Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Conjuring and Eden Trailers

If you head to the movie theatre in July to see the highly anticipated horror film, The Conjuring, you may wanna remember to bring a "clean pair of shorts". Director James Wan (Saw and Insidious) brings us another supernatural horror story about evil spirits haunting a family in their New England home. Sound famliar? Although the premise is clearly nothing groundbreaking, perhaps a cast including Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Patrick Wilson (Young Adult) and Lili Taylor (Public Enemies) will spark your interest. Check out the trailer for The Conjuring below.

The 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival's Audience Award winner was none other than Megan Griffiths own Eden. Telling the real life story of a Korean-American teenager who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution by domestic human traffickers, Eden has been heralded as a riveting and emotional journey into an unfathomable underworld. This eye-opening tale of survival stars Jamie Chung (The Hangover Part II) and Beau Bridges (The Descendants) . Check out the trailer for Eden below.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

21 and Over

Film: 21 and Over

Starring: Miles Teller (Project X), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) and Justin Chon (Twilight)

Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

U.S. Release: March 1st, 2013 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 93 minutes

First-time directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are anything but amateurs. Best known as being the writers of the smash hit comedy The Hangover, the duo have written a fair share of other well known comedies such as The Change-Up and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. But this time out, Lucas and Moore have settled comfortably into their director chairs for this weekend's release 21 and Over. Unfortunately for the screenwriters and directors, 21 and Over is far from genius of The Hangover.

Jeff Chang (played by Justin Chon) seemingly has it all. Attending an Ivy League school and fast on the path to becoming a doctor, Chang's best friends from high school, Miller and Casey (played by Miles Teller and Skylar Austin), pay him a surprise visit on his 21st birthday. Refusing to go out because of an important medical school exam the next morning, Miller won't take "no" for an answer. What's suppose to begin as an innocent night out turns into a wild tale of obscene debauchery.

Attempting to recapture the glory from their part in the 2009 hit The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore stir up a frothy beverage of a similar taste. In retrospect, there's far too many similarities between the pair's newest effort 21 and Over and their previous blackout blockbuster. Although the wolfpack's outrageous journeys have them retracing their steps from a forgotten evening, Chang's drunken and indistinguishable sounds leave his best friends on a quest to remember where he lives. Following the smallest of clues possible, the trio embark on an uncontrollable night of humiliation and embarrassment. While 21 and Over has no shortage of laughs, the jokes are unoriginal and extremely short-lived. In addition to a lack of well written humor, the movie relies on the most over-the-top situations imaginable to elicit laughter from the audience. Shock-humor has become the latest craze and its flavor has quickly soured. Therefore, 21 and Over becomes just another example of ineffective modern day comedies.

Although no one will confuse 21 and Over for anything other than the comedy that it is, Lucas and Moore force-feed a handful of dramatic subplots into their feature. Every instance of banter about "people changing" and "lost friendship" illustrate just how indecisive the entire final product feels. Lost somewhere within the story themselves, writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore fail to properly blend their dramatic themes with the film's immature and outlandish comedic aspects. Once again reiterating that 21 and Over is an unfortunate swing and miss.

If you can find joy in the simple and thoughtless shock-value that has imprisoned the genre of comedy over the past five years, then 21 and Over will be a suitable movie experience for you. However, I pine for the carefully crafted and well written jokes from earlier 21st century classics such as Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin. If you happen to feel the same way that I do, then you should definitely take a pass on Friday's release 21 and Over.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Oscars Recap

The prolonged awards season run came to an anti-climactic resolve at yesterday evening's 85th annual Academy Awards Ceremony. Despite host Seth MacFarlane's best efforts, the extravaganza proved to be far too long and completely underwhelming. As for the winners, there were some no-brainers (Daniel Day-Lewis & Anne Hathaway) and some surprises (Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz). But all in all, the Academy did a commendable job getting most of the selections right! However, now that 2012's phenomenal year in cinema has come and gone, it will always hold a special place in movie history. Congrats to all the winners (including my top film of the year, Argo, which took home Best Picture) and better luck next time to all of the runner-ups. For a complete list of winners, please click here (courtesy of Here's a shortened list in some of winners in the more prominent races:


