random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Sunday, December 14, 2008

REEL REVIEW: Gran Torino (2008) ****

Gran Torino (2008) poster

written by: Nick Schenk (screenplay/story) & Dave Johannson

produced & directed by: Clint Eastwood

rated R (for language throughout and some violence)
1 hr. 56 min.

If it wasn't for iconic characters like The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry, there would be no way to take Clint Eastwood's latest acting role seriously. One of the more resonating characteristics of these gun-toting, take-no-crap personas is the way in which they resolve their problems with a blast of gunfire and a resoluting wisecrack, while walking away without a second thought. Many of us wish at times that we could get away with that behavior, so does racist Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski. Retired after 50 years from the local Detroit Ford plant and recently widowed, Walt grumbles and growls his days away as he nurses his perfectly-manicured postage stamp of a lawn in his well-maintained, picket-white fenced home.

Walt is that old goat who looks around at his world and wonders how things have gotten the way they are. His selfish and chubby Midwest sons, busy with their careers, have alienated themselves (most likely due to his cold gruffness) as they plot out how to get Walt into a senior home. He groans at his grandkids with their piercings and blackberrys but also at the persistant Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) from his wife's church. Walt doesn't care for the baby-faced padre who promised his wife that he'd get him to confession. It would seem Walt cares only for a handful of things at this stage in his life: his Lab retriever Daisy, his M1 rifle from the war, and his mint condition 1972 Gran Torino, a symbol of days long gone. Walt finds himself as lost and without a place as the company he used to work for.

What gets under Walt's skin the most though is the noticeable influx of Asian Hmong immigrants he finds himself surrounded by in what used to be a blue-collared neighborhood. No country for this old man, indeed! Eastwood plays up Walt's disdain to the hilt but we can't despise him because we realize he's cut from a different time period. While there's no excuse for his abrasive racism, you can't help but respect who he is and that's a tribute to the actor who's playin' this worn-down character. With all this build up, it's obvious that Walt is destined to get a serious thawing.

That comes in the form of the neighbor teen, Tao (Bee Vang) who tries to steal Walt's beloved vehicle in a gang initiation stunt. He thwarts the freshman thief but this encounter just catapults the inevitable. The botched theft is what brings a livid Walt rifle-first into the Hmong neighbors as he winds up breaking up a gang fight on his front lawn. Inadvertantly scaring off the gangbangers, Walt unintentionally winds up saving Tao and his family from further violence. All he wanted was them to stay off his well-kept lawn. What follows is an outpouring of gratitiude from the Hmong family and as punishment for his actions, Tao is made to work for Walt (though it's unclear who this is punishment for) in order to restore honor to the family.

Tao's older, plucky sister, Sue (Ahney Her) starts to wear down Walt's calcified heart as she becomes his introduction to her family which finds him coming to terms with the Hmong culture. Through his encounters with the various generations, he starts to see that he is a haunted man, empty and without peace. A man who hides behind any racial epithet possible without any possibility of anyone really getting to know who he is. Walt is soon won over by Hmong traditions, befriending Thao with hopes to teach him some self-respect before the gang activity worsens. But he sees there isn't much hope or future for Tao and his family and is compelled to intervene, driving away local gang members and earning the respect of the Hmong community.

For Walt, defending the defenseless is a form of atonement and an act of contrition. The killings in Korea still effect him, as he tells Tao, "I used to stash guys like you five fet high in Korea. Used 'em for sandbags," which only confirms that some resolve is needed. He now has a reason to do away with his bitterness and protect these kids against anyone who would do them harm. Yet unlike the typical Eastwood vengeance flick we're used to, this is as much in line with Will Munny (from "Unforgiven") in that there is a price one must pay when violence is used. Esatwood knows it would be plain stupid at his age to have Walt decimate the gangs in the hood. Instead, we're given an emotional resonance that becomes enthematic for the entire film. There's a final validation here for Walt which gives the viewer a rewarding cinematic experience.

Eastwood successfully culminates all the tough-guy characters he's known for into Walt Kowalski, an incorrigible soul who has to deal with issues of life, death, racism and salvation. While it may not be his best performance it certainly is one of his more ballsy ones. Is it a perfect script? No, not really. Are there flaws? Some. It's not a scholastic take on race relations, but newcomer Schnek understands the venomous mentality of men like Walt, who live and breathe outdated American values, only to find their faith rewarded by the degeneration of respect in the youth and the rise of foreign perspectives in their own backyard. I appreciated the fact that Eastwood used primarily first-time Hmong and Asian actors. It lended an added authenticity and naturalness to the characters that at time is jarringly noticeable but a welcome surprise nonetheless.

Like many of his smaller films (Million Dollar Baby) there's an exacted simplicity that is to be commended here. An easy-going yet purposeful filmmaking style that is long gone. At 78 years, Clint has no peer. No one else can do what he does, making him the best there is at what he does. If this is to be Eastwood's swan song as an actor (gasp!) then this is quite appropriate. For anyone who enjoys Clint's acting, his humor, his honesty and craftsmanship as a director....this is a must see.

