Oscars Weekend Movie Preview

Weekend Movie Preview – Oscar Edition!

What’s opening this weekend? Dark Skies and Snitch. Both look wildly forgettable. If I’m proven wrong and it turns out the Snitch is the film that singlehandedly catapults Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson into respected actor status or Dark Skies completely reinvents the Paranormal Thriller genre, then I promise to come back here and write over 6000 words on each movie extolling their virtues and bemoaning my own incompetence. Deal? Deal.

oscarsLet’s talk about the Oscars though! This week, in lieu of a Weekend Movie Preview, I’m going to do a very special breakdown of all the Oscar categories, yes, even the ones you probably don’t care about (the Best Sound Editing race is tighter than you think!) People rag on the Oscars all the time but come on, we all secretly love it. Even when the show is terrible or our favorite movies get snubbed, this whole process is entertaining as all get out. Be real with yourself for a second, wasn’t watching James Franco reprise his role from Pineapple Express on stage next to America’s favorite passive aggressive punching bag just a captivating night of television? Sometimes the more terrible it is, the more fun we get to have snarking about it on Twitter. Plus everyone will be dressed up all fancy and we get to hear Adele sing the Skyfall theme. All I’m saying is, good or bad, I don’t see how this could be anything but awesome.

Ok, so aside from Seth McFarlane’s night of a thousand voices headed our way Sunday night, what about the movies? I saw an ad for the telecast recently that touted this year as having “the tightest Best Picture race of all time!” which seems, I don’t know, presumptuous. What hard evidence could that statement possibly be based on? Show your work Academy. I do think this is a fun race though. Last year’s Best Pictures were kind of all over the place quality wise which left us with The Artist sweeping most of the major awards. The Artist is fine, but was it really the best we had to offer last year? Really? The Artist? The silent film? Ugh. I know it shouldn’t but winning all those awards made me retroactively dislike The Artist more than it probably deserves. I’m the worst kind of hipster. In any case, I don’t foresee anything like that happening this year. This is a nice crop. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook

amy adamsI really like Amy Adams a lot. I enjoyed The Master quite a bit. I think that the subtle performance that Adams gives in The Master is great. I truly believe it is a worthy compliment to the above average acting and general cinematic prowess going on in that particular film. That being said, she gets a little lost in the shuffle of that one. I mean, come on, Juaquin Pheonix gives an outrageously good performance and even he gets kind of lost in the towering shadow of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I honestly kind of forgot Amy was even in this movie until looking over the nominees for this category. You know who I didn’t forget about ever because she refuses to be forgotten about by anyone? Anne Hathaway. Les Mis might as well just rename itself “The One Where Anne Hathaway Won A Statue Because She Bravely Wore an Unflattering Haircut” and get it over with. At least we’d save ourselves from people obnoxiously pronouncing Lu Miz-Ah-Rob-lah all the time.

Who I’d Like to Win: Amy Adams
Who Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Dark Horse: Jacki Weaver (because I don’t know what Crabby Snacks are but she made me want them more than anything in the world)

Original Screenplay

Amour –Michael Haneke
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
Flight – John Gatnis
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

This is a pretty fun category all around. Except for Amour. Amour is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but Amour should never ever be described as fun under any circumstances. I really enjoyed Flight but I don’t believe it was necessarily memorable for it’s screenwriting. In fact, if anything I remember not having issues with this movie all the way until the very end when a certain choice about where to take the story didn’t totally sit well with me. I will go full on in depth about how much I liked Zero Dark Thirty later on (Hint: a lot) but let’s just say that due to the outrageously compelling nature of the actual story, I feel like the degree of difficulty on making this screenplay equally compelling wasn’t very high.

Which brings us to Moonrise Kingdom and Django Unchained. Wes Anderson and QT probably sit at numbers 1 and 2 respectively on the top of my list of favorite auteurs. This makes me either wildly qualified to make this decision or extremely compromised by my own blinding love for them. I’ll let you be the judge.

When you’re discussing the latest work from artists you revere , it’s difficult to have a perspective on where it fits in their overall cannon. For example, I’ve seen Rushmore at somewhere north of 20 times in my life. I know exactly how I feel about that film (Hint: I feel good about it). I’ve seen Moonrise Kingdom twice. Part of what I love about Anderson and Tarantino is how they create films that sort of need to be lived in to be properly appreciated. The flip side of this is that it takes a few years, not a few months, to formulate your opinion on their work. Where does that leave us here? Honestly I don’t know. Both scripts are so different that comparing them doesn’t really help much. I think I’m inclined to lean towards Quentin here just because the writing feels so emphasized in his work. Watching the finished product I just constantly had the mental image of a sweaty Tarantino sitting behind a typewriter at four in the morning, cackling to himself, and cranking out page after page of brilliant dialogue. I don’t feel that way about Wes Anderson. With him I sort of imagine the words just floating out of his brain and landing ethereally in the pages of a well-worn leather notebook. Is this an arbitrary way to hand out awards? Sure. Is it any worse than whatever the AMPAS does to decide these things? Who’s to say?

Who I’d Like to Win: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom (Moonrise isn’t nominated for anything else, throw them a bone!)
Who Will Win: Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Dark Horse: Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty (someone should win something for writing a scene in which Chris Pratt plays Horseshoes and discusses Osama Bin Ladin. I loved that. )

Adapted Screenplay

Argo- Chris Terrio
Beasts of a Southern Wild –Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi –David Magee
Lincoln – Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell

So the idea behind this category it to award who ever did the best job adapting a script from source material. I have not read any of the source material for these scripts except for Life of Pi. Does this disqualify me from properly judging this category? Probably. Will I make a pick anyway? Duh.

Who I’d like to Win: Chris Terrio – Argo (I just really liked Argo)
Who Will Win: Chris Terrio – Argo (Because why not?)
Dark Horse: David Magee – Life of Pi (I disliked this book and this movie. For that reason alone it will probably win everything and I will pout about it for weeks)

Animated Feature Film

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph brave

It bugs me how down everyone seems to be on Brave. I loved Brave. I really think people are just suffering from Pixar fatigue and picking nits just to pick them. Brave was beautiful. It was funny. It was heartwarming. It was animated Braveheart if Braveheart didn’t have the like 40 minutes of the movie I always skip (If I want to watch Mel Gibson fall in love I’ll just watch What Women Want, thank you very much). Get off your high horse Brave haters.

ParaNorman and Frankenweenie were each interesting in their own right, especially the manner in which they were animated , but neither one took me to a higher place emotionally the way great animated films often do (looking at you first five minutes of UP). The Pirates! Band of Misfits….I didn’t see you, however, you’re disqualified from winning any awards from me because of your confusing title. Sorry. Better luck next time.

As much as I love Brave, and will continue to love it, I wouldn’t be upset with a Wreck-It Ralph win here. It was fun and a surprisingly original venture for Disney, a studio that has a pretty tried and true formula when it comes to animation usually. The visuals were gorgeous, it’s heart was in the right place, and it genuinely made me laugh. Good on you Wreck-It Ralph.

Who I’d Like to Win: Brave (Duh.)
Who Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph (Polite applause)
Dark Horse: ParaNorman (The amazing stop motion animation on display here might sneak it past the two heavy hitters. Might. Probably not though.)

Animated Short Film

The Paperman
Fresh Guacamole
Adam and Dog
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”

Like most people, I love The Simpsons franchise. It is the standard bearer for animated entertainment and always will be. I credit The Simpsons for forming many of my own comic sensibilities and will be forever grateful for everything it has given me. That being said, The Simpsons don’t need to win an Oscar do they? I have not seen the short and have even read mostly positive reviews about it so maybe I’m just full of it, but it would feel weird for the Simpsons to win this one.I did not see Head over Heels either but the trailer kind of creeped me out. Fresh Guacamole is a really fascinating way to spend two minutes of your life but it lacks the emotional punch of these next two.

Adam and Dog is and independently animated film that follows a dog befriending Adam. Not just any Adam but, you know, the Adam. It’s animation is refreshingly crude. It manages to reflect the very primal nature of the film while at the same time providing truly beautiful glimpses of a natural paradise. I ran through the entire gamut of emotions watching this one and was surprised at how choked up I was by the ending. This was a truly unique piece of filmmaking.

If Adam and Dog is the scrappy underdog (pun ALWAYS intended) then The Paperman is the big money heavyweight favorite. This Disney entry was featured in front of Wreck-It Ralph this summer and is the most likely to have been seen out of any of these. It is slick and polished and everything you would expect out of a studio backed animated short. It also was genuinely one of my favorite things that I watched all year. It’s like someone instagrammed a heartwarming story and slapped a beautiful score behind it. It pushed every button for me both visually and emotionally. I truly think Adam and Dog was a great film and the awful hipster in me desperately wants to champion the indie flick but, The Paperman made me believe true love might actually exist which, following the news of Amy Poheler and Will Arnett’s divorce last year, was something I didn’t think was possible.

Who I’d Like to Win: The Paperman
Who Will Win: The Paperman
Dark Horse: Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (there’s no way the Academy would give it to Adam and Dog. There’s lots of ways the Academy might just see The Simpsons named attached to this movie and give it the award just because)

Production Design

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

I am not an expert on the intricacies of production design, though I do think it’s pretty cool. I mean, imagine being able to respond to the question, “So what do you do?” with “Oh, well It’s my job to make things look good.” Then you get to just put sunglasses on and walk away. That’s the life of a production designer (I assume, again, not an expert).

I feel like period pieces have an advantage in this category just because the degree of difficulty is so high. A movie like the Hobbit has it’s own set of intricate design complications but with Fantasy you’re at least working a little bit more out of the imagination. There are no concrete rules for what Middle Earth looks like (nerds, I know there are concrete rules technically, but go with me on this). In a situation like the movie Anna Karenina, we have a decent idea of what late 19th century Russia looked like, there’s pictures and stuff, so making sure everything looks authentic has a ridiculously high importance on a movie like that. Same goes for films like Les Misérables and Lincoln. Lincoln obviously loses points here since like half the work of making it look authentic was taken care of by Daniel Day Lewis disappearing into the woods with thirty thousand pennies and emerging a year later having assumed the exact visage of our 16th president on his face.

Who I’d Like To Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (because someone had to braid all those beards you guys)
Who Will Win: Anna Karenina (Feels like this movie was made with no other purpose except to win a production design award)
Dark Horse: Life of Pi (seriously, I will complain about every single win this movie gets).

Costume Design

Anna Karenina
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman

All that stuff I just said about Production Design just a second ago? Ditto here, except with stuff they wear.

Who I’d Like to Win: Mirror Mirror (for variety’s sake)
Who Will Win: Anna Karenina
Dark Horse: You know that point in the Oscars like two thirds of the way through where the show kind of starts to drag and you look down at your watch and are like “Wow, have we really been doing this for two hours already?” Yea. That’s how I feel about this.

Make Up and Hairstyling

Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Ugggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Who I’d Like to Win: Someone who will give a short speech
Who Will Win: Someone who will end up getting played off the stage
Dark Horse: What if an actual dark horse won this category?

Cinematography

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall

The last couple winners in this category were Hugo and Avatar. Which of the above movies has the most in common with Hugo and Avatar?

Who I’d Like to Win: Skyfall (This movie looked awesome, which is like the main point of a James Bond movie)
Who Will Win: Life of Pi (Grudgingly willing to admit that Life of Pi was visually pretty not too terrible I guess)
Dark Horse: Django Unchained (Those amazing landscape shots in Django aren’t getting talked about enough. That movie was beautifully shot.)

Live Action Short Film

Asad
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry

I have not seen any of these short films. However, I’ve watched all the trailers, which is kind of the same right? Death of a Shadow looks absolutely nuts. Everything I’ve read about this category seems to indicate that Curfew is going to win so, you know, if you’re betting on The Oscars then A. bet on Curfew B. Please don’t base your bets based on what I’m spitting out here. That’s just crazy irresponsible.

Who I’d like to Win: Death of a Shadow
Who Will Win: Curfew (Bet the house on it! But not because I said so! Only if you truly believe!)
Dark Horse: Buzkashi Boys (That title sounds like a sweet band name)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Phillip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained

waltzI think this might be the toughest category for me. I genuinely loved all of these performances so, before I go breaking down tiny, miniscule flaws and nitpicking these guys to death, lets just be clear about something…all of them are awesome. There isn’t a bad egg in the bunch. I wish we could give all of these gentleman different parts of the stature that they could wear around their necks so that then, when they meet up at parties, they could all join their pieces together and yell out “Super Team Best Supporting 2k13!” and I could just die from happiness.

Tommy Lee Jones isn’t the winner here. Again, he was great, but I didn’t walk away from Lincoln talking about Tommy Lee Jones and how he stole the show. You simply don’t steal Daniel Day Lewis’s show. That’s not how these things work. The winner of this category needs to have stolen the show.

