Sunday, February 27, 2011

AMC Best Picture Showcase Wrap Up

The second day of Best Picture nominees did not fly by as quickly as the first day's movies did. In large part this was because of the somber and self important tones of the two movies that stared the day. These two films were the last two that I had not seen at all from this years list of nominees. The subject matter may have been what put me off from rushing out to see them in theaters, although Winter's Bone was a movie I think I would have gone to if it had played for more than a few days in more than a couple of theaters.

Winter's Bone was clearly a fine film. There is a good story arc and it is intricately plotted. The actors are all very good. The lead is an actress named Jennifer Lawrence, and she seems quite young. This story reminded all of us of the TV show "Justified" without the good guy gun-play. There is a sad element to the world that all these people belong to. There is basically no hope except in the will power of our heroine, she is all that is holding her family together in the midst of a family blood feud involving meth. The people she encounters all seem so real and unpleasant that it is difficult to think they are all actors. None of them seem very familiar except the guy playing the sheriff, who we recognized from several Television programs. The authenticity is one of the things that made this movie work so well. In addition to the Best Picture Nomination, the lead actress and the guy playing her dangerous uncle are both deservedly nominated.

Black Swan on the other hand is a movie that no one in our group really cared for. It seemed to be very indulgent and overwrought. Maybe if we were ballet fans it might have seemed more meaningful. As it was, the whole exercise came across as a long experimental piece that might have worked as a long Twilight Zone episode but it went on far to long with some cliche acting and visualizations. Natalie Portman is probably going to win the Oscar tonight, but many years from now, people are going to wonder why. She does do a credible job on the dancing elements, but she has only three or four facial expressions and she uses them very judiciously. I think she is pretty but her flat emotionless voice and dull expressions don't help sell the over the top premise. This is one of those films that cinema majors in elite schools will probably love, but the rest of us just think "Huh??"

Inception is also a bit over hyped. It is a great film and visually arresting, but it has a lot of the same types of problems. There is a great deal of mental gymnastics to support the premise. The concept is very creative, but the emotional baggage that Leonardo DiCaprio is supposed to be going through is not really involving. It feels like it is being fit into the puzzle, not to be the focus of the story, but to manipulate us with another mystery that will provide some emotional payoff. I thought the movie made more sense last summer when I first saw it. It was smoother and well oiled, this second time was clunky and more obvious. I did appreciate the Roles that Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt played. They seemed more a part of the story when you are not trying to figure out how everything ends up being connected. The music is solid so along with the Special Effects, that is one place where the movie will be rewarded this evening.

The Social Network is one of those Zeitgeist films that comes along every few years. The Graduate and Fatal Attraction were examples of those films that seem to catch the tenor of the times. This movie is what people who make films seriously, would like the movie making experience to be about. It discusses the events that are changing our world in an interesting way and it tells a fascinating story. The script is written by one of the smart guys when it comes to language and changes enough of the real story to make it interesting and have an arc to follow, but retains enough of the truth to titilate us with behind the scenes gossip. It was trending as the likely winner at one point but now it will likely be an also ran.

The movie that capped off the day was my favorite of the ten films nominated, "The King's Speech". This is a wonderfully realized piece of historical drama that features three terrific performances. Colin Firth will be collecting the award for Best Actor for his role as Prince Albert, the second son, who becomes King George after his brother abdicates. He is crippled with a speech impediment that limits his ability to move through the intricacies of pre-war politics. The friendship he develops with the therapist that tries to help him is complicated by the therapists unorthodox approach to therapy and the status differences between them. It is a document of real events told in a dramatic way. The accession of George VI to the throne on the cusp of World War II is well known, but told from a dramatically different point of view here. The story works because of the times and the characters. People sometimes dislike Tea on the Lawn English movies, I understand this but they are focusing on the wrong issues, these movies are often about human nobility, dignity and courage in the face of strong adversity. This movie follows that tradition and meets our hopes about the way we as people want ourselves to be remembered.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Best Picture Showcase Week 2

At the theater early. First up is Winter's Bone, one of th two I have yet to see.

That was depressing but really good. The actors are grear. The world in that movie was scary and depressing. It is set in Missouri or Kentucky. The blood feuds and crank are frightening.

Black Swan...WTF. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Inception, this was my second time and it seemed much more confusing than the first. I may have been looking for puzzle pieces insread of simply enjoying the film making. This movie would be difficult to explain to someone sitting next to you who was not paying attenion.

