Sunday, February 25, 2007

Live Blogging: Oscars 2007 Hour 4

[11:33] Still scratching my head over the Melissa Ethridge win. How did Dreamgirls lose that category? Maybe by having three songs, the votes got split too much.

[11:35] Will Smith is introducing a montage of Michael Mann movies.

[11:39] Just looked up Michael Mann at He's a producer. Wasn't sure about that.

[11:40] Kate Winslet is presenting Best Film Editing. My pick: Children of Men. My prediction: The Departed. If Children of Men couldn't even get a Best Dir. nomination and got robbed in Best Cin., it ought to at least win Best Editing. I'd be okay with United 93 too. The winner: The Departed. I guessed it right, but I don't get it. Children of Men is just getting severely robbed. Not happy.

[11:44] Jodie Foster is introducing the montage of those that died this past year.

[11:52] Phillip Seymour Hoffman is presenting Best Lead Actress. My pick & prediction: Helen Mirren (The Queen). The winner: Helen Mirren!!! Yay!!! Best Oscar acceptance speech of the night too. This lady has poise.

[11:56] The tumblers are forming the silhouette of a gun to the tune of James Bond. I think. It didn't sound totally like the James Bond theme.

[12:00] Ellen is vaccuuming the front row. That's funny.

[12:01] Reese Witherspoon is presenting Best Lead Actor. My pick & prediction: Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland). The winner: Forest Whitaker!!! Yay again!!! Oh no, he's rambling like he was at the Golden Globes. He's telling a story. They're going to cut him off, I just know it.

[12:05] Okay, he's not exactly rambling, he just had a shaky start. He's getting to thanking people. Wow, he thanked everyone. He thanked his mom & dad, his wife, his kids, and God. Good for him.

[12:07] Francis Ford Copolla, Stephen Spielberg, and George Lucas are presenting Best Director. My pick: Paul Greengrass. My prediction: Martin Scorsese. The winner: Martin Scorsese. Okay, so the Oscar curse is over for Scorsese, so next year, can we give it to someone who really does the best job on his/her film. The Departed was good, but I thought Paul Greengrass and Clint Eastwood made better films.

[12:11] Yay. Clips from The Queen. Best of the Oscar movies and my third favorite movie of all 2006.

[12:12] Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson are presenting Best Picture. My pick: The Queen. My prediction: Too close to call. The winner: The Departed. Well, that's good enough. I would have preferred The Queen or at least Letters From Iwo Jima, but I'm also *very* glad that Babel and Little Miss Sunshine lost. The Departed was my middle choice, so this is good enough.

[12:17] ...And, just like that, it's over. So weird how there's so much anticipation and build up, but after that last award, the host just says thanks and good night, and that's it. I'll have to review the final tally tomorrow to see how many picks and predictions I got right. There were more upsets than I expected. Well, a fun experience, and now it's over. I can finally stop watching movies. ;) Just kidding.

Live Blogging: Oscars 2007 Hour 3

[10:33] The tumblers just formed snakes from Snakes on a Plan.

[10:34] George Clooney is presenting Best Supporting Actress. My pick & prediction is Jennifer Hudson. My pick is kind of a tie with Cate Blanchett being a high choice for me too. The winner: Jennifer Hudson!!! Good for her! I was afraid we were going to have another upset. She's kind of rambling and forgetting names, but she did thanked God and her grandmother. That's good. Yay!!!

[10:41] Eva Green and a guy whose name I can't pronounce are presenting Best Documentary Short. Didn't see any of these. The winner: The Blood of Yingzhou District.

[10:44] Jerry Seinfeld is presenting Best Documentary Feature. Also known as, Another Reason to Have Al Gore On Stage. Seinfeld is joking about those who don't win the award. That's pretty funny. He just called the documentaries depressing. That's even funnier. The winner: An Inconvenient Truth. I'm actually pretty tempted to rent this. It's got me curious. Al Gore is getting to speak now. I like him a lot better now than I did in 2000. I wish I had known.

[10:50] Clint Eastwood is presenting a special award for Marconi who's done a lot of film scores. He was doing well at first, but Eastwood really started to flub up his delivery near the end. Before going to a Marconi montage, Eastwood says, "I should have worn my glasses." Yeah, if you're going to speak to an audience of millions and you can't see, glasses would be good.

[10:55] Celine Dion is now performing a song that I'm not sure has anything to do with recent movies.

[10:58] Man, Celine Dion has the *weirdest* facial expressions when she sings.

[11:00] Clint Eastwood is ?translating? for Marconi, I think. I guess that's Italian. I didn't know Eastwood knew Italian. Okay, why does this guy get to talk forever, but the other winners don't?

[11:06] Penelope Cruz and Hugh Jackman are presenting Best Original Score. I'm guess Best Original Song is up next, and I hope we get to hear Dreamgirls songs. For Score... My pick: The Queen. My prediction: Pan's Labyrinth. The winner: Babel. Wow, I got that one wrong all over.

[11:10] And here's the president of the Academy. They've sped him up in slight fast forward because Ellen bet him $1 he couldn't do his thing in less than 60 seconds. That's funny.

[11:11] Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst are presenting Best Original Screenplay. Wow, Kirsten Dunst has acted lately like she doesn't want to be in the Spider-Man movies, and she kind of acts like she doesn't want to be at the Oscars either. I used to really like her. For Orig. Screenplay... My pick: The Queen. My prediction: Babel, if not, then Little Miss Sunshine, basically one of the two I didn't like. The winner: Little Miss Sunshine. Frustrating. I just don't get it. The writer just said that the VW bus with the broken clutch actually happened to his family.

[11:15] The silhouette tumblers just formed the pitchfork-heeled shoe emblem from Devil Wears Prada.

[11:20] Jennifer Lopez is introducing the songs from Dreamgirls, performed by Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Keith Robinson. Hudson is singing "Love You I Do" and sounds excellent live.

[11:22] Beyonce joins Hudson on-stage. Beyonce's good, but I still think Hudson is better. Now, Jennifer is backing up Beyonce on "Listen". I think I like "Love You I Do" just slightly better.

