Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Its really hard to find a really good action movie nowadays. So many rely on formula, stock characters, and climaxes with no real impact that the film doesn't really involve you, which is kind of the point, isn't it? Action movies are supposed to give you an adrenaline rush, raising the stakes along with your pulse so that the survival of the hero is not guaranteed within the realm of the film (of course, when its based on true events, you may already know the outcome, but that doesn't mean the film can't accomplish its goal).
Black Hawk Down is a particularly accomplished action film, and you can credit that success to its behind-the-camera work. The film is based on the real Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, which was part of the UN peacekeeping efforts in Somalia (which are still going on to this day). An American Black Hawk helicopter is shot down during an effort to capture two high-ranking Somali officials, resulting in chaos in the streets as the Marines attempt to reach the crash site and Somali militants try to stop them.
Give a lot of credit to director Ridley Scott for crafting a tense, focused film. The crash sequences are exquisitely shot; the helicopter crash is both frighteningly realistic and thrilling. The ground action is also very well done, depicted in a claustrophobic style that never really relents. Scott uses that to his advantage: the tension of the film never relents because we never get a broader scope of what's happening than what those on screen at the moment know. Sure, we learn more as we flash back to the command center, but for the most part we never really get a full picture. Its an incredibly realistic, microscopic look at the fog of war, and how no matter how much we pretend, no one really knows the full extent of a situation until long after the dust clears (if even that).
The cast is also terrific, with several actors who have had great success in the nine years since the film premiered: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fitchner, Sam Shepard, and even Jeremy Piven round out the cast. The performances are well-done, if not exceptional (the one exception, though, is Fitchner, who always shines in authoritarian roles). However, look at who makes a small appearance in the film:
Yep, its Tom Hardy!
Its also interesting, I think, to look back now on Black Hawk Down, given the changing state of the world. When the film first premiered in December 2001, the 9/11 attacks were fresh on our minds, and the invasion of Afghanistan had just begun (it should be noted that filming of this movie was completed before 9/11). There was no real talk of Iraq in the media (though there certainly was in the government), but the film provides an interesting glimpse into that conflict. In fact, the film seems to almost serve as a reminder of what we should have learned from Somalia, and that even from Vietnam. At one point, a character even references the first Gulf War, saying that what they're doing in Mogadishu is "not like Iraq." Looking back, the parallels are uncanny.
Overall, Black Hawk Down is an exciting and interesting film, one that I can certainly recommend.

Major Geekout!

I'm dying to see this year's Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow tour. For those who don't know, the tour is free screenings of classic films at locations where they were filmed. This year's lineup is pretty awesome, but what's really got me giddy are these posters. Check them out:
Is there a way that I can get some of these? They'd go great in my apartment.

Disney Look-a-Likes

I just had to share this one. Paste Magazine has put up 20 Disney characters and their real-life counterparts, in honor of Elizabeth Banks' recent casting as Tinkerbell in a live-action movie. Some of these really spot-on, I have to say.
The Brave Little Toaster. Ok, we admit it. This one was all about the ears. ">
Michael Phelps and the Brave Little Toaster
Do you agree with these? Can you think of any others? Discuss.


I had such a great post streaking going, but all the various going-ons of today prevented me from getting one in today. And I really hate that, because I've been pushing myself to get at least one in everyday. So expect a deluge tomorrow, including a review of Black Hawk Down, a new Oscars of the Aughts entry, and more. And, if I'm lucky, maybe I'll even get to see The Kids Are Alright (IF I'm lucky). So be sure to check back.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Big C

