Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Oscar Nominations 2009

The Oscar nominations are in!

The 81st Academy Awards Ceremony is taking place in exactly a month and therefore tradition states that the nominations are revealed today. These were announced at 1.30pm today and are as follows:

Best picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

No surprises there but I had hoped The Dark Knight would have featured.

Best Director

Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant – Milk

Again, no surprises but where is Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight? And what about previous Academy favourite Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road?

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor

Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

It looks like Leonardo Di Caprio will never get an Oscar. And if only they had nominated Martin Sheen instead of Frank Langella!

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

The biggest surprise here is that Kate Winslet was nominated for The Reader as opposed to Revolutionary Road.

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Go Heath!

Best Animated Feature Film

Kung Fu Panda

It has to be Wall-E. Personally, I would have put it in the Best Picture category – the Online Film Critics Society would have agreed with me. As Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers put it: "If there was ever a time where an animated feature deserved to be nominated for Best Picture it's Wall-E."

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve not read any of the original books but I would love for Slumdog to get awards wherever possible.

Best Original Screenplay
In Bruges
Frozen River

Go Wall-E! This was a nice surprise. And I would love for the Academy to recognise Pixar’s genius for more than just animation.

Best Song
Slumdog Millionaire – O Saya
Slumdog Millionaire – Jai Ho
Wall-E – Down To Earth

I love both soundtracks - happy for either to win. But what about Bruce Springteen's title-track for The Wrestler, which won the Globe just two weeks ago?

Best Score
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Wall-E again! Pixar are cropping up all over the place. But Slumdog will be hard to beat.


I could go into all of the categories for Special Effects, Costume Design, Make-Up, etc (although I am adamant that Ben Burtt gets recognition for his monumental Sound Editing/ Mixing in Wall-E) but I will wait until the nearer the time when I give my full wish list.

The reality has just dawned however: I have a hell of a lot of films to see in the next four weeks...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

REVIEW: The Wrestler

Welcome back Mr Rourke!

It is impossible to talk about The Wrestler without the obvious parallels between the character of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson and Mickey Rourke’s real-life career. Every review I have read so far has mentioned the inevitable comparison and, to be honest, it is unavoidable.

In short, Mickey Rourke was a popular leading man back in the 80s. He started turning down roles in major movies, then chose to quit acting and return to professional boxing in 1991. Even being offered the role of Butch in Pulp Fiction couldn’t change his mind. At first. But eventually, when boxing didn’t work out, he attempted to break back into Hollywood but by that time Hollywood had shut the door. Rourke was therefore filed under ‘has-been’ and has rarely been seen again.

It’s not quite right to call The Wrestler his comeback (that came courtesy of Robert Rodriguez who cast him in Once Upon A Time in Mexico and gave him the kick-ass role of Marv in Sin City) but it is certainly the first time he has headlined a film in almost twenty years. And judging by this performance, it won’t be the last.

In short, Rourke is epic.

No-one else could play the role of an over-the-hill wrestler this well except an over-the hill ex-boxer/ex-actor like Rourke. He delivers lines like, ‘I’m just an old piece of meat’ with such pathos that you just know he is speaking for himself, as much as the character. And the script allows Rourke to shine. He becomes the character, switching adeptly between the tear-jerking moments (dancing with his estranged daughter), the drama (suffering a heart attack) and a healthy amount of comedy.

The comedy is another reason I like this film. It really shows that not all award-winning performances require woeful, understated deliverance like Kate Winslet in The Reader. This role proves that an actor can have fun with a role and win a Golden Globe – hopefully soon to be an Oscar. The moments of comedy are wide and frequent: playing NES with a kid who talks about Call of Duty 4, picking out clothes for his daughter (‘I think she is a lesbian, does that affect what I buy her?’) and his initial enthusiasm serving people at the deli counter. All brilliant.

And the physicality of the role requires somebody tough like Rourke. He is looking stacked throughout and he needs to be. Although pro-wrestling is largely fake, Rourke is thrown around the ring in a blur of shakey-cam flips and smackdowns. And everyone leaving this film will remember the insane, Jackass-style bout involving barbed wire, glass, drawing pins and – unforgettably - a staple gun. When the words ‘Fourteen minutes earlier…’ flash up on the screen, you know you are in for a treat.

