Monday, 28 February 2011

The Singing, Cursing and Cross-Dressing of the 83rd Academy Awards

Well, all the excitement from last night's highly anticipated Oscar ceremony is finally over, and what a bundle of thrills it was. Undoubtedly the biggest and most dramatic night of the Hollywood year, the annual event was just as lively and glittered as usual, just with less campy Hugh Jackman dancing. Some twists, some turns, some downright "what the heck?" moments, but that's the Academy Awards for you.

In its 83rd year, the parade of movie awards showcased yesterday was hosted in the Kodak Theatre of Hollywood, California, as it has every year since 2002. The red carpet was trod on by all species of animals in the cinematic jungle, strutting their stuff and showing off their fur. Cate Blanchett came dressed as a decorative, pink flower vase, while Penélope Cruz decided to wear a gown that made her look like she was covered in flames. Ryan Seacrest interviewed the celebs on E! Entertainment, while Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne nit-picked at the arrivals' fashion sense; this included circling Scarlett Johannson's jugs to show how see-through her dress was. Classy.

Four Good Actors

The ceremony itself kicked off with a lovely montage of all the Best Picture nominees set to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' extravagant remix of "In The Hall of the Mountain King" from the score of "The Social Network." This was then followed by MTV-style spoofs of each movie previously shown, in which the dream elevator from "Inception" was used to hop from one film to the next in Alec Baldwin's mind. Nice juxtaposition there -- adorning them, then mocking them.

Stop Yo Twittering, Franco!

Hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway (sadly no Ricky Gervais) then took to the stage and, of course, began to crack jokes, including the "Love and Other Drugs" actress responding to her co-host's compliments with, "You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well." Hathaway was all chirpy and bubbly, while Franco looked stoned and bored. This opening consisted simply of them standing and talking, reciting weak gags and pointing out family members in the audience. Where the heck's Hugh Jackman when you need him?

We were then presented with a look back at the Oscar-winning 1939 masterpiece "Gone with the Wind," images from which filled the gigantic screen at the back of the grand stage as its luxurious orchestral score played overhead. In a horrifying turn of events, this was followed by an award being given to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." This was for Art Direction, presented by Tom Hanks, who redeemed this blemish of indecency by announcing "Inception" as the deserving recipient of the Cinematography gong.

This Man Invented FarmVille

The first "big" award was introduced by a slightly dead and hysterically time-consuming 94-year-old Kirk Douglas, the Best Supporting Actress award going to Melissa Leo for her performance in "The Fighter." Leo, out of sheer passion, livened things up a bit by letting the F-bomb slip in her heartfelt speech, as well as the word "dick," though that may have been a reference to a man named Richard.

The screenplay awards, both announced by Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, were handed to the two front-runners of this year's award season: "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network." The former's David Seidler took for Original Screenplay, while the latter's Aaron Sorkin took for Adapted Screenplay.

Sorkin Can Type Words

This was followed by Miss Hathaway, clad in a tuxedo and bowtie, singing a big musical number about 2009's host Hugh Jackman bailing on her for this performance. Franco followed suit, walking onto the stage dressed as a rather intoxicated-looking Marilyn Monroe. Happy birthday, Mr. Oscar President.

A clean-shaven Russell Brand and French-speaking Helen Mirren approached the podium to present Best Foreign Language Film (because they're foreigners, you see), which was awarded to Susanne Bier's Danish drama "In a Better World." Christian Bale ran up next, taking Best Supporting Actor for his scene-stealing in "The Fighter." Having binned the holy Jesus look he fashioned at last month's Golden Globes, he was sporting a full-on homeless beard of awesome bushiness last night; Joaquin Phoenix should be proud.

Unshaved Homeless Man Wins Oscar

Three accolades in the category of sound were subsequently handed out, with Best Original Score going to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for "The Social Network," and Sound Mixing and Sound Editing passed on to "Inception." If I'm honest, I'm baffled as to what the difference between those last two awards is.

Scattered throughout the show were live performances of the four tracks nominated for Best Original Song, twinned together in two separated sets. The first set (from "Toy Story 3" and "Tangled") was introduced by Kevin Spacey, and the second set (from "127 Hours" and "Country Strong") was introduced by Jennifer Hudson, who announced the winner as Randy Newman's "We Belong Together" from the Pixar family favourite, which earlier received Best Animated Feature.

Transvestites Increase in Popularity

After Best Documentary went to "Inside Job," there was an unexpected appearance by the late Bob Hope via a hologram, this introduced by the hilarious Billy Crystal. Hope, who hosted the ceremony 18 times before his unfortunate death in 2003, had his voice altered to appear as if he was introducing Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law for their presentations of Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing. This sequence was pretty darn creepy.

Another unexpected moment came in the form of the Best Director category, with Tom Hooper taking home the gong for his work on "The King's Speech." It seemed most were anticipating either David Fincher ("The Social Network") or Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") to be a recipient here, but the first-time-nominated British filmmaker was a very honourable winner.

NIN's Trent Reznor and Some Insignificant Workmate

There were no jack-in-the-boxes springing up in the Leading Actor/Actress sections -- we already knew the acting champions before the show even began. All nominees were gone through thoroughly, the actresses by Jeff Bridges, the actors rather more cheekily by Sandra Bullock. Natalie Portman was first up for her breathtaking performance in "Black Swan," giving a broken-voiced, name-packed speech as she fought back tears.