Cancer is hardly the well-spring of good comedy. However, that's not stopping Showtime from giving it a go-around in its new dramedy The Big C, which premieres August 16, but for a short time, you can watch the pilot for free here:'s+Entertainment+and+Culture+Blog)
If you do get the opportunity to see it, its got a lot of promise. Here's the basic premise: Cathy (Laura Linney), a suburban high school teacher, is given a fatal cancer diagnosis, and is now trying to enjoy her remaining time by living life her way. That means kicking out her childish husband (an excellent Oliver Platt), building a swimming pool in her backyard, and straightening up her equally childish teenage son. The story is enjoyable, though it could grow thin in the future if not presented will; it threatens at times to fall into sappy Lifetime territory instead of staying on its dark-humor-and-tough-sentimentality course established in the first episode.
Sidibe and Linney
The real joy of the show here, though, is Linney's performance. This really shouldn't come as a surprise, since Linney never disappoints. But she plays the newly-freed Cathy with such zest and heartbreak that's she impossible not to like here, even when she's exceptionally snippy. She finds a great foil in Gabourey Sidibe, who plays a bitchy student named Andrea. Sidibe follows up on the promise she showed in Precious with what looks to be a great character; in fact, the pilot's best scenes are the ones between Linney and Sidibe.
With The Big C, it looks like Showtime is building quite the reputation for being home to female-driven dramedies, building on its successes with Toni Collette's United States of Tara and Edie Falco's Nurse Jackie. These kinds of shows seem to be becoming the networks new model, which is probably necessary since the end of Dexter could be nigh. The Big C looks to be another great show, making me wish, even more than before, that I had Showtime. Curse you, low funds and basic cable!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The First Trailer for Titanic II

Because, you know, why not?

Winter's Bone (2010)

When it comes to indie filmmaking, there are two specific stories that are told perhaps more than any other: the quirky dysfunctional family comedy and the backwoods drama. These two have proven to be fertile ground for hipster writers and directors, turning them into rote cliches that very few have been able to make fresh again. I say all of this because Winter's Bone is most definitely an indie film, both in its actual production and in its story and themes. In fact, Winter's Bone combines the two above ideas (minus the quirky comedy) into what could have been a generic, by-the-numbers film.
Winter's Bone tells the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough-cookie in Missouri's Ozark Mountains who takes care of her younger brother and sister since her mother is mentally ill and her father regularly disappears (he's a drug cooker). One day the sheriff comes by and informs Ree that her dad hasn't shown up in court, and the bail bondsman tells her that if he doesn't show up in a week, she and her family are going to be kick out of their home. Ree sets out to find her father, Jessup, but her various extended family members aren't too keen on her poking around for him.
Story-wise, the film starts pretty standard, with Ree going from one off-the-map house to another and being threatened to mind her own business, lest she suffer the wrath of her "relatives." And Debra Granik's direction (who co-wrote this film with Anne Rosellini and directed Down to the Bone in 2004) is Indie Filmmaking 101, with plenty of shots of trees, squirrels, and lawn "ornaments" to let you know that yes, this is rural. But the film takes some interesting twists as time goes by, leading up to a satisfying ending.
What really elevates Winter's Bone, though, are the incredible performances from the cast, especially Lawrence, who shines in the role of Ree. She's a complete, real character, so well played that its impossible to distinguish the actress from the performance (though a large part of that is probably because she's a relative unknown), and she balances her toughness and her vulnerability in a way that exposes Ree's fears of not being able to take care of her family. Of course, that's not to say that the rest of the cast isn't stellar as well. John Hawkes shows up as one of Ree's crazy relatives, Teardrop, and delivers a much more complex performance than was really necessary (that's a good thing), and Dale Dickey is equally excellent as Merab, who torments Ree more than anyone else. In fact, she and Lawrence share the film's best scene, which comes toward the end of the film and involves a boat and a chainsaw.
Lawrence and Hawkes
So, here's the question: what are this film's Oscar chances? There's really only two categories where this film really stands a chance at a nomination. Lawrence is, of course, getting plenty of talk about a Best Actress nomination, which, if she does get one, would make her the second-youngest nominee in that category of all-time at 19 (Keisha Castle-Hughes is the youngest; she was 16 when she was nominated for Whale Rider). Though Lawrence is deserving, her chances will really depend on how the rest of the year turns out; if there are stronger performances from more Oscar-friendly women, then she could find herself in the same position as Abbie Cornish last year, missing out on nomination morning. The iffier category is Best Original Screenplay. It's a fine script, and could earn the "indie sleeper" position that The Messenger picked up last year and Frozen River earned the year before, but that's doubtful considering the higher praises that The Kids Are Alright has been picking up.
Overall, this film earns my recommedation. It may not be one of the year's best overall, but its definitely worth seeing for star-in-the-making Lawrence's fine performance, as well as the strong overall ensemble.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Am Sam (2001)