There are other praises to sing (Marisa Tomei, Rachel Evan Wood, Aronofsky’s hand-held direction) but The Wrestler is Rourke’s showcase through and through. And when the film’s abrupt cut-to-black ending arrives, you will be left hoping that he gets the Oscar next month.

Monday, 19 January 2009

REVIEW: The Reader

This is quite a boring review to write because I didn’t feel very strongly about this film either way. I’ll therefore make it short.

The primary reason anyone will see this film is because of Kate Winslet’s Golden Globe-winning and Bafta-nominated performance as Hana Schmidt. In fairness, it’s a good performance. But it is ‘subtle-good’, as opposed to ‘Heath Ledger’s immortal, you’ll-never-forget-it Joker’ good. As for the Award-attention, it’s not exactly surprising. Since Titanic, Winslet has always been Academy-friendly and now she is playing a controversial, illiterate, often-nude Nazi. If she doesn’t get an Oscar this year, then she never will.

And that would be the greatest irony of her career, especially after Ricky Gervais made her say in Extras (paraphrased): “Holocaust films guarantee you an Oscar.”

Other than Winslet, you are left with a grim, cathartic film (a standard Stephen Daldry picture then) about a law student who has an affair with a tram conductor one summer, only to find out years later at Law School that she became an SS guard at Auschwitz. In short, there is little to make you smile but lots to make you cry. The harrowing scenes of the young Michael Berg (David Kross, who definitely should have been nominated for the Orange Rising Star Award) visiting the real remains of Auschwitz are particularly disturbing. There are also prison scenes, a suicide and – just to make sure you leave feeling glum – a final scene at a graveyard.

Ultimately, like Che, you have to be in the right state of mind to see this film: curiosity more than a desire to be entertained. This is definitely not Saturday night, popcorn-fodder.

I’m glad I saw it – powerful, emotional, thought-provoking, blah, blah, blah – but I won’t be watching it again. Ever.

Lost Returns!

The greatest show of all time is returning in six days times! I refer, of course, to Lost!

Now in its fifth season, we will be learning about how the Oceanic Six return to the Island whilst also finding out what happened to those who were left behind when the island shifted.

Wikipedia, as always, have been offering
tantalising scraps of information whilst you can watch the Season trailer below.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

REVIEW: The Spirit

Before I even begin this review, I am going to have a rant about Orange Wednesdays. Yes, it’s great that people can get cheaper cinema tickets but I hate them. Why? Because Orange Wednesdays drag all of cinema’s greatest offenders out of their homes and into the multiplex. I’m talking about chavs, chavettes, texters, chatterboxes, popcorn-munchers and people who actually laugh at the Orange adverts. It drives me mental.

And I walked into an empty cinema, sat down and the next people through the door – who could have sat anywhere else – sat directly behind me. And then, the next woman through the door sat next to me. She asked me to move my coat and everything. What the hell?!

Films are a form of art. These reprobates don’t go to the museum or art galleries. But I have to suffer them in the cinema. Humph.

Anyway, snobbery over. The Spirit


I’ll start by getting the inevitable Sin City comparison out of the way. Yes, there are similarities: a black, white & red palette, gravely voiceovers, Frank Miller. But the comparisons end there - The Spirit is an incredibly ridiculous and bizarre film.

Despite looking like Sin City, The Spirit is less of a graphic novel film and more of a comic book film. In fact, it is less of a comic book film and more of a spoof of a comic book film. The passing tongue-in-cheek references to Robin, Superman and even Thor only confirm that. The whole film lacks the punch, thrills and gritty tone of Sin City and you feel that the film is missing one key ingredient: Robert Rodriguez.

The Spirit is certainly memorable for an infinite number of reasons but I can’t quite work out if those reasons are good, bad or just plain weird: we see a bouncing foot with a head, Eva Mendes photocopies her ass, Samuel L Jackson melts a cat. And that isn’t the half of it.

Maybe one of the big problems is that The Spirit is a costumed hero that you just cannot take seriously. I’m not sure if that is Gabriel Macht’s fault or just the way the character was written. Our leading man is obsessed with women, cats and his city – running jokes (hopefully intentional) that just get silly. One minute he is hamming up the gravitas, the next minute he is dangling from a building with his pants around his ankles. He is ridiculous. It is hard to feel for such a dumb character, even when he is in mortal danger, because he just keeps spurting out baffling quips. At one moment he even breaks the fourth wall to chat to the audience reminding me of Zach in Saved by the Bell.

