Tuesday, January 31, 2012

HAYWIRE (2012)

Written by Lem Dobbs


Directed by Steven Soderbergh


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 23, 2012  6:00PM


There's not a film genre that Steven Soderbergh isn't willing to try to tackle and with his latest, "Haywire", he takes on the action-thriller. If you have seen any of his previous works, then you know that Mr. Soderbergh doesn't do anything conventionally and like the 2009 film, "The Girlfriend Experience", he has cast the lead with a relatively unknown and unconventional performer, Gina Carano. Her claim to fame is that she's a former mixed-martial arts fighter and appeared on the television show, "American Gladiators" as "Crush". She shows great promise as the world is in need of the first female action star.

When we first see Mallory (Carano), her face cut and bruised, she has entered a quiet diner, seeming like she is trying to avoid someone. That person enters and Aaron (Channing Tatum) tries to calmly talk to her to leave with him. That doesn't work, so he begins to physically assault her and pulls out a gun. A patron in the diner, Scott (Michael Angarano) tries to help Mallory but there's no need as she is more than able to handle Aaron as she breaks his arm and knocks him out.

Mallory demands to use Scott's car to escape, taking him with her. For some implausible reason, Mallory begins to spill her secret past to this stranger which is that she and Aaron are private contractors who work for an agency run by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) that can be hired for covert assignments. A U.S. agent (Michael Douglas) wants the team to go to Barcelona to rescue a journalist being held captive. The dangerous mission is successful and they hand him over to the contact,  Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas).

After Mallory returns home and anticipating a well-earned vacation, Kenneth talks her in to taking one more quick assignment in Dublin. She is to meet a British agent (Michael Fassbender) and pretend to be his wife for an undercover mission. However, Mallory soon discovers that nothing is what it appears to be, including her mission in Barcelona. In order to stay alive, Mallory must use her wits and training to stay one step ahead in order to get to the truth. Once she paints her face in camouflage and puts her hair in corn-rows, then you know that she means to get down to business.

There is something that feels Tarantinoesque about "Haywire" but it's not in the screenplay as it's main function seems to be to simply guide us through one fight sequence to the next with the dialogue no where near as clever or memorable.  The influence has more to do with the way the film was assembled with A-list actors playing against type, a plot that uses vengeance as it's motivating factor, flashbacks to move the story forward, and most especially, the very witty ending. If you gave Ms Carano a samurai sword, she would actually fit quite nicely in the world of "Kill Bill". What is pure Soderbergh is the dynamic cinematography and the fast-paced editing which is all actually done by Soderbergh despite it being credited to Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard respectively (perhaps it's his way of keeping his ego in check).

Mr. Soderbergh called in some favors and surrounded his acting novice with big name actors to occupy some very small roles but it really wasn't all that necessary. Although it's hard to tell if she can really act but Ms Carano is a formidable presence. She delivers her lines with enough conviction and holds her own on the screen but her real strength is her physical energy. In the long tradition of male action performers, Ms Carano impressively performs most of her own stunts which helps in convincing you that she is the real deal. She's no one you would want to mess with on screen or in real life.

"Haywire" is action-packed, filled with exciting high-energy sequences but the film isn't really much fun and fails to reach it's full potential due to an incoherent, meandering plot. This wouldn't really be that surprising, in fact expected, for your standard action flick but considering that a film maker of the caliber of Mr. Soderbergh was behind the camera, I expected something well above an average experience.

Friday, January 27, 2012

MY LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2011

I had stated previously that 2011 would not be remembered as a great year in cinema and this list of the following films makes the point loud and clear:

"Another Earth" & "Like Crazy"

Both of these low-budget independent films, "Another Earth" and "Like Crazy" managed to receive plenty of critical praise and film festival glory (which was part of the reason why I went to see them) but the appeal of either of these films was completely lost on me.

