Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Leo Investigates J. Edgar Hoover

The latest in news is that Leonardo DiCaprio will be teaming up with director Clint Eastwood to portray famed FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, in a film titled, oddly enough, Hoover.

To be honest, the biopic is one of those kind of films that I could do without majority of the time. While there is the occasion where one actually turns out to be a fantastic film, i.e. Schindler's List or The Aviator, it just seems that most of them were never intriguing enough to begin with. This is where all the problems lie in regards to the biopic, is the fact that unless you have a true life story like Oskar Schindler, Frank Abagnale, Jr., or Howard Hughes, you really can't dramatize it without the film coming across as cheesy or melodramatic. Also, what makes all of the great biopics in the history of the cinema work, is that majority of them told stories about little known incidents that most either didn't know occurred (Frank Abagnale, Jr., Oskar Schindler), or they were about larger than life people who had a secret past (Howard Hughes).

While J. Edgar Hoover did some big things way back in the day, does he really fall into either of those two categories? I'm just worried this film will turn out to be a touch stale, but I still like Leo a ton.

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's a Wrap!

It's always tough to wind down after a shoot, to re-train your brain to normality. That is how I feel after wrapping on my latest film, Heaven's Touch. The film's a fantasy romance steeped in the supernatural. I think the story is fantastic and we had a very solid cast, and ultimately they did a fantastic job.

There are a great many things I'm concerned about after filming, such as will the cinematography live up to my hopes and expectations, will the actor's performances come through in the film, and will our ambition to do a scene in front of a green screen pay off in the end. It's real tough.

Obviously I feel certain scenes went better than others. There were a few scenes that the shots just flowed from one to the other. There were scenes where the actors seemed to just knock it out of the park right out of the gate, and a few scenes where some work was needed to be done, but they eventually got there. Though the final scene we shot at about ten o'clock Sunday night was an exhausting exercise. The scene just never seemed to be working from the start, and I think it was partly cause we were all tired and wanting to get done, and I hope it worked out for the best.

Tomorrow we start editing and I can't be happier to now be piecing the thing together and see if we have a film and not just a cheesy youtube video. Time will tell.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Boycott 3-D Cinema!

Okay, this post is purely a rant about a news story I caught this morning on FOX6 news here in Birmingham, AL. It all started, talking about the 3-D obsession that seems to have swept the entertainment industry, from film to 3-D TVs. They were talking about how 3-D, and in particular Avatar, have forever changed how movies are made, and I just got filled with frustration. 3-D is only the wave of the future because the studios are doing everything to entice moviegoers that the only way to see a particular movie is in 3-D, and moviegoers, being ignorant to the fact that they're actually shelling out 5-7 more dollars for something that should only be at an amusement park, pay and it reinforces the studios marketing strategy. Which leads to the next point. The news went from that into a story talking about how this new wave of 3-D films has led movie theater chains, like Regal and AMC, to raise ticket prices, in particular the prices of 3-D movie tickets in some cases has raised as high as 5 bucks more! The studios win again.

All of this is purely a smoke screen for the studios to make more money and regain control over the film industry like they did back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. If you call yourself a film lover, I implore you not to help re-instate the studios in their attempts to crush the little guy. 3-D is an expensive medium to produce, and if the studios continue their act of conditioning moviegoers into thinking that 3-D is the only way to see a film, it will destroy the little guy, a.k.a. independent film. The studios despise indies, I truly believe so. Why? Cause they're movies that they can't control, the studios want control, that's what it all boils down to is power. If the studios have their way, and their plans to crush independent film succeed, then film will revert back to a rich boy's game and little guys like me will never have a chance to make it in the film industry unless one comes from money. I'm sorry for the rant, but the point of this, is boycott 3-D! If you love cinema, don't give your money to reinforce the machine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends, One Scott Pilgrim

Hollywood seems to be running low on originality recently, seeming as if every comic book ever made is being turned into a film. One of the latest is the comic, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, telling the story of a 22-year-old bass player who falls in love with the girl of his dreams to only learn that in order to win her heart he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. The trailer for the film has hit the net, and I've gotta say, it's a highly over-the-top premise and it looks visually intriguing, but I do have reservations about how well the film will play out when watching it. I mean, an idea like this, with so much visual panache will either be highly original or just extremely cheesy, but then again the story isn't Shakespeare-either, regardless, it could be a lot of fun. The film stars Michael Cera doing his usual shtick and is directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), so it might be a funny film. Regardless, check out the trailer:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oscar Watch: Another Year

So with another Oscar season behind us, it's now time to take a break till late Summer, but do not fret, because before I shelve Oscar Watch for the next three months or so, I'm gonna make some predictions about next year's Academy Awards. The Academy has honored the best in film for 2009, and now that we're at least 1/4 of the way through 2010, the 2010 Oscars are starting to at least send some vague signals. But let's start with the obvious contenders at the moment.

Sundance 2010 back in January was the first good precursor to the Oscars for this year. Last year this was where two Best Picture nominees got their start, Precious and An Education, and I believe there are a few films that have a shot from the Sundance crowd for this next year's Academy Awards. One of the more obvious ones is the Grand Jury Prize winner, Winter's Bone, an indie-drama about a teenage girl searching for her drug-dealing father. I think this is a solid screenwriting contender, kind of like Frozen River two years back, but without a big name actor in the cast, it will be a hard sell for Best Picture, but if it continues to pick up steam it might be this year's Precious.

As for the rest of Sundance, one movie I think to look out for is Howl starring James Franco, but I really think that is just for Acting, the big one that I think will play heavily for Best Picture with a Little Miss Sunshine-esque feel is the comedy, The Kids Are All Right. The film tells the story of a lesbian couple's two children, made by artificial insemination, going on a search for their biological father. The film has recognizable stars, i.e. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the lesbian couple, and Mia Wasikowska fresh off Alice in Wonderland as the oldest of their children. The film I'm hearing could be a big threat in the Actress categories and Screenplay, but I also believe it has a strong play at Best Picture.

