Sunday, February 27, 2011
Just to put things into perspective, tonight's 83rd annual Academy Awards ceremony is like the Super Bowl of Hollywood. Many of the greatest actors and actresses in the world have spent all year waiting for this evening's festivities. But the Oscars is more than just a red carpet affair. Its sole purpose in to acknowledge the year's best in cinema. Truly beautiful performances and collaborations that shouldn't go unrecognized. And although you and I can debate over the shoulda, woulda, coulda's, for the most part, the Academy does a stellar job of choosing warranted nominees.
Prior to last month's airing of the Golden Globes, I went a perfect 10 for 10 on my predictions of the major categories. Unfortunately for me, the Oscars are definitely a much more difficult awards ceremony to predict. I've finally finished filling out my ballot for tonight's event. You can see the full list of nominees here and do the same for yourself:
Now, unlike tonight's airing of the Academy Awards, I will be very brief with my predictions. And the winners are ...
Best Picture: The King's Speech - Mainly my choice because of character likability and the Academy's typical desire to stray away from the norm. I see it winning a close race against the other cinematic powerhouse, The Social Network.
Best Actor: Colin Firth - The King's Speech. A main character overcoming great odds, what more could you want? Unfortunately for James Franco, the academy also has Firth in mind since he was a nominee for Best Actor last year as well.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman - Black Swan. This race will be MUCH closer than people anticipate. Portman is more deserving, yet Annette Bening has all the makings of a viable winner too.
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale - The Fighter. In what should easily be this year's stone cold lock, Bale will win by a significant margin. Given any other set of circumstances, Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) would be a suitable winner.
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo - The Fighter. Historically speaking, the Best Supporting Actress category is typically the most difficult winner to predict. And although all signs point toward the older, deserving Melissa Leo, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see an upset win from her co-star Amy Adams, or the young Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).
Best Director: David Fincher - The Social Network. Considering how close of a race it will be for Best Picture, it would be a shock to not see a win for The Social Network in any of the 6 major categories. Although Tom Hooper could be the director giving the "speech" tonight (no pun intended), I'm leaning toward David Fincher.
Other notable winners will be ...
Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Film: Biutiful
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler - The King's Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin - The Social Network
Hopefully we can all enjoy the pair of young hosts tonight (nominee James Franco and Anne Hathaway). It should be an interesting affair nonetheless. Have fun watching the Oscars!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Film: Hall Pass
Starring: Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers and Zoolander) and Jason Sudeikis (Going the Distance and The Bounty Hunter)
Director: Bobby & Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary)
U.S. Release: 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 105 minutes
Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly were once the kings of comedy. Before the turn of the millennium, the brothers reached the pinnacle of stardom with classic comedic hits like Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary. But as gravity has taught us, what goes up, must come down. The past decade was very unkind to the Farrelly brothers. With the local pair (originally from Phoenixville, PA) directing lackluster features like Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, and The Heartbreak Kid, many critics questioned if they'd ever return to their early heights. However, with their newest release, Hall Pass, Peter and Bobby truly believe they're on their way back.
Rick (played by Wilson) and Fred (played by Sudeikis) are two married men still fascinated by the natural beauty of a woman's body. When Rick's wife Maggie (played by The Office's Jenna Fischer) can no longer handle her husband's blatant gawking, she offers him a "hall pass". A "hall pass" is a week off from marriage, hopefully allowing Rick to see that the grass isn't always greener. A jealous Fred ends up successfully landing himself a "hall pass" too from his wife Grace (played by Christina Applegate). So when the wives pack up and head out to visit relatives for a week, the short-term pair of bachelors shack up at a nearby hotel and see if they still have what it takes to make it in the singles scene.
Hall Pass is a smooth running comedy that contains its fair share of hysterical, laugh of loud moments. Raunchy, crude humor isn't for everyone, so it's best to expect to see some here. And not just some, expect to see a lot. The Farrelly brothers attempt to keep the audience's attention with a constant succession of unbelievable on screen moments. Some of which will have you laughing until your stomach hurts, and others that will make you cringe in discomfort.