Both films features attractive, privileged and seemingly intelligent young people who make some bad mistakes. One foolish; in "Like Crazy" a young couple is kept apart because the British female (Felicity Jones) decides not to return home after her visa expires in order to be able to spend more time with her new American love (Anton Yelchin) and the other tragic; "Another Earth" is about a bright, young woman (Brit Marling) whose promising future is ruined after accidentally killing the family of a brilliant composer (William Mapother) on the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth.

While it's clear that there were some talented people working in front of and behind the camera on these films but neither has that spark to elevate them to engaging or memorable works.

"The Future"

I really loved Miranda July's first feature film, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" in 2005, so I was really looking forward to finally seeing her follow-up film, "The Future" but I was really disappointed in how much I really disliked this really monotonous mess.

It's about this annoying, whiny couple (July and Hamish Linklater) whose relationship has grown stale, so they decide to adopt an injured cat which causes them to re-evaluate their lives. Oh, and this cat named Paw Paw narrates the story.

I'm sure Ms July knew exactly what she was trying to say with this artless film but didn't feel any strong need to let the audience in on it.



"Sucker Punch"

I am now completely convinced that "300" was simply a fluke for director, Zack Snyder as his follow-up films "Watchmen" (which found a spot on this list in 2009) and now "Sucker Punch" have demonstrated that he has no clue in how to properly make an action film. Sure, it's a great-looking film with plenty of loud, over-the-top, repetitive action sequences but the real problem is everything in between which is filled with mind-numbingly bad dialogue and two-dimensional characters.

This convoluted and disturbing story, about a cute, young girl in pig-tails who is wrongly placed in a mental institution as she fantasizes about battling her care-givers as a super-human (with a samurai sword) and all before she is lobotomized, makes the films of director, Michael Bay (and you don't know how badly it hurts to say this) look like an art.



"Rum Diary"

This glossy but surprisingly lackluster Johnny Depp vehicle, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, in which he plays a New York journalist who travels to Puerto Rico in the 1950's to write for a local newspaper. While there, he deals with a crew of odd reporters, gets wrapped up in an unsavory business deal, seduced by a beautiful woman (Amber Heard) and consumes as much rum and other controlled-substances that he can possibly get his hands on.

The problem with "Rum Diary" is not that it's necessarily awful, it's just extremely frustrating because you can clearly see it had the potential to be so much better.



"Immortals"

"Immortals" is very loosely based on the Greek myth about Theseus (Henry Cavill) and the Minotaur but this involves him rescuing a virgin high priestess (Freida Pinto) from the clutches of Hyperion (Mickey Rourke?), the king of Crete and stop him from getting his hands on the Epirus Bow that can be used to release the imprisoned Titans so they can destroy Zeus (Luke Evans) and the other gods.

Whatever.

The film is littered with relentless, bloody battles, tedious beheadings and painfully bad acting with a script that is incredibly inept. Tarsem Singh, the director who is best known for his work in music videos, spends plenty of time on the truly dazzling visuals but not nearly enough on creating a logical plot or coherent film.



"Just Go With it", "Straw Dogs", "Fright Night" & "Conan The Barbarian"

What do these films have in common?

They are all re-makes of films from the '70's and '80's that are now cult classics. While none of the original versions of these films would be considered great but they are still miles ahead of these pointless, incompetent make-overs. Although they all have the advantages of today's cinematic technology but they are completely lacking in style and substance.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2011

I guess I didn't realize it at the time but looking back, I noticed a large number of the films released in 2011 featured some pretty dark and serious subject matter. You would be hard pressed to find many that could be considered light, uplifting or pure escapism. There seemed to be a lack of fun, amusing films that would offer a relief from the realities of our sometimes tough and depressing times. Even many of the broad comedies released were bleak, such as "Horrible Bosses' which was about three friends plotting on how to kill their employers. Now, I certainly don't mind movies with darker stories but I think there should be other lighter options out there as people sometimes just want to get out and have a good, hearty laugh. I have a feeling this might have contributed to the disappointing box office last year.