I'm just going to come right out and say it: this is a terrible movie. Of course, courtroom tearjerkers aren't always the greatest, but there are plenty of good ones and plenty of good ways to make one. I Am Sam, on the other hand, doesn't have any of these things. Let's take a look at what the film does wrong in its approach to telling the story of a mentally handicapped man, Sam (Sean Penn), who fathers a daughter (Dakota Fanning) and has to fight to get her back after she's taken by Social Services.
- The story: Sentimentality is not a bad thing, when used in moderation; the very existence of some films is to move its audience to tears. However, Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson's screenplay lays on the goop so think that its almost unbearable. It's a Lifetime-movie-of-the-week released in theaters, and no "revelation" goes unpredicted. And its lack of sensitivity and the way it panders to the audience are also condemnable. Its lazy screenwriting at its "finest."
- The score: John Powell's score is wildly schizophrenic, jumpy from a sprighty, psuedo-Irish jig of flutes and fiddles to a lugubrious, schmaltzy adagio that one has little time to switch gears, which is, ironically, what the score is supposed to help you do. And the saccharine Beatles covers are too many; a little goes a long way, but here we're drowned in these songs as if no other kind of music would be sufficient.
- The direction: This is, without a doubt, the very worst aspect of the film. Its choppy, with more quick edits, hand-held shots, and random close-ups than were ever necessary for the film. Director Jessie Nelson seems to have been afflicted with ADD at the time of filming, or at least thought that the audience did and wouldn't pay attention unless the screen was very, very busy. This all distracts from the performances on screen, which...
- The performances: This is were the movie is at its best. Sean Penn gives a convincing performance, by no means Oscar-worthy but good enough to make you see Sam as a human being and not a caricature (though, I'll be honest, there were multiple times throughout the film that I found myself thinking of Robert Downey Jr.'s "full retard" monologue from Tropic Thunder; now there's a performance!). The real heroes here are Dakota Fanning, who made her breakthrough here with a strong, incredible performance that outshines everyone else on the screen (when you can steal scenes from Sean Penn at age 7, you have a real talent), and Michelle Pfiffer, who is at first an offensively bad character but saves herself with her "You don't know what it's like...." speech toward the end.
The real star of this film.
I Am Sam is more or less the Two and a Half Men of courtroom dramas: its a lowest common denominator film that panders to its audience about a man who may not be fit to raise a child. And of course that's not a compliment.

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Actress 2008

As a general note, I'm looking forward to finally seeing Winter's Bone tonight. Will Jennifer Lawrence join the ranks of these women at this year's Oscars? I'll put up a post either tonight or tomorrow about it.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
The winner: Kate Winslet
Remember in the supporting actress post for this year when I said that that category was the years worst? I take that back. 2008's Best Actress category is infuriating, namely because there are so many great performances that got overlooked in favor of mediocre performances. Where is Sally Hawkins? Or Kristen Scott Thomas? Even Winslet's performance in Revolutionary Road was better than the one she was nominated for, and that's not much better. And what a great starting point. I love Winslet, I really do, but I hate that this performance is the one that finally won her an Oscar. Her character, Hanna Schmitz, is hard to sympathize with, which is bad because the movie wants us to do just that. Winslet does her best with what she's given, but its probably the worst nominated performance I've seen her give. And for a while, I thought it would be the worst performance in this category. But then I saw Changeling, Clint Eastwood's lackluster, embarassing film about a woman whose child disappears. Jolie plays that woman, Christine Collins, with all the requisite tears needed to get an Oscar nomination. But Jolie's performance is messy and all over the place, as if she was trying to go through every conceivable emotion in or out of character. I've never been among Jolie's biggest fans, and this film didn't help me in thinking that Jolie deserves her place as one of our best working actresses, at least dramatically (I can totally understand her appeal as an action star and, even though she seems to play the same character over and over, I applaud her for being a big draw in such a male-dominated genre).
The rest of the category doesn't infuriate me as much. I quite liked Leo's performance in Frozen River, and she was a pleasant surprise, but she didn't really blow me away either. The real heavyweights of this year, for me at least, were Streep and Hathaway. Streep, an always-reliable actress, lends great dramatic weight to Doubt, being the source of all of the conservative vs. liberal animosity within the film. Its a very meaty role, and Streep gives it her in all in a performance that should have won, had it not been for Hathaway. Hathaway's come a long way since her Disney princess days, and she proves that she's a real thespian with her brilliant role as Kym in Rachel Getting Married. Her performance is natural and emotionally complex, making Kym someone who is immediately relateable and human. That night at the Oscars, she was robbed of a prize that was rightfully hers.
Here's how my ballot breaks down:
1. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
2. Meryl Streep, Doubt
3. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
4. Kate Winslet, The Reader
5. Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Cast It!

