Tron: Legacy (2010) (PG)

At first glance, "Tron: Legacy" seems to be a well-executed if somewhat cliche sci-fi kid's movie. It has a protagonist that becomes lost in a land of computer programming and needs to help some of the characters escape a somewhat dictatorship regime. But "Tron" is actually more than it appears. It has much more depth that many people give it credit.
"Tron: Legacy" was not popular with the critics but it didn't make their 'worst movies' list either. It was the middle ground and faired pretty well at the box office. But what I liked about this movie was the attempt to make it a much deeper, borderline philosophical movie. I'm not sure it achieved that, but it tried and make a good effort.
Kevin Flynn has made himself rich and a pioneer (A Steve Jobs character) by creating some of the most innovative video games of the current age. This movie (which is a sequel to "Tron") recounts how Flynn manages to create a virtual world of programming and then disappear. He leaves his son behind, lost at what to do without a father.
Sam Flynn is the hero of the film, played by Garret Hedlund, who does a respectable job. He's not the best hero mainly because of the corny one-liners he has to dish out. Thankfully, the movie manages to not dwell on the sometimes comically written script.
Without going to much into detail about the plot, Sam finds himself inside his father's world. In this world there are tournaments played out by programs to the death (figuratively). If anything, this is what "The Hunger Games" should have based their saga after, because this felt real, while "Games" felt a little too heavy with the angst.
Though it is a kid's movie, it's pretty dark. There are deaths in many scenes and things that certainly are somewhat disturbing, but "Tron" manages to skip around these things somewhat effortlessly.
What really helps the movie, is the surprisingly moving score from Daft Punk. The techno inspired music is really effective.
I really liked "Tron: Legacy", there's nothing that special about it, it's not too exciting, but it's solid all the way through. It's enjoyable and there's more to analyze than you would think. The role of fathers in a family, economy, the quest for perfection, even political statements are made. It's the script that lacks the ability to bring these things to a more forward position.
This movie also has its offenses like reproducing a young Jeff Bridges's face on a body. Sometimes this works spookily well and sometimes it falls flat on its (no pun intended) face.
But "Tron" is entertaining and a good distraction. Michael Sheen appears as a eccentric bar owner and sometimes he can go over the top, but let's face it—it's Michael Sheen....we forgive him.
The motion sequences, like following a motorcycle, are sometimes David Fincher-esque which really helps generate a feeling of momentum.
"Tron: Legacy" is not a perfect ride, it has obvious faults and bumps, but it was a ride that I really enjoyed taking.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

February Summary

Well since I've just been reviewing movies as I've been seeing them, in no particular order, with no rhyme or reason; I figured I would give a quick synopsis of this month's reviews. I broke them apart by genre and have them listed alphabetically as well as my picks for best and worst.

Django Unchained
Fight Club
Jurassic Park
The Untouchables
Zero Dark Thirty

Best: Surprisingly, this is a very solid group of movies. My favorite is probably "Jurassic Park", but "Skyfall" is magnificent....I obviously can't say anything about "Fight Club".
Worst: Please, I beg of you, take my advice and leave "The Untouchables" untouched.

American Beauty
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Dog Day Afternoon
Life of Pi
Side Effects
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Social Network

Best: There are three for the best: "American Beauty", "Beasts of the Southern Wild", and (although I would never force upon someone else) "Hunger".
Worst: Two for the worst: "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Side Effects", even though they are solid films I liked them the least of any two on this list.

A Fish Called Wanda
Lost in Translation
Silver Linings Playbook
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Producers (1968)
This is Spinal Tap

Best: "This is Spinal Tap" and "Silver Linings Playbook"
Worst: "The Producers" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou". Again with this list, it's not that they're bad, just not as good.

The Broadway Melody
Duck Soup
Doctor Zhivago
From Here to Eternity
Gentleman's Agreement
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Grand Hotel
On the Waterfront

Best: The one that I enjoyed the most of any was "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Worst: "The Broadway Melody" by far and then "Gentleman's Agreement".

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Red Balloon

Both of these films are great, though I liked "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" more.

The Cabin in the Woods

"Cabin in the Woods" definitely the better of the two.

Tron: Legacy
Wreck-It Ralph

Well I liked "Tron" and pretty much detested "Ralph", so there's no question here it what my picks are.

Cabaret (1972)

Of any films ever made, "The Godfather" is considered to be the best or one of the best. I recently read an article that placed "The Godfather" as the best Best Picture winner ever made. But what movie goers fail to realize is how close "The Godfather" came to not winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar. In fact, that night in 1973, the mafia movie only took home three statues and among those was not Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola. So what film almost dethroned the first installment of a franchise that has become one of the most loved and most acclaimed of all time?—well, darling, it was "Cabaret".
When you're watching "Cabaret" it's impossible not to think of "Chicago", because that's what this musical so closely resembles. But "Chicago" with a touch of Kubrick. The madness that resides in this movie is also the driving force that carries it to the end. Without the insanity and quirks, you'd be left with a dull drama piece about people and the secret lives they lead. Not so with "Cabaret". The false merriment is almost unsettling and the camera is unflinching, things I never thought I'd say about a musical; but they fit so well to this dark film.
The idea of the cabaret is simple, it's the facade that people wear on the outside. You never see behind the curtain and into the makeup room, it's all a cabaret.
Liza Minnelli plays Sally Bowles, a singer at the cabaret where this film is 'set'. She a spicy woman with a high ambition to become a movie star and she's willing to do whatever she needs to in order to get there. Sally is a free spirit, running along side the train so she can scream at the top of her lungs and not care. When Brian Roberts (Michael York) moves in next door she can't help but complicate his life. She seems to carry complications around on her back without realizing it.
"Cabaret" is bold. There's no other word to describe it. Coming out in the decade that it did it's surprising to find how forward the themes in this movie are: homosexuality, abortion, infidelity, racism. Not all of them are portrayed in good lights and some are left to the viewer to decide how to deal with them but none of them are just touched on—they are presented in the spotlight with glaring reality.
The Master of the Ceremony of the cabaret is played by Joel Grey who is simply delightful. He won Best Supporting Actor for his role, taking down the entire supporting cast of "The Godfather". His rouged face and painted lips are exactly the symbolism this film is about.
But "Cabaret" is dark, it doesn't shy away from subjects that aren't exactly typical musical fodder. I wasn't expecting the punch that "Cabaret" delivers so for now, I'm a little winded.
There is so much to take in, but not all of that is good. Sometimes the scenes are a little awkward for the sake of comedy that doesn't deliver. Occasionally there is a break in sound altogether and the silence is palpable. But the silence I'm okay with, it makes the viewer think. That's the end goal of the film, to make you think and it succeeds.
Bob Fosse triumphed over Coppola for this piece because of the thought he put into it. It's bizarre and sometimes even frightening (as mentioned before, Kubrick kept popping into my mind) because of the bold the visual styles that Fosse uses. Barreling into the Academy Awards, "Cabaret" walked away with eight awards and big impression on its viewer.
Maybe not the best musical and certainly not my favorite, but still wonderfully dark and deep.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (R)