Having said all that, there were still some strong, interesting films to be found that I really enjoyed. So, here is my list of favorite films released in 2011 (in no particular order) and while some might be considered unsettling but they were still well-worth seeing:

"Moneyball"

I'm not much of a sports fan and the trailer was pretty vague in depicting what the film was actually about, so I was really not in a mad rush to see "Moneyball". However, after seeing this sharp and highly entertaining film, I should have been waiting overnight to be the first to see it opening weekend.

It is the story of Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt, in one of his best film performances), a former Major League player now the GM of the Oakland A's as he tries to put together a winning team (on a very limited payroll) by using the unconventional approach of sabermetics, which is the use of baseball statistics in selecting the best players. Beane is met with a lot of resistance from the team's scouts but with the help of his new assistant manager (Jonah Hill), he sticks to his plan no matter what the cost. The real surprise is Hill, who is best known for his comedic slacker roles, delivers a really solid performance.



"The Artist"

This classic tale of the rise of a new talent (Berenice Bejo) with the help of a Hollywood star (Jean Dujardin) on the decline and how their lives are linked through good and bad times but the difference is that not a word is heard in Michel Hazanavicius's delightful modern take of a film set in the silent era.

This film could be written off as a nostalgic gimmick but "The Artist" offers so much more. It takes us back to the basics of film making and is the perfect reminder of the wondrous power of the moving image.

"Take Shelter"

Michael Shannon, in one of the year's best performances, plays a hard-working family man who begins to have nightmares and visions that he interprets to mean the possible end of the world. Is he simply losing his mind or could it be something else? Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this chilling drama that features 2011's most busiest actress, Jessica Chastain who co-stars as the wife who tries to remain supportive despite herself questioning her husband's sanity.



"Beginners"

It has always been said that writers should write about what they know and that was certainly the case with writer/director Mike Mills with his second feature film, "Beginners". The film (which is actually loosely based on his own experience with his father) is about a son (Ewan McGregor) dealing with the recent loss of his father (Christopher Plummer) who had just came out as gay while trying to navigate a new relationship with a free-spirited, French actress (Melanie Laurent).

"Beginners" is a charming dramatic comedy that is filled with sad, sweet, funny and touching moments and it's the kind of film that is not made nearly often enough.

"The Help"

I admit I was a bit resistant to the idea of "The Help", the story based on the best-selling novel about a college educated young white woman (Emma Stone) who wants to write a tell-all book from the point of view of the African-American maids in 1960's Mississippi. I thought it would be just another Hollywood fable that would focus only on the heroic Caucasian trying to save the poor southern Blacks but the film is actually well-balanced and genuinely moving that left me a complete puddle by the end.

"The Help" deals with the issues of race in a refreshingly more honest way and uses humor to lighten the mood and make it all more palatable. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are both outstanding as the two maids who help with the book along with a impressive group of actresses that include Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Cicely Tyson, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain.

"Drive"

Ryan Gosling stars in this dark, intense thriller about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as the getaway driver for thieves and winds up getting mixed up with a ruthless mobster (Albert Brooks) while trying to protect a young mother (Carey Mulligan) and her son.

Danish filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn takes classic American film noir while adding a slight European spin, combined with shocking violence as well as a surprisingly sinister performance by Mr. Brooks which has made "Drive" one of the most riveting films of the year.

"Bill Cunningham New York" & "We Were Here"

Two of my favorite documentaries of this past year could not be more different; "Bill Cunningham New York" follows the jovial New York Times photographer as he scours through the city in search of the latest fashion trends as well as documenting the parties of the rich and famous for his weekly column.

The more somber "We Were Here" focuses on the early days of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Filmmakers David Weissman and Bill Weber interview people who managed to stay alive and witnessed the devastation to the gay community first hand. It is a powerful and loving tribute to all of the lives lost to this insidious disease.



"Weekend"

Two British gay men (Tom Cullen and Chris New) meet in a bar, go home together and assume that it will be nothing more than a one-night stand but discover that it could actually be something more. Writer/director Andrew Haigh has made a beautifully warm, honest and thoughtful romance that truly has universal appeal.