Gran Torino Poster

The Skinny:

  • The film will see a limited release in the States on December 12th and 17th and then a wider release on January 9th, 2009.
  • Filmmakers chose to produce the film in the state of Michigan, being one of the first films to take advantage of the state's new law that provided lucrative incentive packages to film productions.
  • Filming began in July 2008; locations included Warren, Royal Oak, and Grosse Pointe Park, with work on the final cut endint in late October 2008.
  • Hmong crew, production assistants, consultants and extras were used.
  • There has been debate over the film's depiction of Hmong gang culture, with some criticizing its authenticity and fearing that the film will perpetuate stereotypes of Asian youths.
  • Eastwood described the character's relationship with his two prized objects (the Gran Torino and M1 rifle, "He worked on the line in the Ford plant and retired and had this one car he bought himself. It's sort of a symbol of his days with the Ford plant. The M-1 is sort of a symbol of his days in the military... He's clinging to the memory of the war. You'll find out when you see it, some of (the memories) are not as pleasant as others. That helps make him even tougher to get along with."
  • Of the character, Eastwood said, "He's one of these guys who finds it very hard to accept change... [and that the film] just shows how his life goes and how he gets involved with the Hmong people who are living next door."
  • Eastwood's starring role was his first since Million Dollar Baby in 2004.
  • The character of Tao is Van's first acting role and is described as "the neighborhood wimp", and the large height difference between Tao and Kowalski was a deliberate echo of the mentor relationship Kowalski has to the character. Vang said, "Tao is literally 'looking up' to [him]".
  • Open casting calls for Hmong actors were held in Hmong communities in Saint Paul, Fresno and Detroit. All but one of the ten Hmong leads were acting in a film for the first time, as were many of the Hmong extras.
  • Eastwood's son, Scott (son of flight attendant Kathryn Reeves) plays a spineless thug named Trey in a hilarious scene where Walt defends Sure from some African-American thugs.
  • For authenticity, Eastwood encouraged ad-libbing among the actors in the Hmong language. An authentic Hmong shaman was cast, though it was claimed his ceremonial scenes were made more exotic.
  • Eastwood has win Best Actor recently at the National Board of Review Awards.
  • Eastwood often composes music for his films and this one is no different. This time he actually sings a little of the theme song, Gran Torino, that can be heard in the final scenes.
  • He wrote the song, which is nominated for a Golden Globe, with his son, Kyle, Michael Stevens and singer, Jamie Cullum (who can be heard singing in at the end credits).

Eastwood talks cars and Gran Torino

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

REEL REVIEW: Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ****

written by: Simon Beaufoy
produced by: Christian Colson
directed by: Danny Boyle

R (for some violence, disturbing images and language)
2 hrs.

I can't remember the last time a film had me so absolutely absorbed from beginning to end. "Slumdog Millionaire" is that rare film and is so far the best movie I've seen all year. It exudes such a breathless exilleration in its visual and narrative style that made it difficult for me to take my eyes off the screen. It's a classic Dickensian story of adversity told with passion and visual virility surrounded by a bleak setting occupied by some truly sadistic characters. Director Danny Boyle shows his love for the buoyant culture and life of India and it's teeming energy. Through the slums of Munbai he hits the ground running (literally) with a kinetic, addictive quality that can't be denied.

Loosely adapted for the screen from the Vikas Swarup novel "Q and A", as a searing portrait of a child's indominable will to survive and to above all else....love. It's crafted with such harrowing scenes of peril and heart-wrenching intensity, while also delivering sweet humor and tender exchanges. Eighteen year-old orphan Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), from the slums of Mumbai, is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire

Since no one has ever gone as far in the game as Jamal, he is accused of cheating, arrested and brutally interrogated by a suspicious police inspector (Irfan Kahn). In order to protect his life, Jamal must carefully explain how he came up with the answers to the challenging game show questions. He leads us through the history of his life as a "slumdog", including scenes of him as a resilient boy determined to obtain the autograph of a famous Bollywood star; the death of his mother during an anti-Muslim raid on the slums, and how he and his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) befriended an orphaned girl, Latika who becomes the object of his desire. To go into the story any further would be a disservice to those who have yet to see it (not to mention a dizzying task) as it is best to view this amazing film with little knowledge going in.

At no time does screenwriter Simon Beaufoy resort to any type of known rags-to-riches convention. In fact, as I was watching the film I couldn't help but think about what a task it must have been to write all these different time periods that revolve around Jamal in the hot seat with ubiquitous host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor). This is a far cry from lazy storytelling. Boyle takes the machinations of a traditional tragic romance and breathes new life into expected clichés, leaning more toward the Jamal's harrowing life than his fragments of joy. It's all crammed into a sprawling story of a life lived under the foot of poverty, violence, and guilt, revolcing around a single miracle evening that could possibly produce an entire reversal of fortune.

Boyle's signature kinetic frenzy is on hand here as he wraps the viewer up in the chaotic motion of Indian street life. We're shown that the value of life is cheap, the tattered communities are built on towers of rubbish, and the citizens do the best they can. Boyle plays with time and location to a dazzling degree, keeping the viewer unsettled as the camera shadows extreme trauma of these three children. They witness horrifinh events that would scar any age and a "Oliver Twist" style exploitation from a kingpin of orphaned street beggars. Through it all, one constant remains in Jamal''s life, his connection and pursuit of Latika (Freida Pinto), whose liberation from the clutches of sexual and physical abuse becomes a personal quest for Jamal.