I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies today, and I have to say I was rather disappointed by it. Where I had hoped for great comedy and plenty of zombies, it lacked both, with most of the jokes falling flat and the "unmentionables" disappearing for the most part in the second half. Of course, the mash-up genre has mostly been a flash-in-the-pan, with diminishing returns with every new book.
The inevitable movie is in development, though, set for release in 2011 with rumors stating that David O. Russell is directing and Natalie Portman will be playing the role of Elizabeth Bennett. Of course, these are just rumors, as the film has no official director or stars...or writer....or even a real release date. Here's my question: who would you hire? Here's the main characters:
Elizabeth Bennett: the second-oldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Prefers killing zombies and training in martial arts that she learned in China than love, and regards her own honor over those of others.
Mr. Bennett: The father of Elizabeth. Himself a martial arts master, though in his old age he's not nearly as nimble as he once was. He has an immense love for Elizabeth, and values their training greatly.
Mrs. Bennett: The mother. She's a ghastly woman who only wants her daughters to be married; anyone will do.
Mr. Darcy: A friend of relatives to the Bennetts. He's pompous and trite, drawing the ire of Elizabeth.
Colonel Whickham: At first a potential love interest for Elizabeth, some dark secrets about his past are eventually revealed. Charming in a non-threatening way.
Lady Catherine: Darcy's aunt. She is a master zombie killer, having served the Queen in fighting the scourge. She is sour, cold-hearted, and arrogant, with little regard for Elizabeth and her low status.
Personally, I'd cast Portman as Elizabeth, Richard Jenkins as Mr. Bennett, Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Bennett, Tom Hardy as Mr. Darcy, Michael Fassbender as Whickham, and Susan Sarandon as Lady Catherine. And of course, it would be directed by Edgar Wright.
Who would you cast? Discuss in the comments.

Trailer Roundup: Comic-Con 2010

Hollywood's annual hypefest, Comic-Con (which, by the way, does still have comic books, as it was originally intended for), has provided us with several new trailers for the upcoming films that everyone will be talking about. Here's a sampling of what's to come.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
I honestly have a lot against this movie. I was indeed a fan of the original trilogy, loving the first one, being a little disappointed in the second, and enjoying the improvement of the third even though it never lived up to the first. I thought Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow was one of the most remarkable cinematic creations of the past decade, perhaps the finest original film character created in a long time. And though Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley were serviceable at best (per usual), the rest of the cast was obviously having a good time in these unique movies (notice how no one, not even Disney themselves, have managed to successfully recreate the winning formula). That being said, by the third film it was time to put this franchise to rest, and let it be. Of course, this being Hollywood, that's not an option, and so here we have the fourth installment in the series. Working for it is the addition of Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane and the subtraction of Knightley and Bloom, and in this trailer, the fact that Depp's charisma in this role has not diminished with time. On the other hand, this trailer does very little to give us a feel of what we'll actually be seeing, and since the film is due in less than a year, I find it a little troubling that there's no actual footage from the film. I'm also concerned about the replacement of the original trilogy's director, Gore Verbinski, with Rob Marshall, who is best known for directing musicals Chicago and Nine. Is he really a good fit for the swashbuckling action of Pirates? Of course, me being me, I'll be there next summer to see it, but I'm still very concerned about it.
Tron: Legacy
The first Tron, way back in 1982, was a major milestone in the development of digital effects. And now, with '80s nostalgia in full swing, the apparent need for a sequel has brought us this film. Honestly, it looks like fun. The effects are no longer breakthrough, though they are quite stylish, and it seems to have enough cyberspace action to merit attention. But the real draw for me here is Jeff Bridges circa 1982 vs. Jeff Bridges circa 2010. I'll see this just for that.
Undeterred by the financial failure of the hugely underrated Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez has moved forward and developed a feature length movie based on his fake trailer from Grindhouse, which itself is based on a recurring character in his films (seriously, this character is in the Spy Kids movies!). Rodriguez can be a rather infuriating director, inconsistently turning out great films and cinematic spastic seizures. Machete seems to aspire for B-movie greatness, and even if its terrible, it could become a so-bad-its-good cult classic. I'm interested, mostly because of the eclectic cast and fondness of Grindhouse, but its one of those films that I may wait to see when it comes to the dollar theater.
Drive Angry
Nicolas Cage! With crazy hair! IN 3D! ACTION! No. Just, no.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

