Thursday, February 27, 2014

My FINAL Oscar Predictions

To help you guys with your Oscar pool:


Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave

Spike Jonze, Her

John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave


The Great Beauty, Italy

The Act of Killing


The Great Gatsby


American Hustle


"Let It Go", Frozen



Dallas Buyers Club



Get a Horse!

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (2/16/14 - 2/22/14)

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean Marc Vallee) ***1/2 - Matthew McConaughey does indeed give a spectacular performance as Ron Woodroof, a man who finds out he's dying of AIDS and decides to form a "buyer's club" for potentially life-saving drugs not approved by the FDA. He is backed by an excellent supporting cast including Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. The film itself is no masterpiece but just a solid AIDS drama. I actually looked up the real story after watching this and I found out that the real Ron Woodroof wasn't really the homophobe and was actually bisexual. But as a writer, I understood the change since it made the film more interesting and compelling with that arc. The alleged inaccuracy doesn't change the fact that McConaughey's committed performance is really something to see.

The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (Edgar Neville) *** - Gabe Klinger was tweeting recommendations during the KG Freeleech event a few weeks ago (if you don't get those, I won't explain). These are one of the titles he suggested which I picked because it's the strangest title. I've never heard of it before. It's a Spanish film from 1944. It's about a superstitious young man who is approached by the ghost of a murdered professor who wishes him to protect his beloved niece. Where do the hunchbacks figure in? Well, that's the mystery. It goes through a lot of twists and turns with quite a few surprising laughs along the way. The third act becomes a bit German Expressionist but unfortunately, the film ends way too abruptly for my taste. It's still worth seeing.

Nebraska (Alexander Payne) ***1/2 - I personally don't think Alexander Payne has made a TRULY great film since Election. He's made very good films, just not QUITE great. This continues his streak. But it's still a very, very good film. This is thanks to a trio of great performances. Bruce Dern is of course terrific as the elderly man who wants to go to Nebraska to claim the million dollars he believes he's won from a magazine. Will Forte shows that he's more than just "MacGruber" giving us a taste of what he's capable. But for me, it's June Squibb who steals the show. She just livens up the film every time she shows up. I have to say that the film toes a fine line between celebrating the idiosyncracies of American Midwestern people and just making fun of them. That said, there's still plenty to admire about in this film.

Philomena (Stephen Frears) ***1/2 - This film was a very pleasant surprise. I didn't think I would like it as much as I did. It's middlebrow Oscar-bait. The type the Weinstein Company finances to win Oscars. I'm pretty much wary of it. I tend to see it with a very critical eye. But it eventually won me over due to Judi Dench's wonderful performance and a surprisingly funny yet honest screenplay. Contrary to what some people may say, as a Catholic, I didn't think it was anti-Catholic. Judi Dench's Philomena is a devout Catholic who is full of love and very endearing. It is a wonderful little film. I actually knew the outcome but that didn't stop me from getting misty-eyed.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (2/9/14 - 2/15/14)

The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord/Christopher Miller) **** - I absolutely loved this movie. It's kind of amazing, really. A movie based on LEGO's? That sounds like a groan-inducing shamelessly commercial product-placement laden soul-crushing mistake. But it's quite the opposite! They managed to take what's great about the LEGO toys (I've played them when I was kid, FYI) and expound on it. And all the while making a sharp, witty film that will delight people of all ages. The pop culture references are organic and not forced or snarky (unlike a lot of early Dreamworks). The film also has a twist that makes everything deeper, richer and even moving. It's kind of incredible that this didn't turn out into to be a cynical cash grab but a celebration of....everything that's awesome. Everyone should see it!

My Darling Clementine (John Ford) **** - This film is a sort of re-imagining of the Gunfight at the OK Corral incident. Although it's not historically accurate, the film gives the story more complex emotional heft. It features stunning black and white cinematography, probably one of the best in a black and white Western. Correct me somebody if I'm wrong but this must have influenced Sergio Leone and spaghetti Westerns quite a bit since it almost feels like one. It is not my most favorite John Ford film but it's in the upper-tier for sure.

