Oscar bait

3 12 2007

Here are short capsule reviews of titles hoping to leaving with Oscar in hand come next February.

eastern_promises.jpgEastern Promises (Focus Features)
David Cronenberg’s latest thriller has the elements of becoming an Oscar favorite from stellar performances (Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen), an engaging screenplay and the directors’ trademark unique visuals and story telling method. The films follows a mid-wife (Watts) who discovers an intrigue diary that sets her on a path to collide with the Russian mob. Mortensen’s seemingly frightening turn as a driver eager to join the ranks of the London crime family is a revelation. The actor single-handedly delivers one of the best fight scenes in the last five years and one that will stay with viewers days after seeing the film. For all its accomplishments, Eastern Promises starts to fall apart which it enters its final act as the unpredictable film begins to fall into a well-traveled path. You will be hard pressed to find a better thriller than Eastern Promises in today’s crop of thoughtless celluloid that fills theaters across the country.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor
Long Shot nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor

margotatthewedding_l200707111540.jpgMargot at the Wedding (Paramount Vintage)
Another touching drama about people with issues, but Writer/Director Noah Baumbach knows how to create interesting, identifiable flawed characters we can all connect with. The man behind 2005’s celebrated The Squid and the Whale invites viewers into the inner-workings of a relationship between two very different sisters. Margot (Nicole Kidman) visits her sister and disapproves of her choice of husband. Margot at the Wedding boasts sensational performances from Kidman, Jack Black and in particular, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The cast takes these characters and infuse them with humanity that in other less experiences hand could have been simply unlikeable. The film is a beautiful character driven story and a great companion to his previous body of work.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress

american_gangster_poster.jpgAmerican Gangster (Universal)
Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are a powerhouse who have managed to produce one of the fall’s first blockbusters, American Gangster with a whopping $120 million in the bank. The movie chronicles the rise of drug thug, Frank Lucas (Washington) and the detective, Richie Roberts (Crowe) eager to bring it to an end. The movie has immediately caught attention, but mostly has been labeled as entertaining and good. American Gangster faces comparisons with last year’s Best Picture winner, The Departed, a battle that Gangster can’t win. The film may be able to snag a few nominations but don’t expect this movie to pull any type of upset.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor

no_country_for_old_men.jpgNo Country For Old Men (Miramax)
The Coen Brothers’ are back with No Country For Old Men after a string of badly developed projects. The team that brought audiences Raising Arizona and Fargo have returned to their roots for this incredibly original crime drama. A trio of men all try escape/in hot pursuit are tied together by a $2 million that was found. Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones all deliver career defining performances helping to bring this unique tale to life. No Country For Old Men is exactly the type of film that makes you want to spend $14 and wait in line to see. The film blends together many different genres all the while keeping the viewers on the edge of their seat.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor
Long Shot nominations: Best Original Score

intothewild_bigreleaseposter.jpgInto the Wild (Paramont Vintage)
The tragic story of a young man who leaves everything behind and unknowning becomes a cautionary tale for millions is stirringly captured in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Emile Hirsch, known most recently for Alpha Dogs, surprisingly is very haunting in this doomed role. The film has become a box office top 20 mainstay since its release and has slowly gone on to gross nearly $16 million without much hype besides word of mouth. If the good word continues through December, Into the Wild could be rewarded with a few prestigious nominations. The film is wonderful but it is not without its flaws. At certain moments the film seems to drag and all to often Penn’s directing is all too typical looking more like a special on the Discovery channel rather than a film.
Possible Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay
Long Shot nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress


Killer instincts caught on film

4 03 2007

The first great movie of 2007 has arrived, Zodiac. The film embodies every aspect of a good crime thriller: from it edge-of-your-seat suspense to the intense dramatic moments and served with a hint of humor.
“This is the Zodiac speaking …”
With those chilling words, the serial killer ushered in a sense of panic across the San Francisco bay area. A case that could probably rival that of Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac not only killed mercilessly but also gloated about his “game” in letters sent to news outlets. The film focuses on Robert Graysmith’s account of the events as a cartoonist with the SF Chronicle.
It opens on a seemingly ideal Fourth of July with a couple parked in a car. A stranger the approaches the car and without speaking a word opens fire on both of them. The event leaves Darlene Ferrin dead and as severely injured Mike Mageau who later provides police with their first composite of the killer. Zodiac gets it all right from the beginning. From the brutality of the murders to the number of stabs each victim obtained to where the bodies where positioned, all the facts are presented as they occurred. Why is so important? It is not, but with the majority of movies taking creative liberties to spice a story, it is refreshing to see one that gives the facts as they are.
As the killings begin breaking the news, audiences are introduced to the three key characters: Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and through their viewpoint the story of the serial killer begins to unfold. Toschi is snowballed trying to work fast with several other counties before the taunting killer strikes again. No matter where he looks for answers, he encounters roadblocks that derail his investigation. Avery takes the case in fun even lampooning the killer by calling “a homosexual” until he receives a treat of his own. However, most of the film is through the perspective of Graysmith who quiet curiosity in the beginning explodes into a full-blown obsession with the killer than threatens his family. The story of the killer consumes the cartoonist, even during a four-year hiatus when the treats and letters from the Zodiac have all but ceased, he still is gathering information in hopes of cracking the case. An intricate web is created and as viewers, we are trapped only seeing glimpses at a time from three very different perspectives.
Zodiac never tries to humanize the killer to gain sympathy from the audience but instead it presents the killer, as he is an enigma. Modern films such as 2003’s Academy Award-winning Monster spent too much time trying to delve into the mindset of these prolific murderers and somehow find incidents to justify this behavior. However, it is not an honest representation nor is it nearly as terrifying because part of what makes serial killers iconic is the mystery. Nothing is more frightening than a person who murders with no motive just for the sheer excitement it brings them. This is something Zodiac understands very well and it shrouds its killer with doubt.
While the film is working off the novel written by Graysmith about the events, director David Fincher wisely inserts more police documents and scene evidence rather than the author’s assumptions therein making the movie more authentic. Fincher’s trademark palette of dark tones works magnificently in creating suspense and intensifying the moments.
Downey Jr. and Ruffalo are fantastic as pillars to Graysmith. Each actor gives their respective characters an abundance of personality and charisma, drawing audience further into the story. The film’s biggest asset was up-and-coming Gyllenhaal who delivers an explosive performance. Gyllenhaal easily veers from the wide-eyed innocence of a boy scout to the deranged stare of a man whose life is spinning out of control. The casting could not have been any better.
In one of the killer’s final correspondence with the San Francisco Chronicle, he stated, “”I am waiting for a good movie about me. Who will play me.” Well, no the wait is over.


For Your Consideration a dazzling mockumentary

28 02 2007

Perfect for fans of motion pictures, with an amazing cast of improv comedians at its disposable the film never becomes dull or uneventful. For Your Consideration also boasts more than a few noticeable cameos keeping audiences guessing as to whom else will make an appearance. Director/writer/actor Christopher Guest continues to work his magic with For Your Consideration easily being able to hold its own among his best projects. This is a film that is sure to tickle anyone’s funny bone all the while not having to resort to using fart jokes and overt sexuality.
For Your Consideration follows a cast of has-beens in a small independent movie, “Home For Purim” when rumor spark about the possibility of an Academy Award. At first, the cast led by Catherine O’Hara try to shrug it off, but eventually the hype consumes the actors. The attention comes to the surprise of everyone involved as no one expected an intimate Jewish family drama to do much. The film masterfully shows what Oscar buzz can do to actors and the people behind the lens.
As the film rolls on, studio executives suddenly become involved with the production asking that the “Jewishness” be toned down to make the project universal. By award time, “Home for Purim” has been transformed into “Home for Thanksgiving” a potential Oscar racehorse. The movie is unique in that it gives audiences a revealing if not exaggerate look into the inner workings of tinsel town. All the aspect are covered here with talk show appearances, entourages, inflated egos, backstabbing and all the other good fonder, we have come to love from Hollywood.
As Marilyn Hack, O’Hara gives a truly spellbinding performance that starts shy and nimble then explodes in disappointment. Marilyn is an actress who has yet to land that career defining role and is completely overtaken by the chance her performance could earn her an Academy Award. The news gradually changes her and as the film ends, we are left with a “new” Marilyn.
The rest of the cast is top lined by Eugene Levy (absent-minded agent), Fred Willard (slightly- off Entertainment Insider), Jennifer Coolidge (the ditzy producer), Ed Begley Jr. (the gay makeup artist), Paker Posey (aspiring actress), Sandra Oh (movie poster designer) and Jane Lynch (Willard’s more stable co-host) who all deliver standout performance. It is an old cliché that “you are only as strong as your weakest link,” and here there is no chink in this chain.
The Office‘s past and present are also a part of For Your Consideration with Ricky Gervais playing the slimy, bottom-line obsessed studio executive and John Krasinki has a cameo in a competiting movie trailer.
It would have been great if For Your Consideration garnered an Oscar nomination being that it is what the entire picture revolves around. Honestly, with a more aggressive push and a bit more awareness the film’s star, O’Hara could have very well earned a place alongside the other nominees.
Guest has proven again why he is the master of this genre of comedy with this film and his previous accomplishments including Spinal Tap, Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman. Audiences can wait and see which topic Guest and company will lampoon next.

