Archive | February, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

29 Feb

Title: The Secret World of Arrietty
Year: 2012
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, based on the novel by Mary Norton
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Gracie Poletti, Moisés Arias, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 80


Studio Ghibli is a film studio with one of the best reputations and records in the world, as well as one really dedicated fanbase. Founded in 1985 by the great Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata the Japanese studio has been releasing truly classic animated films that, though they are of course consumed rabidly in the Japanese market and abroad, haven’t really caught on commercially in the U.S., even though their critical reception is always pretty damn spotless, with the sublime Spirited Away winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar, the only film made outside of the English-speaking world to have done so, and Howl’s Moving Castle garnering a nomination for it. So yeah, this studio certainly has the goods, and its films, especially those made by Mr. Miyazaki, have some really great fanbases.

The Secret World of Arrietty is Studio Ghibli’s first released in the U.S. since Ponyo in 2010 (which I, quite unfortunately, have still to check out), and while it isn’t directed by Mr. Miyazaki, it was co-written by him, and certainly has his fingerprints all over it, with some seriously stunning visuals to go along with quite a lot of soul. And, as it’s usually the case with the films these guys give us, it’s not super kid-oriented and yet’s it’s a film that will be devoured by the whole family, I guarantee that; when I have kids I’ll show them Spirited Away before they turn thirteen, for sure. Oh and Amy Poehler and Will Arnett provide the voices for two characters in the English version of the film, so yeah, there’s another reason for you to go check this one out.

It’s just such a beautiful film that, while G-rated and totally great for kids to consume, will always offer up story-telling that’s more emotionally rich and sophisticated than most adult-oriented films, it’s a film with a soul that’s as pure as its animation. These are films that really deserve to find an audience in the U.S. outside of its niche audience, and Disney, who’s in charge of distribution stateside, are actually trying to get that to happen (releasing this one on nearly 50% more screen than they did Ponyo), and while the U.S. commercial results for this one have been better, it’s still a tough sell for American audiences. And that’s just a pity, the gorgeous hand-drawn animation with water-colored landscapes, the great female kid protagonists, these films needs to be seen by a wider audience.

One thing that really differentiates these films from those American audiences are more used to is that there’s no violence, and not any kind of traditional villain in the story; if conflicts arise they are resolved by means other than violence, and those conflicts come not from someone that has an evil agenda but from someone with some kind of misguided beliefs that just happen to clash with the ones of someone else. The film centers on a family of tiny people, “borrowers” they call themselves, who live beneath the floorboards of a country house inhabited by an elderly woman named Sadako and her caretaker Haru, voiced by Carol Burnett, from which they often “borrow” small stuff that she won’t really miss like a sugar cube or a pin.

Pod and Homily are the mom and dad, voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler who are an incredibly awesome real-life couple, and Arrietty is their tenacious daughter. They’re not entirely sure if there are other borrowers around, and they live in isolation in that house when one day a sick boy named Shawn moves into the house to be taken care of by her aunt as he rests before a scheduled operation. Soon thereafter Arrietty has to go through a rite of passage, her first “borrowing” and during her excursion she is spotted by Shawn, which prompts her mom and dad to think it’s time for them to leave the house now that they’ve been made. And while Ms. Poehler does get a few comedic moments, Mr. Arnett plays it straight all through the film, the father that grounds his family in a moment of potential danger, and it really works.

It’s really magical what the imagination from the people at Studio Ghibli can give us, and even though there’s no element of magic in this film like in many of their other films, it’s still amazing to see the world through the eyes of these four-inch people, the smallest of things are seen in an entirely different light and used for great things in the hands of Arrietty and her family. Yes, it has a slow paced and much lower stakes in comparison to most animated films, but that means you can appreciate all the beautifully animated little details and immerse yourself in what life as someone like Arrietty would be, seeing ordinary stuff in such a large scale and so beautifully animated can be pretty breathtaking in this film.

I loved The Secret World of Arrietty, it really is a wonderful film done by one of the most inventice film studios in the world, and it proves that, while Mr. Miyazaki is very much its pillar and the guy that created this whole thing, they now have nurtured enough talent in his tradition of animation, themes and overall feel of his movies that whenever he leaves the company they will be more than capable of carrying it all out in the best of ways. But we’ll see to that when it comes to be, for now let’s just enjoy the perfectly nuanced film that we just got, able to take its time and just look at every small pleasure in life and make it look magical while introducing us to yet another memorable character.