Ancient Romans believed that the dog days were in correlation with the dog star (Sirius). When the days were heavy with heat and all the people wanted to do was stay at home and sweat it out, that's because of the heavenly body in the sky. The dog days refer to extremely hot days that come in the late of summer and sap a person of their energy. The most common way to express the phrase is to say that you're feeling lazy because today is a dog day.
This is the kind of day in which our main characters decide to pull off a robbery. From the beginning of "Dog Day Afternoon" we are given a shots of the people around town in Brooklyn. They sit here and there, eating or just relaxing, not really doing anything of great importance.
Then Sonny Wortzik gets the idea that he is going to rob a bank with his two friends.
Incompetence abides beautifully in their heist. When Sonny tried to pull his gun from a package is gets entangled and he thrashes the weapon while still trying to remain threatening. He's a very vibrant character. He says what's on his mind and he's no idiot though he makes some idiotic choices. He's naive and while claiming to see right through everyone's guise, he seems to believe that if he's nice to people they'll be nice to him. It's this misguided judge of people that leads him into several situations that are less than easy to get out of.
As soon as the robbery starts, one of the friends backs out. Now, there are just two left, Sonny and Sal. They hold hostages and try to get away with the minimal amount of money in the bank. But then, after a few blunders, the police show up and then the whole situation gets blown out of the water. The television reporters show up and it becomes a source of attention for many media newscasters.
It's the tale of instant, one-hit wonder celebrity. Sonny doesn't really like the attention but he doesn't mind it either. He uses the crowd that has gathered around the bank to his advantages, shouting out to them and riling them up like an audience at a rock concert.
Al Pacino plays Sonny and I think that it's one of his best roles. It's such a unique, different character and he plays him so perfectly.
"Dog Day Afternoon" is a true story, we are told so at the opening shot of the film. But what's regrettable about the movie is how dull it is. There's not much to it—they sit in a bank for a while. It felt like it was originally written for stage because of how little scenery has to be used.
It's not a comedy and it's not a drama or thriller but unlike other films (Wes Anderson movies) that embrace this middle ground, it feels like it wants to be both at the same time and cannot. There are amusing moments in "Dog Day Afternoon" but nothing that funny and there are somewhat thrilling moments, but overall it generates a feeling of blandness.
While it's interesting up to a point and the acting and dialogue is good, it felt a little too lifeless.
Throughout the course of the robbery, piece by piece falls into place to reveal more about Sonny Wortzik. It's a good way to keep interest, but it's not enough.
I feel like this movie represents the dog days very well. It's sweaty and hot and makes you feel like you're inside the dog days. I might have enjoyed it more if it was the last days of summer outside, that way I could have empathized with the situation a little more. Instead, I felt sleepy. I guess the dog days really did come to life.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

And the Oscar goes to...

"Welcome to the Oscars" said Seth MacFarlane, quickly making a quip about hopefully making Tommy Lee Jones laugh. At first, there was a nervous tension with the host. Will he be good? Will he drop the ball? MacFarlane was a great Oscar host, tip-toeing the line of acceptable many times. Starting off he was greeted by William Shatner as Kirk from Star Trek who helped guide him into being a good host. This contained many gags and skits that were pretty funny, including a sock puppet rendition of "Flight". Chris Brown and Rihanna jokes were made as well as a hilarious jab at Abraham Lincoln. But then, the singing started: tributes were made to the musicals made in the last decade so Catherine-Zeta Jones came out and sang "All That Jazz" and then Jennifer Hudson belted out "And I Am Telling You" and then the cast of Les Miserables sang "Suddenly" and "One Day More". After that there was a section honoring James Bond movies. Adele sang and Norah Jones sang and then the cast of "Chicago" presented awards which became the recipient of another MacFarlane joke. All-in-all I think he did a great job.
Now, as far as the actual awards go, I have to say that I'm surprised that I got almost all of them right.
The evening started out with Christoph Waltz grabbing his second Oscar and me screaming like a fan girl. I felt like he deserved it. (On a separate note, I would have liked to have seen Javier Bardem and Michael Fassbender be in this category for "Skyfall" and "Prometheus".)
Best Supporting Actress went to Anne Hathaway....who's surprised?
But the most interesting part was the music to go along with the ceremony. Usually, when winners have their speeches go too long, soft music plays and then builds and builds until they have to stop talking. Rude, but eloquent. I'm not sure if it was MacFarlane's suggestion or something else, but the iconic "Jaws" music quickly overpowered the winners whose speeches were too long. It started when "Life of Pi"'s special effects team won, and the acceptor wouldn't stop talking. As the "Jaws" music overtook him, there was a sense of "is this really happening?" It was brash and unapologetic, much like the host.
"Brave" won animated film. It was accepted by the director wearing a kilt.
Foreign film went to "Amour".
Original Song went to Adele for "Skyfall" and Original Score went to Mychael Danna for "Life of Pi".
There was a tie in sound editing, which was very interesting. Between "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Skyfall".
Best Adapted Screenplay went to Chris Terrio for "Argo"—one that I guessed incorrectly.
Tarantino won for "Django Unchained" as did Ang Lee for "Life of Pi", a well deserved win. I had a feeling that Lee would win, because the Academy appreciates the ingenuity it took to turn Yann Martel's book into a movie.
Jennifer Lawrence won for "Silver Linings Playbook" and on her way to the podium she tripped and fell. After receiving the award the audience gave her a standing ovation, "Stop it," she said, "I know you're only standing because I fell and you feel sorry for me." Recovering quickly she didn't appear phased by her tumble.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Best Leading Oscar becoming the first man to have three.
"Argo" won Best Picture and then it was all over.
MacFarlane was joined by Kristin Chenoweth in singing a song to all the losers. Now I have to wait another whole year. *Sigh*
So how did I do as far as predictions go? I missed one—Adapted Screenplay. Not too bad, I feel.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) (PG-13)

