random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

REEL REVIEW: 2007 Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts

The Oscars are upon us and this year I was able to do something for the first time in preparation for next Sunday night. I was actually able to go out and watch all five nominated Live Action Short Films. Last Friday, in a bizarre reversal, my wife and I had to cancel our babysitter due to my wife's migraine. So after our daughter was down for the night, I wound up going out to the movies with our babysitter. Before you get any ideas, it helps to know a little more. I had a greenlight from my wife, our babysitter is a good friend from church and she's around my mother's age. Paulette is an actress friend who shares the same passion for film that I do and we decided to make the most of the evening and head on over to the Landmark Theatres where both the Live Action and the Animated Short Films are showing.

Every time I watch the Oscars I have no idea what any of those Short Films are about. This time I'll at least know what the Live Action nominees are. All five films were shown for a regular $10.00 admission price. With all films being as great as they were, we definitely got our money's worth (well, Paulette's money's worth since she wound up treating me for my birthday). Alright, I'll look at all the nominees and then I'll let you in on my criteria for a good short film.

The 2008 Academy Award nominees for the category of Live Action Short are as follows and in order of appearance....

Tanghi Argentini - Belgium (2006) ****

written by: Anja Daelemans
directed by: Guido Thys
14 min.
language: Dutch

Tanghi Argentini


This is the first Academy Award nomination for Guido Thys.
This is the second Academy Award nomination for Anja Daelemans.
She was previously nominated for:
  • FAIT D'HIVER (2002) -- Nominee, Short Film (Live Action)


An office clerk with a desire and need to tango enlists the support of a workplace colleague as he prepares for a date.

That's the only description listed for this gem and that's all I'm gonna give. This short was just that....short yet lacking nothing. If you ever get the chance to see it, you'll see what a clever, funny and refreshingly sweet story.

At Night - Denmark (2007) ***

written & directed by: Christian E. Christiansen
produced by: Louise Vesth
39 min.
language: Danish

At Night


These are the first Academy Award nominations for Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth.


The time is Christmas and New Year. Three girls between 18 and 20, are hospitalized with cancer. All three of them have serious problems, not just in terms of health, but also in terms of their relationships with their nearest and dearest. The girls find a haven in each other's company, where they are free from the fear of death and loneliness. A substantial part of the film describes their sense of humor, unrestrained candidness and uncompromising zest for life.

Truly a remarkable accomplishment in writing, acting and overall design. It's a real subject that has touched everyone at some point in life and this is a great look at three young woman who turn to each other for support and love as they face an uncertain future. Very moving but the longest short of the bunch (more on that later).

Il Supplente - The Substitute - Italy (2006) ***

directed by: Andrea Jublin
language: Italian

Il Supplente (The Substitute)


This is the first Academy Award nomination for Andrea Jublin.


The arrival of an unusual newcomer galvanizes the students in a high school classroom.
This was the movie that got Paulette and I bustin' with laughter. It had a hilariously unexpected story that seemed almost improvisational. Not surprising at all that this came from Italy seeing as how most comedy that I see coming from that country is very funny while often making a poignant claim about society. A little disjointed at times but it succeeds nonetheless.

The Tonto Woman - United Kingdom (2007) ****

written by: Joe Shrapnel
produced by: Matthew Brown
directed by: Daniel Barber
35 minutes
language: English

The Tonto Woman


These are the first Academy Award nominations for Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown.


Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, a cattle rustler named Ruben Vega (Francesco Quinn, yes, that's Anthony's son) discovers a woman named Sarah (Charlotte Asprey) living in isolation in a desert shack after being held captive for eleven years by the Mojave Indians. Intrigued by her solitary existence, he sets out to find why she lives in such an inhospitable place. He uncovers a tale of kidnapping, betrayal and of a woman discarded by society. This is the story of a woman who comes to realize she can regain control of her life and decide her own destiny.
This was the most beautiful looking film of them all. While I may be a lil biased cuz of my love for a good western, the wide-open vistas of the dry landscape (filmed primarily in Spain) was breathtaking. It was a nice switch to see such a strong female character in a western short. It was one of the films that I really wanted to see more of, which is good and bad (more on that later as well).

Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets) - France (2006) ***

written & directed by: Philippe Pollet-Villard
31 min.
language: French
Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)

This is the first Academy Award nomination for Philippe Pollet-Villard.