De Niro and Arkin suffer the same fate. Arkin was awesome, but I kind of just lumped him and Goodman’s performance together into one great support team that leant some much needed levity to the whole…people might get shot in the face at any moment situation that was happening in Argo.

I think this is my favorite De Niro Role in years. I haven’t liked him this much since he played a flamboyant pirate in Stardust. He plays against type wonderfully and serves as a great extension of Bradley Cooper’s troubled character. But does he steal the show? No he does not.

Now this is just the worst. Christoph Waltz or Phillip Seymour Hoffman? It’s so interesting to me how quickly Waltz has just vaulted into an elite stratosphere in my mind thanks, essentially, to two Quentin Tarantino roles. Waltz just seems to speak the specific language of Tarantino so well, if that makes sense. I’d argue that he might speak it better than anyone in the world at this point. Samuel L. Jackson still kind of just sounds like Sam in QT movies (No he can’t stop yelling, haven’t you seen his movies?). All the Reservoir dogs were great but no one actor stole the show. The same could be said for the Pulp Fiction cast. David Carradine was an excellent vessel for it but his sample size in the Kill Bills was so small that I don’t think he ultimately qualifies. Uma was so phenomenal for a lot of reasons in those movies but I always feel like Tarantino has a harder time crafting his own voice to fit the frequency of his female characters. I’m sure there are other candidates but, after taking two successive films and making them his own, I feel Waltz has really cemented himself as the ideal surrogate for Tarantino’s intricate, playful dialogue. Now, with all of that on the table, unfortunately I think this is ultimately what causes Waltz to bow out of this contest. His performance was beautiful but the performance would be impossible without all of the general Tarantinoness of the proceedings. If he weren’t up against such a formidable foe in Hoffman then I wouldn’t think twice about giving this to what really was one of my favorite performances all year but, alas, here we are. Au Revoir Shoshanna!

You probably don’t need me to extoll on the greatness of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I will, because it’s fun. While this performance doesn’t approach the dizzying heights of his career-defining role in Along Came Polly as Sandy Lyle (I’m very serious about this), PSH is on the top of his game here. His presence lords over The Master even when he isn’t on screen leaving you constantly waiting for him to show back up. In a way, his performance perfectly mirrors the character he plays. Half the time I don’t understand what he’s saying but it sounds beautiful and intelligent and terrifying and inviting all at the same time. He’s charismatic almost to a fault. You find yourself questioning what’re you doing even watching this movie. Why am I putting myself through this? What are they even talking about? And yet instead of just leaving the theater you pull closer, watching for Hoffman to appear, hoping for answers. I clearly have my own quibbles with The Master as a whole but, I can assure you, the experience of seeing the movie is worth it just to be inducted into the cult of PSH. It might be labeled a “supporting” role, but The Master is defined Hoffman’s performance.

Who I’d Like to Win: Christoph Waltz (If he was allowed to win it with Quentin in one of those tandem statue necklace things we talked about earlier)
Who Will Win: Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Dark Horse: Tommy Lee Jones (I just don’t trust Lincoln. I’m kind of nervous that it’s going to win every award whether we like it or not. I wouldn’t be as mad about this as I would be about Life of Pi, but I wouldn’t be super excited about it either. More on this later.)

Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man has to win this award. It just has to. I won’t go so far as to say I would stop watching the telecast if it loses but man, Searching for Sugar Man was just all kinds of incredible and if you haven’t watched it then please, stop reading this, go watch it, and revel in it’s awesome.

This sentiment feels slightly, I don’t know, shallow considering some of the subject matter of the other films in this category. You have two films (The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras) tackling the difficult Israel-Palestine conflict from unique and informative points of view. How to Survive a Plague tells the story of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) who were activist groups instrumental in combatting the AIDS epidemic in the late 80’s. The Invisible War is a startling expose on the troubling history of Sexual Assault in our military. See what I mean? This is heavy, important stuff we’re dealing with here.

Searching for Sugar man, the story of a little known blues singer from ‘70s, seems almost trivial by comparison. I think it’s times like this that it’s important to take a step back and remember that Movie Awards shows are themselves pretty trivial in their own right. Sugar Man winning this award does not lessen the significance of the conflict in the Middle East. If we were trying to decide which movie tackled the most significant subject matter then everyone would be sitting around trying to decide if passing the 13th amendment was more significant than killing Bin Ladin. That’s just not how this works, nor should it be. All we’re trying to figure out is what the best movie was and frankly that’s a pretty inexact science in the first place anyway .

Forget best documentary, Searching for Sugar Man was one of the best movie’s I saw all year. It should win this.

Who I’d Like to Win: Searching for Sugar Man
Who Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man
Dark Horse: How to Survive a Plague (I didn’t say much about this one, but it really was a fantastic doc. In retrospect, I was being a little dramatic in that first paragraph, I wouldn’t be upset if it pulled a win out here.)

Documentary Short

Inocente
Kings Point
Monday’s at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

I have not seen any of these documentary shorts. However I just watched all of their trailers and here is what I have to report:

  • If the award is given to the trailer with the most depressingly ironic use of the song “New York, New York”, then the award will go to Redemption.
  • If the award is given to the trailer that made me begin weeping openly at my desk, then the award will go to Monday’s at Racine.
  • If the award is given to the trailer that had the greatest jumps in tone between inspirational and heartbreaking, then the award will go to Inocente.
  • If the award is given to the trailer that forced me to stare directly into the heart of the long, perpetual slog towards my own inevitable demise, then the award will go to King’s Point.
  • If the award is given to the trailer that seemed to indicate a slight glimmer of hope for humanity flickering out on the horizon, then the award will go to Open Heart.

It took me about 10 minutes to watch all of these trailers back to back and, honestly, I would put it on the short list of most emotionally draining 10 minutes of my life. Seriously, I’m exhausted. I think if I watched even one of these films right now I would just collapse in to a puddle of tears on the ground and no one would be able to talk to me for a few days. Let’s just move on.

Who I’d Like to Win: Monday’s at Racine (Follows the stories of two women who run a beauty salon and open it once a month to women undergoing chemo. The hardest part of watching this trailer was not being able to transport myself through the computer to hug every single one of these women as they give their testimonials. )
Who Will Win: Open Heart (The story of eight Rwandan children with rheumatic heart disease and the one hospital in Sudan trying to help. That just sounds like an Oscar winning synopsis, doesn’t it?)
Dark Horse: King’s Point (There is a slight probability that voters might watch this film first, get really freaked out about old age and death, then just not watch the other ones because they can’t handle any other movies right now.)

Visual Effects

The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

You know what had truly phenomenal visual effects? Prometheus. Prometheus is a flawed film story-wise and ultimately was a disappointing overall effort from Ridley Scott and co., but man, that film was absolutely gorgeous to look at. Go back and watch the trailer just to refresh yourself (the trailer was probably better than the actual movie anyway). I watched this thing in IMAX and remember walking out just blown away by the world they had created. There is one shot in which Michael Fassbender’s character discovers a giant hologram of an Orrery, or star map, that is simply incredible to behold The intricacies of the universe are all just painstakingly mapped out on a giant scale and at no point do you ever think to yourself, “wow, what an awesome effect.” It’s like Ridley just saw something cool and pointed his camera at it. I obviously did not see Star Wars in the theaters back in the 70’s, but I think the effects in a film are comparable to what caused people to flip out about those movies back then. There’s something special in particular about the relationship between a Sci-Fi film and it’s audience. When done right, it almost makes it seem like the future is happening in front of your eyes and that literally anything is possible. So few films can take you to a place like that and I applaud the people behind Prometheus for taking that unique relationship so seriously. prometheus

Life of Pi will when this award because it pushed the boundaries of 3D technology and changed the way that people believe 3D can be used in cinema. At least that’s what everyone is saying. Everyone won’t shut up about this movie’s 3D visuals. I know I sound like I’m 80 years old but I refuse to bow down at the alter of 3D. I won’t do it. I don’t care how many people tell me that “this this 3D is different from everything else, its used more to accentuate the visual rather than be the focal point.” Come off it. I’ve heard that before and I just don’t see it. I feel like everyone’s trying to Emperor’s New Clothes me. I’m not buying it.

I don’t need the boundaries of 3D technology to be pushed any further. Leave those boundaries alone.

Who I’d Like to Win: Prometheus
Who Will Win: Life of Pi
Dark Horse: The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey (I liked this movie, but I’m getting really tired of typing out the post colon stuff every time it’s nominated for something)

Sound Editing

Skyfall
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Um…

Who I’d Like to Win: Skyfall
Who Will Win: Life of Pi (sigh)
Dark Horse: (….stares blankly ahead at the computer screen)

Sound Mixing

Skyfall
Lincoln
Life of Pi
Les Misérables
Argo

The one where they sang on set is going to win a sound mixing award, right? I mean, right? Yea, that sounds right.

Who I’d Like to Win: Les Misérables
Who Will Win: Les Misérables
Dark Horse: Life of Pi

Film Editing

Argo
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Lincoln
Life of Pi

Another not super high profile award, but kind of a cool story to go with it. William Goldberg, the editor for Argo, was also one of the two editors for Zero Dark Thirty. Can you imagine how much it would crush you to have two entries in the ring and still lose? I’m pulling for you Willy!

Who I’d Like to Win: Argo or Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Argo
Dark Horse: I realize now that I’ve kind of been using Dark Horse wrong over the course of this post. It’s supposed to mean an unheralded contender that might surprise people with a win and I’ve sometimes been using it more like evil contender plotting in the shadows. I kind of like it better that way though. The image of evil horses plotting in the shadows terrifies and delights me. Anyway, dark horse for this category is now obviously Life of Pi.

Original Score

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

I didn’t realize that Alexandre Desplat did the score for Argo. He’s had some really beautiful and unique scores over the years and I really admire his ability to not exactly have a signature sound but instead craft music that accentuates the broad spectrum of films he’s worked on. You could probably pick up on a John Williams score based on like three notes at this point, which isn’t necessarily a knock on Williams, but there’s something to be said for a score blending in with the film instead of the other way around.

Who I’d like to Win: Argo
Who Will Win: Argo (!)
Dark (Evil) Horse: Life of Pie

Original Song

“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice
“Suddenly” from Les Misérables
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
“Skyfall” from Skyfall
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted

There’s no way Adele’s Skyfall isn’t winning this category. But on a different note, can we talk about the fact that Wide Awake by Katy Perry from her documentary was eligible for this category and wasn’t nominated? That’s horrifying and something I find hard to abide by. As soon as I’m through with this thing, many a strongly worded letter will be sent to the Academy. Hopefully it’s not too late.

Who I’d Like to Win: “Wide Awake” from Katy Perry: Part of Me
Who Will Win: “Skyfall” from Skyfall (I do love this song. It’s one of my favorite Bond themes of all time and Adele is a treasure.
Dark (Evil) Horse: “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi

Foreign Language Film

Amour

Kon-Tiki
No
A Royal Affair
War Witch

Amour is the only one of these films also nominated for Best Picture. Logic pretty much dictates how this will play out.

Who I’d like to Win: Amour
Who Will Win: Amour
Dark (Evil) Horse: Life of Pi (I don’t know how it would pull this off, I just wouldn’t be surprised if it did)

Director

Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

This category is a little more notable for who isn’t nominated than who is. Affleck for Argo, Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, and Tarantino for Django Unchained. I won’t dwell on it too much because I only have one egregious wrong that I can fight today (Katy Perry) but I will say this: Bigelow won for the Hurt Locker a few years ago, Tarantino is pretty constantly being told how great he is by everyone (including me) anyway, and Affleck has kind of been going on a little redemption tour of his own winning Best Director at most of the pre Oscar award shows anyway. These three are fine.

Out of the actual nominees, I liked Silver Linings Playbook the most. Russell is an interesting director to me because he seems to coax interesting ideas and performances out of very simple premises (except for I Heart Huckabees, I’m still not totally sure what I watched there). Three Kings was, at it’s core, a heist movie. The Fighter was an underdog sports movie. Silver Linings Playbook was just a romantic comedy. Within the framework of these basic genres Russell manages to layer his own manic energy and unique comedic tone right alongside very real darkness and pain. It adds depth and heart to he proceedings, which makes for an overall more satisfying movie experience. I really loved Silver Linings Playbook, I came away from it almost startled by how fully realized it was as a film. From beginning to middle to end it was so very assured of who it was and what it was trying to accomplish. Every scene and every character felt so real and lived in. A lot of that has to do with the fantastic performances that the movie is just littered with, but that all starts with the director.

That being said, this one probably goes to Spielberg. I feel like when faced with a difficult choice the Academy will usually fall back on voting for Spielberg.

