Thursday, March 25, 2010

'City Island' Review

Truth be told, I was rather tough on this film. And, a few of the sentences I used to lighten the critical load in my review were cut from the final product (alas, a peril of the trade). But just before seeing "City Island," I received a mass email from writer/director Raymond De Felitta discussing how he wanted to shed some light on the oft-unexplored neighborhood of the title. Sorry, Ray, but I didn't get that while watching the movie.

What I did get was an overall well-acted and intermittently funny, but ultimately manic extended sitcom with a mood disorder. That's not to say I didn't kinda like it, but I definitely didn't like all the directions in which it tried to pull me. Enough jabbering. Please read my full review, now online at CLICK HERE. Go! It's worth the click! I promise!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Snow, Ice, Heat, Wind and Frogs

Inspired by the wild weather that's hit the East Coast this year, I whipped up a piece on weather movies for South Philly Review's Spring Guide 2010.

Grab your protective gear and give it a look: CLICK HERE.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oscar 2010: Winners and Post-Show Highlights

I know, I know -- everyone is bloody sick of hearing about the Oscars. Frankly, so am I. But I skipped town just after the big ceremony, and never got to post my post-show highlights. (To quote justly rewarded Supporting Actres Mo'Nique, I had to "forgo what was popular and do what was right." What was popular was blogging about Oscar; what was oh-so right was taking a much needed break and exploring the Icelandic countryside.) First, the winners:

- Motion Picture: "The Hurt Locker."
- Actor: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart."
- Actress: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side."
- Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds."
- Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."
- Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker."
- Foreign Film: "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," Argentina.
- Adapted Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."
- Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker."
- Animated Feature Film: "Up."
- Art Direction: "Avatar."
- Cinematography: "Avatar."
- Sound Mixing: "The Hurt Locker."
- Sound Editing: "The Hurt Locker."
- Original Score: "Up," Michael Giacchino.
- Original Song: "The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart," Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.
- Costume: "The Young Victoria."
- Documentary Feature: "The Cove."
- Documentary (short subject): "Music by Prudence."
- Film Editing: "The Hurt Locker."
- Makeup: "Star Trek."
- Animated Short Film: "Logorama."
- Live Action Short Film: "The New Tenants."
- Visual Effects: "Avatar."

*Biggest Surprises: Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film and, to a lesser degree, the Sound categories.
*My score: a rather lousy 16/24

I said "highlights," but, this year, I'm afraid the majority of my post-show coverage will involve lowlights. I called last year's Oscarcast the best I'd seen in quite some time. I have quite the opposite reaction to this year's ceremony. What a mess. No cohesion, very little tact, very little direction. Adam Shankman may be a fine choreographer and a decent "So You Think You Can Dance" judge, but he makes one lousy Academy Awards show producer. Here are some of the more egregious uninspired choices and bad judgment calls:

The Hosts
I'm not an ignorant young starlet, and I still didn't recognize the two suited comedians up on stage. Hiring Steve Martin and Alec Bladwin to co-host the ceremony was a pretty fun idea, I suppose, but too bad we didn't get the Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin we know and love. What we did get were two generic dudes forking over bad jokes (seriously, Bruce Vilanch, what was with the writing this year?). Yeah, I giggled a few times, but all I kept think was, "Jeez, Bald-Mart, you are WAY funnier than this."

Those freakin' freestyle dance numbers
Really, how could you? First the Best Original Song performances get axed (that following the nixing of the Honorary Oscar presentation, which was reduced to having the legendary Lauren Baccall wave FROM HER SEAT), then comes this hideous, bumbling interpretive replacement. I know Shankman had ambitions to do this reality show tie-in (which is totally indicative of his taste level), but did he have to bring in the "So You Think You Can Dance" dancers and have them move to the beat of original scores that in no way accomodated breakdance maneuvers? Oh, was that embarrassing.

The co-star Best Actor/Actress presentations
Ay, ay, ay. Okay. Deep breath. So, amidst your ambitions to steal, I mean, borrow, ideas from other, more successful award shows (see also below), you decided to snag the past-winners move from last year's telecast, re-work it a bit to include co-stars instead, but only employ it for the presentations of the lead acting categories. WTF. I wanna see big, pretty celebs like Michelle Pfeiffer just as much as the next cinephile, but not like this. So sloppy and so obviously derivative. And while we're on the topic, what was with bringing all the lead actors out in the beginning just so they could stand there for one awkward moment and then take their seats? And what's with all the Supporting Actor/Actress short-changing? Are they not worthy of equal celebration?

