Monday, February 28, 2011

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Post-Mortem

The business of 2010 was officially closed with last night’s 83rd Academy Awards. How did everyone do?

THE SHOW: Started off very strong with Tom Hank’s intro for the first three categories…the awesome-looking, multi-dimensional projection screens behind him showing past winners was a nice touch, and it seemed like the show was going to rely heavily on nostalgia. Unfortunately the program then veered away from that. With an 83-year old history, it should be an easy no-brainer to showcase their rich past.

The Bob Hope visual-effect with Billy Crystal was very neat; it just needed a little more interaction. The live-orchestra opening to the Best Score was most-impressive. How about the John Williams dominance?

Hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were obviously hired to draw in a younger audience; they were funny at times but mostly stiff and boring. But let’s not be too hard on those young-uns; it was their first time. Oscar hosts have been hit-or-miss in past years; Hugh Jackman arguably was the last one to really hit a home run. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. will soon follow in his Marvel-superhero footsteps, or maybe the Academy should just dust off Crystal for one last hurrah.

Kirk Douglas absolutely stole the show (maybe let him host next year), no one knows what the hell Justin Timberlake was talking about, or what the hell Downey Jr. and Jude Law were supposed to be getting at. It’s always nice to see Steven Spielberg up there, but it would be nicer to see him Get One instead of Giving One. The opening montage was clever and funny, and the Best Picture montage…edited to the finest detail to THE KING’S SPEECH closing monologue, was absolutely rousing. Overall:, this blogger was entertained throughout.

THE AWARDS: INCEPTION impressively tied THE KING’S SPEECH with four wins, but as expected, could not make it out of the technical categories. Christopher Nolan’s hunt for an Oscar seems stuck on his ability to direct a Best Actor performance out of someone. SPEECH director Tom Hooper’s Best Director win proves that you have to impressively direct your actors to nab that statue. It may just be a matter of time for Nolan, and his growth as a filmmaker will be an intriguing one for years to come.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE WOLFMAN, two films that were critically slammed all year long, surprisingly walked off with a few statues. ALICE’s win in Art Direction makes sense, but the Costume Design victory is a head-scratcher with a film that was 90% CGI characters. How many costumes were made, four? THE WOLFMAN’s Best Makeup win feels like a lifetime-affirmation win for Rick Baker in another CGI-heavy film; even the clip they played prior to handing out the award was mostly CG.

As expected, Colin Firth, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman and Melissa Lao ran away with the acting gold, and every one of them gave acceptance speeches reflective of their classiness.

Lauded as the “best movie of the year” by major publications all over the world, THE SOCIAL NETWORK scored only minor wins and failed to make a real dent in history. In any other year, NETWORK could have dominated, but THE KING’S SPEECH was just too strong.

Nearly two months ago, and before the awards season began, this blogger named THE KING’S SPEECH the best of 2010. All the important and required elements were there, and all those elements were justly awarded. On this night, reelspeak got it right, and so did Oscar.

What say you?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reel Oscar Picks, Part 2

Rounding out Oscar week with this Blogger's picks for the larger categories:

Is there any competition here? INCEPTION, while it did re-hash some concepts from works 50 or 60 years before, it deserves the crown mostly on it's committment to practical effects in a nearly-all digital age.

GOD OF LOVE is the most complete out of the group, and has the chops to easily be made into a feature. NA WEWE, with it's social-commentary, may be the typical Oscar winner, but the lack of a story handicaps it badly.

Tough call here. Both David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and Tom Hooper (THE KING'S SPEECH) have cleaned house in the awards season. Hooper directed the better acting (four of his actors have nominations), but Fincher directed a film with people sitting around talking seem interesting. Overall it's hard to imagine THE SOCIAL NETWORK waking up on Monday without a major award to speak of. The movie is just too good. David Fincher gets Best Director.

Another tough call, but THE KING'S SPEECH has the lion's share of nominations, which shows how strong and well-rounded it is. The Academy tends to pick heart over head, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK just doesn't have a main character to root for. THE KING'S SPEECH will wear the crown on Sunday.

What say you?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reel Oscar Picks, Part 1

Focusing on the major categories, here are this Blogger's picks for Oscar Night, starting with the actors:

Nearly a no-brainer. Colin Firth (THE KING'S SPEECH) will take this one running away. His performance made me nervouse just watching him.