You know how there are some films that stick with you, no matter how long its been since you've seen it? When I first saw Pan's Labyrinth in 2007 (I missed the initial theatrical run, since I could never find a theater here that was showing it; such is life as a small-town cinephile), I was impressed at how director/writer Guillermo del Toro melded dark fantasy with stark reality, creating a gritty, scary, and violent film that never lost sense of its humanity. Through all the darkness, at the center of the film was the simple idea of escape from the horrors of the world into a peaceful, happy place. I was moved by the film, and ranked it as one of my favorites.
So now, three years later, I've returned to the film, as I became convinced last night to check it out again. Going into it, I figured: now that del Toro has put out another Hellboy film, become an unlikely uber-producer, has a bunch of imitators, and has been attached to direct The Hobbit and its sequel (which he then left), the film that won him so much acclaim will probably feel overrated, like a then-masterpiece that has aged into something more like a film that people went too crazy over. But I was surprised by how well it held up. The film was just as magical as before, and I think I may have fallen more in love with it this time.
One thing that I appreciated more this time was the parallels between the two storylines. Of course, I had noticed a lot of these the first time, but I realize now how similar Ofelia and Mercedes are in their respective subplots: both women are faced with the struggle to break free of complete, unquestioning obedience, and find ways to transcend the darkness around them. The film is very well structured; its easy to see why del Toro earned an Original Screenplay nomination at the 2006 Oscars. And the acting is terrific from all involved; Ivana Baquero (Ofelia) in particular gives a wonderfully assured performance that is rare in a young actress.
Ivana Baquero
Another thing that I grew more appreciative of was the beauty of the film: the sets are inventively dark, particularly the twisted, gnarled fig tree that Ofelia crawls under as part of her first task. The effects are also well done, as are the truly astounding creatures; the Faun, the Pale Man, and the toad are all terrifying yet beautiful, dark creations that don't always have dark intentions. And then enough cannot be said about Guillermo Navarro's Oscar-winning cinematography. Every shot, whether it be completely rooted in reality or a part of Ofelia's quest into other worlds, is given qualities of both that beautifully enhance the film's story and themes. Even without the powerful storytelling, Pan's Labyrinth stands as a beautiful visual film, with images that stick with you long after the credits roll.
So does the film still hold its place? Yes. This still remains del Toro's greatest achievement, and he will probably never be able to top it. There may be plenty of imitators, but none of them can hold a candle to this.
PS 2006 was a really good year for foreign cinema, between this film and The Lives of Others and several others.
PPS Another thing I caught this time around was how heavy an influence Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had on this film.

The Avengers Cast is Set

Official cast revealed for The Avengers movie
Here's the picture from Comic-Con. From left to right they are:
Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man
Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson
Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow
Chris Hemsworth, Thor
Chris Evans, Captain America
Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury
Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye
Mark Ruffalo, The Incredible Hulk
Joss Whedon, director
Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president
I still have my doubts about whether this is actually going to happen. They can promote it all they want, but will Whedon actually make a project that doesn't get delayed multiple times and ultimately reshot? If it does get made, of course I'll see it. But I'm still very wary of this one, Comic-Con panel or not.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Supporting Actor 2008