Jean-Dominique, Jean-Do to his friends, has had a cerebrovascular accident. That's what the doctors tell him at the beginning of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". His brain stem has basically just stopped working and the miracle of modern medicine is keeping him alive. He is paralyzed from his head to his toes expect for his eyes. The muscles of his right eye have gone haywire and it had to be sewn shut. He is left only with his left eye. He is experiencing "locked-in syndrome" which is basically exactly what it sounds like. He can experience emotion like he always has and he feels like he should be able to communicate but he can't. Frustration is a big emotion for Jean-Do.
He has two therapists, both pretty young women who vow that they are going to help him get better. Simple things like communicating with blinking—one blink for yes, two for no—are taxing for Jean-Do. He can't even move his tongue and it takes a long time for him to even be able to move his head the slightest bit.
From the beginning of the movie, we are inside Jean-Do's eyes. We see what he can see and his voice is in our ears. It's a daring move to have a movie shot in a true first-person narration, but the majority of the film is shot this way. It presents another aspect to film making that has not been explored in the depth that "Diving Bell" brings. The opening scenes are really masterpieces for the ingenuity that went in to making them. As seeing through his eyes, the screen becomes red when his eyes are closed and he's looking into light, much like how it is looking at the sun through closed lids. When he blinks, the screen goes black for a second. It's really simple yet breathtakingly effective.
Julian Schnabel directed this film and it's no surprise how he suddenly got launched into the critic's world. This movie is spectacular. The script is so surprisingly poetic and realistic that it hurts sometimes to hear the simply stated lines that carry such deep emotion. They don't try to oversell the nuances of the film, those come naturally as they should. For the first portion of the movie, as previously stated, we are inside Jean-Do's mind. It's after a little while that we leave his head, but we return to it again and again throughout the course of the film.
Jean-Do's speech therapist, Henriette, concocts a way for him to communicate. Reading an alphabet, rearranged so that the most common letters are first, she helps him spell out words and then sentences by having him blink every time she comes to the right letter. Letter by letter, symbol by symbol, they spell out sentences, and now he can communicate.
Jean-Do was a fashion editor, but now he feels like nothing. A particularly beautiful line is given to only the viewer as Jean-Do talks about his feelings: "Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed, my imagination and my memory." But putting aside his self-pitying spirit, he decides to write a book. Yes, that's right, a book. With the help of a very patient assistant, he spells his way through millions of letters in an attempt to pen a novel.
While this movie is intense, particularly in the first few scenes, it's rapturously beautiful as well. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is the best I've seen in quite a while. It flits and floats here and there but also provides a feeling a immobility. The opening scene generates claustrophobia that is more than a little uncomfortable.
Matheiu Amalric plays Jean-Do which is something of a courageous role, because of how thankless it really is. He is perfect for the role, conveying so much emotion in his eyes, without even moving his face. Max von Sydow is also very good in a supporting role.
The impact of "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" is quite powerful. It's a masterpiece of cinema. It's quite a triumph of a film that could have gone awry in so many places, but it doesn't. It holds it own.
Stunning, imaginative, and poignant.

Score: 4 out or 4 stars

Casablanca (1942)

Undoubtably one of the most enduring and loved classics of all time, "Casablanca" sets a high standard for what drama should be like. From its gritty and realistic feel and iconically written dialogue to its relatable and enthralling plot, it really is a masterpiece.
During World War II, Casablanca has become a holding station of some sorts for people to come and wait until they can get to America. The city is the last stop on the way to freedom. The people pile up and wait for their turn to be away from the fighting. But then, murders take place and important documents are stolen, documents that the police expect have made their way to Casablanca.
Rick owns a saloon, he never drinks with his customers and is only in business for himself. He's a self-professing selfish man. He has connections like no one else. Cool and collected, you'll never see him sweat. People ask him for favors left and right and he grants those that he thinks will benefit himself.
When he is given leverage over the police by gaining the right to Casablanca any time he wants, he plays it safe and waits for the right time to use this power.
Then Ilsa shows up on the right hand of a man who is leading a revolt against the Germans. She walks into the bar and he is sent back into memories and confusion as he tries desperately to sort it out before it's too late for everyone involved.
Humphrey Bogart iconically plays Rick, this role sees him delivering some of the most famous movie lines. From "Here's looking at you, kid." to "Of all the gins joints...", it's no wonder that the script is heralded as one of the best ever written.
Ingrid Bergman is stunning as Ilsa, the way she can talk with a perfectly normal voice while tears build in her eyes is astonishing. Her face is so complex, she tries to put on a brave face but is vulnerable enough to let the viewer know that her heart is breaking.
Michael Curtiz gained himself an Oscar for directing as did the picture itself and its screenplay. It's hard to think what this movie might have been like without his sentimental yet gritty touch. It's not noir like Bogart's other works like "The Maltese Falcon"; but it has elements of noir. The constant cigarette smoke and bourbons are always part of Bogart's characters but in "Casablanca" he is simply perfection. He is who he needs to be, not too much and not too little. The just right phenomenon of acting.
Minor characters also delight with sardonic, quick-witted humor that is quite applicable such as Claude Rains as Captain Renault, the man who seems to have figured Rick out.
It's impossible to describe what an enormous impact this movie has had on the film industry, it's easier to just let it speak for itself.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Jurassic Park (1993) (PG-13)

"Jurassic Park" is one of my favorite movies. But it's also one of the best sci-fi/adventure movies to date. Steven Spielberg helped craft the sci-fi genre into what it is today with movies like this and "Minority Report". It's one of the first movies that utilized CGI technology to its fullest potential. It's the predecessor for many action movies that use a blend of actors and CGI and also drama pieces like "Life of Pi".
The movie opens to a shipment of live animals being brought in an island near the Caribbean. This scene brings back memories from "Jaws" because the way it is shot is very typical of the old Spielberg way. Very thrilling and very effective.
Alan Sheppard is a dinosaur expert working in the Badlands, digging up bones. He's smart and likable, but only once you get to know him. He can come across very aloof. His other half is Dr. Sattler, capable and sassy, she's enough to keep any man on his toes.
In the middle of a legal matter, John Hammond needs two experts to sign off on his amusement park in order to open it to the public. He offers the positions to Grant and Sattler (the two scientists are already receiving money from Hammond). Then they're off with an eccentric group of characters, including a trigger happy head of security, a sleazy computer programmer, a no-nonsense technology expert, a smarmy chaotician, and a greedy lawyer. This is one of the first reasons that makes this movie so amazing: each and every character is distinguished and has enough information given about them and are played well enough to make them intriguing. I argue that even though "Jurassic Park" is a classic adventure movie, it has one of the best casts in film history. When was the last time you saw a cast that rivaled Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Peck and Wayne Knight? The only movies that come to mind are "Pulp Fiction", "L.A. Confidential", "Glengarry Glen Ross", and "Network".
The amusement park is on an island and it soon becomes known (if it wasn't already) that the park is full of dinosaurs. This could have come off so cheesy and cliche but one of the driving forces of the movie is Michael Crichton (the author of the book) at the helm of the script. The dialogue is so superb and even though there are great one-liners in "Jurassic Park" they never feel forced or insincere. The thoughts of the characters, voiced by the actors, brings a realism and believability to "Jurassic Park". It doesn't hurt that Michael Crichton makes you believe that it's entirely possible to bring dinosaurs back.
When a hurricane knocks the power out of the park the beasts start roaming freely and soon it becomes a movie about who will survive. Even after 20 years "Jurassic Park" remains thrilling and fresh with each repeated viewing which is something that not a lot of films can lay claim to.
The suspense is amazing even if you know what's going to happen. This isn't a classic horror movie, it's much more family oriented than that but still edgy enough to terrorize some. Spielberg knows how to toe the line between extremes just right.
John William's score for "Jurassic Park" is also something to behold. Oh, and the CGI. Yes, of course. The dinosaurs maybe aren't as technologically advanced as Richard Parker from "Life of Pi" but by the end of the movie you are thoroughly convinced that they are as real as the rest of the characters.
Classic, beautiful, and great.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

From Here to Eternity (1953)