Repo Man (Alex Cox) ***1/2 - Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton are two men working as, well, repo men, specializing in cars. When a Chevy Malibu worth $20,000 with a weird, mysterious and deadly cargo pops up, things get complicated. At first I thought this is one of those '80s buddy action-comedies but it turns out to be so much more than that. It's often wickedly funny and has an actual satirical edge which was pleasantly surprising. This is actually my first venture into the films of Alex Cox. I think I'm gonna see more of him.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (2/2/14 - 2/8/14)

The Square (Jehane Noujaim) ***1/2 - This is a fascinating documentary about Egyptian uprising AFTER Mubarak stepped down through the eyes of a handful of freedom activists including British-born Egyptian actor, Khalid Abdallah and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a film I feel whose story is not yet finished since as of this writing, the struggle for true democracy and freedom in Egypt continues. This documentary allows us an insider glimpse into the struggle of freedom and democracy while never shying away from showing all the grey areas and the shocking violence. I don't think feel like I'm already expert in the issues surrounding Egypt but the film does give you a lot to chew on. Overall, an excellent piece.

Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse) **** - A woman and a man married to someone else meet up again after World War II. The woman hopes to maybe rekindle their past affair. At first you think this is going to be bittersweet romantic film about two lovers who can never be together but as the film goes on, it becomes more and more bitter than sweet and goes into all surprising directions. Someone described this film to me as "anti-romance". I can see how it is. If it was made today, the film feels like it's giving the middle finger to Nicholas Sparks and his ilk. The soapy, romantic elements are often undercut by the darker aspects of the story. It's a compelling, surprising film that will probably illicit strong reactions. This is my second film from director Mikio Naruse. I will exploring more from his filmography soon.

You're Next (Adam Wingard) *** - A family reunion goes terribly wrong as unknown assailants kill them one by one. The film starts out as your run-of-the-mill slasher film but the twist here makes it a better-than-your average horror film. Just like Scream this one has lots of in-jokes for horror fans but this time around, they are heavily referencing and influenced by Italian horror, or giallo movies by Dario Argento and Mario Bava. It didn't exactly blow me away but it does have some really good scares and good kills. It's a pretty fun horror film but nothing particularly outstanding.

The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges) **** - A woman married to a broke architect decides to divorce him out of "practicality". Along the way, she meets a charming millionaire. I've been meaning to see more of Preston Sturges' filmography since I really loved his other two films. This one is yet another great one. It is a screwball comedy. Apart from a few politically incorrect but of-its-time depiction of African-Americans, it holds up very, very well. Surprisingly quite a bit racy! I'm surprised the words "ass" and "sex" sneaked through. Is this pre-Code? I don't think so. Correct me if I'm wrong! The dialogue is sharp and witty and the cast plays it to the hilt. They don't make them like these anymore .

All is Lost (J.C. Chandor) ***1/2 - The film is deceptively simple: A man is in a yacht which collided with a fallen metal cargo hold, punching a hole and destroying his communication and engine and so begins his struggle to survive. We don't know why he's out there. We don't even know his name. Only that he wants to survive. With barely any spoken dialogue and pretty much focused on only one character, the film still is tremendously gripping. You care about this man despite not knowing much about him. This is thanks to Robert Redford's terrific performance. I personally would have nominated him but I can understand why he fell short. It's a rather subtle performance with hardly any showiness and barely even speaking so it SEEMS like he's not doing anything special. But a less than competent actor wouldn't make me give a shit about him.

American Hustle (David O. Russell) **** - I'm normally a fan of David O. Russell's work but I think last year's Silver Linings Playbook wasn't up to his standards, at least in my opinion. I was cautiously optimistic about this and I think the David O. Russell I love is back. This is an extremely well-acted and not to mention FUN caper film loosely based on an incident that happened back in the late '70s. It's funny, it's exciting and thankfully, I avoided spoilers so it was also unpredictable. I kept on guessing who's playing who. Jennifer Lawrence steals the film but I still think she's just a tad too young for the part and personally, I would have nominated Jeremy Renner ahead of Bradley Cooper but that's just me. Overall, this is the David O. Russell I love.