Filling out the bill so far this year for Oscar hopefuls is really only two films, Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer, but neither of those films will work it out to get nominated in the end, though a surprise directing nomination for Scorsese or Polanski is possible. Maybe The Runaways or the quirky black comedy, Greenberg, will find their way into talk, but it's a true longshot. One strong contender, mainly in Actress, is Chloe, a film about a prostitute played by Amanda Seyfried, it's the kind of daring performance the Academy loves from its younger stars, and with support from the likes of Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, the film itself could get in.

That leads us to Summer, where the Cannes Film Festival in France should clue us in a bit more on Oscar hopefuls, maybe a few indie films will come out of the woodwork there, but in recent years it's kind of been a death nail for an Oscar hopeful to do well at Cannes. Though, with the Best Picture race now expanded to 10, it's safe to start playing the Summer movie game card as well when speaking of Oscars.

To me, the only Summer movies that even have a potential shot to wow with the Academy is Kick-Ass (and that's a big but), Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, and the one I think that has the best shot of a Best Picture nomination out of all the big blockbusters this Summer, Inception. After being passed over for The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan might be getting a ton of sympathy from fellow Academy members, and not to mention Inception looks awesome and is a definite Screenplay contender. With Leo DiCaprio in the lead, this film is perfect blockbuster-styled Oscar bait, it might surprise come next March. Maybe a dark horse in our midsts? Some are saying Robin Hood and Angelina Jolie's Salt have similar cases, but I'm not buying it.

This now pits us into fall, where there will surely be many films that rise-and-fall at the Toronto Film Festival, the best precursor there is for the Academy Awards, and since it is not uncommon for a film to rise from nowhere in this competition and take the top prize at the Oscars, it's safe to say at least one film will wind up inconention, but which one? This now leads us to the Oscar bait season of Fall and Winter.

Clint Eastwood is back in full force with his supernatural thriller, Hereafter. This is the most intriguing Eastwood project I've heard of in years, so perhaps that might translate to an Academy-friendly affair, after being shut out for Invictus and Gran Torino. As well, director David Fincher returns with The Social Network, a film about the founder of facebook, but I seriously don't see this one being an award's film. Other than that there is Darren Aronofsky's new film, Black Swan, and Danny Boyle's mountain climbing epic, 127 Hours. Both of these sound too steeped in genre to win with the Academy, and this being Boyle's first film since Slumdog, it is dicey business, he'll either get tons more love, or will be seen as a disappointment.

One sure bet is director Terrence Mallick's return with his newest drama, The Tree of Life. With Mallick being a legacy of sorts, no way the film wont get in. Another fairly solid contender is director Edward Zwick's film, Love and Other Drugs. Zwick has gotten overlooked in the past for stuff like Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, and this could be his big return to the Oscars after he wowed with Glory in the '80s. The one film to really keep your eye on though is the Coen Brother's remake of the John Wayne classic, True Grit. Respectable directors? Check. Respectable actor, Jeff Bridges? Check. Oscar bait in an almost forgotten genre? You bet ya. One final note, I'm getting a good vibe from Zack Snyder's animated film about Owl warriors, The Legend of the Guardians, so I'm throwing that into the talk.

So time to construct my 10 for next year's Oscars:

True Grit
The Kids Are All Right
Winter's Bone
The Ghost Writer
The Legend of the Guardians
127 Hours
The Tree of Life
Love and Other Drugs

That does it for Oscar Watch here. It's been a fun ride, but it's now time to take a break from Oscar-gazing and relax. I'll be back with periodic Oscar updates about once a month till about November of this year, and that's when Oscar Watch will pick back up steam and be a weekly column again. Till then!

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Official, Chris Evans is Captain America!

Rumors were rampant over the weekend that actor Chris Evans (the Human Torch from the much misunderstood Fantastic Four films) had been cast to portray Captain America in the Joe Johnston-directed film, The First Avenger: Captain America. Well, confirmation has now come, and Chris Evans will be the Captain. Over the weekend I had been hearing he had been offered the role, but I did not want to say anything till it was official. Well, he accepted it, so it's pretty much a done deal, with Evans expected to do at least three Captain America films and also portray the character in The Avengers film bringing him together with the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. and Edward Norton.

While Evans does not have the right build for Captain America, I actually like him as an actor. I thought he shined in Fantastic Four and I loved him in the thriller Cellular. I have no doubt he'll be able to infuse the role with charm, and he'll play the part well, being a good All-American boy, but I'm mainly worried about his physique. Captain America is a buff hero; I always kind of imagined Brad Pitt in the suit, that is the kind of body build, especially Fight Club Brad Pitt, but Evans might bulk up and surprise all.

Right now I'm trying to remain optimistic, but it's hard knowing that they nearly cast someone like Chaning Tatum or John Krasinski in the part, but Evans, out of the shortlist was the best choice, and in terms of his face, he has the chiseled chin to look good in the mask, which is really important for a masked hero. He might just pull it out, so I'm gonna be behind this for the moment, plus with Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from The Matrix) playing the baddie, Red Skull, how can ya not wanna see this?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"The Invention of" Martin Scorsese!

Martin Scorsese is often considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all-time, some even go as far to claim that he is the world's greatest living filmmaker. I'm not sure anyone will really argue that point, after all Scorsese is renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of film history and his mastery behind the camera. While I've often been left emotionally cold by some of his films, the ones that actually managed to move me are genuine masterpieces, and perhaps another one of those films is coming in his next directorial effort, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is surprisingly enough, a kid's film based upon a bestselling children's book. I am actually excited about the potential here, someone like Scorsese who is known for making gritty pieces of cinema, doing something that feels more as if it should be a Spielberg film. I was so curious about this project that I ran out and bought the book by Brian Selznick, and I absolutely loved it.