[11:25] Anika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson are singing "Patience." I love this song on the album too, but it's not quite as good live. Rose and Robinson are either nervous or holding back or just not as powerful compared to Beyonce and Hudson. Beyonce & Hudson and a gospel choir have joined them on stage. This song works better as an ensemble piece.

[11:27] Wow, overall, that was great!!! Love those three songs. John Travolta and Queen Latifah are presenting Best Original Song. My pick: anything from Dreamgirls. My prediction: "Listen" (Dreamgirls). The winner: "I Need to Wake Up" (An Inconvenient Truth) by Melissa Ethridge. Huh? What? Uh, okay.

Live Blogging: Oscars 2007 Hour 2

[9:30] Sweet! Randy Newman playing piano and James Taylor singing "Our Town" from Cars. Jame Taylor is great. I'm afraid this song may be way too mellow to compete against the three rousing entries from Dreamgirls. But, I still like it.

[9:33] And now, Melissa Etheridge with "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth. Odd to have two Best Original Song nominees back-to-back. I thought they would have spread it out. The song's oka, but is the least of the five nominees. Melissa looks like Hillary Clinton. I wonder if that's intentional.

[9:36] Leo and Al Gore are up presenting. Leo asks Al Gore if he'd like to announce something (implying a presidential run announcement). That didn't happen. They're talking about the environment. Oh, Leo is prodding for a bigger announcement. He acts like he's going to announce his presidential run when the music interrupts him. Now, that's funny too. Oh, and they didn't actual present anything.

[9:42] Cameron Diaz presenting Best Animated Feature. My pick & prediction: Cars. The winner: Happy Feet. I didn't see it, so I can't complain too much. But, it's hard to believe it was better than Cars.

[9:46] A film about how writers have portrayed in film history. Kind of a boring clip montage.

[9:49] Holy crap. Jack Nicholson has no hair.

[9:50] Tom Hanks and Helen Mirren presenting Best Adapted Screenplay. My picks (tie): Children of Men & Notes on a Scandal. My Prediction: The Departed. The winner: William Monohan for The Departed.

[10:00] Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway presenting Best Costume Design. My pick: Dreamgirls. My prediction: Devil Wears Prada. Oh, cool, they actually have people on stage wearing the costumes. Didn't see Devil Wears Prada, but since the movie was all about fashion, I'm guessing it's a strong contender. Dreamgirls was just so costume-intensive though. ...And, the winner: Marie Antoinette. Crap.

[10:05] Tom Cruise is on stage. He's presenting some kind of lifetime type award for someone named Sherry Lansing. Apparently, she was in chargeof Paramount Pictures for 12 years. She's done charity work for cancer, education, etc.

[10:10] Ellen is ad-libbing some stuff with Clint Eastwood. She gets Stephen Speilberg to take a picture of her and Eastwood.

[10:12] Gwynneth Paltrow is presenting Best Cinematography. My huge pick & prediction: ***Children of Men*** The winner: uh, I didn't hear the name of the film. Oh, Pan's Labyrinth. NNOOOO!!!! I cannot believe Children of Men did not win. AAGGHHHH. Pan's Labyrinth was good, but #@%&, Children of Men was stellar.

[10:16] The tumblers just formed the silhouette of the van from Little Miss Sunshine with one person running from behind.

[10:20] Naomi Watts and Robert Downey Jr. are presenting Best Visual Effects. My pick but not very strong prediction: Superman Returns (only one I saw of the three). The winner: Pirates of the Caribben: Dead Man's Chest. That's what I figured. No desire to see that movie.

[10:23] Katherine Deneuve (sp?) and Ken Wattanabe are introducing a foreign language film montage.

[10:29] Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett are presenting Best Foreign Language Film. My pick & prediction: Pan's Labyrinth (only one I saw, but it's kind of a no-brainer that it'll win). The winner: The Lives of Others (Germany). Okay, never mind about that "no-brainer" comment. I did hear something about it being good, so it does have me curious now (I think I might also like the sound of the German language more than some people).

Live Blogging: Oscars 2007 Hour 1

[8:28] Finally, the Oscars are starting in just a few minutes. This is the moment I've been waiting for in the last two months. Other than the years that the Lord of Rings movies were nominated, this is the first year I've been this emotionally invested in the Oscars. I think I've seen no fewer than 16 films that have nominated for one award or another. That's also very unusual for me, another reason why I'm unusually excited this time around.

[8:30] The show is starting off with a montage of nominated people doing little monologue snippets in front of a plain white background. Weird. Slightly funny.

[8:33] For Eddie Murphy's snippet, he just stands there and says nothing. A guy behind the camera says, "You're funny just doing that."

[8:35] The announcer has the nominees stand. I think he said there were 177 artists and craftsmen nominated.

[8:37] Here's Ellen.

[8:38 - 8:40] Ellen is doing her talky, nervous-style stand-up comedian type monologue. It's okay, but a little meandering. She did so well at the Emmys in previous years, so hopefully the best of Ellen is yet to come in the middle of the show. I miss Billy Crystal's movie montage openings.

[8:42] Ellen just incoporated Jennifer Hudson's past on American Idol and Al Gore together into a joke about the way people vote. Al Gore is there, nominated for An Inconvenient Truth.

[8:44] Somebody just threw a tamborine into Ellen's hand, and now a huge gospel choir in robes is singing in the aisles. Weird. Brief too.

[8:45] Best Art Direction. My pick: Dreamgirls. The winner: Pan's Labyrinth. I'm okay with that; it was excellent too. Labyrinth was probably my 2nd choice, with The Prestige 3rd.

[8:48] Maggie Gyllenhall (sp?) is up discussing the science awards. She hosted the event a few nights prior.

[8:53] Oh no, Will Ferrell is singing. Why? OH NO!!! Jack Black too!!! If Ben Stiller comes on stage, it's a sign of the apocalypse.

[8:54] This Ferrell/Black crap is horrendous. Anyway, during the break, I checked my picks & predictions again. While Dreamgirls was my pick, Pan's Labyrinth was my prediction. So, I didn't get my way, but I did guess right. That counts for something, right? Now, John C. Reilly is up on stage too.

[8:57] Best Makeup. My Pick & Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth. The winner: Pan's Labyrinth. Sweet.

