Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

My Oscar Ballot 2013

It’s that time of year again.  Time to prognosticate about the Academy Award winners as best I can.  Unlike past years, this time around I feel like I’ve seen a lot more nominees than in past years.  Granted the expanded size of the Best Picture pool helps with that, but still – I did pretty well.  And I’m not done yet – we have plans to squeeze in another 2 or 3 films this week, but my ballot for the office pool is due, so I’m going to just lock in my picks now and go with my best guesses.  As always, the fine folks at EW helped me a bit on the shorts and the docs.

Best Picture – 7 of 9 films seen

What I’m loving this year is that very few categories, including this one, are a foregone conclusion.  There is a real horse race here, and if you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I would have told you Lincoln was just too strong not to win.  It’s got a mix that the voters love – historical fiction, strong acting, and Spielberg.  But the awards season has put a lot of momentum behind Argo, and once I saw it I understood why; and it’s getting my vote.  A BP winner that isn’t nominated for Director is rare, but if there was ever a year it could happen, this is it.  The dark horse here could be Silver Linings Playbook, which has a thinner plot, but acting that will knock your socks off (hence 4 noms for the leads).

Actor – 3 of 5 seen

Let’s be honest, there is one category this year that is a lock, and this is it.  Put your money on Daniel Day-Lewis for his deeply engrossing portrait of our 16th president.  Which is a shame, because Bradley Cooper is really amazing, and Hugh Jackman is…Hugh Jackman.  Need I say more about him?

Actress – 2 of 5 seen

I’m feeling guilty for being under-informed here, as I’ve heard how all the nominees were stellar this year.  I think we will very soon see Jessica Chastain pick up an award, and little Quvenzhané Wallis is fierce in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but this year I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence for her on-the-edge woman who can stand up to DeNiro.

Director – 4 of 5 seen

I’m going out on a limb here.  Steven Spielberg certainly made a great movie, and he’s got a lot of love out there.  But Ang Lee took what was deemed an unfilmable book and made movie magic.  He’s a creative visionary full of new tricks every time, and I’d love to see him win for Life of Pi.

Supporting Actor – 4 of 5 seen

This is a really tough category this year, as all the men I saw did a remarkable job with very different characters.  Alan Arkin was gruff but funny, Tommy Lee Jones was at his blustery best in Congress, and Christoph Waltz creates charisma and chemistry in vast amounts.  I originally was going to put my vote in Waltz’ corner, but I worry his role is too similar to what he last did for Tarantino.  So I’m going with Robert DeNiro, who showed vulnerability, emotion and compulsion in a way I’ve never seen before.

Supporting Actress – 3 of 5 seen

This one is Anne Hathaway‘s to lose, and a few of her speeches this season made me worry she would grate on voters’ nerves, and they’d go with the safer choice of Sally Field.  But I still think her scenes in Les Mis are so shattering she’s got what it takes to win this.

Documentary Feature – 0 seen

It sounds like a 3-way race this year – the critics adore the unraveling secrets of The Gatekeepers, or they like the tale of an artist’s second life in Searching for Sugar Man.  I’m going to bank on the momentum of LGBT activism this year, and vote for How to Survive a Plague.

Documentary Short – 0 seen

No idea, so I’m relying on EW and picking Inocente, about a homeless artist.

Foreign Language Film – 0 seen

I think it will get passed over in other categories, so this award will go to the Austrian favorite, Amour.  But Denmark and Chile have the dark horse chances here.

Animated Feature – 3 of 5 seen

All three films that we saw were pleasant and enjoyable, but I question if any of them is strong enough to win.  Brave certainly was a triumph of animation (her hair!), but from what I hear, Wreck-It Ralph hits the right nostalgic buttons and should win.

Cinematography – 4 of 5 seen

Some great vistas in several of these movies, but Life of Pi was a profoundly visual movie that comes alive on the big screen.