As far as war movies go, the standards have kept being lifted higher and higher as the years have gone on. "Platoon" seems like a perfect war movie, it's got a plot that differs than the actual fighting of the war and it brings forth great performances, particularly from Willem Dafoe. Then there's "Saving Private Ryan" and most recently "The Hurt Locker". But recall where these movies got their start. From the very beginning of film, war movies have been made: "Wings" the first Best Picture, "All Quiet on the Western Front", even "Gone With the Wind" has war in it. But I feel that "From Here to Eternity" lacks something that all other war movies have: a little war.
"Eternity" centers around two main characters: Sgt. Milton Warden and Pvt. Prewitt. Prewitt who has just changed companies at the beginning of the film and is trying to get into step with his new one. The leader of the company, Capt. Dana Holmes, has some delusional idea that if Prewitt will box for the company then he will get a promotion. In this effort to get himself higher up, Holmes allows his men to torment Prewitt. But Prewitt has sworn off boxing because of an accident that happened—he's also a talented bugle player, random and not necessary to the plot but still fun.
Sgt. Milton Warden is too efficient at his job. He thinks (and he's right) that without him, Capt. Holmes wouldn't know what to do with the company. He's charming and classically good-looking, as are the women in "From Here to Eternity".
Burt Lancaster plays Warden, a role that is good for him and plays to his strengths but doesn't appear to have challenged him enough. It seems tailor cut to him and I feel that he should have played it with more intensity because he comes across as arrogant sometimes when he's not supposed to.
Montgomery Clift plays Prewitt and he's really the best part of the movie (aside from a surprsing performance by Frank Sinatra). The way he carries himself as Prewitt is precisely what the role demands.
Also included in this movie is a very good Donna Reed as a call girl and Deborah Kerr as Holmes' headstrong wife.
But even though it's a war movie, the main point of the film is about the relationships that the characters form with each other. There's really not that much "war" in it to begin with. If you know your dates and your history you'll be able to predict what will happen next.
Although it's famous and it's good, it's not groundbreaking.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

Lost in Translation (2003) (R)

Bob Harris is an actor has-been. In the 70s he made B-list movies that were popular but never garnered him an immortality as a celebrity that so many others have enjoyed. In the middle of his marriage that is slowly becoming extinguished and under financial duress he takes a job, endorsing a whiskey brand. He then has to travel to Japan to take a few photo shoots and film a commercial.
Right from the beginning, Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" is not your average film. It's not a big plot twist movie that reveals some hidden character as the murderer or some other such device. Instead, it's a movie that is attempts to evoke a feeling from the viewer.
Bob travels from city to city with relative ease, it seems. He has acquired a certain comfortableness with people that he uses to get along. But confronted with fast paced words in a language that he does not understand mixed with the culture shock, jet lag, and emotional problems at home, he ends up in a state of lethargy. He just wants to get from here to there and back again without much trouble, he's seen enough of that. But even though he starts putting minimum effort into his job, he still wants to do it because he's not a quitter. This slowness of movement accompanied with all his problems lands Bob Harris in a temporary phase of insomnia.
Charlotte is married to a photographer who's shooting a band in Japan. She a recent graduate of Yale with a degree in philosophy but she's not really sure what to do with her life. In this mental fixation of having to be someone and do something, the indecisiveness weighs down on her and she too starts to experience trouble sleeping. Her marriage is stuck in a rut, just after two years. She doesn't get along with her husband's friends, yet it's not dissatisfaction but maybe boredom that's setting in to her love life.
Their paths cross and then a spark occurs between them in the most unusual way.
It's a romance without being romantic, a comedy without laughs. It's a genre-defying picture that tries to be incredibly intimate but falls short by just a small fraction.
Bill Murray plays Bob Harris and it seems that Murray may have chosen this role because it mirrors his career so aptly. He's delightfully droll and lost in his own world of troubles and sorrows and it seems that no one can hear him. That is, until he meets Charlotte.
Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the one person who's experiencing what he is and needs someone to talk to. They find each other and a friendship blossoms that feels so genuine.
Although Murray is great in this role, the acting spotlight is stolen by Johansson who is simply brilliant in her role. She's reserved and fun but not over-the-top. The make-up team has created a very natural look for this movie, they haven't made anyone look glamorous or ugly, they just look human.
It's the humanity of the film that is so touching.
But this film isn't perfect, in an attempt to recreate a Danny Boyle style, Coppola is a little too heavy handed with the feelings she's trying to convey. For example: one scene has characters singing karaoke. When the scene has revealed what it needs to reveal, it keeps going and becomes annoyingly long. It's not that it makes the scene more intimate if the filming continues, it's just pointless. There are several instances like this, but there are other scenes that are so subtle with their meaning that they are almost breathtaking.
It's funny and ironic and full a little moments that make the film. In the end I feel that "Lost in Translation" does bring forth emotion from the viewer, but it's not as powerful as it could be.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

The Untouchables (1987) (R)

Al Capone is a name that has gone done in American history as one of our most notorious gangsters. He is an iconic man whose role should not be taken on lightly when portrayed on screen. "The Untouchable" recounts the story of the men who took down America's most famous gangster.
It's 1930 and prohibition is in full force making policemen busy with picking up the illegal activities of the moving of booze. It's also making our favorite criminal very rich. Then, a treasury agent with a heart of gold decides that he will hunt down and expose Capone for the murdering criminal that he is.
Eliot Ness is our protagonist and he is played horribly by Kevin Coster, who just needed a few more years to turn in "Dances with Wolves" which is the only thing I've seen him in that actually uses his bland Southern droll in a good way. Here, he's from Chicago (the accent is confusing) and he's always by the book. He'll never break any of the rules, but we're supposed to believe that sometime he'll go 'rogue' and become the Sam Spade character that he needs to in order to get Capone.
Jim Malone is the cop that is tough as nails and clever as a fox. It's Malone who has knowledge of the streets and the guts to do anything in the name of justice and he's the one who helps Ness form a group of crime fighters called The Untouchables. He is played by Sean Connery, and this is the best character in the film. He's the only person who seems to be conveying what he's supposed to. The others are all flat characters that only annoy.
Then there's Oscar Wallace a FBI accountant who concocts the plan to take down Capone.
And then the last one is George Stone, played by Andy Garcia.
Mr. Capone is played by Robert De Niro who is pitifully bad as the gangster. He lacks a certain frightfulness that I feel like Andy Garcia could have pulled off if the two of them had traded roles.
I cannot emphasize how incredibly awful Kevin Costner is in this movie. Every scene with him is painful to watch. Regrettably, Brian De Palma seems to only be able to make vaguely entertaining and somewhat thrilling movies with not much sustenance, "Mission Impossible" for instance. Knowing that, all I wanted was J. J. Abrams to make a sequel to "The Untouchables".
The script itself is a work of art in the way that it produces line after line of impossibly horrid dialogue. Maybe it was just the actors who brought life to the lines, but I can't think of any way of making them good.
Perhaps the most obvious offense in the movie is the music that can't carry the movie. It tries to combine 80s pop music with the jazzy score of a noir film. That's the one things this film really lacks: noir.
It's in desperate need of a better lead actor, script, and director.