And then there was, of course, Colin Firth up for his performance in "The King's Speech," and anyone with a half-working brain cell could predict his inevitable recognition. "I'm afraid my career's just peaked," Firth said once first approaching the podium, which I assume we all hope is not true.

"I Won, Bitch!"

Following this, all eyes were staring at telly screens in tense anticipation, fingers grasping at armrests as Steven Spielberg opened up the envelope containing the name of the winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Would it be the Facebook movie, would it be the British stammering film, or would it be another of the ten features nominated? And, as about 50% of the public would have predicted, it was the UK's night to gloriously reign at the Academy Awards last night; "The King's Speech" was crowned the winner.

So, as dedicated David Fincher fans sobbed their scrunched-up little eyes out, the cast and crew of the winning period drama took to the stage and accepted the angelic award, the film taking its place in Oscar history. The night concluded with a corny but sweet sing-song of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by the PS22 Chorus, a choir consisting of fifth-graders. Behind them, the winners of the night held their awards high in the air as Franco and Hathaway said goodnight.

"Yay, We Can Go Home!"

Last night was certainly not the best stint the Oscars have had, but it was undoubtedly fun, no? While Franco was a bit stiff (probably tweeting a bit too much), Hathaway's joyful exuberance kept the show on the right track. There were memorable moments (some planned, some not-so-planned), there were laughs, and there were surprises, mainly good ones. Still, I miss my all-singing, all-dancing Australian Wolverine.

Here are the predictions I (somewhat neatly) scribbled down around three hours before the show. I got half of the results correct. 50% is a C, right?

Click picture to enlarge

Here's a full list of all winners in order of presentation.

Best Art Direction
"Alice in Wonderland"

Best Cinematography

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Melissa Leo -- "The Fighter"

Best Animated Short Film
"The Lost Thing"

Best Animated Feature Film
"Toy Story 3"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin -- "The Social Network"

Best Original Screenplay
David Seidler -- "The King's Speech"

Best Foreign Language Film
"In a Better World"

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale -- "The Fighter"

Best Original Score
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross -- "The Social Network"

Best Sound Mixing

Best Sound Editing

Best Makeup
"The Wolfman"

Best Costume Design
"Alice in Wonderland"

Best Documentary Short
"Strangers No More"

Best Live Action Short Film
"God of Love"

Best Documentary
"Inside Job"

Best Visual Effects

Best Film Editing
"The Social Network"

Best Original Song
"We Belong Together" -- Randy Newman, "Toy Story 3"

Best Director
Tom Hooper -- "The King's Speech"

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman -- "Black Swan"

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth -- "The King's Speech"

Best Picture
"The King's Speech"

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

There is very little separating "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" from the trashy straight-to-DVD sequels that appalling cinematic features tend to spawn. For some reason, however, it's got a theatrical release. Bribes, I tell thee. The entire experience that is the third "Big Momma's House" instalment feels like one is watching one of these instant home video releases, the kind of cheaply-made cash-ins that sell for 50p at HMV. Even at that price, I'd demand my money back.

Yes, some imbecile (probably Martin Lawrence) thought it would be a rewarding idea to film Martin Lawrence in a female fat suit again. Only this time, there's somebody joining him to have their dignity dragged down into the burning core of the Earth. This poor soul is Brandon T. Jackson ("Tropic Thunder"), who will probably never work in Hollywood again.

The opening scene is a beautiful example of cinema at its spectacular finest. It depicts FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence) inexplicably speeding after a truck being driven by an Asian mailman (Ken Jeong, "The Hangover") refusing to give him his mail until he's arrived on his doorstep. "What purpose does this obviously glorious scene serve?" I hear you ask. I'm afraid I cannot answer that; the content is of far too high an intellect for us humans to understand.

It turns out there's a letter from Duke University informing him that they have accepted the application of his stepson, Trent (Jackson). However, Trent has his heart set on rapping his way into success as his persona named "Prodi-G." Yeah, that name's taken, buddy -- only, that band has spelled the word correctly.

While Malcolm is on a case to take down Chirkoff (Tony Curran, "Underworld: Evolution"), a notorious Russian mobster, Trent stalks his father to convince him to sign a music contract. Because of this, he witnesses the murder of an FBI informant (Max Casella, "Boardwalk Empire"), and Chirkoff has seen the 17-year-old's face.

So, of course, Malcolm gets the fat suit and blonde wig out again, and one for his son, too. Has he no shame? They go into hiding in a performing arts college for girls, both dressed as rather manly-looking broads, with Malcolm's "Big Momma" fitting in the role of the housemaid, while Trent's "Charmaine" becomes a new student. It looks like Trent's attending university, after all -- just while wearing high heels and fake tits.

"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is definitely an interesting experience. It's interesting in the same way that a random stranger on the street sticking their finger up your anus is interesting. You feel dirty, you feel wrong, and you feel like punching something/someone -- preferably the perpetrator of your anal intrusion.

