Friday, September 4, 2009

They Were in That? - Daniel Bruhl

This will begin a new series featuring popular actors with roles in popular movies, before anyone knew who they were. We will be updating periodically.

Where you know him from: The Nazi war hero, Fredrick Zoller, who bugs Melanie Laurent and plays a major role in the plot of Inglourious Basterds.

Before-stardom film: The Bourne Ultimatum

The Role: It’s not too much to write home about, but it puts the film on the right track. Bruhl plays the brother of Jason Bourne’s dead girlfriend, Marie. Bruhl only has six lines, without much depth, but it gets down to the core of why Bourne is so dead set on vengence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Top 10 Anticipated Films for the Rest of 2009

Thanks to Kris Tapley from In Contention for the two line post that got me thinking about was I was most looking forward to for the remainder of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Serious Man
Something about this film just screams, “Why should I care?” I don’t know why I should care. The Coen brothers have had a nice little resurgence, but this just gives me a bad feeling. Maybe I’m wrong

The trailer was interesting, if not a little goofy. I’m not going to start doubting James Cameron, but it looks more like sci-fi box-office over quality. Maybe Star Trek-lite.

Leaves of Grass
I have been excited about this film for some time, but I have heard absolutely zero buzz coming closer to its Toronto premiere. I love Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton and Keri Russell, but I’m getting more worried as the days go on.

The Tree of Life

I will never go against Daniel Day-Lewis, but I certainly don’t trust Rob Marshall. I’m excited to see Penelope Cruz in corsets with no legs, but it’s a musical. I’ve never been big on musicals.

On to the Top 10…

10. Invictus
Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, in a Clint Eastwood joint. It’s still a little meh, not to mention the fact that Eastwood is all over the map. He could be dissappointing (Changeling), unexpectantly brilliant (Mystic River), or somewhere in the middle (Flags of our Fathers). Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela might be the best and easiest casting ever, but something about it just feels off. By the way, Damon seems poised for the possible double Oscar nomination (see #3).

9. The Lovely Bones
Another one that feels a little off. Maybe it’s because Mark Wahlberg replaced the much more comforting Ryan Gosling when filming started. Maybe it’s because Peter Jackson has been a little bit of a let down since The Lord of the Rings. Maybe I’m just imagining things. I’ve seen plenty of people with Saorise Ronan predicitions for Best Actress, but I have my doubts. The Oscar nomination in ‘07 seemed a little undeserved (it was horribly weak Supporting Actress year) and I’m not sure she can carry a film. I feel better about the nomination prospects of long-time supporting actor Stanley Tucci as a creepy murderer with an awesome comb-over and John Waters mustache.

8. The Men Who Stare at Goats
I had almost forgot about this one until the great trailer came out a few days ago. I’ve always thought that George Clooney plays footloose crazy best, especially if it’s a comedy. Jeff Bridges as a hippie military man just makes it all the more better. This one is directed by Grant Heslov, better known as the spy that wasn’t Scwartzenegger or Tom Arnold in True Lies. You know, the cameraman who shot those five guys? Badass, right? I expect this to be a blast.

7. The Road
I had lost hope when this one was pushed back from last year’s Oscar race, but things seem to be looking up. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) seems well-equipped for the task at hand and Viggo Mortenson is well on his way to more acolades. That being said, Mortenson seems to do his best in films that are misunderstood or viewed as overrated. This seems right up his alley. Look for the breakout kid star to show up in the form of young Kodi Smit-McPhee in this one.

6. Up in the Air
Talk about a movie that has come out of nowhere completely on buzz. It sure has a lot going for it. Director Jason Reitman is batting 1.000 (Juno and Thank You for Smoking), Clooney is always a plus, and the film has an interesting premise (A guy who specializes in firing people is about to reach his 1,000,000th frequent flier mile and meets the woman of his dreams while traveling). The most interesting thing is the fact that this is the film that caused Paramount to bump Scorcese’s Shutter Island to 2010. Intriguing.

5. An Education
Talk about a movie with buzz. I have heard nothing but good things from this one. From star Carey Mulligan’s inevitable Best Actress nomination (and win, for that matter) to the resurgence of female directors, this one has a snowball’s momentum. I’m a big fan of the cast, from the always reliable Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard, down to a personal favorite of mine, Rosamund Pike. The trailer looks pretty good, with Emma Thompson doing her look-how-awesome-I-can-be, in-this-movie-for-three-minutes thing. Always a plus.