Score: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) (PG)

This review contains SPOILERS
As far as animated movies go, Pixar has dominated the industry for years, rightfully so. They can make any idea work—a garbage cleaning robot that can become endearing, a rat that wants to be a cook, a family of superheroes, a man that travels in a house with balloons. They are the high mark to achieve when making an animated film. But does "Wreck-It Ralph" deliver the way Pixar does? Alas, it does not.
The main theme of "Wreck-It Ralph" is self-acceptance. It's somewhat reminiscent of Albert Camus' The Myth Of Sisyphus, in which the main character finds meaning in life by accepting that he's simply the guy that rolls stones up a hill....that's his thing, his niche. I wish that Ralph could have found this meaning at the beginning of the film instead of wasting my time for and hour and forty minutes.
The idea of "Wreck-It Ralph" is genius at the start, until you see how bogus it really is. Ralph begins the film by stating that he is a video arcade bad guy, he's the villain and he wants to be the good guy. The good guy gets cake and friends, possessions like a little golden medal. Why can't he have a golden medal? After all, we're all human here (metaphorically speaking). It's this need for material possessions that will be a gateway to being accepted by friends that starts our 'hero' on his quest. He wants to gets a shiny medal, but he can't get one on his own game so he hops games to a shooter game to get his medal.
Once in the shooter game, "Hero's Duty", he quickly gains his medal but then looses it in another game called "Sugar Rush". There he meets the adorable little Vanellope, who only wants to win a race in a car made out of candy so her game will accept her. 
Vanellope and Ralph are the same person, they both are outsiders for different reasons and want to be in the 'in' crowd. Immediately you can see what the film is trying to do. Be yourself and accept who you are and then you'll be well-liked and have many friends, save the world, and eat candy. Wrong! This is not how things are, but the film moves on anyway.
Now, this idea of being whatever you want to be and accepting yourself for who you are is beaten into the viewer's head. It's repeated and repeated until it almost feels condescending. If you want to see it done the right way, watch "Ratatouille". 
So, going away from the actual plot for a minute and looking at the setting, is it really that original? Yes, in the sense that they've taken video game characters and put them in a setting that no one has seen before. It's clever....right? Is it really that clever?
I present my argument: If you take "Monster's Inc", "The Matrix", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and "The Wizard of Oz" (which has a blatant parody featured in the movie that really isn't that funny) and all of them had a baby, you would get "Wreck-It Ralph".
In the shooter game, the villains are said to be "pure virus" that can wipe out the entire arcade if they're let go. First of all, bad writing. Second, hmmmmmmmmm sound familiar to anyone who's seen "The Matrix"?
At night, when the arcade is shut down, the characters mingle in room that looks remarkably similar to "Monster's Inc". In fact, the whole idea of this movie seems like a virtual carbon copy of "Inc"...add video games, minus monsters. Then the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" part seems self evident. Lastly, "The Wizard of Oz", it's a journey that Ralph and Vanellope take in this movie, much like following the yellow brick road. Except, in "Ralph" it's: win the race so Ralph can get the medal that Vanellope stole from him and used to buy her way into the race and be accepted by his piers who really don't like him. Which would you rather watch? "Oz" or "Ralph"?
So, okay the idea is semi-original and the theme is overstated, I can overlook these things in the right circumstances. But these circumstances weren't there. The dialogue is embarrassingly bad. Unlike other animated movies like "Up" who's script is remarkable, "Ralph" contains poop and vomit jokes that never end as well as a horrible back story for a character that is meant to be dramatic but ends up being cliche. And that's not the only cliche moment, they pile up as high as the celling until it's hard to breathe under them
There are so many things taken from other movies in "Ralph" that if felt like watching a plagiarized college paper. 
On top of everything else was the product placement that felt a little too heavy handed. There's Diet Coke Mountain and characters fall into Nesquik sand and have beat each other to make the Laffy Taffy help them out. Wow. Is it really that bad?
Well, the kids behind me in the theater didn't think so, but then again when the movie was over I heard one of them say, "That was it?" Yes indeed, little child. I feel cheated too.
You can make the case that "Ralph" is entertainment for kids and shouldn't be taken at such a high standard. What about all the Pixar movies (minus "Cars")? What about Dreamworks even? They all make incredibly good animated movies. 
Although the idea behind "Wreck-It Ralph" was fresh, it petered out in the first five minutes.
Added on to the direct stealing of "Monster's Inc"'s thunder is the voice casting. John C. Reilly is a great choice for Ralph. But the character is too much like Sully from "Inc". Then Reilly's voice seems uncannily too much like John Goodman's. And I ask, who are the hero's sidekicks? Smaller people who are both voiced by comedians. The size difference is virtually the same from Sully and Mike to Ralph and Vanellope. 
The plot is so predictable and the jokes aren't funny. It was a good attempt but it needed something that it didn't have: a much better script.
It's a children's movie too adult for them (one scene had a character literally ripping another's anatomically correct, still-beating heart out of their chest) and too juvenile for adults (see the poop jokes). For the people in the middle, the teens, it just didn't work.
The one thing this film had was the CGI itself. The animation is seamless and only seems to improve with time. 
So what does Pixar have that "Wreck-It Ralph" doesn't? A storytelling ability that is unrivaled even in live-action movies. If "Ralph" had that, something decent might have been made.
Clearly, this is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. A lot of people liked it, but I was not one of them. 

Score: 1 and a half stars out of 4

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) (R)

Riding on the seeming never ending success of Monty Python, John Cleese brings us a twist of a crime drama that can't make up its mind whether its a comedy, thriller, or romance.
"A Fish Called Wanda" is set in England. A group of thieves—Wanda, the ring leader; George, the man with the money; Otto, the crazy weapon's man; and Ken, a versatile, stammering animal lover who is the driver—decide to rob a bank and steal a load of diamonds worth a lot of money.
Most noticeably as a loud character, Kevin Kline plays Otto who seems to be bipolar. He is a Buddhist and a reader of Nietzsche, and an obvious spoof of the stereotypical American. He was in the CIA and he's irreversible stupid.
Wanda (a very young Jamie Lee Curtis) is the most cunning of any of the members of the rag-tag group of criminals. She knows her appeal and she uses it to her advantage while still remaining fresh and sassy.
Ken (Michael Palin) is the weakest criminal of all of them for his morals. It's impossible for him to hurt a fly, so naturally the script has him doing the most amount of damage to little furry animals. Michael Palin toes the line between offensive and funny with his stammering, which was a typical source of humor for many older movies. But Palin does a very good job with it, not making it sound forced. It's unfortunate that he got out shined by his mad co-star Kevin Kline.
Then there is the unfortunate soul who ends up as the receiver of everyone's clumsy charades: Archie. He's a lawyer who accidentally gets mixed up in the wrong business. John Cleese wrote himself this part and one can definitely see why. He knows his limitations as a comedy star and he plays to them, who doesn't? He's always extremely nervous and frightened while trying to be an impassioned lover which ends up making everyone (sometimes even the audience) feel awkward.
The jokes are tried and true as is the plot. It's been done before, hundreds of times. From "The Italian Job" to "Ocean's Eleven", this kind of movie seems to always be entertaining. But "A Fish Called Wanda" seems to pull it off with more ease than its contemporaries and here's why: you really can't say how it will end. The plot twists and turns so rapidly and so randomly (much like a Monty Python skit) that it's impossible to say how it will end.
Charles Crichton directs this film with Cleese at the script and they love to poke fun at everyone. From the British themselves to Americans (obviously) and to the legal system; they're very sly with how they make fun of people.
Kevin Kline steals the show as an incredibly annoying character that is impossible not to hate to love.
Though "A Fish Called Wanda" is funny at times and enjoyable the whole way through, it's not original enough to be astonishing.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