The book tells the story of orphan Hugo Cabret, who lives within the walls of a 1931 Parisian train station, tending the clocks in the station for his deceased Uncle who was the timekeeper. Hugo is a natural at fixing mechanical things, and the story is touch mystery, a little adventure, and has a ton of heart. Hugo is on a mission to rebuild an automaton (a mechanical man) that his Father found before he died, and Hugo believes that if he can rebuild it, the automaton will reveal a message from his Father. All the while, Hugo's path intertwines with a curmudgeonly old toy salesman who works in the station and the toy salesman's goddaughter, Isabelle, who joins Hugo in his mission to rebuild the machine.

It is such an intriguing book and tells a fascinating story. It's not really a novel, but more of a chapter book with tons of pictures. The story intertwines into the worlds of film history, highlighting the silent film director Georges Melies, and for this importance on film history, I can see why Scorsese is a nice fit for the story. Though, the book is already a cinematic tome. While it is in excess of 500 pages, the book flies by. It is a very easy read, one that can be done in a few hours, and that is because it is kind of part graphic novel. There are sometimes, where an entire sequence is told like a film. There is no dialogue, just images, pictures drawn by author Selznick that can often link together into 10-20 page segments acting like storyboards for a film. It's so fascinating, I have never read a book quite like it. But aside from that, the story is so fascinating and rich in film history, as a film enthusiast, I adored it.

The film is scheduled to start shooting early this Summer, and its cast is already being lined up. For the lead of Hugo, Scorsese cast Asa Butterfield from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which I believe to be pretty pitch perfect casting for the role. Butterfield has to be the heart-and-soul of this film and he proved that with the above mentioned film. Then in the role of his friend, Isabelle, actress Chloe Moretz, from (500) Days of Summer and Hit-Girl in the upcoming Kick-Ass (which I can't wait to see by the way), was cast, and while I think she is a marvelous young actress, I do have some trepidation about a French accent on her behalf, her being American. Rounding out the principle roles is Ben Kingsley as the toy salesman, which is just amazing casting if you ask me, and Sacha Baron Cohen for the station inspector, the bad guy in the film if there is one. While I'm scratching my head a bit about Cohen, he should be fine in the role, and besides, it's such a small part to begin with.

Regardless to say, Scorsese has assembled a fine cast for this adaptation which is now one of my more anticipated films of the next two years. If the film was in the hands of any less of a filmmaker, I'd be worried, but thanks to Scorsese's vast knowledge of film history (which will benefit the film in droves), and his visual mastery behind the camera, I have very little trepidation that he will transform a book that is already so visually moving and make it into a good film. Now I just hope Scorsese can make the heart of the story come through in the film so that it can become a classic of children's cinema, like Harry Potter.

Bottom line is, go out and read this book now if you like film, you wont be disappointed. Then you can join me in my anticipation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Second Draft Mayhem

I've recently started construction on the second draft of a screenplay, titled One-Thousand Words, after successfully manufacturing a first draft. Really, it's already proving to be such a relief to just have an entire draft written, even if it all turns out to be awful. At the moment I'm not sure how I feel about this film, but I still feel it has potential.

One main thing I'm working on, other than fixing typos and making things make a little more sense, is the first draft was only 86 pages, and I'm trying to do something things to at least bump it up to 100. I'm adding a subplot that I'm extremely excited about. Needless to say, this project is exciting cause it can be done for such a low budget that if it turns out well, who knows, I might decide to make it.

Goodbye Red Shirts

I found this video on youtube the other day. It's another one of those How It Should Have Ended videos, but this one is actually worth watching if you're a geek and you enjoyed the new Star Trek film:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Casting Fables

This is purely a speculative post, but I don't care, it's so much fun. My brother has recently introduced me to a comic book called Fables, which he was introduced to by his girlfriend. I've read the first few issues in compilation form and I love it. It's a fascinating premise with a unique twist on stories that we all know and love.

The story is essentially that of all of the classic immortal fairy tales, outgrowing their time and their kingdoms and now live in modern day New York City, where Snow White is Deputy (doing all of the actual real work), King Cole is Mayor of the Fables, and the Big Bad Wolf is the Sheriff of Fabletown (which is what they call the building in which the Fables house in New York).

It was such a unique story that riveted me. I was surprised to learn via the internet and Variety that no one hadn't already nabbed up the film rights for such an obvious chance at a huge money maker here and the next big franchise. So I've decided to play producer and get the ball rolling, casting the film with a nice balance of established stars and hot up-and-comings. All this speculation makes me want to start writing a fan script right here and now. Check it out below:

Bigby Wolf (a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf) - Leonardo DiCaprio

The best character of the comic so far. Bigby needs to be gruff and tough, have the spirit of a rabid Big Bad Wolf, which Leo has done pretty well in recent years in films like The Departed and Blood Diamond. Not to mention, Leo is a good actor.

Snow White - Jennifer Connelly

She's a good actress, gave a very accomplished performance in Requiem for a Dream, and she just looks like she could be Snow White; plus she has some gumption, which Ms. White needs.

Prince Charming - Hugh Jackman

I mean seriously, this one was the biggest no-brainer for me. Hugh Jackman is the cliche charmer who just happens to be a fantastic actor, and I'd love to see him hamming it up as a Prince who lost everything.

Red Rose - Carey Mulligan

After a brilliant performance in An Education and a resulting Oscar nod, there shouldn't be any debate on this one. She's a star of tomorrow.