There are so many ups and downs in this film that it's hard to put into perspective. The plot is sketchy, and Hall Pass certainly contains a few storylines that offer absolutely nothing to the experience. In fact, despite the decent collection of outrageously funny scenes, the movie is very flat. You can sense a large parallel between the film's two main characters and the pair of sibling directors. It seems as though the Farrelly brothers are still stuck amidst a midlife crisis of their own. What seemed like a natural comedic energy in their early work, has turned into a massively forced-funny experience of late. And although Hall Pass is slightly better then their other somewhat recent titles, it is still far from the epic classics that once ruled the genre.
If you're looking for some filthy, unfiltered laughs and not much else, Hall Pass will be right up your alley. If you're expecting a groundbreaking comedy, you won't find it here.
Stars: 2 out of 4
Monday, February 21, 2011
Starring: Liam Neeson (Taken and Schindler's List) and Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds and National Treasure)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (The Orphan and House of Wax)
U.S. Release: 2011 (rated PG-13)
Runtime: 113 minutes
While feeling slightly incapacitated this past weekend (due to septum and sinus surgery), I decided to pass the time by catching the latest action thriller to hit theatres, Unknown. Despite it's mixed reviews, I was very excited to see the film's star, Liam Neesom, perform in his first major action role since 2009's Taken. I found Taken to be a true action gem, and I had high hopes for 2011's first notable action feature.
Unknown follows Dr. Martin Harris (played by Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (played by Mad Men's own January Jones) as they arrive in present day Berlin. Dr Harris has flown to Europe in order to be a key note speaker at a convention in the german city. When they arrive at their hotel, Martin sends his wife to check in and he discovers he's left an important bag at the airport. He hails the next cab he sees and makes his way back. An unforeseen event causes a major car crash that sends Dr Martin's cab off a bridge and into a river. Gina (played by Kruger), the cab driver, rescues the unconscious doctor as he is then rushed to a nearby hospital. When he awakes from a four day long coma, he convinces the physician to sign his release so he can find his wife. Once Dr Martin spots his wife at their hotel, he approaches her but is shocked by her claim. Elizabeth tells hotel security she has never seen him before in her life and another man presents proper identification as the real Dr Martin Harris. Clouded by foggy memories, the crash victim sets out to discover the truth.
For starters, Unknown is a long, drawn out affair. With a near two hour runtime, the action film loses it's appeal. The plot has countless holes and the director struggles to adequately piece the puzzle together. Much less appealing than his previous film Taken, Liam Neeson's strong acting is one of the few bright spots in Unknown. Diane Kruger and January Jones are far from convincing with their supporting roles, and it ultimately leaves the picture feeling unfulfilled.
On the contrary, there are a few notable aspects to Collet-Serra's Unknown. A very clever twist is introduced about an hour and 25 minutes into the film. The closing scenes of the movie are strong and the ending is solid. However, the lead up to the well written twist is slightly confusing at times and much too spotty. Despite its cleverness, the film ends up feeling as though it outsmarts itself. There are too many loose ends and contradictions in the plot and dialogue to appreciate the well written conclusion.
I am by no means an action junky. Nor will I ever claim to be. Perhaps my uncomfortable state of mind (due to the surgery) had an effect on my opinion of the film, but I personally couldn't stop looking at my watch. I was far from entertained and extremely disinterested for a greater portion of the movie. However, I must note that out of the four others who saw the film with me, three enjoyed it and one did not.
If you're a big action fan, I'd suggest giving Unknown a shot. Maybe you will see something in the film that I did not. On the other hand, consider yourself warned.
