And the nominees for Best Picture are…

Ah yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year (apart from Christmas, of course). It’s Oscar season, and in a couple days, it’ll finally come to an end. For one weekend, movie fans will forget about all the shitty movies currently showing in theaters (“Underworld: Awakening“, anyone?) and focus on 9 of the most talked-about films of 2011. I’ve actually managed to watch all 9 of these films, most of which I enjoyed and the rest I didn’t enjoy that much. What follows is a brief synopsis/review of these 9 films, with my personal rating of each film. In this way, if you want to catch up on your Oscar viewing, you’ll be able to decide which of these films is actually worth your time and money (if you plan to purchase them from your friendly neighbourhood DVD pirate).

Now let’s start the show!

 

I WANT MY MONEY BACK – “EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE”

Now why would I give “Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring” a 2 out of 5 star rating, when it has Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Oscar winner Viola Davis (Yeah, I said it! More on that later) and the LEGENDARY Max Von Sydow in its cast? Look at the poster and see. Yes, that little kid is the reason why I didn’t enjoy this so-called “powerful” drama. You ever knew a kid who was highly intelligent, but loved to ask a bunch of annoying questions? Ever wished you could smack the shit out that kid, just for him to shut the fuck up? That would be Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a boy who just can’t accept the fact that his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) died in the World Trade Center during 9/11.  One year later, Oskar finds a key behind a couch. He assumes that the key has something to do with his dead father, and goes on a quest of sorts to solve the mystery. During his quest, he bitches, moans, argues with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock), asks questions non-stop to a MUTE old man (Max Von Sydow) and replays the memory of his dad’s death over and over and over in his head. If I could describe the experience of watching this film, I can only think of that famous scene in the classic 1980 comedy “Airplane!” where the protagonist (who’s on the airplane) tells his story of love and heartbreak to an old woman sitting next to him. At the end of his story, she hangs herself! I felt like that woman. End of story. 2 out of 5 stars.


SEE IT IF YOU REALLY HAVE TO – “THE TREE OF LIFE”

One of the two (MOST OVER-RATED) films in the Best Picture nominee list starring Brad Pitt. Now don’t get me wrong. Terrence Malick is a great director. And I don’t blame the guy at his age (68 years) to make a retrospective film on life and existentialism (and I do like films that creatively focus on the latter topic). And yes, like in his previous films, there is beautiful cinematography and dazzling imagery in “The Tree of Life”.  But the problem is that while the film shows a man’s (Sean Penn) childhood memories in its joy and pain (the death of his younger brother), there’s a weird attempt to link these memories with the birth of the universe and the creation of Earth.  We see solar eclipses, volcanoes, asteroids crashing to Earth and even DINOSAURSWHADAFUCK?!!! It’s like watching two films in one – a home-video like look into the daily life of a family in 1950s Texas, and a man’s search for meaning after his brother died. At the end of this film, you’ll either appreciate it for the unique experience that it offers or wonder “What the fuck was I watching for 2 hours and 18 minutes”? To me, “The Tree of Life” is a mixed bag. I felt that the imagery, while amazing to look at, didn’t add any meaning to the already baffling story. I believe that by the end of this decade, millions of people will rate this film as one of the best ever made.  Or they may forget this shit ever existed. All I have to say is, if “The Tree of Life” wins Best Picture, an asteroid will definitely destroy the Earth.  And Michael Bay will be seen as a prophet. Get it? “Armageddon”? Heh heh heh. I laughed at my own joke.   2  1/2 stars out of 5.

 

IT WAS AIGHT – “MONEYBALL”

The second (MOST OVER-RATED) Best Picture nominee starring Brad Pitt. I say “overrated” because while the film boasts great direction, sharp dialogue and superb performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill (imagine that), “Moneyball” is just not as extraordinary as everyone would want you to believe. Then again, it is about baseball – so the “everyone” I’m referring to may entirely be Americans. But as a sports drama, it’s good for what it is. Nothing more, nothing less, in my honest opinion. If I could give one reason to watch “Moneyball”, it’ll be to see Jonah Hill play a non-comic role for once in his life. What a shame that he will star in the upcoming, unnecessary remake of “21 Jump Street”. Sigh. 3 out of 5 stars.