Grade: A-


This Means War

28 Feb

Title: This Means War
Year: 2012
Director: McG
Writers: Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Mr. Dowling and Marcus Gautesen
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Til Schweiger, Chelsea Handler, Laura Vandervoort, Angela Bassett, Jenny Slate
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language
Runtime: 97 min
IMDb Rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Metacritic: 31

Wow, talk about a lot of squandered talent. You have three incredibly likable and charming stars; Reese Witherspoon, the Academy Award winner with the lovely smile and girl-next-door charm, as well as Tom Hardy who’s just on the brink of super-stardom (and who’ll achieve it this summer with The Dark Knight Rises, obviously), and Chris Pine, who’s the guy that starred as Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek reboot and will do again next summer when the sequel hits theaters. So yeah, we have a trio of highly likable stars, but the result is pretty bad and totally wastes their talents.

The main problem, for me, is the same problem that the film’s marketing team had, and that caused the studio to back down from the Valentine’s Day weekend release date it had originally planned (which was smart because The Vow took total control of that weekend); and that’s the fact that this film is neither too action-y, nor too romantic, nor too funny, and it just doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. The film revolves around a couple of skilled CIA operatives who are partners and best friends until they fall in love with the same girl. So now they’re pitted against each other so they’ll use all their spy expertise and crazy-ass gadgets in order to win over the girl.

You get why this was once thought as a solid Valentine’s Day option. Two attractive guys women can swoon over fighting over a girl women actually like because she’s charming would attract the female crowd, and the fact that the film features action set pieces with spy gadgets would take care of the male demographic. This was potentially the one film both men and women would like to check out for the romantic holiday. But it didn’t pay off at all, because the film is just so clumsy. The director is McG, who did both Charlie’s Angels movies, but those at least had the self-awareness of how campy they were and played off it, while this one thinks it’s actually cool and tries to be hip and just fails so, so badly at it.

I mean, if you think about the stuff that’s going on in this film for just a second you’ll understand how ludicrous it all is. Firstly, you have two guys blatantly lying to a girl just to be with her, you have those same two guys wasting valuable resources of the nation in order to spy on her, which in turn is a huge violation of privacy, and they plain-out put all of their lives at risk while doing so. If McG had wanted this to be a parody of these kind of films, mocking both the spy and the rom-c0m clichés, this would have all worked out splendidly, but instead we a film that’s pretty idiotic for most of its running time and that’s never once funny at all. There’s a scene here in which Chris Pine wrestles a small dog, people, that’s the sort of crap we have to deal with when watching This Means War.

Of course there’s also the matter that, as they’re wasting resources and manpower trying to woo Ms. Witherspoon, who hasn’t done anything close to great since winning her Oscar, the two guys are also forgetting to pay attention to the actual case they’re supposed to be working on. Well, the film pays absolutely no mind to that for most of its running time, but then it suddenly brings it up out of nowhere with a huge sense of urgency that had nothing we had seen previously on which to base itself, only so that it can use it to bring forth the big climatic action set piece towards the end of the film and try to justify itself. And boy does it never work, this film squanders the talents of three really charming stars that are actually game for everything the film asks of them, but the material they’re given is totally dumb and never once resembling anything close to funny.

This Means War essentially has two intruding creeps (“but at least they’re handsome”, would say the film’s marketing team) spying on a girl they both want to seduce while trying to foil each other’s sexual advances with said girl, all of which is done with taxpayer’s money. This whole thing about secret operatives and their love lives just isn’t all that awesome anymore; I mean, yes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a massive success (and had its good parts), but let’s leave this new subgenre alone, Knight and Day may have been decent enough (barely, I gave it a B-), but most of these films are more like this one and Killers (the unfortunate film with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl I gave a D+). This is a film that doesn’t have a single ounce of wit, and spends quite a bit of time throwing around cringe-worthy double entendre’s, and even the action sequences are painfully edited to the point of utter incoherence. Avoid this film if you’re smart, no matter how likable the leads are, this film achieves not one of its many dumb ambitions.