Stars: 1.5 out of 4.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Film: Just Go With It
Starring: Adam Sandler (Reign Over Me and Click) and Jennifer Aniston (The Break-Up and Office Space)
Director: Dennis Dugan (Grown Ups and Saving Silverman)
U.S. Release: 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 116 minutes
Dennis Dugan has a man crush on Adam Sandler. There, I said it. Now that the cat's out of the bag, maybe we can all start to put things into perspective. Since it seems as though the director is somehow attached to every Adam Sandler film nowadays, people are beginning to wonder if Dugan will ever branch out on his own again. If not, perhaps his son's baseball career (Kelly Dugan plays for a Philadelphia Phillies minor league affiliate) can pay the bills after his string of flops. Or did I speak too soon? Just Go With It, Sandler and Dugan's latest release, raked in over $30 million last weekend to claim the top spot for ticket sales. Much to the dismay of critics (most of whom have ripped the romantic comedy), it seems as though Sandler is still a strong box office draw.
Just Go With It follows a once heartbroken plastic surgeon named Danny (played by Sandler) who discovers a strange way to pick up women. Danny makes up stories about having an unfit wife at home and he uses the lies to lore women into sleeping with him. Everything seems to be going great until he finally meets Palmer (played by Brooklyn Decker), a woman he thinks could be "the one". Just when nothing could go wrong, Palmer finds Danny's psuedo wedding band and confronts him about it. Desperate not to blow his own cover, Danny tells Palmer that he's getting divorced. With the aid of his assistant Katherine (played by Aniston), the pair work together to fool Palmer into believing their lie. But as we all know, a simple lie always leads to another, and then the avalanche begins. There's no telling how far Danny will go in order to keep his secret and find true love.
There's nothing groundbreaking with the romantic comedy Just Go With It. The film is highly predictable and overdone. However, Adam Sandler is still one of the best comedy actors alive and he does his part to keep the film entertaining. With a noteworthy supporting role from the always funny Nick Swardson (he's unforgettable in the cult classic Grandma's Boy), Just Go With It certainly has its fair share of laugh out loud moments. Musician Dave Matthews gives a solid performance as well as his on screen beau Nicole Kidman in their respective side roles. However, despite the large star studded cast, Just Go With It ultimately falls short in the end.
Most of the problems with the film come at the helm of its director Dennis Dugan. It's hard to turn an overdone story into a compelling film, but there was a glimmer of hope here that faded as the minutes rolled. There's an ancient proverb that says, "Two hour comedies rarely ever succeed", or did I make that up? Anyway, truth be told Just Go With It spends so much time piling lie on top of lie that the audience finds itself fed up with the nonsense. Instead of getting to the cliche resolve in a timely fashion, Dugan lets the story recycle itself beyond necessity. By the time the closing credits roll, it's evident that the audience has given up on the story.
Since it's Valentine's Day and all, I'm sure plenty of people will trek to the theatres for dinner and a movie. There isn't much else to choose from, so Sandler and Aniston will undoubtedly draw a crowd (and maybe even you). When they do end up sucking you in, notice that Just Go With It is tolerable, but overdone.
Stars: 2 out of 4.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Film: Cedar Rapids
Starring: Ed Helms (The Hangover), John C. Reilly (Talladega Nights and Cyrus), and Anne Heche (John Q)
Director: Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt)
U.S. Release: 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 86 minutes
At the beginning of every year The Sundance Film Festival welcomes a wide variety of independent films to the stage. Playing host to countless studio executives, if all goes well, a movie will find itself getting picked up and distributed. Miguel Arteta, director of the new indie comedy Cedar Rapids, was surely relieved to have the backing of Fox Searchlight Pictures before he premiered his latest comedic tale at Sundance this year. However, after having a chance to view the film at an advanced screening, I think Fox Searchlight will have the last laugh here.
Set initially in the small town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin, Cedar Rapids follows a likable insurance salesman name Tim Lippe (played by Ed Helms) as he embarks on an adventure to Iowa's second largest city. After a tragic accident, Tim is selected by his boss to represent their company at the annual ASMI convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The convention gives out an award every year to the insurance company that best serves its community (and god) called the Two Diamond Award. Having won the honor 3 years running, Tim feels the pressure from his boss to succeed. While away at the convention, Tim befriends a wild bunch, namely Dean Ziegler (Reilly), Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) and Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr). This fun-filled group helps break Tim out of his small town shell, however, they simultaneously start to ruin his chances at winning the award he so desperately needs.