Not nearly as easy. The frontrunners clearly are Christian Bale (THE FIGHTER) and Geoffrey Rush (THE KING'S SPEECH). Both have victories in the awards season, and both performances are so outstanding they have to be seen to be believed. The Academy always loves older gentelmen, but they also tend to award folk who put themselves through physical transformation for a role. For this blogger it comes down to this: the world always knew Rush was a great actor. No one saw Bale's performance coming. Christian Bale it is.

Another no-brainer. Natalie Portman (BLACK SWAN) flies away with this.

It's hard to ignore the acting in THE KING'S SPEECH. Helena Bonham Carter will finally get her due.

What say you?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


With Oscar Week officially upon us, the time is never better to debate and argue over who-will and who-won’t. What’s even more fun is debating whether or not Oscar always gets it right. This Blogger is here to answer that once and for all: Oscar does always get it right; depending on your point of view.

By now you’re saying, “thanks for the clear-as-mud answer, you asshole”. Fine. Read on:

Oscar gives the gold to the film/person that is best-in-category for that year, comparing against the competition. They are very much a prisoner of the moment; awarding the Best for right-here and right-now. That is their greatest gift, and their greatest flaw.

Where Oscar seems to fall short is looking at the bigger picture; how will the film or achievement hold up over time? No one can answer that, so it’s not always Oscar’s fault.

This Blogger believes in the FIVE YEAR THEORY: when a winner is crowned, wait five years and see how that crown holds up.

Take for example The Year of our Oscar 1998. Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is heralded as the most realistic war film ever made, with solid characterizations, acting and writing. RYAN lost the Best Picture to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Was SHAKESPEARE the better film that year? At that moment? Probably. But here we are years later, and RYAN is run on the cable channels every 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day, making it an American classic. It is often kept on a high place of honor on a person’s DVD shelf. Now, how many people actually clamber over another chance to watch SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE? Raise your hand if you were a first-day Blu-ray buyer.

Time tells the tale. Consider:

1990: GOODFELLAS loses to DANCES WITH WOLVES. While WOLVES is a great film, which would you rather watch over and over? How many quotes from GOODFELLAS can you rattle off at the bar? How many from WOLVES?

2002: Adrien Brody beats out Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor. Years later, which performance is considered more iconic?

Sadly, last year’s Best Picture winner may fail the FIVE YEAR THOERY as well. While THE HURT LOCKER was a great film, it’s very well possible that in five years the general public will be tired of films portraying the war in the Middle East, and would rather put the whole era behind. That could relegate LOCKER to a dust-gatherer on the shelf. It deserved the award then, but how will it be remembered in five years?

It’s a tough question, and maybe a bit unfair. But it may be fair to say that Oscar gets it right at the present, but fails to see the future.

What say you?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

Utilizing varying styles of animation and traditional storytelling, this year’s group of nominees for Best Animated Short are a colorful and entertaining lot; each worth seeing more than once. In no particular order:

A story of what happens when a Day, a sunny character, meets Night, a dark and moody character. The two meet, disagree, scuffle, and in the end realize how alike they really are.

DAY & NIGHT is a Pixar production that ran in front of TOY STORY 3 this year, and is the most-seen film out of the group. Using what looks like hand-drawn animation with the usual Pixar graphics, it uses the age-old tale of strangers going through conflict before coming to friendship.

A little mouse takes a stroll through the woods in search of lunch (a nut), and comes across mouse-eating predators. The mouse makes up a character known as a Gruffalo to thwart them, before realizing that the creature is real.

THE GUFFALO is the only film to utilize the voice talent of some heavyweight actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Wilkinson, and John Hurt. It’s a simple tale of boy-cries-wolf combined with a Dr. Seuss narration that really entertains and bring smiles. The (CG) animated characters are a bit rigid, but their vibrant design, along with the lushness of their environment, make up for it.

A modern satire on how pollution is our national heritage and keeps our economy strong.

LET’S POLLUTE is structured as a PSA in reverse; remember all the “keep America clean” spots on Saturday mornings? This is just the opposite; done in the same spirit and style. The traditional animation strikes a perfect tone for the film, which feels like something the EPA would be dying to get their hands on.

In a utopian society where everything has a number and a place, a boy finds a bizarre creature and sets out to find a place for it.

THE LOST THING is a coming-of-age story disguised as a fantasy film. The CG isn’t the real star as much as the world that the characters and creatures inhabit, and overall has all the right pieces for a feature-length film.

A journey-diary of a European traveler who ventures out to view a funeral-tradition of the people of Madagascar.