Who I’d Like to Win: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Who Will Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Dark (Evil) Horse: Ang Lee, Life of Pi (I do really like Ang Lee as a director and Life of Pi isn’t nearly as bad as I’m making it out to be. Most of my hatred comes from a place of despising the source material. The movie’s fine, it looks good and the Tiger is cool and whatever, but I can’t get over how much I just dislike the story. So yea, it’s not Ang Lee’s fault but I really hope that this movie doesn’t win things)

Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

This is a super competitive category with lots of really interesting performances to choose from. Not totally sure how Naomi Watts from The Impossible snuck in there though. I don’t even think The Impossible is nominated for anything else in this show. I didn’t see the Impossible, but honestly, I kind of forgot it existed. I had to look it up to remember it’s the one about the Tsunami. Anyway, Naomi’s not going to win.

Neither is Quvenzhané Wallis, though I do think she’s adorable and can’t wait to watch her in various red carpet interviews and what not. Beasts of a Southern Wild was a super weird movie but it was really fun to watch and Wallis gave one of those captivating child actor performances that leave you wondering what you’re doing with your life because this freaking nine year old is blowing you out of the water talent wise.

Emmanuelle Riva was great in Amour a.k.a. the saddest movie of all time. Like Wallis, she is adorable and will probably melt all of our hearts during all of the red carpet interviews and, should she pull off the upset, will likely give and incredible speech that leaves us all wondering what we’re doing with our lives because this freaking eighty five year old women is blowing us out of the water talent wise (also, Oscar night is her birthday. I almost want her to win just so I can see what happens when my emotional sensors get overloaded).

jen lawI’m having a really hard time deciding between Chastain and Lawrence. Lawrence was just incredible in Silver Linings Playbook. I mean, who didn’t see this movie and immediately offer up some comment along the lines of “Holy cow that Hunger Games girl can act her face off!” She had crazy amounts of energy and chemistry with her counterpart, Cooper, and managed to convincingly portray how broken and hurt her character was inside this great outer wall of strength and confidence she projected on the world. Also, no nominee in any category made me laugh as hard as she did with the line “You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.”

jes chas

Chastain though. Wow, Chastain isn’t just the glue that holds together the truly phenomenal Zero Dark Thirty, she’s the engine that drives it. She plays such a wide range of emotions throughout the film and she manages to convey a fully realized character to the audience without the benefit of any real outside exposition. I mean, If you really think back on that movie, everything you know about that character comes from what Chastain gives to you through her performance. You know why I keep calling her that character? I can’t even remember the characters name, which is fine, because that’s not what’s important about who you’re watching. It’s an interesting element of the movie that Chastain is really playing an amalgam of people, so what she is portraying isn’t just a woman, but more the idea of the hunt for Bin Ladin. She’s embodying the drive and the perseverance and the frustration and the pain of everyone involved. She takes the overall toll of everyone’s sacrifice and channels it through her performance. It’s something that I can’t really remember ever seeing before, or at least, seen done before this well. I am truly in awe of what Chastain was able to do here and I hope the Academy chooses to reward her for it.

Who I’d Like to Win: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty (unfortunately, I think a lot of the controversy surrounding ZDT will hamper most of it’s award chances, which is really a shame)
Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook (Lawrence has absolutely crushed every element of the whole “make everyone in America fall in love with you” strategy in the Win An Oscar Campaign playbook. She’s going to win this. Not upset about that.)
Dark (not Evil this time) Horse: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

ddlI mean, the guy who traveled back in time to the 19th century, embedded himself in the Lincoln cabinet as senator James Harlan from Iowa (prove to me this isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis, you can’t) and studied him for four years is going to win this right? It feels silly even to discuss this.

Denzel…He was very good in flight. I like it when Denzel plays a damaged character. Not going to win. Hugh Jackman? Get out of here.

I’ve waxed on and on about how great Phillip Seymour Hoffman was in The Master but Joaquin was pretty incredible too. He constantly had me on edge and really sold the relationship between his character and Hoffman’s. His whole performance felt like a raw, exposed nerve and his dedication to that idea was breathtaking to watch. It was also kind of terrifying to watch.

It was refreshing to watch Bradley Cooper in this role and you could tell he was sort of energized to be playing a character with this much depth for him to explore. I mean, I loved him in Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, but those are pretty one-note characters that he could probably play in his sleep. Here he was angry and manic while being sad and vulnerable at the same time. Both he and Lawrence were so charismatic every time they were on screen, which is part of the reason the movie was just so appealing in spite of the fact that you’re spending two hours dealing with the very real and very unsettling face of mental illness.

Who I’d like to Win: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln (I’ve been making a lot of jokes at DDL’s expense, but this performance was remarkable. He’s one of our greatest living actors and it truly was a treat to watch him tackle such an iconic historical role with his trademark dedication.)
Dark (Non Evil this time, but possibly Crazy) Horse: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Best Picture

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

That’s a pretty solid collection of movies up there. I’ve done a decent amount of nitpicking about everything so far but, taking a step back, every single one of these movies was well crafted (even you Life of Pi) and I am glad that I got to experience them.

Les Misérables was a very entertaining movie that was ultimately just a bit disappointing. I don’t know if that was the movie’s fault or just the fact that expectations for this story are just so high or if the musical just doesn’t translate as well to the big screen as everyone wants it to or if I was just unsettled by how hard we were thrust in the face of the actors over the course of this seven hour film…I just don’t know. Take your pick. It was a good movie, just not a best movie.

Life of Pi, I don’t want to get into this again. Look I get it, people loved Life of Pi, both the movie and the book, but I just wasn’t one of those people. It leaves me cold every time.

Amour, you were so well done and beautifully shot, but man were you sad. Like, make me want to sit in a dark room with a blanket around my shoulders while I stare into a fire sad.

Beasts of a Southern Wild was the most unique and imaginative thing I saw all year. It was like watching a live action fairy tale. I loved the idea of an unspoken sort of magic and mysticism being woven into the fabric of our world that feels real and organic. The Bathtub as a setting is beautifully brought to life and it is extremely rewarding to watch Hushpuppy, the child heroine played by Quvenzhané Wallis, navigate her way through it. This was a weird, uplifting and ultimately very rewarding cinematic experience. It may not be the Best Picture, but I think it’s okay with that. It was never trying to be. Beasts of a Southern Wild is a different animal.

You know how I feel about Silver Linings Playbook at this point. Well crafted from start to finish with some incredible performances. Ultimately, it will probably not win Best Picture but it will likely be the movie I re-watch more than any of the rest nominated here.

Django Unchained was wildly entertaining and proved yet again that Tarantino is one of the true great, original filmmakers working today and someone who we are all lucky to get to watch. It cracks me up when I read people talking about how this film felt overly self-indulgent. Have you seen any Tarantino movies? They are ALL self-indulgent. Indulging in the stuff that he loves and throwing it up on screen is the definition of his style. If Tarantino ever made a movie that wasn’t self-indulgent we would all look at ourselves and wonder what happened to Quentin. It just feels like a hollow criticism to me. At the end of the day, I think Django will probably not be my favorite QT outing. There was something about it that didn’t just hypnotize me and draw me in the way Inglorious Basterds did or the Kill Bill’s did. I think I like it better when Tarantino applies the Western genre on something that isn’t traditionally a Western versus just simply making a Western. I don’t know. Either way, the Academy definitely isn’t giving this film Best Picture, so we should probably just move along because I could sit here and dissect Tarantino films all day.

I would love to see Argo win this award because I think Argo is pretty close to being a perfect movie experience. It is funny when it needs to be funny and tense when it needs to be tense. It has incredible performances across the board and tells just a riveting story. There’s government espionage intrigue and Hollywood inside jokes. There’s a heartwarming father-son relationship. I mean, Argo really hits like every entertainment beat and it hits them perfectly. A lot has been said about Affleck really coming into his own as a director with this film and I wholeheartedly concur with that sentiment. If the main goal of a movie is to entertain you, then this movie has accomplished that goal as thoroughly as anything else out there.

I mentioned it earlier, but I feel like all the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty is going to hamper it’s chances of winning many awards here. This is unfortunate because the controversy turned political awfully quick with each side grandstanding loudly and publically without much nuance or respect to what Kathryn Bigelow was trying to accomplish with this film. I don’t want to get into it here because I want to focus on the film itself, which was excellent. The raid on the compound in Abbottabad was one of the best action sequences I’ve ever scene. Period. It baffles me how, in spite of knowing exactly how almost every detail of that mission went down, I was still riveted by what was going on screen. There was this tension that had slowly built up over the course of the movie that Bigelow managed to hide in the shadows at a low volume right up until she wanted you to feel it. Those guys start walking towards those helicopters and everything is dark and starts to look weirdly familiar because we’ve all watched the news enough and seen what this mission probably looked like. All of a sudden you can’t think because the pit in your stomach is growing and your palms are sweating. Your nervous because you’ve lived like 10 years in the past two hours and you know exactly what’s at stake. Man, I’m breathing hard just thinking about it right now. This was an important film and is going to remain an important film the further and further we get away from the event. It will be fascinating years from now to look back at this snap shot of what we went through and see how much our perception of it has changed. I think people will look back on these Academy Awards years from now with disbelief that Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t acknowledged more.

lincoWhich brings me to Lincoln. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lincoln is going to win this category because sometimes the Academy just does this type of thing. It is a fine movie, but it is the cinematic equivalent of making a decent hamburger. Steven Spielberg directed Daniel Day-Lewis in a period bio-pic about one of the most revered men in the history of our country. I mean, of course it’s going to be good but…I mean, was this really the Best Picture? Remember when the Kings Speech won best picture two years ago and we all applauded and were like, yes, that was an excellent movie. I suppose it did deserve to win, what an excellently crafted film. Meanwhile, the Social Network came out that year and perfectly captured what will end up being one of the defining qualities of a generation of people. Like Zero Dark Thirty this year, The Social Network was an important movie and it was one that had something unique and intelligent to say about our society. Like Lincoln this year, The Kings Speech was a well-made biopic that featured and excellent performance but was, in the grand scheme of things, not very important. Just watch, Spielberg is going to win for Best Director. Then Day-Lewis will win for Best Actor. All of a sudden you’ll realize, oh my god, is Lincoln about to take three out of four major categories tonight? Is Lincoln going to be the movie that defines this year in film? Then whoever is presenting will open the envelope and say, “The award for best picture goes to…” and you’ll shut your eyes and clinch your fists and say a quick prayer and then… “Lincoln.” You’ll stare ahead for a bit and zone out during the speech and then you’ll sort of just realize that, you know what, I was probably taking these awards a little to seriously in the first place.

Who I’d Like to Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Lincoln
Dark (Evil) Horse: Life of Pi

Snow white and the hunt1

Project NewFilmland – Week 3

Welcome to the third installment of Project NewFilmland, my yearly quest to watch at least one new movie a week. For a detailed history of the project as well as a questionable digression into the history of Belgium, check here.

Snow white and the huntI realized the other day that with my first two new films I was sort of hanging out around the fringes of the indie film world, a place I certainly know and love, but also realize is a place that can be pretentious and unwelcoming. While I will likely return to the indie world often (perhaps as soon as next week, I got my eyes on you Safety Not Guaranteed) there’s no reason we can’t hang out with some big budget blockbusters too. I mean, some of my favorite movies are big budget blockbusters like Top GunMission Impossible II and Minority Report, just to name a few. I’m a pretty diverse dude.

So what did I get into this week? One of last summer’s two different takes on a particular fairy tale. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, last summer Hollywood took a brave stab at allegations from all the haters about it’s relative lack of originality by revisiting the story of Snow White. All the haters screamed out that surely with all of Hollywood’s vast talents, recourses, and riches, it should be able to come up with something better than a new Snow White movie. Hollywood responded to this point by saying, “Well, the egg, is on your face,” then laughing manically and releasing a Funny Snow White and a Serious Snow White just to spite everyone.

holding hands
An artist’s rendering of Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sandars’s torrid affair

How did it turn out? Well, critics were mixed on both. People went out and saw them anyway and then everyone pretty much forgot about the whole thing because OMG THE AVENGERS IS COMING OUT SOON WHO CARES! We all probably could’ve just gone about our business forgetting any of this ever happened but then….scandal. Now I’m no tabloid watcher ( I am) or celeb gossip queen (I’m a celeb gossip king) but this was a pretty fascinating one to follow. Kristen Stewart, who had long been going steady with fellow Twilight star Robert Pattinson, was caught having an affair with Rupert Sanders, the man who directed her in Serious Snow White. The affair was apparently a torrid one that began on set of the film and immediately offered up every last detail of this movie as tantalizing fodder for rampant speculation. It kind of breathed new life into a whole operation that felt pretty stale from the get go.  The film had a story behind it now. It had an identity. Instead of just being Serious Snow White, it was finally Snow White and the Huntsman. This is not the most conventional way to get people to notice your movie but, you know, shake what your mama gave you and all that.