"Shame"

Michael Fassbender plays a successful New Yorker who has a dark secret; he is a compulsive sexual addict whose life is further complicated by the arrival of his sister (Carey Mulligan) who is just as damaged as he is. "Shame" doesn't hold back as it graphically displays the sexual activity in this fascinating adult drama by co-writer/director, Steve McQueen that features powerhouse performances from both leads.

"Jane Eyre"

Although this 1847 British novel by Charlotte Bronte has been filmed numerous times over the years but this "Jane Eyre" by Cary Fukunaga is a beautifully rendered Gothic version with a perfect cast that features Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench, Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska as Jane.



"Crazy Stupid Love"

"Crazy Stupid Love" is about a mild-mannered husband (Steve Carell) whose marriage of many years has come apart due to his wife (Julianne Moore), feeling lonely, having an affair. He attempts to get back in to the dating game with the help of a young, smooth-taking player (Ryan Gosling) who gives him tips and a make-over.

This film by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who made a film last year which also made this list, "I Love You, Phillip Morris") plays like a classic screwball comedy filled with tender moments and raunchy humor.


"Pariah" & "Tomboy"

These two films deal with gender and sexual identity that are handled in a way that is enlightened, considerate and respectful.

"Pariah" is the exquisite first feature from writer/director Dee Rees based on her award-winning 2007 short film of the same name. Seventeen year old, Alike (in an astonishing breakthrough performance by Adepero Oduye) struts around the streets of Brooklyn dressed like a male thug but she is also soft-spoken and feminine. She is struggling to embrace her identity as a lesbian as well as trying to begin a romantic relationship. Alike has support from her openly gay friend (Pernell Walker) but at home, her God-fearing mother (Kim Wayans) refuses to accept her daughter for who she is.

Celine Sciamma wrote and directed her second film, "Tomboy", a French-language story about a ten year old girl who moves to a new neighborhood and is mistaken for a male. She decides to call herself "Mikael" and goes around pretending to be a little boy. This totally captivating film features an extraordinary performance by Zoe Heran.






"Tree Of Life" & "Melancholia"

Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" and "Tree of Life" by Terrence Malick were two of the most polarizing films released in many years due to their dark themes and idiosyncratic nature. While I thought there are moments in each that are simply breath-taking but there are also times that are frustratingly convoluted. These are not works that will appeal to everyone as they cannot be easily described or digested but they are certainly something to be admired and appreciated.

Honorable Mention: "Midnight In Paris", "Win Win", "Bridesmaids", "X-Men: First Class", "Sarah's Key", "Certified Copy". "Our Idiot Brother", "The Descendants", "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol".



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 OSCAR NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED


This morning, Academy President, Tom Sherak and last year's nominee for Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence announced this year's selections for the 2012 Academy Awards. Since the rules where changed once again where the nominations for Best Picture would be based on the total number of first place votes a film receives which means that the complete nominations will be no fewer than five but no more than ten. This year we have nine competing for that honor and it's a nice collection of films. My favorite is definitely "The Artist" although I still need to see "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" but I still really doubt my opinion is gonna change.

Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" received the most nominations with eleven and there were plenty of first timers that were recognized such as this year's golden girl, Jessica Chastain for "The Help" as well as for Octavia Spencer who is competing against her in the Best Supporting Actress category, Jonah Hill for his fine work in "Moneyball" and Gary Oldman finally received his first career nomination for his terrific performance in "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy".

There were certainly a few surprise nominations such as the critically mixed, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", Best Supporting Actress, Melissa McCarthy and the screenplay for "Bridesmaids", the acting nods for Nick Nolte and Demian Bichir, although it really shouldn't have been too much of a shock since they were both nominated for SAG Awards but there were some great performances that were overlooked like Michael Fassbender in "Shame", Leonardo DiCaprio in "J. Edgar" or Ryan Gosling for any of his fine work last year.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2012 and will be hosted by Billy Crystal who returns to do the show for the first time since 2004.