Neil Patrick Harris's opening number
I almost forgot this took place. Here's a thought: NPH was super fun at the Tonys, so lets give him a ring and have him do a second-rate, tacked-on version of his brilliantly improvised musical number and totally confuse viewers as to what show they're watching. Who cares if it further mucks up a program that's already about to become insanely busy? (P.S. I love NPH, and I still hated this. That's bad. And, by the way, what is hanging from his right ear? A naked action figure?)

The inclusion of tween stars for ratings
All my complaints and I still think this move was the most shameless. I shudder to think which seasoned thespians got the call that they were no longer invited to present when the likes of Miley Cyrus, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart were added just to attract viewers who couldn't give a crap about the Oscars to begin with. Take note, Academy: there's a whole legion of people out there who live for the Oscars and hold it to a very high standard (or, at least, we used to). Have some respect for your target audience. And if Miley does have to be at the party, can't we at least require that she wear tasteful clothing that fits?

And while we're talking fashion:
YAY! "The Money Shot":

NAY! The Double Bullseye:

And now, finally, a few highlights. Well, three:

Mo'Nique's acceptance speech
Short and not-so-sweet. "I'd like to thank the Academy for proving that it can be about the performance and not about the politics." Amen, baby. Giver of the finest performance of the year, Mo'Nique made a win that we all knew was coming feel fresh, mixing up the folks she thanked, keeping it brief, name-dropping Hattie McDaniels (to whom she also gave an homage with her ensemble), and pointing out the ridiculous debate over whether or not she deserved her trophy after not playing the campaign game. Hell yes, she deserved it. More than any other supporting actress in years.

Ben Stiller's "Avatar" makeup bit
More than anything, Stiller just looked fantastic. He went a bit over the top with his comedy routine but, hey, that's what Ben Stiller does. I don't know whose idea this was (if it was yours, Shankman, I'll throw you that bone), but I love how "Avatar" wasn't even nominated for makeup, yet the stunt was too sweet to resist. The kicker? The Na'vi in the film looked just as real as Stiller did on stage.

Photo by Melissa Newton

Sandra Bullock's acceptance speech
Oh, Sandra. How you torture me. I've been saying all season how I adore you and wouldn't want to begrudge you the only Oscar you'll ever have a shot at, but how I also firmly believe you didn't even deserve a nomination. After cruising through the campaign season like a slippery pro, you turn around with one of the best damned acceptance speeches I've ever heard. Perfect rhythm, perfect humility, perfect ackowledgement of peers, perfect balance of seriousness, giggles and tears (I swear I didn't mean for that to rhyme). It's fitting that you offered Meryl Streep a last-minute nod, since she's one of the few other actors capable of whipping up such an excellent off-the-cuff spiel. I still don't think you should have won the Oscar, but you certainly won me over on Oscar night. Good luck with your divorce.

See you next year, kiddles!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Am Love

Hi, Love. I'm Breathless Anticipation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'The Runaways' Review

There's a far better way to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning share the screen than sitting through "The Twilight Saga."

Catch my rundown of "The Runaways," now online at CLICK HERE.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar 2010: Winner Predictions

Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker”
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, “Precious”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Up in the Air,” Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Best Original Screenplay: “The Hurt Locker,” Mark Boal
Best Cinematography: “The Hurt Locker,” Barry Ackroyd
Best Film Editing: “The Hurt Locker,” Bob Mirawski and Chris Innis
Best Visual Effects: “Avatar,” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
Best Art Direction: “Avatar,” Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair
Best Costume Design: “The Young Victoria,” Sandy Powell
Best Makeup: “Star Trek,” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
Best Sound Mixing: “Avatar,” Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
Best Sound Editing: “Avatar,” Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
Best Original Score: “Up,” Michael Giacchino
Best Original Song: “The Weary Kind,” music and lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, from “Crazy Heart”
Best Animated Feature: “Up,” Pete Docter
Best Animated Short: “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” Nick Park
Best Documentary Feature: “The Cove,” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
Best Doumentary Short: “China's Unnatural Disaster: Tears of Sichuan Province,” Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
Best Live Action Short: “Kavi,” Gregg Helvey
Best Foreign Language Film: “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke (Germany)

*For a more in-depth run-down of the major categories, check out my Oscar predictions article, now online at CLICK HERE