Red Riding Hood - Abbie Cornish

A model turned actress that exploded out of Cannes last year with tons of Oscar buzz that ultimately wound down once the film, Bright Star, reached the States. Regardless, the film's ability to wow the Cannes panel (which is often considered the hardest judging panel in the world), and her looks, should convince anyone that she should play Red Riding Hood.

Goldilocks - Michelle Williams

If you can get past the Dawson's Creek connection, you'll realize she is a fantastic actress who turned in a very gritty, yet brilliant performance in last year's Wendy & Lucy, which I believe changed the entire course of her career from just Heath Ledger's ex to a legitimate screen actress.

Bluebeard - Common

Don't be fooled by the fact that he's also a rapper. He turned in a fine dramatic performance in American Gangster and was completely awesome in Wanted and Smokin' Aces. He's got the look, the build, and the chops to pull of Bluebeard.

Jack Horner - Chris Evans

A grown-up Jack from Jack and the Giant Beanstalk. Chris Evans is a terrific actor with tons of boyish charm, and I think he could relish in this role.

Boy Blue - Garett Hedlund

The star of the upcoming Tron Legacy and one of the frontrunners for Captain America, he's got the look and the acting ability, of course his casting in this role is a scant possibility if he blows up soon into a star.

Director - Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, Pi)
One of the finest filmmakers working in the industry right now. When he's at his best he is bursting with originality and creative ideas, he's just the right guy to tackle such a property.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oscar Watch: A New Decade

It's a new decade of film, if you're one of those decade purists who says that the new decade does not start till next year, then you might as well saddle with the fact, cause in my opinion the 2000-2009 decade is over, and 2010 marks a new decade of film. With the Oscars now a full week behind us, it is now time to start looking forward, but before I decide to try and take a sneak peak at the 2011 Academy Awards, I'd like to spend a week talking about what I want from the Oscars over this next decade.

The Oscars have been around for a staggering 82 years, one of the last symbols of the Golden Age of Hollywood still around today. There is nothing in the industry that has as much clout as an Oscar, except save for mammoth box office. Even still, the Oscars fall, time and time again, to their pretentious ways and refuse to let in outsiders. The Oscars are stodgy, and have received a reputation over the past decade as being out of touch with the times. Partly this is true. The cliche Oscar film being a drama that might not be the biggest box office draw, but is typically a film filled with some stars and a heavyweight director, that received huge critical praise. For the most part, anything that doesn't fall into that category is tossed by the wayside, and that is one of the main things I hope to see change over this next decade.

Every year, there are a great many movies made in a large variety of genres. I mean, just this past year, my favorite film was Star Trek, a big sci-fi blockbuster loaded with action and thrills. While the Academy has gotten better in recent years at least nominating some more populist fare, they still miss the mark a great many times shutting out films that should have been let in. I mean, look at two years ago when The Dark Knight was snubbed by The Reader. Can you actually say that The Reader was a better film than The Dark Knight? Conventional wisdom says no. So why didn't The Dark Knight get a nom? The answer, it was a comic book movie, thus it was not prestigious enough to get included. Come on! A good film is a good film, regardless of genre. While the Academy tried making up for that blunder this past year by widening the Best Picture field from 5 to 10 nominees, can anyone seriously say that District 9 would have made the cut had it only been 5 nominees, and the same could be said for Avatar if it wasn't so heavily campaigned as a "gamechanger" (which I think is a load of crock).

Just an interesting statistic, in the history of the Academy Awards only one fantasy film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, has ever brought home the top prize, and no sci-fi film ever has (and that includes nominees like Star Wars and E.T. getting passed over). Even comedy is passed over a great deal. A good comedy is hard to come by in my opinion, but a good comedy winning Best Picture is an even scanter reality. In recent years, films like Thank You For Smoking, Being John Malkovich, (500) Days of Summer, and even Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were all failed to be recognized when they were all smart, savvy, and hilarious comedies that were original, but also had a certain air of class about them that would make them good Academy champions. Now, while I still think the raunchy stuff like The Hangover or The Waterboy should not be let in (I just can't stand that kind of raunchy comedy), I think it's ridiculous to elude certain films the platform that they deserve. Though the Academy also needs to improve in widening the fields of classification.

There are many years, like this past year, where almost half of my 10 favorite films of the year were either Foreign, Animated, or a Documentary. Of course, the 10 Best Picture nominees didn't even come close to mirroring this, with only a small nom for Up. This is most evident in the race for Best Director. Best Director is supposed to honor the five Best Directors of any given year, and while there is no rule that says an animation filmmaker or a documentary filmmaker can't make the cut, they still never get nominated, because of a prejudice against their style of expression. Even foreign filmmakers tend to get ignored on a pretty steadfast basis. I think the Academy needs to be more open-minded and start honoring the other types of filmmakers in their midsts. While a Best Animated Directing category would be nice, it would still be them trying to exclude the talent from the real deal. I mean, if an animated film can get nominated for Best Original Screenplay, why not Best Director? They are still directors, are they not, so why didn't Pete Docter get nominated for Up, or Wes Anderson for Fantastic Mr. Fox? If the Academy really wants to honor the best directing of any given year, they need to stop being so pretentious and share the love, not try to shun it away. Another thing I despise, that I wish would change, is relentless Oscar campaigning.

The mudslinging, the campaigning, it's all just one big political shindig. In the old days, campaigning for your film was considered poor taste, now it's whoever has the biggest PR department with the most money is who will bring home the gold come Oscar night. It's like a Presidential race. Rival studios wait till the last moment to slosh the mud to try and ruin the reputation of rival films, typically trying to take a stab at some sort of behind-the-scenes politics that was covered up about the film that has no real reason to be released to the public. It in many ways ruins the magic of the night for me. I don't care about the politics, I just care about the films. The Oscars are about the films, so let it be about them, stop being selfish and just let the movies and their filmmakers have their night. It's only one night out of the year, so can the studios just pipe it for one night? Perhaps this is just wishful thinking.