Grade: D+

Oscar Recap

28 Feb

Finally, we come to the end of yet another exhaustive awards season. Though not as infuriating as the one of last year (in which The King’s Speech ended up stealing momentum from the far-superior The Social Network), there’s still stuff that will get people angry (little to none recognition for Drive and Shame? C’mon) and stuff that will make people overjoyed (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo winning Editing last night was a high point of the ceremony for me), but awards seasons always end up feeling tiresome, and yet I always watch them every step of the way and once they’re over I vow never to follow one as closely ever again, even though I know I’m full of it.

But anyways, back to the point, last night the 84th Academy Awards took place, and there were very little surprises insofar as the actual winners of the night, but there were a few things about the ceremony itself that I think are worth mentioning. So here’s my recap, first we’ll take a look at the list of winners with a brief impression of what I thought about each of them, and then we’ll look at the the good and bad parts about last night’s ceremoney.


  • BEST PICTURE: The Artist – I predicted this one correctly and it’s not as though anyone was questioning it. When Hugo started winning the technical awards and The Artist had just 2 trophies heading into the final four awards of the night people were doubting it, but then came Harvey Weinstein and took those four awards (three for this film, the other for Meryl Streep).
  • BEST DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius – Another one that was easy to predict. It was still kind of odd to see an unknown Frenchman triumphing over four American masters, though.
  • BEST ACTOR: Jean Dujardin – Clooney couldn’t prevail, though I think this one was really close. Dujardin won’t be able to transition into American films in which he actually has to talk though, at least I don’t think so, so this was his only chance.
  • BEST ACTOR: Meryl Streep – YES! That’s all I can say about this win, which was the biggest surprise about this whole thing. Yes, Meryl was always in the running for this one, but people already thought it was Davis’ award after she won the SAG. I don’t care how people say this win won’t age well and won’t help Streep’s chances for future Oscars, all I know is that it had been 29 years since the greatest ever won one, it needed to happen as soon as possible. And I’m already looking forward to her fourth.
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer – This could have been one of the biggest yawns because this was the surest bet there was, but Plummer’s eloquent and graceful speech made it one of the highlights of the night for me.
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer – Another sure-thing that happened and that was still awesome because Spencer was just so genuinely excited and everybody at home felt it.
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s record third win in this category. He wasn’t there to accept it, naturally, but Angelina Jolie’s leg did just fine.
  • BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Descendants – This is the category in which the Academy chose to reward this masterful film. Getting Alexander Payne his second Oscar (let’s hope the third will be for directing) and getting Jim Rash (Dean Pelton!) to show that Angelina isn’t the only one that can rock a sexy stance.
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: A Separation – Good thing they honored such an amazing film.
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY: Undefeated – I wasn’t expecting this one, honestly. Guess having Diddy in your camp helps. Or maybe it’s just that Weinstein magic at it again.
  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Rango – Obviously.
  • BEST EDITING: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – One of the biggest surprises of the night. This when people first started (wrongly) assuming The Artist may not have Best Picture in the bag after all. And I loved that Baxter and Wall are now consecutive winners of this award, too bad there’s no Fincher film this year so they can make it three.
  • BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Hugo – Look, Hugo was my favorite film 2011 and I’m super glad it racked up so many technical wins and tied The Artist for most overall, but it’s a seriously horrible snub that The Tree of Life didn’t get this one.
  • BEST ART DIRECTION: Hugo – As well as it should.
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: The Artist – I like this guy’s speeches quite a bit. All of The Artist‘s team gave good speeches, actually.
  • BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Man or Muppet” – Bret McKenzie, Oscar winner! Yes!
  • BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Hugo – I think not even the winners thought they were ever gonna triumph over Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Harry Potter here. It’s as though the Academy thought “We’re not gonna give Hugo any of the big awards, so let’s give it all of the small ones”.
  • BEST SOUND MIXING: Hugo – Why not?.
  • BEST SOUND EDITING: Hugo – Again, why not? Sound Oscars I don’t know how to call, but I predicted Hugo for both categories so I’m happy, though I was still crossing fingers for a Drive win.
  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN: The Artist – I kind of wanted any other film to win here, but I got my prediction right.
  • BEST MAKEUP: The Iron Lady – Well, that’s it people, Harry Potter shut out from the Oscars yet again.

Overall I think I did okay, predicting 16 out of 21, which is pretty respectable.