Makeup & Hairstyling – 1 of 3 seen

Sure it’s tough to make dwarves and hobbits, but I felt like all the bad oral hygiene and wild hairstyles in Les Misérables were disturbing enough to win this award.

Production Design – 3 of 5 seen

You might remember this category as “Art Direction” but basically think of it as sets, props, etc.  I felt like they really tried to go for it in Les Mis, but there were a lot of varied locations in Lincoln that involved some challenging set decoration, and I think it will win.

Original Screenplay – 1 of 5 seen

Shocking!  Only 1 seen!  And quite frankly I don’t see the script as the strength of Django Unchained.  The buzz is this will come down to a race between Zero Dark Thirty (which has been skirting controversy) versus Amour.  I’m going with the former, because I think the Oscar voters are above the petty criticisms against Mark Boal’s journalism.

Adapted Screenplay – 5 of 5 seen

I think this is really coming down to two book adaptations – David Magee adapting an “unfilmable” novel (Life of Pi), and Tony Kushner distilling a huge tome of a book on Lincoln.  While my heart is with the former (because I read the book), I think Kushner created strong, believable dialogue from an academic work.

Animated Short Film – 0 seen

With both Pixar and The Simpsons entering shorts this year, it could be a tough race.  My friend Emily swears by Head Over Heels, and EW says it will be Adam and Dog.  I think I’m going with the latter just because I like animals.

Live Action Short Film – 0 seen

I’m going with Asad, which is about Somali refugees, which is very topical.

Visual Effects – 2 of 5 seen

Usually this would go to a superhero blockbuster like The Avengers (after all, The Hulk is fully animated).  But the seamless integration of an animated tiger (and a zoo of other animals) in Life of Pi should take the award in its sizable teeth.

Costume Design – 2 of 5 seen

The ones I saw in Les Mis and Lincoln were good, but with this category you should always go with the showiest period drama – so this year it will be Anna Karenina.

Film Editing – 4 of 5 seen

No question for me – the relentless tension of Argo, particularly in the final 30 minutes, is a testament to the power of strong editing.

Sound Mixing – 5 of 5 seen

I’ve seen all 5!  So you’d think I would  be able to tell you the winner without hesitation, but this is one of the toughest categories for me.  That being said, I think a musical is already a tougher challenge for a sound mixer (sound effects + music + singing), and we all know by now that Les Misérables used live singing.  So it gets my vote.

Sound Editing – 4 of 5 seen

This is the one where sound effects themselves are recognized, and I once read you should always vote for the loudest movie.  Of the four films I saw, that means I need to go with Skyfall.

Original Score – 4 of 5 seen

Lots of good choices here, but I have to give my vote to Life of Pi.  When you consider that for long stretches the movie has no dialogue, it’s the visuals and the score that carry it forth to greatness.

Original Song – 4 of 5 seen (heard?)

The song from Ted was cute (and I loved the movie), but Seth McFarlane is going to have to settle for the honor of being host for the night.  I looked at ScottE when “Suddenly” came on during Les Mis and mouthed, “What is this?” and then realized it was the Oscar bait that was added.  And it was not that great.  The clear, unadulterated winner this year will be the fabulous Adele, with the title theme for Skyfall – one of the best Bond songs in decades.

So that’s it!  As I said, I’m not done watching these movies – I’ll most likely catch Zero Dark Thirty this weekend, one of the other animated features, and perhaps a third movie if I can squeeze it in.  I’ll post in the comments before the Oscar ceremony if I think these viewings would have changed my ballot at all, but my pool picks are now locked.

How about you – any favorites you think I missed?  Do you think Spielberg and Lincoln can pull out top honors?  And what are you most looking forward to during the broadcast?  Post in the comments, or respond via Facebook or Twitter!


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Best of 2012

So as we hit the end of 2012, I offer up my best in entertainment of the past year. Keeping in mind not all of these were released this year, it’s just what I saw/read.