I'll end this by saying the main thing I want in this coming decade, to attend the Oscars, preferably as a nominee. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

That does it for this edition of Oscar Watch. Tune in next Tuesday as I take a sneak peak at next year's Oscar race. Till then!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Movie Weekend

I've had what one would deem, a movie weekend. It all started Friday night with Disney's Tarzan, leaping into Saturday with the Jimmy Stewart-classic Harvey, followed by Happy Feet (a charming animated musical that is oft-overlooked), and culminating in The Godfather: Part 2. Just today I've watched Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and plan on watching at least one more film, and I'm leaning heavily towards Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, a film I haven't watched in some time, but it is actually one of my favorites. Top all of this off with the fact that in my spare time I have been working on a feature length screenplay titled One-Thousand Words, and you have one cinematic weekend.

This weekend is the start of my Spring Break, and I figured a few lazy days never hurt anyone, and I got to looking at my DVD collection and realized I owned a fair few DVDs that I had either never seen the film, or that I had seen the film but never watched the DVD version of it. I've had a good mix of films unseen and films seen, and I think that this movie weekend has been a resounding success. Now I just have to cap it off, and I think Spirited Away might do the trick, though I am considering The Full Monty. What to do? Regardless, I've had a great weekend just relaxing and kicking it, which is good, seeing as how starting in just about five days I'll be busy for the next two to three weeks straight with the film I'm making for my film class titled Heaven's Touch, so I might as well pack in as much lazy frivolity as I can, cause it's about to become a madhouse.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

Disney's latest hand-drawn animated musical, The Princess and the Frog, is a charming film that, while never reaches the dazzling heights of Disney's greats, is still a film well worth your time.

The film is a loose interpretation of the classic "Frog Prince" fairy tale, where a prince who is turned into a frog, must be kissed by a princess to be turned back into a human, only problem is, our heroine, Tiana, isn't a genuine princess, just dressed like one at a Mardi Gras masquerade ball. The film takes place in what looks to be 1920's New Orleans, and that is where the film gets all of its vibe in terms of its music and its story. The villain being an evil Voodoo Witch Doctor who transformed the prince of a far-off land, Prince Naveen into a frog. Of course, things only get more complicated when Naveen finds Tiana, thinking she is a princess when she's not, and so by kissing her she transforms into a frog too and they must travel the dangerous bayous of Louisiana to try and reverse the evil Witch Doctor's spell.

The film is very lively once it finds its rhythm, only problem is, it takes nearly the first 20 minutes to really find that rhythm. The first 20 minutes holds at least one song every five minutes, and these songs just come on sporadically and do not feel organic to the story, which ultimately makes the entire first act of the film feel extremely choppy, jumping from scene-to-scene. As well, the beginning of the film feels as if Disney was trying to pull out all of the stops and prove to you that they still had that magic touch, so they figured that they'd throw as much musical action at you within the very start of the film, and while some of the songs were good, they just ultimately didn't serve the story. Now, when Tiana is transformed into a frog by kissing Naveen, it is then that the film becomes its own.

Once frog Tiana and frog Naveen are trying to cross the bayou together, it's here that the film becomes something unlike any other animated Disney musical, while still falling into the canon. Tiana and Naveen grow closer upon their journey, whilst befriending a trumpet playing alligator, Louis, and a Cajun firefly, named Ray. What makes everything from this point on so intriguing is that it is a breath of fresh air for the rest of the film, because no other Disney film has transformed the two main characters, especially a prince into a small animal and have the actual meat and romance occur in those amphibian forms. There are a great many puns, some really fun songs, and an amazing dance between the two frogs across lilypads and through under the water of the swamps.

The music by Randy Newman was very pleasing to the ears, but none of it was really all that memorable, though it still served the story well with its jazzy-tones, evoking New Orleans in genuine splendor, and the animation, was typical Disney animation. While it is not as beautifully animated as Sleeping Beauty, it is such a joy to see Disney back in the hand-drawn realm, and I hope this is the first of many more.

Ultimately The Princess and the Frog is an enjoyable time at the movies. While the villain wasn't all that memorable (though his shadow minions were wickedly cool) and it kind of felt, especially at the beginning, that Disney was trying too hard to make you like it, the romance was well-told, there was some very entertaining music, and it results in a very charming hand-drawn movie musical from the House of Mouse that while is not their best, is far from their worst.

I give Disney's The Princess and the Frog a B!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tron Returns and Krasinski as Captain America?

So first thing's first, Marvel is really grasping at straws if John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) is the front runner to play Captain America in The First Avenger: Captain America. John Krasinski is nowhere near buff enough or chiseled enough in his features to portray the Captain. While he'd be a good Steve Rogers before he is injected with the super soldier formula, he's gotta be able to fill out that suit, and those muscles just aren't there. While Krasinski is a fine actor, I just can't buy him as Captain America. I'm appreciative cause it's inspired casting, but not good casting, though it's still not official, but at the moment it is looking more and more like he'll nab the role.

On a lighter note, Disney has finally released the trailer for Tron Legacy, the sequel to the 1980's cult classic. I saw this trailer in 3-D before Alice in Wonderland last Friday, and it was five times better than the film I actually paid money to see. This film looks awesome. Light cycles and everything. The 3-D in the trailer didn't seem obtrusive, and I loved how stylized everything was. It looks so original for a studio production. Plus, I loved seeing Jeff Bridges return for this sequel, and I especially love how they used CG to make Bridges look younger, like he did in the '80s. Really awesome geek-out movie, I can't wait! Check it out:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscar Watch: Post-Show Blues

The sadness is starting to kick in. Another 365 days till we get to do it all over again. The Oscars have come and gone, and now I'm in the mourning period till about September and Oscar season starts to pick up steam once more. Regardless, it was a fun season, though towards the end there it became pretty predictable, even if you were one of those weirdos buying into the potential for surprise due to the preferential voting system (like me). The great thing is, I now know how this new method of Oscar voting works, so I can maybe repeat my record year I had with the 2009 Oscars, getting almost everything right save for Sound and Sean Penn (I went for Mickey Rourke). The 2010 Oscars, I went 14 for 21, which isn't bad, but is a big drop-off from the high I experienced last year (not to mention, Slumdog was my favorite film of '08, so I couldn't help but be ecstatic). Though looking back at this years Oscars, there were still, some definite surprises.

