Monday, February 25, 2008

No Blog For Old Men: Oscar Recap, plus BE KIND, REWIND and VANTAGE POINT - Reviewed!

Ahhhhh ... craziness! Tommorow morning, I'm flying to New York City for a two-day-long meeting of the minds with our East Coast counterparts in NBCU Digital Distribution. It should be a long couple of days, as tommorow I fly to NYC, arrive in NYC at around 7 pm, Wednesday we have an all day meeting from morning to night, and Thursday same thing for half a day. So, today has been pretty busy trying to prepare for our group's presentation at the meeting. And then there's the chill factor - especially as compared to what I'm now used to here in sunny LA, the next few days are going to be freakin' freezing! But, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to catch up with one or two friends while I'm in the city, and at the least have a slice of REAL pizza! The added bonus is that since I'll be mere hours away from the homeland, aka Bloomfield, CT, I'll be spending the weekend there ... hopefully a weekend filled with lots of rest and relaxation, since I'll be needing it after two days of nonstop presentations and powerpoints in NYC. So, I may try to do a blog update or two from the road, but if you don't see me online for a bit, this is why.

In any case, I had a really fun weekend, and I did see a couple of movies which I'll get to in a second.

First of all, though ...


- Overall, this year's Oscars were a pretty strightforward affair. No real "big" moments, little that was all that memorable, and not much material that was really, truly funny. Jon Stewart did an okay job, though his jokes seemed a little toned-down with little of the biting sarcasm or wit that you usually see from him on The Daily Show. In terms of the actual awards though, I don't have many complaints, and the big awards mostly went to very deserving recipients. In my last post, you can see that my predictions / favorites won in a number of big categories. I called No Country winning for writing, directing, and Best Picture, called Diablo Cody for best original screenplay, and Ratatouille for animated feature. I called Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor, Javier Bardem for Supporting Actor, and Tilda Swindon for Supporting Actress. In each case, I predicted the winners, who also happened to be my personal picks, so it was doubly cool to see these deserving winners.

- It's funny to me how there's no some backlash against the Coens though. I mean, this is the Coens! Okay, they aren't the typical "oh god!" screaming, ecstatic Oscar winners, but they're only, arguably, the best American filmmakers of the last fifteen years. Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, and now No Country ... need I say more? It wasn't long ago either that these guys were still very-much under-the-radar and decided underdogs, so I for one am psyched to see them take home an Oscar or three.

- I called that Ellen Page wouldn't win (though I would have loved for her to have), but was incorrect in my guess that the award would go to Julie Christie. However, I was right in my general premise that the award would simply go to a more traditional dramatic movie, and it did, in the form of La Vie En Rose.

- How did The Golden Compass win for best visual f/x?!?! The movie had VERY uneven f/x in my opinion, with certain things, like the polar bears, looking great, but a lot of other stuff very uneven-seeming. So strange ... Oh well, at least Norbit didn't win an award.

- Still haven't seen Once, but was surprised to see it take Best Song, as the odds seemed to be against it. I did enjoy seeing Amy Adams perform a song from Enchanted though - she's great!

- Was surprised to see Bourne win in so many technical categories ... though I did call Atonement for Best Original Score and Sweeney Todd for Art Direction.

- And really, that was about everything of note to me. My predictions were pretty accurate in the big categories, though I definitely faltered a bit in the lesser ones. In any case, 2007 was an awesome year for movies - No Country, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Superbad, Eastern Promises, Sweeney Todd, Michael Clayton, King of Kong, Ratatouille ... and the list goes on and on. So really, screw the Oscars, just enjoy the films.

Now, about those movies I saw ...


- This is one of those strange movies, where it's clear that this is a unique vision, an original thought - it's heart is, clearly, in the right place ... and yet, it just isn't all that great.

Be Kind, Rewind, from director Michael Gondry, is a movie that I really wanted to like. And with a positive message about the goodness inherent in small communities, in tradition - it was a movie that did at times feel uplifiting and just plain happy. The cast, including Danny Glover, Jack Black and Mos Def, is likable, and the movie has a simplistic, almost old-fashioned style that reminded me of any number of "save-the-community" stories that were common in 1980's kids movies. In fact, the movie has a sense of innocence about it that almost makes it feel like a kids movie.

But overall, the tone is just ... weird. When you hear the concept of Jack Black remaking a bunch of old movies, it seems like fertile ground for hilarity to ensue. Only problem is, the low-budget remakes, or "Swedes" as JB calls them ... well, most of them are amusing enough to elicit a smile or two, but ... they're just not that funny, or clever. They're not really parodies, per se, just reenactments of certain ideas from movies like Robocop and Ghostbusters, in theory funny simply because Jack Black and Mos Def use carboard boxes, aluminum foil, and trick camera angles to create their makeshift costumes and special effects. That's basically the joke, and it quickly wears thin.

The other really odd thing about this movie is that its script seems totally removed from reality, and not in a way that's all that charming or fully-fleshed-out. Danny Glover owns a crappy video store that rents VHS tapes, and of course he's losing business to the big chain stores. But we are never really made to understand what, exactly, is so damn charming about Glover's store. It's a craphole, basically, with a moron working there, a lousy selection of movies, and apparently about three regular customers who for some reason are dying to see played-out movies like Ghostbusters. Furthermore, this plot might have felt relevant about ten years ago, when chains like Blockbuster were at the peak of their powers ... but now it just feels pathetically outdated, at a time when DVD's are already beginning to give way to Blu-Ray discs and online downloads, and Blockbuster is going bankrupt trying to compete with Netflix. I'm not saying that a comedy like this needs to be up-to-the-minute current, but you've got to admit, it's strange to tell this particular story here and now in 2008.