As a child, Jamal doesn't see Mumbai as a land of despondency, it's simply just a new land to conquer under the instruction of his brother. It's to Boyle's credit that the humor he infects in such a challenging story is cautious to progress the story instead of just play for laughs. Most notably when the boys stumble off a train and arrive at the Taj Mahal, a place they are clueless about, inadvertently becoming guides to gullible tourists while stealing their shoes for profit. While the film does have some disturbing situations, it's saved from a somber tone by Boyle's celebration of survival, backed by composer A. R. Rahman's phenomenal soundtrack of vivacious hip-hop and electronic cuts that propel the story.

Street spirit...the main character in Slumdog Millionaire rises from the poverty of Mumbai.

It must be noted that the standoput performances are of the young children who play the three characaters that we follow. Young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) gets himself into some hilarious situations, where Young Salim ( Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) is forced to be too serious for his age and then there's shy and brave Young Latika (Rubiana Ali), all actors who have never acted before and you would never know. Their presence on the screen is so natural that one would think they didn't even know they were being filmed. But the true testament to their amazing work is how they respond to the dire circumstances the encounter. The best decision the film's producers made was to pluck these children from the streets of Mumbai, resulting in such distinct performances that makes the adventures and horrors they witness seem all the more real.

The final act of the film focuses inevitably on Jamal and Latika. There are moments of genuine tenderness here without resorting to pure saccharine. That's no easy task but Boyle knows that it's better to "show" than "tell" an audience what is happened to a character. Something that many directors have no patience for. It's turns out to be a perfect fit that the actors playing these two characters are both relative newcomers. Having no knowledge of any previous work, I was able to be introduced to their world without distraction and becomes absolutley involved in their longings and desires. Their relationship is surrounded by outrageous suspense especially at the end, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat as Jamal faces down a final trivia question that could make or break his life. It's no surprise that the answer is intertwined with his life experiences but it also specifically catapults his future.

A scene from Slumdog Millionaire

I've like most of Danny Boyle's in the past but most of all I really respect that he is a stylized director who purposely switches genres with each film. Here teamed with co-director Loveleen Tandan (whore experience as a casting director came in handy), he has really outdone himself. Delivering a somewhat unconventional love story that combines classic storytelling and filmmaking techniques with Boyle's uncanny ability to switch styles as necessary to create an innovative cinematic experience. This is by far one of the best movies of 2008 and will likely remain my personal favorite. The film is a great example of why people love movies.

The Skinny:

  • After failing to find a suitable actor in India, Patel was cast as the lead role, Jamal, after Boyle's daughter first saw him on the English TV show "Skins" and urged her father to take a look.
  • Mercedes-Benz asked that its logos be removed in scenes taking place in the slums. The company, according to Boyle, did not want to be associated with the poverty-stricken area, fearing that that might taint its image.
  • The actor whose autograph young Jamal gets is Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan is a very real, and very famous Indian actor, and the original host of the Indian version of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'.
  • Pinto graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. She modeled for two years before meeting Boyle and being cast.
  • Boyle considered hundreds of young male actors, though he found that Bollywood leads were generally "strong, handsome hero-types", not the personality he was looking for.
  • To hone the script, Beaufoy made three research trips to India and interviewed with street children, finding himself impressed with their attitudes. Swarup used many ideas from student director Asim Bhatti while working on the script.
  • The screenwriter said of his goal for the script, "I wanted to get (across) the sense of this huge amount of fun, laughter, chat and sense of community that is in these slums. What you pick up on is this mass of energy."
  • By the summer of 2006, British production companies Celador Films and Film4 invited Boyle to read the script Slumdog Millionaire. He initially hesitated since he was not interested in making a film about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • Boyle soon found out that the screenwriter was Beaufoy, who had written 1997's The Full Monty, one of the director's favorite British films, and decided to revisit the script.
  • Boyle was impressed by how Beaufoy wove the multiple storylines from Swarup's book into one narrative, and the director decided to commit to the project.
  • The film was projected to cost $15 million, so Celador sought a distributor to share costs. Fox Searchlight Pictures made an initial offer that was reportedly in the $2 million range, and then Warner Independent Pictures made a $5 million offer that Fox Searchlight could not top.
  • Filmmakers traveled to Mumbai in September 2007 with a partial crew, and they began hiring local cast and crew for production. When preparing for filming, Boyle decided to translate nearly a third of the film's English dialogue into Hindi.
  • The director fibbed to Warner Independent's president that he wanted 10% of the dialogue in Hindi, and she approved of the change.
  • Filming locations included shooting in Mumbai's megaslum and in shantytown parts of Juhu, so filmmakers controlled the crowds by befriending onlookers. Filming began on 5 November 2007.
  • In a recent podcast on Creative Screenwriting, Beaufoy talked about all the child actors involved in playing the three main characters. He stated that once the producers cast them in the film, they made a deal with the families that the children's schooling would be paid for through their teen years as long as they stayed in school.
  • Composer A. R. Rahman planned the score over two months and completed it in two weeks.
  • He has stated he was aiming for "mixing modern India and the old India" with the music, but that the film and soundtrack "isn’t about India or Indian culture. The story could happen anywhere."
  • Boyle, who "hated sentiment" and told Rahman "Never put a cello in my film", wanted a "pulsey" score. Rahman appreciated that Boyle liked how Indian films mix music, saying the director wanted "edgy, upfront" music that did not sound suppressed.
  • Composing pieces to fit the images, he noted "there’s not many cues in the film. Usually a big film has 130 cues. This had just seventeen or eighteen: the end credits, beginning credits."
  • Describing the music as one of the parts he liked most in the film, Boyle wanted to include M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" from early on in production on the score, which appears along with an original track Rahman composed, "O...Saya," featuring Arulpragasam.
  • M.I.A., who Rahman described as a "powerhouse" and Boyle hailed as "a gift" to the soundtrack gave brief film notes on some scenes to Boyle upon request during editing.
  • The soundtrack for the film will be released via N.E.E.T. — available online on 25 November, and at record stores on 23 December.
  • The soundtrack has received a 2008 Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
  • The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30th, 2008, where it was positively received by audiences, gaining "strong buzz".
  • The film also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2008, where it was "the first widely acknowledged popular success" of the festival,winning the People's Choice Award.
  • The film has made it on several Top 10 end of the year lists, has received various nominations and has already won various awards for writing, directing, acting and film.


