Friday, July 20, 2007

Movie Review: "Hairspray"

What It's About: The chubby Tracy Turnblad takes Baltimore by storm.

What I Was Expecting: I loved the original film. I've never seen the stage show, but my wife has and loves the CD, so i pretty much knew the music. But, beyond that, I really had no expectations.

What I Got: A classic. I noticed about halfway through the film that my cheeks were aching. I wasn't sure why until the next number started and the broad smile returned to my face. And then I started to think about what might make this film any better. The answer I came up with? Nothing. Hairspray is about as perfect as a film can get. Nothing seems forced or false. It is filled with one joyful moment after another. It's exciting and fun and damn near impossible not to like. Every actor, every song, every scene feels like it is exactly where it needs to be. It's funny. It's touching. It has this amazing, almost tangible, energy. Towards the end of the movie, the crowd I saw it with was clapping along with the songs and cheering the heroes and applauding at the end of the numbers. Almost as if you were there watching in person. In the ride home, I realized how truly great I thought this was when I asked my wife, "How many musicals would you say were better than that?" We started with the latest string and worked our way back. Chicago wasn't even close. Moulin Rouge? Nope, Hairspray is better. To make a long story short, we decided that the only better musicals we could come up with were Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. And that's it. And none of those are nearly as fun. Hairspray is a genuine classic.

Grade: A

Oscar Potential: I thought about this during the movie. I came up with 14 strong possibilities, setting a record. Picture and director if it's a slightly slow year. Strong shots for Best Actress and Supporting Actor. Adapted Screenplay. Cinematography is a possibility. Arti Direction, Costume Design and Makeup you can bet on. One, maybe two, nods for song. Score. Sound and Sound Editing.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:

What can one say about Amanda Bynes? How many actresses can make a successful career by being what can only be described as a knucklehead.
2. Does Queen Latifah still rap?
3. The songs that were cut out of the movie? Don't miss 'em.
4. You really do forget that's John Travolta. And I'm the kind of movie watcher that tries to look for the details.
5. I keep waiting for Corny Collins to shoot Michelle Pfeiffer with the lasers from his eyes..

The Trailers:
August Rush:
I bet this movie looked great on paper.
Across the Universe: The preview they showed is one that worries me. That it might not be as brilliant as it looks.
Enchanted: Yeah, this one is going to be good. Disney cartoon on acid. I just hope it has more to it than just the gags.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age: The first Elizabeth, I loved. It was the Godfather as a costume movie. I don't think this one will have quite the same impact.
Rush Hour 3: What on earth happened to Chris Tucker? Is this all he does anymore? I looked up on imdb. He is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. And this is the third movie in the last ten years. The other two movies? Rush Hour 1 & 2. The man has talent. Why doesn't he use it more often?
The Golden Compass: If a studio tries to promote their new film by comparing to a previous movie they had success with, that's desperation talking. Comparing the story of a little girl in some land of magic to the Lord of the Rings movie, films that had some of the highest body counts in history, that's a stretch. This movie keeps looking worse and worse. But hey, it's from the director of American Pie.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

What It's About: Our hero, Tom Riddle, tries to do away with the dreaded Harry James Potter once and for all.

What I Was Expecting: Gee. Fifth film in the series. I think the expectations are pretty much set at this point.

What I Got: I really don't care what anyone else says. This one is the best of the series so far. The critics seem to be basing their reviews on memory. My guess is that they haven't seen the previous films as many times as I have. "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Goblet of Fire", the best reviewed films of the series, do NOT hold up as well to repeat viewings as the first and second films do (even with the line "Your phoenix may have blinded my basilisk, but he can still hear you!") In fact, I gave "Azkaban" an A when I first saw it. Now I can barely sit through it. Not much happens in that film. And after catching "Goblet of Fire" on cable lately, I find the character of Harry to actually be unlikable. "Order of the Phoenix", at first, falls into the same trap. Harry going off on his dearest friends for no apparent reason. But as the movie goes on, Harry becomes a sympathetic character again. There are so many elements to this one that make it superior to the previous entries, namely the bigger battles and montages. And that's what sets "Order" apart from the rest.

Grade: A

Oscar Potential: The techie trifecta, Sound, Sound Editing and Visual Effects are deserving. I was especially impressed by the art direction and costumes, but unless this movie has legs, it won't stick around come awards time.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:

Emma Watson has said she has no interest pursuing acting after the series is over. I can only say, "Thank God!" Her first moment in the film is "line of dialogue....pause...line....pause....line." When the whole thing should have been said in one breath.
2. The final battle at the Ministry of Magic is, by far, the best scene of the series to date. Will certainly be topped by the battle at Hogwarts in the next film.
3. I can't think of another film that wastes so much major talent. Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman....all of them are barely in the film. Alan Rickman's first line on screen is over an hour in.
4. If you hadn't read the book, you might think that Harry and Loony were going to hook up. They had real good chemistry. Especially compared to the forced chemistry of Harry and Cho.
5. One scene made me chuckle. Harry, Ron and Hermione are talking in the bridge, it's foggy. This must have been an issue because it seems that the lenses were taken out of Harry's glasses.