It is a series of scenes consisting of flimsy fat jokes and irritatingly childish attempts at one-liners. It is a stretch-marked Martin Lawrence crushing tables with the sheer weight of his fat suit. It is Brandon T. Jackson putting on a girly voice and unsubtly eyeing up his fellow students. It is vile, it is moronic, and it is jaw-droppingly obnoxious.

In one notably excruciating scene, Trent gets up on stage in front of the entire school and begins to awkwardly rap. A fellow student starts to play the piano to help him along and they both sing in suspiciously auto-tuned voices, which causes everyone in the cafeteria (of course including Big Momma) to dance together in a perfectly choreographed "High School Musical"-esque sequence. You may think this is the big sing-off finale, but it's not. It's 30 minutes in.

It's this that leads me to believe that the makers of this threequel didn't give a flying monkey about the product they were constructing. To include such a monstrously hideous scene is to either be uncaring or a sadist who enjoys swinging a carpet beater into the viewers' testicles. The fact that this is from the same director as "Deck the Halls" should come to no surprise, then.

The one and only mark I'm giving this film is for Faizon Love ("Couples Retreat"), who plays a frisky janitor infatuated with Big Momma's supposedly arousing physique. He's got lovely comic timing, carries a lovable (albeit creepy) personality, and is the film's single strong aspect. Mr. Lawrence could learn a few things from this man.

Laden with product placement (e.g. the camera panning down specifically to show the squeaky-clean Apple logo on a MacBook Pro), stricken of laughs and bordering upon unwatchable, "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is a pitiful excuse for a brain-at-the-door cross-dressing comedy. The film teaches some good lessons, but the only lesson I learned was to stay away from future Martin Lawrence comedies.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet

The works of William Shakespeare wouldn't quite strike me as family-friendly material. I couldn't really imagine the playwright's well-known plethora of gruesome tragedies putting young bums in cinema seats, as knowledgeable adults would anticipate having to constantly shield their children's eyes from the murderous occurrences depicted on-screen. But director Kelly Asbury's computer-animated "Gnomeo and Juliet" has found a way round this: make all the characters garden gnomes.

That's right: garden gnomes. The kind of gnomes you put in your front lawn for purposes of decoration. In this film, they can walk, they can talk, and they can drive lawnmowers. Much like the toys of the "Toy Story" trilogy, they pose lifelessly whenever human beings are nearby. They have their own community, their own ways of life, and are close with one another. Well, sort of.

In case you hadn't guessed from the pun-tastic title, "Gnomeo and Juliet" is based on "Romeo and Juliet," arguably Shakespeare's most famous tragedy. But do not fret, concerned parents; it doesn't end with self-poisoning or knife-inflicted suicide. There's a bit where a gnome walks around with his ceramic brains exposed, though.

Much like in the original play, we have the Montagues and the Capulets, neighbouring households of humans we never see the faces of. Both of their front gardens are filled with typical gnomes -- the Montague house has the blue-hatted gnomes, while the Capulet house has the red-hatted gnomes.

These two side-by-side communities are in an unexplained feud, essentially sworn enemies who live right next to each other. Gnomeo (James McAvoy, "Wanted") is of the blue crowd, while Juliet (Emily Blunt, "Gulliver's Travels") is of the red crowd, which makes for a difficult situation when they unexpectedly meet one night and fall in love with each other.

The star-crossed lovers decide to keep their blossoming romance a secret as they sneak around and, err, hug and kiss. However, with the rivalry between the blues and reds growing more and more hostile, their hidden relationship begins to tremble, looking to soon be exposed to everyone else.

"Gnomeo and Juliet" makes good on its promise of being a family film that's both adorable and amusing, more so for the younger spectrum of the audience. It's a lighthearted little romp that's sure to keep delighted toddlers smiling and laughing until the multicoloured end credits. Oh, and good news for parents with restless offspring: the film is only 74 minutes long.

Mums and dads may get a fair amount of enjoyment out of this, too -- "Gnomeo and Juliet" doesn't forget about the more "mature" members of the money-paying audience. Film references (including "Forrest Gump" and "American Beauty") offer some smart giggles, as well as a few nods to the other works of Bill Shakespeare. This is not on the level of "Shrek" in terms of being an adult-friendly film as well as a kiddie-friendly flick, but grown-ups shouldn't find themselves bored in the theatre.

Elton John fans should get a kick out of this as well, cos the soundtrack consists 100% of his greatest hits. He's the executive producer while his partner, David Furnish, is a producer, and there's barely a minute of this film in which his singing voice or piano riffs aren't playing in the background. To be honest, it's a bit distracting and can seem slightly unnecessary, making one question why James Netwon-Howard's regular mood-setting score wasn't used more.

It's also baffling as to why the film has seven screenwriters (Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Andy Riley, and Steve Hamilton Shaw), because the script is a little shoddy. It can be sweet and rightfully silly at times, but there are so many lines of dialogue that seem sluggish and written without much care -- gnome-related wordplay can only go so far.

Nonetheless, the film's sense of fun is helped by its splendid CG animation. Asbury is no stranger to computer animation, having previously been one of the trio of directors on "Shrek 2," and it certainly shows here. The battling and swooning gnomes are rendered so as to appear like their normal ceramic states while still seeming flexible when moving around. It's an impressive mix that's directed with much visual energy and colourful vibrancy, which youngsters will surely appreciate.