Best Movie – Lincoln
Honorable mentions – Pina, Skyfall

Best Book – A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Honorable mentions – Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Best TV series (drama) – Mad Men
Honorable mentions – Downton Abbey, Sherlock

Best TV series (comedy) – Happy Endings
Honorable mentions – 2 Broke Girls, Modern Family

Best Music (album) – Magic Hour by Scissor Sisters
Honorable mentions – Some Nights by fun., The Truth About Love by P!nk

Best Music (single) – Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (feat. Kimbra)
Honorable mentions – We Found Love by Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris), Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

Best Theatre – Black Watch
Honorable mentions – Once, Now.Here.This.

Best guilty pleasure – Pitch Perfect
Honorable mentions – Revenge, seeing Betty White live and in person

Best Board Game – At the Gates of Loyang
Honorable mentions – Seasons, Airlines Europe, Heartland

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My Oscar Ballot 2011

The Oscars are tonight!  After checking out a few last-minute movies, I can now give you my Oscar picks.  Sadly I missed the shorts again this year, but I’ll do my best with my predictions. Feel free to post your own here, and we’ll see who does well!

I’ve been doing my best to catch up on the nominees, but there are only 5 categories where I’ve seen everything (same as last year!) – Director, Supporting Actress (we’re watching Animal Kingdom on DVD this afternoon), Art Direction, Cinematography and Sound Mixing.  But you know I do my homework and I never do worse than half.  So listen up!

Best Picture

Ten nominees still seems ridiculous – but at least this year they are all strong and well-reviewed.  We managed to get to nine of them, which I’m rather proud of.  After careful consideration, I really think the Academy is going to play it old school and honor the very worthy The King’s Speech, but of course The Social Network is the potential spoiler if young Hollywood exerts its influence.  Honestly I think a decade from now we’ll look back and wonder why Inception wasn’t considered a strong contender.

Best Actor

Last year I was hoping Colin Firth would win, and this year he will get it.  The Academy loves a male character that is overcoming a disability of any kind, and Firth is going to be honored for two strong roles two years running.  I will also tip my hat to Jeff Bridges who was really strong in True Grit.

Best Actress

Just like last year, the hottest contest amongst the acting categories is here.  It’s a shame that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a front-runner, as she made Winter’s Bone what it is.  It’s also a shame Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated, as she was stronger than Annette Benning, in my opinion.  The winner will be Natalie Portman, for her fierce portrayal of one (or is it two?) fierce woman, while dancing like a true ballerina.

Best Supporting Actor

Two years running, this category is a an easy pick – Christian Bale all the way.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but his crack-addicted boxer/trainer is his best work to-date.  I’ll still give props to Geoffrey Rush, who in another year could have walked away with the prize for his excellent, excellent performance.

Best Supporting Actress

This category could be the most interesting of any this year.  The conventional wisdom for some time was that Melissa Leo had it locked up.  But after an ill-advised self-promoting ad campaign, I think voters reconsidered.  And if they really watched The Fighter, perhaps they recognized what I saw – that Amy Adams was in fact stronger in the movie.  So I’m going out on a limb here and say that the two actresses will split the vote, and running up the aisle will be newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who was charming, strong and quite funny in True Grit.

Best Director

It’s rare that the Academy splits the Director/Picture winners between two films, but it’s become increasingly common in recent years.  I see that trend continuing here, as David Fincher brought together many elements to make The Social Network so compelling.

Best Documentary Feature

I’ve only seen one of the nominees – it’s got buzz, and a director that will likely only show up to the ceremony in disguise – so it’s all about Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I have heard great things about Inside Job, but I suspect that Academy members are trying to forget the pain of the recession and move on.

Best Documentary Short Subject

This is a shot in the dark – I’ll go with Entertainment Weekly‘s prediction of Killing in the Name, which deals with the fallout from a suicide bomber in the Middle East, a very timely topic.

Best Animated Feature

Pixar is still the king – Toy Story 3 was another triumph.  Who didn’t cry watching it?

Best Foreign Language Film

The only one I’ve heard much about is Mexico’s Biutiful, but I’ll throw my hat in with the Golden Globe-winning Danish film In a Better World.