The biggest surprise of all was Geoffrey Fletcher upsetting the Up in the Air scribes in Best Adapted Screenplay for Precious. No one saw that coming, and if you say you did, you're lying through your teeth, cause Up in the Air was believed to be a lock. As a matter of fact, Up in the Air got zilch Sunday night, where as Precious walked away with that and Best Supporting Actress. The Hurt Locker was the definite dominant force, winning 6 out of 9 awards, but I am real surprised it beat out Avatar for the Sound categories, and it managed to pull out Original Screenplay, which it now looks as if Pixar will have to wait a little longer to finally get recognition for their screenwriting. Avatar only managed to secure three awards, and all three, aside from Cinematography, I agreed with.

Please, someone tell me how Avatar can win Cinematography? And don't tell me that the craft is still the same, having to add lighting and whatnot to the image inside the computer, cause if you're gonna use that lame excuse, then something like Up should have gotten nominated for cinematography. It's still an image. Okay, rant over, back to the post.

As for the actual show part last night, I thought it was a bit bland compared to year's past, but I found it to be an improvement over last year's show which seemed to have kind of lost the glitz and glamor that I love about the Oscars. This year, the glitz and glamor did return, and Neal Patrick Harris delivered a real showstopper to open the night, but after that, the cogs just kind of kept running their course. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin didn't do all that much, aside from a very funny opening speech. They mostly just introduced the presenters, and that's it; it really felt as if they had less to do than the Oscar host usually does. I will say, it made me miss Ellen Degeneres, the best Oscar host ever.

One reason I felt the show was a touch bland was that there was not any real interruption to break up the constant string of awards. Now you watch the Oscars for the awards, that's a given, but I always found it nice in years past when they had the nominees for Best Original Song perform in between awards to keep things from getting stale. I really missed that last night, I think it could have really livened up the evening. Though, they did finally do something special with the Best Original Score category, which is something I had been hoping they'd do for some time now. I loved the dance troupe dancing to the five nominees' themes. It was fascinating and the definite highlight of the night for me. I really hope this process is repeated every year from now on, or at least something similar.

Actually, the most grinding part of the ceremony for me was one of the better parts of last year's show, having five fellow actors come out and talk about the five actors nominated for Best Actor and Actress. In a way, the novelty kind of wore off this year I guess, cause it just kind of droned on, not to mention the slate of presenters was nowhere near as impressive as the slate they had for these awards last year. Though, I felt the presenters as a whole did a good job the entire night, in particular Ben Stiller dressed as a Nav'i, and I thought all of the acceptance speeches were very good, in particular Jeff Bridges (save for the awkward speech given for Documentary Short).

As a whole it was a night filled with laughs, a few surprises here and there, but it wasn't the best Oscar telecast I'd ever seen, but it's definitely not the worst. So now history has been made, a woman has finally won for Best Director, and it is time to start looking forward into a new decade of Oscar. That is what I'm going to be doing over the next two weeks. Two more weekly editions of Oscar Watch and then I'll take a break and check back in at the start of the Summer to see how next year's Oscars are shaping up.

Next week I'm going to do a special Oscar Watch talking about what I want out of Oscar in this coming decade, changes and whatnot, so stay tuned. Then the following week, I will assemble, the best I can, a Best Picture ballot for next years Oscars from films that are getting a ton of buzz in the industry and could be big contenders come next awards season. Till next week!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Am Iron Man!

I loved the first Iron Man film, and I'm not gonna lie and say I don't find sequels dicey business typically (I've been burned so many times by sequels to films I loved), but Iron Man 2 looks like it's shaping up to be one of those great movie sequels.

The latest trailer for Iron Man 2 hit the net last night after it premiered on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel (which I found an odd place to premiere it). Anyways, the trailer was awesome. Packed with action, thrills, and some well-timed jokes. So far this year I have not been wowed by a single film, and perhaps this might be the first to take that honor. It is definitely the first film of this year that I feel I just have to see. Regardless, it looks like a marvelous time at the movies. Check out the trailer below:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar Watch-Special Edition: Predicting the Big Show!

Update: 14 out of 21, my final tally. Not that bad, but could have done a lot better had I not tried going against the grain on Best Picture, just think I overestimated the preferential voting system. As for the Tech stuff I missed, those were always a toss up leading in to the show, so some of 'em I wasn't shocked to get wrong.

Alright, tonight's the night. The night I have been waiting for since this point last year. Like all good things, you have to wait, but time for the Oscars has rolled around once more. Tonight is the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on ABC, and I couldn't be more ecstatic. This is the culmination of a year's worth of predicting and whatnot, and now it is time to go big or go home (to borrow a line from Brink!).

This year is all out of sorts when it comes to the Oscars, so many new things instituted. In particular the change from 5 to 10 nominees in the field of Best Picture, not to mention the new preferential voting system for the same category that will ensure that the winner is in all actuality the best film based upon a general consensus and not the film that got the most number one votes. For the reasons listed above, this years Oscar race is far tighter than anyone really wants to think about. Surprises are definitely in order I feel. Anyhow, it's time for me to stop yapping and toss out my predictions for the Oscars! I have been waiting a whole year to say that.