  • Billy Crystal’s opening montage inserting himself into the nominated films. This is what his hosting gigs are known for, and I liked it. That kiss with Clooney was pretty damn funny.
  • Octavia Spencer being so in the moment on her acceptance speech.
  • Christopher Guest’s hilarious The Wizard of Oz-inspired mockumentary.
  • Emma. Stone. She stole the show for me.
  • Christopher Plummer making the wives of every other winner feel bad because their husbands weren’t as awesome to them as he was to his wife. Seriously, what a speech.
  • Scorsese! (Best drinking game ever)
  • Meryl Streep. Period.


  • Every other thing about Billy Crystal’s hosting gig that wasn’t him inserting himself into the nominated films. It just felt too safe, too dated, too much like all of his other hosting gigs. I needed something fresher. Let’s hope next year’s host is a new, fresh face not named James Franco.
  • The fact that The Muppets were there to introduce a segment and not to perform their nominated song.
  • The celebrity interview packages did it at times for me, but as a whole I just didn’t really love them at all.
  • The horrible sound.
  • Billy Crystal’s The Help joke. It was cringe-worthy. The only time he went for something a bit edgy in humor and he was way off.

Oscar Predictions

25 Feb

The 84th Academy Awards are coming up some forty-something hours from now, so I thought I should post my predictions right now and not wait until the actual day, so I can enjoy Oscar weekend (and the NBA All-Star weekend) fully and without distractions knowing that my (hypothetical and irrelevant) votes have been cast. I know there’s bound to be a surprise or two (and hopefully it’ll be a welcome one and not a Crash-like one) but a general consensus seems to have been reached, and of course The Artist is poised to be the night’s massive winner. Now, below I will list all of the categories except the three shorts categories (because I haven’t seen most of those films) and offer up my prediction for both who I think will win and who I think should win. Without further ado:


  • The Artist (Thomas Langmann)
  • The Descendants (Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor)
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Scott Rudin)
  • The Help (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan)
  • Hugo (Graham King and Martin Scorsese)
  • Midnight in Paris (Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum)
  • Moneyball (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt)
  • The Tree of Life (Nominees to be determined)
  • War Horse (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy)
Were this an old-school five-nominee race the nominees would most likely be The Artist, Hugo, The Help, The Descendants and Midnight in Paris, so you have to assume those are the only films with a shot at this one. However, while the other four do have a shot at it, it’s a very small one, as The Artist is bound to win the big one.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: Hugo
  • Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
  • Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  • Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
  • Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
  • Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Two master directors who aren’t expected to actually attend the ceremony. One of the best American directors continuing his masterful streak. The best of all-time (in my opinion) delivering a really different, and personal, film. And a Frenchman who a few months ago was unknown this side of the Atlantic. And, guess what? The unknown French is bound to win this one over the proven masters. Some people are saying that maybe there will be a split, The Artist taking Picture, Hugo taking Director. I would love to see that, but I doubt it’s happening.
Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius
Should Win: Martin Scorsese
  • Demián Bichir (A Better Life)
  • George Clooney (The Descendants)
  • Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
  • Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
It’s Clooney vs. Dujardin all the way here, with maybe Brad Pitt having a thing or two to say about this. But the big wins have been all Dujardin pretty much, so expect him to triumph here. Still, the real travesty is that Fassbender isn’t here.
Will Win: Jean Dujardin
Should Win: George Clooney
  • 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)
Meryl or Viola? Viola or Meryl? That’s the question that lingers through the minds of Oscar aficionados. It’s probably going to be Viola though, she’s hasn’t won before (I know Meryl hasn’t won in like three decades but she’s won before, and twice) and she’s a black actress so it means the Oscars can claim diversity (which will be for naught after this week’s profiling of its members, all old white men) and, more importantly, even Meryl wants Viola to win. So yes, seems like Ms. Streep, the best that ever lived, will have to wait until August: Osage County for that extremely deserved and ellusive third golden man.
Will Win: Viola Davis
Should Win: Rooney Mara
  • Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
  • Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  • Nick Nolte (Warrior)
  • Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Some people are of the opinion that von Sydow could maybe make a run for it. Well, he could, but it’s not happening. This one’s Plummer’s all the way, as well as it should be.
Will Win: Christopher Plummer
Should Win: Christopher Plummer
  • Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
  • Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  • Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  • Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
  • Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Another Oscar that probably already has the name engraved on it. Considering Chastain is here for the wrong role and Mulligan and Woodley are absent from the shortlist, I’d actually give this one to McCarthy for shitting on a sink.
Will Win: Octavia Spencer
Should Win: Melissa McCarthy
  • The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
  • Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)
  • Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)
  • Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
  • A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
Will The Artist take this one as part of its big sweep, or will this be the category in which they honor Woody by giving him his third Oscar for writing (and fourth overall)? I’m going with Woody, because his screenplay was the best of the year, original or adapted.
Will Win: Midnight in Paris
Should Win: Midnight in Paris
  • The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
  • Hugo (John Logan)
  • The Ides of March (George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon)
  • Moneyball (Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan)
This will probably be the category in which they choose to honor The Descendants which at one point in the race was the front-runner for Best Picture. And rightfully so, since the script is brilliant, even if I did personally like Moneyball‘s better.
Will Win: The Descendants
Should Win: Moneyball
  • Bullhead (Belgium)
  • Footnote (Israel)
  • In Darkness (Poland)
  • Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
  • A Separation (Iran)
If the Iranian film doesn’t fin this one it would be one of the biggest upsets of the night, for sure.
Will Win: A Separation
Should Win: A Separation
  • 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)
It’s a travesty that neither Senna nor Project Nim are here, let’s just hope that Pina can take this, even though I’m afraid it won’t.
Will Win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Should Win: Pina
  • A Cat in Paris (Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli)
  • Chico & Rita (Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal)
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)
  • Puss in Boots (Chris Miller)
  • Rango (Gore Verbinski)
I just saw Chico & Rita and it’s fantastic, but no animated film came even close to achieving the greatness that Rango did.
Will Win: Rango
Should Win: Rango