Some may be offended by the Shakespeare-twisting of "Gnomeo and Juliet," but I see it as harmless goofiness. It's not going to be gnominated (sorry) for Best Animated Feature anytime soon, but it's a nice way to spend almost an hour and a half. The voice-work is soothing, the animation is sublime and the film overall is just cute and charming. It ain't Shakespeare, but the kiddies will have a smashing good time.



It's been almost three years since Liam Neeson donned a black leather jacket, flew to Paris, grabbed some guns, crashed some cars, spoke in a questionable American accent and kicked some sleazy European ass while searching for his kidnapped daughter. That was "Taken," an audience-pleasing, critic-shoving box-office smash that showed Neeson in a gritty new light. And now, in "Unknown," he's back in a similar position. Only this time it's not quite as awesome.

Here, he's playing Martin Harris, a respected doctor who arrives in a cold and wintry Berlin to do a presentation at a biotechnology summit. He's with his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones, "American Wedding"), who will also be attending the prestigious event.

When they arrive at the hotel, Martin discovers that his briefcase is missing, meaning he will have to go all the way back to the airport. He hops in a taxi cab, the driver (Diane Kruger, "Inglourious Basterds") takes a diversion because of traffic, and a refrigerator falls from a truck up ahead, causing the taxi to swerve out of the way and smash through a bridge's barriers. An unconscious Martin is saved from the water by the courageous driver.

Upon waking in a hospital bed, Martin is told by a doctor that his heart stopped for several minutes and that he's been in a coma for four days. Vague memories begin to come back to him, and he eventually decides to leave the hospital to see his wife. Problem: Liz has absolutely no idea who he is, and there's another Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn, "Jonah Hex") standing by her side.

Wildly confused, he desperately searches for the truth -- is he really Dr. Martin Harris or has he just gone totally bonkers? I think that question is answered when he discovers skilled hitmen are chasing him around Berlin. With seemingly everything and everyone pinned against him, Martin tries to prove that he is who he says he is as he tries to get his daughter back. Sorry, identity, not daughter.

Let me get something straight: I like Liam Neeson. I mostly enjoy the presence he has in most of his movies. There's something about him I find curiously appealing. Is he a wooden personality on occasion? Maybe. Is some of his line delivery stilted? Sure. Are his performances actually cringe-worthy in some of his roles? Definitely. But I like him.

I find him oddly charismatic and watchable as an actor, despite the near-bland performances he tends to give. He's like Nicolas Cage without the mind-boggling wigs or the in-your-face goofiness. I also find it impressive that the "Love Actually" actor is going down the action hero route at the age of nearly 60. He seems to be developing a late taste for guns and fist fights. Either that, or he's going through a severe mid-life crisis.

However, as much as I admire the Oscar-nominated Irish actor, he cannot save "Unknown" from melting into tedium. This film is meant to be a thriller, yet thrills are sporadic at best. Tense situations arise on occasion (a barely-conscious Martin reaching for a pair of scissors to free himself comes to mind), but their frequency has not been set high enough.

Spanish-born director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Orphan," "House of Wax") lightly sprinkles some adrenaline-fuelled action sequences throughout the runtime, and what there is on offer is able to hold attention. Still, the sole car chase that occurs halfway through the movie is a mess of confused editing that baffles as much as anything.

The script by Oliver Butcher ("Do You Know Me") and Stephen Cornwell ("Marshall Law") manages to sustain interest for around an hour or so, but the premise feels stretched and becomes exhausting by the last 30 minutes. We are at first intrigued by what Martin is going through, yet we tire of it come the third act.

"Unknown" is hooking to begin with, but has stumbled a bit too much when it reaches its inevitable twist ending. It's an implausible film which contains some nice action and a gripping lead performance, but is overall not as enthralling as it should be. Give me "Taken" or "Bourne" over this any day.


Monday, 21 February 2011


I don't think it would be fair to compare "Paul" to "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." Sure, all three star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the leading roles, but the last two examples are top-ranking masterpieces of modern comedic cinema. "Paul" is nothing near that level of zing or wit, but it's fun for what it is. To compare it to its peers would be like pinning a Chihuahua in a fight against two ferocious Rottweilers. It wouldn't win, but it's still cute and cuddly.

Pegg and Frost are this time not joined by their usual collaborator, genius director/co-writer Edgar Wright ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"). Instead, the man in the director's chair is Greg Mottola of "Superbad" fame, whose American sense of humour (sorry, humor) clashes with the two stars' British sensibilities.

However, this is very much the English pair's project -- they did write it together, after all. And seeing as to how they're both "Star Wars" fanboys, it makes sense that their first team-up with a typewriter would be a sci-fi flick. They star as Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), a couple of nerdy best buds from the UK who are fluent in Klingon.

They're trekking (ha!) across America in an RV, starting from the San Diego Comic Con and then going from one alien hot-spot to the next. What they didn't expect was to run into a real-life extra-terrestrial just outside of Area 51 -- especially not one who smokes pot and dances to reggae music.

This is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen, "The Green Hornet"), a bug-eyed, grey-skinned, bird-eating little space-dweller who crashes his car on the highway just beside Graeme and Clive. He's on the run from the government and asks the couple of geeks to help him get back to his home planet. "I dunno, we're on quite a tight schedule," Graeme whimpers.