BEST DIRECTOR - Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

BEST ACTOR - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

BEST ACTRESS - Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)



***Congrats to our 2013 Oscar Pool Winner: "leftysrevenge" who picked 19/24 correct and won by tie-breaker in a very close finish (the tie-breaker was picking the exact time that the Best Picture award would be announced). Thanks to everyone for playing!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2013 Oscar Predictions

With the Super Bowl of awards season just three short days away, I decided to throw my hat in the ring, once again, by giving my 2013 Oscar Predictions. Although the 85th annual Academy Awards finally air on Sunday February 24th at 7pm, I've spent the past few months tracking each of these 10 major races and their wide array of likely outcomes. Some of these categories have been locked up for a long time coming, while others have been running in ever-changing races that are sure to result in some photo finishes. Either way, here are my 2013 Oscar Predictions:

Best Picture - Argo

After stunning us all by sweeping everything from the BAFTA's to your mother's kitchen floor, Argo went from being trapped in Lincoln's shadow to the undisputed frontrunner in the Academy Award's Best Picture race. Barring a long shot by Steven Spielberg's biopic, Argo has set itself up as the safest bet in a crowded nine-picture field.

Best Director - Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Assuming enough Academy members don't rebel and cast write-in votes for the snubbed, but extremely deserving, Ben Affleck, I think it's almost a foregone conclusion that Steven Spielberg will walk away from the evening with his third Best Director win from the Academy. While some may view Ang Lee (Life of Pi) as a darkhorse contender, truth be told, this race has Spielberg's name all over it. 

Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In a race that appears to have been decided the moment Daniel Day-Lewis signed on to play Abraham Lincoln a little over two years ago, you might as well take all of your life savings and possessions and go to Vegas with this pick. Clearly etched in stone, Daniel Day-Lewis carries this year's most nominated film, Lincoln, squarely on his shoulders.

Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

This year's Best Actress race has felt like an open battle all along. After receiving an amazing reception at its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence instantly went to the front of the line. However, Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain burst onto the scene in late December making this competition a lot more interesting. Less than two months later and Chastain's flavor has soured, but Amour's 85 year old Emmanuelle Riva (who celebrates her 86th birthday on Oscar night) has gained an enormous amount of steam placing her right in the thick of things. But caught in a very tight race, I still believe that Lawrence has the slight edge over the rest of the field.

Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Much like the Best Actress race, the Best Supporting Actor category has prognosticators all over the world scratching their heads and rethinking their careers. Although most people have thrown in the towel on Alan Arkin's (Argo) chances of winning, this is still anyone's game. Based on such a lofty number of nominations, I am giving the advantage to Lincoln's own Tommy Lee Jones by the smallest of margins. Admittedly, I'd much rather see a win for a more deserving contender such as Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), I sense that Jones could be the benefactor of a widely regarded and completely well acted film.

Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two months, you should know by now that the Best Supporting Actress category has been spoken for since we first heard Anne Hathaway's heartbreaking rendition of Les Miserables' "I Dreamed a Dream". Standing out in a field that's clearly a step below her, Hathaway joins Daniel Day-Lewis in the "sure-thing" ranks. Here's another race that feels all too pre-determined, and the winner is ... Anne Hathaway.

My other 2013 Oscar Picks:

Best Original Screenplay - Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay - Argo

Best Foreign Language Film - Amour

Best Animated Feature Film - Wreck-It Ralph

*** Here are my selections, but feel free to comment below and chime in with your own picks. Also remember to sign up for my FREE OSCAR POOL that will give a free $25 Regal Gift Card to the winner.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DVD Outlook: February 2013

As we buckle up for the February ride to the Oscars, many nominated films tend to find their DVD releases in the calendar year's shortest month. Attempting to maximize buzz by reaching as wide of an audience as possible before the big dance, I've got plenty of Oscar-nominated suggestions and even some lesser known titles definitely worth checking out.

Argo - 4 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Needing absolutely no introduction whatsoever is director Ben Affleck's masterpiece Argo. The Academy Award Best Picture Nominee and confident frontrunner to win the big prize follows a CIA exfiltration specials named Tony Mendez who helped develop a covert operation to rescue six Americans taking shelter in the Canadian Ambassador's residence during the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. As my favorite film of the year, Argo perfectly blends together all the elements of classic Hollywood films such as drama, suspense and comic relief. For pure entertainment value and quality filmmaking, Argo is a must-see movie by any stretch of the imagination.

