Monday, February 23, 2015

Reactions to the 2015 Oscars!

So that's it for another year.  I went 16 for 24 in my predictions, a respectable number, but a far cry from my personal best of 22 for 24 from last year.  You can't predict them all.  The bottom line is there were a lot of really tight races that were probably decided by the flip of a coin.  For this reason I was not surprised by any of the winners, and that's always a shame, because I wish the Academy would surprise us a little bit more.

I did predict The Grand Budapest Hotel would get 4, I just didn't think it would win Original Score but rather Original Screenplay.  Once Birdman was announced for Best Original Screenplay, I knew that was all she wrote for any other movie when it came to Director and Picture (though I was still pulling for Richard Linklater even though I knew it wouldn't happen).  Ultimately, Birdman managed to win 4 Oscars as well, one more than I thought it would walk away with, while Boyhood only walked away with 1 (Supporting Actress) when I thought it would have 3, that honor went to Whiplash, the most successful Sundance film at the party tonight.  Other than that, every other film that won an award was a one Oscar wonder.

As for the show itself, Neil Patrick Harris was a good host, I think Ellen was a little better last year, and I still don't think he quite matched Billy Crystal from three years ago.  The opening number was sensational and played to Harris' song and dance strengths, but aside from that he was kind of relegated off to the side to introduce nominees with a few hit-and-miss zingers.  The only two bits that Neil Patrick Harris did aside from the opening number and the jokes were:  the briefcase full of his predictions for the night, and the Birdman spoof with him in his tighty whities.  The briefcase bit half worked, but when it came time for the final payoff, it fell a bit flat and only made a really long show longer.  However, the Birdman spoof was priceless, even though Fred Armisen and Kristen Bell kind of beat NPH to the punch at last night's Independent Spirit Awards with the same Miles Teller punch line, though I will point out that Neil Patrick Harris actually went out onstage in tighty whities (I didn't see Fred Armisen do that).

Overall, this years Oscars were a bit underwhelming and just felt so long with a lot of unnecessary musical performances that made the night longer.  While The Sound of Music tribute with Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews actually wound up being one of the highlights of the night, it did not really fit into this Oscar ceremony's intent of celebrating this year's films.  Seeing as how the show was already running long trying to fit in all of the awards and required musical performances from the nominated songs, this just felt a little like producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron honoring another one of their favorite films, like they did last year with The Wizard of Oz.  It didn't hurt anything and it was a welcome change of pace after the seriousness of the In Memoriam and the performance of "Glory," but it also didn't add anything.

Plus, am I the only one who got tired of all of the winners airing their politics?  Whether you agree or disagree with their political leanings, they are entertainers, not politicians.  Why can't the world have one night where we just celebrate and not try to point out flaws in the world?  Besides, as I mentioned, leave the politics to the politicians.  I mean, we aren't asking Biden to star in a movie?

So those are my thoughts.  As for next year, while I would not be opposed to seeing Neil Patrick Harris back again, I would love to see someone like Jimmy Fallon get to take a crack at it.  I think he is the most logical successor to the Bob Hopes and Johnny Carsons that we have right now.  Also, I think it's time for some new Oscarcast producers.  While Zadan and Meron have done fine the past three years, they also have produced three really long Oscarcasts and often make odd creative choices in what they do and what they don't (most notably, extraneous musical numbers or comedy bits).  And then there are the movies themselves.

Do you know the last time that I actually really loved a Best Picture winner?  It was six years ago when Slumdog Millionaire won.  While there have been some winners that I enjoyed between then and now, there has not been a Best Picture winner I wanted to include on my year end top 10 list since (I thought I had that with Gravity last year and then y'all didn't).  I want that this next year.  Come on, I wanna see some movies that just blow me away this coming year and actually see them get nominated!  Please, Academy!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Predicting the 2015 Oscars!

And it's here!  Tonight are the 87th Academy Awards on ABC!  Months upon months of other award shows are just the appetizer for the main course, which is tonight.  As such, while it would be easy to feel award show fatigue by this point, the Oscars are the Grandaddy of them all, and therefore I don't think anyone can ever be too tired for it, especially when there are so many up in the air races as there are this year.