They take him and set off on an adventure that was much more explosive than Graeme and Clive were anticipating. On their cross-country trip, they practically kidnap trailer-park attendant Ruth (Kristen Wiig, "Adventureland"), whose strict father (John Carroll Lynch, "Zodiac") chases after them. Meanwhile, Special Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, "The Switch"), Agent Haggard (Paul Hader, "Superbad") and Agent O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio, "Pineapple Express") are close on Paul's usually-exposed ass.

The character of Paul is a delight. He's a rude, crude, foul-mouthed little dude with an X-rated tongue and a keen taste for marmite. He's smart, he's cool, he's laid-back, and he's pretty darn huggable, making Rogen's voice a perfect match with the characterisation. The "Observe and Report" actor gives a sense of warmth and lewdness to the E.T. look-alike, making him seem like the kind of "guy" you'd want to chug a few beers with.

The computer animation used on the chuckling alien is mostly convincing, the interaction between he and his human companions handled well. He may look a bit cartoonish, but the rest of the film isn't exactly realistic, either. It's better than the CGI/live-action hybrid in "Five Children and It," anyway.

Pegg and Frost delve into their jam-packed barrel of on-screen chemistry here, leading an ensemble cast alongside their inhuman new pal. They're fitting in the roles of two outcast squares without resorting to extra-thick spectacles, asthma inhalers or teeth-smothering braces. They're just fan-fiction dweebs who you'd find lurking around in your local Forbidden Planet, their mouths frothing at the nerdy surroundings. They're like an exaggerated version of yours truly.

The supporting cast is lovely and merry, playing characters who are a bit out-of-this-world. Wiig is a creationist whose entire belief system is shattered upon setting eyes on Paul's otherworldly figure, causing her to lose her faith and want to sin and curse. Bateman is menacing as a straight-faced, no-nonsense agent tracking down an alien under the orders of an unseen woman. And Hader and Truglio are jovial as two somewhat incompetent agents who are shocked to discover why their mission is so hush-hush.

Celebrity cameos are aplenty, from Blythe Danner to Jane Lynch, and Sigourney Weaver to Jeffrey Tambor. It's because of this that the film feels a bit lazy -- it relies slightly too much on cameo after cameo, and seems almost convoluted with so many throw-away characters swung into the mix.

Pegg and Frost's script also slumps back on several occasions, falling into the "swearing is funny" and "movie references are smart" pits far too often. It's true, Paul's vulgar profanity can be a source of some decent laughs and the Star Trek/Wars nudges can raise a smile or two, but these cards are still played a little too much. Their writing isn't quite sharp enough to keep going back to crassness and in-jokes, but they do manage to supply some good gags here and there.

"Paul" is undoubtedly not up to Pegg and Frost's usual wittier-than-witty standards when they work with Edgar Wright, but it's amusing and should go down well with your popcorn. It's a lively mish-mash of American wisecracking slapped with United Kingdom hoopla, making for a sci-fi road movie that's silly and occasionally clever. Still, the film is missing a Wright hand.


Friday, 18 February 2011

The Geek or the King for the Best Picture Oscar?

It's usually quite predictable as to what feature will be awarded with the Best Picture accolade at the annual Academy Awards. Most are runaway winners and instant classics, though ultimate decisions are not without their challengers. Now, to win any Oscar in any category should be considered an honour and a testament to one's talents in the filmmaking industry. But for films in general, the Best Picture section is the one to aim for, and it's no easy target to hit.

The Academy is now in its 83rd year, and just like yesteryear there are ten nominated in the Best Picture category. In alphabetical order, they are "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone." All great movies, all deserving of their inclusion. However, there are two that stand out the most: David Fincher's "The Social Network" and Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech."

It's widely accepted by the general consensus that one of this filmic duo will be handed the golden gong, but much debate has centred on which will actually come out on top -- the stuttering king or the asocial computer nerd? All signs point to the former's star, Colin Firth, winning Best Actor, but its success in the Best Picture hole seems fuzzy, as does that of "The Social Network."

Just last Sunday (February 13th, to be exact), "The King's Speech" was the recipient of Best Film at the BAFTA awards, nudging in front of its geeky competitor. Essentially the Academy Awards' posh little chum, the BAFTAs are a very British foundation, practically making period drama "The King's Speech" an inevitable winner at the annual ceremony.

Four weeks earlier, "The Social Network" was announced as the owner of the Best Motion Picture - Drama trophy in the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards. The winner for the Comedy/Musical category was "The Kids Are All Right," but, well, that's not very important right now.

It should be noted that the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Academy Awards don't always see eye to eye -- only five of the ten Best Picture Oscar winners since "American Beauty" in 2000 were victorious in either of the two Best Motion Picture sections of the Golden Globes. The figure for films since then that are both Oscar victors and BAFTA victors is only four.

"The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" have also won a plethora of other Best overall Film/Picture/Motion Picture awards such as in film critics associations -- a quick search tells me "The Social Network" has won thirteen accolades of this sort, while "The King's Speech" has only won three. This doesn't seem rather high for the latter, but one of them was still a friggin' BAFTA.