Documentary skims surface of Lennon conspiracy

28 02 2007

Don’t let the overhyped paranoia of the documentary title The U.S. vs. John Lennon ruin your enjoyment of a winning biographical portrait.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon makes wonderful viewing not because it reinforces our already-abysmal assessment of Nixonian power abuse. And it succeeds despite gratuitous, ill-advised attempts to connect 1973 warmongering with the 2006 debate over Iraq.
The movie instead works by reminding us of Lennon’s best qualities: His impish, imperturbable sense of humor, his quick intelligence, his successful bantering with a hostile crush of world press mercenaries. The persecution of Lennon by U.S. immigration authorities, at the encouragement of Nixon’s vituperative White House enemies operation, is almost the least interesting thing about the film.
A good part of critiquing an ambitious documentary can involve telling what it leaves out: Along with proving not-so-Earth-shattering on the paranoia front, The U.S. vs. John Lennon ignores sordid details of the ex-Beatle’s personal life during the period.
The attractive love idyll represented as the marriage of John and Yoko, for example, might appear less seemly if directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld had described the “lost weekend” that interrupted Lennon’s immigration battle for 18 months. Lennon left Yoko and New York for an affair with the couple’s secretary, May Pang, partying with West Coast musical celebrities. He rejoined Yoko at his Central Park address just before the triumphant 1975 green-card celebration that is the documentary’s climax.
Most of The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a light recap of the celebrity-driven portion of the anti-Vietnam War movement; we don’t get to the White House tricks and the immigration battle until 66 minutes in. We get plenty of G. Gordon Liddy, slandering Lennon to this day (accusing him of being “manipulated” by devious protesters like Jerry Rubin, as if Liddy himself wasn’t full time into the manipulation business).
But delightfully, we get plenty of Lennon. Thoughtful and self-deprecating, Lennon knew full well his popular anti-war slogans and songs were simplistic. Give peace a chance. War is over, if you want it. He follows up with an irrefutable argument: The catchphrases worked, and besides, what’s wrong with good marketing on behalf of peace, for a change?
“We’re selling it like soap,” Lennon said. “You’ve got to sell it and sell it, until the housewife says, ‘Oh, there’s two products: War, or peace.”‘
A shrill-voiced Time reporter has the audacity to tell him, “You’ve made yourself ridiculous.” When Lennon smiles and says, “I don’t care” in that unmistakable Liverpudlian accent, you wish he were still here to thank.
It was Sen. Strom Thurmond, the racist South Carolina paragon of virtue (who in his youth fathered a daughter out of wedlock with his family’s African-American maid) who wrote letters encouraging a U.S. deportation of Lennon. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, another false paragon of virtue, worked with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to boot the Beatle.
Lennon tweaked those who wanted him out, standing under the Statue of Liberty and remarking, “I even brought my own cash.” When he finally wins his case, he is asked by a reporter if he holds any grudges.
Lennon, on the courthouse steps, smiles slyly at the cameras: There’s an old saying, he notes: “I believe time wounds all heels.”