On a side note, since I have not seen any of the shorts in contention, I find it unfair to try and predict those three categories, so there will only be 21 of the 24 categories predicted here. Now, as for the rest of the bunch, I have a few surprises lined up, so don't be too terribly shocked. Alright, here we go:

Best Picture - Up in the Air

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 Original Screenplay - Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Best Adapted Screenplay - Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Best Animated Feature - Up

Best Foreign Language Film - The White Ribbon

Best Documentary - The Cove

Best Cinematography - The Hurt Locker

Best Film Editing - The Hurt Locker

Best Visual Effects - Avatar

Best Sound Mixing - Avatar

Best Sound Editing - Avatar

Best Art Direction - Avatar

Best Costume Design - The Young Victoria

Best Make-up - The Young Victoria

Best Original Score - Michael Giacchino, Up

Best Original Song - T Bone Burnett & Ryan Bingham, "The Weary Kind," from Crazy Heart

That's it for my predictions. Tune in tonight to the Oscars on ABC and enjoy!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

I adore fairy tales. Fantastical stories that take you to other worlds and have no rhyme or reason, they simply are and exist, without any complex explanation. Of course, now there are blockbuster-ified fairy tales. If that's what you want, then director Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is for you.

This is not your ordinary Alice in Wonderland, it's actually a vague sequel to the original story, but rather than being an adaptation of the legitimate sequel penned by Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass), it is an odd jumble of a story that seems as if it was dreamed up in a board room. Alice has been to Wonderland before, but cannot remember it. When she is 19 and faced with the horrible decision as to whether or not to marry her horrible suitor, Alice falls down the rabbit hole once more, rediscovers Wonderland, and learns that she is the only one who can usurp the Red Queen by slaying her all powerful dragon in a Lord of the Rings-esque climax.

It isn't fair to say Alice in Wonderland is a bad film, just cliche where it could have been so much more. One would think the marriage of bizarre director Tim Burton with the Lewis Carroll classic would be a perfect pairing, but the film was bogged down into the realm of cliche action/adventure. The film kind of plays out like a Lord of the Rings light. We must get this ancient sword, take it to the White Queen, and then Alice must challenge the Red Queen's dragon and slay it to save Wonderland. Am I the only one who finds something wrong with this? Alice in Wonderland is a fantasy, and not an action/adventure epic, but more of a fantasy that is more about the characters and not the epic backdrop. Speaking of fantasy, time was never taken to drink in the fantastical, to truly experience Wonderland, we would just hop on over to the next piece of the Hollywood puzzle. Still, there is a good amount to enjoy in the film.

Unlike most Tim Burton films, this isn't a macabre film that is simply macabre for no other reason than to be macabre. It is actually a kid-friendly film, and for Burton, is not weird at all, it is just true to the spirit of Lewis Carroll's story. The film is strikingly the most commercial friendly Burton film since the original Batman in 1989, and even though I was disappointed that the film was more of a big blockbuster than a straight up fantasy (like the books), the action/adventure elements were played well. While it was all a touch cliche, the dueling the dragon and the big epic battle at the end, was at least entertaining, even if it didn't feel like Alice in Wonderland. Not to mention, the characters are exceedingly charming. Johnny Depp is fascinating as the Mad Hatter, as well, Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice, shines and is definitely a star in the making.

I think my greatest disappointment came with this film in seeing that the cast was all pitch perfect and the design of Wonderland was fantastic, not to mention a great many moments within the film showed promise of being one of those unforgettable movie moments, but none of that ever came to fruition and was just bogged down by the mechanics of the studio system. Really, the film is entertaining enough to watch, but repeat viewings really aren't desired, and by this film's favoring of cliche Hollywood blockbuster story over originality and straight up fantasy, it keeps the film from being something more memorable down the road.

I give Alice in Wonderland a D!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Great Shots: Departures

Some films just have astonishingly beautiful cinematography, and last year's Oscar-winning Foreign Language film, Departures is one of them. Not only is this Japanese film a truly wonderful, emotional experience, it is such a joy simply to look at the shots and be in awe of the beauty of the Japanese countryside in which the film is set. The colors of the film are extremely rich and vibrant, and the shot shown above is the key shot of the film that essentially represents the film's visual, and emotional prowess.

The shot shows our protagonist, Daigo playing his cello in front of the magnificent backdrop of the Japanese mountain ranges. Flowers spout up in the field around him, and from a pure visual standpoint, the shot is a winner. The colors are lush, and the shot itself is kind of epic even though the film is a drama. This shot though, is more than just a pretty picture, it is the perfect accompaniment to the film.

This shot occurs in the middle of the film, when Daigo finally begins to come into his own. Daigo has become an encoffiner (preparing dead bodies for funerals) which is considered a dishonorable profession in Japan. At this point, Daigo's wife has left him because of his job, but Daigo has begun to understand the importance that his newfound job truly holds upon life in general. Daigo plays the cello on this mountain range, alone in the frame, not a single sign of civilization in sight. It is his setting free from his own constraints and his own trepidations about his newfound job, and he sets free by playing the only thing that allows him to make sense of things, playing the cello (as he puts it at one point in the film).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oscar Watch: Slicing and Dicing the Competition

The Oscars are finally less than a week away, and for someone like me, this is my favorite night of the year, so to say I'm excited is an understatement. Still, there is work to do if you love to try and predict the Oscars, much like myself. It is here, within these final days before the Oscars that the discussion and debate gets most heated, and it's due time that I take a swing at cracking the three categories that I believe have the biggest question marks over them come this Sunday night: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, and the biggest of all, Best Picture.