Roger Ebert, considered by most to be a god amongst film critics, has expressed his support for "The Social Network," naming it his favourite film of 2010, putting "The King's Speech" just behind it in second place. He also posted this on his Twitter account on February 1st:
"Social Network" is relevant, challenging and cutting edge, and "King's Speech" is a moving Brit costume drama. How O how will Oscar decide?
Personally, I agree with what Ebert is alluding to here -- "The Social Network" should be the winner. I love both it and "The King's Speech" almost equally; they are both cinematic triumphs and wonderful pieces of art and entertainment. However, part of me also wants "The King's Speech" to bag the award because of its country of origin -- mine.

It's undoubtedly a tough call, much more difficult to predict than the Oscar champions of most previous years. They are both very strong contenders in a reasonable year for cinema, and if either won, then not many should be overly upset. Of course, the Academy could throw us all a curveball and award one of the other eight nominees -- their presence is certainly justified. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

The 83rd Academy Awards will be broadcast live on February 27th at 8:00 p.m. EST/February 28th at 1:00 a.m. GMT.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Just Go with It

Why is it that film characters always think that constantly lying will have no consequences? Evasion of the truth will inevitably build up until hidden facts suddenly crop up and expose the liar for their deceptive fibs. To keep up with the false reality you have lead another to believe is a difficult task, and attempting to cover this up only calls for more fabrication and confusion from the trickster. In "Just Go with It," this is taken so far that one is flabbergasted as to what the bejesus Christ is going through Adam Sandler's mind.

In his latest cinematic outing, the "Happy Gilmore" star is assembling an illusion in order to be with a girl he has just met. This bubble of deceit he's surrounding this woman with becomes so big that its circumference is ready to burst. Because of the ridiculousness of his increasing amount of tall tales, "Just Go with It" takes place outside of reality, too far-fetched to believe or connect with.

Sandler is a professional plastic surgeon (ha ha ha ha ha) named Danny. Ever since breaking off his wedding over 20 years ago, he has been brandishing his ring in order to get lucky with the ladies. Apparently, married men are highly attractive to bar-dwelling girls, especially when the hubby is unhappy in his relationship. Women are such slutty demon whores.

One day, Danny manages to woo school teacher Palmer (Brooklyn Decker in her film debut) without having to whine about an unsatisfying relationship. Everything goes well until the morning after, during which she finds the wedding ring in his trouser pocket, causing her to believe that the man she just slept with is married. Uh-oh.

Out of desperation, Danny claims that he is actually going through a divorce with a made-up woman named Devlin. He then gets his loyal assistant, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston, "The Bounty Hunter"), to pose as his spouse when Palmer asks to meet this Devlin girl. All goes smoothly, but then Katherine answers her phone and shouts at her daughter (Bailee Madison, "Conviction"), revealing to Palmer that Katherine/Devlin has a child. Make that two.

This all escalates into Danny, Palmer, Katherine and her two kids (the son played by Griffin Gluck) taking a trip to Hawaii together. Tagging along with them is Katherine's supposed boyfriend, Dolph Lundgren, who is in fact Danny's cousin Eddie (Nick Swardson, "Blades of Glory") with a shaky German accent. As they enjoy the vacation together, Danny, Katherine and Eddie must keep the dishonesty going on and on until, I dunno, the lies all get resolved in the end. Which they don't.

This is Sandler back in his comfort zone of a screwball Hollywood comedy, his production company Happy Madison having produced this dreck. It's directed by Dennis Dugan, the helmer of such Adam Sandler masterpieces as "Grown Ups," "Big Daddy" and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," so you should know what kind of ghastliness to expect.

"Just Go with It" is nothing other than a simple-minded, glossy vehicle for Sandler and Aniston to drive around in while brain-dead citizens throw cash into the passenger seat. It's distressfully stupid and without any heart to redeem itself, leaving us with a film that, in all honesty, doesn't even come close to being the least bit funny.

If there's anything to be said in its favour, it would be that Sandler and Aniston aren't loathsome. That's not particularly high praise, but it's true -- they have every right to be repugnant and irritating actors, yet they manage to be likable. They're both sweet and interact well with each other on-screen, making the film survivable. In terms of deep, meaningful performances, they're completely useless actors, but they're nice to watch, even if you know precisely how their development as characters will go.

Nonetheless, "Just Go with It" is a comedy that fails to crack a smile. When the film resorts to having hands urinated on and testicles crushed by planks of wood, you know the writers are getting desperate. In this case, the scribers are Allan Loeb ("The Dilemma") and Timothy Dowling ("Role Models"), and they haven't got a clue as to what they're doing. By the way, Loeb also wrote "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps." That explains a lot.

Well, what did I expect out of "Just Go with It"? It's gormless, it's redundant, and it's hopelessly dumb. Scenes and attempts at gags massively overstay their welcome. Comical situations are utterly feckless. Characters lie to ridiculous levels and act nothing like human beings. It's just another fluffy Adam Sandler production, the kind we get every year. Just don't watch it.


The Dilemma

If I were to tell you that you were going to see a new film starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, you'd know precisely what you were in for. You'd most likely anticipate juvenile humour, a sense of stupidity surrounding the film, and the two leads just clowning around until the long-awaited end credits finally arrived. And while "The Dilemma" surprisingly has a more dramatic aspect to it, it's still pretty much exactly what one would expect.