If there is anything good about this film, apart from the sexy ladies (simultaneously wearing wetsuits, nurse outfits and there is even a belly dancer) and the style of the film (why don’t more films look like this?), then it would have to be our villains.

The best scenes by far feature Samuel L Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, as The Octopus and Silken Floss respectively, both clearly loving the free rein to chew the scenery. They both play over-the-top, cardboard cut-out villains, with more wardrobe changes than an Oscar host. We see Jackson dressed as a samurai, scientist, fur-lined gangster and, if you thought Tom Cruise’s turn in Valkyrie was the surprise Nazi of the year, wait until you see Jackson suited-and-booted in his finest SS gear.

Both villains get the clunkiest of the lines. Johansson snapping insult like ‘Fart’ and ‘Toe-cheese’ at her henchmen (these guys are irritating enough, even without a lisp) whilst Jackson gets to shout the following:

“I’ve got eight of everything!”
“Toilets are always funny!”
“Immortality: all five big syllables of it!”
“No egg on my face. Not one glob!”
“Mutha-fu…!” Final words. Classic Jackon.

As you can see, the dialogue is bonkers and certainly not what you would expect from king of the graphic novel, Frank Miller. The whole film sounds like somebody imitating Miller. And when the dialogue isn’t being ridiculous, then it is actually quite tiresome. And one point, The Spirit says: “I’m growing old just listening to you,” and we as the audience are inclined to agree.

Overall, I left the cinema feeling a bit baffled.

The Spirit is kind of cool in a silly, sexy way - but ‘Snakes on a Plane’ cool, as opposed to ‘Sin City’ cool.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

REVIEW: Slumdog Millionaire

Brilliant! Gorgeous! Emotional! Funny!

All of these words were flying through my mind during Danny Boyle’s latest film and I left the cinema with a feel-good spring in my step. The sort of my spring you only get after watching a really good film. Yes, I can confirm, that Slumdog Millionaire is every bit as good as the five-star reviews led me to believe.

I now consider myself a big campaigner for this film and could not be happier with its plethora of Golden Globes from Sunday’s ceremony: Best Director, Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Score. All four are well-deserved. And let’s hope the Oscars get it right this year.

So why does it work so well? A poor kid winning money on the Indian equivalent to Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire? Sounds pretty formulaic right? And it certainly could have been. But when did Danny Boyle ever pick a bad book to adapt? Joining both Trainspotting and The Beach before it, Vikas Swarup’s novel Q and A has now been given the Boyle-treatment and it shines.

The trailers could be deemed misleading, as it comes across as a fluffy rags-to-riches story via everyone’s favourite quiz show. But the quiz show is simply a narrative structure that allows our hero Jamal (Dev Patel, recommended by Boyle’s daughter after watching Skins) to tell his life story to his interrogators while being accused of cheating. And it works really well.

And what a life story! Jamal has seen it all: his mother murdered by extremist Hindus, orphans having their eyes burned out, his brother Salim commit murder, repeatedly losing the love of his life (Frieda Pinto). He even swims through shit! Therefore, don’t expect a family-friendly comedy.

Nevertheless, it is deservedly labelled the feel-good film of the year. For all of the grittiness of life in Mumbai, you get moments of hope and a lot of humour. The aforementioned swimming-through-shit moment is hilarious, disgusting and makes you feel like cheering all at once. Boyle might have even topped his Ewan McGregor shit-swimming in Trainspotting.

And I agree with Empire: it certainly is his best film since Trainspotting. Boyle is leading the Brits towards the Oscars with Kate Winslet at his side and after the Globes, things are looking good. His direction is superb. Mumbai is a colourful mix of half-built slums, gorgeous sunsets & eclectic skylines and Boyle’s lens captures it all.

He is also making movie stars of more-unknowns – he has such a good eye for talent and introduced us to Ewan McGregor, Cillian Murphy and now Dev Patel. Patel’s performance is moving, heartfelt, charming and many other things. It is incredible to think that he only get into acting because his Mum made him attend the open auditions for Skins. Frieda Pinto, a professional model, is gorgeous as the love-interest Latika and the five-year old versions of the two brothers are so good! They carry the first third of the movie and you end up being a little bit disappointed when they grow up into different actors.