VOYAGE is by far the strongest of the nominees in style; it uses various art-forms from all over the world (watercolor, charcoal, colored pencils, etc.) and animates them. Every other scene changes styles as the traveler goes on. VOYAGE is a stylistic adventure in search of a story, of which there really isn’t one. The changing of animation styles gets old after a while, and the lack of any story or characters turns it more into a musical montage.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Darren Aronofosky (BLACK SWAN, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE WRESTLER), says that his planned adaptation of Noah and his ark is finally ready to go, and that it won't be for the kiddies. The quote:

"[He was the] first environmentalist. [The] first person to plant vineyards, drink wine and get drunk. I was stunned going back and realizing how dirty some of those stories are. They’re not PG in any way. They’re all about sleeping with your brother’s sister who gives you a child who you don’t know. That kind of stuff got censored out of our religious upbringing"

Aronofosky is looking to get his script published as a graphic novel as an effort to gain attention from a major studio/backer.

OPINION: There are a handful of people in the movie biz that should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want; Christopher Nolan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett...and Darren Aronofosky. This blogger says BRING IT.

FACT: Shane Black has been confirmed as the director for IRON MAN 3. Black has directed one film: KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005). He's mostly known as a writer, having penned the screenplays for LETHAL WEAPON 1 thru 4, and LAST ACTION HERO. It is not known if he will write the script for IM3.

OPINION: New blood is probably what the franchise needs. His writing suggests a buddy-buddy flick that would fit well with the Stark-Rhodes relationship, providing Don Cheadle can get the two-by-four out of his ass. His real challenge will be handling the mega-star power that the film is going to be loaded with, not to mention coming up with a strong followup to THE AVENGERS.

FACT: The once prestigious studio known as MGM, now getting out of its' bankruptcy mess, is moving ahead with planned remakes of 1980's hits such as POLTERGIEST, ROBOCOP and MR. MOM.

OPINION: Somewhere, Leo the Lion is rolling over in his grave.

What say you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: The BAFTA Awards

Often referred to as the British-version of the Oscars, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (or BAFTA) awards were shoveled out last night. The results provided insight towards who will be crowned (ahem) King in just a couple of weeks when the Academy finally takes center stage. In fact, they provided too much insight; the winner may or may not be that clear-cut.

FACT: THE KING’S SPEECH was the big winner at BAFTA; winning not only Best Picture, but also Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Supporting Actor (Geoffery Rush), and Best Actress (Helena Bonham Carter).

OPINION: With that many awards going towards the actors, it would seem the acting-loving Academy would be leaning towards THE KING’S SPEECH. But wait…

FACT: THE SOCIAL NETWORK took home awards for Best Director (David Fincher), and Best Screenplay.

OPINION: Directing and writing are also major players in the race towards Oscar gold. SPEECH has the better acting, but NETWORK seems to have the edge in the craftsmanship. Let’s not also forget that NETWORK is based on a true story that happened mostly in California, which is where a lot of the Oscar-voters live and work. People tend to vote for themselves. And just to muddle things up a bit more, THE KING'S SPEECH won for Best Original Screenplay.

FACT: INCEPTION took home Best Visual Effects, while TRUE GRIT nabbed Best Cinematography.

OPINION: TRUE GRIT has nominations in Best Picture, Actor, Directing and Cinematography, but hasn’t been able to overcome the might of NETWORK and SPEECH, who are clearly in a dead heat for Best Picture. INCEPTION rightly will win Best Visual Effects; it’s commitment to practical effects that broke new territory should be recognized.

And if the shitty CGI of ALICE IN WONDERLAND wins, this blogger is going on a month-long bender.

What say you?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Live-action Short Films

Of the five Oscar-nominated live-action short films, four of them all seem to have come from the same director; they all involve kids, have dark themes, and are foreign. The “fifth” movie carries none of those things, and winds up being the favorite to take home the gold. All these films are worth seeing and are deserving of their nominations.

Here are the “short” reviews…in no particular order:

Two 9-year old boys are facing their First Confession, and are not sure if they have anything to confess. To remedy this, they steal a scarecrow which leads to a domino-effect of tragic consequences.

THE CONFESSION is a dark film and will not cheer anyone up. Shot in dark tones and loaded with tragedy, it’s very real and eager to break your heart in the finale. Packed with strong themes involving religion, redemption, and the loss of innocence, THE CONFESSION is good enough to be developed into a feature.