The only thing that challenges this premonition is the man in the director's chair, namely Ron Howard. This is the Oscar-winning filmmaker who brought us "Frost/Nixon" and "A Beautiful Mind," the latter of which won Best Picture at the 74th Academy Awards. "The Dilemma" is certainly a change of pace for him, and not the kind of thing he should be encouraged to do again. Ever.

Vaughn ("Couples Retreat") and James ("Paul Blart: Mall Cop") are Ronny Valentine and Nick Brannen, two partnered employees of a motoring company. Nick is married to Geneva (Winona Ryder, "Black Swan"), while Ronny is preparing to soon propose to girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly, "Hulk").

As he visits a botanical garden to arrange his proposal, a shocked Ronny spots Geneva eagerly sticking her tongue down another man (Channing Tatum, "The Eagle")'s throat. This is where the title derives from -- should Ronny tell his best friend of Geneva's adultery, which would affect their important business, or not tell him, letting Geneva continue with the affair? Quite a dilemma.

The rest of the film consists primarily of Ronny being confused as to what he should do. As he tries to fix the uncomfortable situation he's been forced into, he finds himself repeatedly stumbling into "hysterical" mishaps, going from one awkward calamity to the next, climbing up trees and killing goldfish in the process.

"The Dilemma" is not a far cry from Adam Sandler's increasingly derided brand of comedy. It's very broad in its humour, going for easy gag after easy gag, each of which land flat on their ugly faces. It aspires to be a lighthearted and breezy audience-pleaser, but it simply is not pleasing enough.

Some jokes do work (Vaughn getting his ass whooped by Tatum is a highlight), but these moments of hope are as spread apart as Paris Hilton's legs. As a side note, Tatum is shockingly decent in his supporting role as Ryder's doofus of a boy toy, showing off some nice comic timing in his limited screen-time. The usually wooden "Dear John" actor may have just found himself an appropriate genre to leap into.

Vaughn and James are pretty much just playing themselves here yet again, neither of them the most versatile of actors. Vaughn is, as always, a sarcastic fast-talker, and James is the more laid-back, happy-go-lucky type. While they're both very likable in their bromantic roles, James being especially sympathetic as the husband of an adulterer, their wide experience with comedy can't make "The Dilemma" any funnier.

Ryder and Connelly are fine as the two spouses, though Connelly struggles to get a real character through. Ryder, on the other hand, has much more of a personality, playing a deceitful wife who becomes increasingly detestable and conniving as the film goes on. Practically the cackling villain, she's amusing in the role.

I think what's happened with "The Dilemma" is a conflict of interests between an award-winning auteur and two goofs with their own comical style. Howard is a director mainly of dramas, which really shows in the film because the drama works a lot more than the unsophisticated nincompoopery. This clashing of styles renders the film a bit dim as the comedy fails, while the more emotional aspect ticks away in the film's climax.

I don't hate "The Dilemma," it supplies some light enjoyment here and there, but it plainly is not funny. Vaughn, James, Ryder and Connelly are amiable leads, yet they are unable to squeeze genuine laughs out of the circumstances. It's a shame because there was some promise in the concept. Oh well, I guess it's back to Oscar-winning projects for you, Mr. Howard.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Roommate

I find it difficult to categorise "The Roommate" as a thriller, as there is barely a millisecond of its runtime that is even the slightest bit thrilling. It has the opportunity for nerve-stabbing tension, some scenes almost getting there, but not quite reaching their nail-biting potential. It's like the fat kid racing around the running track at school -- you can see he's trying, but you know he's coming last and will probably fall on his perspiring face quite a few times.

The film is directed by Christian E. Christiansen (that's his real name, I'm not kidding), a Danish filmmaker who, for some reason, was once nominated for an Oscar. Mind you, it was just for a short film in 2007. In his American debut, he's definitely not in Academy Award-nominated mode, though, directing a film that is incompetent at nearly every single thing it does. Unlike the fat kid racing around the running track at school, you do not feel sorry for it.

In the lead role is Minka Kelly ("Just Go With It") as Sara Matthews, who has just begun studying fashion design at college. Her roommate (see, that's where the imaginative title comes from) is Rebecca (Leighton Meester, "Going the Distance"), whom Sara has never met before.

The two become best buds, go shopping, visit museums and hang out in their dorm room -- y'know, whatever obscure things girls do for fun. However, Sara is a party girl, while Rebecca is more of an introvert. Well, that's going to leave Rebecca feeling left out, because the MPAA has warned us sensitive individuals that "The Roommate" contains "teen partying." Think of the children!

Things go a little awry when Sara gets to know Rebecca a little better -- she starts to suspect that her new roommate has an unhealthy obsession with her. Soon enough, jealous Rebecca begins to cause some havoc, inflicting violence and self-mutilation, under the deluded belief that she is bringing Sara closer to her. Yeah, that'll work.

"The Roommate" suffers massively from the simple fact that it is as boring as the late-night poker games that play on TV for insomniacs to watch. It seems to think that it's this psychological thriller that's all twisty-turny and gripping and stimulating, when it is actually the complete opposite. Moments of excitement are so teeny-tiny that one would need a microscope to find their scattered fragments.