Undetected: Audition

21 02 2007

This is another new feature which will highlight good/enjoyable films that may have gone unnoticed to the mainstream public. Once again, I ask that those reading this post feel free to comment leaving suggestion and concepts for further installments.

192914.jpgWhy is it important?
I know a lot of people who rave about Japanese horror films calling them scary, exciting and original, but honestly I’ve never been to big of a fan. The ideas behind them always seem to be a bit too on the unbelievable side for me, even for a horror movie. A videotape that can kill (Ringu), a spirit longing for a mother (Dark Water) and then there’s the garbage known as The Grudge. But, Auditionwas incredibly suspenseful and always kept me intrigued. It is slow paced and at times bizarre but the “ends justify the means” as the final act of the movie is brilliant.

What is it about?
It begins with a man who hasn’t dated since his wife past away earlier, so he arranges various audition for women looking to date him. Then we see a young woman walk in and on the surface she appears sweet that soon changes. In the following scene, we see the same woman waiting by her phone and just staring intently hoping for it to ring. The filmitself is very early Hitchcox and really travels at cautious speed until the final reel begins to spin. There are a few twist here and there but to reveal them would just take the mystery out of this great horroraudition-2.jpg import.

Who is in it?
The cast doesn’t include anyone that American audience would be familiar with and this helps keep viewers in the mind-frame of the characters. Sometimes the best movies are the ones without any movie stars.

Final Thought…
Auditionis not for everyone. For those looking for a good scary movie that isn’t predictable or downright stupid then this is a worthy selection. Director Takashi Miike has created a horror-art cult classic and you would be missing out if you choose to simply dismiss this hidden treasure.

The Vault: “Kidman births a new controversy”

21 02 2007

In honor of the news that Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts will be working together on Need, I’ve decided to post a column I wrote for the student paper about Kidman’s shocking film, Birth. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.

By: Pablo Saldana
Entertainment Editor
Issue Date: 10-28-2004

Nicole Kidman’s smartest career move was not marrying, but rather, divorcing Tom Cruise and winning in the public court of opinion. Kidman was always seen as a trophy wife but the sudden end of marital bliss gave her the one ingredient for stardom that eluded her: a cohesive story line.
In Birth, Kidman plays a woman who is convinced her dead husband has been reincarnated into a boy. The film is stirring up controversy with a few steamy scenes shared between the two stars. A particular scene in Birth depicts Kidman and 10-year-old Cameron Bright engaging in an onscreen kiss and later taking a sensual bath together. Kidman’s career has come a long way — from Cruise’s hand to Hollywood A-lister.

Armed with a rather large fortune and a powerful PR machine, she bravely continued to accept starring roles in high-profile films. Kidman evolved, in the public’s mind, from arm-candy to silver-screen star. Kidman’s divorce brought an emotional hook that fans could connect with.

As a result, she has a seemingly great career. She’s tackled an impressive array of roles: a southern belle in Cold Mountain; an English mother in The Others; an American janitor in The Human Stain. She alternates between tailor-made award-hopefuls (The Hours, The Human Stain) and courted controversy with art films (Eyes Wide Shut, Dogville). She’s back with Birth, a controversial film from Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer.

When Lauren Bacall took issue with a reporter’s characterization of Kidman as a “legend,” the press was aghast. Hadn’t Kidman been featured as one of Vanity Fair’s “Legends of Hollywood” right next to Catherine Deneuve? Just who does this Bacall woman think she is?

But is Bacall off the mark? Look closely at Kidman’s current career track. There’s no doubt she’s a movie star, but one whose catalog of films have gone unloved by the public. Kidman has been unable to land that defining hit: no Breakfast at Tiffany’s, no Pretty Woman. To Die For and The Hours remain her best performances, but are described as admirably brittle. Moulin Rouge, a parade of karaoked pop songs, wasn’t carried by Kidman’s charisma. And this summer’s Stepford Wives arrived stillborn. Perhaps audiences felt that, in watching Kidman play a feisty wife who subjugates herself robotically to her husband, they’d already seen this story played out in the tabloids, with better acting.