 

WORTH A LOOK – “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS”

Forgetting the controversy over his marriage to his ex-wife’s adopted daughter, Woody Allen has been, and is still, a damn good director. In his latest film “Midnight in Paris”, Owen Wilson plays a modern-day screenwriter with writer’s block who meets his long-dead heroes (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter among others) in the flesh during his nightly escapades in Paris. Owen literally channels the Woody Allen persona (talkative, intelligent, easily annoyed) and delivers a charming performance. The dialogue is smart and funny, the performances from its cast (Rachel McAdams, Tom Hiddleston Kathy Bates etc.) are impressive, and  through the eyes of Woody Allen, Paris itself never looked better. The end result is a pleasant, light-hearted film that I admittedly enjoyed. It DEFINITELY won’t win Best Picture, but it will stand as another great film by a legendary film director.  3 1/2 stars out of 5.

 

WORTH A LOOK – “THE HELP”

As I mentioned earlier, Viola Davis will become an Oscar winner. What for, you ask? Well, for her role in “The Help”, in which she’s nominated for Best Actress. In this touching drama based on the novel of the same name, Viola plays Aibileen Clark, a black maid working for a rich white family in 1960s Mississippi. The film itself focuses on Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (played by Emma Stone) who seeks to write a book accounting the struggles of black maids (“The Help”) during the Civil Rights era. Viola delivers a brilliant performance, and along with co-star and scene-stealer Octavia Spencer (nominated for Best Supporting Actress), is one of many reasons why “The Help” is worth looking at.  3 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

WORTH A LOOK – “WAR HORSE”

Despite what you may think, or what your friends probably told you, “War Horse” is actually a really good film. It’s not Steven Spielberg’s best film, and NO, it won’t win Best Picture – for the simple fact that there are better movies in this list than this film. But it shouldn’t prevent you from looking at the damn thing. Check out my review of “War Horse” for more ranting…. I mean, info.  3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

SEE THIS MOVIE – “THE DESCENDANTS”

I will be one of many who won’t be surprised if George Clooney gets the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in “The Descendants”.  And he actually delivers a CONVINCING performance as a lawyer caught up with selling his Honolulu land, coming to terms with the eventual death of his comatose wife and patching up his relationships with his two daughters. Yes, the film is depressing at times. But you get that idea within the first five minutes of the film, when you see George in the hospital looking at his wife (played SUPERBLY – I mean, she just lies on a bed with her mouth slightly open for seconds on end – by Shailene Woodley) and sarcastically narrating the events taking place. But the heart of the film lies within his family, and their coming-to-terms with the condition of his wife. Also, it doesn’t beat you over the head when dealing about issues about death (“Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring”, anyone?). The characters deal with life, each other, and other people. With great performances throughout (Shailene should have been nominated for an Oscar in my opinion – just kidding), witty dialogue and a well-written story, “The Descendants” is a thoroughly emotional and entertaining drama that you should really check out.  4 out of 5 stars.

 

DEFINITELY SEE THIS MOVIE – “HUGO”

Leave it to Martin Scorsese to use 3D to tell a story about the history of movies. Though I missed the opportunity to see “Hugo” in 3D, I was compensated by the film’s superb visuals which added to the film’s extraordinary experience. It tells the story about Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a boy who journeys through a French train station, who ends up on an amazing adventure involving a smart young girl (played by Chloe Grace Moretz of “Kick-Ass” fame); a bumbling inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen); and Georges Méliès, the filmmaker behind the silent film classic “A Trip to the Moon”. Whether you’re a cinephile or not, there are lots to enjoy and appreciate in “Hugo”. This is from a guy who not only has a knowledge of film, but also a deep understanding and passion for film as well. I’ll be happy if this film (which I give 4 1/2 stars out of 5, by the way) wins Best Picture, but I strongly believe that the award will go to…

Drumroll please……

 

The silent film that won the hearts of everyone….including me. “THE ARTIST” visually and sonically takes the viewer back into the silent film era, where cue cards replaced dialogue and the musical soundtrack was played by a live orchestra. But it also tells the story of George Valentin, a silent film superstar, whose career hits rock bottom after he is upstaged by Peppy Miller , a young actress working in the more popular sound film industry. The visuals are great, the performances are great, the music is great, the dog who plays Uggie is great…..hell, apart from a couple minor flaws, the whole film was GREAT.  I predict that this film will indeed win Best Picture this Sunday. If it doesn’t, then you should still DEFINITELY SEE THIS MOVIE. 4 1/2 stars out of 5.  Read my review of “The Artist” if you still need convincing.