Interview with Patel

Interview with Boyle & Beaufoy

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

REEL REVIEW: Son of Rambow (2008) ****

Son of Rambow (2008) U.S. poster

rated PG-13 for violence and reckless behavior.
1 hr. 35 min.

written & directed by: Garth Jennings
produced by: Nick Goldsmith

Watching writer/director Garth Jennings new film, I couldn't help but recall the wonder and excitement I felt the first time I devoured the movies that shaped my childhood. Leaving the movie theater as a wee lad, I remember feeling as if there was no end to the movie I had just seen. It continued on in my mind, living inside me as the characters embodied my actions. I believed wholeheartedly that I could pilot a "piece of junk" through outer space with a wookie as my copilot or that I could crack a whip in search of the lost Ark. If that sounds familiar to you then this lovable film will bring you back to that time with a smile on your face and maybe even a tear in your eye.

The film takes place just outside of England in 1982, right around the time Stallone's socially-challenged Vietnam vet was introduced to cinemas. It is indeed the movie "First Blood" that brings two young boys together in an unlikely friendship. Unlikely because they are worlds apart despite living in the same town. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is an introverted loner who takes refuge in drawing up an entire book of colorful stories. He lives with his mother, younger sister and grandmother who are all part of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious sect that shuns worldliness, secular music, TV and movies. Then there's freckled Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the thieving, charismatic troublemaker at Will's school. His teachers call him "the devil child" and yes he is a hellion but right away we see that he is just as endearing as Will. He lives with his much-older brother, Lawrence (Ed Westwick), unchecked and on their own while his mother lives in Spain with their stepdad. A situation ripe with mischief.

Will Poulter and Bill Milner in Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow

Lee runs a video piracy business at home for his brother and has secretly decided to make a home movie himself. His goal: to make it the best ever and enter it into the local young filmmaker's contest. Lee finds an awe-struck ally in the imaginative Will, who is soon recruited by Lee to be his stunt double for an action movie he is making. Once Will sees his first ever movie over at Lee's place, a pirated copy of "First Blood" well, it's all over! He becomes obsessed with all things Rambo! He imagines himself as the "Son of Rambow" (stay till the end of the credits for a funny audio clip about the title) and enthusiastically immerses himself in the character...literally. We see Will jump from heights, fall from a tree and swing into a lake all for the sake of the art. Both boys develop an indelible bond as they become amateur cinematic collaborators.

But this wouldn't be the hilarious, touching and joyous film that it is if all went well for our boys. When a busload of French exchange students are dropped off at their school, pretty boy, Didier (Jules Sitruk) enters the scene. He captivates the uniformed girls and boys with his black leather, red boots and his new wave music but provides a driving wedge between the boys when he practically takes over production. Another challenge is fellow Brethren brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) outing his Will's forbidden celluloid adventures while horning his way into his family, putting Will and his family in danger of expulsion. But the most heart-wrenching of challenges is of the hurt caused by the growing egos and stubborn pride of both boys. You really want them to be the best of friends and it breaks your heart when anything opposing that occurs.

Jules Sitruk in Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow
Director Jennings ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") and his producing partner Nick Goldsmith really hit the jackpot finding these two non-actors as their leads. They really are perfectly cast and just flawless. I would imagine that Jennings has reels of edited film of these boys that didn't make the released cut. The supporting cast is excellent as well, particularly Jessica Hynes as Will's devoted mother who patiently tries to relate to his burgeoning backsliding. Little does she know that as much as her son wants to be a good son, he also wants to be the "Son of Rambow". Not only do the laugh-out-loud scenes make the film but the quieter, character moments add a sweet sincerity.