4. The Invention of Lying
I almost forgot this one. Ricky Gervais is quickly becoming the funniest man in the world. He predicted how Kate Winslet will win an Oscar on Extras, he created the best television shows I’ve ever seen, and his first film was the grossly underrated Ghost Town. He wrote, directed and starred in this one. Oh, and he is the first person to lie in a world with none. Tina Fey, Louis CK, Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe join in the fun. Check out the fantastic trailer for more proof.

3. The Informant!
What aspect of this great trailer turns you away from this film? Matt Damon is as goofy as can be imagined, and it looks like he’s having a great time doing it. It’s also nice to know that Scott Bakula and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future) are still getting work. Damon reportedly gained a bunch of weight, and for a comedic role no less. When director Steven Soderbergh is good, he’s really good. On top of all of that, we barely have to wait. This one comes out in just over two weeks.

2. Precious
The film that prompted me to write this article in the first place. This is another film that has had nothing but positive buzz from everyone who has seen it. Supposedly, comedy veteran Mo’Nique is destined for an Oscar win in the Best Supporting Actress category, newcommer Gabourny Sidibe is poised for a breakout year and director Lee Daniels (of straight-to-DVD’s Shadowboxer) looks like he is ready to get into the mainstream of great filmmakers. I’m not exactly the film’s target audience, but this looks like it could get the Tyler Perry/Oprah bump into huge mainstream success, despite the very adult themes of child abuse and rape.

1. Where the Wild Things Are
Sorry, Precious…nothing will be able to unseat the film version of Maurice Sendak’s classic book. It’s always a good sign when a trailer gives me goosebumps and almost makes me cry with the memories of my childhood with the book. I can imagine no one better for this adaptation than Spike Jonze, another director with a perfect track record (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation.). To say I’m excited would be somewhat of an understatement. If Jonze can get this right, I would not be surprised if a Best Picture nomination would be on the way.

A "Precious" Lead Actress?

Kris from In Contention apparently thinks Gabourny Sidibe should be getting more talk in the Best Actress category. It's an interesting thought.

Because of the recent Precious talk, stay tuned later today for the top 10 most anticipated films for the rest of the year. And, believe me, you will see Precious on that list.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hurt Locker Review

I admit I broke the law back in January. I caught a screening of The Hurt Locker on my computer, illegally through a pirated screener. The clarity was a little off, and I watched the second half before realizing that I never caught the first half. So I ended up watching it via a Blair Witch-type recording and a Memento-esque perspective.

That being said, it was one of my favorite movies of the year.

Then, on Saturday, I was able to watch it on the local (and legal) multiplex. I didn’t realize what I was missing without the clarity and correct aspect ratio.

The film follows an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) unit in 2004 Iraq. Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spec. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) just lost their team leader to an explosion and get a brand new one in SSgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner).

Sanborn and Eldridge have their own reasons of trepidation when it comes to their brash new team leader. Sanborn prefers the communicative style of their former boss, while Eldridge can’t get over the fact that he is the reason his team leader is dead. Not to mention, the fact that he is sure he is going to die in Iraq.

James meanwhile, is there to stop bombs and is indifferent to the feelings or procedures for which his teammates are used to. His job is to difuse bombs and he loves his job…death be damned.

The thing that makes SSgt. James great is the fact that he should be this plays-by-nobody’s-rules-but-his-own cliché. But the screenplay never lets him get to that point. He never craves the spotlight after difusing the latest situation. Instead, he goes to his spot in the humvee and lights up a Marlboro light. Even when a Colonel (David Morse) confronts James about the latest bomb diffusal, he almost orders him to tell him what a badass he is.

Sanborn gets highly irritated by James, even to the point of suckerpunching him after a job. Eldridge doesn’t show much emotion one way or the other towards James; he’s too worried talking with the base psychologist Col. John Cambridge (Christian Camargo) about his mortality.

The tipping point comes when the squad goes into the desert for some good ole’ exploding. SSgt. James stops Sanbord at the last second and goes down next to the explosives where he “forgot” his gloves. Sanborn and Eldridge talk about “accidentally” detonating the explosives with James down there, while James sends jovial waves back up the hill. Was it a test, or was James really that inept where he left his gloves next to an explosive ordinance?