The Sessions - 4 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

When I throw some of my lesser known recommendations into the ring, such as Ben Lewin's emotional and touching drama The Sessions, I can only hope that these films are given the full attention they deserve. Receiving an Oscar-Nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category (Helen Hunt), The Sessions tells the remarkable real life story of Mark O'Brien (played by John Hawkes), a 38 year old polio-stricken writer who wishes to experience sex before he passes from this earth. This emotionally charged and often hilarious film addresses the taboo topic of sex with an enormous amount of heart. Landing in the #4 spot on my Top Ten Films of 2012, The Sessions is independent filmmaking at its finest.

Flight - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Forrest Gump director, Robert Zemeckis, returned in 2012 with his Oscar-Nominated film Flight starring Denzel Washington. Flight tells of the ugly side of substance abuse addiction as a plane's malfunction forces a pilot to attempt a daring landing that ultimately saves dozens of lives. However, during the investigation we discover that the pilot was impaired at the time of the flight. Stirring up a smorgasbord of emotions, Flight has its flaws but ultimately succeeds on the back of its talented leading star and an eye-opening journey of redemption.

Robot & Frank - 3 stars out of 4 (Read my full review here)

Although it failed to receive an Academy Award Nomination, Robot & Frank is an award-winning indie film from the extremely crowded 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Set in the near future, Frank Langella stars as an aging con-man who spent years in prison for his crimes. But in the twilight of his life, Frank's son purchases the latest model robot to help aid his father with everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and physical exercise. Yet, instead of using the robot for its intended purposes, Frank teaches the machine how to crack a safe. The two friends put their talents to work and embark on a jewel heist that lands local law enforcement on their trail. Heartfelt and flat out fun, Robot & Frank is clearly one of 2012's Most Underrated Movies.

HONORABLE MENTION: If there was ever a month to sit in and rent some movies, it's this one. Catering to all the horror fans out there, you can't go wrong with the insanely demonic Sinister starring Ethan Hawke. But if horror isn't your cup of tea, perhaps the coming of age film The Perks of Being a Wallflower might be your thing. The film tells of a teenager's transition to high school life after the suicide of his best friend. Despite possibly being the only person on the planet to find the newest James Bond film to be completely mediocre, it's worth noting that Skyfall is also available on DVD this month. Action fans will definitely want to sign up for Sam Mendes' vision of the Bond franchise.

Monday, February 18, 2013


If you've spent a large portion of the year watching new release after new release, then here's your chance to show your knowledge. My friend Greg and I are offering a FREE $25 Regal Gift Card to the winner of our Oscar Pool Pick 'Em. Being that the 85th annual Academy Awards air on Sunday February 24th, this is your last week to sign up and get in on the action. The winner will be announced on my blog Monday the 25th. Here's how to play:

1st: Click HERE and sign up for an account on the site. It's free and, having done this before, I can verify that you WILL NOT receive any spam mail for doing so.

2nd: Enter in the following "Pool Name" and "Password"
  • Pool Name: Greg's Oscar Pool
  • Password: phillies
3rd: Click on the "Picks" icon located in the upper left hand corner of the page. Then, make your selection for who you expect to win in each and every Oscar category (the category's point value is also listed). When you are finished, scroll to the bottom and click "Submit" (don't forget to answer the tie-breaker question).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Internship and Trance (RED BAND) Trailers

It's been 8 years since Wedding Crashers exploded onto the scene becoming one of the most memorable comedies of the 21st century. Now, stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson team up once again for The Internship. Vaughn and Wilson star as middle-aged men on the prowl for a new job, but the best opportunity they can get is an internship at Google. Placed in teams and forced to compete for the job, the duo must find a way to elevate their misfit team's performance.