When I found out that the film is partly based on Jennings' own childhood experiences of filmmaking, it made me love the film all the more. No wonder the film has so much heart. It can be seen in the writing and visual storytelling which seem straight out of a fond reminiscing dream. His use of scribbly graphic animation is used wisely, not overdone but rather caters to Will's vivid imagination. The film is a wonderfully unpretentious reminder of the unlimited possibilities of make believe. The only possible way to not like this film is if you hated being a child and you hate children. It's been a long time since I sat in the theater and felt the same exuberance as the main characters but this film did just that for me.

Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow
The Skinny:
  • The movie was filmed in the following locations: Ashlyns School, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, UK, Ashridge Park, Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, England, UK, Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, UK & Richborough Power Station, Sandwich, Kent, England, UK
  • The film was shown as part of the Premieres category at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was later shown at the 51st BFI London Film Festival.
  • The film is a project that Jennings and Goldsmith — collectively known as Hammer & Tongs — worked on for some years. Its development was interrupted when they were asked to make "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and it is their second major feature film. It was inspired by Jennings' own experiences as a child in the 1980s, when video equipment first became available to the public, and the film lovingly recreates the atmosphere of an English comprehensive school of the time, using a soundtrack of familiar and less familiar pop tracks from the era to good effect.
  • The film was shot primarily in the English town of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire: featuring Ashlyns School and The Rex, a recently refurbished Art Deco cinema.
  • The film includes a vintage clip of Jan Pinkava winning the BBC Screen Test competition.
  • The minor role of Danny, an acolyte of Didier, a glamorous French exchange student, is played by Stanley Kubrick's grandson, Sam Kubrick-Finney.
  • When Will watches the pirated version of "First Blood" that Carter illegally filmed in the cinema we see the cinema-curtains open on the film's first-credit. All films screened in British cinemas at that time would legally have to start with the British Board of Film Classification's classification certificate directly before the start of the film.
  • "Son of Rambow" has received positive reviews from both critics and audiences at the Sundance Festival.
  • The film opens on May 2nd, 2008.
Director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith on the set of Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow

Son of Rambow (2008) UK poster

Monday, February 25, 2008

80th Annual OSCAR Winners!

Actress Marion Cotillard onstage during the 80th Annual Academy

Well, the Oscars are a wrap. I did alright with my predictions. Jason Bourne kicked my butt though. Still sore. I picked the winners for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapated Screenplay -- and some others. Not bad, I guess. Here are winners....

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
Best Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton
Best Original Screenplay: Juno
Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men
Cinematography: No Country for Old Men
Film Editing: No Country for Old Men
Art Direction: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Original Score: Atonement
Original Song: "Falling Slowly" -- Once
Best Makeup: La Vie en Rose
Sound Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Sound Mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass
Best Animated Feature Film: Ratatouille
Best Foreign Language Film: The Counterfeiters -- Austria
Best Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark Side
Best Documentary Short: Freeheld
Best Live Action Short: Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)
Best Animated Short: Peter and the Wolf
What did you think about this year's Oscar winners?
  • I don't really feel like anyone was slighted. Best Supp. Actress was the most wide open.
Did you think Jon Stewart did a good job with the hosting?
  • He was great! I really enjoyed him, even better than before. Easy on the sarcasm but he did what he does and he did it well.
  • He kind of disappeared for the last hour, but I guess they usually do that towards the end when everyone wants to wrap it up already and get to the parties.
  • I loved him playing video games with that lil girl. Funny.
What were the big surprises of the night?
  • Just two that I can think of: Tilda Swinton and The Bourne Ultimatum wins.
Any huge disappointments?
  • Besides the orchestra cutting speeches short....Not really.
  • That Jerry Sienfeld bee thing was stupid.
Oh, and who looked awesome, and who didn't?
  • I thought Marion Cotillard, Julie Christie, Laura Linney, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner had the best looks of the night among the ladies. But other than those three....sheesh, none of the women really know how to get dressed up I guess. On the guy's side, Javier Bardem, Daniel Day-Lewis and George Clooney both looked great, and so did Denzel Washington.
  • Who didn't? Um, Tilda Swinton (although I like her) didn't look too flattering....I think it was the dress. All the other dresses didn't do anything for me.

Musicans Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard onstage during the 80t

Musician Marketa Irglova and host Jon Stewart onstage during the

Some other suprises and delights:
  • Best couple AND Best Moment award goes to: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning for the song 'Falling Slowly' from the movie "Once".
  • I think I saw a ring on Marketa Irglova's left hand. Yay!
  • John Stewart being a gentleman and bringing back Marketa Irglova to make her great acceptance speech. Yay!
  • Brad Bird winning for "Ratatouille"! I love Mr. Bird.
  • "Atonement" and "Juno" only winning one award each.
  • Scorcese's eyebrows always make me feel better about my own.
  • Seeing Diablo Cody next to Harrison Ford was funny. Surreal.

Writer Diablo Cody and actor Harrison Ford onstage during the 80

Okay so, time for your thoughts on Hollywood's big night -- discuss away!
click here to read what happened just offstage

National Lampoon's Animal House 30 year Reunion screening!