[8:59] Abigail Breslin and Jaden Smith are up presenting an award. Best Animated Short is the award. Uh, I have no clue about these, so no pick or prediction. Jaden got a little ahead of himself and tried to move on the next award. Will Smith laughed like crazy. The winner: The Danish Poet.

[9:03] The kids are still presenting. Best Live Action Short. The winner: West Bank Story.

[9:11] Now they're having a sound effects choir on stage. They're making wind noises, bird noises, water noises, screams, whistles, etc. Tires screaching, trains, chariots, cars, helicopters, planes, Apollo 13. Wow, that was weird but cool.

[9:14] Steve Carrell and Greg Kinear are presenting, joking that sound editing is like sex... Best Sound Editing: My pick & prediction: Letters From Iwo Jima. The winner: Letters From Iwo Jima. I got another one right (kind of a lucky guess, really). They just said he sound guy's father was an Iwo Jima survivor.

[9:17] Best Sound Mixing: My pick & prediction: Dreamgirls. The winner: Dreamgirls. That's three picks and four predictions correct.

[9:21] Best Supporting Actor. My pick & prediction: Eddie Murphy. The winner: Alan Arkin. Ugh. I like the actor. I've liked several of his previous roles. I even liked part of this character he played, but I also hated part of this character. I guess the performance was excellent even though I wasn't thrilled with the material he was given.

[9:25] Ellen is walking down the aisle and just happens to have a screenplay to give to Martin Scorsese. Now, that's funny.

[9:26] Earlier they had dancers doing life-sized shadow-puppetry. They tumbled onto stage and formed the silhouette of an Oscar award. Just now, they tumbled into the shapes of pengiuns. I think it was to mention Happy Feet as one of the Best Animated Feature nominees.

Movie Review: Little Children

Little Children

In Brief: What's Good

  • Great performances, especailly from Kate Winslet.

  • Quirky mix of very serious (sometimes disturbing) drama and the occasional bit of humor.

  • Intellectual narration by an unseen, uncredited source adds an interesting aspect to the movie that I like even though I can't put my finger on why.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • There is some strong sexual content and disturbing content that may make some people feel uncomfortable.

  • The story seems to attempt to invoke at least a little bit of sympathy for a character that is a "recovering" pedophile. It is written well enough to succeed in that regard, but that's not necessarily a good thing.

B- Story
B+ Acting
B+ Directing
B- Visuals

Kate Winslet plays Sarah Pierce, a college-educated feminist, who has reluctantly become a suburban homemaker. Frustrated with her marriage and in need of a little excitement, Sarah is intrigued and tempted by Brad, a stay-at-home dad who, along with his young son, frequents the same park and city pool that Sarah and her daughter do. Meanwhile, an ex-cop forced into early "retirement" takes protection and service a bit too far when a known pedophile moves into the same neighborhood.

The movie portrays Sarah as being someone uncomfortable in her own life. She hasn't quite settled into motherhood very well yet. She doesn't seem too motivated in being beautiful, never wearing make-up or getting her hair done. She doesn't have the same opinions or interests as her fellow stay-at-home mothers at the park. With the exception of one room she customizes herself, the house she lives in still has the furniture and decorations of her husband's ex-wife who lived there before her. And, her husband Richard is keeping secret a disturbing hobby that distracts him from being a more attentive husband and father.

Brad seems to have a similar problem. Having failed the bar exam twice, he doesn't seem too interested in becoming a lawyer, something that seems to be very important to his beautiful yet nagging, documentary filmmaker wife Kathy, played by Jennifer Connelly. Brad seems very happy being a stay-at-home dad with their young son, but when Kathy comes home from work, Brad gets jealous at the attention Kathy and their son give each other, leaving Brad to feel outcast.

The movie is well written on several levels. It gives a more down-to-earth sense of suburban life than some more glitzy, Hollywood movies may accomplish while still using dark, disturbing storylines to drive the tension. It explores issues of parenthood, fidelity, addictions, passion, and perversion. Because of the troubled marriages of the two main characters, Sarah and Brad, you almost want them to hook up because they seem better suited to each other and deserve more happiness, even though such a thing would be morally wrong.

The story also tries to give an intriguing yet uncomfortable perspective on Ronnie James McGorvey (played by Oscar-nominated Jackie Earle Haley), a sex offender who has served his prison time for flashing little girls and has now moved back in with his mother. He realizes his pedophilia is a sickness and desperately wishes he was normal. His mother believes Ronnie might be better if he met a woman his own age. He is still sufficiently creepy and unstable enough to be unlikeable, but the movie does invoke the *slightest*, unexpected twinge of sympathy for Ronnie. His urges are unintended, and he has a desire to be a better person.

In a way, this movie does with a pedophile what Last King of Scotland did with the butcherous African dictator Idi Amin. Last King of Scotland shows the charming, captivating side of Amin in addition to his crimes against humanity. This movie paints Ronnie as being a vulnerable and immature adult needing protection and seeking acceptance, despite his sick addiction. Most of the *small* bit of sympathy that may be evoked, however, comes from the way Ronnie and his mother are terrorized by Larry, an ex-cop that's taking caution and community vigilence against Ronnie to an equally obsessive level.

While the middle of the movie makes you start to wonder how the differing subplots are related and where the story is going, the end of the movie does bring the storylines together. However, I would have liked a little more closure to the Sarah/Brad relationship.

There also seem to be a few missing scenes in the movie that I'm guessing may possibly show up in the special features of the forthcoming DVD. There is a point in the movie when two people get to go out on their first "date," but we only see the setup and aftermath but none of what actually happened on the date. In another scene, we see that a secondary character may have figured out someone's secret because it's put her in an uneasy mood around a major character, but we never learn for sure if the secondary character truly knows the secret and, if so, how they found out. Also, while possibly left out on purpose, there is a surprisingly small amount of screen time with Sarah's husband Richard.