Here is the complete list of nominations:

Best Picture:
"War Horse"
"The Artist"
"Moneyball,"
"The Descendants"
"The Tree of Life"
"Midnight in Paris"
"The Help"
"Hugo"
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close "

Best Actress:
Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis, "The Help"
Rooney Mara, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

Best Actor:
Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

Best Supporting Actress:
Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain, "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"
Octavia Spencer, "The Help
Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"

Best Supporting Actor:
Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"
Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte, "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Max von Sydow, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Best Director:
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Alexander Payne, "The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):
"The Descendants" Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
"Hugo" Screenplay by John Logan
"The Ides of March" Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
"Moneyball" Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay):
"The Artist" Written by Michel Hazanavicius
"Bridesmaids" Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
"Margin Call" Written by J.C. Chandor
"Midnight in Paris" Written by Woody Allen
"A Separation" Written by Asghar Farhadi

Foreign Language Film:
"Bullhead" Belgium
"Footnote" Israel
"In Darkness" Poland
"Monsieur Lazhar" Canada
"A Separation" Iran

Animated Feature:
"A Cat in Paris"
"Chico & Rita"
"Kung Fu Panda 2"
"Puss in Boots"
"Rango"

Art Direction:
"The Artist," Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2," Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan"
"Hugo," Production Design: Dante Ferretti, Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
"Midnight in Paris," Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
"War Horse," Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

Cinematography:
"The Artist" Guillaume Schiffman
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Jeff Cronenweth
"Hugo" Robert Richardson
"The Tree of Life" Emmanuel Lubezki
"War Horse" Janusz Kaminski

Costume Design:
"Anonymous" Lisy Christl
"The Artist" Mark Bridges
"Hugo" Sandy Powell
"Jane Eyre" Michael O'Connor
"W.E." Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature):
"Hell and Back Again" Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Pina" Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
"Undefeated" TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject):
"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement" Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
"God Is the Bigger Elvis" Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
"Incident in New Baghdad" James Spione
"Saving Face" Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing:
"The Artist" Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
"The Descendants" Kevin Tent
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
"Hugo" Thelma Schoonmaker
"Moneyball" Christopher Tellefsen

Makeup:
"Albert Nobbs" Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"; Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
"The Iron Lady" Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score):
"The Adventures of Tintin" John Williams
"The Artist" Ludovic Bource
"Hugo" Howard Shore
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Alberto Iglesias
"War Horse" John Williams

Music (Original Song):
"Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets" Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
"Real in Rio" from "Rio" Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Animated Short Film:
"Dimanche/Sunday" Patrick Doyon
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
"La Luna" Enrico Casarosa
"A Morning Stroll" Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe; "Wild Life" Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Live Action Short Film:
"Pentecost" Peter McDonald and Eimear O'Kane
"Raju" Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
"The Shore" Terry George and Oorlagh George
"Time Freak" Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
"Tuba Atlantic" Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing:
"Drive" Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Ren Klyce
"Hugo" Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
"War Horse" Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing:
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
"Hugo" Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
"Moneyball" Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick; "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
"War Horse" Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects:
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
"Hugo" Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
"Real Steel" Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

WIINNERS FROM THE 2011 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS

The awards were handed out on Sunday at this year's Golden Globe Awards ceremony and no single film dominated although "The Artist" walked away with the most awards with three. I always think it's nice when they spread the wealth around.

The show itself was the typical affair with host, Ricky Gervais, (who returned for the third time) who seemed to appear both fearless and apprehensive on doing his usual act after all the criticism he received last year. He managed to get some hilarious zingers in (Jodie Foster and her "Beaver") but he definitely seemed like he held back.

The real drama was all backstage between those old queens, Madonna and Elton John who were fussing and carrying on with each other over nothing. They really need to get over themselves, most especially the artist who will always be known as "the Material Girl", whether she likes it or not. Her acceptance speech was awkward as well her comeback to Ricky Gervais after his introduction of her which was just lame.

Some of the highlights from the show were Felicity Hoffman and William H. Macy's cute, little musical ditty before they presented an award, Jean Dujardin oozing so much charm during his acceptance speech, George Clooney giving a humorous reason to show Michael Fassbender on camera, Jane Fonda looking incredible and showing these younger ladies how to do it properly, Meryl Streep with her rambling but funny and thoughtful speech after her win, the appearance of Sidney Poitier and the cinematic tribute to the career of Morgan Freeman.