  • 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)
The Artist should take this one as part of its sweep, though maybe Hugo can sneak in and take it from them. I would very much like to see last year’s winning team come in for the repeat, though.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • The Artist (Guillaume Schiffman)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Jeff Cronenwerth)
  • Hugo (Robert Richardson)
  • The Tree of Life (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • War Horse (Janusz Kaminski)
I guess The Artist could potentially take this one, too. But the Academy gave some love to The Tree of Life in major categories, which means they’ve seen it and liked it quite a lot, and even those who didn’t must have been left in awe of the work Emmanuel Lubezki in crafting the year’s most visually stunning film.
Will Win: The Tree of Life
Should Win: The Tree of Life
  • The Artist (Laurence Bennet, production designer; Robert Gould, set decorator)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Stuart Craig, production designer; Stephanie McMillan, set decorator)
  • Hugo (Dante Ferretti, production designer; Francesca Lo Schiavo, set decorator)
  • Midnight in Paris (Anne Seibel, production designer; Hélène Dubreuil, set decorator)
  • War Horse (Rick Carter, production designer; Lee Sandales, set decorator)
Well this one has to be Hugo‘s for sure, doesn’t it?
Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Hugo
  • The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)
  • The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
  • Hugo (Howard Shore)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alberto Iglesias)
  • War Horse (John Williams)
The big thing here is the fact that neither Drive nor The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were nominated, and that really sucks. Now, The Artist is a silent film so the score narrates the whole thing and keeps it moving, and that’s seriously a tremendous accomplishment.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Artist
  • “Man or Muppet” (The Muppets; Music and Lyrics by Bret McKenzie)
  • “Real in Rio” (Rio; Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyrics by Siedah Garrett)
Only two nominees and the songs won’t be performed at the telecast, a real pity of you ask me. Still that means the odds improve so that we can say “Bret McKenzie, Oscar Winner” in the very near future.
Will Win: “Man or Muppet”
Should Win: “Man or Muppet”


  • 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)
Right, if they didn’t Andy Serkis with an acting nod for his revolutionary motion-capture performance as Caesar the ape, they might as well reward the special effects team that made that happen. Though maybe this will be the Academy’s chance to reward the Harry Potter franchise, although they would be doing so in a smaller category than they should.
Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Should Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


  • 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)
I never know how to predict these pesky sound categories but Hugo has won these awards at the other awards shows so might as well go with that pick for both as it will probably win at least one.
Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Hugo


  • 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)
Again, tough to predict these sound categories, though nothing would be more awesome than for Drive to pick up an Oscar.
Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Drive
  • Anonymous (Lisy Christl)
  • The Artist (Mark Bridges)
  • Hugo (Sandy Powell)
  • Jane Eyre (Michael O’Connor)
  • W.E. (Arianne Phillips)
It’s probably, as per usual, a battle between The Artist and Hugo.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: Jane Eyre


  • 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)
I think this is a toss-up between all three of them, or maybe just Potter and Iron Lady.
Will Win: The Iron Lady
Should Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
So that’s it for my predictions. Check back on Monday to see the full list of winners and how I did with these predictions!