I can honestly say that watching "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" was some of the most unfiltered fun I've had, watching a movie in a long time. As far as leading ladies go from the time period that Marilyn Monroe is from, I'm more prone to watch movies with Audrey Hepburn as the lead. I confess, I had only seen one film before this that had Miss Monroe as the lead—"Some Like it Hot". I loved her in that film and was thinking that the charm that she had in the gender bending comedy might have been a one-hit wonder...I'm not sure why.
Lorelei Lee (Monroe) is a gold digger, there's no other way to put it. She likes money, jewelry and men with both. She thinks that love can only be built upon the foundations of wealth and she plans her marriage accordingly. Swearing that she'll only marry a man if he has money, she sets out to convince her best friend, Dorothy Shaw (a remarkable Jane Russell) of the same thing. Now, Lorelei has already found 'love', she's engaged to a man named Gus Esmond who is head-over-heels with her but maybe the feeling isn't reciprocated.
Dorothy can be swayed by whatever handsome man walks into the room. If Lorelei is in it for the money, Dorothy is in it for the looks. But Dorothy thinks that money shouldn't be a part of love and here the viewer is supposed to agree with her, which I did.
Esmond's father doesn't like the idea of him marrying Lorelei so he constantly nags his son. Lorelei decides to go to Europe so that Gus's father can't bother them there and if Gus doesn't come she'll make him so jealous that he'll have to come and get her and then they can elope. At least, that's the plan.
But the father has hired a private detective to tail Lorelei to see if she's as 'loose' as her reputation says she is.
Monroe plays a very ignorant and money loving showgirl who can't help but be seduced by big glowing gemstones. At one point she imagines a large diamond hovering over a man's head and it makes her weak at the knees. But as funny as she is in this movie, which is very funny at times, Jane Russell outshines her in every scene. Even in the musical numbers, Russell has a more powerful voice, far outdoing Monroe's famous husky sustain.
But Monroe is hilarious in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and her character has the best lines in the movie, such as "I can be smart when it's important" and "I want you to find happiness and stop having fun." This is also the film that sees her singing the iconic song "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".
It's one of the best musicals I've seen and definitely one of the best comedies from this era of film. I like that the director, Howard Hawks, chooses to have his two lead girls be such powerful figures in the film. They are strong and they don't sugarcoat their opinions. One number has Dorothy singing in a gym full of men exercising, about how she'd like to be in a relationship. The men dance in the typical female fashion in the number, clearly reversing the stereotypical roles.
Fun, fast, sultry, and loud—"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is a great amount of fun.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

David Lean is a master of the “epic” genre of cinema. He has three huge pictures under his belt and each one of them was nominated for a plethora of Oscars and each one won several. These films are “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “Doctor Zhivago”. 
“Zhivago” is set in the times of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. My first impression of the frozen land was that Lean must have really hated filming in the desert, (his previous big picture was “Lawrence of Arabia”) and moved to the icy scape of Russia. But what I didn’t realize was how similar the desert and the arctic are in filming. The ever shifting snow is reminiscent of the sands that blow over the landscape in “Lawrence”.
Unfortunately, I was making comparisons with the two movies all throughout “Zhivago”.
Zhivago is a good man, he’s got such an innocent face that it’s hard to believe that he’d do anything wrong. Played by Omar Shariff, Zhivago is a man who can’t really decide what he wants to do in life. He wants to just live it to its fullest. Then comes the war and then the revolution. Here, Lean is the best at making these scenes work. There’s nothing quite as exciting as watching the huge camera angles soak in a battle scene. No one can do it like Lean can. 
So Zhivago gets married and has a kid and meets up with Lara, who is played by Julie Christie in an iconic role. Lara is the anti-Zhivago. She doesn’t always stand up for what she believes in, if it’ll hurt her and she’s on the opposite side of the social class.
But don’t mistake Lara, she’s got guts and she won’t be walked over. Don’t cross this lady.
The first third of the movie seems to be a contrast between the high class and the low class with rebellion scenes that are strikingly familiar to that from “V for Vendetta”. The second third of the film is more romantic, shots of flowers and Maurice Jarre’s incredible score swells in the background. The last third is the true last act of a play. It concludes everything so nicely and leaves everything wrapped in a very satisfying ending.
This films sees Alec Guiness playing Yevgraf—his character begins and ends the film.
Guiness oozed charm and confidence as this military character. He can snap his fingers and clear a room. 
Guiness as with Shariff, were both in “Lawrence of Arabia” but what “Zhivago” lacks that “Lawrence” had is utterly simple to name: Peter O’Toole.
You can’t beat the man when it comes to best lead actors. He is flawless and a delight to watch. Shariff is a step backwards.
Yes, “Zhivago” isn’t as exciting as “Lawrence”. Yes, Shariff isn’t a good as O’Toole. But that doesn’t stop Lean from making a thoroughly stunning picture that has stood the test of time. It really is something else.
It’s political, romantic, edgy in parts, and above all a staggering achievement in film.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Duck Soup (1933)