This year's Oscars really are different than previous years where it looked like there was one single movie that was going to win everything, as a matter of fact, a lot of the top races (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor) really are hard to predict.  In some ways, you might as well flip a coin and just trust your gut when predicting a few of these really tight categories.

Best Actor could really go either way with Michael Keaton or Eddie Redmayne, with a potential dark horse upset from Bradley Cooper (though the percentages are low on that one).  As for Best Director and Best Picture, it's really down between Birdman and Boyhood.  Some pundits think one movie will win both, while others think the awards will be split.  I think it will be a split and I hope that doesn't come back to bite me in the butt come tonight, but I really don't see Birdman losing Best Picture at this point.  If Birdman director, Alejandro G. Inarittu, wins Best Director, then I think Boyhood will win Best Picture, but if Boyhood director, Richard Linklater, wins Best Director, then I think Birdman will win.  That's how I think it will shake out in those top categories.  Other close races are the Screenplay categories (Adapted and Original).  I think The Imitation Game has the edge in Adapted, but only by a little.  I would not be surprised to see an American Sniper upset there or even one for Whiplash.  As for Original, it all comes down to The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman, with Hotel's Wes Anderson having the edge at winning his first Oscar.  The other big up in the air race is Film Editing.  While the safe money is on Whiplash, if Boyhood wins that one, look out when it comes time for Best Picture.

Ultimately, I think the Academy will spread the love and no one film will win more than four Oscars.  I predict The Grand Budapest Hotel to win the most with 4, followed by Birdman and Boyhood with 3, and The Theory of Everything with 2, and then every other film that wins an Oscar will win only 1.  That's my predictions at least.  For my full list of predictions, look below, and for a full list of nominees click on this link.

Best Documentary Short:  Joanna

Best Short Film - Animated:  Feast

Best Short Film - Live Action:  Boogaloo and Graham

Best Sound Editing:  American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing:  Birdman

Best Visual Effects:  Interstellar

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Production Design:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Film Editing:  Boyhood

Best Cinematography:  Birdman

Best Documentary Feature:  CitzenFour

Best Foreign Language Film:  Ida

Best Animated Feature Film:  How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Original Song:  "Glory" from Selma

Best Original Score:  The Theory of Everything

Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Imitation Game

Best Original Screenplay:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Supporting Actress:  Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Best Supporting Actor:  J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Actress:  Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Best Actor:  Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Director:  Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Picture:  Birdman

As always, check back in later tonight to get my final tally of all that I got right and to get my final reactions to the show.  Till then, enjoy the Oscars!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Oscar Rant

The Oscars are this Sunday.  To say I look forward to this day every single year would be an understatement.  Some people can't get into the Oscars and I understand, especially if you live anywhere other than one of the major metropolises in our country (where more than half of the films only play).  With that said, I find the Oscars a fun representation of what a collective in the film industry, that I want to work in, think are the best films from that previous year.  While there is a lot of pretentiousness in there, as a whole it's the consensus that rules the day (trust me, the most pretentious stuff doesn't typically win).  As far as it goes, the Academy has a great track record at heralding classic films before they are often even considered such, and that is one of the reasons I find their choices always intriguing.  While I will post my predictions on Sunday, today I wanna rant a little bit about other Oscar pundits and anyone who sees themselves as a bit of a critic.

At this time of the year there are always the ones saying such-and-such will win, but this should win, and then next week the talk will be that this film deserved to win more than this one.  I don't like that talk, because all it does is make you seem bitter.  My favorite movies of the year are rarely even nominated for a single Academy Award, and yet that doesn't stop me from watching.  Here's the thing, if you start doing the whole this deserved to have won card, you're just taking the moment away from that hardworking person who won, who's experiencing the most joyous moment in their career.  Everyone has different opinions, but if you can't accept that your favorite movie or performance of the year didn't win, that doesn't mean the Academy made a bad choice, that just means that as a majority these 6,000 people liked another movie or performance more.  While there are always politics and stuff that goes on, ultimately the movie that wins is the one that most people liked the best, I firmly believe that.  Sure, I may be naive and optimistic about the entertainment industry at times, but I doubt there are really that many people in the Academy who don't take the voting process seriously.