Also, Boyle’s other great talent: Master of the Movie Soundtrack. Who can forget Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ (Trainspotting) and Moby’s ‘Porcelain’ (The Beach)? It looks like ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A will be joining them. And for that matter, everything in A.R. Rahman’s score.

My final answer: this film works. Historically, the Golden Globes are usually more on-the-ball than the Oscars. But hopefully this will be a year when British talent and unconventional stories grab the Academy’s attention. And even if Slumdog does not win anything further, it will outlast any Oscar-baiting films for many years to come.

Phone a friend and go see this film. It has set the standard for 2009.

Monday, 12 January 2009

REVIEW: Che: Part One

Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara epic consists of two parts: the first, The Argentine, to be released in January and the second, The Guerrilla, to be released in February. It is therefore something of an ‘event’ movie and among other things (it was applauded at Cannes) I went out of my way to check it out.

Part One was everything I expected from Soderbergh and I was met with a gritty, artistic and understated film. Soderbergh is a director who will inter-cut scenes at random, use close-up shots unnecessarily and show scene-after-scene of mumbling subtle performances. That doesn’t mean it is a bad film but beware that he has purposely gone for an ‘arty’ look. Then again, perhaps that is fitting for the Trotsky icon that is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Regardless of its style, it is a captivating film. I knew very little about Guevara before this film and I still know very little about him now. But Soderbergh does give you a feel for the man behind the Alberto Korda silhouette. For instance, did you know that Guevara suffered from severe asthma? Thought not.

Obviously, if you want a strict character insight into Guevara then other films can help you out (The Motorcycle Diaries) however this is a selective biography. Similar to how Michael Mann’s Ali chose a significant period of just ten years of Ali’s life, these two films focus on Guevara’s rise in Part One (liberating Cuba) and Guevara’s demise in Part Two (failing to liberate Bolivia). The film therefore depicts the journey of Castro’s guerrillas, led by Guevara, marching across Cuba fighting Batista’s armies in an attempt to overthrow the dictator. This is less a standard biopic then and more a revolutionary’s answer to Saving Private Ryan

…although much less exciting. There are a few skirmishes and the final Battle for Santa Clara is worth the wait - especially when they have to sledgehammer through five houses in order to reclaim a Church from snipers - but this is a deliberately-slow, thoughtful film. The memorable moments are underplayed and therefore this is not the exciting war film some people might expect. In fact, it’s not particularly comfortable viewing: it is overlong, subtitled and it sporadically cuts away to black-and-white footage at the United Nations. These do not compliment the story but rather feel like being dragged away from the playground to the classroom in the midst of a good game.

In short, you need to be in the right frame of mind to watch this film.

Nevertheless, the cast are brilliant (you can’t imagine anyone but Del Toro playing Guevara and he won Best Actor at Cannes) and if you are in the mood for something different then it is worth checking out. And remember, the two parts of Che were originally envisaged as one five-hour film, so if you consider that this is the first half of a movie then Soderbergh has just been warming the audience up for its thrilling second half. This is certainly very promising and means that the tragic fall of Guevara this February could be a very kinetic cinema ride indeed.


And in other news: when I bought my ticket, the dude behind the counter said: “Are you aware that this film is subtitled?” And I was like: “I should hope so, my Spanish is a little rusty.” Since when did it become necessary to warn people that they might have to do some reading? Are people actually walking out of films because they have to read subtitles? Mental!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

REVIEW: The Changeling

This was the first step of my 2009 Oscar campaign, whereby I am attempting to see every Oscar-nominated film solely so I can legitimately slag off the Oscars when my favourites don't win. Obviously, the nominations aren't published until January 22nd but there's no way a Clint Eastwood-directed film won't make it through the nominations.

Anyway, The Changeling was praised by every film critic I could find with five stars all-round. However, I was initially cynical of this movie, as it has all the typical signs of Oscar-baiting: true story, depressing, classically-shot, Hollywood A-lister in the starring role, Clint Eastwood.

Nevertheless, it was pretty incredible. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I usually avoid the 'serious drama' genre. But it has a good story to tell and I didn't get bored at any point.

I expected a standard story of a mother's quest for justice but the film is actually more of a bitter commentary on the corruption of the LAPD in 1920s America and the horrendous treatment of mental health patients. You will find more than a few scenes reminiscent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and it is very well done.

And on top of that, you get a whole second narrative strand about the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders which tells the story of the psychopathic Gordon Northcott who kidnapped, tortured and murdered several children, possibly including the missing son of Angelina Jolie's character.