I realized after the last Oscars of the Aughts entry that I probably shouldn't have started with the acting categories, but maybe the writing instead and then move into acting. But the more I thought about it, I've grown fonder of this set-up, so I guess the format will be acting, writing, directing, picture. But there's your preamble. On to the nominees:
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
The Winner: Heath Ledger
Whereas I stated earlier that Best Supporting Actress was the weakest category of 2008 (which I want to revise now: Best Actress is weaker; more on that later), this is without a doubt the strongest category of the year. I usually really enjoy seeing this category, since it's often home to some great scene-stealers who just knock it out of the park. This year was no difference. I know a lot of Ledger's win came from his unfortunate early death at the beginning of the calendar year, turning him into the James Dean of our generation. But let's not discredit him: his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was definitely one of the best performances put to film in the last decade, and certainly the best in any superhero film ever. Ledger is equal turns terrifying and anarchic, a deranged man who never fully reveals himself and relishes in chaos and disorder. He's the perfect villain: he doesn't have a master plan or backstory-illustrated motivation, just a raw sense of destruction and a gleeful joy in pushing the psychological and moral buttons of Batman and the rest of Gotham City. Its a role that doesn't immediately require any depth or development, but Ledger takes it and turns it into an complex, multifaceted character that will stand as one of the greatest. What I'm trying to say here is that he totally, completely, undeniably deserved to win the Oscar.
In any other non-Ledger year, the other four nominees would have been frontrunners. Even my least favorite performance of this year, Shannon, is still interesting; he doesn't have much to do other than torment the already-troubled couple played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which really cheapens his role a bit. But he draws out a lot of the drama, which makes him pretty much the definition of supporting actor, and its a good performance in a mediocre film. Hoffman, an Oscar favorite now, had a pretty good showing in Doubt, even though he was mostly outshined by Meryl Streep in every one of their scenes together. Its a notable performance, but he plays his personal ambiguity (did he molest the boy?) a tad too obviously. A little subtlety goes a long way, you know? Brolin, finally earning an Oscar nomination, is a perfect example of this, as much of his performance as Dan White in Milk is the internal struggle White has as he is forced to accept both Harvey Milk's and his own sexuality. And his explosive reaction is perfectly played as a desperate man who can't come to terms with himself. Brolin has been reliably great in just about everything he does, and I hope that one day he will win an Oscar. And then there's Downey Jr., who is probably one of our most divisive working actors today, and his performance in the comedy Tropic Thunder. Generally speaking, the supporting actor category is usually where great comedic performances are recognized, but Tropic Thunder is something much different. Downey Jr.'s role as Kirk Lazarus is a complicated one: he plays a (white) actor who is playing the troop's black squad leader in a Vietnam War movie. This had the potential to be incredibly offensive, but Downey Jr. miraculously walks the thin line between high comedy and racial caricature and delivers a commendable achievement. He completely deserved this nomination, and had it not been in the same year as The Dark Knight, I would even say he should have won.
Here's how my ballot would have looked:
1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2. Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
3. Josh Brolin, Milk
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
5. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Happy Birthday Ladies!

First off, theatre queen Kristen Chenoweth is 42 today. Best known for originating the role of Glenda the Good Witch in Wicked on Broadway, as well as her glorious roles as Olive Snook on Pushing Daisies and April Rhodes on Glee, I have to say that I love K-Chen. Happy birthday!
Defying Gravity - Idina Menzel & Kristin Chenoweth Uploaded by Wicked_Promos. - Watch more music videos, in HD!
Today is also the 29th birthday of every sci-fi geek's dream girl, the wonderful Summer Glau. She was incredible on Firefly, Joss Whedon's short-lived space Western. She's the best part of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, giving the show some of its best emotional moments (which is ironic considering she's a Terminator). Happy birthday Summer!
From The Big Bang Theory. Though, if I met her, I'd do this too.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I don't really have much to say today. Tomorrow I'll put up my next entry in the Oscars of the Aughts series, and maybe a few more things if I can. Until then, here's a few links you might enjoy.
My friend Allison over at Nerdvampire has put up the second episode of her collaborative podcast Some Cast It Hot. It's good stuff. Check it out.
The Wrap has an interesting article about the technical aspects that work against 3D. Hopefully this new 3D fad will end soon, just as the last few did. I don't need a gimmick to anticipate a film, just good old-fashioned movie-making.
The A.V. Club has a great discussion about doomed fictional couples. Personally, I think the idea applies to just about every romantic comedy of the last 20 or 30 years, particularly the ones starring Kate Hudson, Sandra Bullock or Katherine Heigl.
New York Magazine's Vulture gives this list of the most copied formulas in Hollywood. Because we expect nothing short of originality from Hollywood, right?
NY Daily News reports from this year's San Diego Comic-Con that Saw 3D will be the last in the Saw franchise. A profitable franchise (horror, to boot) that is promising no future installments? I'll let Kristen Bell say it for me:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Supporting Actress 2008