Little Children is only a little bit about actual children. Sarah, Brad, Ronnie, and Larry--like children--are learning, making mistakes, running away from their problems, doing stupid things to get their way, discovering themselves, still getting picked on, and still having some serious "growing up" to do. The little children of the main characters, the need for one character to stay away from children, and the tragic mistake one person accidentally committed against a child, are all just catalysts for important lessons these adults still have to learn.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actress: Kate Winslet

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley

  • Nomination - Best Adapted Screenplay: Todd Field and Tom Perrotta

Screen Actor Guild Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actress: Kate Winslet

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley

Golden Globe Awards

  • Nomination - Best Drama Motion Picture

  • Nomination - Best Drama Lead Actress: Kate Winslet

  • Nomination - Best Screenplay: Todd Field and Tom Perrotta

Fun Fact from Internet Movie Database

The uncredited narrator is Will Lyman.

Roger Ebert's Oscar Picks & Predictions

And, here are the picks & prediction of movie reviewer Roger Ebert. I usually agree with him, more often than other ciritics, on everyday mainstream movies, but I'm not thrilled with a couple of his Oscar choices.

Roger Ebert's Oscar Picks & Predictions

Best Lead Actor
Should Win: Peter O'Toole (Venus)
Will Win: Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)

Best Supporting Actor
Should & Will Win: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)

Best Lead Actress
Should & Will Win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Best Supporting Actress
Should & Will Win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)

Best Foreign Film
Should & Will Win: Pan's Labyrinth

Best Animated Feature
Should Win: Monster House
Will Win: Cars

Best Original Screenplay
Should & Will Win: Babel (Guillermo Arriga)

Best Director
Should Win: Ebert says, "For reasons of tact, I prefer not to reveal my preference."
Will Win: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Best Picture
Should & Will Win: Babel

Best Documentary
Should & Will Win: An Inconvenient Truth

I wonder what Ebert means in his Best Director preference. My guess is that he thinks someone other than Martin Scorsese deserves it this year but that Scorsese should get it anyway because he's been passed over so many times before.

Entertainment Weekly's Oscar Percentage Breakdowns

Entertainment Weekly chose to breakdown the eight main categories by percentage. I'm not sure if those percentages are based on expert predictions or preferences by online voters or something else entirely. Nevertheless, it's broken down by numbers, and as a mathy guy, I like numbers.

Entertainment Weekly's Oscar Predictions

Best Picture
25% = The Departed
23% = Little Miss Sunshine
20% = Babel
17% = The Queen
15% = Letters From Iwo Jima
Commentary: Wow, that's close. Only a 10% difference between the front-runner and last place. This race really is wide open. My order of preference from highest to lowest is Queen, Letters, Departed, Babel, and Sunshine.

Best Lead Actor
30% = Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)
25% = Peter O'Toole (Venus)
20% = Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
15% = Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
10% = Will Smith (Pursuit of Happyness)

Best Lead Actress
40% = Helen Mirren (The Queen)
20% = Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
20% = Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada)
10% = Kate Winslet (Little Children)
10% = Penelope Cruz (Volver)

Best Supporting Actor
35% = Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
30% = Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
15% = Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)
15% = Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
05% = Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)

Best Supporting Actress
30% = Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
25% = Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
25% = Adriana Barraza (Babel)
10% = Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
10% = Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
Commentary: Considering the hype around Jennifer Hudson, I'm surprised her margin of winning isn't higher. Blanchett's close trailing 2nd place I can understand, but I'm surprised Barraza is also that high up. My personal order of preference from highest to least is Hudson, Blanchett (just *barely* behind Hudson), Barraza, Breslin, and Kikuchi.

Best Director
40% = Martin Scorses (The Departed)
25% = Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima)
15% = Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel)
10% = Paul Greengrass (United 93)
10% = Stephen Frears (The Queen)
Commentary: Considering the buzz, it sounds like Scorsese is a lock but that it may be a win by default, that he may be getting rewarded for his full body of work rather than The Departed specifically. I'm at least glad to see Eastwood 2nd but disappointed Greengrass isn't higher. My personal order of preference from highest to least is Greengrass, Eastwood, Frears, Scorsese, and Inarritu.

Best Original Screenplay
30% = Little Miss Sunshine
25% = The Queen
20% = Pan's Labyrinth
20% = Babel
05% = Letters From Iwo Jima
Commentary: I just don't comprehend why people are so in love with Little Miss Sunshine. It had some redeeming qualities (I still gave it a C grade), but those last five to ten minutes just ruined the movie for me, and I wasn't loving it to start with. My personal order of preference from highest to least is Queen, Labyrinth, Letters, Babel, and Sunshine.

Best Adapted Screenplay
40% = The Departed
25% = Little Children
15% = Notes on a Scandal
10% = Children of Men
10% = Borat

...and their other predictions...

Best Art Direction: Dreamgirls
Best Cinematography: Children of Men
Best Film Editing: United 93
Best Original Score: The Queen
Best Original Song: "Listen" (Dreamgirls)
Best Visual Effects: Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Best Sound Editing: Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls
Best Costume Design: Marie Antoinette
Best Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Animated Feature: Cars

TV Guide's Oscar Picks & Predictions

And, here's the Oscar picks & predictions of Maitland McDonagh, the movie reviewer from TV Guide. I'm glad to point out her picks because she's one of few people still sticking by The Queen for Best Picture.

TV Guide's (Maitland McDonagh's) Oscar Picks & Predictions

Best Supporting Actress
Should & Will Win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)

Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
Will Win: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)

Best Original Screenplay
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
Will Win: Babel (Guillermo Arriga)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Should Win: Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, etc.)
Will Win: The Departed (William Monahan)

Best Director
Should & Will Win: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Best Lead Actress
Should & Will Win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Best Lead Actor
Should & Will Win: Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)

Best Picture
Should & Will Win: The Queen

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Premiere Magazine's Oscar Picks & Predictions

Premiere Magazine chose to present their picks & predictions for the Oscars in the form of a discussion among two columnists and the editor-in-chief. The discussion is so long-winded, I just barely skimmed over it. Here's the bottom line of it...

Premiere Magazine's Oscar Picks & Preditions

Best Lead Actor
Should & Will Win: Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)

Best Lead Actress
Should Win: Penelope Cruz (Volver)
Will Win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)
Will Win: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)

Best Supporting Actress
Should Win: Lola Duenas (Volver -- she's not even nominated)
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)

Best Director
Should & Will Win: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Best Picture
Should Win: The Departed
Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine

...and their other predictions...

Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed
Best Animated Feature: Happy Feet
Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth
Best Cinematography: Children of Men
Best Art Direction: Dreamgirls
Best Costume Design: Dreamgirls
Best Film Editing: The Departed
Best Sound Editing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls
Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Best Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Original Score: Babel
Best Original Song: "Listen" (Dreamgirls)

Just in skimming through, three things stood out. First, I'm surprised that Premiere prefers Penelope Cruz over Helen Mirren for Best Lead Actress and picks Happy Feet to beat Cars as Best Animated Feature. One commentator said that Half Nelson (for which Ryan Gosling is nominated for Best Lead Actor) "is only a half a good movie, and the half I don't like really irritates me." I like that comment. Also, Ken Watanabe, from Letters From Iwo Jima, was mentioned as someone overlooked for a performance award. I almost forgot about him, but I would agree that he was very good.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Mark Burger's Oscar Picks & Predictions

Mark Burger, former movie reviewer for the Winston-Salem Journal and current reviewer for Relish, was on the Two Guys Named Chris radio show this morning with his personal picks and predictions for the Oscars.

He only talked about Best Picture, Best Director, and the acting categories. Since he skipped over the screenplay & technical awards, and since the acting awards seem to have a nearly unanimous verdict already, much of his input is unsurprising.

Mark Burger's Picks & Predictions

Best Supporting Actress
Should Win: Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)

Best Supporting Actor
Should Win: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Will Win: Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)

Best Lead Actress
Should & Will Win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Best Lead Actor
Should & Will Win: Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)

Best Director
Should & Will Win: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Best Picture
Should Win: Letters From Iwo Jima
Will Win: Babel

There were a few interesting details. Mark Burger said Will Smith is well-liked in Hollywood such that him winning Best Lead Actor is not as much of an impossibility as some might think (although still unlikely). Show co-host Chris Kelly said his personal pick for Best Director is Paul Greengrass (United 93), and I agree with that.

As for Best Picture, Mark Burger felt that Babel was the weakest of the five; that Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, together, were two of the best films of 2006; and that Dreamgirls would have had an excellent shot at winning Best Picture, had it been nominated.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Finally Getting Impatient with Lost: When Are We Going to Get Some Answers?

Throughout the 2nd season, I continued to give Lost the benefit of the doubt that we would eventually begin to get answers in interesting ways and at a faster pace, if we were just patient.

However, after last night's episode, Starnger in a Strange Land, I'm quite a bit closer to the getting-impatient camp. Once again, we see no 815ers except Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. I'm getting a bit tired of Kate, I've never liked Sawyer, and Jack gets too much screen time as it is. All his flashback told us was how & where (but not necessarily when) he got his tattoo, and even that didn't make total sense.

Why were the Thai locals shunning Jack just for getting a tattoo? Maybe the reasoning was explained and I just missed it, I don't know. Near the end of the episode, I started to lose interest and almost went to sleep.

Granted, we've come a long way from thinking the Others were ragged, ruthless savages who killed people they abducted. However, we're still not much closer to learning why they abducted people, what they want with those people, what their "lifestyle" or work is all about, why they brainwash people, or how they justify their bizarre, cryptic, deceptive, and often violent actions.

In their official Lost podcast, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof continue to empathize with viewers' frustrations and guarantee that answers are coming. I still get the feeling of being strung along by them. Granted, I wouldn't want every mystery explained in one or two episodes or the show would be over already. But the revelation-to-mystery ratio continues to be frustratingly low.

We're not quite at the half-way point of the season, so I'll still be patient a little while longer, but not by much.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oscar Time!!! My Academy Award Picks & Predictions

79th Academy Awards: Sunday 25 February 2007; ABC 8:00ET/5:00PT

For some weird reason--and for the first time ever--I've been obsessed with seeing Oscar-nominated movies this year. Maybe it's because more of the Oscar-nom'd movies were a little more mainstream this year. Maybe it's because, for once, I wanted to watch the Oscars and have a better idea what the big deal was about some of the films. Or, maybe because so many Oscar movies weren't in wide release until January and February, it gave me something to do during the two most boring months of the year.

In any event, the Oscars are now only a week away, and other than the possiblity that I might go see Blood Diamond this week (which I doubt would affect my picks for Best Lead Actor & Best Supporting Actor anyway), I think I'm ready to make my picks & predictions.

Best Picture

  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My 2nd Place Pick: Letters From Iwo Jima
My Prediction: Honestly, it's too close to call.
Who Got Snubbed: Dreamgirls, Children of Men
Further Comment: I really don't think Babel or Little Miss Sunshine should have been nominated. Babel was not that loved by viewers or even some critics. It's international scope helped it win the Golden Globe Award, and I've seen some people predict that it might win the Oscar because, despite any questionable quality or likability, it's the one that "best fits the Oscar mold." As far as Little Miss Sunshine, I just didn't like that movie, and I still can't understand how it got a nomination over the much better-made and more universally likable Dreamgirls.

Best Director

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
  • Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima)
  • Stephen Frears (The Queen)
  • Paul Greengrass (United 93)

My Pick: Paul Greengrass
My Prediction: Martin Scorsese
Who Got Snubbed: Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)
Further Comment: Someone may have to explain to me what the big deal is about Martin Scorsese. I checked IMDb, and The Departed is the first Scorsese film I've ever seen. I've never been interested or motivated in seeing any of his others. I thought The Departed was pretty good, but I didn't think it was *that* good. I know I'm probably in the minority with my Paul Greengrass pick, but I just think the style and tone that he chose for United 93 was the most fitting and was very well done. Clint Eastwood and Stephen Frears were also excellent with Letters and Queen, respectively, so I'm really okay with any of these guys except Inarritu for Babel.