Anyways, thanks for listening to my rant, and I will be back on Sunday with my Oscar predictions!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Movie Review: "Kingsman: The Secret Service"

At once a slick spy movie in the Sixties' James Bond mold, while also being a satire of those films, Kingsman: The Secret Service reminds me of films like Hot Fuzz in how it sends up the tropes of a genre by making a good movie in that genre at the same time.  The Kingsmen are an independent spy organization modeled after the ideals of being a gentleman and protecting others.  Director Matthew Vaughn delivers more of what he is known for here, slick visuals, kinetic action sequences, and a fair amount of blood spatter, and yet I found myself not only entertained but emotionally involved as well.  A large part of the film's success in those regards is the relationship between Colin Firth's Kingsman named Galahad and his twenty-something protege, Taron Egerton's Eggsy who goes from a street kid to Kingsman all in the course of a two hour movie.  The bottom line is, you wind up liking all of the characters because Vaughn cast the right actors in each of the roles, I mean, Samuel L. Jackson is so charismatic as the Bondish bad guy Valentine that you almost want him to succeed.  While had this film dialed down the blood and usage of the f-word it could have easily achieved a PG-13 rating, compared to a lot of other action movies in the modern era, this one is almost tame (key word, almost).  Truth be told, none of the gratuity of this film bothered me as much as other movies made in a similar vein, and a large part of that is that the film never really lingers on anything gratuitous, it just kind of moves on with the story, focusing more so on the characters and what's happening with them.  So at the end of the day, if you enjoy a good spy movie, or simply an action movie with likable characters and some clever laughs interspersed throughout, Kingsman: The Secret Service will more than satisfy.

I give Kingsman:  The Secret Service a 9 out of 10!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spider-Man Officially Joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

That sound you hear is practically every geek on Earth squealing (yes, squealing) with delight, for Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios have finally come to an agreement that will allow Spider-Man to show up in future Avengers films.  Under the deal, Marvel will get to use Spider-Man in their Avengers' universe while also co-producing the new standalone Spidey films with Sony.   The real kicker that probably got Sony to sign the dotted line was that they will still finance, distribute, own, and still have final creative say-so on the Spider-Man solo adventures, even though they will have the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) braintrust helping them along to hopefully ensure better stories and a consistent tone and style that will allow Spidey to fit into the MCU.

Personally, I am over the moon about this.  I don't think there is a comic book fan alive that doesn't have some semblance of love for Spider-Man.  In terms of superheroes, Spider-Man is easily the most relatable.  He is like us with a job he hates, barely getting by or getting the girl, and yet unlike us he has those pesky super powers that often derail his personal life.  The idea of seeing Spidey making jokes alongside Iron Man and Captain America is just a fanboy's dream that is finally becoming a reality.  As a new report explains, Spidey will appear first in Captain America: Civil War before appearing in his first standalone film on July 28, 2017.  Considering Spidey plays such a huge role in the comic book Civil War storyline, that's not surprising.

While this announcement finally confirmed a lot of fans' desires, there are still a great many question marks.  Is Andrew Garfield still going to play Spider-Man, connecting these new movies in any way, shape, or form to The Amazing Spider-Man movies?  My guess is, if that were the case, Sony and Marvel would have said that in the initial press release.  Seeing as how the scuttlebutt was that Marvel was dissatisfied with the direction of Spider-Man on film, I think one of the caveats of the deal was that Marvel and Sony had to wipe the slate clean for Spider-Man and they are going to recast.  And yet word is that Sony is still developing their Spidey spin-off film Sinister Six, focusing on some of Spidey's most dastardly villains, but with the added benefit of probably no longer having to adhere to the continuity established in the Andrew Garfield movies.  So where does this leave us as fans?

If you look closely at the press release you'll realize that there is no mention of longtime Spidey producer, and former Marvel head honcho, Avi Arad.  It has long been rumored that there was some bad blood between Arad and the current regime at Marvel Studios and that Arad's departure from Spidey was one of the things that Marvel requested in the deal.  Considering Arad is not mentioned in any fashion, I have a feeling Marvel got their way (politics, I know).  Also, after stepping down as the head of Sony Pictures last week, Amy Pascal manages to kind of save a little bit of her legacy at the studio by ushering in this deal as her final act and staying on as the other producer beside Marvel's Kevin Feige.  As well, while some fans daydreamed about seeing the Ultimate Spider-Man from the comics, Miles Morales, the press release mentions Peter Parker too much for that to be the case (sorry fanboys wishing for Ultimate Spidey).  With this all now happening and the particulars kind of squared away, now begins the speculation.