Steven Soderbergh has surprised audiences with his early-year psychological thriller Side Effects. Follow suit is Danny Boyle, director of hits such as Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, who returns in 2013 with an obvious mind-bending feature of his own, Trance. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is looking for a lost painting, but art auctioneer Simon (played by James McAvoy) can't seem to remember what he's done with it. With a band of criminals breathing down his neck and an apparently untrustworthy hypnotherapist in the mix, Trance has all the makings of a wild and twisted ride. As one of my favorite directors, I can't wait to see what Danny Boyle has up his sleeve.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Failed Oscar-Bait Roles

Desperation has seeped into nearly every nook and cranny of our society. Just look at my favorite sport, professional baseball. Steroids, Amphetamines and all kinds of other performance-enhancing substances have tainted America's Favorite Pastime. The same type of desperation also floats its way around Hollywood. Actors and actresses get engrossed by the pressure of winning a highly-coveted Academy Award. The Oscars are the pinnacle of the acting profession and, many times, even the biggest-named stars will do whatever it takes to bring home the statue (just look at Melissa Leo's unfathomable campaigning for a Best Supporting Actress win in The Fighter).

Oscar-bait roles aren't always a failure though. On occasion they actually pan out and lead to a triumphant conclusion, just look at Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. After missing out on 6 previous acting nominations, Pacino signed on to play a blind Army vet who just happens to be a bit suicidal. Any form of mental deficiency or physical inability tends to cater to many of the impressionable Academy Voters. And for Pacino, the result was his lone Oscar victory.

Obviously Al Pacino serves as a perfect example of when an Oscar-desperate role succeeds, but he's not alone. There's plenty of other instances where similar decisions have sent stars head first into an Oscar race. Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland) and Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) all represent moments in recent history where some of Hollywood's biggest names signed on for an Academy-flavor role and ended up receiving an acting nomination. However, for every successful desperation-role, there's handfuls of others that ultimately fail. Here's my (and co-author Greg Rouleau's) list of the Top Ten Most Desperate Non-Nominated Oscar-Bait Roles of the last decade.

#10. Tom Cruise - The Last Samurai

After coming up short three times at the Academy Awards for performances in Magnolia, Jerry Maguire and Born on the Fourth of July, Cruise took the "whatever it takes" approach by signing on for an uncharacteristic role in 2003's end of the year release The Last Samurai. Admittedly, I am a fan of the film and felt that Cruise gave a very solid performance. Yet, the Academy voted in a different direction and the end result was another Oscar miss for the one-time Mega star.

#9. Ryan Gosling - Lars and the Real Girl

Anyone who knows me is aware of the great deal of respect I have for the young and gifted actor Ryan Gosling. After being nominated for 2006's Half Nelson and losing the competition, Gosling rebounded with the 2007 drama Lars and the Real Girl. The People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive runner-up packed on a few pounds and "uglied" himself up for the role (which is something the Academy typically fawns over i.e. Charlize Theron in Monster). For being quite an interesting movie and another strong performance by Gosling, his desperation to win that statue never seemed to work in his favor.

#8. Meg Ryan - In the Cut

Perhaps not the most egregious attempt at an acting award, but everyone loves when an actor plays against type. Meg appeared to be quite desperate to shed the "good-girl" image (as well as all of her clothes) from a never-ending run of rom-coms and dramatic love stories. Teaming up with Jane Campion seemed like a smart move, as well, the respected female auteur had directed both Holly Hunter and 11-year-old Anna Paquin to Oscars 10 years before in The Piano. But the film ultimately failed to register with critics or audiences.

#7. Will Smith - Seven Pounds

In 2001 rapper turned actor, Will Smith, got a taste of the awards season with his Oscar-Nominated portrayal of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Therefore, it wasn't a big surprise when he signed on to star in another Oscar-bait role for the 2006 father-son drama The Pursuit of Happyness. Once again, Smith found himself on the losing end of another nominated performance. Two years later in 2008 the actor went "all-in" with his starring turn in Seven Pounds. The emotional puzzle-piece drama never concluded with the Oscar victory he had hoped, making Will Smith's role in Seven Pounds one of the most desperate performances of the last ten years.

#6. Jim Carrey - I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey broke out onto the scene as a comedian but quickly honed his skills to become a fine dramatic actor. After making a splash with lauded performances in Man on the Moon, The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the gifted performer still never made his way into the Academy Award's final five. In 2009 Carrey decided to go "the gay way" with his turn in I Love You Phillip Morris. Completely aware of the Academy's soft spot for playing a homosexual, Carrey delivered another knockout performance but still ended up being left out of the awards season discussion. It was a desperate attempt that cannot be ignored.