Either way, the three continue on and come on a contractor (Ralph Fiennes) and his team. Everything is going fine until a sniper kills one of the contractors. The Iraqis kill two others, including Fiennes, forcing Sanborn to step up and take over the sniping raines. Sanborn turns out to be a crack shot with James as his spotter. Aldridge helps out as well by shooting a flanking enemy.

That night, all three get drunk and wrestle.

All of this shows us how differently all three deal with the rigors and stress associated with going to war. SSgt. James shows little to no emotion, Spec. Aldridge shows nothing but emotion, while Sgt. Sanborn is somewhere in between.

The thing the film, director Katherine Bigelow and writer Mark Boal do so well is present a story, without any bias either way towards the war. It looks almost like a documentary, with its visual style and general story telling. The two main people to applaud with the look of this film is Bigelow, who has stepped her game up after box office fare like Point Break or K-19:The Widowmaker, and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. I’m not sure if Bagdahd and Jordan (where filming took place) is really that desolate and undesirable, but Ackroyd sure does his best to make it seem that way.

The actors are cast to perfection, going for the right actors instead of the big names. Renner has being toiling around in small roles for a while, finally getting his break here. He makes the most of it with his nuanced portrayal of a veteran who doesn’t get bogged down in the small things, like death. Mackie’s career has been along the same lines, save for a small role in the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby and as Tupac Shekur in Notorious. He doesn’t have the showiest role, but really makes it count with a monologue in the final act of the film. Geraghty gets his second Iraq War credit after Jarhead. Though not even close to the same role, Geraghty is the character the audience can relate with best, but he is still a little uneven. Bit players Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly, Morse and Finnes all do a fine job with little screen time.

Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron said that this film will be for the Iraq War what Platoon was for the Vietnam War. I disagree. This film will be for the Iraq War what All Quiet on the Western Front was for World War I. More tragic without the political landscape.

Grade: A-

Oscar Possibilities:
-Best Picture
-Best Director, Katherine Bigelow
-Best Actor, Jeremy Renner
-Best Supporting Actor, Anthony Mackie
-Best Supporting Actor, Brian Geraghty
-Best Original Screenplay
-Pretty much all technical categories

Back to Work

It's been a long summer, but I'm going to get back into the swing of things after a long hiatus.

I have new updated Oscar predicitions on the bar to the right, including changes reflecting the move to 10 Best Picture nominees. I'll have some updated articles as well, including my review of The Hurt Locker, Up and my thoughts on the current Oscar race.

Stay tuned in the next few days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oscar Nominees and Winner's Directors

I’ve just completed some extensive work on directors in relation to Oscar nominees. I already had the complete list of Oscar Winner’s directors, and I’ve spent the last week doing the nominees. Here are the findings and some interesting facts.

Note: Some films have uncredited directors and I have counted them. For example, George Cukor, Sam Wood and Victor Fleming all got credited for nominations.

-William Wyler has the most actor nominations with 35! His closest competitor is George Cukor with 25.

-Martin Scorcese has the most for an active director with 20. Both Mike Nichols and Sidney Lumet are second with 18, while Woody Allen has 16.

-198 separate directors only have one nominations for actors, while 79 only have two.

-John Cromwell and Mark Robson have the most actor nominations without a win with 10 each. Otto Premenger is third with nine.

-Steven Spielberg has the most actor nominations for an active director without a win with nine. The closest other active director is Ang Lee with only five.

-63 directors got their actors a win with their first try, while 26 got their actors a win with their only directed nomination.

-Jerome Robins and Robert Z. Leonard are the only directors with multiple nominations and have won all (both have two).

-Of the Top 50 in nominations, Jonathan Demme (4 for 8) and Clint Eastwood (5 of 10) have the best win percentage at 50%.

-Of the Top 50 in nominations with at least one win, George Stevens (1 of 18) has the worst winning percentage at 6%, Alfred Hitchcock (1 of 9) is second with 11%, Clarence Brown (2 of 12) is third with 17% and Frank Capra (2 of 11) is fourth with 18%.

-John Huston went the longest between his first actor nomination and his last at 44 years. George Cukor is tied for second at 41 years with Mike Nichols, who has the most for an active director. Martin Scorcese is the closest other active director with 32 years.

-The most prolific span of acting nominations for a director was Hal Ashby, whose actors earned 11 nominations in just nine years (1970-79). Second is James Ivory with eight in nine years (1984-93).