Most of the film plays out like an episode of "Gossip Girl" (which is appropriate, what with Meester having a starring role in the American chick-show), making all other content impossible to take seriously. When Rebecca unexpectedly puts a cute little pussycat into a washing machine, one cannot help but laugh one's arse off.

It's not even campy enough to register as a so-bad-it's-good film -- the movie takes itself far too seriously, worsening the tedious lack of fireworks. On no level is this flick the least bit enjoyable as it shakily plods along, gluing random 30-second scenes together and calling itself a movie.

Our main character is devoid of any personality, putting aside the "she's a typical young adult" card for a second. Kelly can only do so much to breathe some life into the role, but it's utterly hopeless. For a film in which we're meant to care for the confused female lead, the script by first-time writer Sonny Mallhi doesn't seem to bother making her particularly likable. Her friggin' cat is more relatable.

Kelly's co-star is better, but only by a smidge. Meester obviously gets to toy around with a crazy lesbian psycho bitch of a character, and she hams it up in the last half hour. As an unstable girl who's forgotten to take her cuckoo pills, she can be occasionally menacing, but oddly laughable at the same time. Put crackers and corn into a blender and you'll get an idea of her characterisation.

There isn't really anything positive I can say about "The Roommate." It's frustratingly boring, inept in its attempts at stirring up hair-raising tension, doesn't have the slightest clue as to what entertainment is, and is ultimately a droll attempt at a suspense thriller. "The Roommate" needs kicking out.


Monday, 14 February 2011

No Strings Attached

"No Strings Attached" is practically an anti-Oscar campaign for Natalie Portman. The "Black Swan" star -- who is deservedly up for the Best Actress accolade this Academy Awards season -- is one of the two leading lovebirds in this R-rated rom-com. And if it does anything to effect decisions on the winner of this year's Starring Gal gong, it's not gonna be in Portman's favour.

It's not her performance (she's a lovely watch here, both in grace and looks), it's the film itself. You see, "No Strings Attached" looks to have fallen victim to the rather large ditch that trips and kills most members of the romance genre -- ie, it's a bit run-of-the-mill and is generally a load of pants.

Now, this new kissy-kissy, fondle-fondle, heartfelt story of harps and Cupids isn't the usual fluffy, lovey-dovey rom-com -- it decides to be a bit different. However, while it aims to be an alteration from the sickening, seen-it-all-before snooze-a-thons, it still finds itself categorised with them because of formula. Stupid, stupid formula.

Ashton Kutcher (the respected auteur from such classics as "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "What Happens in Vegas") is Adam, a producer, aspiring writer and son of a famous TV star (Kevin Kline, "A Fish Called Wanda"). Portman is Emma, a medical student who gags at the thought of romance.

Adam and Emma have known each other since they were kids (the opening scene set 15 years ago has Adam asking if he can finger Emma at a party), but are not friends. Following a drunken night of texting and phoning old girlfriends, Adam wakes up on Emma's couch with his bare butt hanging out. This happens to us all, right?

They come to an agreement: they'll use each other for sex with no strings attached. They will class each other as friends while humping and grinding each other on a regular basis. How very modern of them. They agree to no fighting, no jealousy and no feelings of affection whatsoever. I wonder how long this will last.

We see a montage of them texting each other, running to the same locations, pants around their ankles as they prepare to moan 'n' groan 'n' suck on each other's faces. For a while, this naughty routine goes rather smoothly, but Adam finds himself having feelings for his "fuck buddy," which Emma reacts to with much negativity.

If you can't tell how this film ends then I'm afraid you may want to book an appointment with your local neurosurgeon. The film is so predictable that if you were to shout out a detailed explanation of the ending in your packed screening through a bullhorn, no one would mind. Then again, it is a rom-com, and they must all end with a snog or a holding of hands and a rolling of the audience's eyes. Bleurgh.

The script is occasionally sharp, the dialogue arousing and tickling the funny bone here and there, but there simply aren't enough giggles to warrant the film worthy of the price of admission. Too many times does "No Strings Attached" think dirty words are funny that we end up groaning along with the copulating leads.

I will say the film is good with supporting characters, and there sure are plenty of them. Kevin Kline as Adam's vain father is a nice addition, as is Mindy Kaling ("The Office") as Emma's goofy friend. Ophelia Lovibond ("London Boulevard") is also memorable as Adam's English ex-girlfriend, who secretly jumps his pop's bone and wants to make babies with the middle-aged narcissist. That's another "bleurgh."

Our two main leads have much sexual chemistry and are a splendid duo with a spark to their pairing. Kutcher (an underrated, albeit not very versatile, actor) and Portman (well, she's getting all the attention the deserves right now) give it their all while seemingly having fun with their horny roles. Nonetheless, they aren't strong enough to carry the film to the end credits, causing the movie to become languid by the third act as we, to be frank, don't really care anymore.

"No Strings Attached" tries to be above its hugs-and-snuggles premise, but ends up with its strings tied up in knots. While mildly entertaining, the monumental predictability of the plot gigantically hurts the film, and the picture overall just feels overlong, even at 99 minutes. I'm sorry, but "No Strings Attached" is another film to be flung into the rom-com dumpster.