#5. Nicole Kidman - Cold Mountain

Despite winning her first statue one year prior for The Hours, Kidman followed up her performance as Virginia Woolf with another Oscar-bait role in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain. The film, positioned as an awards juggernaut, ultimately failed to live up to its hype and was left out of the Best Picture and Director categories. Kidman's hammy showing was rightfully ignored as well, which was a major distraction in the film, apparent by her melodramatic performance and lack of chemistry with co-star Jude Law.

#4. Ed Harris - Copying Beethoven

For a few years, Harris was the actor's equivalent to Martin Scorsese: heaps of critical praise, roles in respected films and numerous nominations but zero Oscar wins to his credit. Starting in 1995, he accumulated 4 Oscar nominations in 7 years, along with a supporting role in the 2001 Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind. Then, the actor appeared snake-bitten by the time he watched Chris Cooper's name called in 2002 (probably his best chance at gold, for the dramatic performance in "The Hours"). Hence, Harris found a role in Copying Beethoven that seemed to have all of the criteria for awards. Popular historical figure? Check. Disability? Check. As well as a dramatic story that allows the lead actor to "shine"? Of course! But the film took liberties with the history of Beethoven and was panned by critics (28% on Rotten Tomatoes), despite some acknowledging strong work by Harris. The desperate Oscar attempt was clearly evident among critics, including's Fred Topel who stated, "It's the kind of movie made purely for acting awards, which is really unfair to audiences who deserve at least some story for their money".

#3. Leonardo DiCaprio - J. Edgar

Nothing gets the Academy going quite like a biopic. Thus, a statue-less Leonardo DiCaprio decided to team up with legendary director Clint Eastwood to bring the real life story of J. Edgar Hoover to the the big screen. For the longest time DiCaprio's anticipated role was the talk of the town. Even Leo himself had to envision giving a long-awaited speech to all of his peers and colleagues. Eventually J. Edgar reached theatres and proved to be far too mediocre to acknowledge DiCaprio's best efforts. And to this day, he remains win-less.

#2. Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson

To be brutally honest, it pains me to include many of my favorite Hollywood stars on this list. Perhaps none more than the always great Bill Murray. Throughout his lengthy and prestigious career, Murray has accumulated only one Oscar Nomination (2003's Lost in Translation). Since then, Murray has been on a quest to secure one of those nifty little statues that he sees many of his peers flaunting. Whether it was 2005's Broken Flowers or the more recent Hyde Park on Hudson (where he portrays polio-stricken President Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Murray has clearly reeked of desperation. But at the end of the day, he's still been shut out by the Academy.

#1. Cuba Gooding Jr - Radio

Cuba's career certainly peaked at the 1996 Academy Awards where he took home the prize for Supporting Actor in Jerry Maguire. That night he delivered an enthusiastically heartfelt and memorable speech. But his career would take a dive shortly after, as Cuba never managed to elevate his status to leading star. Things really started to go sour in 2001, with his role Michael Bay's own attempt at an "Award-worthy" blockbuster, Pearl Harbor. Soon after came Snow Dogs, a trite stab at family entertainment. And how about this for a cinematic trifecta; Boat Trip, a laughable 7% on Rotten Tomatoes. His downward spiral continued with The Fighting Temptations and Radio, both "rotten" entries onto his resume and ALL three garnering Razzie nominations for Worst Actor. On the surface, Radio appeared to be the one that could return Gooding Jr to Oscar form. Yet, this overly-sappy attempt to tug at the heart strings with its formulaic plot and Cuba's misguided performance turned out to be a dud. Worst of all, the most blatant attempt at gaining awards recognition was Cuba going all-out with his character's disability.  And as we all know, you never go "full-retard".