Here is the complete list of winners in the film categories:

Best Picture (Drama):
"The Descendants"

Best Picture (Comedy/Musical):
"The Artist"

Best Director:
Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

Best Screenplay:
Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"

Best Actress (Drama):
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical):
Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

Best Actor (Drama):
George Clooney, "The Descendants"

Best Actor (Comedy/Musical):
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

Best Supporting Actress:
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

Best Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

Best Original Score:
Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

Best Original Song:
"Masterpiece" (music and lyrics by Madonna, Julie Frost, Jimmy Harry), "W.E."

Best Foreign-Language Film:
"A Separation" (Iran)

Best Animated Film:
"The Adventures of Tintin"


For the complete list of winners, go to:

GOLDEN GLOBES 2011

Sunday, January 15, 2012

THE IRON LADY (2011)

Written by Abi Morgan


Directed  by Phyllida Lloyd


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 9, 2012 5:15PM 


It would be completely redundant to once again state what a great actress Meryl Streep is but the fact is that in her latest film, "The Iron Lady", in which she plays Margaret Thatcher, the first female British Prime Minister, she has gone well beyond expectations by delivering a mesmerizing performance that effectively embodies the spirit of this controversial figure. After all these many years of fine work in cinema, it is still truly pleasurable to witness her amazing gift as an actress.

When we first see Thatcher, it has been many years after she's left office and now suffering from the early stages of senility. A staff is assigned to watch after her, to keep her safe and out of the public glare. Mrs. Thatcher manages to have moments of clarity but then she is soon lost in a hazy fog of confusion. Her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent) has past away a few years ago but Margaret still sees him quite clearly, having discussions, disagreements and reliving moments from their past.

She first drifts back to where she came from; a working-class family in Grantham where her father, Alfred Roberts owned a grocery shop, in which Margaret worked as a young woman (Alexandra Roach). He was politically active and that certainly influenced his daughter's core beliefs. After she graduated from Oxford (with a Bachelor's degree in chemistry), she met Denis Thatcher (the younger version is played by Harry Lloyd) who became smitten by Miss Roberts and soon were married but only after Margaret made it perfectly understood that she would never be a traditional housewife.

She meant what she said and despite having two young children, Margaret aggressively campaigned until she became elected as a member of Parliament as part of the Conservative Party in 1959. During this time, Thatcher carefully prepares for her next challenge as she is groomed, taught how to properly use her voice to command authority and twenty years later, Margaret Thatcher would become Prime Minister of Britain.

So begins the era of "Thatcherism" where her strong conservative policies on nationalism, economics and labor as well as her uncompromising approach to achieving her political goals took hold of the country which was parallel to what was happening in America with Ronald Reagan as President. We see some key highlights during her time in office which include going to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, her near brush with death by the hands of the IRA at the bombing of the Brighton Hotel and being challenged for leadership of the Conservative Party which ultimately lead to her resignation as Prime Minister in 1990.

Ms Lloyd began her career in the theater with her feature debut being the hugely successful adaption of the musical, "Mamma Mia" (that also starred Streep), has crafted a seemingly fair and balanced portrayal of the British leader but how accurate will largely depend on which side of the political spectrum you stand on. The "Thatcher" depicted is a passionate, no-nonsense woman who will not allow anything to stand in the way of her goals or ambition which included, most notably, her family. Although "The Iron Lady" does attempt to humanize the woman but offers no real opinion of her. It simply just presents the facts and surmises possible motivations for many of her actions.

The film is aided by a strong script by Ms Morgan (who is responsible for another fine screenplay of a film also currently out in theaters, "Shame") which cleverly uses Mrs Thatcher's current declining health as a basis for her struggling to remember her past but it still ultimately ends up like many biopics focusing on the mistakes and regrets of her life while rattling off a short list of some of her major accomplishments.