The Trailers:
Balls of Fury: At first, I was thinking "Dodgeball"/"Beerfest" meets ping pong. The difference looks to be that this one made me laugh.
The Golden Compass: This is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year. I'm sure the anticipation will die now that the trailer is out. Looks BORING!!!
Water Horse: Legend of the Deep: If you put a bunch of random words in a hat, do you think you could come up with a worse title? I saw this trailer and remembered a joke I'd heard this week. To paraphrase, you're in a room with the guy who made this trailer, Hitler and Mussolini. You've got a gun with only two bullets. What do you do? You shoot the guy twice. There is a GREAT twist to this story and they give it away in the trailer. What looked cute is now on my "I never need to see this movie" list.
Enchanted: It has become a rare occurrence that a trailer for a comedy makes me laugh. Much less common is two on the same night. This trailer is funny as hell. It's going to be a HUGE hit.
The Bourne Ultimatum: I cannot wait to see this one. I'm really late in jumping on the Bourne bandwagon. I saw the first two movies at the same time...on DVD. That's late. But they are brilliant and this third one, particularly the bit when Bourne is in David Straithairn's office, is great.
Get Smart: When I heard this movie was being made (shortly after Evan Almighty hit theaters), I thought, "Wow! Steve Carrell is finished in movies!" Now that I've seen the trailer, he MAY have a shot. Some good chuckles.
Fred Claus: Three trailers in one sitting that made me laugh. I liked the teaser trailer better (although I don't think it showed any of the movie itself) and the story looks really obvious, but there's potential for a great comedy.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Never Nominated, but Will Win Eventually

About 10 years ago, I did a list. A list of people who I thought that, even though they'd never received a nomination, would deserve an Oscar one day. I'd long since lost the list, but I do remember three entries that had caught flack. I had just seen "The Peacemaker" with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. Although I didn't think the movie itself deserved any recognition, I felt, based on that film alone, that Clooney, Kidman and director Mimi Leder would win Oscars within 10 years. Oh, people also thought I was kidding about Paul Giammatti, based on his turn in "Private Parts."

2 out of 3 isn't bad. And, if "Pay It Forward" had a smarter ending and became the new "It's a Wonderful Life" it should have been, I might have hit all three.

Now, it's ten years later. And here is a brand new list for the world to see of five actors, actresses and directors who I think will go home with the gold in the next ten years even though they've yet to even receive a nomination for anything they've done.

1. Christian Bale -
Not a toughie here. Bale has done a number of award worthy performances over the last decade. What's especially unique about him is the wide range from "American Psycho" to "Batman" to "The Prestige" and, especially, his villainous turn in the better-than-it-should've-been "Shaft". Mr. Bale may not have to wait long with two films coming out this year that have Oscar potential, "3:10 to Yuma" with Russell Crowe and directed by James Mangold ("Walk the Line") and "I'm Not There" with Cate Blanchett and directed by Todd Haynes ("Far from Heaven").

2. Dennis Quaid - A perennial of the list. It's mind blowing, given his career, that Quaid has never even been nominated for an Oscar. His brother, Randy Quaid, not the highest caliber of thespian, has been nominated before. "In Good Company," "Far from Heaven," "Traffic," and "The Rookie" all deserved consideration. And that's just this decade. Throw in his turn as Doc Holliday in the otherwise forgettable "Wyatt Earp", as well as "The Big Easy", "Everybody's All American" and as Gordo Cooper in "The Right Stuff". He may still have to wait to get his Oscar. Nothing listed on imdb that he has coming really jumps out except for "Shame on You", which he's also directing. It worked for Roberto Benigni.

3. Ewan McGregor - Based on his choice of movies of late, this might not actually happen. But that may be changing. "The Tourist" with Hugh Jackman may have potential. "The Number 13", a Hitchcockian thriller that takes place ON the set of a Hitchcock film sounds good. And "I, Lucifer" could get him a supporting nod although Daniel Craig as the Devil will likely steal the show. Just please, Ewan, don't try doing a Southern accent like you did in "Black Hawk Down."

4. Bruce Willis - It WILL happen. He was not on the previous list because the only movies he'd done worth considering up to that point were "Die Hard" and "Pulp Fiction." Just keep working with M. Knight Shyalaman and you'll get one eventually. He needs you as bad as you need him.

5. Daniel Craig - The only actor on the list I hadn't even heard of ten years ago. Now he's James Bond. And could possibly go down as the greatest James Bond ever if he does three or four more and they're comparable to "Casino Royale." But he was the best thing about Spielberg's "Munich." He has the highly-anticipated "The Golden Compass" coming later this year. He'll also be starring as the Devil (see above) and in Edward Zwick's next film, "Defiance", which, like every Zwick film does but falls short, has Oscar written all over it.