Animal House Reunion lobby banner

I was reading the Friday newspaper yesterday and I came across an local event taking place this weekend that I realized I just had to experience. No, it had nothing to do with the Oscars but it did have to do with the movies. It was a cast reunion and screening of "National Lampoon's Animal House", the classic comedy film from 1978. I had never seen it in a theater, I think my first time seeing the film was on Betamax with my father and cousin. they loved that movie to the point of memorization. So, I thought it'd be cool to see the movie that introduced me to characters like Otter, Boon, Neidermeyer, D-Day and of course John Belushi as John 'Bluto' Blutarsky.
Stephen Furst and Mark Metcalf sign for fans

Karen Allen arrives!

Karen Allen signing: 02-23-08

Karen and ME: 02-23-08

Karen Allen signing for fans

For those of you unfamilar with the film, it's basically a college party film that takes place in 1962. It's about a misfit group of Delta House fraternity boys who take on the system at their Faber College. The movie was adapted by Douglas Kenney, Christopher Miller and Harold RamisAlpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth College, Ramis's experiences in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis, and published in National Lampoon magazine. It was directed by John Landis.

The film starred: Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Tom Hulce, Belushi, James Widdoes, Stephen Furst, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Mark Metcalf, Martha Smith, and introduced moviegoers to Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen. And that's why I just had to attend this event today! I just had to meet Karen Allen in person. Why? Because the next big movie she was in after this one happens to be one of my all-time favorite "Raiders of the Lost Ark"! There's no way I could pass up meeting Marion Ravenwood in person! She and five other cast members: Peter Riegert, Stephen Furst, Mark Metcalf, Martha Smith and Otis Day were gonna be at the Hollywood Blvd. movie theater in Woodridge, IL (a suburb of Chicago) all weekend. Before the screening of the film, they would appear for signings in the lobby and then for a Q&A in the actual theater.

My friend Mike and I went to the 4pm showing that cost only $6.00. Pretty nice. The actors showed up around 3pm to a packed house for their for signing. all I cared about was meeting Karen Allen. She was the last to arrive and let me tell you that her smile is even more wonderful in person. There were three photos to choose from for her to sign on the table in front of her. each signature cost $20 (that's for any of the actors! Sheesh!) but Allen is well-worth it to me. I had her sign a photo of her as Marion from "Raiders" and she singed it "To David, All the Best, Karen Allen" which made me gush.

As she signed, I told her I really enjoyed a movie she was in back in 1993 called "King of the Hill" a little-seen film directed by Steven Soderbergh. She stopped writing and her eyes lit up as she shared that that was one of the favorites as well. Mike took some pics of her at the table (as did I) and she was kind enough to agree to have one taken with me. I'm blurry but who cares....it's Karen Allen. She doesn't look 54 at all! As I left, I thanked her and told her I was looking forward to May 22nd!

This theater is kinda original in that it is one of the few that serve food and alcohol in both the lobby and in the theater. Inside the theater, there are office lounge chairs positioned in rows in front of long bar-like tables, some also suround round tables. Servers come by before the film starts to take your order from a menu that has just about any kind of food or drink imaginable. We sat down in the second row with a bucket of beer while we awaited the Q&A. The theatre was very decorative (a lil too gaudy but that's the look they're going for I suppose) and had vintage movie posters all over the walls.

The Jungle Trap Angels with Dirty Faces

Dark Passage

The Phantom of the Opera

Once the actors arrived, they sat down in chairs below the screen and answered audience questions. They started out with all of them going around answering the host's question. He asks them all what their favorite line from the movie is. Karen Allen stated hers was, "I think I'm in love with a retard." All of them seemed happy to be up there for the Q&A, they seemed to be enjoying themselves with Riegert and Furst being the funniest. As they closed, the Q&A, the host had all of them go around and tell us what they were currently working on. Mark Metcalf (Neidermeyer) runs a restaurant called Libby Montana's near Milwaukee, WI. Stephen Furst (Flounder) is producing a film based on a Jodi Piccoult novel starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin and Abigail Breslin. Martha Smith listed off some forgettable direct-to-DVD film she was in recently. Karen Allen mentioned her own textile company called Karen Allen Fiber Arts and of course she mentioned her reprising role as Marion in the new Indiana Jones movie (for which they crowd cheered). Peter Riegert stated he was in between jobs and had directed a film not too long ago. And Otis Day said he is still touring and he has a film coming out called "Otis Day and the Nights: Band on the Run".

Karen Allen takes the stage

Karen Allen is the first to take the stage!

The cast of Animal House

The cast is seated for the Q&A (from left to right: Mark Metcalf, Stephen Furst, Martha Smith, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, and Otis Day)

Are those pledge pins?

Metcalf gets help from Furst re-enacting

his favorite line from the film, "Are those pledge pins?!?!"

Allen & Riegert 4

Allen & Riegert 3

Allen & Riegert 2

Allen & Riegert

Reunion cast of Animal house

martha Smith & Karen Allen

Mark Metcalfe & Stephen Furst

Neidermeyer and Flounder together again!