Best Cinematography

I would say three of the five nominees have a good shot at this one.  Generally I find the Academy likes to award a film that shows a lot of landscapes and imposing settings, so my gut says the winner is True Grit‘s visuals by Roger Deakins, a frequent nominee that has never won.

Best Original Screenplay

Really tough call.  Inception was so inventive, and The King’s Speech is certainly at the front of the pack.  I am most likely to be wrong in this category than any other, but I think there is going to be a consolation prize given to The Kids Are All Right, which was given a lot of praise when it first came out for presenting an original family.  That’s thanks to scribes Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Easy choice again this year – The Social Network was all about rapid-fire dialogue, written by the expert, Aaron Sorkin.

Best Visual Effects

If Inception doesn’t win, I’ll eat my new fedora.

Best Animated Short

This could go any direction – so why not an environmental piece – Let’s Pollute?

Best Live Action Short

Two of EW‘s writers said they think a strong contender is Na Wewe, which is set in Burundi.  Sounds great to me.

Best Art Direction

Several good options this year; I’m going to say it’s the striking colors and visuals of Alice in Wonderland.

Best Costume Design

Again, there were a lot of wild and fanciful costumes in Alice in Wonderland, so I think that will win (not much else to say about that movie, except it was pretty to look at).  Normally a period piece would win, but The King’s Speech is full of very subdued outfits, and the Academy will find True Grit‘s costumes to be too grungy (which is a shame, as I was impressed).

Best Film Editing

The true crime is that Inception wasn’t nominated here, even though it’s major sequence of overlapping dreamscapes was amazing.  That being said, the rapid shifts of time and place in The Social Network should win the prize.

Best Sound Mixing

Big explosions and lots of gunfire – Inception.

Best Sound Editing

See above – Inception.

Best Original Score

I’m actually hoping the Academy doesn’t award schmaltz, and instead gives a deserved award to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose score was a major reason The Social Network was so impressive.

Best Original Song

I can’t handle Randy Newman winning for another of his trite tunes!  So let’s give this one to Dido’s song from 127 Hours – “If I Rise.”

Best Makeup

The nominees here are not ones anyone has seen, so let’s assume it goes to the creature feature – The Wolfman.

So how about you folks?  How do your picks stack up?  Will young co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway knock it out of the park?

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With all of today’s hoopla about POTUS and his SOTU speech, you might have forgotten the other big news story – Oscar nominations!  It’s the time of year to dissect and obsess over the best (or “best”) that Hollywood had to offer.  Unfortunately I had to miss my annual ritual of watching them live, but did catch up as soon as I could.  Here are my first reactions, with more to come as the Academy Awards draw closer.

1.  Not such a bad list of 10 for Best Picture

Granted I’m still not wild over this idea of a G10 of nominees for the top prize, but at least this year they have all been well-recognized by critics for being great movies.  So far I’ve managed to see six of them, with Winter’s Bone sitting next to the TV ready to be watched soon.  I don’t really plan to hit them all, however – I just have no interest in 127 Hours.

2.  Biggest snub?

My first instinct when I scanned the list was to cry out, “No Directing nod for Christopher Nolan?  What is wrong with these people?”  Then I noticed he still picked up a nod for Original Screenplay, and of course Inception is up for Best Picture.  That gave me a bit of solace.  So I’ve decided the biggest snub this year is Julianne Moore, whom I thought was deserving of a nomination for The Kids Are All Right.  Her performance was playing a character unlike I’ve seen from her before – and really made an adulteress likable.  Isn’t that usually a shoe-in?

3.  Biggest surprise?

Every year there is one nominee, usually a Supporting Actor or Actress, that comes as a bit of a surprise.  It’s the one person that flew under the radar of the prognosticators and wasn’t on anyone’s lists.  In other words, the one person that Entertainment Weekly hadn’t already run out and photographed for their upcoming issue!  Last year it was Maggie Gyllenhaal.  This year it has to be John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone.  I’ll be watching the movie soon, so I’ll report back if this one was deserved.