Now, I'm not gonna sit here and rant too much about my thoughts of the Twilight cast presenting an Oscar a piece, or the rumors that the dancers from So You Think You Can Dance will perform, or even the outrage of not having the original song contenders perform their material. To put it simple, I don't approve at all with what the producers of the show seem to be trying to do with the most prestigious night in the film industry, essentially trying to make it a People's Choice clone. I wont deal with that, after all, the Oscars is, and always will be, about the films themselves and not about the pageantry that goes on around it, and I have no doubt Steve Martin will deliver the laughs (Alec Baldwin, a little more questionable to me). But back to the real discussion of today's post.

Right now, Best Original Screenplay is one of the more complex categories to try and call. Really, it's like you could throw up just about all of the nominees on any given day, and which ever one lands face-up is the winner. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up all have a play at the prize. I don't think The Messenger or A Serious Man have enough support to lead them to victory over such obvious heavyweights. It's kind of funny. There are days where I think The Hurt Locker train has pretty much locked this one into place, but then I just remember the gushing amount of love the Academy seems to have for Tarantino, and Pixar has been ignored too many times before here, and now with Up nominated for Best Picture as well, it would seem a cruel injustice to not toss the Oscar their way. When you get right down to it, I think Inglourious Basterds is too polarizing for this particular branch of the Academy, and I still think many screenwriters don't respect animated writing as much as they do live action, so I think the ultimate victor will be The Hurt Locker, but if I were to call an upset, it'd be Up.

On to Best Actress. This category has been one of the hottest of debate for months upon months. There was a time where it seemed like a clash between Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan, and then Streep and Gabourey Sidibe, back to Streep and Mulligan, and then after the Critic's Choice and the Golden Globes, it became Streep and Sandra Bullock. The only one who has never had a legit shot at this award was Helen Mirren, but she's too recent of a winner to get too much interest. Way back at the start of Oscar season, it seemed as if Sandra Bullock getting into this category was just wishful thinking, and now, one kind of feels stupid for even thinking such thoughts. Bullock is, I would say, the frontrunner at this point. I feel as if Sidibe peaked too early, while her possibly pulling off an upset is possible, the probability is so low there is no point in even placing your bets. As for Mulligan, I think Carey Mulligan has the strongest wild card play out of all of the nominees, she has a better shot than Sidibe, especially after winning the BAFTA Award a few weeks back, but Mulligan is still an underdog.

The real contender to steal Bullock's glory is Meryl Streep, because two Oscars and 16 nominations isn't enough. I know I'm being cynical, and I think that Streep is a magnificent actress, but she could literally just sit on a couch, read a phone book, and someone film it, and she'd be nominated. She gets nominated all of the time purely because she is Meryl Streep, not because the work that she was nominated for was deserving, but because she is bigger than any role she takes on. Seriously, Streep hasn't done top tier work on the level of Kramer vs. Kramer or Sophie's Choice since about the '90s. I've said it before, but the auto-pilot vote for anyone who doesn't want to think outside the box will go to Streep, but in all honesty, Bullock will probably only have one shot at this, and that is why I think she wins come Sunday. Bullock has been around since the '90s, and this is only her first nomination, it is safe to assume that this could possibly be the only time she will ever be nominated for such an award, and she is so well loved by those in Hollywood, I think they understand that and will give it to her. Now onto the big one, Best Picture.

It's very easy to just look at Best Picture and say, "Oh it's gonna be The Hurt Locker," but with the new institution of preferential voting (as I detailed about a month ago in an edition of Oscar Watch titled, "Potential for Surprise") it could literally go a great many ways.

The way I see Best Picture at this moment is in four different categories. There are the films that are the frontrunners (i.e. The Hurt Locker and Avatar), there are the upset spoilers (i.e. Up in the Air and Up), there are the possible upsets but not very likely films (i.e. Precious, An Education, and The Blind Side), and then there are the no chance on Earth will they win films (i.e. District 9, A Serious Man, and Inglourious Basterds). The latter category, the three films included are just so polarizing that they will get few number one votes and for the most part will receive 5-10 rankings on most of the preferential ballots. The possible upsets but not very likely, like Precious, have a better play at it, and they all seem like traditional Oscar bait, but they're just not solid enough contenders to bring home the gold; while I think An Education is on the fence and could be a potential surprise, it's still nowhere near the level of the upset spoiler films. The real films you need to keep an eye on for this Sunday are Up in the Air and Up.

I've been hearing rumblings all across the internet that both Up in the Air and Up have received a fair number of number one votes on the new ballots, as well as a large multitude of numbers 2 and 3 on a great many ballots. They are two of the more well-loved films in the industry this current Oscar season. While Avatar has a ton of support, it has plenty in the industry who are not fans, and The Hurt Locker is somewhat similar, being about such a political topic, not to mention the film only made $12 million at the box office, so many still have yet to see it and most votes are already cast. Up in the Air was seen by a highly respectable number, and Up was a blockbuster at the box office, so the thought that neither of these films have been seen enough does not affect them. Really, I'll just wrap this up by saying, don't assume that it will either be The Hurt Locker or Avatar on Sunday standing up on the stage giving a speech, but if you wanna place a bet, the safe money is on The Hurt Locker. Though if you're a risky Oscar gambler like me, Up in the Air.

That's it for this edition of Oscar Watch. This Sunday I will be doing a special edition of Oscar Watch listing my final set of predictions for the Oscars, and then on Monday I'll take a break, and next Tuesday I'll return and give my post-show thoughts on the winners and what predictions I got horribly wrong. Till then.

Great Shots!

I''m instituting a new series on the Review called "Great Shots!" What it is, is a series where I take a look at a film that I think has marvelous cinematography and then post my favorite shot from that film and then simply talk about, kind of gush if you will. It's similar to going to an art gallery, looking at a painting or a photograph and dissecting the technique and the simple beauty or mastery of the shot. The framing, the lighting, the symbolic meaning inherent within the shot, those are the topics. So keep an eye out as I will be kicking off this new series in the coming days.