Ah! Slapstick is so classic! 
The Marx brothers have gone down in history as one of the best and most original comedy acts ever to come to screen. What they manage to do is quick talking and quick moving to make laughs. Their quick movement could be the exchange of a hat or popcorn and the talking is so fast and so smart that sometimes it goes unnoticed.
Groucho Marx plays Rufus T. Firefly, the unqualified, bumbling emperor of Freedonia. Although he’s completely incompetent at his job, he’s extremely apt at making quick jokes that none of his political contemporaries understand.
Freedonia is at on the verge of war with its neighboring country, Sylvania. The ambassador to Sylvania is concocting a plan to make Freedonia crumble to its knees.
Already the stage is set for wonderful political satire to happen and it does—quickly and unashamedly. But what I wasn’t expecting from this 1930s picture is the level at which they attack the government. It’s a full out mockery, and boy is it fun to watch.
They’re not exactly criticizing America, per se, it seems to be government in general. It’s borderline anarchical.  
Through all the political jokes you have some wonderful slapstick that is simply marvelous, truly a lost art. A peanut vender and a man who sells lemonade get in a fight that leads to a long segment of slapstick magic.
Harpo Marx, who famously never talks, is really the poster child for why comedy doesn’t always have to be spoken.
Some of the sound techniques and stunts used were actually revolutionary for the time. 
“Duck Soup” is non-sensical and glorious. It's short and sweet and remains today, one of the best comedies ever made.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Note: this review contains spoilers.
A man and his son move from California to New York. He works as a writer, a reporter if you will, and he has just gotten offered a job. This sounds like your average 1940s setting for a comedy or a musical, or even a drama where the dad finds true love since the mom is out of the picture. But “Gentleman’s Agreement” is about anything but those things. No, this film is about racism, racism, and some more racism...
Phil Schuyler Green is a writer whose previous works has been very well-liked by the public and well received by the critics. He’s living the high life for the moment. Then his new boss asks him to write a piece on anti-semitism. Phil isn’t happy with this, he expected something with more merit than a simple ‘puff’ piece about racism. But he racks his brain over the matter, not wanting to let his new boss down. Also, he falls in love with the boss’s niece, Kathy Lacy and she’s motivating him to continue with the article.
Kathy is played by Dorothy McQuire, and she huskily whispers all her lines not really reaching a peak of emotion that is so typical of movies from this time period. She is average as far as leading ladies go, as is Gregory Peck as Phil. Neither one of them do a particularly great job for one reason, they don’t fit the character as well as they should.
Kathy makes comments about how Phil can’t seem to hide his emotions. But when you see Gregory Peck, these emotions that she’s talking about, just aren’t there. He’s like a blank slate, it’s impossible to know what he’s feeling inside because he’s bottled it all up. The script doesn’t help him in this arena either. There are a few lines that are so awkwardly phrased that they’re actually painful to hear. 
But then the plot takes hold in the film: Phil decides to go undercover as a Jewish man to break open the story about anti-semitism. But here’s why this doesn’t work. It’s not like it’s too offensive or not offensive enough, it actually toes the line quite well—it’s that it beats you over the head with it. The phrase “anti-semitism” itself is in the film probably close to a hundred times. The script makes no hesitations in saying that it’s trying to be a poignant film that generates some sort of emotion.
But as the movie wore on, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with it. I appreciate what the film was trying to accomplish, but like any other medium whether it be a book or a song: it has to work. I felt beaten down and weary about how much stress was being put on how racist everyone was. They literally come out of the walls.
Everyone was nice and cheerful to Phil before he announced to the world that he was a Jew, and then all of his colleagues turn on him.
Phil has a friend that is Jewish and he confides in this friend about his article. Dave, his friend, warns him against this claiming that Jews have it the hardest of anyone. It’s such a hard life being Jewish. Then again, Dave doesn’t want pity for being Jewish, he thinks that it’s demeaning. 
There is only one character in this movie that works, Anne, a smart mouthed, well dressed colleague of Phil’s. She is the best part of the film, and the only actor that won an Oscar for this movie, which was well-deserved. 
But after Phil’s son is made fun of for supposedly being Jewish, Dave, tells him that he’s suffered all there is to suffer by being Jewish and that now is the time to return to being a white Christian man.
For eight weeks Phil was Jewish and then suddenly he experienced the prejudice  and hostility that Dave has in his life time in an epiphany moment? I think not.
Bad ending. Bad acting. Average Movie.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

On a side note: If you want to see a good movie about racism with Gregory Peck in it, watch “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Much better.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) (R)

Wes Anderson is one of the few directors that is blessed and cursed with having his films incredibly recognizable. He seemingly tries to create colorful noir with his film style and often has pan shots of multiple rooms, letting his characters roam at their whim. His style is so unique and different that it could be off-putting to some, though I’m not one of those.
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is a tale of heroism, cowardice, betrayal, and large marine predators. 
Steve Zissou is a film maker and an oceanographer, who was making a film when something went wrong. He was in the ocean with his partner when a huge leopard spotted shark-like creature sneaked up behind them and devoured his partner. Unfortunately for Steve, he was unable to catch this on the camera that they were filming with and the crew above failed as well. When they premiered the film that they were making, the public rejects this, claiming fraud. But on an oath Steve made to his now dead partner, he sets on to find this mysterious beast with the end goal to kill it.
Thus begins the saga. And how wonderfully quirky it is! Steve Zissou is joined with a plethora of weird characters: the journalist who is writing an article on him, his wife who is moody and insufferable at times, a young man who has admired for a long time, a camera man who has been with him for years, and a group of interns among many others.
Anderson likes having his characters say the most bizarre and potentially dramatic lines in such a monotone voice that it becomes funny. For instance, a scene in which Steve comes home and his wife, Eleanor, gives him some news:
ELEANOR: Your cat’s dead.
STEVE: Which one?
ELEANOR: Marmalade, I’m sorry. (lights cigarette)
This is spoken in a hushed voice, almost a whisper. Imagine reading off a phone book and trying to recreate that dull sound in your voice—yeah, everybody speaks like that.
One thing that Wes Anderson really does have is a wonderful cast and this seems to always be the case. Steve is played by the delightfully droll Bill Murray, who had collaborated with Anderson for many films. Eleanor is played by Anjelica Huston who is borderline gothic in this film. Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe also join the cast. 
Although it’s hilarious at spots and not so good in others, “The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou” always entertains. It’s somewhat mindless fun, but it is fun at that.
It’s really good at story telling to the point where you find yourself asking how you managed to come to this place in the story without really noticing getting there.
It’s not Wes Anderson’s best, but it is worth seeing if only for Bill Murray.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

My Oscar Predictions

I'm a glutton for awards shows. I'm not exactly sure why but I love people getting little golden statues for work that they got paid a lot for. What's wrong with that?
I think the reason that I like awards shows so much is exemplified in this year. You never know what's going to happen. There are only a few awards that are set in stone, but let's take a closer look:


Nominees: Argo, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, Django Unchained

My Guess: I'm almost positive that this is going to "Argo". Even though the Academy excluded Ben Affleck from the Best Directors category, this film seems set to take home the award. If this isn't the one it seems like "Lincoln" or "Life of Pi" would be next, but (hopefully) it could go to "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "Amour" which are both dark horses.


Nominees: Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington 

My Guess: No question: If this doesn't go to Daniel Day-Lewis, I will be shocked!


Nominees: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Quvenzhane Wallis, Emmanuelle Riva, Naomi Watts

My Guess: Jennifer Lawrence seems like the most possible win. She won the SAG. If she has any competition it will come from Chastain. Though in my heart, I hope that Wallis wins. The only person who seems like they're out of the running completely is Naomi Watts


Nominees: Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert de Niro, Alan Arkin

My Guess: It seems like this is one of the awards that could really be a toss-up. I'm going for Christoph Waltz for "Django Unchained" even though it will probably go to Tommy Lee Jones for "Lincoln". I think that Waltz has a shot and deserves it.


Nominees: Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, Jacki Weaver

My Guess: I'm not sure how Jacki Weaver managed to sneak onto this list, I find that she was the weakest part of "Silver Linings Playbook". But like Best Actor, this seems set in stone—Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables".