Monday, February 3, 2014

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman

Arguably one of the best actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman suddenly and tragically passed away at the very young age of 46. I've always taken him for granted since he's such an effortless chameleon but he always shines in whatever roles he takes. He has done a lot of great work in such diverse films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Capote, for which he won an Oscar, Doubt, Mission: Impossible 3 and most recently, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. 

My favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance would probably be his role as Lancaster Dodd in Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning film, The Master. Here's a sample:

He will be terribly missed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (1/26/13 - 2/1/13)

The Damned United (Tom Hooper) **1/2 - Okay. People who know me know I'm not fond of sports. I'm not fond of soccer/football to say the least. But that doesn't stop me from loving a number of sports films. This isn't one of them. This film is about the rise and fall and rise again of hotshot football manager Brian Clough. Though the film is very well-crafted and the performances are pitch-perfect. I mean, you can't go wrong with Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall, performances, I found myself really not giving a shit for over 2/3rds of the film as a non-soccer/sports fan. It got interesting in the last 30 or so minutes but by then it was too little too late. I would ONLY recommend this to people who are interested in soccer/football.

Mud (Jeff Nichols) ***1/2 - A superb coming-of-age film about two boys who meet up with a wanted fugitive and decide to try and help him out. I have yet to see Take Shelter but based on this, I think Jeff Nichols is definitely a directorial talent to watch. This is an excellent piece of work. Matthew McConaughey is, of course, quite outstanding as the title character, the wanted fugitive. However, more attention should be given to Tye Sheridan who plays the more prominent boy. He anchors the film's emotional weight like a pro. It features some great cinematography too. Overall, I highly recommend it.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho) **** - FYI: This is the ORIGINAL director's cut of the film. There are a lot of great filmmakers coming out of South Korea now. My favorite among them is Bong Joon-ho who makes all these VERY unique, very different genre pictures and knocks them out of the park every time. His English-language debut is yet another jewel to this crown. Indeed, this is one of the best English-language debut of a foreign director in a long, long time. Set in the post-apocalyptic where most of humanity is wiped out by a failed attempt to solve global warming, a caste system forms inside a perpetually moving train which contain the remnants of humanity. The crappy poor from the tail-end of the train revolt against the higher-classes up in front. It's simply one of the best science-fiction dystopian in a long, long while too. It has a very cynical, somewhat nihilistic view of humanity. The film gives you a lot of chew on and think about while at the same time giving you some REALLY exciting action sequences with spurts of stunningly choreographed brutal violence. Plus Tilda Swinton's appropriately scenery-chewing turn as one of the antagonists is really something to see. This film will be talked about for decades to come.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Liu Chia-Liang) ***1/2 - As of this writing, it is Chinese New Year. That and the fact that Run Run Shaw recently passed away made me think it's about time I check out another kung fu movie. This is said to be one of the best. And it is. A young man from a village escapes the tyrannical rule of a general and trains in kung fu in a Shaolin temple. Very basic plot. But it's so much fun to watch. I once looked down on this genre due to the badly dubbed versions that once ruled the airwaves of afternoon TV of my childhood but now with subtitles, I'm seeing it in a whole new light and I have been catching up on the classics of this genre. Highly recommended for both fans and novices alike.

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg) ***1/2 - A pre-school teacher's life is turned upside down when he is falsely accused of molesting a little girl in his care. This very serious subject matter has been filmed a lot of times, often in embarrassing, preachy histrionics through the lens of made-for-TV movies. This one is far from it. Thanks largely to Mads Mikkelsen's superb performance. He is also supported by a strong cast. Special mention has to be made to Annika Wedderkopp who plays his "victim" and Lasse Fogelstrom who plays his son. It's no masterpiece but it's still a strong, solid drama.

Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene) ***1/2 - I admired Moolaade greatly so I thought I'd check out one of Ousmane Sembene's other works starting with this early short feature from 1966. A young black woman is hired as a maid/nanny for a white French family when she's taken to France, she suffers verbal abuse from the matriarch of the family. It's short and simple yet such a strong, biting condemnation of racism even back then. This made me dislike The Help a hell of a lot more.