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Greatest Love Stories

The middle of February is known for one thing, and one thing only ... Valentine's Day. I figured what better way than to acknowledge the holiday of love than with a countdown of Cinema's Top Five Love Stories of the Past Decade. While compiling my list I wanted some diversity. There are many modern classics that you can't ignore, but for the most part I wanted to consider the actual story at hand. This is not a list of the best romance movies or the best movies with love as a main theme. Rather, I wanted to find, literally, the greatest love stories told on screen in the past ten years. First, let's recognize the honorable mention selections.

*** View January's Movie List of the Month HERE

Honorable Mention: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Perfect Sense, Silver Linings Playbook, Crazy Stupid Love and Ruby Sparks.

#5 - Flipped (2010)

There's just something about that Juli Baker (played by Madeline Carroll). Rob Reiner's tale of young love centers around Juli and her longtime crush Bryce Loski (played by Callan McAuliffe). Flipped shows overlapping dual perspectives on a complicated middle school relationship that's guaranteed to elicit childhood nostalgia. The beauty of Flipped is that we've all been there, and it serves as a wonderful way to re-live your childhood through the story of Juli and Bryce. With a running time south of 90 minutes, Flipped is a charming love story that packs an enormous punch.

#4 - I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

Although many of you were probably expecting to see another Jim Carrey movie on my Top Five list (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), I Love You Phillip Morris tells too much of an unbelievable and insane love story to ignore. A huge epiphany turns a closeted homosexual named Steven Russell (played by Carrey) into an extravagant and free-spending openly gay man. But when financial troubles land Steven behind bars, he unexpectedly meets his one true love, Phillip Morris (played by Ewan McGregor). As a wildly convincing con man, Steven will literally stop at nothing to assure that he and Phillip spend the rest of their lives together. I Love You Phillip Morris is such a crazy love story that it could only be true, and it's one definitely worth checking out.

#3 - (500) Days of Summer (2009)

In this constantly evolving world in which we find ourselves, sadly, it's equally as important to be able to identify when you're not in love. No movie captures this heartbreaking reality better than Marc Webb's eye-opening relationship film, (500) Days of Summer. Going against the grain, the film jumps around the 500 days of a relationship between a love-seeking romantic named Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his non-committal and independent girlfriend, Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel). Unique in every way, (500) Days of Summer reminds about a very different, yet significant, side of love. 

#2 - The Notebook (2004)

What kind of "love story" list would this be without author Nicholas Sparks' bestselling timeless classic, The Notebook. Brought to screen through the vision of director Nick Cassavetes, The Notebook follows an aging man's frequent nursing home visits to a female resident. The man reads her stories from an old faded notebook which tell of a young couple's (played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) struggling relationship during World War II. Romantically reminding us all of the everlasting power of love, The Notebook is an extremely touching account of true love at its strongest.

#1 - Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

As for me, I enjoy my love stories with a little bit of pizzazz. In my opinion, there's no better tale of unrelenting love than the one that exists in Danny Boyle's 2008 Best Picture Winner, Slumdog Millionaire. While even ignoring its spectacular visuals and impressionable score, Slumdog Millionaire dazzled audiences with an unforgettable love story. Forced out into the cruel world of India at a young age, brothers Jamal and Salim must quickly learn how to survive. While doing their best to stay alive, they meet a young female drifter named Latika. After Jamal and Latika begin a budding romance as childhood sweethearts, they spend the next decade or so of their lives continually being separated and torn apart from one another. This sets an older Jamal on the most miraculous quest to find his soul mate, Latika. Outside of being a phenomenal film, Slumdog Millionaire's most lasting impression is its remarkably original story of unforgotten love.

I hope you enjoyed my list and I wish everyone a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sign Up: 2013 Oscar Pool

Being that it's only two weeks until the long-awaited Academy Awards, what better way to get into the awards season spirit than signing up for a FREE OSCAR POOL. My friend Greg has been organizing an Oscar Pool for years now, and we decided to open up the competition to a wider audience. Here's a quick breakdown of how to join and how to play:

1st: Click HERE and sign up for an account on the site. It's free and, having done this before, I can verify that you WILL NOT receive any spam mail for doing so.

2nd: Enter in the following "Pool Name" and "Password"
  • Pool Name: Greg's Oscar Pool
  • Password: phillies
3rd: Click on the "Picks" icon located in the upper left hand corner of the page. Then, make your selection for who you expect to win in each and every Oscar category (the category's point value is also listed). When you are finished, scroll to the bottom and click "Submit" (don't forget to answer the tie-breaker question).