She’s the least carnal movie star around. But it’s not for lack of trying: She appeared donning nothing but her birthday suit in The Blue Room and sheds her designer duds in Birth. Kidman’s been romantically linked to a series of increasingly strange beaus: Q-Tip, Tobey Maguire and Lenny Kravitz, yet can’t spark a sexual charge. Compare her to, say, Angelina Jolie, who makes even wearing an eye patch seem lascivious. This is where Kidman’s story line — the one written after her split from Cruise — may be hurting her as much as it helps. And, despite the overwhelming controversy surrounding Birth, critics have given the film generally positive reviews. The real test is to wait and see if audiences will be able to look past the scandalous scenes and appreciate the underlying message within the film. Kidman may yet rise to the status of full-blooded legend. So far, though, she’s been simply statuesque.

Deconstruction of a scene: Mullholland Dr.

21 02 2007

This is hopefully to become an either weekly or monthly feature on a past film and why a particular scene works to illustrate the general feeling of the entire picture or in some cases how it fails. I decided to go with one of my personal favorite for the first post and I would love to hear your insights and thoughts on this idea. And maybe even a few suggestions as to other movies that could be showcased in this format. I hope you enjoy.mulhollanddrive.jpg

Mulholland Dr.
Directed by: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
Released: 12th of October 2001
Runtime: 145 minutes
Rating: R for violence, language and some strong sexuality
There are more than just a handful of great, unique, enthralling scenes but for the sake of this feature, I could only select one. Though, most people who will read this are unfamilar with David Lynch’s distinct puzzler, the movie is quite simply one of the best films released in 10-12 years. Mulholland Dr. is a film that commands your attention as it slowly and discreetly unravels a mystery. The film makes no apologies for those who happen to get lost along way and never dumbs itself down for the average mainstream moviegoer. For daring to be different by incorporating a complex storyline, vibrant visuals and artful eye to detail, the movie is a classic for those luck enough to survive the film’s labyrinth and capture its message.


Setting up the scene:
In the first act of the movie we are introduced to Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) who are the film’s main attractions. Rita has lost her memoery after being involved in an accident. She stubbles into Betty’s aunt’s apartment, looking for a place to rest and collect herself. Bright-eyed Betty arrives in Hollywood from Deep River, Ontario (Canada) and is immediately starstruck by the lure of the city. The two women begin investigating the mysterious crash in hopes of solve the riddle on who Rita is and why people are looking for her. There are many memorable moments during this act from the man behind the winkie’s to the beautifully captured intimaticy of Club Silencio. But, alas our scene lies within the second half after the movie completely changes your perception and what you thought you knew is not true.
As the second act begins we are reintroduced to Diane (Watts) and Camilla (Harring) who are lovers but more importantly friends. The scene takes place after Camilla has just ended things romantically with Diane and she doesn’t take the separation so well.


The Scene (this post may contain images and language that is not suitable for all ages):

The single piece of film that stuck out the most for me was the infamous masturbaution scene and no I did not select this because it is a woman pleasuring herself. In the few moments, Diane showcases lonliness, anger, hurt and vengence and this is all seen in her eyes and the some rather alarming sounds. In this scene mulholland2.gifthe message of the entire relationship is crystalized with stunning beauty and misery. Watts scary “solo” performance here is uncomfortable to watch because as the viewer you are drawn into her pain and it is not about the sexual aspect of it. Normally, for most men watching a woman “give herself a treat” is a arousing experience but here despite the overwhelming nature of the scene you are more attract to the character than the act. When the trip “downtown” involves tears of agony, with shivers of heartbreak and the sound of fingers pounding your gentials begin to overpower the soundtrack we have a rare moment of true intimacy on film. While watching this scene one can’t help but feel ashamed as if you are intruding on this person’s moment of privacy and her release of anguish. Mulholland Dr. is a outstanding, enchantingly beautiful film that at the heart of it beats this intense love story between two women who find themselves in the city of dreams.

I would have loved to have found the clip online but it seems no one on youtube or google has this video posted with the exception being a few couple porn sites. So, you out there will just have to trust me and pick-up or rent a copy of Mulholland Dr. you will not be disappointed with the lure of this twisted Hollywood-fairy tale.