The Social Network is coming up after the dinner break. We won some prizes for trivia earlier and get to try for more before the movie starts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Predator: The Musical (The Final Schwarzenegger Musical)

I want to see it on Broadway NOW. This belongs on the stage, not Spiderman.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Clearly there is a marketing effort to tie this film in with Taken from two years ago. The tag line, "Take Back Your Life" is not really very subtle. That is as close as the movie comes to being about revenge fantasy and Liam Neeson kicking butt. This movie is apparently based on a book that was a suspense thriller. There are spy elements and double crosses and a plot that seems so clear after certain revelations that you will kick yourself if you missed them. I was trying to think of similar themes and "The Bourne Identity" came to mind, but Amanda had a better link and that was Total Recall. I hope that does not give too much away since the cleverness of the situation is a big part of the appeal of this movie.

The first movie I remember seeing Liam Neeson in was Excalibur in 1981. He was one of the knights of the round table, the one that saw something wrong in Lancelot's refusal to join them at council on a regular basis. Nearly ten years later he was Dr. Peyton Westlake, a researcher that becomes the deformed and vengeful "Darkman". Since then he has been in dozens of movies and been nominated for an Academy Award. He is a proficient and appealing actor, but until "Taken" a couple of years ago, he was not a star. hat movie established him at a relatively late point in his life as an action star. Here he plays a lost soul biomedical researcher, but one that seems able to take care of himself. The good thing is that he is believable in both aspects. You need to have that kind of credibility to carry off a movie like this. Schwarzenegger and Stallone could never get us to believe the intellectual element of the characters they played, although they are both smart guys, they clearly fall in the action category. The closest I can think of another actor to be able to play tough and vulnerable was Kurt Russell. He may not be the biochemist, but is could do the everyman forced to become something more, really well. Neeson has that same ability.

There are elements of old cold war spy films in this movie. It is set in Berlin, there are dark forces at work, and a former E. German security guy turns up as a key character. There are side notes related to international business, science and middle eastern politics, so it is not hard to see parallels to all kinds of spy films. There are car chases and hairbreadth escapes and some solid fight scenes. So if you like intrigue and suspense, this is a good film choice. The plot is not as convoluted as it might have been. In fact, once the key twist is revealed, it all makes a lot more sense and fits in well with the things that we have been shown.

Diane Kruger, who was so solid in Inglorious Basterds, is here as the usual civilian caught up in events, far beyond her depth. Yet her character is tough and resourceful and manages to be a key ingredient to the story, not simply a female interest for the star. Bruno Ganz looked familiar to me, I am sure he has been in some things I have seen, but he is best known for the German movie "Downfall" in which he plays Hitler. I don't know if many people have seen that movie but I do know that millions have seen him in the role because clips from that film have been used in Youtube parodies for years. If your favorite TV show got canceled or your team lost in the championship, there is probably a scene of Hitler going off in German with English subtitles despairing over the disappointment. That is Mr, Ganz. He is very subtle here but incredibly believable.

This is a solid film that will play well in theaters for a while and will earn some good video business. It is not as perfect as "Taken" was, in large part because the emotional involvement in that movie is never present here. This film is more coldly calculated to fool us and to lead us to the resolution. It is a lot more clever but not as strong in audience reaction. I'm sure I will see it many times on the satellite channels next year and enjoy it but I don't need to keep it in my head the same way that I did with "Taken".

Spoiler Alert:

I have a great way to describe the plot of this movie, but I don't want to spoil it for you. If you want the clue, follow this link.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best Picture Showcase 2011

After previous years visiting the day long movie feast that is the AMC Best Picture Showcase, we have been pretty worn out. Sitting through 5 movies is not a chore, but the day sometimes semmed to drag on an there were long awkward periods when not much moved quickly. Yesterday however was different. The staff seemed to be engaged with the group in the theater, the break for lunch/dinner was just the right length of time and the movies were all relatively brisk. We did not have any three hour epics of slow moving Englishmen, or Blue Aliens. Instead most of the movies were 2 hours or less. I also think that the scheduling helped. The toughest movie to get through was not the last movie of the day but the second. It was sandwiched between two comedies that helped alleviate much of the grim scenario of the middle movie.

We were invited to participate in trivia contests during every break. The staff sometimes was a little under prepared in asking the questions but they were good natured and let the audience provide answers and comments along the way. Once again we won more than our share of the trivia prizes so from a personal perspective it was nicely satisfying. Best of all, as we were leaving after the last movie, we were all thanked for coming with a nice commemorative poster of the event. The personal contact at the end of the long day and a treat to go with it left my group refreshed rather than weary.