Anyway, after all that nonsense finally died down (K-Stew patched things up with Rob, don’t worry) I still found myself sitting here with a movie that I knew an awful lot about but had never actually gotten around to watching. This movie first started making noise around this time last year and, since it still won’t seem to shut up about it, I figured I might as well go ahead and take a look.


There are definitely worse ways to spend two and a half hours. On a base level, I enjoyed my time with this movie and found it pretty entertaining. I’m certainly not upset with myself for watching it (I’m trying to see how many backhanded compliments I can squeeze into the opening paragraph) and if you asked me if I would recommend it to other people I would give it a full-hearted and confident, “Sure, I guess so!”

Now to be clear, this movie couldn’t be reinventing the wheel less. This is a story you’ve heard before. These are character archetypes you’ve seen before. The score is familiar, the scenery is familiar, the costumes are familiar. It’s all just dressed up a little different. It’s akin to going to a fancy hamburger place, the type that tries to pull a bunch of different ingredients like gouda cheese and apple wood smoked pepper bacon and chipotle ketchup together to make a burger that changes the landscape of burgers and yet, at the end of the day, you realize you’re just eating a bacon cheeseburger. Still, who’s going to sneeze at a bacon cheeseburger?

I won’t bore you with recounting the plot because you can probably figure it out if you’ve ever heard of Snow White and ruining the little deviations they clearly worked so very hard to put in there to keep you guessing would just be super rude. Instead, lets get right down to what I found interesting about this picture.

  • kristenLet’s start with Kristen Stewart in the title role (well, one of the title roles, I’ll let you guess which one). I’ve always been fascinated with Kristen. She’s very much not a traditional movie star in most respects. She doesn’t look like a movie star. She doesn’t talk like a movie star. For that matter, she doesn’t really act like one either. I mean this in the best way, I swear, but there’s something unremarkable about her screen presence that is comforting to me. I relate to her as a normal person because she seems like a normal person as opposed to seeming like some ethereal movie star. I’ve always felt like I went to high school with Kristen Stewart or something. Now generally I think this works to her advantage on screen because it’s something different that we don’t normally see. For example, she absolutely crushes her screen time in Into the Wild. She brings a nervous energy that feels raw and real. She fits perfectly in with the tone of that film. The same goes for the very underrated Adventureland. It makes all of the sense that she would be a rebellious teenage girl that Jesse Eisenberg would have a crush on. This is a long digression to say that I never felt totally comfortable with Kristen in this role, in spite of having every intention of liking her in it. She’s such a modern actress that throwing her into a period piece just felt off. Remember that part about relating to her as a normal person? Well that appeal starts to work against you in a role in which you are a princess and repeatedly referred to as “the fairest one of all.” I mean all in all, she did a fine job because she’s a capable actress and that’s what capable actresses do. But I just had a hard time consolidating Kristen Stewart the person into Snow White the role.
  • Speaking of the role, it was a weird one. Snow White barely talks in this movie. The first time you hear her voice it’s in a barely audible whispered prayer and she doesn’t raise the volume much from there. It’s strange to watch, you’re told an awful lot of things about Snow White, and you feel like you have a general sense of who she is because, you know, it’s Snow White, but you don’t see it personified very often by the actual character. Her conversations with other characters aren’t very revealing and often don’t last very long. I don’t know, I mean it doesn’t really hinder the movie a lot, in fact the less Kristen talks the more it nullifies the problem I had in the first bullet point. Nonetheless, it’s strange to watch unfold.
  • charlizeCharlize Theron, on the other hand, might be the exact opposite of Kristen Stewart. Homegirl couldn’t be more of a movie star if she tried and she definitely doesn’t look like anyone I went to high school with. (SIDE NOTE: I was watching Millionaire Matchmaker the other day and like five different dudes said their ideal women looked like Charlize Theron. Guys, no one in real life looks like Charlize Theron. Just say blonde and pretty and let’s move along). She owns every second of her time on screen as Ravenna the evil queen and, frankly, this movie is worth watching just to see her performance. She’s beautiful and terrifying. She manages to layer her character with pain, sadness, anger and fear all at the same time, revealing each one in brief flashes that break unexpectedly and are gone before you even have time to realize what just happened. It’s unfortunate that her ultimate showdown in the end comes against what turns out to be such a black and white (ha!) character as this version of Snow White because if Ravenna had a compelling foil to work against then we might have something pretty interesting on our hands here.
  • Chris Hemsworth plays Eric, the Huntsman. He certainly looks good doing it but It’s a pretty one-note character and you mostly feel like he’s just practicing different stuff that he’s going to try out as Thor later. But he serves his purpose nonetheless. It feels a little weird that the Huntsman got a title billing too because it’s not like this is his story or anything. It’s Snow White’s story and he’s just kind of along for the ride…not really a gripe, just an observation.
  • exlodingThere’s a number of scenes that are extremely hard to deal with visually owing to the fact that they were clearly meant to “look cool” in 3D. You might be familiar with this phenomenon and if you aren’t then I can assure you it’s obnoxious. For instance, Ravenna has these cool soldiers that burst into like tiny black glass shards that shoot out towards the screen which I’m sure was interesting in the theater but doesn’t really matter when you’re watching on 2D in your living room. On 2D in your living room it just looks like a poorly done special effect. It seems like a weird thing to throw so much weight behind a 3D effect in a movie that will exist for the majority of it’s life as a 2D only venture. It’s not exactly likely that you’re going to see a 25th anniversary re-release of 3D Snow White and the Huntsman coming to theaters in 2037 so what was the real endgame here?
  • It’s hard to understand some of the characters when they speak, especially the dwarves. All of the accents coupled with the fact that I’m pretty sure Rupert Sanders expressly forbid any of his actors from speaking above the decibel level of a mouse fart made for a difficult listening experience. Maybe it was just my TV but I had to throw on subtitles halfway through.
  • Did I think about the whole scandal thing while I was watching? I mean, yes. Not as much as I thought I would though. The longer you linger on it the more you feel kind icky about it. Like you’re leering in through other people’s windows or something.

This is not a bad movie, I think it just seemed a little uninspired on all fronts. If you felt like The Hobbit was too long and wished the lead character was a girl instead of Martin Freeman,then this movie is for you. If you’re eagerly awaiting the third season of Game of Thrones to come out and need to get a fix of medieval fantasy warfare, then this movie is for you.  If you are a fan of Charlize Theron then this movie is definitely for you. It certainly has its flaws but nothing that’s super offensive. The world may not be a better place because Snow White and the Huntsman exists but it certainly isn’t a worse one. Unless, of course, your girlfriend cheated on you with the director of it. Then you might have a case.

Weekend Movie Preview 2/1

Happy February everyone!

So do y’all remember the other week when I spent like 700 words trying to convince you that everyone should go see the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie because it was going to be awesome and a return to form for the big guy and maybe a cheesy action movie was just what we needed right now and Explosions, Explosions, EXPLOSIONS!? Well, that certainly worked out didn’t it? I can’t even remember what the name of the movie was anymore and googling it feels like cheating. It didn’t even crack the top 5! It escaped our collective consciousness like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank.  It up and vanished like a fart in the wind! Morgan Freeman and fuzzy britches know nothing about it! Mama (that terrifying movie) absolutely crushed that weekend’s numbers and is actually still holding it’s own in fourth place next to Oscar favorites Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Of course, warmed over, terrible looking, feux fairy tale Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is on top of the Box Office right now, which makes all of the sense in that it makes none of the sense. The movie business is weird.

 

Warm Bodies

 

warm bodiesThis movie is being described as a paranormal romantic comedy. That genre description absolutely delights me to no end. A romantic comedy done right can be one of the greatest things in the world and I think I’d watch pretty much any kind of take on it. Found footage rom com? Sure. Bollywood psychotic thriller rom com? You bet. Bruceploitation silent rom com featuring only Luchadors? I’m shaking with rage that that isn’t a thing yet and I made it up 5 seconds ago. The point is that the traditional rom com is ripe for experimentation. We’ve all seen the traditional boy meets girl situation before ( I think Matthew McConaughey went through a period of starring in like 8 of them a few years back) and most people are probably tired of it. I mean, I’m not, but most people probably are. So yea, lets take the old Romeo and Juliet concept and throw some zombies in there. People are into zombies these days, right?

The film, based on a young adult novel of the same name, is set during the zombie apocalypse and follows a zombie named R (played by Nicholas Hoult a.k.a. that kid from About a Boy. Weird, right? He’s a grown up now. Like sands through the hourglass…) as he traverses the zombie wasteland. I’m sure there’s a decent amount of exposition explaining the zombie rules (the trailer is full of narrated segments from R) for this particular zombie wasteland but I think that’s okay, that’s always my favorite part of these types of movies. There’s always that requisite meta line where the main vampire character says something like, “You think garlic works on us? This isn’t a movie! This is real life!” and everyone laughs because, HA, THIS IS A MOVIE!! Maybe I’m a sucker but I think that’s funny every time.

I’ve read that his movie offers up an interesting take on why it is that zombies are always craving brains because, I mean, obviously there’s a lot of aspects of zombie culture that ask you to take a leap of faith but the idea that a something that is dead would need sustenance always seems pretty confounding. So in this version, when the zombies eat brains they are suddenly flooded with the memories and emotions of the person they are eating which kind of gives them a reminder of what it was like to be alive.  The idea is that eating a brain is like a zombie version of getting high. I can buy into that.

The other thing that is interesting about this film is that it’s the only zombie film that I can remember being told from the perspective of the zombie. Right? I mean if you can think of any others then please let me know but, for the most part, the emotion people try and tap into with zombie movies is the petrifying fear that comes with sentient beings rising from the dead, you know? Either that or the weird primal sense of freedom that sort of comes along with any sort of apocalyptic scenario. Either way, zombies are almost never treated as sentient beings so it will be cool to see some of the typical zombie tropes through the eyes of the “monster.” That’s a pretty compelling hook right there.

If nothing else I’ve said here has convinced you take a chance on this movie then take a second and remember that John Malkovich is bringing his particular brand of crazy into the mix as the father of the girl our zombie hero has fallen for. It could be the worst movie in history and I think the presence of Malkovich immediately makes it 20 percent more compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary but can you imagine if it was exactly the same, nothing was different, except Malkovich narrated it instead of Burns? That’s the greatest idea I’ve ever had. Bar none.

If you don’t see this movie because you have a pretty bad case of zombie fatigue, then I totally understand. It’s the main reason I haven’t gotten into AMC’s The Walking Dead. It has nothing to do with quality, it’s just, you know, zombies…it’s been done. But I feel like Warm Bodies is doing a pretty great job of tweaking the genre conventions enough that I’m sufficiently intrigued. Lets reward creativity.

4 hamms

Bullet to the Head

bullet to the headThis is the worst title of a movie I can remember in quite a while. Yes worse than Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Yes worse the Movie 43. Yes worse the Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Bullet to the Head. Ugh. It’s just so bluntly violent and awful and uninspired. I’m going to go ahead and recap what this movie is about and how creepy Sylvester Stallone looks and all that noise, but just know that I’m not happy about it. If whoever made this doesn’t respect me enough to not slap me in the face with a title like that then clearly they don’t respect this process enough to make a movie I would want to see.

So here we go. Bullet to the Head is about a retired hit man who reluctantly teams up with a renegade detective to try avenge the deaths of both their partners in a brazen attempt to see whether or not, in lieu of a compelling plot, just throwing tired clichés at the problem will help. Sly plays the hit man, because duh, and for whatever reason they’ve decided to cover his already off puttingly ripped body with weird tattoos that only help everything else in this movie that’s already screaming to remind you, “HEY, SLY STALLONE IS 66 YEARS OLD!”

I feel sort of weird about this because I suppose you could make the argument that the trailer for this doesn’t seem much different than the one for The Stand (I looked it up) that I glowingly raved about a few weeks ago. Just sub out one super old action star whose words are hard to understand with a new one and it’s kind of the same idea. Also, hey look, explosions! I love those. I said so over and over the other week. So what’s my deal?

The Stand looked like a lot of fun. It had a playful sense about itself. Luis Guzman was involved. Arnold’s lines are delivered with a sort of tongue in cheek, “yea this is pretty awful but come on! I’m Arnold!” style that was endearing to me. Every line Stallone says in the Bullet to the Head trailer makes me cringe. It’s that fine line between laughing with something and laughing at something that is the kicker here. I’m laughing with Arnold. I’m not even laughing at Sly. I’m grimacing at him.

Oh! And Christian Slater is also in this movie. Remember earlier when I was mentioned the John Malkovich’s presence automatically makes me more excited to see something? Well it’s not that I dislike Christian Slater or anything, but lets just say that seeing him pop up towards the end of that trailer sure didn’t move the needle for me on the overall excitement scale.

I kind of hope that this one follows suit and just goes away.