The crowd at the Hollywood Blvd. Theatre

After the Q&A was over, it was time for the cast to leave for the theater next door for another panel and screening. I clapped with everyone else and watched as that Karen Allen smile walked right past me, knowing that the next time I see her she'll be with Indiana Jones. Sigh. So, we watched "Animal House" which was fun to watch in an evironment where everyone knew it by heart and were singing and shouting out lines. Overall, it was just a very cool experience to watch a movie 30 years-old right after seeing some of the cast. I was totally geeked to meet Karen Allen....can ya tell?

Holding an Autographed Karen Allen

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2007 OSCARS: The "Should" & "Will" wins....

Official Oscars poster (2008)

I feel it's been a great year for films and it's that time of year again. The Oscars are this weekend and I know I haven't really shared much about the nominees. Well, here's a look at who I think should win and who I think will win. That's right, what you see below in the red is who I think should win and what you see in purple is who I think will win. If there is just red, then that's who I think should and will win. I'll be sittin' on the couch at home with my wife come Sunday night talkin' it all in.

Best Picture
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

I haven't seen "Atonement"or "Michael Clayton" yet and I know they're great but they're just not Best Picture ths year. "Juno", while a quirky lil gem that has become huge and could be this year's suprise, just hasn't really remained with me after watching it a month ago. It was some great performances and is well-written and directed but I didn't find it terribly unique. It's really between "No "Country"and "Blood" and I think it will go to "No Country" due to the variety of solid performances, great cinematography and screenplay. The Coen brothers have had a well-deserved fan following for some time and it'd be great to see them get the gold.

Best Director
Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman - Juno
Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood

Usually this category is a shoe-in to match the Best Picture category. It is given out before the Best Picture win, so it usually is a precursor but sometimes the talent of the director overshadows the film. Not in this case. I think the Coens will take it. They made an excelent film that didn't necessarily feel like a "Coen brothers" film. Plus, the Coens won the Directors Guild Award last month, and that winner automatically becomes the Oscar front-runner.

Best Actor
George Clooney - Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones - In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen - Eastern Promises

Now I know this will likely go to Day-Lewis but I think Tommy Lee Jones really did his best work yet in this film. Check it out here

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie - Away From Her
Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose
Ellen Page - Juno
Laura Linney - The Savages

I know everyone's rootin' for Page but I just can't see it. He performance was great and all but it didn't really stay with me. I think Christie could win for her graceful performance as a woman dealing with Alzheimer's. But after seeing Cotillard's work....whoa. She was simply mesmerizing. Check it out here

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook - Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson - Michael Clayton

Well, this is kind of a lock. Bardem did an amazing job as the Buster Brown, neo-Western Terminator. While, it'd be great to see Holbrook get it since he's never won an Oscar, I think it'll go to Bardem.

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
Ruby Dee - American Gangster'
Saoirse Ronan - Atonement
Amy Ryan - Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

I think it's between Blanchett and Ryan. I'd be happy with either. I dunno even know if Blanchett will be there seeing as how she's like 7 mths. pregnant. Ruby Dee could snatch this one right out from under these two but I dunno. This category is usually the first acting category awarded and it's always up in the air.

Best Animated Feature Film
Surf's up

I've only seen "Ratatouille" and I know for certain it will win, hands down. I'm looking forward to director Brad Bird's speech.

Best Foreign Film
'Counterfeiters' (Austria)
'Beaufort' (Israel)
'Katyn' (Poland)
'Mongol' (Kazakhstan)
'12' (Russia)

I chose the film from Austria cuz the trailer looks good. Check it out here

Best Original Screenplay
Juno - Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl - Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton - Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille - Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco & Brad Bird
The Savages - Tamara Jenkins

Well, this one's kind of a no-brainer. I have a feeling this 'critical darling' will only win this award. I'd have no problem with that. Cody's quirky, clever and real script is at times a bit to excessive in the pop-culture reference but there is still plenty of real characterization going on and for a comedic drama, that's rare.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Atonement - Christopher Hampton
Away from Her - Sarah Polley
'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' - Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
'There Will Be Blood' - Paul Thomas Anderson

Polley did a fantastic job with Away from Her but with her directorial debut, it's just great to get the nom. It's hard enough to write a good screenplay but adapting an already published work that may have a built-in fanbase must be even more difficult. I give it to "No County"cuz there were some really great lines with some clever dialogue.

Best Documentary Feature

No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side

I've only seen "Sicko"and it was fine but not really worthy of a nomination. There are two other docs that got snubbed, In the Shadow of the Moon and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters but that's the way it goes. I'd like to see Taxi to the Dark Side win. It looks harrowing, compelling and something a subject that hasn't been covered. It's a documentary murder mystery that examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base from injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers. In an unflinching look at the Bush administration's policy on torture, the filmmaker behind Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room takes us from a village in Afghanistan to Guantanamo and straight to the White House.

Best Original Score
Atonement - Dario Marianelli
The Kite Runner - Alberto Iglesias
Michael Clayton - James Newton Howard
Ratatouille - Michael Giacchino
3:10 to Yuma - Marco Beltrami

It would be awesome if a Pixar film won this category. The score of their films always raise it's level of entertainment. Plus, Micahel Giacchino has worked magic on both Alias and Lost. I'd love for him to get it. It'll go to "Atonement" cuz I think that's the only award it will get.