Since I am an U. S. citizen, I don't have a strong reaction either way of Mrs. Thatcher (unlike my opinion of her evil American counterpart, President Reagan) but regardless of your opinion, "The Iron lady" is still a fascinating, unbiased look at this polarizing figure who was both admired and reviled while, in many ways, changed the course of her country for better and for worse.

Friday, January 6, 2012

YOUNG ADULT (2011)

Written by Diablo Cody


Directed by Jason Reitman


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 19, 2011 1:30PM



In the dark comedy, "Young Adult", Charlize Theron, in a brilliantly sly performance, plays Mavis Gary who is the type of person we all knew in high school; the pretty, popular cheerleader who never noticed anybody that didn't belong in her close circle of friends and dated the handsome, football quarterback. We would assume that she would get married, have beautiful children and live out a wonderfully, perfect, stress-free existence.

There seems be some justice in the world as that is not how life turned out for Mavis. She didn't marry her high-school sweetheart and has wound up an unhappy, bitter drunk whose marriage has ended in divorce. Her daily routine begins with her waking up, very hung over, in a messy apartment in Minneapolis where she is an uncredited writer of young adult novels, living on a steady diet of junk food and reality television.

Mavis receives an e-mail where she discovers that her former boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) is married and has had his first child. This news shocks Mavis deeply to her core, causing her to reevaluate her own life.  She decides the best solution is for her to go back to the small town that she escaped from, win Buddy back and all of her problems will be solved.

While back in town, Mavis stops in a old watering hole where she is recognized by Matt (Patton Oswalt)    who went to high school with her. She has no idea who he is until he reminds her of the savage beating he received because some students thought that he was gay which has left him physically disabled to this day. Mavis initially dismisses him until drinks are bought and soon she feels comfortable enough with Matt to reveal her grand scheme to him. Matt strongly advises her against this but Mavis is very determined that it's the right thing to do.

Mavis arranges to meet Buddy for drinks where she's sure that sparks are still flying between them and after later meeting his wife (Elizabeth Reaser), who also went to school with Mavis, and their baby, she becomes even more confident that she will be able to get Buddy to come to his senses and return to the city with her. Mavis's misguided and delusional plan doesn't end well but it certainly doesn't in a way that you would expect which is part of the charm of this deliciously pitch-black comedy. There is no life lesson or happy ending which is surprising yet very refreshing.

"Young Adult" reunites the team of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman who had great success with the comedy, "Juno" and have another strong winner on their hands. Like the previous films that he wrote and directed, "Thank-You For Smoking" and "Up In The Air", Mr. Reitman has the gift of inventively knowing how to take small stories that don't appear like there would be much to do with creatively and making them perfectly fit on the big screen by adding sharp crackling dialogue, rich textured performances and keeping it all moving at a brisk, high-energy pace. He is helped by an adept script by Ms Cody whose work, while very funny, seemed to be in danger of verging on one-note with the focus seeming to be dominated by youth-oriented subjects, littered with pop-culture references and snappy slang but the writer has grown-up with "Young Adult" which is more grounded and mature that doesn't rely so heavily on cute, savvy language.

Ms Theron was never given a fair shake as an actress at the beginning of her career due to her great beauty so, she felt she needed to conceal it up to be taken seriously. In the 2003 film, "Monster" playing real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron was physically unrecognizable in a riveting performance and it won her an Oscar in the process. She is also a terrific comedian skillfully able to take an unpleasant, self-absorbed character and make her fascinating and hilarious. She is helped by having a solid partner in the form of Mr. Oswalt, who is best known as a stand-up comedian. He handles the humor effortlessly but also more than capable of delivering the dramatic moments of Matt's life that are sweet, sad and sympathetic. 

While I didn't find the conclusion of "Young Adult" completely satisfying as there were moments that felt clunky and implausible but overall, the film is wicked fun and highly enjoyable. You will find yourself appalled and amused by Mavis's single-minded pursuit of her own happiness, no matter the consequences of her outrageous behaviour and complete lack of boundaries.