A pair of unlucky thieves find their fortunes have changed when they take in a deaf homeless boy.
Another hilarious short as you can tell by the above sentence. The film almost knows it's clever and a bit too cute for it's own good. Still, it's undeniably endearing and wacky.
One thing that stood out to both Paulette and myself even while we were in the theatre, is that these movies weren't all that short. Now, I think of a Live Action Short as being about 15-20 minutes max. Now none of them were bad, it's just that when you're sitting in a theatre watching a short and you find yourself invested in the characters after 20 minutes past, you start to wonder (well, at least I did) when this film will end. Just how "short" is this Short?
I tried to find out on Wikipedia, which only told me the following history....
This name for the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film was introduced in 1974. For the three preceding years it was known as "Short Subjects, Live Action Films." The term "Short Subjects, Live Action Subjects" was used from 1957 until 1970. From 1936 until 1956 there were two separate awards, "Short Subjects, one-reel" and "Short Subjects, two-reel". A third category "Short Subjects, color" was used only for 1936 and 1937. From the initiation of short subject awards for 1932 until 1935 the terms were "Short Subjects, comedy" and "Short subjects, novelty".
....hmmm, well that didn't help. No real description as to what (if any) are the time requirements of a Live Action Short Film. Is that a big deal though?
Well, yeah it became one for us as we discussed which one would be the best contender for Oscar winner. With that in mind and after much mulling, I came up with some criteria in order to ascertain a standout nominee. Since these films are called "Shorts" then a successful one should adhere to that. Crazy, I know.
A short film should be relatively short (15-20 minutes is decent to me) and not leaving you wanting more. The film gives just enough characterization and story that when it comes time for an end....you're not wishing it would continue. I mean that in the best way possible. You are content with the lil gem you were given. The problem I found with "At Night" and "The Tonto Woman" was that they were not only too long for me but they were so good that I wanted more. Say What? How is that a problem? Well, that doesn't fit the criteria I mentioned above. These two shorts were wonderfully done, unique dramas yet I woulda been fine seeing in a full feature format. The ones from Italy and France were a bit too cutesy for me. Although I laughed out loud more than once while watching these two yet it still didn't hold up to the surprising sweetness of "Tanghi Argentini".
Therefore, my pic would be the entry from Belgium. It may not be my favorite of the five but it did meet the critieria that we came up with. It'll be interesting to see what short is picked as the winner.

Cinematical's review of All the Oscar-nominated Shorts

Friday, February 15, 2008

REEL REVIEW: The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) ***

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) poster

PG (for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements)
approx. 1 hr. 30 min.

written by: David Berenbaum (adaptation), Karey Kirkpatrick (screenplay) & John Sayles (2nd rewrite) based on source material by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi (from children's book series: "The Spiderwick Chronicles")
produced by: Mark Canton. Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Larry J. Franco & Karey Kirkpatrick
directed by: Mark Waters

Well look at that! English actor Freddie Highmore turns sweet 16 today on Valentine's Day and what is he doing to celebrate? He's got a new film coming out called "The Spiderwick Chronicles"! Not every 16 year-old can claim that! Pretty cool, huh? I guess I celebrated early with him by seeing a screening the other night of this film. It's based on Holly Black and Tony Diterlizzi's bestselling children's book series of the same name. I never read them and probably never will but I did enjoy the movie plenty. I felt like a lil kid again watching magical movies like "The Neverending Story" or "Labryinth". It was a welcome break from the moody, serious fare that I've taken in recently. Although, the story has it's share of thrills, humor, slime and wonder, it's no lightweight.

The story opens up with a frantic man holed up in a cob-webbed attic of a large house in the surrounded by a howling forest. He's fumbling through this large old book full of what appears to be his own writings of instructions and maps as well as drawings of creatures and fairies. It appears he's in what looks to be a study full of shelves, books, desks, creepy-crawlie things in jars and papers with pinned butterflies. He sits in his chair reasonably spooked by the wild sound in the distance as he closes his book with a wax seal, obviously determined that no one opens it again as he wraps it up and locks it in a chest.

Sarah Bolger and Freddie Highmore in Paramount Pictures' The Spiderwick Chronicles

Eighty years later, the large house is still there and we just know that book will be opened by someone in the SUV that's pulling up the drive. Soon enough, the Grace family is introduced and we see that the film will revolve around the three children. There's Jared and his twin brother, Simon (both played by Highmore), their older teen sister, Mallory (the wonderful Sarah Bolger) and their recently separated mother, Helen (Mary Louise Parker) all of them are starting anew here after moving from New York. Strange things start to occur and at first Jared gets the blame as he's the one who usually gets into the most trouble. He insists what he hears crawling in the walls is not his imagination nor his own doing but no one believes him.

Jared is that misunderstood and often unappreciated child often seen stuck in a family on the verge of breaking. He blames his mother for his parents' failing marriage and wants to move in with his dad. His frustration though is derailed by whatever is stirring in the house and once he follows the curious trail up into that old attic, we know something will be found.

Jared finds a key that opens a certain trunk and a book written by his great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). The book is Spiderwick's "Field Guide to the Fantasy World" and it is indeed the book that was desperately locked away eighty years ago. Well, we know how curious young boys can be, especially ones that are short-tempered and adventurous. Does he take heed of the note attached to the book warning anyone not to open the book? Of course not, instead Jared finds that the book is crammed with all sorts of information about faeries, brownies, boggarts, goblins, trolls, and a big ogre named Mulgarath.