Spread the word to anyone and everyone. The winner will be determined and announced on Monday, February 25th here on my blog. The prize is a $25 Regal Gift Card, so why not take a chance and have some fun. If you have any questions, just post a comment below and I will reply as soon as possible. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Safe Haven

Film: Safe Haven

Starring: Josh Duhamel (Life as We Know It) and Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages)

Director: Lasse Hallstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape)

U.S. Release: February 14th, 2013 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 115 minutes

Leave it to the romance king himself, author Nicholas Sparks, to have his 2010 novel Safe Haven adapted into a movie set to be released on Valentine's Day. It's just all too fitting. And who better than fellow romance connoisseur, Lasse Hallstrom, to direct the feature? Couple the team with rom-com heartthrob Josh Duhamel and up-and-comer Julianne Hough, and you've got yourself a hit drama, right? Not so fast.

Safe Haven tells the story of a young runaway going by the name of Katie (played by Julianne Hough) who finds herself settling down in a small North Carolina town. Trying to re-adjust after escaping from a dark and doomed past, Katie meets a widowed store owner and father of two named Alex (played by Josh Duhamel). Although both have their reasons for being hesitant about starting a new relationship, they can't help their uncontrollable feelings for one another. Everything seemingly appears wonderful, until Katie's troubled past catches up with her and their love is tested.

Safe Haven is a stereotypical and run of the mill drama from the often tapped into Nicholas Sparks brand. While most of his adapted works that made it to the big screen have received mixed to negative reviews, it feels as though Sparks' stories have taken a significant step down since 2004's theatrical release, The Notebook. Although Safe Haven is by no means the worst of the bunch, it offers very little to the average moviegoer. First, the film's near two hour running time plays out like a slow dripping Chinese water torture. Attempting to generate depth to his characters, Hallstrom instead loses the audience's focus by serving up nothing valuable to the story. Furthermore, there's inconsistencies galore. For example, with a flick of a switch Alex's son goes from being upset about his father's new relationship to extremely welcoming of the idea. The fact that Hallstrom places so much attention on the boy's disapproval, only to allow it to suddenly dissipate in an instant, illustrates the director's mishandling of the movie. Finally, after the suspenseful climax of the film, Hallstrom delivers a shocking revelation that never manages to fit well with the final onscreen product. I haven't read Sparks' novel, but I'm sure the book serves as an adequate platform for the surprising twist. However, the film does not.

Despite Safe Haven's uninspiring and standard love story, the picture does an exceptional job of building tension and suspense through its clever subplot. Although the antagonist is completely over-the-top, Sparks creates an original tone very distinct from his other work. This allows for a thrilling edge of your seat showdown that only disappoints with its overacted extremes. In addition to a unique and tense approach, Safe Haven benefits from the fine onscreen chemistry displayed by Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough. While neither of the leading pair gives an undisputed knockout performance, both are sustainable and their affection resonates with sincerity.

As loyal and hard-nosed fans of Nicholas Sparks' other adapted films will find plenty to enjoy, I view Safe Haven as an average romance movie at best. There are glowing aspects to the feature as well as brutal ones. The bobbling inconsistencies prevent Safe Haven from being anything other than a pedestrian movie experience. Unless your significant other falls victim to the genius Valentine's Day marketing ploy and forces you to go to the theatre, or you are dying to see it yourself, I recommend taking a pass on Safe Haven. There's plenty of other fish in the sea.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Road to the Oscars Update

It's been a long and ever-changing journey to the 2013 Academy Awards and I still can't believe that we have three more weeks to go. Through countless lead changes and a Best Director snub for Ben Affleck, the Best Picture category has flipped, once again, in favor of Argo. Taking home the big prize with the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild and Directors Guild, Argo has gained a head of steam and catapulted its way back to "frontrunner" status. But with nearly three weeks remaining, the voters have plenty of time to let the late surge subside. As it stands, here's a look at the major races for this year's Academy Awards.