Best Lead Actress

  • Penelope Cruz (Volver)
  • Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
  • Helen Mirren (The Queen)
  • Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
  • Kate Winslet (Little Children)

My Pick: Helen Mirren
My Prediction: Helen Mirren
Who Got Snubbed: No one I can think of; with Mirren in the race, it doesn't matter anyway.
Further Comment: The hype surrounding Helen Mirren for The Queen is accurate & deserved. I'm almost tempted to see the movie again. I also liked Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal. In a normal year, she'd probably deserve to win, but even Dench is overshadowed by Mirren. Penelope Cruz was excellent in Volver, but that was also a more down-to-earth role in a fluffier movie, compared to the others. She deserves the nomination but not the win. I didn't see Little Children or Devil Wears Prada.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] I saw Little Children earlier today, thanks to it *finally* coming out in wide release in my area yesterday (a whole *two* screen times at *one* theater in Greensboro). I can see how Kate Winslet's performance is noteworthy, but it does not affect my first preference of Mirren and second preference of Dench. For me Winslet ties with Cruz.

Best Lead Actor

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
  • Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
  • Peter O'Toole (Venus)
  • Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
  • Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

My Pick: Forest Whitaker
My Prediction: Forest Whitaker
Who Got Snubbed: Matt Damon (The Departed)
Further Comment: Forest Whitaker pretty much has this locked as well and for good reason. Will Smith was good, but not *that* good. Ryan Gosling's performance was the only really good thing about Half Nelson. Might still see Blood Diamond later, but after The Departed, I'm convinced DiCaprio is a good actor. I just doubt anyone has out-acted Whitaker this time around.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] I almost forgot, but I think Ken Watanabe (Letters From Iwo Jima) was also snubbed.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Adriana Barraza (Babel)
  • Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
  • Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
  • Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
  • Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

My Pick: Jennifer Hudson or Cate Blanchett (can't make up my mind)
My Prediction: Jennifer Hudson
Who Got Snubbed: Ivana Baquero (Pan's Labyrinth), Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee)
Further Comment: I really liked Cate Blanchett's performance, but she could probably pull off that or better performances in her sleep. Jennifer Hudson's performance was very powerful. Since she's not a professional actress (as far as I know), this role probably took all that she had, and she definitely delivered. Since this may be her only chance, I think she will surely win. I'm okay with Barraza's nomination because she was one of the better things about Babel, but I can't help but suspect that Rinko Kikuchi got nominated because she was "brave" enought to show off her "Kikuchi" on screen, if you know what I mean. My two Who Got Snubbed picks are both child actresses who were technically in lead roles in their movies. But, I list them to make the point that I think they did a better job than Abigail Breslin, who was the little girl in Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
  • Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
  • Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)
  • Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
  • Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

My Pick: Eddie Murphy
My Prediction: Eddie Murphy (unless his new comedy Norbit changed people's minds)
Who Got Snubbed: Micheal Sheen (played Tony Blair in The Queen)
Further Comment: Eddie Murphy was excellent in Dreamgirls. There was only one scene where he acted Eddie Murphyish. I hope that and his negative hype for Norbit don't ruin this for him. Alan Arkin's performance was really good even though I didn't like the material he had to work with. I really don't understand Mark Wahlberg's nomination, but there again, I really hated his character in The Departed too. Might still see Blood Diamond this week. Did not see Little Children, but I've read some good hype about Jackie Earle Haley.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] As mentioned above, saw Little Children this afternoon. Jackie Earle Haley did an excellent job playing a distasteful character. My preference is still for Eddie Murphy, and I admit that's partially caused by my dislike of the characters that Arkin, Haley, and Wahlberg play. It's probably harder for me than it should be to separate the likeability of the character from the performance of the actor.

Best Screenplay – Original

  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My Prediction: Babel, maybe Little Miss Sunshine (basically, the two I didn't like as much)
Who Got Snubbed: Akeelah and the Bee (still my #1 favorite movie of 2006)
Further Comment: This is another tough-to-call category. I really like Queen, Letters, and Labyrinth; and the whole rest of the world loved Little Miss Sunshine. Babel, however, is still a movie whose hype and recognition someone's gonna have to explain to me. It was good, but it wasn't *that* good.

Best Screenplay – Adapted

  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

My Pick: (tie) Children of Men / Notes on a Scandal
My Prediction: The Departed
Further Comment: I thought it was directing, rather than the script, that was the strength of Children of Men. But, since it didn't get its directing nomination, that's why I wouldn't mind it winning here. In terms of tension, pace, and rich dialogue, I feel Notes on a Scandal should win. I have mixed feelings about The Departed. Based on plot alone, it would be my #1 pick, but it suffers in my mind from horrendous dialogue. I did not see Borat or Little Children. From what I heard about Borat, did it even have a script? I would have thought it was at least half ad-libbed. Also, did anyone outside of NYC & LA see Little Children? It was never in wide release, and I don't think it's out on video yet.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] As mentioned above, saw Little Children this afternoon. It was good, but it's still my bottom pick out of the four movies I saw (didn't see Borat).

Best Foreign Language Film

  • After the Wedding
  • Days of Glory (Indigenes)
  • The Lives of Others
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Water

My Pick & Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: Until this year, I think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the only foreign-language film I'd ever seen (and I guess I'm the only person who didn't like that movie either). This year, I saw Pan's Labyrinth (100% Spanish), Volver (100% Spanish), Letters From Iwo Jima (95% Japanese, 5% English), and Babel (25% English, 25% Spanish, 25% Japanese, 25% whatever they speak in Morocco). Babel was probably too much of a mix to be eligible, Letters got in the Best Picture category despite the language barrier, and maybe Volver was considered too fluffy. So, Labyrinth get's my pick by default (only one I saw, and it was pretty good). I have heard, on Ebert & Roeper, good things about The Lives of Others, which is in German. After two years of German in high school, maybe I could watch that movie and understand a dozen or so words in it (there again, after a semester of Japanese in college, I still only understood a handfull of words in Letters From Iwo Jima).

Animated Feature

  • Cars
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

My Pick & Prediction: Cars
Further Comment: Granted, Cars was the only one of the three I saw, but seriously, how can a Pixar movie lose.

Best Cinematography

  • The Black Dahlia
  • Children of Men
  • The Illusionist
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Prestige

My Enormously Strong Pick & Prediction: Children of Men
Who Got Snubbed: The Lake House (no, seriously, The Lake House; excellent camera angles, interesting views of Chicago architecture, good use of reflections; yes, the movie about Keanu Reeves & Sandra Bullock writing time-traveling love letters to each other through their magical mailbox; stop looking at me like that)
Further Comment: If Children of Men loses Best Cinematography either: (1) There will be forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria; -OR- (2) I'll yell obscenities at my TV screen for 2 or 3 minutes and spend another 10 to 15 minutes pacing around my house, talking to myself like Rain Man. Definitely, one of those two scenarios will occur if Children of Men loses Best Cinematography. To be fair, though... Pan's Labyrinth and The Presige definitely deserve their nominations. I might rent The Illusionist soon, but I didn't/won't see Black Dahlia (no interest).