THE CRUSH (Ireland)
An 8-year old schoolboy has a mad crush on his teacher, and challenges her fiancé to a duel. To the death.

THE CRUSH is the true charmer of this year’s nominees. It is a sweet and humorous tale of a boy discovering love, and despite the near-tragedy at the end, remains lighthearted and very fulfilling.

WISH 143 (UK)
A 15-year old cancer patient with only months to live asks for one wish from a wish-giving charity; to get laid.

Also a sweet charmer, WISH 143 feels like a true story; almost something that would be found in a “news of the weird” section of a paper. Despite being lighthearted throughout, WISH 143 has pending death hanging over it, which makes the main character’s desperation to achieve his one and only wish all the more strong and convincing.

NA WEWE (Belgium)
Relates a frequent episode of Burundi’s conflicts in the 1990’s; A minivan carrying ordinary citizens is held up and harassed by machine-gun and machete wielding rebels who are not beyond executing children.

NA WEWE, despite its realism and exposing of ethnic racism, comes off as the weakest of the bunch. Even though it’s a “short”, it’s the only one that feels like a small chapter torn out of a larger story; it doesn’t really have a beginning, and it doesn’t have an end. It looks to serve as a social commentary, but the lack of a real narrative makes it forgettable.

A lounge-singing darts champion has his lovesick prayers answered when he receives a box of passion-inducing darts.

Shot in black-and-white and laced with sharp and witty writing, GOD OF LOVE is the strongest film both in style and in substance. Despite being the shortest of the bunch, the character moves through excellent development and all themes are closed out brilliantly. It offers a slight twist in the finale that is a forehead-slapper, and has enough strong pieces to be developed into a feature length film.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Reel Opinion: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times...

The months of January through March can either be considered the worst or the best months of the year. Which is it really?

The first quarter of the year is generally considered to be a dumping ground for movies that are deemed not-so-good (unofficially) by the studios; films that are not good enough for the summer season and not nearly good enough for the Oscar race in the fall. This year for example has given us mighty turds such as THE GREEN HORNET and NO STRINGS ATTACHED. To be fair, the month of March occasionally produces some gems; Zack Snyder has staked a claim in the month over recent years, putting out his 300, WATCHMEN, and this year’s SUCKER PUNCH. But despite Snyder’s best efforts, the stench from the numerous turds tend to overpower the roses. So, from a major-release point of view, this time of year blows.

On the other hand, this time of year is Oscar season; a fun time where pools are organized and friendly (and not so friendly) debates rage over who or what is going to win gold. The Oscar season also draws attention to independent films that would otherwise go un-noticed to the masses; nominated films such as BLACK SWAN, BITIFUL, BLUE VALENTINE and THE KING’S SPEECH are now getting wider-spread releases in larger theatre chains. Some smaller chains are now running marathons of all the Oscar-nominated short films; live and animated. On top of all that, nominated films that were released early enough are now seeing DVD and pay-per-view action; INCEPTION, TOY STORY 3 and THE SOCIAL NETWORK for example. From an Oscar-perspective, this time of year is a blast.

So what’s the bottom line? If you ignore the major studio crap and focus on the films that the little-golden-naked-bald-dude has his name on, this time of the year rules.

What say you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Paul Giamatti turns in a near one-man show in BARNEY’S VERSION; a touching, heartbreaking and hilarious look at the last 30 years of one man’s roller-coaster life.

Barney (Giamatti) is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, foul mouthed TV producer. His first wife gets knocked up by his best friend, and she commits suicide when unable to cope with his departure. Barney marries again, this time to The 2nd Mrs. P. (Minnie Driver). At the reception for wedding No. 2, Barney meets and falls in love with Miriam (Rosamund Pike). Guided by his father (Dustin Hoffman), Barney decides to pursue Miriam at the risk of his marriage, and is eventually thrilled by his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), having sex with The 2nd Mrs. P. After a drunken argument, Boogie disappears, and Barney is suspected of murder while battling his health issues.

BARNEY is one man’s story as he struggles and stumbles through love and romance. On the surface he seems like a complex character, but at the core BARNEY is a simple tale; he is a man who knows that he needs, but he does not know what.
The film lays out Barney’s past in a series of flashbacks, smartly intercut with his present predicaments. Aiding things is the remarkable makeup job on Giamatti, who goes from 60 to 30 in a blink. This film was nominated for Best Makeup in Oscar-land, and it deserves it.