Nominees: Behn Zeitlin, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, Ang Lee, Michael Haneke

My Guess: After the omission of Ben Affleck it seems like the way is clear for Spielberg to win his third Oscar for directing. But I'm not sure that this will happen. I hope that it will go to Zeitlin, but I have a soft spot in my heart for "Beasts of the Southern Wild". Really it could go to any of these nominees but my pick is Ang Lee for "Life of Pi"


Nonminees: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty

My Guess: Although I would like it to go to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for "Moonrise Kingdom", my guess is split down the middle with "Amour" and "Django Unchained". Alas, I have to pick one. My guess is for Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained". He seems to be raking in the awards for his screenplay, most recently the SAG.


Nominees: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

My Guess: Although Tony Kushner seemed like he had it in the bag for "Lincoln" the controversy surrounding his script may have pushed him out of the running. He lied about some of the facts that were easy to research and then finally admitted his manipulation of the facts for drama's sake. So for that I guess David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook".


Nominees: "Suddenly" from Les Miserables, "Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi, "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted, "Before My Time" from Chasing Ice, "Skyfall" from Skyfall

My Guess: If Adele doesn't win, the world will end. This seems like one of the easiest Oscars to predict


Nominees: Dario Marianelli for Anna Karenina, Alexandre Desplat for Argo, Mychael Danna for Life of Pi, John Williams for Lincoln, Thomas Newman for Skyfall

My Guess: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi


Nominees: Amour, War Witch, No, A Royal Affair, Kon-Tiki

My Guess: Amour


Nominees: Brave, Frakenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-it Ralph

My Guess: Brave seems to have this one wrapped up. I could be surprised though.

I'm not including some of the 'minor' awards like sound editing and cinematography. I feel like those could go to anyone.

I will pick one that I feel deserves special mention:
If "Life of Pi" doesn't win BEST VISUAL EFFECTS, something's wrong.

This is Spinal Tap (1984) (R)

Rob Reiner created, arguably, one of the biggest cult movies of all time. I would place it second under “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as the most enduring cult classic. But unlike so many other cult movies that seem to only hold an attraction to a particular section of people, “This is Spinal Tap” appeals to a much larger audience.
This fake documentary or as they’re called now, thanks to shows like “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation”—‘mockumentaries’; takes place when a filmmaker, Marty DeBergi (Rob Reiner) decides to follow the band Spinal Tap on tour as they release their new album “Smell the Glove”.
And so it begins. The jokes from this film are non-stop and they all deliver remarkably well. It’s a weird combination of National Geographic and Monty Python, and absolutely the forerunner for shows like the aforementioned “The Office”. But the thing I find interesting is that this film was released in 1984 and it took many more years for the fake-documentary style of comedy to take hold like it has in television today. Why so long? Maybe it’s because “Spinal Tap” is truly the master of this comedy style. The film is effortlessly funny, unlike some of the shows on now that prey on the feeling of awkwardness to coerce the viewer into laughing.
The band is comprised of David, the lead singer; Nigel, guitarist; Derek Smalls, the bassist; and the keyboardist and drummer. David and Nigel are obviously reminiscent of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the film even brings around a Yoko Ono character to add to the ‘drama’. Although the most recognizable spoof is of The Beatles, no band is sacred as the film rolls on making jibes mercilessly everywhere. From The Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix, this film never lets up. 
When on tour, the band takes a turn for the worse as their planned album cover is too provocative for stores to want to carry and gets cut. The gags surrounding this are hilarious, (SPOILER) the album cover ends up being purely black and then no wants a signed record because ink won’t show up on a black background.
One of the best running gags of the film revolves around the drummer. In rock and rock history, many of the great bands suffered from the untimely and mysterious death of a fellow member. “Spinal Tap” attacks this tendency with amazing jokes about how the drummer always dies leading up to my favorite line from the film:
“You can’t dust for vomit.”
The songs that are supposed to be future classics are filled with sexual innuendo and bursting with cheesiness. The descriptions of the song-writing processes and how the band members view their songs, are entertaining to say the least. I’m not sure that there’s a dull moment in this movie at all.  It’s the unexpected jabs at the musical industry that makes this film such a gem.
If you know your music history, the film is amazing. If not, I’m not sure how funny you’ll find it.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Grand Hotel (1932)

“People come, people go, nothing ever happens.”
This lovely little one-liner is given to us at the beginning of “Grand Hotel”. The opening scene has all the characters using the hotel's phone and setting the tone for the movie. One is an expecting father, another is an uptight business man, the other is dying, one is a stenographer wanting to be an actress, one of them is a temperamental ballerina, and one is a baron. After a few minutes of them talking and abrupt cuts to another character, the camera fades out and focuses on an elderly man sitting in a chair—nothing ever happens.
I really like the idea behind this film, what kind of people come in and out of a hotel? A hotel is one place where a host of characters can come together in complex ways without a second thought given.  For the hotel itself seems like an entity in the picture, encasing the characters and providing a set for their drama to unfold. And what twisted patterns they yield.
One of them is a thief, one of them is scared of being rejected, one of them is cheating on their spouse, one of them is purely too innocent for their own good, and only one of them can keep a cool head. From the start, it seems like “Grand Hotel” was originally meant for the stage from the way it’s done. The fade-outs after scenes end and the use of rooms, etcetera etcetera. 
There is no main character to this film, it seems to hover around three or four. The Baron, John Barrymore, who is a nice man with a shady disposition who can seemingly charm himself out of any tight positions he finds himself in. The Dancer, embarrassingly played by Greta Garbo who really is the worst part of this film. The Stenographer, who is my favorite character played by Joan Crawford wonderfully—she’s a smart girl who can take care of herself, a gem in this era of film. Then there’s Otto Kringelein, who is portrayed by a very young Lionel Barrymore. It’s hard to imagine Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life” in this role but that’s where my mind kept traveling to.
Ultimately, although it’s a smart idea, the execution is a little hazy.
The same problem I had with “The Broadway Melody” arises again in this film. A man can fall in love with a woman in seconds just because she’s beautiful. He can give his heart to her to hold with her delicate little hands, just because she’s pretty. And the woman is not clever enough to realize that it’s just a physical attraction. She just falls back in love as easily as he fell for her.
The script needs a lot of work, but I feel that this is a picture that could use a remake, a well-done, non-3D remake. Consider my suggestions: leave the film in black and white, get a better script, make it even darker than it already is and knock yourself out. 
I was starting to loose my patience with the film as it traveled from character to character in a charming but somewhat pointless fashion, only implementing one or two techniques that made me pay attention for a second. Other than that, it was fairly droll.
But I have to admit, I was very happy with the ending. It nicely wrapped up the themes that had been dangling in the air wanting something to be done with them.
The hotel then became a symbol of how one can travel through life with a facade and no one could ever know. How money corrupts so many yet is so vital and can do so much good in the right hands.
If the Baron and the Stenographer had their own movies I would watch them, but other than them and the ending, this movie is less than staggering.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4