If anyone wants the comprehensive lists of both Oscar Winner’s Directors and Oscar Nominee’s Directors, I’ll be more than happy to oblidge. Just send me an email and I’ll send it over.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Watchmen Review

To say that Watchmen had some anticipation behind it would be a great understatement.

There is always a problem with that measure of anticipation. With a film such as this, with this much hype and loyal following, is that a film of even a spectacular magnitude and spectacle is something it can never live up to. Only one film in the last 15 years has been close to living up its oversized hype, and that was last year’s The Dark Knight. I very much enjoyed Watchmen, but it’s no The Dark Knight.

The film centers around a group of superheroes in hiding who try to find out who’s been knocking them off after an original crimefighter gets thrown out of a window.

The man who’s at the forefront of the investigation and the only active superhero is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). He’s not the most stable of men, but despite his strong-arm tactics and Batman-esqe voice, he’s the moral compass of the film and, strangely enough, it’s most likeable character. Rorschach is also the most fun to watch, as he gets himself into the most action as well as the most interesting unmasking. Ironically, he has the least amount of backstory. Haley had his comeback moment a few years ago with Little Children, but this certainly won’t hurt his public image as he had the juiciest role and did the most with it.

Meanwhile, the two people trying to stay out of the action more than any others are the second incarnations of their alter-egos with Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson). Besides being the best looking actors of the bunch, director Zach Snyder does us a favor and gives us plenty of skin to look at with both. The sex scenes between the two might seem a little forced, but it’s a nice change of pace after all the violence and carnage that has been seen. Despite their overall attractiveness, these characters have a tendency to be the least engaging. It’s not that you don’t like the characters, it’s just that they have no resonation. When Rorschach’s not on screen, you want him back, while that’s not the case with these two. The actors themselves do a fine job, but they don’t have the roles to expand on, which is a shame…especially for Wilson, who has been on the cusp of the A-List for years.

The happy (and sexy) couple

The big blue Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) does his most impressive CGI work; exploding Viet Cong, fixing machines and doing generally cool things throughout. While the character is too moody for being a god-like figure, Crudup does what he can. His acting consists of keeping a straight face and a four-minute flashback sequence. While we’re here, I’d like to think that if you are reading this, you are of a different cinematic mindset and go to films with different eyes than the average moviegoer. If you are like me, stand up and punch anyone in the theater who insists on snickering every time Dr. Manhattan’s blue weiner pops up on screen. If you can’t help but laugh when you see male nudity, then you need to leave the theater and stop skipping class, because 5th period biology is the most important class of the day and you mom will take away your car if you get a D.

Other bit players get to put in their two cents, with Silk Spectre I (Carla Gugino), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) getting their little shining moments. Extra kudos going to Morgan, who despite a limited role, gets his moments and is suited for the material better than anyone else. He reminds me of Hugo Weaving in the Matrix films. Everyone around him is taking things a bit too seriously, while he realizes the campiness of the source material and really runs with it.

Surprisingly likeable and not surprisingly badass.

The film as a whole gives off this vibe of is-it-good-enough loyalty to the comic book. At the same time, it will transform into this look-how-awesome-we-can-be adaptation. Some of the worst parts come from the former sides, while the over confident parts get annoying. If Snyder could have exuded this quiet confidence for the course of the film, it could have been something really great. At the same time, it seems like the decisions made are just to stay super-true to the comic and just gives the middle finger to the audience. It’s like the audience forgot that this film takes place in the 80’s and Snyder has to remind you with “99 Luft Balloons” just for the hell of it. But, I will say that some iffy music choices on paper seem to work well. These include Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” during a fight scene, “The Times They Are A’Changin” during a montage and “All Along the Watchtower” during a traveling sequence.

I’m in the process of reading the graphic novel for which the film is based on, and I’m not convinced it’s the best thing to read a book before seeing a movie. I think Catch Me If You Can is a great example. The film is a hip, entertaining, well-acted film that was one of my favorites from 2003. But, I knew the film was based on a book, so I bought it and read it…three times. The book was so great the last time I read it, that I wanted to watch the movie again. There was no comparison. The depth and specifics the book went into could never be made as a film and not be boring.

The bottom line was…that film was devalued in my mind because of how much I liked the book. This could be a problem here, but I’ll wait and see. The one thing I’m confident about: the book does not realize it has this pedigree to live up to.

Overall Grade: B