 5 conans

greenberg1

Project Newfilmland – Week 2

Welcome to week two of Project Newfilmland (Get it? It sounds like New Foundland, but with New Films. Does that work for you? I don’t care, I like it). It’s good to have you back. If you’re unfamiliar with the project, check out our original post here. I hope your commitment to watching one new film a week has stayed strong. I mean, ideally this shouldn’t be a chore like committing to go to the gym or cutting down on afternoon milkshakes. Watching new movies should be fun, right? Best. Resolution. Ever.

greenbergSo this week I watched Noah Baumbach’s 2010 film Greenberg. Why had I never seen this movie before? Well, that can pretty much be boiled down to a seething, incessant, visceral hatred for the movie The Squid and the Whale, also directed by Baumbach. Watching The Squid and the Whale was one of the most incredibly unhappy experiences of my movie watching life and it has taken a long time for me to feel comfortable enough to let Mr. Baumbach try and return to my good graces. Lets backtrack a little.

My favorite movie of all time is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I won’t get into all the specifics of that love because then we’d be sitting here for the next 12 hours reading a dissertation and I don’t think that’s what anyone wants. Just know that I dearly love that film, every character, every word spoken, every song, every second from start to finish…love. Life Aquatic was directed by Wes Anderson who seems to divide most people into camps strictly labeled either ‘What an innovative filmmaker with such an original voice!’ or “What a melancholy, twee hack.” You can probably figure out where my sensibilities lie. Anderson co-wrote the screenplay for Life Aquatic with our old pal Noah Baumbach.

Which leads us back to The Squid and the Whale, which was released about a year after Life Aquatic. Written and directed by Baumbach, this movie sounded like it would be close to perfect. Jeff Daniels was in it. Laura Linney was in it. A super young Jesse Eisenberg was in it (At least I think he was super young, he pretty much looks exactly the same these days, for all I know Eisenberg might have been 35 when they made this). Wes even gave this his stamp of approval by producing it. I was fully prepared to fall head over heels in love with another emotionally complicated film set to beautiful music.

squidI hated it. I can’t use language strong enough here to fully describe how much I hated it. Did you ever have an experience when you were younger where you are over at a friend’s house and their parents started fighting and it gets really emotional and terrible for reasons you’re unable to comprehend? This movie is like four hours of that experience (I have no idea how long it is, it felt like three days when I watched it). Every character is reprehensible, but not in an obvious way. It’s not like any of these people are murdering anyone or laundering money or selling meth or lying to the face of his DEA brother-in-law (this isn’t an episode of Breaking Bad is what I’m saying). But that doesn’t mean these people aren’t the worst. The parents are just emotionally crippled humans whose wounds are self inflicted. The children are pitiable thanks to their aforementioned awful parents, but that doesn’t make their antics any easier to deal with. Baumbach is a skilled filmmaker, which makes this that much harder to stomach because you can’t even mock it as cinematic malpractice. Every choice here is deliberate and calculating. It doesn’t feel like cinema so much as voyeurism.

Again, I’m not making the case here that this movie is poorly done because that is not the issue. What I am saying is that this isn’t what I want out of entertainment, be it a movie or a TV show or a book or a video game (or a play or a board game or an apple picking outing or anything for that matter). What I love about Life Aquatic is that it takes me to a place where I feel things by artfully manipulating me. It nimbly leads me trough a painted candy cane forest to a higher plane of emotional realization about life. Movies like Squid and the Whale lack any of that sort of charm or tact. It opts instead to grab your head and shove it close to a rotting carcass on the road and scream “LOOK AT IT! EVERYTHING DIES!” So, yea, I felt a little betrayed by the Squid and the Whale, which I realize, is ridiculous because, like, movies don’t owe me anything. Regardless, one of the worst parts about this whole experience was that films critics seemed to be tripping over themselves to decry this as one of the great cinematic achievements of the early 21st century. “An introspective thesis statement about the modern American family”, they shouted from the rooftops. Were they watching the same movie as me? I felt like I was taking crazy pills.

So why am I giving Greenberg a try? Curiosity plays a big part of it. I mean, I obviously haven’t chosen to re-watch The Squid and the Whale ( and won’t. Ever.) but was it really as awful as I remember? Was I just having a bad day? What really happened here? I enjoyed the next Wes Anderson/Baumbach collaboration, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, but that doesn’t really count because it was pretty heavy on Anderson’s style and Baumbach’s influence was really only noticeable in the dry, humorous  interactions between dysfunctional family members. Fox is a Wes Anderson project through and through. In order to really give Baumbach another shot, Greenberg had to be the movie. Pure, unfiltered, 100 proof, written and directed by Baumbach, right to the face.

So….how’d it go?


I didn’t hate it.

But it’s a complicated kind of “not hate.” This movie suffers from a lot of the same idiosyncrasies that caused my angry reaction to Squid. Once again I felt stuck participating in someone else’s therapy session, reliving painful experiences that didn’t happen to me. For three quarters of the movie I was stuck hanging out with characters I didn’t identify with or even particularly like and, to make things worse, it didn’t seem like there were any real stakes.

(NOTE: Artsy independent movies suffer from this syndrome a lot. You spend two hours with a group of people and we’re all supposed to have learned something. That’s not how it works. This is not a Seinfeld episode, it’s a movie, something needs to happen.)

Greenberg (1)Greenberg follows it’s titular character, Roger Greenberg,  as he looks after his brothers home in LA and reconnects with parts of his past life while starting a relationship with his brother’s personal assistant. That’s about it. The plot is not where the strength of this movie lies. This is a character study. Baumbach spends most of this movie fleshing out characters and the world that they live in, building to a final crescendo of inexplicably articulate yet wildly entertaining arguments and resolutions that close with a appropriately ambiguous ending (as required by Artsy Independent Movie Law: Article IV- section B).

Here’s what I liked about the movie:

  • Ben Stiller disappears into this character completely. It’s easy for Stiller to come off as cartoonish sometimes thanks to the fact that he plays cartoon characters a lot (Dodgeball, Zoolander, …Madagascar) and sometimes it’s hard to forget you’re looking at Ben Stiller when you’re watching one of his movies. The Stillerness of it all is hard to separate. Well that’s not really the case here. Greenberg is a fully realized character as written by Baumbach and Stiller really helps make him feel lived in. He’s not likeable, per se, but he’s amusing to watch. He’s full of droll hipsterisms. He mocks all the “preening LA people” and looks at a John Mayer CD with disdain. He also writes letters instead of emails, keeps a physical phone book, and even makes a mix tape for a girl at one point. You aren’t really cheering for him, you may not even want to hang out with him, and yet somehow Stiller has managed to infuse enough humanity into the character to where you want him find someone who will tolerate the fact that he is kind of an eccentric jerk.
  • The dialogue of this movie is genuinely very funny, even if it is interspersed amongst themes of soul crushing loneliness, the unrealized dreams of youth, and mental illness. I had my guard up going into this movie but I have to admit that I laughed out loud in spite of myself all through out. I would probably watch an entire movie that was just about the Greenberg brothers arguing over the phone.
  • FlorenceFlorence, as played by Gretta Gerwig, is an amazingly original character in my opinion. She doesn’t really fit into any sort of existing archetype. You know the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that actresses like Zooey Deschenal play all the time? They are beautiful and quirky and perfect. They have interesting fashion choices and play in folk bands. They are are the kinds of girls that only exist in movies. Well Florence feels like what that girl would look like in real life. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
  • There is almost zero traditional exposition in this movie. You learn different details about these people and fill in the backstory’s at exactly the pace that Baumbach wants you to. The layers are sort of slowly peeled away, causing your overall opinion to  constantly be in flux.
  • The pacing is strange. It feels slow, plodding along lazily for about an hour and a half until an interesting device comes along and throws the final act into higher gear. I honestly wasn’t enjoying the movie until this happened and it really caused me to reassess everything I’d been watching. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’re watching this movie and struggling with it, I highly encourage you to follow through to the end because Baumbach is doing a lot of very subtle table setting for a pretty compelling finish.
  • There is a ton of original music done for this movie by James Murphy, the lead singer of LCD Soundsystem. LCD is one of my favorite bands ever. If I’m really being honest with myself, I probably wouldn’t have considered taking a chance on this movie if Murphy wasn’t involved. Is the music he made for the movie good? Yes, the music’s good. It’s James Murphy.
  • There is a dog, Mahler, in this movie that is just awesome. He’s easily my favorite character (and actor for the matter) in the whole thing.

noah baumbachSo did Greenberg change my opinion of Baumbach as a filmmaker? I guess it honed it a little more. I have a great respect for his ability as a writer. His voice is clear and distinct. He develops incredibly compelling characters and then throws them together and lets them go toe to toe with each other. I don’t love his directing style. As I mentioned earlier, the atmosphere he cultivates for these wonderful characters to operate in just makes me uncomfortable. Re-watching his collaborations with Anderson, I can see his influence much clearer and I think that Anderson has a way of taking the aspects of Baumbach that I like, and replacing the ones that I don’t with his own sensibilities and charms that are more my speed. One way of looking at it, I suppose, is that on the overall spectrum of movies that I’ve seen, the Life Aquatic exists at one end and the Squid and the Whale exists at the other. Noah Baumbach played an integral part in both of those movies. That has to mean something, right?

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Weekend Movie Preview 1/18

Russell Crowe! Mark Wahlberg! Arnold Schwarzenegger! Johnny Knoxville! Guillermo Del Toro! Five of these things are not like the other. A weird little smorgasbord of actors collaborating with each other and a producer, famous for freaking me out by unleashing this absolutely petrifying creature upon the masses, trying to once again make me squirm uncomfortably in a theater highlight a fairly under the radar week at the cinema. Don’t you worry though. Our radar here at MediaHound is stronger than most.

 

The Last Stand

the last standI’m not going to try and make a clever “I’ll be back” joke here, but you know I desperately want to, right? Although his likeness was CGI’d into Terminator Salvation and possibly also The Expendables movies, the big guy is back in his first headlining role since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. This is pretty exciting news for action fans. Whatever you think of Arnold as a person or a politician or what have you, he does bring a certain undeniable charm to these roles that will be fun to have back in the rotation. Couple this movie with his surprisingly nimble and hilarious turn as a presenter at the Golden Globes with fellow unintelligible giant Sylvester Stallone and, well, count me on board with the Schwarzenegger Redemption Revolution Tour™.

So what’s the plot of this movie? Does it really matter? I’m going to present to you a list of things I gleaned just from watching this trailer:

  • Unnamed Drug Cartel
  • Hapless Government Agency powerless to stop said cartel
  • Explosions
  • Small border town sheriff with inexplicable Austrian accent
  • Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman shooting meat
  • Explosions
  • Hilariously obvious foreboding statements (“should be a quiet weekend” Oh ho ho, BET NOT ARNOLD!!)
  • Rad cars
  • Rad cars getting blown up
  • Academy Award winner Forrest Whitaker at the end of his rope
  • Explosions

In addition to the aforementioned awesome details (did I mention the explosions?) there is also reason to believe that director Kim Ji-woon is someone we need to be paying attention to as a filmmaker. This is his US debut, but the South Korean writer and director has developed quite a following overseas. He is apparently known for making movies that live all over the genre map including a critically acclaimed horror film and a noirish thriller. If he turns out to be the second coming of Steven Soderbergh (also known for dipping his toes into a wide variety of genre pools, see: Oceans 11, Magic Mike, Traffic, Che, Contagian, etc.) then you’ll be able to brag to all your friends that you were hip to Kim Ji-woon way back in the day. I mean, lets be honest, if that isn’t your ultimate goal then what are we even doing here?

Maybe you’re above all this silliness. Maybe you don’t need explosions and Luis Guzman. Maybe you’d rather just head off to your local boutique theater and see an Oscar nominated foreign film like Amour and cry your eyes out while that poor old French couple breaks your heart. That’s fine. But when you need a pick me up, just know that Arnold and company will be there for you with open arms (and explosions).

4 hamms

 

Broken City

broken citySo this anecdote pretty much sums up my feelings on the film Broken City. Last Sunday I was watching the Seahawks-Falcons playoff game. The Seahawks had staged a pretty dramatic comeback, having been down 27-7 at one point, and now they had just scored a touchdown to put them ahead 28-27. What a moment! As I sat there soaking in the majesty of playoff football, I overheard one of the announcers say, “Make sure you stay tuned for the Broken City Postgame show immediately following the conclusion of our game here.” Man, that really got me thinking. At least one group of fans is about to be devastated, you know, and subsequently either the city of Seattle or the city of Atlanta might end up a “broken city,” as it were, depending on the outcome. It made a lot of sense, even if it did seem a bit weird for Fox to point it out so blatantly and to only focus on the losing team. Also, were they planning on broadcasting live from the losing city or what? It just seemed so odd.