As I said, if Andrew Garfield were a part of this new direction he would have probably been mentioned, therefore I think the films will start anew, not referencing The Amazing Spider-Man movies (though never, say never).  As well, given the mention of Peter Parker in the press release, this will be about Peter Parker and not Ben Reilly or Miles Morales (other people who have donned the costume in the comics).  So this more than likely means we will be seeing yet another reboot of Spider-Man on film, but Marvel has shown in the past that they don't need to redo origin stories in order to satisfy fans with the way they have continually rebooted the Hulk.

With a few passing mentions of him destroying Harlem and just alluding to his origin, Marvel has managed to acknowledge that all of the previous attempts at making the Hulk work on film might have still happened, but rather than trying to connect the stories they just have pushed on with the Hulk in the here and now.  I think that's what they'll do with Spidey.  I think they'll put him in a place, probably at odds with Mary Jane, still working at the Daily Bugle, and he'll already be Spider-Man with an established rogues gallery.  With that type of angle, all of the previous Spidey films could inform the audience as to how Peter got to this point in his life without having to be referenced or acknowledged, like they've done with the Hulk.  So with all this kind of sussed out, all that remains is the question of who should play Spider-Man.

This is a difficult part to recast, because both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire delivered performances that are equally beloved by fans.  The funny thing is, Garfield was a weak Peter Parker but a perfect Spider-Man, and Maguire was the opposite, being the ideal Peter Parker but just a good Spider-Man.  If Marvel and Sony can find a young, fresh face that we've never heard of to reconcile these two identities within this one character, I am all game, but if they feel they need a somewhat recognizable face I'd offer up either Miles Teller or Daniel Radcliffe, with the latter particularly showing his versatility since Harry Potter came to an end and the former having the baggage of playing Mr. Fantastic in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot.  Time will tell, but I am sure we'll hear confirmations on a lot of these fronts coming soon.  For now, I am going to start my campaign to direct the new Spider-Man movie.  Hey, Marvel and Sony, look over here.  I know I have never done a feature length film like this before, but I am the right guy.  I promise.  Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Movie Review: "Jupiter Ascending"

The Wachowskis' struck gold with The Matrix, but their latest sci-fi film, Jupiter Ascending, just lacks a lot of what made their Matrix trilogy so remarkable.

The film tells the story of Jupiter Jones, a maid in Chicago played by Mila Kunis, who is rescued from alien assassins by Channing Tatum on hover roller skates because the genes in her body make her the owner of the Earth.  Okay, that's the thing that Jupiter Ascending does all too often, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  I am always for original scripts not based off of pre-existing properties, but this movie was a hodge podge of ideas, that are all intriguing on the surface, but never gel to make a cohesive whole.  Channing Tatum's character, Caine, never really has much of a personality, and Mila Kunis is basically playing herself as Jupiter, which is fine, but she isn't all that believable either at selling the weird concepts of the film.  Then there's the focus on the politics of why the Earth is so important, as is shown through these three super wealthy alien siblings who are all wanting to kill Jupiter and take ownership of the Earth in their own ways.

I'll just say it,  Jupiter Ascending will probably scratch the itch if you want to see some pretty special effects action sequences, but don't expect a story and characters that you will fall in love with.  There is just a flatness to everything.  All style and idea, with no humanity.  The romance that supposedly drives Jupiter and Caine is completely unbelievable in how quickly they fall in love and that makes it impossible to buy into.  Ultimately, the movie just took itself too seriously and never really allowed for much humor.  A movie like this would have been so much better had they just kind of turned it into a bit of a Guardians of the Galaxy-type comedy/action hybrid.  We need the characters to take their situations seriously, but if they're making jokes while in the thick of the serious moments, it allows us as the audience to have fun and not be bored.  This is something too many blockbusters fail to grasp and it's the main reason I think Jupiter Ascending just doesn't work.

I give Jupiter Ascending a 4 out of 10!