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

24 Feb

Title: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Year: 2012
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Writers: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Mr. Goyer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Idris Elba, Christopher Lambert
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language
Runtime: 95 min
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Metacritic: 32

Nicolas Cage’s career choices are super entertaining to watch, and the fact that he seems to be in a zillion films every year has become a mocking matter, one that he himself joined in at laughing at in a recent SNL episode, so at least the guy’s a good sport about it. The thing is, for every horrible Nic Cage performances, there’s a really good one so he keeps it balanced, though there was that 2003 (post-Matchstick Men) to 2009 (pre-The Bad Lieutentant: Port of Call – New Orleans) period in which he did pure crap. During that period, in 2007, he did the original Ghost Rider, and that film was truly bad with dialogue that was horrible and performance by Mr. Cage that was just such a disservice to the comic book character, an even sadder fact when you consider Mr. Cage himself is a big comic book fan.

So of course when it was announced that there was going to be a sequel to that film I thought it was just a hugely unnecessary move by Marvel, who should stick to the really good films they make, or at least try and reboot the character in a whole new (darker) direction. But a part of me held out some hope because part of what came with Nicolas Cage’s fame of doing bad films and bad roles is the fact that he went so insanely over-the-top in his portrayals that it could be funny, it could get to the so-bad-that-it’s-good territory, much like what happened in last year’s ridiculously exaggerated Drive Angry, which I ended up giving a B+ to. So, if the film wouldn’t turn out to be good, I at least expected Nicolas Cage to be really loud and larger than life to get the film into that so-bad-it’s-good territory, and the fact that trailer had Ghost Rider peeing fire and that the film was being directed by the Neveldine/Taylor team (whose Crank films fall under that category) had me thinking that might just be the case.

Well, it turned out my cautious hopes were totally for naught, as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance falls to a level just as low as its predecessor, if not slightly worse, thanks to a seriously horrible script (which surprisingly came from David S. Goyer and, less surprisingly, also had two other cooks in the kitchen with him) and visual effects that really should have been better. And, what’s worse, it’s as though this movie knew that it was no good to begin with and tried to be the type of movie I explained above in which it was so bad that it was good. But that’s not something you can plan to be, you can’t calculate the amount of badness needed to be a fun kind of bad, so what we get was just a plain bad movie that has a Nicolas Cage performance that, while as unhinged as usual, feels too predictably over-the-top, so there wasn’t that surprise element to how crazy this guy was. Truly a movie we didn’t really need.

I’m not going to fail this movie, though, because it wasn’t as big a waste of time as I may have made it out to be in the above paragraph, that was just frustration for it being a seriously huge waste of potential. This really could have been a cult kind of hit when you consider all the ingredients: a lesser-known Marvel character that was inspired by Evel Knievel, the shamelessly indulging Neveldine/Taylor team, the crazy Nicolas Cage and a cast of supporting actors that includes Idris Elba who’s about four different kinds of awesome and is surely headed for great things no matter how bad this film is. It’s as though this film went from a bad idea, to a good one in its badness, to bad again after not hitting its marks, and it’s a pity in my opinion, I wanted to but this one in blu-ray and watch it at midnight a few years from now whenever I needed some mindless entertainment.

This is a (very slight) grittier version of Johnny Blaze we get here, our motorcycle-riding friend who, whenever he is in the presence of evil, becomes an angry monster complete with a flaming skull for a head. That happened after a deal he made with the devil in order to save his dying father years ago, and so he became satan’s bounty hunter of sorts. But then a group of rebel monks, led by Mr. Elba, tracks him down to ask for his help to save a young boy from the devil, and in the process Johnny may get ride of his curse as well.

What we get never really comes close to what we should have gotten. The use of CGI should have been far more inventive in the hands of these maniac directors, and Ghost Rider feels really stale as a character, a really sad fact considering it had Nicolas Cage there in order to bring in some over-the-top personality to the character, but it’s just not to be, he tries but it all feels recycled, maybe he should go back to doing decent films again. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, let’s hope, will be the last we see of this character, at least until some more daring and imaginative filmmakers try to offer up a new take on him.