– Matthew

I want my money back – Underworld: Awakening (2012)

First off, let me start off by saying that I am not a fan of the “Underworld” series. Sure, it’s about vampires doing battle with werewolves. Sure, it has Kate Beckinsale in a leather catsuit armed with two guns, blasting the shit out of her enemies. And sure, the dark, gothic visuals are nice to look at – so nice that you almost forget about the bad acting. But in every Underworld film I see, I am always overwhelmed (or should I say underwhelmed) by the story. A simple story about a centuries-long war between vampires and Lycans is developed into a complex-as-hell saga about blood feuds, secret plots, family secrets, and scientific experiments involving Lycans and humans. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good backstory. I prefer substance over style. But in “Underworld’s” case, the backstory itself is really confusing. Then, as a viewer, you have no choice but to sit back and watch Selene (Kate Beckinsale) blast the shit out of her enemies.

Despite my view, the “Underworld” franchise is still very popular. Obviously, it has everything to do with the lead actress, Kate Beckinsale, who plays her character in the SAME EXACT WAY. She narrates, stands on top of buildings bitching about how long the vampire/Lycan war has been going on, reminding the viewer that she’s a Death Dealer (a.k.a. vampire warrior) and then jumping off said buildings onto the street and walking off in slo-mo to Evanescence music. Strangely enough, she only showed up in the end (spoiler alert!) of the prequel, and the franchise’s third film, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”. That film focused on the history behind the aforementioned war, and like the first two films,  it was dark, bloody and confusing. The end result was a film that didn’t really add anything new to the franchise.  You would think that by then, the makers of “Underworld” would have ended the franchise right there and then, seeing that they concluded Selene’s story in “Underworld: Evolution” (she survives in the end, finds love with Michael Corvin, the BAD-ASS vampire/human hybrid, and even became a daywalker). But of course, they said no.

And now, we have, unfortunately, the next chapter in the ‘epic’ “Underworld” saga – “Underworld: Awakening”.

PLOT

After the events of “Underworld: Evolution”, humans have FINALLY realized that Lycans and vampires exist. WOW!!!!  They waste no time hunting and eliminating the two groups of monsters. This extermination project is called “The Purge” (and the script for this film is what the producer wiped his ass with after HIS purge…. I assume). Anyways, during “The Purge”, Selene and Michael are captured by the humans and placed into cryogenic chambers. One night, Selene wakes up from cryogenic sleep, and can suddenly see through the eyes of an unknown figure. She then escapes from the chamber, walks a couple steps to a nearby glass cupboard, takes out her CLOTHES & BOOTS (’cause disposing of a pair of boots, a corset and a leather catsuit is BLASPHEMY…. I assume) and fights her way out of the facility where she was kept. And that’s only in the first 10 minutes, ladies and gents.

Selene assumes that the vision that she saw belonged to her lover Michael. But when she runs into a little girl called Eve who also escaped from the facility, Selene realizes that the vision was actually through the eyes of Eve herself. And Eve is the daughter of Selene and Michael, and also a BAD-ASS vampire/human hybrid.  Both Selene and Eve run into a coven of vampires, who have made it their business to kill the last remaining Lycans. But their chance encounter has made the situation worse for the coven, as they must now face both the Lycans and the humans. Will they triumph? Will Selene find Michael? Will Eve get any good lines to say in this film? All these questions and more, you will be asking in “Underworld: Awakening”.

CHARACTERS

Selene – Kate Beckinsale

Eve – India Eisley

David – Theo James

Detective Sebastian – Michael Ealy

Dr. Jacob Lane – Stephen Rea

MY THOUGHTS:  What a fucking disappointment this movie is! My expectations were low for this film from the second the Screen Gems logo hit the screen, but then it was reduced to nothingness when I realized what the film actually was. It’s a dumbed-down, watered-down retread of the previous “Underworld” films. Smartly enough, the film begins with a recap of the previous films. And from that point, the film loses its intelligence. What follows is a barrage of action sequences (the first 10 minutes of the film alone feel like the end battle of a standard action movie). There’s only about 2 or 3 minutes between each sequence to catch your breath, and to understand the story. Ironically, “Underworld: Awakening” doesn’t contain the convoluted plot structure of its predecessors. Instead, we get a weak, brainless story about an emotionless vampiress who stabs, slits and shoots her way through anything and anybody that comes her way – and of course, jumping through glass windows and landing feet first on the ground.  The action sequences are exciting and entertaining to a point, but they don’t add anything to the story. They actually feel like levels in a video game. For example, Selene’s battle against a gigantic Lycan feels like a “boss battle” which, if she wins, she is advanced to the next level. But the real kick to the nuts about “Underworld: Awakening” is not the lifeless story, or the lifeless characters, or its DISAPPOINTING-AS-FUCK conclusion, but the film’s running time. Excluding the ridiculously-lengthy 10 minute end credits, the film is approximately 75 FUCKING MINUTES LONG! I shit you not! Even “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”, with a running time of 92 minutes, was longer than this shit! At least 15 minutes of story would have greatly improved this film. But instead, we’re left with 1 hour and 15 minutes of action sequences that run out of fuel really quickly. Ultimately, “Underworld: Awakening” feels less like the next step forward in the franchise, and more like the pilot episode of an “Underworld” television spin-off (God forbid if Screen Gems decides to do this!).