With an all-star cast and a script that keeps the laughs flowing, Cedar Rapids is a comedic joy. Although it's hilarious from start to finish, the film is more than just a collection of funny scenes. There's a real strong plot here. The purpose of the film makes sense and is realistic. All together making Cedar Rapids that much better of a movie. It truly is the total package.
Director Miguel Arteta once again delivers us an awkwardly brilliant main character (much like his last film Youth in Revolt). Only this time, the supporting cast perfectly helps bring the character Tim Lippe to life. Most notable is John C. Reilly's contribution to the film. He's real yet absurd all at the same time. You love him for his sincerity, and laugh at him for his carelessness. Perfectly casted, Reilly truly makes Cedar Rapids work. In his leading role, Ed Helms is everything you can ask for. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding the announcement of The Hangover 2 has inevitably overshadowed the film. However, the people who take the time to see this low budget treat will end up loving Cedar Rapids.
By no means can you catch Cedar Rapids in theatres everywhere. Yet, this fine tuned 86 minutes of laugh out loud comedy is worth the search. So scout it out and make an effort to see the first successful comedy of 2011.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Monday, February 7, 2011
Starring: Ben Affleck (The Town and Good Will Hunting), Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive and No Country For Old Men), and Chris Cooper (American Beauty and The Bourne Identity)
Director: John Wells
U.S. Release: 2010 (Sundance Film Festival) and 2011 (nationwide release) - Rated R
Runtime: 113 minutes
I'm not one to get all "political", but people are still feeling the effects of the economic crisis that hit the United States in 2008. Despite their notable efforts, I know hand fulls of young, college educated adults who are still unemployed. Therefore, when I first saw the trailer for director John Wells' The Company Men, I was very intrigued. With an all-star cast including Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and a local product Maria Bello (from Norristown, PA), how could I not be eager for its release?
Set in the years 2008 and 2009, The Company Men follows the lives of three highly regarded employees at a major American company. Having giving over a decade of service to their employer, Bobby Walker (Affleck), Phil Woodward (Cooper), and an executive Gene McClary (Jones) find themselves caught in the middle of corporate downsizing during the economic recession. The Company Men shows these individuals and their families coping with the heartache and sacrifice needed to stay afloat during these trying times. And ultimately, the film depicts the lack of reciprocation that goes with the dedication these men have to their profession. As the tagline goes, "in America, we give our lives to our jobs ..." and at the end of the day, most workers in the business industry are just a name on a payroll sheet.
The film's director, John Wells, takes his first shot at a feature length film with The Company Men. As it turns out, the result is just a hair under two hours of constantly watching these characters experience rejection time and time again. The first major flaw in the film comes from the situation created by Wells (who also write the script). It's difficult watching these wealthy men (annual salaries well north of $100,ooo/year) lose their jobs and acting irresponsibly. Seeing their arrogance and sense of entitlement first hand, the audience inevitably struggles to sympathize with the characters. For example, Affleck's character (Bobby Walker) is granted 12 weeks full pay and benefits as part of his severance package. However, the Porsche owner refuses cutting back spending and even selling his car, all while trying to support a wife and two children. It's instances like this that make it difficult to empathize with the main characters, even though they're left devastated by such a negative experience. When you're telling a story about such a depressing topic, it's only logical to create characters with whom the audience can connect. John Wells certainly fails at doing so.
Despite the lack of likability with some of The Company Men's leading actors, the film adequately portrays the struggles that many unemployed americans are dealing with on a daily basis. Topics like relocation, decreased salary, and resorting to blue collar work are addressed. It was nice to see the movie touch base with the harsh realities of job loss and the various extremes they need to face, in order to support their loved ones. In addition to the film's admirable attempt at tackling the issue of losing a job, the acting was also worthy of mention. All of the leads give stellar performances, Affleck included.
Even though the film is obviously flawed, there are still plenty of moral lessons to take from the movie. The Company Men certainly won't dazzle you, but if you're a member of the business community or have been effected by a job loss, it might be a suitable watch. Either way, I suggest waiting for DVD.
Stars: 2 out of 4.