Grade: C

Chico & Rita

23 Feb

Title: Chico & Rita
Year: 2012
Directors: Tono Errando, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Writers: Ignacion Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba
Starring: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Lenny Mandel
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 78


The Oscar’s are coming up this Sunday (I’ll post my Predictions post tomorrow) and Rango is considered the front-runner for the Best Animated Feature trophy, and rightfully so since it was the best animated film of 2011. Now, I’ll be fully rooting for and expecting the Gore Verbinski film to pick up the golden man on Sunday night, but I just saw one of its two competitors which I had still to see, Chico & Rita (Cat in Paris is the other one I haven’t seen yet), and while not better than Rango, it’s in that same league of greatness, and I commend the Academy on passing up on Cars 2 to make room for a smaller but more deserving film like this one.

It’s an animated film made for grown-ups and not kids, animated in a dazzling kind of modern art style, with a storytelling that’s miles more sophisticated than what we get in most films nowadays, animated or not. The visuals will hypnotize you, will draw you in, but it’s the music that will really rock your socks, and true fans of that music will be left seriously enchanted. The legendary Bebo Valdés, an iconic Cuban pianist, is the man responsible for the original music you’ll be hearing in this lovely story set in the Cuba of the late forties, as Chico, the young piano player with great ambitions, and Rita, the woman with the looks and the voice, begin a story in which love and music will get them from Cuba to New York to Paris, and that will really get to you as an audience.

When you realize that this one got a nomination over the mo-cap The Adventures of Tintin (which I gave an A- to), or the CGI Cars 2 (a B) or the traditionally-drawn Winnie the Pooh (a B+) you may think that, animation-wise, those films may have the upper hand, but it’s the story and the music that make Chico & Rita stand out, and that the animation is so simple works to its advantage because it allows you to fall deeper into the story its telling. Because the story really is brilliant, a romance tinged with tragedy that’s really compelling to watch; and the music, oh the music, it takes you through a tour of the evolution of jazz music, complete with animated cameos by Thelonius Monk, Cole Porter, and a slew of others that will make any audiophile’s heart leap with joy.

The tragedy of the love story comes from the fact that, though they love each other, Chico and Rita can’t seem to find to right time to be together. When they’re together they’re at their best, and yet that can’t seem to happen; Chico resorts to cheating on her when she’s not around, pride and ambition become obstacles, it seems like it’s not to be even though they’re so right together. The story is just so awesome, the Cuban entertainment industry of the time ran by American gangsters, Chico meeting Rita and winning a talent competition that results in a contract and a hit record as they’re managed by the conniving Ramon. Going to New York where Chico’s two-timing begins, Rita jetting off to Vegas and ruining a show because she’s drunk.

This is all told in flashbacks by Chico who we see as the film opens as a shoe shiner, so we know it didn’t end up all that happily for him. And even if the story’s problems, the obstacles they face and the stuff that goes on, may at times seem a bit too calculated and not all that realistic that’s fine because you get the gist that it’s not as though that was an intention; co-director Fernando Trueba himself said the film was meant to mimic a tragic bolero love song, and as that it seriously succeeds, the colors and moving animation as well as the incredible music used to perfection to punctuate the myriad of emotions, it’s just so beautifully done that the realism of the story doesn’t matter because it becomes something more.

It also proves that this year’s Oscars will really be all about another time. From Midnight in Paris to Hugo to The Artist, this one joins the ranks of those films as far as exacting nostalgia for a different era, with New York at the time in which jazz was the coolest thing to listen to, Paris at the time in which playing the streets was awesome, Vegas when it really was Vegas; Chico & Rita gets you drooling over those awesome backdrops as seen through the gorgeous music it has to score them. The music gets you as involve in this love story as you would in any live-action you can think about; in an ideal world this would have been the big box-office draw for Valentine’s Day.

Chico & Rita has a bit of sexiness to it, both thanks to its love story and thanks to its music, and even though it’s of course so specifically rooted in one geographical location, it has a sense of universality to it because we can all relate to loving someone else and loving music. And, as is usually the case when we get hand-drawn, two-dimensional animated films nowadays, we’re reminded why we were enchanted by them just a few years ago, and even though the wonders of computer animation are awesome and can accomplish really superb things. This is a magical little film and I’m seriously glad I got a chance to enjoy it.