Obviously I realized later that this movie was sponsoring the postgame show. However, my critical deduction skills (or lack thereof) aside, I do think it’s telling that less than a week out from it’s theatrical release, I had completely forgotten this movie even existed. Even more telling, as of this moment, the film is tracking pretty poorly among most reviewers, their criticisms falling somewhere on the graph between “predictable” and “artificial.” Not exactly the adjectives that ad executives look for to put on the poster.

The cast is pretty stellar I suppose. It features Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta Jones, the guy who plays Felix Leiter in the recent Bond films, and some tan gentlemen who looks and awful lot like Russell Crowe. The trailer is interesting enough too, but it just feels a little, I don’t know, retread. Right down to the use of Kanye’s ‘Power’ to punctuate the 2nd half. It’s not that it’s bad or that it doesn’t work thematically, it’s just that it feels like it’s been done before. Wasn’t that Starz show Boss also about a corrupt mayor of a major city who will do anything for power? At least Boss had Kelsey Grammar in it instead of a bespectacled Russell Crowe impersonator.

I’m also a little sad whenever the underrated comedic chops of Markey Mark seem to be buried under a few layers of grumpy and serious. I’m not even just talking about straight comedies like Ted and The Other Guys. Go back and watch The Departed, then look me in the eyes and tell me Wahlberg isn’t your favorite part of that movie. He’s hilarious! I’m not saying he can’t be good in a serious role, but I just think your more likely to wind up with his performance in Contraband than his performance in The Fighter.

All of this is to say that I feel pretty apathetic towards the whole Broken City operation. The film looks to be well made, and I’m sure this fine cast gives some workmanlike performances with what they are given, but at the end of the day, I think I’d just rather see something else.

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Mama

mamaWell, except maybe this one. Yikes. This film just straight up terrifies me. Which is upsetting because this appears to be an okay film and I appear to be a grown man. I just sat here at my desk and watched the trailer and could feel my body straining to look away like I was strapped into some sort of A Clockwork Orange contraption. The only reason I kept my eyes front was because, you know, I’m a professional.

I think what this movie has on me is it’s reliance on creepy noises and unseen specters haunting an Academy Award nominee (Jessica Chastain) over just diving headfirst into the blood, gore and nastiness of some horror films. The former always scares me a little more than the latter. Take, for example, this trailer for the new Evil Dead remake (or don’t. Maybe just take my word for it. It’s, uh, pretty disgusting). Now I have zero problems watching this because the violence and gore is bordering on cartoonish. Gross maybe, but not very scary. The trailer for Mama though? I mean, did you see how creepy it was when that little girl backed under the bed like a spider? And that skull that Jamie Lanister (Game of Thrones) dug up towards the end? Looked awfully real to me! No thank you. I’m freaked out. I hear noises in my house all the time and for all I know I might have a ‘mama’ style ghost of my own floating around and that’s not a reality I’m willing to shill out money to confront in theaters.

It should be noted, of course, that my reticence to see this movie has everything to do with me being a ninny and nothing to do with any sort of professional, objective stance on whether or not it’s any good. In fact, if you are the type of person who enjoys slowly losing your mind in a theater while satanic noises careen around a dark room full of strangers, then I highly recommend that you go out and support this one because the story behind it is pretty cool. Mamá was a 2008 short film (which you can check out on youtube here if you’re curious/enjoy nightmares) that generated a ton of buzz and eventually landed in front of Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro enjoyed it so much that he threw himself behind it and paved the way for it to become a feature releasing across the country this weekend. A three-minute short film leading to a feature getting made? That’s kind of the dream ladies and gentlemen. So like I said, if you’re into being terrified (I can’t stress this enough, the guy who created this thing said that this short film was the scariest thing he’d ever seen) then please head out to the theaters and support this film. If you’d rather not confront the black depths of your darkest fears, then you’re more than welcome to join me across the hall with Arnold.

1 hamm

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New Year’s Resolution – Week 1

King LeopoldAs we detailed in our recent newsletter (which you can sign up to receive here), we at MediaHound have recently chosen to participate in the annual practice of making a New Year’s Resolution. New Year’s Resolutions, of course, have a storied tradition that is believed to have originated some time in early 19th century Belgium. It is said that the Belgian monarch at the time, King Leopold the First, declared that on the first day of the New Year he would institute widespread change within the nation with the intention that Belgium would shed the crippling habits of the past twelve months, thus ushering in a golden age of Belgian success and a newfound place in the hierarchy of European powers. In spite of general enthusiasm for the plan, as well as extensive reports of progress made across the nation, the Belgian people eventually regressed back into the relative comfort of dark beers, breakfast pastries, and the odd habit of dipping their French Fries into mayonnaise after only a few months. King Leopold was reportedly quoted as saying, “he wasn’t that serious about the resolution anyway” and that “Belgium is fine just the way it is.”

[Editors Note: All information in this blog related to the history of New Year’s Resolutions and/or Belgium are largely un-researched and generally not to be trusted]

So what is the MediaHound New Years Resolution? Well we’ve decided to try and expand our movie watching horizons by watching at least one movie we’ve never seen before every week (2013 Theatrical Releases not included). After all, what’s the point of having a site that shows you where to watch things if you never actually get around to watching anything, right? We’ve had a lot of conversations recently around the office about how easy it is to just re-watch your favorite movies all the time just out of sheer comfort, like putting on a pair of cozy sweatpants instead of getting dressed up to go out or something.

This isn’t meant to totally discount how much fun it is to re-watch old favorites, after all, they’re your favorites for a reason, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a little adventurous every now and then. If you’re strictly into Rom Coms, try out a dramatic period piece one night. If you only watch hardcore Sci-FI all the time, maybe hit up a documentary tonight. The world of film is vast and unrestricted by taste, quality, or even what might be normal definitions of good sense. It’s a weird and wonderful place. Go explore a little!

So here’s the plan. Each week I’m going to post about what movie I watched and maybe some sort of meditation on all the great film related epiphanies I’m stumbling headlong into over the course of this journey. You’re welcome to watch along with whatever I’ve picked out on any given week or mercilessly mock me for not having seen it before. You could also just grab a machete and forge your own path through the movie wilderness. However you choose to go about it, MediaHound is here to support you and help you follow through on at least one New Year’s resolution this year. Come on friends, we can do this. Don’t be like the Belgians!

  Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Indie Game the movie

Thankfully for this resolution, I started out on a high note. This film is terrific. Indie Game: The Movie is a wonderful documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations of the independent video game developer. More specifically it follows three different games at different stages of the process and digs deeper into the lives of the people behind them.

If you have even a remote interest in the gaming world then this is a must see, if only for the gorgeous snippets of gameplay featured throughout.  There are big, beautiful, full screen shots of classic games like Tetris, Mario and Zelda, as well as clips from these new games that just look amazing. There is also no shortage of fun insider peeks inside the industry that are sure to delight.

However, this film is just as, if not more, effective if you don’t happen to be a gamer.  The very best documentaries draw you into their world, regardless of the subject. You don’t have to love sushi to be blown away by the beauty and craft on display in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. You don’t have to be interested in high-wire stunts to be riveted by Phillipe Petit’s story in Man on Wire. In the same way, a passion for video games is not necessary to fully enjoy Indie Game because it’s just a really good movie.

The aesthetics of the film are beautiful, simple and clean, almost as if an Apple Store were a documentary. The score that weaves in and out over the course of the film is similarly perfect, matching the tone and capturing the sort of soft, intricate sounds that have filled the backgrounds of your favorite games over years.

Super Meat BoyAt its heart this film is almost more of a character study than anything. The filmmakers, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, masterfully tease out the stories of these developers, peeling back the layers while maintaining a steady narrative. The goal of the film is really to show how the world of indie games is no different than the world of any small business. Whether your developing a website or making and independent movie or even running a local bakery, it doesn’t matter, on this level the product becomes an extension of the people behind it and the success or failure of that product feels like a reflection on the success or failure of those people. At first, you might find it strange to be watching a movie that revolves around something called “Super Meat Boy,” but by the end of Indie Game there’s a solid chance that a simple drawing of said Super Meat Boy might reduce you to a giant pile of goosebumps and tears.

 

 

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Independent Round Up 10/22

There were two films opening nationwide this weekend. Alex Cross and Paranormal Activity 4. Alex Cross stars Tyler Perry in his first film that isn’t a, you know, Tyler Perry Presents: enterprise since he had a cameo in 2009’s Star Trek (see what I did there?). Paranormal Activity 4 is the 4th installment in a found footage horror franchise that people seem to enjoy. I’m not one of them. I have zero interest in writing about these movies. I’ve written about my disdain for most modern horror films recently and won’t bore you with rehashing it again here. Alex Cross is a seemingly bland action thriller that features a serial killer villain played by Matthew Fox looking like this. No thank you.

What we’re going to do instead this week is take a look at a smattering of smaller films that have slowly been trickling into theaters the past few weeks. Normally we only cover movies that are releasing nationwide on this site because we figure that would be of the greatest use to everyone. However, there are tons of films every week that open in limited releases that deserve plenty of our attention as well. From now on, we’ll try and cover a few of those every now and again when the nationwide offerings are…less than stellar. Cool? Cool Cool Cool.


The Perks of Being A Wallflower

I love movies set in high school. I loved them before I was in high school. I loved them while I was in high school. What about now that I’m no longer in high school? Well I especially love them now.

There’s something impeccably charming about how high the stakes are in this setting. Every relationship is the most important one you’ll ever have. Every heartache is the most devastating in the world. Every triumph is the greatest moment of your life. Look at how epic the scope of a movie like the Breakfast Club feels while you’re watching it. When those kids finally band together and stand up to Mr. Vernon after their day long, hellish slog through the dreaded horror of Saturday detention you get swept up in it. Forget your preconceived notions about us old man, we’re complicated! I love it. I pump my fist right along with Bender every time.

I think it feels good to get caught up in movies like this. Right now I just feel bombarded all the time with real life, boring, kind of serious problems like paying bills or getting renters insurance or the NHL being unable to come to terms on a new CBA agreement. It’s all at once horrifyingly scary and relentlessly dull. I know I need to do things like get a flu shot and eat vegetables and save money for the future, but who has that kind of time?

Some will argue that big, blockbuster action movies (maybe all movies?) serve this same purpose of transporting you away from your tedious real life problems into a more exciting scenario, if only for a few glorious hours. This is true, I guess, but a high school movie is a different kind of escapism. When you’re in high school, you feel like you’re the center of the universe and every moment revolving around you is the most important thing ever. Even if it’s not, it certainly feels this way. So when you’re watching a movie about high school and the stakes feel unbelievably high and nothing else matters except what’s happening on screen, I mean, that’s not a hard leap of faith to make is it? You kind of have to suspend disbelief when you see Tom Cruise climbing up mountains without any ropes, but you definitely don’t have to stretch your imagination to put yourself in a place where Matthew McConaughey telling you to “keep livin, L-I-V-I-N” is the greatest piece of advice ever.

Anyway, I realize I’ve now spent four paragraphs not talking about the movie I’m trying to recommend to you. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an adaptation from a very well liked 1999 novel of the same name. It follows the adventures of a main character named Charlie as he navigates his way into a new high school and slowly tries to make friends. It’s not a groundbreaking plot by any means, but this is a well done film with a talented cast (Emma Watson! Paul Rudd!) that takes you on a pleasant trip back to a time where every second felt like it might change your life forever. Kind of exhilarating to think that we ever lived like that, isn’t it? Maybe exhausting is the word I’m looking for. Either way, it’s a good movie. Go see it.


Brooklyn Castle

This movie came out in limited release this weekend, so its probably still a few weeks away from coming to a theater near you, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

Brooklyn Castle is a documentary that tells the story of I.S. 318, a public school in Brooklyn, which has improbably become one of the most dominant forces in the world of chess. I know what your thinking, a documentary about chess? Documentaries and chess are likely listed as prime examples in the dictionary next to the entry for “boring.” Hear me out though. Take everything you love about an underdog sports movie. Take Rudy. Take Miracle. Shoot, take the Mighty Ducks movies. Then make it real. This coupled with some truly adorable and amazingly talented kids, as well as frighteningly high stakes, make for a truly enthralling film.

Obviously the hook of this movie is the casual way in which is subverts most of your preconceived notions about the subject. The kids in this movie are not privileged or stereotypically “nerdy.” The chess program at this school is not a niche group but instead a trumpeted point of pride for I.S. 318. Much in the way certain fictional movies like Friday Night Lights will highlight that, for certain characters, playing football is there only way forward to a better education and better life, Brooklyn Castle shows how excelling at chess can provide these children, who predominantly come from low income households, opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

This is a lovingly crafted documentary that does what all great docs do. It paints an intimate and educational portrait about a subject that exists outside our normal realm of attention. I’m giving it the coveted Five Hamm stamp. Hamm’s for everyone.