4.  Most confusing categories

Other than the categories that amateur critics like myself can’t be expected to predict, the rest of the nominations are usually straight-forward with the occasional surprise.  But this year there are two that just baffle the mind.  First, there is the Best Documentary Feature category – all of the buzz throughout the year has focused on a handful of films – notably Waiting for Superman and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.  But neither made the final list!  This will be a huge advantage for two other docs that got a lot of talk this year – Exit Through the Gift Shop and Inside Job.  The other baffling category is Best Makeup, which features an American film that bombed at the box office (The Wolfman), a Canadian film few have heard of (Barney’s Version) and a movie that was just released nationwide last Friday that nobody’s heard of (The Way Back).  Isn’t this the category where they usually nominate a blockbuster that has only one redeeming quality – good prosthetics?

5.  Plenty still to see

With weeks to go, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!  Fortunately with one nominee here at home and another (Animal Kingdom) on the way, I have a head-start.  Which begs the question – are there any films I need to make a priority to see in the theaters while I still can?  The FighterTrue Grit?  Weigh in through the comments below.

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The Facebook

The Social Network

After last night’s Golden Globes ceremony, it was pretty clear that this was the movie to see before the Oscars.  Fortunately it is showing in one theater in DC, the newly opened West End Cinema.  After posting on Facebook that I was about to see it, I wondered if it really was the best movie of the year?

Well, not quite, for me at least.  But it still very good and worthy of praise.  The Social Network is a well-paced tale of Facebook’s creation through the lens of two lawsuits against its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.  At question in both cases was the proprietary nature of an idea.  Who had the idea first, and therefore who owns it?  Was it Zuckerberg’s idea alone?  And is this all a morality tale – hard work and dedication pays off, but reckless partying will lead to disaster?  We never really get a definitive answer, but that’s not the point – it’s really about how the largest social media platform on the planet started in a dorm room at Harvard.

The script is by Aaron Sorkin – those familiar with his work on The West Wing will recognize the snappy dialogue that is a mouthful and zips by at a breakneck pace.  It works well in this context, as we are following the tale of geniuses run amok.  Director David Fincher keeps up that pace, but fills it with an ominous overtone that the future may not be so pretty.

While I think he does a fine job with the role, Jesse Eisenberg’s challenge is that his character (Zuckerberg) is so one-note.  Other than the occasional hint of a smile, he is so monotone that he reminded me of Lilith on Frasier.  The showier role goes to Andrew Garfield, who portrays Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner that slowly breaks down as he watches Facebook spiral beyond his control.  The Winkelvoss twins (humorously called the Winkelvii) are both played by Armie Hammer, who infuses them with a mix of jock bravado and gentlemanly rage.  Also of note are Justin Timberlake as the manic founder of Napster, Sean Parker, and the lovely Rashida Jones as a legal associate.

The main take-away from the movie for me is how this simple idea exploded in a way that no one could have imagined.  Is it any surprise that the first thing I was ready to do upon leaving the film was…to post about it on Facebook?  Facebook is so powerful in our lives that we even use it as a verb – “She Facebooked me last night.”  So this begs the question – what’s the next idea that will take over the world?

On the whole, an excellent film that should at the very least win an Oscar for its screenplay.  I give it a satisfying A-.

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Boo hoo! Overdue Review

Let’s be honest – you’re just now starting to listen to the Oscar buzz, right?  Curious about those movies that are getting the accolades that you haven’t had time to see?  Fear not, gentle reader, I am here to guide you through the Academy Awards hoopla in one piece.  If that band of characters thinks it’s a must-see movie, then you know I’ll be making every attempt to see it as well.  So let’s get talking about this movie I saw several weeks ago, and have been lax in reviewing.