For Giamatti, his Golden Globe win for his performance here is well-deserved. It can be argued that this is his best performance to date, and that says a lot when looking at the man’s body of work over the years. Giamatti really takes a hold of his character, and his lovesick pain and drunken behavior with a purpose is always perfectly portrayed. Right up against Giamatti is Rosamund Pike, who never misses a beat and is a perfect match for him. Hoffman provides a lot of comic relief as the horny old man, but also provides an excellent performance as a guiding father figure.

Director Richard J. Lewis, who has made a career in TV directing (CSI), strikes a perfect balance between smart storytelling and good old-fashioned camerawork. He knew what to do with his characters, script and surroundings.

The finale very much real-world and a bit of a heartbreaker. The character meets a fitting end in many ways, and audiences will feel the bitter sweetness. BARNEY’S VERSION never dulls and never fails to entertain, and is worth revisiting.


Monday, February 7, 2011

A Reel Opinion: The Super Bowl Movie Teasers

The Super Bowl broadcast pulls in millions upon millions of eyeballs every year, with a good portion of them more interested in the content of the commercial breaks. Movie studios take advantage of this prime real estate to showcase what they’ve got to sell for the upcoming year. What the studios do seem to struggle with is the content of the Super Bowl audience. TV audiences and movie audiences are not necessarily the same, although there is likely some overlap. Some studios preferred to just slap together clips from trailers that have already been circulating for months, while others offered first-ever looks. But all of them took the road of the “teaser”; quick 30-second teases comprised of fast visuals with no real insight to the plot. What worked and what didn’t?

Some of the more anticipated films of the summer were showcased by way of teasers that were nothing more than shortened versions of already-existing trailers. It’s easy to cry disappointment over what we saw for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4, COWBOYS AND ALIENS, and THOR. They offered a few shots previously unseen, but were overall just re-arrangements of months-old trailers. Clearly, these studios took the approach to aim for a wide audience, so they opted for a cheap and easy way out. Poor to no effort.

A few other studios get high marks for effort and execution, and not all of them really had to do it:

RANGO – Directed by Gore Verbinski (PIRATES 1-3), this extremely odd-looking animated flick needs a strong marketing campaign. They got their Super-spot right by going for humor and pushing the Johnny Depp title.

SUPER 8 – Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by JJ Abrams, this project has been kept tightly under wraps with only small hints towards the subject matter in a teaser released a few months back. This spot did much of the same, but included new footage.

FAST FIVE – Just another installment in the FAST AND THE (brainless) FURIOUS franchise, but at least they made an effort to show up on Super Sunday.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 – This spot ran during the pre-game show, so not a lot of eyes saw it. This blogger admits to getting a beer when it ran.

TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK OF THE MOON – Michael Bay and company really didn’t have to put anything out for the Super Bowl; they had just released a very good trailer just a few months ago. But they took advantage of the big audience and unveiled a ton of new and striking visuals, and who doesn’t love seeing Optimus Prime swing those blades?

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES - Was getting a beer when this ran too.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER – Prior to the Super Bowl, the new Cap has only been seen in print ads and behind-the-scenes still-photos. Finally, the world got a look at the first Avenger in action. Not only did the short teaser offer up a coherent thread, but it also gave us a glimpse of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Shudder.
What say you?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: The Visual Effect Society handed out their annual awards last night, with INCEPTION taking home the lion’s share of the prizes.

OPINION: One of the four awards INCEPTION took home was the Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture. Effects-driven is exactly what INCEPTION is, which is what separates it from other Best Pic nominees, which are acting-driven. This is why Christopher Nolan did not get a Best Director nomination; the little bald gold dude loves acting over visceral experiences.

FACT: Speaking of Nolan…Joseph Gordon-Levitt (INCEPTION) is in talks to star in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

OPINION: The role for Levitt is still under wraps. A year ago, internet rumors had him as The Riddler, which is as unlikely now as it was then, especially since the film already has two confirmed villains.

FACT: Warner Bros. has picked up the movie rights to the 11-book series of mystery novels featuring Irwin M. Fletcher, also known as “Fletch”.

OPINION: Yes, this means they are remaking/rebooting/reimagining/re-whatever the FLETCH movies from the 1980’s starring Chevy Chase. The creative well in Hollywood continues to run dry, and this blogger is quite sure the incredible acting talents of Seth Rogen will be in the lead role. Standing by for more shit…

What say you?