The Sessions

Watching the trailer for The Sessions it’s easy to think that this movie might just be a series of uncomfortable situations. The plot centers around a man who, though confined to an iron lung, is attempting to lose his virginity. He goes about hiring a sex therapist who will help him in this process. Yikes. On it’s face that description sounds like a rejected idea for a weird direct to video American Pie sequel. However, this looks actually rather pleasant.

Watching the trailer, I can’t help but be taken aback by John Hawkes performance already. I mean, seriously, John Hawkes. The guy who played Teardrop in Winter’s Bone? He’s supposed to be believable a sympathetic polio victim? Yet by all accounts he delivers here. The movie, and Hawkes specifically, have been praised all throughout its time on the festival circuit and the reception upon its wider release this weekend has also been positive.

I’m also excited about an opportunity to watch Helen Hunt and Hawkes interact. Hunt is an actress whose work I’ve always enjoyed, likely stemming back from watching episodes of Mad About You when I was a kid. I’m positive that like 75% of that show went over my head at the time but I still loved it. I also thought she was great in What Women Want. Go back and watch that movie sometime (which should be easy because I’m pretty sure TBS is contractually obligated to show it at least once a week). Even though the premise is admittedly…well…thin, its just incredible amounts of fun. It’s even taken up a notch of enjoyment these days simply because of how surreal any word that comes out of Mel Gibson’s mouth is. “I can hear women’s voices in my head!” Sure Mel.

The Sessions also features the always welcome presence of William H. Macy. Has anyone ever been upset that William H. Macy showed up? He’s like the seven layer dip of actors. You aren’t even aware that your party is missing anything and then all of a sudden some dude walks in with a giant Pyrex of seven-layer dip and everyone’s day gets like 14 percent better. I think you could apply a WHM rule to movies too. You’re sitting there, minding your own business, watch Aaron Eckhart be charming in the movie Thank You For Smoking. You’re having a good time. You think to yourself, “Hey, this Eckhart guy is pretty solid. Wow, I’m totally not annoyed by Katie Holmes yet. Is that the kid from the O.C.? What’s he up to these days?” Then, boom, Macy enters the scene saying lines like, “the great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese” with a straight face and now this movie goes from pretty good to awesome. The rule of Macy. That idea has legs.

So yea, The Sessions has a lot going for it. The story is based on a pretty incredible guy named Mark O’Brian and, even if this movie isn’t your cup of tea, it’s worth learning a little more about him. This short documentary from 1996, Breathing Lessons, is only about 30 minutes long but it has some great interviews with O’Brian who was a published journalist and poet. He has a very inspiring story to tell and important message to get across about what makes life worth living, regardless of the hardships we may face.

 

 

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Weekend Movie Preview 9/28

Two weeks in a row with an interesting slate of films. What is this, my birthday? I’m so excited for this first one I don’t even want to waste time with an intro. Let get to it!


Looper

Man, this is the first movie in months that I haven’t had to sit down and talk myself into why I want to see it. Looper looks awesome. It sounds awesome. It probably smells awesome. If Dredd was Sci-Fi cotton candy (lots of flavor, little substance, kind of makes you sick to your stomach by the end) then hopefully Looper can finally provide the type of Sci-Fi steak we’ve all been craving.

I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here trying to explain the plot. As with all time travel fiction (and, I suppose, time travel non-fiction) the details are a little difficult to wrap your brain around. Please watch the trailer if you haven’t already. It does an excellent job of stating the premise and setting the tone, not to mention that it may be the first and last recorded instance of dubstep being the appropriate choice of music.

This is director Rian Johnson’s first dance on the big stage after spending a few years on the indie film scene. His 2005 film Brick, which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a phenomenal movie and shows off Johnson’s remarkable acumen with the film noir genre. He has a great taste for it and it appears that with Looper he will attempt to blend the intimate noir style into a louder, action packed thriller. On the surface this sounds like a horrifying, train wreck of an idea but Johnson’s track record, along with a talented cast, have all succeeded in raising my expectations.

It’s nice to finally see Bruce Willis again in an action film that isn’t an afterthought (The Cold Light of Day) or a sequel (Live Free of Die Hard) or a traveling sideshow (The Expendables). He’s such a great actor and is capable of bringing great nuance to what, in the hands of a lesser actor, might be a broad role. I feel like people were surprised by how good he was in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom earlier this year but really, when you look at the role he played, it wasn’t that far removed from the roles he normally just nails. A loner police captain, past his prime but still trying to make a difference, who gets thrust into an extraordinary circumstance? Pretty much par for the course for Bruce and he absolutely crushed it. He’s got performances like that in him and with Looper, he’s got a great young actor in Gordon-Levitt to play off of and some interesting material to sink his teeth into. This is going to be a lot of fun to watch. In fact, I’m going to do something I haven’t done since the debut of the Hamm scale. Five Hamms. Go see this movie. Reward the people who are doing it right so we don’t have to suffer through stuff from people who aren’t.


Hotel Transylvania

I read a review for this movie that featured the quote, “Not a complete failure for the young ones who think the idea of a farting Frankenstein is funny.” Stop right there. That’s hilarious. As an English major who laboriously pored over the text of Mary Shelly’s famous 19th century novel Frankenstein, I can safely say that the idea of that inexplicably intelligent, pontificating, grief- stricken, murderous rouge of a monster passing gas deserves more than the unceremonious laughter of our children and the faint praise of an Australian based film critic! I say it deserves our raucous approval for the subtle tweaking of the all too often aloof culture surrounding classic literature. Never reach the point where you’re too good for a fart joke. Words to live by.

But, yea, unless this movie actually is a weirdly subversive satire of the horror genre, I’m not sure this one will necessarily be in my wheelhouse. That’s no great sin. Not every kid’s movie is required to appease my tastes and this movie is certainly not trolling the intelligence of its intended audience like that horrific Oogieloves movie was. This looks to be gorgeously animated and the premise (A hotel! Full of monsters!) certainly allows for a great deal of creative fun to be had. I love the shot in the trailer of the camera swooping in from outside the castle/hotel while a colorful array of monsters, both of the well known and unknown variety, saunter past doing typical hotel things. I get a kick out of the extra un-normal doing super normal activities. I think it’s the same impulse of delight we get from seeing celebrities take out the trash or buying shampoo in the Us Weekly. Hey Reese Witherspoon, I too look frumpy while pregnant in a one-piece swimsuit! This movie promises to have stuff like that in spades (not Reese in onesies, just monsters doing…you get it).

I’ve written before about the eternal flame of affection for Adam Sandler that I keep burning, but you know, hidden in the closet out of sight so no one sees. It’s a real problem but something I deal with at least four times a year because the man stars in and releases a movie at what feels like an absurd rate. His comic sensibilities might actually be perfect for this medium though. Who better to voice a beloved character in a kid’s movie than the man who appears to be trapped in the malaise of an infinite boyhood? Plus, some of the clips of his Dracula voice sound kind of similar to his Opera Man voice from SNL. So that’s cool, right?

All in all, this feels like a pretty fun romp at the theater. Will twenty-somethings and teens go out in droves to see it? Probably not. But I think kids will love it. It also bears remembering that Sony Pictures Animation was also responsible for 2009’s Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, which was an absolute delight (Seriously, if you haven’t watched Cloudy then stop reading this and go watch it right now). I think there’s a lot of potential for Hotel T to make me smile just like Cloudy did.


Won’t Back Down

This movie makes me sad because its subject matter is very important and something I care about strongly. It makes me sad because I don’t think it’s a very good movie. Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis play two mothers who fight to change the failings of an inner city public school. Now, in no way do I want to turn this lighthearted blog into anything that is even remotely political, but in this case I feel it warrants a small mention.  I think that the public education system in this country suffers from a great many problems and I believe that it’s absolutely vital for our future for these problems to be rectified. As is the case with most things, the first step towards progress is to create awareness and film and television provide a great platform for these issues to be brought into the public spotlight. This has been done to amazing affect on shows like The Wire and the terrific documentary Waiting For Superman. I sincerely wish that Won’t Back Down was a well-made movie and powerfully delivered a message that I think everyone needs to hear. I just don’t think that it does.

The trailer seems overly sentimental and tries to shoe horn a love story into a movie that absolutely does not need one. The villains are too clear-cut and I don’t think it makes an attempt to provide a viewpoint from all sides of the issue. It instead just tries to bluntly hammer home one side, a tactic that has proven successful in arguments a grand total of zero times over the years.

On the whole it just feels unremarkable. Which is a shame. I think Gyllenhall and Davis are capable actors and I have no doubt that everyone involves cares deeply about these issues. I just wish that the end result had more of an impact.

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(Return of the) Weekend Movie Preview 9/19

We’ve been a little off the grid recently here at MediaHound’s Weekend Movie Preview and I apologize for that. Each week I kept sitting down with the slate of new releases and I just couldn’t muster up anything for them. I tried, oh man, did I try. But I failed. Each week it kept getting worse. The Cold Light of Day? The Words? The umpteenth Resident Evil sequel? You know, I like to consider myself a master of all things snark. I don my sarcastic cape every week and leap out into the night air to defend the world from things trying to be taken seriously. However, this truly brutal run of films opening at the Box Office really dealt me some body blows. I was Thor when he couldn’t pick up his Hammer. I was Superman beset with Kryptonite.  I may have been the snarky superhero you needed, but I wasn’t the snarky superhero you deserved. All of these terrible movies just clumped themselves together, one after the other, forming this massive, anarchic supervillian of terribleness. Then they leaned down into my face an said to me, “When the movie industry is in ashes…you have our permission to blog.

We begin our long road back to relevance this weekend. Clint Eastwood (sans chair) in a baseball movie! Jake Gyllenhaall (sans hair) in a cop movie! Against all odds, there are actually some interesting things going on at the cinema this weekend and not a moment too soon. We even still have a (likely) terrible horror film opening, so we don’t have to worry about Hollywood rushing back to only releasing good movies or anything. Everyone’s a winner!


Dredd

Because I know all of you were curious, I will now outline to you my relationship with Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd was a 1995 film starring Sly Stallone. I once saw this movie on TNT when I was like 12. It was extraordinarily okay. I mostly forgot about it. Then, deep in my formative years, I became an avid watcher of the TV show Scrubs. During the third season there is a climactic scene in the episode ‘His Story II’ where Elliot and J.D. hook up. The gag at the beginning involves the two of them getting excited about Judge Dredd being on TV and I remember thinking to myself that this joke was hilarious, “Elliot, the Judge, please.” I also remember thinking that maybe there was a fun cult following of this movie that I didn’t know about. The cult probably consisted of like-minded, hip folks like myself who unapologetically enjoyed critically reviled films. This seemed fun. So I went out and re-watched Judge Dredd to see if I could pick up on some of the magic that my friends Elliot and J.D. seemed to enjoy so much and…yea, I couldn’t find any. That movie was a mess.

Which brings us to the film at hand, Dredd (Dredd 3D in some cases). Now, contrary to popular belief, this is not a remake of the ’95 film. This is important, because if they were making the decision to remake a bad movie just, like, because then it would probably speak to the larger problem within Hollywood and it’s struggle for original content. But this is not the case. Dredd begins with the same source material that its predecessor did, the comic strip 2000 A.D. Specifically, a character within that comic entitled, you guessed it, Judge Dredd. This comic has been around since the 70’s and is beloved within the comic universe. From what I’ve read, the announcement of ’95 film was very exciting for fans of this strip because it was finally going to bring a relatively off the radar character and story to the shining spotlight of the big screen, much in the same way a fervor surrounded the announcement of 2008’s Watchmen. The release of the ’95 film brought with it a similar passion, however not in the way it wanted. The film bombed commercially and critically. Even more so, it bombed with the people who mattered. 2000 A.D. fans hated the movie and felt it had taken something beloved to them and trashed it. The creator of the strip, John Wagner, distanced himself from the project saying that the character on screen did not reflect the character he wrote. Even Stallone later admitted that the film was a missed opportunity to do something with great source material.

So, again, in spite of sharing the same source material, Dredd has worked hard to try and establish itself as an entity that lives outside of the disaster that was the ’95 film. Dredd has a completely different story and approach to the character. They even have John Wagner on hand as a consultant. The theory in all of this is that there lives a great story to be told within the 2000 A.D. source material and when placed in capable hands a great movie will be made. So the question here is, is Dredd a great movie?

The trailer looks very cool. I mean, from a purely visual standpoint I’d even go so far as to say it looks great. The futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape is not something new in the world of movies so anytime you can create something that brings a fresh feel to it then you’ve done something right. I’m especially excited about the possibilities a drug that makes you experience time at 1% of the normal rate presents to a talented effects team. The limited amount of dialogue on display in the trailer doesn’t give you a whole lot to go on, though there is that awesomely corny line, “Judgment time” which will either perfectly set off a great sequence of events or perfectly encapsulate this movie’s existence in a long line of action movies that suffer the more they require the actors to talk. I certainly hope Dredd does a good job. Nothing makes me happier than seeing fanboys of a beloved source material get a faithful, well-done adaptation in theaters. After suffering for years in the fall out of Judge Dredd, I would say these fans deserve something good.