And then, the script as a whole just seems very light. There's rarely any real sense of drama or urgency, and frankly, a lot of things just don't really make sense, even in the slightly surreal world of the movie. I mean, at one point we learn that the legendary jazz musician who is the stuff of local legend was in fact just a legend - sure, he existed, but he wasn't really born in the building that houses Danny Glover's video store as everyone believed. So what exactly is Gondry's message here? That truth is what you make it, and we should embrace that? There just seemed to be something a bit off about what this movie was trying to say, and by the time the townspeople rally to make a doumentary about said jazz musician (for what purpose exactly?), I have to say that Gondry had pretty much lost me. Add to that a weird-o turn from Mia Farrow, a random cameo by Sigourney Weaver (she's everywhere lately!) some really flat attempts at humor, and the fact that Mos Def gets really annoying after a while, and you can see how this one devolves into a bit of a mess.

Now, there are a lot of fun moments here. Jack Black carries a lot of the movie on sheer charisma, and makes one or two gags, like one hilarious one involving a ladder, pretty memorable. I also really like newcomer (at least to me) Melanie Diaz as a lowly drycleaner who gets caught up in the homebrew filmmaking. Her character is a lot of fun, though any hints at romance between her and the two leads never really materialize into anything.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh on this one, well, it's not that I didn't enjoy it - it was a pretty light, breezy little film with some funny gags and a decent amount of heart. But ultimately, I'd call it a misfire from Michael Gondry - it's a messy, strange movie that seems to amble about with little to really take away from it. We can tell that it's TRYING to be funny and heartwarming, and give it points for effort, but it rarely feels like it's firing on all cylinders.

My Grade: B -


- Well, anyone who wants a decently fun, campy action movie ... you may find Vantage Point worth checking out. But man, this is another strange one. It has a great, all-star cast, and some real fun moments along with some appropriately intense action. However, the movie is simply killed by its own premise - the gimmick is that we see the same event, an attempted presidential assassination - play out from several different vantage points. If anything though, the movie has that same annoying feeling of "I've seen this scene four times already!" that a certain similarly-gimmicked episode of Lost had last year. Showing the same events over and over has to be done with a hefty amount of cleverness and wit in order to pull it off, and this movie doesn't quite get the job done. I commits the cardinal sin of literally showing us the same exact moments more than a few times - a tactic which drew aggravated boos from the theater at which I saw the film. Overall, what could have been a fun twist on the typical political thriller becomes incredibly bogged down by its own narrative conceit.

That being said, I often found myself simply won over by the likable cast. I mean, when is Dennis Quaid ever NOT fun to watch in this type of movie? He's great here as a traumatized secret service agent - it makes you wish we could just see a straightforward action flick with Quaid's character in the lead. Instead, we are constantly cutting away from him to see events from other, less interesting perspectives. Chief among these is Forrest Whitaker as an out-of-his-element American tourist who happens to be present when the $%#@ hits the fan. Look, Whitaker was AMAZING in Last King of Scotland - he deserved every ounce of his Oscar for that one. But man, in this one he 100% overacts and just seems incredibly out of place. And his cheesy storyline, in which he tries to save a hapless little girl from the ensuing chaos, is like the absolute worst of one of 24's infamous kooky subplots. Okay, not quite Kim stuck in a cougar-trap bad, but not that far off either.

Luckily, Forest is a weak link, but there are a few other fun turns here to cancel out his character's lameness. William f'n Hurt plays the President (referred to here, comically, over and over again, as the POTUS). I repeat: William Hurt as the Prez. Need I say more? Hurt is as awesome as you'd expect him to be, and is one in a long line of movie presidents who are able to kick a little ass on the side when duty calls. I also enjoyed Matthew Fox here. Sure, his character is essentially a total blank slate, but it was fun to see Fox subvert his typical good guy image a little. Sigourney Weaver also shows up (again). Since The TV Set, she can't seem to find any roles other than that of bitchy media executive ... though she does play that role pretty well by this point. Remember her character from The TV Set? Well, that's pretty much who she plays here.

But as you can probably start to see ... the characters here are presented with almost no real background other than the most bare-bones details. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that it renders afew of the movie's big twists a bit ineffectual, since we barely know anyone's motivations in the first place. The movie is so heavily-focused on exploiting its multiple vantage-point gimmick that it largely ignores little things like plot and character. It contents itself with relying on a few big twists ... and some of 'em are a bit obvious, to boot.

Still, if you turn off your brain for a bit and just bask in the badassness of William Hurt and Dennis Quaid, you might come at things from a slightly different vantage point.

My Grade: B -

- One more quick thing: I caught SNL's return episode from this Saturday, and overall it was decent. A funny digital short, a nice random sketch with Kristen Wiig about a hot-air balloon saleswoman, and a fun appearance from Mike Huckabee were the highlights. They NEED someone to do a better Obama though. I mean, yikes!

- Alllllllright, time to pack for NYC. Be back in LA next Monday. EAST COAST, baby.

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