Coming Soon....The Actresses

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Movie Review: "Transformers"

What It's About: A high school kid finds his first car is more than meets the eye.

What I Was Expecting: Let's see. It's a Michael Bay film (strike one) based on a toy (strike two) being released on the 4th of July and not starring Will Smith (strike three).

What I Got: The best of the big budget actioners so far this year. Far better than "Spiderman 3" in every regard. The movie is still basically a dumb, loud, special effects extravaganza, but it far surpasses what it seems to be trying to do, much like Michael Bay's previous pleasant surprise, "The Island." The film is far from perfect, for sure. But it is a lot of fun. Surely destined to be a cable classic. The kind you pass while flipping channels on a Saturday afternoon and stop, because you know it's worth it.

Grade: B+

Oscar Potential: The techie trifecta, Sound, Sound Editing and Visual Effects are locks. It will never happen, but Shia LeBouef's performance as the high schooler destined to save the world is one of the best performances in an action film I've ever seen and an open-minded academy should give it consideration. Watch his face when he's running with the cube. It's not determination. It's pure fear. It certainly won't happen with this film, but Mr. LeBouef will win an Oscar someday.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:

Aren't the Transformers supposed to be able to join together into one huge robot?
2. This movie is great, but please, God, don't let anyone try to capitalize by doing a GoBots movie.
3. Why is John Turturro in this movie?
4. If the Autobots can use the internet to find the kid, why couldn't the Decepticons?
5. Does Michael Bay know his prior movies suck? He takes a dig at "Armageddon" that's pretty funny.

The Trailers:
The Simpsons Movie: I can't wait. Every trailer is funnier than the previous.
The Invasion: Of the Body Snatchers? That is what this is, right? With Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. It must be better than it looks to get them in here. At least it seems like the movie is going for creepy and not just another remake to do better effects.
Superbad: I've seen trailers that make this look funny. This trailer doesn't I'm not even quite sure what the movie's supposed to about.
Hot Rod: Well, it has Isla Fisher. That's a plus for any movie. And a comedy about a guy trying to be Evel Kneivel has potential. Just didn't see it in the trailer other than when the stunts painfully fail.
"Cloverfield": I use quotes here because that's what the film is rumored to be called. They don't actually tell you anything other than produced by J.J. Abrams and coming 1-18-08. Basically, it looks like "Godzilla" meets "The Blair Witch Project." Someone had sent me the trailer via email. Looked better with less sound. On the big screen and better sound (e.g. you could hear the monster), it kind of lost something. We'll see.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Movie Review: "Ratatouille"

What It's About: A rat (blue russian rat, to be a rat snob) that knows how to cook.

What I Was Expecting: It's getting to be the standard, but it's yet another Pixar film whose trailer left me "bleh!"

What I Got: This year's Oscar winner for Animated Feature. Hands down. And if they still gave animated films consideration for Best Picture, I'd say it belongs in that hunt as well. From a technical standpoint, the animation is ASTONISHING! No detail goes on the screen without being given the utmost care. From a story standpoint, it is by far the most adult of the Pixar films. And that's saying something. I went with my 7 year old son, who loved it as well, but I imagine most of what's really happening on screen was lost on him. In a nutshell, the film deals with the very serious issues of what one feels called to do versus what one feels obligated to do. And making the choice between the two. That's an issue that, even at the ripe old age of 34, I still deal with on a daily basis. And this "kiddie" movie had me relating to a rat. That's quite an accomplishment. This movie is very funny, as well. Well worth seeing regardless of your age.

Grade: A

Oscar Potential: Animated Feature, for sure. Possibly screenplay and score.

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:

This may seem a tad infantile, but that's a pretty hot and heavy kiss for a kiddie film.
2. Was it my imagination or, when Remy is about to float down the waterfall in the sewer, did I hear an echoing voice say "Dead men tell no tales?"
3. I'm not familiar with the guy who voiced Remy, but great work.
4. Peter O'Toole. Busting out the kiddie film. Another great performance.
5. Warning. After you see this film, you WILL want to eat. Desperately.

The Trailers:
Bee Movie: Where has Jerry Seinfeld been anyway? Hope the movie is as good as the trailer. Lots of good chuckles.
Daddy Day Camp: Yet another sad chapter in the post-Oscar career of Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: Wow! This one is either an instant classic or a complete bust.
Mr. Bean's Holiday: I didn't think the last film was funny. This one doesn't look to change my opinion of this character.
Underdog: This one hurt to watch. They aimed for the kiddies and not the subversive nature of the original cartoon. Could've been great.
Wall E: Wow! Can Pixar do anything wrong? The big whopping 10 seconds they actually show of the film makes look like the next E.T. Cannot wait.