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM?  Honestly, if you understood and appreciated the story of the previous “Underworld” films, then you’ll LOATHE “Underworld: Awakening”. If you love mindless action movies, and if you love to see Kate Beckinsale in a corset and catsuit bussin’ caps in a Lycan’s ass, then feel free to waste your money on this film. Just like last year’s “Conan the Barbarian”, I didn’t spend my hard-earned money to watch this shit. But I STILL WANT MY MONEY BACK! If you want to see a kick-ass action flick involving vampires, then go watch “Blade” and “Blade II” (forget about “Blade: Trinity”). Matter of fact, if you got the time, watch both of those films back-to-back! You won’t regret it! But don’t forget to thank me later for the advice!  😀

MY RATING – 2 out of 5 stars (“I Want my Money Back”)

– Matthew

See it if you really have to – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999/2012)

In 1977, a 33-year old film director released a groundbreaking movie that changed cinema forever. It gave birth to an era of big-budget blockbusters which relied on special effects to help tell their highly-entertaining stories. The film, set in a “galaxy far, far away”, told the story of Luke Skywalker, an ordinary young man who embarked on an extraordinary space adventure involving two droids, a princess, a mercenary and his alien comrade. Together, they helped to fight the forces of Darth Vader, one of film’s greatest villains. The film that I’m referring to, of course, is “Star Wars”. And the man who created it is George Lucas. He followed the huge success of “Star Wars” with two sequels “The Empire Strikes Back” (one of the best movie sequels EVER!) and “Return of the Jedi” (which wasn’t as great as the first two films, but was still a satisfying conclusion). Judging from the amount of money and fame that he gained from the Star Wars trilogy, you would think that George Lucas could just sit back and retire, or at least continue making great films.

In 1999, a 55-year old film director released a film that changed a franchise forever. It was widely anticipated by fans of this particular franchise since the announcement of its filming (which was a result of the success of the “SPECIAL EDITION” of a certain groundbreaking film trilogy). That film, also set in a “galaxy far, far away” began the origin story of one of film’s greatest villains. It also gave birth to one of film’s most infamous characters – a clumsy, pseudo-ebonic speaking, and altogether FUCKING ANNOYING alien named Jar Jar Binks. The film that I’m referring to, of course, is “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”. And the man who created it is……that’s right! George Lucas! Though the film made a shitload of money in the box office, it was, and is still, widely considered to be the worst film in the Star Wars series. Most people put the blame on Jar Jar Binks (dubbed “Jar Jar Stinks” by critics, viewers and die-hard Star Wars fans). Others put the blame on the eye-rolling bad dialogue spat out by the actors in the film. Few pointed out the bad acting, especially by the young Darth Vader himself, Jake Lloyd. But it didn’t matter to good ol’ George Lucas. This was, after all, the origin story of one of film’s greatest villains, so he followed “The Phantom Menace” with two sequels. While the first sequel turned the Star Wars franchise into a target of ridicule, the second (and BRILLIANT) sequel raised it to a near-“Empire Strikes Back” level and reminded viewers and critics about what made it so great in the first place.

In 2012, a 67-year PERFECTIONIST with too much money to burn, and a brain devoid of fresh ideas for new movies, embarked on a journey to RE-RELEASE all 6 Star Wars movies YEARLY, starting with Episode I. The perfectionist I’m referring to is…..come on, it’s obvious who I’m talking about!  What’s his reason for re-releasing his films, you may ask? Simple. Because 3D is what’s in, and everybody’s either releasing unnecessary films in 3D or unnecessarily re-releasing films in 3D. Why? ‘Cause too much money ain’t enough money. And just so you know, that’s a lyric from rapper Lil Wayne, who has openly admitted that he is, in fact, an alien.

