Portraits of Sari is average at best. As an entertainment and as the debut offering from a student filmmaker, it’s the definition of professionalism, and it establishes Magro as a future force to be reckoned with in the industry. He’s going places for sure.

Learn it, Live it, Love it

Speaking of rediscovering movies, two of my dearest friends and I watched the 1999 teen comedy Jawbreaker a few nights ago on cable. I had completely forgotten how much ridiculous, trashy fun this dark laugh riot had to offer; and how many sexy roles Rose McGowan had before she was gunning down zombies with her leg. There's so much to savor here: Jeff Conaway (Kenickie!) singing Tiffany songs in reminiscence of his daughter's innocence, Pam Grier playing to her strengths as a tough-as-nails detective, Judy Greer receiving a makeover that just makes her look even more grotesque, cameos from Carol Kane, Tatyana Ali and Marilyn Manson (!), and a soundtarck that refuses to leave my head even now. This will become yet another addition to my ever-growing and already massive DVD collection, if only for its infectious watchability. I tried to find a funny clip of the film, but the best I could do was the trailer. Yeah, the trailer, deal with it!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Across the Juno-verse

I really can't wait for the Juno craze to subside. I don't wanna hear people talking about it on the street anymore. I don't wanna see endless buzz and coverage about it on television and on the web anymore (wait...). I really don't wanna hear any girls in line at Starbucks say, "what the blog?" for a while (which actually happened to me the other day, and in fact, I'd like for that to never happen again).

The reason is not that I'm anti-popularity, or anti-establishment, or even entirely sick of it. It's because, after three viewings (don't ask), I really do like this sweet, sharp little comedy quite a bit. It has its flaws (like an overcompensatory script and a too-immediate indie tone that likely won't last the ages), but it works and it sold me (thrice). And like a hot new song slaughtered by Clear Channel, the media and the masses are killing it for me. And I'm not the only one.

I have a friend who refuses to see Juno because she's already over the whole thing. That's a damn shame. I keep telling her to do herself a favor and see it, and that she'll enjoy it, but I completely understand where she's coming from. She doesn't wanna jump on the Juno-wagon. If I wasn't a blood-in, blood-out cinephile, I'd likely join her in protest.

One of the first things I said after my first screening of the film was that I wished I had seen it at some quiet, pre-buzz screening, months back. An intimate, uninfluenced, virginal festival screening in which I could have soaked up this eventual behemoth without the knowledge of the stamp of excess America would put on it. When critics and audiences agree this unanimously, you've got a hit. When critics and audiences agree, Oscar nominations ensue, and the ever-so-influential teen bracket hops on board, you've got an event - a massive, over-hyped affair that has everyone drunk with adoration.

Well, I'm ready for everyone to go home and nurse their hangovers. I'm ready for Diablo Cody to take home her Oscar and hang up her hamburger phone. I'm ready to walk through Blockbuster in four months and pick up a previously viewed copy of the heartwarming gem in the 3 for $20 section. I wanna rediscover this movie. I wanna get off the wagon and get back on again when the time is right.

Wait, did I just say I need Juno rehab? See, look what it's come to.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

No witty title could ever match the beauty of the one above, and if I had waited a bit longer to compile my Top Ten films of last year, Julian Schnabel's breathtaking and imaginative masterpiece would have surely found a place on it.

My review is up at Go get it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


For those of you who have seen P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood and have not yet seen the hilarious video below, you're in for a treat... a creamy, blended treat. Media mash-ups don't get much more entertaining than this:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Starlets and Sugarplums

For Christmas, I was gifted a subscription to Vanity Fair, a magazine I love in large part due to its always stunning photography, both on the cover and within. Undoubtedly, the best annual example of such is VF's Hollywood Issue, the 2006 installment of which this blog covered somewhat at length not long ago. Each year, photographer extraordinairre Annie Leibovitz and her constituents deliver an incredible fold-out cover and content photos to match. Recently, this year's cover shot was unveiled:

In pastel hues of pink, peach and white from Dior by John Galliano, it features an elegant group of ten of today's most promising young actresses. Behold, from left: Emily Blunt, Amy Adams, Jessica Biel, Anne Hathaway, Alice Braga, Ellen Page, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Banks, Ginnifer Goodwin, and America Fererra.

The first issue of my subscription arrived in the mail today. I almost gasped when I saw it was the one with Harrison Ford and Shia LeBouf on the cover, which has been on stands for weeks. This issue, which I'm proud to say is a big part of my year, had better be quick to follow.