Little does Jared know that after he broke the seal on that book, it's existence is made known to all those magical beings in the forest surrounding the house. The one who will do anything to get his crawls on it is Mulgarath (played with Nick Nolte looking like he did in that DUI pic) and we don't even really need to know why cuz he is the baddie who can take on all shapes and sizes. All we're told is that if the book falls into his possession all that exists is doomed. That's reason enough to keep the book safe. Common sense right? If you wanna live keep the book away from anybody. But then again it is in the hands if a curious young boy who has no clue that cuz scent of the book is in the air and Mulgarath's goblins are in hot pursuit.

A scene from Paramount Pictures' The Spiderwick Chronicles

Jared doesn't find out all this just by reading the book. The keeper of the book turns out to be a brownie named Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short). No, not a chocolicious treat but a fat lil rodent-looking creature who was pals with Spiderwick back in the day. He tells Jared as long as the book stays with them in the protective circle around the house that Spiderwick conjured up, they'll be safe. But children don't stay within a magical protective circle for long and pretty soon all mayhem breaks loose with the children running from trolls and goblins while unsuccessfully trying to keep the book in one piece.

The children aren't alone in their desperate attempt to keep the book intact and the,selves alive. They get some assistance from Hogsqueal (hilariously voiced by Seth Rogen), a "hog-goblin" wanting Mulgarath dead for the killing of his family yet gets distracting while trying to eat birds. They also seek the help of the house's previous inhabitant, their poor Aunt Lucinda (Joan Plowright) who grew up without her father (yes, Spiderwick) due to his obsession with all things magical. Now she's living in the local looney home on account of her talk of goblins and ogres. It probably didn't help that she had piles of salt on the window sills and a stockpile of honey, oatmeal and tomato sauce. Yeah. But once she realizes what Jared has done, she tells him there's only one thing he can do and that's find her father, who she believes is still alive in some fairy land and have him destroy the book.

As I mentioned I haven't read the book and was unaware of what exactly there about before I saw this film. While I feel it was while written, I do wonder where the screenwriters pulled a lame subplot of two dead-beat fathers from. I know it's my own personal gripe, but I didn't like seeing Jared heartbroken when his sister had to break it to him that his father (a brief cameo by Andrew McCarthy) has left the family form some chick in the city. I also didn't like seeing Spiderwick unintentionally spend all his life consumed by his mythical world while his daughter grew old without him around for eighty-something years. I know all families have their dysfunction but the film didn't seem to show any men in a good light. But that's really my only problem with a film that delivers some solid fantasy entertainment.

Veteran designer Phil Tippett and ILM do an amazing job on all the CGI and creature effects. None of it really felt like the actors were working with effects and that's kinda rare nowadays. I was kinda surprised at the PG rating of the film. Parents might wanna gauge whether or not their child can handle some of these scares but then again if they are already reading these books then they might be prepared for what's creeping around the corner.

Although I knew he was a talented actor, I was still surprised by Highmore's work here. I didn't even know till the end credits that he played both brothers. Both brothers personalities were evidently different which must of made it more attractive for Highmore. In fact, the entire cast did an excellent job with the material they were given, adding enough subtle characterization to come through. It's easy to expect some overacting in this kind of story but I really didn't see any here.

It seems director Mark Waters ("Freaky Friday" & "Mean Girls") has made a fun movie that doesn't condescend the viewer or over-complicate the story. There are so many series of children's books currently being adapted that it might as well become it's own film genre. I didn't plan on seeing this one at all but I'm glad I landed some screening passes and was able to experience a movie that served a mixture of humor, slimy thrills and excitement. It'd be great if this film would serve as a warning for children not to open books that have notes warning not to do so but I doubt they will glean that. They will likely leave the theatre satisfied with a thrilling fantasy that made them jump, laugh and maybe even shed a tear. In fact, kids of all ages can kick back and enjoy a rare experience at the movies....fun!

Freddie Highmore and Director Mark Waters on the set of Paramount Pictures' The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Skinny:

  • This marks the second time Martin Short has played a character in a Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon Movies film, previously playing Ooblar the Yolkian in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
  • This was Nick Nolte's second family film to be released by Paramount Pictures. In 2006, the first being Over the Hedge, which was made by DreamWorks Animation. Paramount had distributed the film as a result of its acquisition of DreamWorks, whose animation division became its own company in late 2004.
  • Arthur Spiderwick is Jared Grace's great-great-uncle (which is a misnomer since the relationship is really known as "great-granduncle"), but Lucinda Spiderwick, Arthur's daughter, is described as a great-aunt (which similarly should be called "grandaunt") when, in fact, the daughter of one's great-granduncle would really be one's First Cousin Twice Removed.

Moving Pictures


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