And now to our regularly scheduled program…

PLOT

Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent by the Galactic Republic to negotiate with the Trade Federation in removing a blockade of battleships around the planet of Naboo. The mysterious Darth Sidious orders attacks on both Naboo and the two Jedis. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fight their way through a mechanized army, and escape to Naboo. There, they meet Jar Jar Binks, an outcast from the Gungan alien tribe. Together, the three save the Naboo Queen Padme Amidala from the Federation (a.k.a. the bad guys).  They escape on her personal starship, which becomes damaged along the way. As a result, they land on the desert planet of Tatooine to attempt to repair the starship. While on Tatooine, they meet young Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader and father to…..yeah, you guessed it!). For some unexplained reason, he has dreams of being a Jedi. Also, Qui-Gon realizes that the Force (i.e. the spiritual energy that is the basis of the belief system of the Jedi) is unnaturally strong in Anakin. Qui-Gon believes that Anakin is the ‘chosen one’ that will bring balance to the Force, even though his fellow Jedi disagree. At the same time, a Sith (i.e. the enemy of the Jedi) warrior named Darth Maul is sent by Darth Sidious to eliminate the Jedis, Queen Amidala, and anyone else who opposes the Federation.

CHARACTERS

Qui-Gon Jinn – Liam Neeson

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Ewan McGregor

Queen Padme Amidala – Natalie Portman

Anakin Skywalker – Jake Lloyd

Jar Jar Binks – Ahmed Best

Ray Park – Darth Maul

MY THOUGHTS: First off, let me get this off my chest. The idea of releasing all six Star Wars films yearly is BULLSHIT! Why? ‘Cause that means I have to wait ’til 2014 (2 years after the world ends….just playing) to see the BEST of the new Star Wars trilogy: “Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”) and the original trilogy for the three consequent years. What George should have done was release all 3 episodes of the new trilogy in 2012 with a three-month gap between each film, and repeat the formula next year with the old trilogy. But NO!! George had to prove yet again that (a) he’s never satisfied. and (b) clearly, he has run out of ideas. And ironically, you can see that in “The Phantom Menace”.

The main problem in “The Phantom Menace” is the story. In the old trilogy, you got a well-written story that was full of action, adventure, thrills, twists, turns and emotion. The story in “The Phantom Menace”, you get a so-so story full of boring politics, unappealing characters, non-existent character development and a lack of everything that made the old trilogy fun in the first place.  The story, and the characters in the story, made the original Star Wars trilogy MASTERPIECES in their own right. The only thing the new trilogy has going for it (with the exception of “Revenge of the Sith”) is the flashy special effects, and it shows in “The Phantom Menace”. I tried, like most people, to care about the story but couldn’t. I mean, it’s not terrible, but for a Star Wars film, it could have been way better. But hey, who cares about story? It’s all about special effects! I mean, no one really came to see Jake Lloyd act with the level of a 10-year kid in a school play, or see talented actors like Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman blurt out bland dialogue, or see Jar Jar Binks act like a dumbass. We just want to see scenes of flashy CG, such as the entertaining yet unnecessary Podrace sequence or the final battle between the Gungans and the mechanized army. Ultimately, “The Phantom Menace” is a forgettable episode in the Star Wars saga, even though the Podrace scene and the AWESOME fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul are the two most memorable scenes in the whole film.

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Personally, the idea of watching a film that underwhelmed me before with 3D glasses on is not a good one. But if you’re the type of person that enjoys Star Wars movies for style instead of substance, and you actually saw NOTHING wrong with the new trilogy, then by all means….go and see “The Phantom Menace” in 3D. Just keep in mind that it’s the same disappointing movie from before. If you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan like me, then I suggest you get the original trilogy on DVD and WATCH THAT SHIT! They’re still great movies – and they’ll always be great movies, even without the use of 3D.

On a side note, there is one thing about “The Phantom Menace” that I was curious about. For those who forgot, or didn’t know, Anakin and Padme fell in love in “Episode II – Attack of the Clones” which was set 10 years after “The Phantom Menace”. Though their respective age isn’t determined, it can be assumed that Anakin was probably 9 or 10 and Padme was either 17 or 18 when they first met. Picture Padme being the BABYSITTER of Anakin. Now picture the two of them 10 years later falling in love. If you think about it, the idea of a girl falling in love with a guy that she met when he was 8 years old is FUCKING CREEPY! Not “Toddlers & Tiaras” CREEPY, but more like “let’s seduce the babysitter” CREEPY. But then again, in the first Star Wars film, Luke Skywalker fell for Princess Leia who, unknown to him, was his SISTER! I can say this much: George Lucas must have had a REALLY INTERESTING childhood. Ah, to be young again…..

MY RATING – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

– Matthew