Trouble With the Curve

I’ve watched all the trailers. I’ve read all the press material. I’ve spent hours alone on a rooftop staring up into the stars. I’ve done all of this and yet, I still have no idea who this movie is intended for. Is it a date night rom-com? Is it a serious drama?  Is it for intense baseball lovers or casual fans? Like…seriously, what are they getting at? WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO FOOL?!!?!?!?!?!?

Some baseball movies will try and play up the love of the game, the nostalgia for a fondly remembered American pastime, and all the warm, fuzzy, sepia toned feelings associated with it. Okay, all of them do this. Shoot, even actual baseball games being broadcast on TV do this. Sure, in reality, the 5th inning of a random Tuesday night game in June may lack any of this oft imagined romance, but it’s hard to ignore the crushing drama inherent in the game even if it only pops up once every seven hours of actual game play. In fact, that problem is the very reason baseball movies are great! It cuts out all the boring nonsense (Though an argument can be made that all the ‘boring nonsense’ directly contributes to the built up tension, which allows for all the drama everyone loves so much…but that’s an argument for another day).

Moneyball was an interesting test case in that it tried to straddle the line between the nerdy, stathead, geek side of baseball and the romantic Field of Dreams side of baseball. For the most part I thought they did a great job with this, but I was constantly wary of that straddled line and very conscious of the fact that leaning too far one way or another would possibly bring the whole enterprise down. It was actually kind of nerve-racking.

So where does that leave us with Trouble With the Curve? The story revolves around an aging scout in the Atlanta Braves organization who is out on the trail for one last time, trying to prove he still has what it takes to find talent and presumably shove it in the face of this constantly Tweeting know-it-all youngster generation that can’t stop Instagramming their Foursquare accounts for two seconds to actually be productive. As I’ve said above, from all of the promotional stuff that’s been put out in advance of this film, it’s hard to see what will be the focus. Obviously, the heart of this movie is the father/daughter relationship between Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams and the success of the movie will largely depend on how well that works. Justin Timberlake would probably have chemistry with a brick wall so I’m not overly concerned with his part in all of this.

I’ll be curious to see just how baseball specific this movie gets. Scouting a prospect is probably one of the more mundane aspects of baseball and, unlike typical sports movies, it’s not like we’re following the plight of a team, so the classic structure of sports drama (team loses, team bands together, team plays well, something bad happens, team regroups, team wins!) will either be transferred to another aspect or restructured into something else entirely. I don’t know. This film has a lot of interesting factors at play and I’m relatively intrigued by all of them. I’d give it three Hamms but that lame joke at the end of the trailer about Eastwood liking Dr. Phil bumps it down to two. Clint Eastwood does not like Dr. Phil. I’ll give you a thousand Hamms if Clint Eastwood can even pick Dr. Phil out of a lineup.


End of Watch

I am utterly not intrigued by this movie. I think the trailers look bad. The story seems like unoriginal, generic cop stuff. The acting appears to be shoddy at best. It looks like they found some weird Jake Gyllenhaal lookalike, shaved his head, and put him the movie hoping no one would notice. Well, I noticed. I can’t tell if the camera work is meant to look like a found footage movie but it does look like a found footage movie and I absolutely hate found footage movies (except for Cloverfield. I liked Cloverfield. Can’t totally explain that one). So yea. Every part of this movie just screams, “Awful!” at me in like a weird screeching tone that hurts my ears. I was fully prepared to write this one off and move on with my life. Then something weird happened.

It’s got an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes!!! 86. Eight. Six. You know what has an 87% on RT? The Dark Knight Rises. Seriously what gives? Critics are using phrases like, “‘End of Watch’ itself remains thrilling and uncompromising” and “[it] cuts past the clichés of standard police procedurals.” I absolutely can’t wrap my brain around this. It looks so bad! Like, so so so bad. There is a high probability of me paying money to go bitterly sit in a theater at three in the morning by myself and hate watching this movie just so I can knowledgably rant about it later.


House at the End of the Street

Pretty much all you need to know about this movie is that part of their promotion of the film has involved getting people to tweet about it using the hashtag #HATES. Because, you know, House At The End of the Street. Disregarding the fact that they are utilizing the ‘T’ of the word ‘the’ for one part of the acronym and then ignoring it for another part (which is super against the Official Rules of Acronyms), it’s probably not a good idea to have the word ‘hate’ as a part of your promotional material on Twitter.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Twitter is a terrible place full of terrible people. Twitter users feed on the weak and uninitiated.  They will jump at the chance to use snark for evil rather than good.

“i #HATES @JennifLawrence_ singin  4 rlz yall” they’ll say.

“#HATES is a strong word, accurate tho LOL” they’ll say.

“OMG,  #HATES is rite you guys, even my girl @elisabeth_shue couldn’t save it #HorrorFail #ShueShine #HollowManWasBetter” they’ll say.

(Twitter has a weirdly strong contingent of Elisabeth Shue fans. They are particularly vocal in support of her work in the 2000 film Hollow Man. Twitter is a strange place.)

Poor HATEotS. They brought this on themselves. Wandering out into Twitter with a hashtag like that is like naively strolling into a wolf-infested forest wearing nothing but a pair of raw meat trousers. I weep for them. There is almost no way that this movie is any good but, even if it is, pretty much the only thing I will remember about it is this weird hashtag debacle. Although, without this hashtag debacle, there’s a strong chance I wouldn’t even remember it at all. Maybe that was the point all along. I see what you did there HATEotS.

 

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Weekend Movie Preview Special Labor Day Weekend Edition!!!

Welcome to MediaHound’s super fantastic awesome Labor Day Weekend Special Edition Edition! Boy, do we have some surprises in store for you this week because, as everyone knows, holiday weekends are traditionally when some of Hollywood’s biggest movies choose to make their debut and this weekend is no different! (It’s very different.) We have big stars, fancy special effects, and all sorts of huge stories to discuss! (We don’t.) Finally, after weeks of lying about in the doldrums of the post Dark Knight Rises wake with nothing but the Expendables sequel and weird indie movies to keep us warm at night, we can finally get back to the business of exciting movies hitting the multiplex! (We can’t.) I won’t make you wait any longer since you’re probably teeming with excitement, so lets get to it! (I mostly just don’t have anything else to say for an introduction, this is a pretty listless slate of films. We’re going to make it work though, I promise.)

Again, if you are unfamiliar with our incredibly scientific ranking system, you can get a refresher course here

Lawless

 After seeing the trailer for Lawless, I have to admit, I was pretty darn excited. It has a lot of elements that are right in the wheelhouse of things that I love. Outlaw bootleggers? Check. Tom Hardy with a cigar? Check. People poking Tom Hardy in the chest? Check. (Man, if I’ve learned anything from the past couple of months it’s to never, under any circumstances, threaten Tom Hardy. See: Bane comma “do you feel in charge?”) Guy Pearce with a sweet period haircut? Check. Gary Oldman doing awesome Gary Oldman things? Check. A Tommy Gun being referred to as a “Thomson Submachine Gun”? Super check.

(Side Tangent: For whatever reason, one of my favorite things is when stuff that is mostly known by a nickname is referred to by its full name. It makes it sound a thousand times more menacing. It’s similar to how when your parents call you by your full name, first, middle, and last, that you know you’re in trouble for something.)

So yea. I was pretty excited for this one. It looked like a cross between O Brother, Where Are Thou?, Bonnie and Clyde, and Young Guns. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this looked an awful lot like a carbon copy of Public Enemies. Similar period, similar crimes, similar number of actors that are also featured in The Dark Knight Rises. The trailer even hits some of the exact same beats. It’s eerie. Now, this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I wasn’t still kind of holding a grudge against Public Enemies. For the record, I don’t think Public Enemies was a bad film, it just wasn’t…you know… as awesome as I wanted it to be. It looked cool and was impressively filmed and acted and all that and blah blah blah. It was just, on the whole, kind of boring. Johhny Depp as the legendary bank robber John Dillinger? Seriously, how could that movie possibly miss? Yet, it did. I’m still frustrated about it and, frankly, it leaves me feeling a little gun shy regarding Lawless. Maybe that isn’t fair to Lawless. Maybe Lawless hits the right buttons where Public Enemies did not. I’m not optimistic though. This film has an awful lot of LeBeouf in it (especially considering we are in a golden age right now of getting a little too much LeBeouf) and I don’t really have anything to judge this director, John Hillcoat, on except The Road, which was just incredibly depressing. I’m going to give this movie half-a-Hamm. It’s definitely not Conan worthy, but I can’t shake the feeling that it might be a let down. Prove me wrong, Lawless!

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

From the Academy Award nominated visionary who brought you the Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine, and a documentary about dancing (take a guess which one got the Oscar nod) comes a revolutionary new film that is sure to change the cinematic landscape forever. This deeply layered allegory of the 2012 presidential election, which simultaneously decries the failures of a hubristic America while at the same time gazing towards the future in hopes of a brighter tomorrow, tells the story of the tragic events of Shluufy’s birthday. The Oogieloves and their friends are planning a party (the American Dream) when all of a sudden, J. Edgar (a clear nod to the government of yesteryear) manages to stumble and lose the last five magical balloons (representing the five tenets of American Culture: Hot Dogs, High Fives, College Football, the National Park System, and Bruce Willis) in Lovelyville. Now the Oogieloves must travel on a harrowing journey to recover said balloons while at the same time fending off an increasingly ridiculous cast of characters who believe that they know what is best for the Oogieloves.

Filmed on location in Lovelyville, this grueling shoot and challenging material reportedly began to take its toll on the actors. Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Pressly, who play Lola and Lero Sombrero, were quoted as saying, while their experience working on this film drove them to serious bouts of near insanity, that this was one of the most rewarding experiences of their careers.

This film is sure to challenge its audience. In fact, in an unprecedented move, it is even calling for audience participation in a number of scenes with various sing and dance-a-longs. In a way, I suppose, all films attempt to interact with those who are viewing it, but the Oogieloves strive to be something more than that. They ask and expect an awful lot from the American people. I, for one, hope we don’t let them down this weekend.

(I’m doing my best you guys. This is a really weak slate of movies. There aren’t enough Carell’s in the world for this one.)

The Possession

Honest confession time. Last week, while writing about The Apparition in this spot, I spent the entire time thinking that this was the movie I was talking about. I’d be more embarrassed, but honestly, two forgettable horror movies debuting in successive weeks with terrible, generic titles? I think that’s a forgivable offense. Anyway, because I felt bad, I decided to take a bit of a closer look at this film and try to honestly give you three reasons why it might be intriguing to the average cinemagoer.

Number 1: Sam Rami, he of the Evil Dead franchise, the original Spider-man franchise, and the actually solid horror film Drag Me To Hell, is a producer on this movie. Sam (I can call him Sam because we’re obviously friends) has a pretty decent resume and I generally trust the projects he’s involved with. Spider-Man 3 wasn’t his fault! For Love of the Game has some really good baseball scenes! I got your back Sam!

Number 2: Kyra Sedgwick, who forms one half of my favorite celebrity couple with Kevin Bacon, is in this movie. I was never, like, a die-hard The Closer fan, but I do watch a lot of NBA basketball on TNT. Ipso Facto, by way of seeing over 8 million ads for The Closer during basketball season, I think I’ve cumulatively watched at least a season’s worth of episodes thus making me qualified to pass judgment. I always found her accent charming and it would make me chuckle every time when J.K. Simmons’s character would try and get her to do something by the book, only she would do it her way instead and then Simmons would roll his eyes and begrudgingly accept it because she got the job done. I respect that in a character and thusly respect it about the actress.

Number 3: This film marks the acting debut of the reggae, hip-hop artist Matisyahu. Until very recently, Matisyahu was known for his strict adherence to Orthodox Hasidic Judaism, including wearing traditional Hasidic attire, as well as blending many elements of his religion into his music. I’ve always enjoyed his music and, while I was aware that he was moving away from many of the religious tenets he had become known for, I was unaware until now that he had begun pursuing an acting career. I find this to be a truly fascinating development.

So there you go. Three reasons to go see The Possession. Unfortunately, this movie also has one overriding reason why no one should ever see it. This scene.

AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! FINGERS IN THE MOUTH!!!!!!!!! NO THANK YOU!! A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES!!!!  A THOUSAND CONAN’S UPON YOUR MOVIE!!!!!


That’s all I got. Hopefully we’ll rebound next week with some solid flicks. We have to eventually, right? I sincerely wish you a happy and healthy holiday weekend. See you next week.