Best Picture

After a mind-boggling snub in the Best Director category, many felt as though Ben Affleck's Argo was no longer a serious candidate for Best Picture. However, a clean sweep through the major precursors have indicated that perhaps Academy Voters will show an outpouring of support for Affleck's amazing feature. While the race is still "up for grabs", I currently am a believer in Argo.

Other Major Contenders: It's too early to count out Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook in this race as both have Director Nominations to stand on as well as many other intangibles.

Best Director

Back when nominations were announced, no Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and no Ben Affleck (Argo) spelled an almost certain victory for Steven Spielberg (Lincoln). About three and a half weeks later and not much has changed. It still appears as if Spielberg has the inside track and should walk away with his third Best Director honor from the Academy.

Other Major Contenders: Despite Spielberg's seemingly large lead in the race, Ang Lee (Life of Pi) serves as his stiffest competition. Lee has also taken home a Best Director statue for Brokeback Mountain and clearly has a serious backing by some Academy Voters. Sitting at a distant third is Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell who is unlikely to win, but still a very possible spoiler.

Best Actor

In a few of the major Oscar races, some things never seem to change. For example, Best Actor frontrunner for the entire year has been Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) and no one in their right mind would bet against him. Day-Lewis gave a remarkable performance filled with Oscar-winning moments that are assured to land him his third victory from the Academy.

Other Major Contenders: There may be no "major" competition for Daniel Day-Lewis, but Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) appear to be the best chance as the unlikeliest of spoilers.

Best Actress

As the famous Shakespeare quote goes, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark". Every so often the Academy likes to throw a big-time curve ball, and this year it could come in the Best Actress category. All indicators seem to give a slight edge to Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) after her hard fought SAG win last month. However, she should sleep a little less comfortably as something surprising could be brewing here.

Other Major Contenders: On the surface, Jessica Chastain feels like Lawrence's biggest rival. Her gutsy portrayal was unforgettable and the sturdy foundation for Best Picture Nominee Zero Dark Thirty. Yet, some minor rumblings have generated a late surge for 85 year old Emmanuelle Riva (Amour). Riva is the oldest Best Actress Nominee ever and an Oscar win would happen to fall on her 86th birthday. Keeping Christopher Plummer in mind from last year's Oscars, the voters can get sentimental for an aging performer and perhaps the stars will align for Riva later this month.

Best Supporting Actor

In what's become the most difficult race to dissect, I give the slightest advantage imaginable to Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) in the Best Supporting Actor category. As the freshest victor in our minds, Tommy Lee Jones won the SAG and his performance comes from one of the biggest Best Picture competitors out there. 

Other Major Contenders: Perhaps the most notable rival in this race is Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook). De Niro missed out on all of the major precursors, but he's very well respected among voters. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) won the Golden Globe and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) took home the Critics' Choice statue, so this seems like anyone's race from top to bottom.

Best Supporting Actress

Much like the Best Actor category, Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) has all but officially won this race. Hathaway has never wavered from the top of everyone's list and I don't expect her to lose her place at the peak of the mountain. She gave an enormous amount of life to her film and goosebumps during "I Dreamed a Dream" are a certified guarantee. This is a one horse race and you shouldn't expect otherwise.

Other Major Contenders: As more of a formality than anything else, Sally Field (Lincoln) is probably Hathaway's greatest roadblock. I also found Amy Adams (The Master) and Helen Hunt (The Sessions) to be exceptional in their roles as well. However, both seem like the longest of long shots to hear their name called on Sunday February 24th.

*** How do you see the races shaping up? Let me know if you agree or disagree with this analysis by leaving a comment below.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

January 2013 Poll Recap

Last month's poll question centered on 2013's most anticipated movies. Leading the way as the film voters were most excited to see in 2013 was Zack Snyder's Summer blockbuster Man of Steel. The newest attempt at a Superman franchise claimed the title with 42% of the total vote. Right on its heels was runner-up World War Z starring Brad Pitt. The seemingly intense zombie apocalypse film tallied 35% of votes. Also landing on the list were Iron Man 3 (14%) and the follow up feature The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (7%).

Be sure to check out February's poll question of the month (located in the upper right hand corner on the site) which wants to know, "Who will win the Best Supporting Actor race at the Oscars". Mull it over, and let me know your thoughts on who will take home the statue on Sunday night February 24th.