Best Original Song
Falling Slowly - Once
Happy Working Song - Enchanted
Raise It Up - August Rush
So Close - Enchanted
That's How You Know - Enchanted

Let me just say that if "Once" doesn't take it, it will ruin my evening. Knowing how Oscar usually treats this category, I bet the film won't win but it'd be a welcome surprise.

Best Film Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum - Christopher Rouse
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Juliette Welfling
Into the Wild - Jay Cassidy
No Country for Old Men - Roderick Jaynes
There Will Be Blood - Dylan Tichenor

There was a lot of quick shots to work through in "No Country" and smooth transitions were key.

Best Documentary - Short Subject
Freeheld - Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
'La Corona (The Crown) - Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
Salim Baba - Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
Sari's Mother - James Longley

I have no idea but this sounded fun.

Best Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Roger Deakins
Atonement - Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men - Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood - Robert Elswit

There's some talented nominees here but there's a reason veteran Roger deakins is nominated twice. He's just that good. He's worked with the Coens before and with "No Country" he's working with wide-open Texas landscapes and tight interior shots. Every inch of the film looks good.

Best Costume Design
Across the Universe - Albert Wolsky
Atonement - Jacqueline Durran
Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Alexandra Byrne
La Vie en Rose - Marit Allen
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Colleen Atwood

I know most of the films that usually win this category are period pieces and that Colleen Atwood has won numerous times already but "La Vie En Rose" stand out to me in it's simplicity.

Best Sound Mixing
The Bourne Ultimatum - Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
No Country for Old Men - Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
Ratatouille - Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
3:10 to Yuma - Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
Transformers - Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

This may just be another category that "No Country"takes but I can't help but thinking of all that noise that went on in that French kitchen in Paris. All that stirring and shaking and slurping really gave that film a kinectic feel.

Best Sound Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum - Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
No Country for Old Men - Skip Lievsay
Ratatouille - Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
There Will Be Blood - Matthew Wood
Transformers - Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

You know the familar sound of them robots 'transformin' back and forth is just too cool, right? Come on, you know it.

Best Live Action Short Film

'At Night'
'Il Supplente (The Substitute)'
'Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)'
'Tanghi Argentini'
'The Tonto Woman'

I saw all of these and have discussed them here

Best Animated Short Film

'I Met the Walrus'
'Madame Tutli-Putli'
'Même les Pigeons vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven)'
'My Love (Moya Lyubov)'
'Peter & the Wolf'

Dunno if I'll get to see any of these but I like the title of this one. I know, real deep.

Best Makeup
La Vie en Rose - Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
Norbit - Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Ve Neill and Martin Samuel

I asked some co-workers if they saw "Norbit" (knowing they probably have) and sure enough they did. I asked them if they were offended by the film. No, they weren't. I asked them if they think Eddie Murphy should hang it up. No, they don't mind him. I asked them if Murphy should at least scale down his roles per film to maybe....one. They agreed. When I told them "Norbit" was nominated for an Oscar one of them was shocked, "For what?" she asked. I told her it was for makeup, to which she replies, "Why? Everyone knew it was him! Yeah. While I think the make up was great on "Pirates"I still think the highlight of that movie was the visual effects. A film with great make-up work doesn't have to involve much, sometimes if it serves the character and the story well, it's rarely noticed and it helps the actor transform seamlessly. That's the case with "La Vie En Rose".

Best Art Direction
American Gangster - Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
Atonement - Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Golden Compass - Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
There Will Be Blood - Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

While all of these movies looked good and I haven't seen all of them, I would say that the overall look of "There Will Be Blood" was as much a star of the film as the actors. You really felt like you were in a dusty, dry landscape with sweaty, bloody and oily drenched actors. That had to do with the look of the film.

Best Visual Effects
The Golden Compass - Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
Transformers - Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

I'm not a huge fan of any of these films but I do kow what Iike in Visual Effects. I like to be watching a film and not even think that I'm seeing any visual effect. I didn't see "The Golden Compass" yet but I know it has fantasy characters that need CGI in order to make them interact and believable. Obviously I know there's a need for CGI when bringing robots to life but I guess for me the most convincing F/X are the ones where I'm not really even noticing them, where the entire world created is touched by them but not overwhelmed by them.
That's why I chose the pirate world. From Davey Jones to the surreal multiple Jack Sparrows this one did it for me. It left me with the most memorable visual effects. Still, I bet the voters will give it to those oversized robots.


Best Picture: No Country for Old MenBest Director: Joel Coen & Ethan CoenBest Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be BloodBest Actress: Marion Cotillard in La Vie en RoseBest Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem in No Country for Old MenBest Supporting Actress: Amy Ryan in Gone Baby GoneBest Original Screenplay: JunoBest Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old MenCinematography: No Country for Old MenFilm Editing: No Country for Old MenArt Direction: There Will Be BloodCostume Design: Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetOriginal Score: AtonementOriginal Song: "Falling Slowly" -- OnceBest Makeup: La Vie en RoseSound Editing: No Country for Old MenSound Mixing: No Country for Old MenBest Visual Effects: TransformersBest Animated Feature Film: RatatouilleBest Foreign Language Film: The Counterfeiters -- AustriaBest Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark SideBest Documentary Short: Salim BabaBest Live Action Short: Tanghi ArgentiniBest Animated Short: Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis

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