Best Film Editing

  • Babel
  • Blood Diamond
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • United 93

My Pick: Children of Men
My 2nd Place Pick: United 93
My Prediction: The Departed or Children of Men
Further Comment: Children of Men and United 93 both required excellent editing to piece together the excellent camera work. Both of those movies utilized long scene takes from one or two cameras. In Children of Men, multiple long takes were pieced together in post-prod. to look like a single super-long take. In the director's commentary on the United 93 DVD, Paul Greengrass said that some of the takes were an hour long, as he preferred to get a more real-time sense of what went on instead of breaking scenes up into pieces. In takes that long, surely there were flub-ups, and I'm guessing it took excellent editing to steer around those. The editing in The Departed was decent but didn't stand out as extraordinary. And, just how did Babel weasel its way into another category?

Best Art Direction

  • Dreamgirls
  • The Good Shepherd
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
  • The Prestige

My Pick: Dreamgirls
My Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: I saw Dreamgirls, Labyrinth, and Prestige. It's practically a toss-up because all three were excellent in very different ways. Didn't see Pirates or Shepherd.

Best Costume Design

  • Curse of the Golden Flower
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Dreamgirls
  • Marie Antoinette
  • The Queen

My Pick: Dreamgirls
My Prediction: The Devil Wears Prada
Further Comment: Dreamgirls required a lot of elaborate costumes from the 1960s & 1970s. However, since Devil Wears Prada, which I didn't see, is all about fashion, I'm guessing it went a step further.

Best Makeup

  • Apocalypto
  • Click
  • Pan's Labyrinth

My Pick & Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: Labyrinth makeup was definitely better and more extensive than Click, and I didn't see Apocalypto.

Best Visual Effects

  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
  • Poseidon
  • Superman Returns

My Default Pick & Prediction (only one I saw): Superman Returns

Best Sound Editing

  • Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

My Pick & Prediction: Letters From Iwo Jima
Further Comment: The two Clint Eastwood movies are the only ones I saw. Maybe someone with knowledge about cinematic sound can explain the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing and what to listen for when determining good or bad sound quality.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • Dreamgirls
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

My Pick & Prediction: Dreamgirls
Further Comment: Flags of Our Fathers required pretty good sound too. I wonder why Letters From Iwo Jima wasn't nominated in addition to or in place of Flags. I've never had any interest in seeing it, but I have an odd suspicion that Pirates: Dead Man's Chest could steal one or both of the sound awards.

Best Original Song

  • I Need to Wake Up (An Inconvenient Truth)
  • Listen (Dreamgirls)
  • Love You I Do (Dreamgirls)
  • Our Town (Cars)
  • Patience (Dreamgirls)

My Pick: Anything from Dreamgirls
My Prediction: Listen
Further Comment: From what I read on the internet, Listen has the best chance of winning. Hudson sings Love You I Do with power. Keith Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Eddie Murphy, and a backup gospel choir sing Patience with soul & charm. And, Beyonce sings Listen with enormous range. Going off memory and the 30 second samples on iTunes, my original pick was Love You I Do. However, I just bought the whole album on iTunes and listened to all three nominated songs. Now, I can't make up my mind! It's a three-way tie for me! I really like James Taylor and thought he did great on the solemn Our Town, but I can't help but wonder if the Cars soundtrack would have had an easier time in this category with Sheryl Crow's fast & upbeat Real Gone. I'm guessing that this award probably goes to the songwriter rather than the performer, so maybe my reasoning in this category doesn't count anyway.

Best Original Score

  • Babel
  • The Good German
  • Notes on a Scandal
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth (wild guess)
Further Comment: There's Babel again!?! Urgh. Didn't pay too much attention to the music in the ones I saw (all but The Good German), so I just picked The Queen by default. Unfortunately, while I really like the movie, the score in Notes on a Scandal did get a little overbearing at times. There were times I wanted the music in Scandal to just stop for a while or at least be more in the background. I also saw that movie in a theater that was abnormally loud, so maybe that was part of the problem.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Deliver Us From Evil
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Iraq in Fragments
  • Jesus Camp
  • My Country, My Country

Comment: Saw none of these, so no strong opinion, but from what little I've heard about them, An Inconvenient Truth actually sounds interesting, regardless of the accuracy of its content. I might rent it sometime. Richard Roeper and his guest reviewers on Ebert & Roeper have always had good things to say about Jesus Camp, and I think I noticed it in the video store recently.

Best Short Film - Live Action

  • Binta and the Great Idea
  • One Too Many
  • Helmer & Son
  • The Saviour
  • West Bank Story

Best Short Film - Animated

  • The Danish Poet
  • Lifted
  • The Little Matchgirl
  • Maestro
  • No Time for Nuts

Films with 2 or more Oscar nominations (and my overall grade for it, if I saw it):
8 = Dreamgirls (A- ****)
7 = Babel (C+ ***)
6 = The Queen (A *****)
6 = Pan's Labyrinth (B+ ****)
5 = The Departed (B ***)
5 = Blood Diamond
4 = Letters From Iwo Jima (B+ ****)
4 = Notes on a Scandal (B+ ****)
4 = Little Miss Sunshine (C **)
4 = Pirates..Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
3 = Children of Men (A- ****)
3 = Apocalypto
3 = Little Children
2 = The Prestige (A *****)
2 = United 93 (A- ****)
2 = Cars (A- ****)
2 = Flags of Our Fathers (B ***)
2 = An Inconvenient Truth
2 = The Devil Wears Prada

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Video Review: Half Nelson

Half Nelson

In Brief: What's Almost Redeemable

  • Really good performance by Ryan Gosling.

In Brief: What's Just Plain Bad

  • Length and pace are both horrible.

  • Boring interaction between characters.