Grade: A-

The Vow

23 Feb

Title: The Vow
Year: 2012
Director: Michael Sucsy
Writers: Jason Katims, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Michael Sucsy and Stuart Sender
Starring: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, Sam Neill, Scott Speedman, Jessica Lange, Jessica McNamee
MPAA Rating: PG-13, an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity and some language
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%
Metacritic: 43

Look, The Vow isn’t a particularly good movie, not even close. It offers up stuff we’ve seen done time and time again, and seen it done better than how it was done here which was in just a super shallow kind of way. But, I must admit that Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum make up for that, and actually come close to making this film worthy of a recommendation. Just close though, it’s not like they achieved it; but they had good chemistry, did the best they possibly could with the material they were given, and it’s easy to understand why this one’s made so much money when it was released as the Valentine’s Day option of the year. And I guess that’s what it was made for so it’s all good, this is a good date movie, not worth for much more than that, but it’s not like it was pretending it ever was.

Because this really is a good love story to watch and then forget all about; you have the tenderness of it all, the lovable leads, the problem set in their way to get a few tears from your eyes and everything else. It’s based on an impossibly romantic true story from a couple that experienced this whole problem some twenty years ago. That problem is a car crash in which newlyweds Paige and Leo get involved, and which leaves Paige in a coma that results in severe memory loss and which makes Leo, their relationship and recent marriage, all things that she can’t even remember. And of course what we’ll get is a devoted husband who still loves his wife very much and who does everything to make her remember him, to remember them, and to fall back in love with him again.

Of course Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams would be the ideal choices to play this couple, they’re both stars of past Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations (she in The Notebook, the one great adaptation of that incredibly mediocre writer’s work; he in Dear John, to which I gave a C+ mostly because of Amanda Seyfried), and they’re both super charming. Mr. Tatum, a model and stripper before he became an actor obviously has the looks and physique to play a role women would lust for, and his acting is actually getting better each time I see a new film of his and he seems as though he genuinely puts effort into it, which is maybe why Steven Soderbergh has been casting him in films (the director’s upcoming Magic Mike is even based on Mr. Tatum’s aforementioned real-life experiences as a stripper). And then there’s Rachel McAdams, one of the loveliest actresses working today, a gorgeous woman with one of the most beautiful smiles in the world that brings a really nice warmth to every character she plays.

As Paige wakes up she thinks she still lives at home with her parents, played by the great Jessica Lange and Sam Neill, and much to their happiness, she actually think she’s still engaged to her ex, played by Scott Speedman, of whom they actually approved, unlike Leo, so they are overjoyed to be taking home a daughter that has seemingly forgotten about all the recent changes she made in her life which they weren’t all that happy about (she was a lawyer then, but then switched to art school, for instance). Leo tries her best to get her to remember, takes her to where they went on dates, to her favorite places, trying to remind her of things about herself. But to no avail, it’s not coming back, and she’s attracted to the ex, Jeremy.

The Vow, however, doesn’t actually go to the super melodramatic measures and extreme circumstances you’d expect it to, mostly because it looks like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation which sticks to that formula like glue, but since it isn’t it can more light. So what we get is a rather painless kind of film, I mean it obviously presents a lot of really harsh issues, but it never delves into them all that much, at least not in as dire a light as you might have expected it to. And that’s just as well, because what matters is that we like these characters; we feel sorry for the beautiful Paige, sorrier still for Leo who proves to be the nicest guy. And the fact that The Vow didn’t embrace the melodramatic potential but that instead was just a pleasant enough film to maybe see with your girlfriend and not much else is something that I liked, and it made the film work for me better than I was expecting it to.

This one got really close to actually working for me. I wouldn’t recommend it because it’s still not a good movie, but the fact that it never took itself seriously is something that I liked, it’s as though the filmmakers knew this was a pretty silly premise they had and they just tried to make the most of it. And it came close to working, you never once get to feel for Leo as much as you would in other movies because you don’t get why he needs her back, I mean he obviously loves her, but those emotions are skimmed through in a shallow way, it’s like they were together just because they looked great together. And that’s okay, because this is an escapist film made for Valentine’s Day dates when people just want a hundred minutes of lovey dovey stuff that will get their partners in the mood but not too lovey dovey that will leave them only wanting to talk about it once it’s over.

Grade: C+