I thought the promo trailer was great and they played it before each movie so we were all reminded why we were there together. It was a lot less tiresome than the repetitive word jumbles and quote trivia on the slides. It make the experience feel unique for our group although I'm sure it is playing in other AMC theaters as well.

Toy Story 3

Again it was a delight. I am am sentimentalist and movies like this are designed to appeal to me. There are adults out there who may believe that an animated film is make for children. They are wrong, children may love an animated film, but anyone with imagination and heart could not fail to love a movie like this. As I said in my end of the year posting, this was not my favorite animated film of the year. That does not mean it is unworthy, it simply means that my taste was influenced by the new as well as the familiar.

127 Hours

A harrowing story told really well. There is of course a scene that,everyone who knows the real story the movie is based on,is dreading. I forgot the one element of the scene that bothered me so much the first time, and it got to me again. Amanda had to turn away while Aaron our hero makes his escape, Anne watched it through her hands and scarf. The incident that got her the most though was not gruesome but heart-wrenching, when a bottle of water was spilled, Anne reacted with a involuntary arm movement that smacked me in the arm, I may have a bruise, but it is a badge that shows how much we got involved in the man's story.

The Kids Are All Right

This was the only movie that played yesterday that I had not seen. It was very funny at times and all the actors were really solid. I think Mark Ruffalo has reached the point where it is clear that he has the goods. This felt like a small movie and one that was actually personal. Most films like this don't get released in theaters anymore, they are made for premium cable channels and shown to broad audiences, but the reaction doesn't get shared like it does in a movie theater. It was not the filmmaker's skills that draw attention to this piece, but the actor's craft and the screenwriter's creativity.

True Grit

I have a separate post on this in the December pages of the blog, and my opinion has not changed. This is a solid western, with excellent performances and some grim story telling. The tone is different than the John Wayne movie of 1969, but the story is the same and the dialogue often feels as if it was verbatim, but here it is more elaborately arcane and successful. The mild differences strengthen the movie in many cases but there are some elements that are less satisfying, including the tag ending of the movie that feels like a punch in the chops after all we have gone through.

The Fighter

I don't know if there will ever be a Mixed Martial Arts movie that will have the drama of a good boxing film. MMA may be the wave of the future, but boxing seems to carry so much more substance to it that there is not any comparison. Of course there was a good wrestling movie two years ago, so maybe it will happen. This film is a showcase for acting talent in almost every scene. If Christian Bale fails to win the supporting actor award, I will wonder why for the rest of my days. This was a fitting way to end the day and leave us wanting more.

next week we will get more with five other films. I have not seen Black swan or Winter's Bone yet, so I think i have a lot to look forward to. Plus we will get the two top contenders for the best picture award, The Social Network and The King's Speech. Look for us to update live next week between the movies.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Toy Story 3 was great and 127 Hours was harrowing. It has been a good experience already, we won some prizes at trivia and we have True Grit next

Actually it was The Kids are Alright, I would not be surprized if thefe were an upset in the supporting actor catergory christian Bale still is the pick here but Mark Ruffalo was fantastic True Grit is next .You can read my previous comments in the December posts.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Academy Awards Showcase

For the fifth year in a row, the AMC theaters are screening all the nominees for best picture in a single showcase. The first three years we went, it was Five pictures and we thought we were pretty hardcore. Last year the Academy increased the number of nominees, and the AMC showcase went to two Saturdays in a row, five pictures each day. We are headed off to the showcase tomorrow, looking forward to five movies. There are 15 theaters around the country that are showing all 10 films in a 24 hour period. I could not talk Dolores into it, but I may have to do it on my own next year, just to say I did. I'll try to update from the theater tomorrow, I can't wait.

It is 10:15 we are in and waiting for the first of our movies, Toy Story 3. This was on my 10 favorites last year. My grandnephew Maysn had this on his ipod at Thanksgiving, that was the only time I saw the film after the 3D experience on opening day. More than a year ago we went and saw Toy Story 1&2 in a 3D format. All of them looked great. We were not given glasses when we came in so this must be a standard version of the film. Last year at the Best Picture showcase, we saw Avatar in 3D and then changed theaters to see the other nine films. They told us as we came in we will stay here all day, just like the other years. It's going to be great.