  • A few scenes, especially in the beginning, use "shaky-cam" way too much.

  • All the characters, except one, seem to be oblivious of Gosling's character's drug problem. The one that does know, doesn't seem to be bothered by it much. Many of the supporting characters, given blank stares and pointless dialogue to work with, seem to be on auto-pilot.

  • No real closure to the story (literally, none whatsoever).

F Story
B Acting
D Directing
D Visuals

Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a drug-addicted teacher and girls basketball coach in an inner-city junior high school. He forms an unlikely relationship with a student named Drey, played by Shareeka Epps, after she discovers his secret addiction.

This is one of the harder movies to review. From my score, it's obvious that I found it significantly lacking, but the movie doesn't necessarily contain huge problems to nitpick over. It's more accurate to say the movie simply doesn't have much story at all, and for what little story does exist there is very little growth, direction, or resolution.

From what I've read on the internet, the movie is based on a 19-minute short film. The feature length version still seems to have 19 minutes or less of story, but it's stretched out to 107 minutes and spackled with filler. Some of the filler includes the introduction of Dan's ex-girlfriend who went through rehab and moved on with her life, a few scenes showing Dan dating a fellow teacher, and the introduction of Dan's family.

In a better written movie, these scenes would serve as character development. But, in this movie, those scenes seem pointless except maybe to further emphasize how Dan's drug habit keeps him from being happier and functioning more normally, something that was clearly established early in the movie with little effort. Otherwise, we really don't learn much about Dan, or why he's addicted, or whether he has hope of cleaning up, just by meeting these other people in his life.

One scene that brings a glimmer of depth to the movie involves Dan confronting Frank, another adult friend of Drey's. Dan is concerned that Frank is a bad influence on Drey. For a moment, we see Dan nearly realize his own hypocrisy, and it's also implied that maybe Dan has befriended Drey in some attempt to define meaning in his own life. We also learn later in the movie whether or not Dan is justified in his concerns about Frank.

This movie wears its "indie" status like a badge of honor, but for me, that's not always a good thing. Unlike many limited-release, Oscar-buzz movies of 2006 that have felt a little more mainstream and entertaining than usual, Half Nelson feels slow (too slow), artsy, self-important, and ultimately pointless. Intercut with the ongoing story are video clips of historical events and students doing monologues about civil rights. The movie feels like it's trying to make a profound statement, but it's not entirely clear what that statement is. You might say that the movie has depth but without any clarity. Perhaps the short film is as profound as it's meant to be, but stretched out into a feature length movie, the story becomes a dull, depressing, and unsatisfactory exploration into drug-induced despair.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actor: Ryan Gosling

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Nomination - Best Lead Actor: Ryan Gosling

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

The movie, directed by Ryan Fleck and co-written by Fleck and Anna Boden, is based on a 19-minute short film also made by Fleck & Boden, entitled "Gowanus, Brooklyn."

Fun Fact from Internet Movie Database

The film was shot in 23 days and finished one day ahead of schedule.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland

In Brief: What's Good

  • Excellent performance by Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

  • James McAvoy also does an excellent job as the fictional character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan.

In Brief: What's Not As Good

  • The movie doesn't do an excellent job showing how brutal & tyrannical Idi Amin was. His ruthlessness is explained well enough, but rarely do we see the man himself commit an act of violence or even give the order for one.

  • There is a torture scene near the end of the movie that is pretty graphic and not for the squeamish.

B- Story
A- Acting
B- Directing
B Visuals

Feeling smothered by expectations to follow in his father's footsteps, Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor about to start his career in his native Scotland in the early 1970's, decides to live a more adventurous life by practicing medicine in the African country of Uganda.

Thanks to a recent military coup, General Idi Amin has risen to power as the new president in Uganda. After an incident requires Dr. Garrigan to patch up the new president, he finds himself entangled in Amin's administration, something that isn't so bad at first but becomes something very treacherous later on.

For his powerful performance as Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker has been nominated for an Oscar and has already won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. I can see why. I've read that Whitaker got so wrapped up in the role, that he often stayed in character and talked in the Ugandan accent even when the cameras weren't rolling. After the movie was finished shooting, it took a while for Whitaker to get Amin out of his head and get back to his normal personality.

While I'm not familiar with the voice or mannerisms of Idi Amin specifically, Whitaker definitely embodies the role of a believable African dictator. Whitaker plays Amin as being intimidating and charming, creepy and eccentric, ruthless and childish, all at once. From what I've read about Amin, he was a mixed bag that had some people convinced he was an okay guy for a while before his atrocities started to surface. Much of the likable, almost redeemable aspects of his character are successfully highlighted by Whitaker's performance.

Oddly, this movie does not do a great job *showing* you what the bad things are about Amin, at least not early on. Don't get me wrong, by the end of the movie it's crystal clear that he's a sadistic, murderous, corrupt, paranoid, and politically clueless military dictator. But, much of this is explained through exposition, photographs that document off-camera events, and an overall bad vibe from Amin that gradually grows worse.

This style of storytelling might be intentional and may be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. History has proven that Idi Amin had a bloody reign of power. So, it may be the purpose of this movie to show a more complete picture of the man, including the charismatic and eccentric half of his personality.

Perhaps that's why many of his evil acts are talked about rather than shown. That may be bad in that it violates the rule of "show, don't tell." On the other hand, much of the story is told through the point of view of Dr. Garrigan, so perhaps we are expected to learn of Amin's brutatlity at the same pace that Garrigan does.

The first half of Idi Amin's reign throughout the 1970's transpired before I was born. So, I went into the movie knowing very little about Idi Amin. After looking up information at Wikipedia, I'm a little disappointed about the amount of fictional content in the movie, especially in regards to Dr. Garrigan (he is a fictional character only loosely based on a real doctor under Amin's administration). However, the movie does serve as both an entertaining drama and an informative primer into further study about this prominent historical figure.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Golden Globe Awards

  • Win - Best Drama Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

Apparently, the movie is only loosely based on the book of the same name, and the book is loosely based on what happened in reality. Idi Amin is obviously real, but the movie's other main character, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, is fictional. He is based loosely on Idi Amin's rea-life English-born physician, Bob Astles.