The King’s Speech

British royalty can be a little confusing – let me try to make this genealogy clear for you.  The King in question here is George VI, who was the father of Elizabeth II – the woman we now acknowledge as the Queen of England (and of course Princess Margaret).  His wife we came to know as the “Queen Mum.”  What you have to remember is that many of the royals took on names different than their own, in order to carry on a certain tradition.  George VI was actually born as Albert, the second son of George V.  When his father died and his brother shunned the crown for a mistress of Baltimore, it was up to Albert to assume the throne (taking on the name George to honor his father).  The one problem?  He had a debilitating stutter.

Of course a major part of the role in being a monarch is the many speeches that must be given at ceremonies and the like.  In the time of George VI the prominence of radio made addresses “over the wireless” an imperative.  What’s a stuttering royal to do?  Fortunately he had a wife that wouldn’t give up on the idea of help being out there, and she eventually finds a man named Lionel Logue.  Logue was a speech therapist and offered to treat the man who would be king – but on his own terms.  Thus begins a relationship that would last a lifetime.

This true story plays out beautifully in Tom Hooper’s vision.  We get great insight into the less glamorous parts of being British royalty and the sometimes unreasonable demands placed upon them.  The script by David Seidler draws heavily on the papers unearthed by Logue’s grandson, which can be read in the book of the same name.  This screenplay crackles with wit, pathos and emotion – I laughed heartily and later was wracked with tears as we heard King George uttering words that have become eternally famous, “The task will be hard.  There may be dark days ahead…”

Without question the movie rests on the shoulders of Colin Firth (as King George VI) who handles it beautifully.  He effortlessly flows between uptight and apoplectic.  And his stammer is remarkable – which should go over well at the Oscars, where they love afflicted men.  I would say that Firth alone is worth seeing the movie, but then I would be short-changing Geoffrey Rush (as Logue) who delivers his best work since Shine.  Rush is quietly hilarious with perfect comic timing, yet we see his desire to make more of his life than it has been up to this point.  Also delightful is Helena Bonham Carter (as the Queen Mum), giving a performance that is polar opposite of her outrageous one in the Harry Potter films.  Can you believe she was filming this gem and Deathly Hallows simultaneously?  Now that’s acting.

In short, this movie is a must-see – the best of 2010 for me.  I give it an overwhelming A!  When the nominations come out, expect Oscar to shine most favorably on The King’s Speech, which will be in strong contention for the Best Picture prize.


Soon I’ll be getting back to you with some more Oscar bait that I’ve seen on DVD lately – there’s still time to catch up with Netflix, folks!

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Four movie reviews

After months of staying away from the movies, I returned with a flurry this past month.  We saw no less than four movies and considered a fifth.  So it’s time for me to catch up and tell you what I thought of them.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

If you’ll recall, I thought very highly of J.K. Rowling’s final book in the Potter series, which tied up more loose ends than would seem possible, while adding plenty of action that left the reader breathless.  Yet I was concerned about the transition to film, when it was announced that it would be split in two.  Setting aside any accusations of corporate greed, I was more worried because of how the book was structured.  The first half was a slow burn adventure on the road, where Harry, Ron and Hermione were embroiled in angst and grew weary of each other.  Despite some moments of excitement, all of the really “good stuff” happened later.

And unfortunately that’s how it came across in this movie.  Although it was beautifully shot and the acting was very strong, it lacked the pacing needed to sustain a movie of that length, and to keep the audience begging for more.  That being said, I don’t really fault the screenwriter (Steve Kloves) or the director (David Yates), as they made the most of this half-book approach.  The darkness, the maturity and the character development was all there.  When Dobby had his big scene near the end, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

On the whole, a good movie, but as ScottE commented, “I’m reserving judgement until I see Part 2.”  My preliminary grade – B+.