Aside from Jolie and Malkovich's cop-hating Priest (both awesome), the cast is relatively unknown which certainly helps the true-story feel of the movie. Everybody is great in their roles and Jason Butler Harner is unnervingly watchable as Hutchins every step of the way. The film is also not as depressing as I first suspected with the bad guys getting their comeuppance and the final note of the film is one of hope.

Fact: interestingly, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski claims that 95% of the film's dialogue came directly from articles, testimony, transcripts and correspondence from the period.

Obviously, the Academy's attention will be on Angelina as Best Actress and Eastwood as Best Director (I wouldn't bet against Best Film either). But personally, I'd like to see some Best Supporting Actor recognition for Malkovich and Harner.

A good start to Oscar season.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

NYR 2009

Right, New Year's Resolutions 2009 took a bit of thought.
I have scrapped the whole 'Re-Connecting with Old Friends' thing, as it's hard to measure and something that I do without trying anyway. I considered putting down 'Travel' but that would be cheating, as I have already booked holidays to Greece and Japan. 'Save Money' very nearly made it to the list but I have been doing that for the past few months anyway and doing more of that isn't too much of a stretch.
So... here is what I came up with:
1. Write - like all English Literature graduates, I want to be a writer. So this year I am going to start writing stuff and if it's shit then I can abandon this pipe-dream nice and early.
2. Read - all good writers are good readers. I am therefore going to attempt to read one book every week. Ambitious.
3. Cook - I love watching cookery programmes but I do very little of it, so this year it's time to get the wok out.
4. Watch More Films (see right) - film is kinda my thing so this is being carried forward from last year. I shall measure this by going to the cinema at least once a week and watching other new films where possible.
5. Get Buff - this is also being carried forward from last year. I shall measure it by going to the gym at least three times a week. Very ambitious.
As for my progress, I'll keep you posted.

NYR 2008

No doubt due to my year as a student politican, I take New Year's Resolutions quite seriously. They are essentially a personal manifesto. Admittedly, unlike a political manifesto, nobody is holding me to account accept myself (and maybe this blog) so I think it is important to look back and see how I fared.

Okay, so, my NYR for 2008 were:

1. Drive - I passed my test in June and bought a car in August. Done.
2. More Smoothies, Less Beer - done. I even joined the Innocent Smoothie mailing list (see right).

3. Get Buff - my gym attendance has been sporadic but I did run two half-marathons and a 5km charity run.

4. Films: Watch More, Make More - I have watched more (especially Eastern cinema) but this is hard to measure. Unfortunately, I have made no films whatsoever.

5. Re-connect With Old Friends - done. Again, hard to measure but I rarely turn down a reunion opportunity and moving home has made it even easier to hang out with my old school friends.

Considering most people only have one Resolution per year, I could have done much worse. But, excuses, excuses, I shall be more hardcore with my 2009 NYR (see above)!

Monday, 5 January 2009

'Twas the Season

This is my first day back at work since the festive season and it has been a quality two weeks.

As always, my blog-rate drops heavily during the holidays so here is a quick catch-up delivered through the helpful medium of bulletpoints:
  • I won a competition hosted by our Volunteering department to design a Christmas tree decoration, judged by none other than the SU President himself!
  • I got incredibly drunk at the Notts SU Christmas staff party.
  • I spent a few days in Devon with my girlfriend's family and met her Austrailian relatives.
  • Alexandra Burke was the Christmas No.1 with her version of Hallelujah but the Jeff Buckley Facebook campaign nevertheless achieved a No.2 victory. This is incredible when you consider that it was solely achieved through downloads.
  • I had the usual Christmas Day of food, board games and television. Not to mention the latest Wallace & Gromit.
  • we had an epic night out for my mate's birthday on the 27th in Rescue Rooms.
  • we had another epic night out in Swanage for NYE, where we stayed at Little Kate's B&B and kitted ourselves out in our finest fancy dress (see right).
  • myself and Kerrie got disasterously lost on the way home from Swanage and Kerrie came this close to puking in my car.
  • me and Laura celebrated our two-year anniversary in Stratford by watching the RSC perform Romeo & Juliet.
So I've been to Devon, Swanage, Birmingham, Diseworth and Stratford. All in all, it has been an exhausting but incredible Christmas.

And it's only 354 sleeps to go until the next Christmas!