I've decided to start another new series here at The Entertainment Junkie blog. I've been working on The Movie List for a while, and since it encompasses most of the Aughts, I figured, why not check out all of the major Oscar nominations of the decade? So here it is: a year-by-year, category-by-category look back at the past decade in Oscar. For the sake of my sanity and schedule, I'm only going to cover Best Picture, Best Director, the acting categories, and the writing categories. And if this turns out to be successful, I'll take a trip even further back, covering other decades as well. Since I've already covered 2009 in previous posts, this will start at 2008, and work backwards. So, to start off, let's have a look at the Supporting Actress nominees in that year.
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amy Adams, Doubt
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
The Winner: Penelope Cruz
I'm going to be honest: I thought this was a rather weak category, probably the weakest acting category of that year (compared to when I thought it was the strongest in 2009). Tomei, who I generally like, didn't have much to work with in The Wrestler, since it was mostly The Mickey Rourke Show (see: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart). Same goes for Henson, who did decent work in a small role; Cate Blanchett seemed like a better bet for a Benjamin Button nod here but she probably entered the Best Actress race instead, though Tilda Swinton could have taken her place, easily. And Penelope Cruz, I love her, I really do, but there was just something about this role that I couldn't get behind. I think she's a fantastic actress, and this was good work, but I wouldn't call it Oscar-worthy. The only two performances here that I really loved came from the Doubt women. Amy Adams, another actress I adore, is perfectly cast as the innocent, doe-eyed Sister Jane, a naive nun who has to question her world view. And nobody made better use of such little screentime than the jaw-dropping Viola Davis. Even though she was only in the film for about 10 minutes, she made every single one of those minutes count, delivering a heartfelt, difficult performance that encapsulated the entire moral conflict of the film. If that's not a great supporting turn, I don't know what is.
Here's how my ballot would have looked that year:
1. Viola Davis, Doubt
2. Amy Adams, Doubt
3. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona
4. Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Three Things Are Certain: Death, Taxes, and Oscar's Love of Royalty

Yesterday I decided to watch some movies on Netflix Watch Instantly. This was more or less at random, but I ended up watching Becket and A Man for All Seasons, two major Oscar films from the 1960s. Both films were fairly decent, though certainly not lasting classics, and featured some excellent performances.
What really stuck me about these two were the similarities between them. On the surface, both films are about a King Henry of England (in Becket, its Henry II as played by a magnificent Peter O'Toole, while A Man for All Seasons concerns Henry VIII, played by scenery-chewer Robert Shaw) struggling with a religious leader over political affairs (Becket's Richard Burton is Thomas Becket; A Man for All Season's Oscar-winning Paul Scofield is Sir Thomas More). Both were Best Picture nominees, and scored a Best Actor nomination for its leads (though Becket scored nominations for both Burton and O'Toole). I personally find it egregious that Rex Harrison won the 1964 Best Actor prize over O'Toole, Burton, and Dr. Strangelove's Peter Sellars (I have not seen Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek); it's one of those travesties that I will never forgive AMPAS for.
But here's the more interesting undercurrent that I've seen between the two films: even though they're two years apart, there's a marked difference in the way they're made. The 1960s were a turbulent time for cinema, as the New Waves brought a fresh new approach to what a film can be and mean. This lead to a unique conflict within the cinematic world. In one corner there were films like Becket, representing the "Old Hollywood" that ran on the studio system and loved royalty dramas, expensive epics, musicals, and light, inoffensive comedies. On the other hand was the "New Hollywood," influenced by the New Waves and explored violence, sex, rebellion, and other previously taboo subjects. The way these films were shot differed; Old Hollywood had a polished, stately look and were shot almost completely on soundstages, whereas New Hollywood would have a gritty, rougher look and often shot on location.
Becket falls squarely in the mode of Old Hollywood. A Man for All Seasons, on the other hand, falls somewhere in between Old and New Hollywood; there's plenty of soundstage-shot traditional melodrama, and the subject matter is no different from what Hollywood loved at the time (1966). And yet there's a touch of New Wave influence to be seen as well, as director Fred Zinneman (who directed High Noon and Old-Hollywood-staple From Here to Eternity) includes loving shots of nature in between expository scenes, an unusual move for such a film. He also gets creative in his staging of the action, making the film slightly rougher around the edges compared to similar films of its day. The New Hollywood was nowhere near being in full-swing yet, but the seeds of change were starting to sprout.
Of course, some things never change. Though the films of today are drastically different in style from the films of half a century ago, the popular genres have not changed. Studios still like to churn out epics (now in the blockbuster action vein) and light comedies (musicals....not so much, though the argument for more is certainly justified), and Oscar still loves a royalty drama, perhaps more than any other genre of film (apart from family dramas and boxing movies, of course).
*By the way, if you want to read a superior account of how New Hollywood was born, I highly recommend Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution. Its a phenomenal book.