The facts are these – Cher has returned the big screen, Christina Aguilera is a powerful singer, and Stanley Tucci is still hot.  If that’s enough to get you to the theater, then you really must go and enjoy Burlesque.  If you go in with any higher expectations than those, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  Because the reality is this movie is so bad, it’s good.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not as bad as other movies in the genre (I’m looking at you, Showgirls), but it’s not very good.  The dialogue is often laughable, and the various twists and turns of the plot are far too convenient.  Frankly, the intervening scenes start to get in the way, to the point that you find yourself counting the minutes until the next musical number.  That’s when the movie shines – Xtina takes the stage, the girls writhe and smirk in a very Chicago way, and all is well.  Occasionally Cher graces the screen with her larger-than-life personality that’s so clearly typecast.  I, as a gay man, am obligated to love her every minute.

There is also the hotness factor.  The love interest, Cam Gigandet, is easy on the eyes even if he has nothing to do but act like a rogue.  Stanley Tucci is still adorable, and ends up with a most adorable boyfriend in David Walton.  So for the gals and the gays, plenty of eye candy to go around.  But if it’s a well-crafted plot you’re looking for, look elsewhere.  My grade – a C+ for effort.  This will be the movie that years from now we’ll get drunk and laugh with at Thanksgiving.

Black Swan

I admit I’ve been wanting to see this movie since I first saw the preview ages ago.  And I was not disappointed.  Darren Aronofsky has delivered a film that messes with your head, unfurls bravura performances, and shows proper reverence for the art of dance.  If you can handle a serious mind-frak, then you won’t want to miss this movie, which is bound to be recognized come Oscar time.

The basic plot of the movie mirrors the story of Tchaikovsky’s (or is it Petipa’s?) ballet, Swan Lake – a ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) struggles to move past her gentle nature (a.k.a. the white swan Odette) to embrace her hidden dark side (a.k.a. the black swan Odile).  In doing so she will master the dual role often considered the most difficult for any prima ballerina.  Nina is continually pushed in this direction both by her director (Vincent Cassel) and a new rival (Mila Kunis).  The key appears to be in unlocking her sexual desire, which has been kept dormant, no thanks to her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) that keeps her in a child-like state at home – picture a room full of stuffed animals and whole mess o’ pink.  Can she overcome and give the performance of a lifetime?

Aronofosky’s vision is truly spectacular, but even more so is the acting of Portman, who speaks volumes with the creases in her face.  Her descent into madness is a sight to behold.  She not only acts to the hilt, but she dances it, too – her body is all sinew and strength – she carries herself as a dancer in a most remarkable way.  Kunis proves to be an excellent foil, carrying on with a casual California style that was so charming in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  The two women share one scene in particular that is, shall we say, intensely charged with sexuality.

As I mentioned, I felt this film did a great honor in showing the pain and struggle that is the life of a dancer, particularly for women in ballet.  The blood on the feet, the steely determination, the constant repetition – that’s achingly real.  But I would caution that other elements of the movie are there for the sake of plot – most ballet companies aren’t full of women trying to best each other, nor are you likely to see this lascivious a director.  These quibbles are minor, and I consider the movie a triumph – I give it a solid A.

I Love You Phillip Morris

This week we had the rare opportunity to see a film for free, and at the MPAA screening room, no less!  The ironic humor of seeing such an aggressively gay movie there was not lost on me.

The story is based on the real life of Steven Russell, a gay man that taught himself the art of the con in order to keep up the life to which he had become accustomed.  When he’s finally caught and thrown in jail, he happens upon a nubile youth named Phillip Morris (no relation) and falls in love.  Desperate, mad, willing-to-do-anything love.  Thus follows his crazy adventures of getting in and out of jail, while conning money from a major corporation.  He continually falsifies his identity, while Phillip tries to ignore the untruth he must know is there.

While Ewan McGregor (as Phillip) comes across well with his innocent charm, I felt like Jim Carrey (as Steven) was playing just another twist on the madcap character that has become the staple of his movies.  That being said, the love story portrayed was strong and believable.  If nothing else, the film convinced me that Steven’s motivations were always out of blind love for Phillip.  He just lacked any filter or common sense.

It was a charming romp, but the script lacked the bite it needed to compete with this year’s Oscar contenders.  I give it a very agreeable B.

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